CapeCodHistory home page; Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography

Book News Monthly, 1913
pages 417-420

Joseph Crosby Lincoln

Author of  "Cy Whittaker's Place," "The Postmaster," "Cap'n Dan's Daughter"
By Adam C.  Haeselbarth

An intimate study of the man who has made Cape Cod famous in a series of tenderly human stories

"The dear old Cape! I love it! I love its hill of sand,
The sea-wind singing o'er it, the seaweed on its strand;
The bright blue ocean 'round it, the clear blue sky o'erhead;
The fishing boats, the dripping nets, the white sails filled and spread;—
For each heart has its picture, and each its own home song,
The sights and sounds which move it when Youth's fair memories throng;
And when, down dreamland pathways, a boy, I stroll once more,
I hear the mighty music of the surf along the shore."
                            Cape Cod Ballads.

    IN A BIG, white, Colonial style house which looks old but isn't, in the finest residential section of Hackensack, New Jersey, lives Joseph Crosby Lincoln, who has written so much about Cape Cod folk that one necessarily must think of him whenever the Cape is mentioned. His friendship with Sewell Ford, the author, is responsible for his becoming a resident of Hackensack when Mr. Lincoln was a stranger to the place. Hackensack opened its arms to him and took him in and put him on the Board of Education and induced him to appear in private theatricals and make speeches; in brief, soon learned to swear by him instead of at him as in the case of some new-comers into a town. And Mr. Lincoln thinks that next to Cape Cod, Hackensack is the one spot that makes life worth living.
Joseph Crosby Lincoln
After a new photograph

    Mr. Lincoln has just passed his forty-third milestone along life's road. He was born at Brewster, Massachusetts, on February 13, 1870, being the son of Joseph and Emily (Crosby) Lincoln. His father, a veteran sea captain, died of a fever in Charleston, South Carolina, a year after "Joe" was born, and upon the lad's mother devolved his early training. She was a brave, self-reliant woman, who had made many adventurous voyages with her husband; and that she failed not in giving her "Joe" a start as a clean, manly boy, the older residents of Cape Cod will testify at this day. So, it will be seen, Joseph C. Lincoln is a product of Cape Cod. His father's neighbors were all "sea cap'ns." For fully a mile each way—there are only two ways from any place on Cape Cod—every house contained a captain. "Joe" Lincoln knew every inch of ground and every type of inhabitant in the region, and his wonderful familiarity with the subject asserts itself pleasingly and convincingly in everything he writes. It was always an accepted fact that all boys on Cape Cod, when they reached the "cabin-boy" age, should go to sea. Generally they sailed with a neighbor, preferably a relative, who put them through the necessary courses in navigation until they became full-fledged captains with a ship all their own. "Joe's" relatives, however, thought he would make a splendid banker and accordingly put him in a banking house in Boston. But he failed to find enough diversion in figures and accounts to make him dream of becoming a wizard of finance. He confesses that he has always felt that the bankers were as glad to get rid of him as he was to leave them. He knew what he wanted to do and he did it. He took to writing verses and short stories. These were so full of the atmosphere and genuine salt breezes direct from the Cape that editors eagerly purchased them. His first Cape Cod story, a short story, was sold to "The Saturday Evening Post." The succeeding ones "landed" in "Ainslee's" and in other magazines, and several short stories strung together on a plot became "Joe" Lincoln's first book after his Cape Cod Ballads. There are now fifteen books to his credit.
    Before leaving Boston for New York, which he did in 1899, Mr. Lincoln was for three years associate editor of "The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin," when cycling for pleasure was a craze and when the "Bulletin" had a circulation of 125,000. As interest in this publication dropped with alarming rapidity because of waning interest in bicycles Mr. Lincoln looked about for another place and decided to try New York. He took with him to the metropolis an unbounded store of ambition and energy, likewise a wife, who was Miss Florence E. Sargent, of Chelsea, Massachusetts, who became his bride on May 12th, 1897. And there was also a baby boy, Freeman, who is now a manly lad in Hackensack High School.
    With these incentives to work, coupled with the necessity for a larger income to meet increased expenses in a big city, Mr. Lincoln buckled down and wrote Cap'n Eri. It "made" him. His next book, Mr. Pratt, was even more popular, and


he has been writing fine sellers ever since. He is one of the few authors who can write two books a year and not only provide fresh and entertaining material, but also show a genuine improvement in every book.
    Mr. Lincoln first got between covers when his Cape Cod Ballads was published in 1902 by Albert Brandt, of Trenton, New Jersey. I have a copy of the first edition, a neat little yellow-backed volume with illustrations by Edward W. Kemble. It is dedicated to Mr. Lincoln's wife, and contains verses which originally appeared in "Harper's Weekly," "The Youth's Companion," "The Saturday Evening Post," "Puck," "Types," "The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin," and the publications of the American Press Association. As recently as a year ago I lent this copy to a friend who was convalescing from an almost fatal attack of typhoid fever. The good clergyman who had daily visited his bedside said: "If that doesn't make him get better quickly I'll be surprised." It did, and my friend has ever since had more faith in "Joe" Lincoln's books as a restorative than he has in doctors.
    Following Cape Cod Ballads came Cap'n Eri, Partners of the Tide, Mr. Pratt, The Old Home House, Cy Whittaker's Place, Our Village, Zekiah Coffin, The Depot Master, The Woman Haters, Captain Warren's Ward, The Rise of Roscoe Paine and Mr. Pratt's Patients, very recently followed by Cap'n Dan's Daughter.
    There are three hours in the day which Mr. Lincoln reserves sacredly to himself for work. They are from 9.30 A. M. to 12.30 P. M., during which time he shuts himself in his study and writes, or does hard thinking about what he is going to write. He believes in system and in close application. He said to me:
    "I know there are people who can turn out a short story in two or three hours and it will be good enough to sell, but I cannot help feeling that it would have been much better if the writer had devoted more time to it. In my case, doing work that is satisfactory to me in any degree means that I must fairly sweat it out, if I may use the expression."
    Mr. Lincoln then told me that he wrote Cap'n Eri by laboring at it on a corner of the dining room table from midnight on Saturdays through Sunday mornings until the manuscript was completed. The grind paid, however, not only financially, but because it proved to him by the success of the book what he had frankly doubted—that he could sustain a reader's interest throughout a long story. It was queer, quaint, delightful old Cap'n Eri, with Cap'n Jerry and Cap'n Perez that started "Joe" Lincoln fairly toward the sunlit road of fame.
    I quite agree with one of Mr. Lincoln's critics who wrote: "Not much is required of Mr. Lincoln's readers except to laugh and grow fat over certain possible specimens of human nature palpitant. With one of the Lincoln books in hand they scarcely can fail to do this." And I think I discerned the secret of this desideratum when Mr. Lincoln declared: "Perhaps I could write a story with gloomy situations and an unhappy ending, but I wouldn't like to try it. I would much rather try to make people cheerful and keep myself cheerful at the same time. There's enough sorrow in this world without finding it in books."
    Not long ago, in an interview for the Boston "Globe," some talk of other authors and of the dangers that beset a writer who deals with what might be called a specialty, moved Mr. Lincoln to say:
    "A man writes what he knows. If he tries anything else it must fall—show hollow. And I find that it is necessary to
write to your audience—that one must consider that a large number of his readers are to be women, and he must write things that will appeal to the women of to-day."
    "You don't mean that you would consider the women to the point of writing stuff that would be saleable, and refraining
JCL home
The Home of J. C. Lincoln
In Hackensack, N. J.
A Shelter House
Showing the Lincolns on a picnic near Brewster, Massachusetts
from writing stuff which, appealed to you, but might not be saleable?"
    "Well," said Mr. Lincoln, slowly, "I haven't any 'message' that I know of. I'm not much of a high-brow. I have standard[s], though. And if I am to do the thing I want to do, I must get my book printed. But I've never been satisfied —although I did like The Postmaster pretty well."
    The popular impression that Mr. Lincoln uses actual people as characters in his books is erroneous, despite the fact that at Cape Cod many residents will swear that they know just whom he refers to. Regarding this, Mr. Lincoln declares: "You can't do it. People aren't as dramatic in actual life as you want them to be. Of course, you may hear a phrase, or a story—you may talk with. a person and get an impression and build up your character from those things. But making an actual person wouldn't work. Besides, it would be rather mean."
    As a matter of fact, Mr. Lincoln doesn't have to study Cape Codders. He is one of them. His very speech marks him as such—the slightly clipped, curt words; the "hev" and "hed" that once in a while take the place of "have" or "had"— and even, whisper, a touch of good old Yankee talking through the nose.
    Mr. Lincoln's success has brought him to that happy stage enjoyed by comparatively few authors, a knowledge that his books are sold before he writes them. Yet even this experience, he avers, is of a bitter-sweet nature. He talks over his idea for a book with his publisher, revises the idea perhaps with the publisher's assistance, and then begins to work. The publisher virtually accepts the book before a line of it is writ-


ten, and even makes up a "dummy" and sends men out on the road to sell a book not yet written.
    "And then," says Mr. Lincoln, "comes the period when I get a letter about once a week asking how the thing is coming along. That has been a frequent experience, especially when there are a lot of characters in my story, and I'm having more or less trouble with them. The story keeps stretching itself out. I think I may have to adopt Mark Twain's method, and begin throwing my people down the well." It may be added, incidentally, that Mr. Lincoln scorns a typewriter and when
writing uses a soft, stubby lead pencil and generously large sheets of paper.   As to the psychological time for publishing a novel he says:
    "The fall books, I find, have done better, usually, than the spring books. People take a fall book, figured for winter reading, more seriously than a spring book. That is expected to be 'light reading."'
Mr. Lincoln's Book-Plate
    Last summer Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln and their son were abroad, spending most of the time in a charming home in England, but doing also some Continental touring  with mountain climbing in Switzerland.
    Perhaps the most interesting part of a recent talk which I had with Mr. Lincoln was that which referred to the books of to-day and to his views concerning some of them and their writers. His reply, when I asked him to name his favorite author, was:
    "I have a good many, for I read all sorts of books, and at all times. I don't know that I can name any particular author who may be called my favorite. I am very fond of Stevenson, for instance—but then, so I am of Kipling, except his most recent stories, which have a bit too much British Empire in them to please me,—of Mark Twain, of W. J. Locke, and many others. I think I like a story for the story's sake. I like to like my characters or dislike them in the old-fashioned way. It is for this reason perhaps that the work of such writers as Arnold Bennett, William De Morgan, Joseph Conrad, and others, of the realistic school, so-called, does not appeal to me as much as—well, as Mr. Locke's work, for instance. I realize,—no one can help realizing,—the fine literary craftsmanship in a book like Lord Jim. It is a wonderful piece of character mosaic, and yet in reading it I am always conscious of the literary work. I say to myself, 'This is marvelous; see how the writer is picking his hero to pieces, thought by thought, motive by motive.' And being so conscious of the writer, I do not lose myself in the story. This is not offered as criticism: certinly I should not presume to criticise Mr. Bennett or Mr. Conrad. It is more of a confession of something lacking on my part. I enjoy reading Lord Jim, or The Old Wives' Tale, but I do not return to them again and again as I do to the Beloved Vagabond or The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne. Perhaps this is, as some of my realistically inclined friends tell me, a childish love for romance on my part. Well, perhaps it is. If it is, I can't help it; as I said, this statement is not offered as an excuse, but a confession.
    "This sort of thing shows in my own stories. It would be very hard for me to write a long story which should end dismally. It is only too true that stories in real life frequently end that way, but I don't like my yarns to do so. So it is fair to presume that in whatever books I may hereafter write, the hero and heroine will be united, virtue rewarded and vice punished, as has happened in those for which I am already responsible. Perhaps this same weakness for a story, a cheerful story, makes me care little for the so-called problem novel. It doesn't mean that I am not fond of novels dealing with certain kinds of problems. Winston Churchill's political stories, or his more recent The Inside of the Cup, I like immensely; but the sex problem—the divorce question, and all that sort of thing— does not appeal to me. A morbid lot of disagreeable people, married or otherwise, moping and quarreling through a long story seem to me scarcely worth while. To a specialist in nervous diseases such a study might be interesting, but I really doubt if the average healthy man or woman finds it so. Certainly we should not care to associate with such people were they living near us. We should get away from them if we could."
    Mr. Lincoln is not a clubman in the generally accepted sense of the word. He does not belong to any New York City club unless the Dutch Treat Club is excepted, and that is merely a luncheon club of authors and artists, which meets once a week for "eats" and shop talk. He was formerly a member of the Salmagundi Club, another club of artists and authors, but he used the club and its privileges so little that he resigned about two years ago. In Hackensack he is a member of the Hackensack Golf Club, and the Union League Club. He attends the Unitarian Church, and has been a member of its Board of Trustees for about ten years. For the past two years he has been a member of the Hackensack Board of Education. Of his duties as such he says: "It is most interesting work, and it certainly does have the faculty of making one realize how very little the average citizen knows concerning the workings of his town affairs, and the manner in which his children are educated, and the way in which the public schools are really conducted. Each of us, being an average citizen, is much too likely to criticise carelessly, to condemn without investigation, or to take sides one way or the other in public matters without first learning for himself the rights and wrongs of the subject upon which sides are taken."
On the Top of Mount Pilatus
Luzerne, Switzerland
    Mr. Lincoln told me that his favorite amusement is golf, adding, "although there are times, particularly in my brand of golf, when there seems to be more hard work and moral strain than amusement, by a good deal. I am a member of the Hackensack Golf Club, and as the course is very near the house, in favorable weather I try to play a few holes almost every day. In the summer I swim and fish and sail as much as possible. I am very fond of fishing, and as I have often said to my friends, the day at Cape Cod may be very unfavorable to literary work, but it is always a first-rate day for fishing. Motoring also I enjoy, and we do a great


deal of it in the summer. Almost every year we go to Cape Cod for July and August, and part of June and September, and for the last four years, excepting last year, when we were in Europe, we have gone and returned in the automobile. The roads at the Cape are very good, and there is much motoring there."
    Of course, Mr. Lincoln is working at another book. Its title is as yet undetermined, but its subject will be the experiences of a New England writer of swashbuckling fiction, who, having lived a retired life in a Cape Cod village, suddenly decides to go abroad for fresh inspiration and for a change. His cousin and housekeeper, a New England spinster of the characteristic old-fashioned Cape Cod type, goes with him. In London they meet a distant relative of the family, a girl of nineteen, and their adventures and the love story which develops amid the—to them—unfamiliar English and French scenes, make up the book. Naturally, the contrast between the English viewpoint and that of the American, and the humorous and whimsical situations which result will be used to a great extent. Of this novel the author says:
    "My books have all dealt with the New England character, and my readers I presume expect that, but in this story I am taking my Cape Codders far away from their home surroundings. I did much the same thing in my novel, Cap'n Warren's Wards, although in that case I took the Captain merely to New York. Last summer Mrs. Lincoln, my thirteen-year-old boy, Freeman, and I, spent two months in rural England. We hired a delightful old house in Buckinghamshire, and spent our summer amid the kindly English people; and they were kindly and most hospitable. After this experience I never again shall believe in the cold, reserved, distant Englishman who is never friendly until after a year or so of suspicious watchfulness. If there are such people, they did not live in that part of England."