posted May 2004 at

Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography

Joseph C. Lincoln's America







New York     Publishers    London

Joseph C. Lincoln's America




HERE is a bird that riots over New England meadows in June, wild with song. A song that bubbles, laughs, breaks off to recommence, that tangles in a shower of notes, that seems to be born of the sunshine and the rippling breeze, the nodding heads of buttercups, the chortling of the brook running over little stones. A song that is all happiness and delight, a song that dances. A moment the bird swings on a tree top, then is off again, singing more wildly than ever. You have to laugh at the sheer joy of it, and your pulses leap to its glad rhythms.

One June morning I walked with a friend from the far West, and as we reached a stretch of shining meadow, coming from a little wood, this song burst upon our ears. My friend halted, stood listening, and turned, his eyes shining.

"That—why that must be a—yes, surely, it's a BOBOLINK!" he whispered, as though afraid to lose a note of that happy voice pouring its notes down through the clear June air.



"A bobolink," he continued, as he went on, lingeringly. "Makes me remember my boyhood. Think of hearing one—at last!"

And then he went on to tell me how his grandfather, who had come from this very section of New England, used to tellhim long stories of the old homestead. Stories we all know, stories of the swimmin' hole, of the nutting parties, of the big snows, of red mittens and red schoolhouses. And of the bobolink, that black-and-white singer of the fields. And the man beside me, who had never been East before, who had never heard the bird's own voice till that moment, that man saw his boyhood as he listened, felt the pang of home, sweet and deep, sensed the bond that makes America a nation, not a mere collection of states.

Among our American writers we have one who is like the bobolink. As racy of his locality, as individual in type and sound, as is the bird, yet belonging wherever there is an American because he recalls, if not your own youth, your own experience, then something of your inheritance, of what goes to make you American rather than the Roossian or the Proossian you might have been. There are two main types of the New Englander, the stay-at-home and the pioneer. The stay-at-home has gone on with the old homestead and the old traditions, and the white farm-house amid its upland pastures or by the sounding sea still houses



some of him, living as his father's father lived. The pioneer has spread the length and breadth of the land, and followed new ways and developed a new world. But in his heart and his children's hearts the old farm-house still means home.

It is of the stay-at-home that Joseph C. Lincoln writes. It is Cape Cod, and the dwellers thereon, which are the inspiration of his pages. And everywhere, in Oregon and California, in the cities of the vast Middle West, in the small town or the ranch or the camp, Americans, reading his books, smile, or sigh, hearing the voice of the bobolink, singing of home. Smile, it is likely, rather than sigh. For humor runs through all his pages, the salty humor of country folk who see clearer and see farther than their hurried city brethren, and who can put the result into terse, dry words, using similes taken from the incidents and habit of their lives, their trade of the sea, their jobs ashore. It is this salty flavor that is most American, that belongs to American character wherever it is, and that is understood and loved all over the land, this quaint yet deep comprehension of the human heart translated into whimsical expression, it is this quality that endears Mr. Lincoln to his countrymen above anything else, it is this that means home.

For we can all laugh with him, and there is no bond stronger than that. To find the same things



funny, to catch the quirk in another's eye, that is to be brothers at once. Mr. Lincoln's sea captains, his old maids, his village philosophers swapping tales round the stove of the country store, or lounging at the station waiting for the train to come in, these speak to us in a language we know. The stories they tell fit in with our own method of thought, however different they may be in their outer dress of words. And those old turns of speech, those picturesque words, how they echo in our memory. The true history of America is written in just such words and phrases, the history that doesn't get into the schoolbooks, but that lives inside us, is us.

It was seventeen or eighteen years ago that the first of Mr. Lincoln's books, "Cap'n Eri," was published, and there has been one every year since. This tale of three retired sea captains who, in despair of their joint efforts as housekeepers, advertised for a wife, with the amusing and touching episodes that followed, found instant favor with a wide public. It is being read today as it was then, and it is because of its everlasting human quality that this is so. Mr. Lincoln always has a story to tell, but it's his people, his folks, that are the true lure in his books. Your reactions to them are the same as your reactions to living men and women. You get to know them and you want to keep on knowing them for their



own sakes, not because of what adventures or experiences they may pass through. Love and ambition, the longing for riches, the strength of temptation, selfishness and generosity in their never-ending battle, loss and gain, the queer vagaries of fortune, these come into the Lincoln books as they come into life. They thrill you, amuse you, interest you, rouse your antagonism or your sympathy; but over and above all are the characters, so real, so lovable, so genuine. Or, should they be mean, should they be weak, yet they are not wholly despicable, and Lincoln usually manages to get them taught, roughly sometimes, the better way.

A great charm in Lincoln's books, in fact, is the kindness of them. Here is no literature of contempt, of fault-finding and irritation, such as is represented by many recent chronicles of small town life. Lincoln loves his small town, loves the people who make up its steady population. He sees their shortcomings, their narrowness, their mistakes. But he sees a lot more besides.

Take his "Shavings," which, both as book and play, has been a first favorite. The hero of that story is, from the worldly point of view, a failure. He is barely educated in the accepted sense. He has been nowhere, and he is content with his village existence, though not, it would seem, with himself. A dreamer, a maker of little toys, yet a



man it is good to know, lovable, courageous, wise, with a fibre that only toughens under pain and loss, a character that sweetens under trial, and that is always warm with humor. It is this sort of man toward whom Mr. Lincoln shows a peculiar understanding, and whom he loves to reveal to his readers. His latest book, "Galusha the Magnificent," centers about a man of something the same type, only more sophisticated, if such a word can be used to describe the greater experience of life which has been given to the whimsical, irresponsible, absentminded professor of archeology, Galusha Bangs. And in all his old sea captains there lives the child heart of the man who has kept his spirit fresh and clean, through the weathering of God knows how many storms, the anxious vigils of nights where death battled with the skipper for the ship under his feet, hours that strip the inessential from life and leave the real things clear.

Of course, it isn't only with his Cape Codders that Lincoln is sympathetic. Take his book, "The Portygee" with the young fellow, half Spanish, half New England, wholly poet and artist. Set there in the small hamlet, chafing at the restraints and humdrumness of the place, Albert makes a delicious contrast to the native population. And each is as likeable and as living as the other. We understand the passionate, temperamental boy as



well as his old Grandfather, with his fury against all that sort of "foolishness," because their author understands them. It is the human being, man and woman and child, oh, very much child, that Lincoln loves and draws. He draws him oftenest as the Down East Yankee, salt with the sea, keen at a bargain, full of homely wisdom and drawling wit; but he draws him in many other shapes, too. The women vary from the still, sweet charm of a Ruth Armstrong, in "Shavings," or the capable, pleasant Mrs. Snow of "Cap'n Eri," to the quaint, Colorful Mary-'Gusta, small orphan brought up by two old sea-faring men and growing into a creature as playful and as changeful as she was at first timid and suppressed, and the various gossips, some none too scrupulous in the tales they bear, who are bred in small communities. Mr. Lincoln tells many a love story in his pages, but perhaps those he most likes to tell are the romances that develop between his old folk, that catch them unawares and lonely and make the world a garden for them full of posies they had long ago forgotten, of happiness they had long foresworn. He will poke a bit of fun at these mature lovers, it may be, but only through them— it is they who smile, who "cal'late they haven't the sense they was born with," but who know what is good and are glad of it.

These stories of Lincoln's cry out to be read



aloud. Their humor, their cheerfulness, is of the sort than wants to be shared. You can have a good time reading one of the books to yourself, certainly, but to get the cream of it the whole family should share the thing with you.

But though the books are good for reading aloud they are difficult to quote from. At first jump you imagine that you can quote from almost any page. But when you begin to pick out some terse phrase or quainc bit of character sketching you discover that the piece you want is so tightly wound up with another piece, and this with yet another, that presently you wonder whether you can quote anything at all without quoting the whole book.

Take the chapter, "I Get Into Politics" in "The Postmaster." There is hardly a line in it that won't make any reader laugh, and it's all true-stuff, too. But as to quoting any part of it, it can't be done with any satisfaction at all. The rows between the retired sea-captain and the Major over Abubus, the actions of the Major's automobile at a critical moment, and the clam chowder!—

And it isn't overdone. It's funny, it's good, and it all leads somewhere.

Lincoln was born on the Cape, and he is himself in feeling and spirit one with his characters. He doesn't have to have their speech translated,



and his mind moves with theirs. To read him is to go into the village of which he writes, not as an outsider, but as an old timer. Within half a dozen pages you are quite at home, you have chosen your friends among the folks you've met, and you've taken your side in the village politics, you are interested in the village news, you have your grin for the village cut-up, your nod to the oldest inhabitant, your retort to the remarks hurled at you by neighborly voices. It is your village now.

And by the way, one of the Lincoln books is named "Our Village." It is a group of sketches, and it takes you to the Cape Cod of thirty years or so ago. Here you find "Your House".....

"There was a table in the settin' room, a round table with a lamp on it. The lamp had a shade made of paper and wire, and there were pictures printed on the paper that showed fine against the light. There were pictures on the walls too, principally paintings of ships which your father and grandfather had commanded, or perhaps a spatter-work 'God Bless Our Home' motto, or a worsted thing called a sampler, made by grandma when she was little ..." and there is the school picnic, and Teacher, and there are other things and places and doings such as mean you and your youth and many dear and remembered things.

Lincoln has done and is doing a fine thing in



these books of his. He is saving for us a precious part of America, writing down, before it is too late, a past recent enough, but changing fast, a past closely woven into the very fibre of our character and meaning as a nation. He shows us too the coming era, the Cape Cod of today against its background of yesterday. And when I say Cape Cod I mean pretty much any part of our country that is not within the boundaries of a great city, but that has drawn from the fountains of American heritage for its foundations. He loves the past but he is cheerful over the present and evidently fronts the fature with entire confidence. America is to him a place to be proud of even though he can make whole-hearted fun of its peculiarities. He knows it has faults, plenty of them, and he talks of them freely. But the love remains, even as it is spoken in these words from one of his poems in the collection, "Cape Cod Ballads:"

"The dear old Cape! I love it! I love its hills 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."


pamphlet source: University of North Carolina Library