Cape Cod History home page; Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography
Alice P. Kenney
New-England Galaxy 12(2): 13-24. 1970
New-England Galaxy was a publication, from 1959-1979, of Old Sturbridge Village, a wonderful museum of 19th Century New England town life, and this article is posted with OSV's permission.
by Alice P. Kenney
All the world loves lovers, but most lovers discover all too soon that love is not enough. Poetry can seem the only appropriate food of love on a Cape Cod summer afternoon, when the sand is warm and dry and the sea stretches away to exotic distances. But after sunset, even the most starry-eyed lovers begin to remember a more substantial kind of food. They stroll back to the hotel for a picnic or a clambake, or they jump into the car and hurry to the hamburger stand. On the way they often talk about what they will have to eat when they are married. Sometimes they even talk about how they are going to pay for it.
When Joseph C. Lincoln wrote about the people who lived and loved on Cape Cod, the problem of what to live on was much more pressing than it is in our affluent society. Today, any lovers who can afford to vacation on the Cape probably have one and perhaps two good jobs to return to when their vacations are over. Lovers who live on the Cape all the time have many seasonal and year-round opportunities to earn a good living. Part of Cape Cod has been proclaimed a National Seashore, but I have not heard of any movement to declare it a depressed area. In this respect, as in so many others, the Cape we know is far different from the Cape that Lincoln knew seventy-five years ago.
In the 1880's and 1890's, when Lincoln was young, Cape Cod lovers could no longer expect that a successful voyage, or two would provide them with money enough to marry. For generations, Cape Cod boys had gone to sea in their early teens and many of them had risen to the command of vessels before they were twenty-one. The girls they left behind helped their mothers with the never-ending tasks of caring for large families in unmechanized households. When the young captains came home and married, they often avoided the expense of setting up housekeeping by taking their wives with them on voyages to the farthest corners of the earth. But in Lincoln's youth steamships made sailing vessels obsolete.
Many captains, married and unmarried, were turned ashore in the
A view of young love, from Christmas Days.
midst of their careers. They found it difficult to support themselves, to say nothing of their families, on the land. Some lived by fishing. Others lived on their savings, or took a variety of odd jobs. Some invested in cranberry bogs, but sea-captains did not know enough about farming to support themselves by tilling the sandy soil of the Cape as their neighbors did. The Cape's few nineteenth-century industries, the Sandwich glass works, salt works, and oyster-raising, had declined. The tourist boom had not yet begun. In this subsistence economy, where nobody starved but everybody had to figure closely to make ends meet lonely captains and their young friends nevertheless continued to fall in love and wanted to marry. Many of Lincoln's forty novels tell of the lengths to which these lovers had to go to find the wherewithal to wed.
The most frequent economic obstacle Lincoln's lovers encountered was lack of opportunity for sufficiently remunerative employment. John Kendrick in Thankful's Inheritance was a good example. After a Cape Cod boyhood he went to the city for his education and returned to the Cape to begin the practice of law. There was already a lawyer in the town, but not all the inhabitants were satisfied with him. Little by little John began to establish himself. In the meantime he fell in love with Emily Howes, a teacher of bookkeeping who spent her summers as business manager of the boarding house where John lived. Of this romance Emily's aunt, who owned the boarding house, observed, "John couldn't think of getting married, not for a long spell. He hasn't got any money."
Then John's cousin, a wealthy summer resident, offered him a substantial retaining fee. Emily insisted that he accept it in spite of his reservations. Later she broke their engagement when John felt himself obligated by this agreement to dispute her aunt's title to the boarding house property. Nevertheless, when the other lawyer, John's wealthy and unscrupulous rival, proposed to Emily soon afterward, she refused him. John eventually discovered that the land in question actually belonged to himself rather than to his cousin. After extricating himself from his obligation by returning the retainer, he gave Emily's aunt a clear title. Thereby he regained his place in Emily's affections and her friends' respect.
John and Emily came to the conclusion that money was necessary for marriage but that there were definite moral limits to the extent to which one should go to acquire it. Roscoe Paine in The Rise of Roscoe Paine had a rather different problem. Neither Roscoe nor Mabel Colton, with whom he fell in love, was a native of Cape Cod. Roscoe. the son of a Wall Street financier, had moved to the Cape to care for his prostrated mother after his father absconded with embezzled funds and another woman. Mabel, the daughter of another Wall Street financier, was a summer resident. She, the rest of the community, and finally Roscoe himself came to think that he ought to go to work.
Roscoe's own observations on this subject began when he heard that a respected resident had coupled his name with that of the town loafer.
A love scene from Old Home House. The quahaug boats were anchored just inside the Point; a clam digger was wading along the outer edge of the sedge; a lobsterman was hauling his pots in the channel; even the bluebird on the wild cherry stump had a straw in his beak and was plainly in the midst of nest bidding. Everyone had something to do and was doing it— everyone except Lute Rogers and myself, the '"birds of a feather." And even Lute was working now, under compulsion.....A man may know, in his heart, that he is no good and still resent having others say that he is, particularly when they say that he and Luther Rogers are birds of a feather.
A view of young love, from Christmas Days.
Later Roscoe's best friend George Taylor, cashier of the local bank, said
I tell you, as a friend, that 'twould be a good thing for you if you did take that job, or some other one. Don't make much matter what it is, but you ought to do something. You're too clever a fellow to be hanging around, shooting and fishing. You're wasting your life.
Finally Mabel informed him
I cannot understand how a man such as you seem to be, young, educated, and with life before him, can be content to do as you do, spend your time in fishing, or sailing, or shooting. To have no ambition at all. ... If I were a man I would have some purpose in life; I would do something worth while if it were only to sell fish from a cart. . . .
Stung by her reproof, Roscoe accepted a position in George's bank.
It is important to notice that the pressure on Roscoe was not financial. He and his mother had an income sufficient, though just barely so, for their needs. Mabel was her wealthy father's only child, whose eventual inheritance was certain to be more than adequate for her support and that of her husband. But in order to be respected by his friends, to win Mabel's love, and in the last analysis to maintain his own self-respect Roscoe had to be gainfully employed even though his salary was insignificant and the work he was doing was far below the level of his ability.
Other men in Lincoln's world were unable to find suitable employment for temporary reasons. Ben Snow in Storm Signals was a sea captain who was crippled when his vessel was wrecked under suspicious circumstances. Physically unable to go to sea and unlikely to be entrusted with another ship in any case, he broke his engagement to Alice Evans. She, however, refused to consider herself disengaged. She continued to meet Ben secretly in spite of her father's opposition. Finally she put him in touch with a doctor who was able to restore his health. In the meantime Ben's father investigated the wreck, succeeded in proving that another of the ship's officers was to blame, and cleared Ben's name. Ben and Alice were married hastily on the eve of his departure to take a command in the Civil War navy.
Farley Crowell in The Peel Trait wanted to go away to art school. Lettice Peel wanted him to take a steady but routine job in town. Lettice's father, who wanted to break off the match, used his influence with a number of Farley's friends to persuade him to go away. Lettice then married her father's choice, who soon went to pieces and died in an auto crash. Farley went to art school for awhile, served in World War I, and finally drifted back to the Cape. There, unwell, shell-shocked, and discouraged, he eked out a bare living carving wooden toys and lawn ornaments. Lettice was meanwhile also eking out a bare living running a notion shop, while her slippery half-brother and sister wormed their inheritances out of their father while he was still alive. He, however, evened the score with wry Yankee humor by leaving Lettice a valuable piece of real estate which both the others wanted. On the basis of this financial security, Lettice asked Farley to marry her.
Lack of employment was not the only economic cause of heartache in Lincoln's world. A number of his characters, particularly women, found themselves at odds with their lovers when investments failed them. Thankful Barnes, in Thankful's Inheritance, was one of these. Thankful sank her savings and her legacy in a summer boarding house. Unfortunately she was a far better housekeeper than business manager. She burdened herself with an unwise mortgage and then permitted
expenses to outrun profits. Cap'n Obed Bangs offered to lend her money, which she refused. Then he made the mistake of proposing marriage almost in the same breath. Thankful indignantly spurned the implication that she would sell herself to avert financial disaster. Not until her money difficulties were resolved by other events was she willing to consider the possibility that Cap'n Obed might have proposed to her because he loved her.
A sailor's Valentine, brought home by a Cape Cod seaman as a souvenir for his sweetheart. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Museum, Provincetown.
The Aristocratic Miss Brewster lost money in stock speculation. She asked David Cummings, who had risen from humble beginnings to bank president, to help her find work. He welcomed her as an employee in his bank. Then Mary's half-brother Ben returned to his old home and persuaded her to resign because he considered employment
Fans were among the presents Cape Cod shippers brought from China for their wives. Photo courtesy of the Cape Cod Museum, Provincetown.
incompatible with her social position. Ben's sudden death left Mary in debt for his extravagances and generally worse off than before. At sight of her distress, David overcame the social restraints of a lifetime and asked her to marry him. Like Thankful Barnes, Mary flung aside any suggestion that she might wed for a means of support.
". . . you were so bent upon giving me everything—money and help of any and all kinds—that you even offered to—to marry me. It was the only respectable way you could think of to provide my board and clothes with the rest, I suppose. Hasn't your generosity any limits?"
Only after David's dying grandfather confided to her his concern over his grandson's secret shyness and his fears for his future loneliness did she bring herself to reconsider her decision.
Caroline Warren, in Cap'n Warren's Wards, lost a lover when it appeared that her fortune had vanished. Caroline, the daughter of a Cape-Cod-born Wall Street financier, was sought in marriage by Malcolm Dunn, the playboy son of a deceased Tammany politician. But Caroline's salty uncle Cap'n Elisha Warren suspected that Malcolm was interested in Caroline's wealth rather than in Caroline herself. He gave Malcolm and his designing mother to understand that Caroline's inheritance was entangled in dubious investments and might prove negligible. Mrs. Dunn immediately insisted that the match be broken off. Malcolm acquiesced. Caroline then fell in love with a poor but hard-working young writer who had long admired her from a distance.
A number of women among Lincoln's minor characters felt that the successful pursuit of money had cut their husbands off from them. Mrs. Colton, Mabel Colton's mother, was one of these ladies who considered herself neglected. She developed "nerves," as did the wives of many other summer residents. Mrs. Ogden Hapworth Williams, in The Depot Master, quarrelled constantly with her husband.
"What are you grumbling about now?" demanded Williams. "Don't I give you more money than ..."
"Nonsense!" sneered Mrs. Williams, in scornful derision. "Nonsense, I say! Money is all there is to you, Ogden. In other things, the real things of this world, those you can't buy with money, you're a perfect imbecile. You know nothing whatever about them."
Occasionally Lincoln depicted a girl, like Madeline Fosdick in The Portygee, who resembled such a mother. One summer Madeline fell in love with Albert Speranza, the poetic son of a Cape Cod girl and a Spanish baritone. Neither of them gave a thought to the bookkeeping of marriage, although Madeline's parents and Albert's Cape Cod grandparents did and both disapproved of the match for that reason. Nevertheless the young couple insisted on remaining engaged for several years. When Albert returned from a World War I prison camp to find himself hailed as a hero and his book of poems a best seller, they planned to marry. But Albert could not bring himself to accept Mr. Fosdick's offer of a soft job.
I said that I appreciated his kindness and was grateful for the offer. But my mind was made up. I would not live upon his charity and draw a large salary for doing nothing except be a little, damned tame house-poet led around in leash and exhibited at his wife's club meetings.
That ended his engagement to Madeline. Albert then established himself as a writer of magazine fiction and married a Cape Cod girl who had been his chum for many years.
Joseph Lincoln and his wife are buried near their ivy-covered family monument in Chatham cemetery.
Some of Lincoln's lovers found their happiness endangered by the misuse of money. George Taylor, in The Rise of Roscoe Paine, was on the eve of marriage when he yielded to the temptation to increase his savings by stock speculation. But the stock he bought went down instead of up. Finally he "borrowed" some securities from his bank to back his investment until the market turned. The market, however, remained where it was. George was on the verge of suicide when his anxious fiancee prompted Roscoe Paine to investigate. At great personal sacrifice, Roscoe was able to extricate his friend. George, having learned his lesson, was married on the date originally set.
Another Lincoln character who misused money was Dr. Nye of North Ostable. Arrested for misappropriating church funds, he admitted signing the incriminating check but refused any explanation. The town believed that he had stolen the money to support his wife's extravagance. He was convicted of embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. After he served his term, Dr. Nye reimbursed the injured church from an inheritance. Still later he returned to North Ostable and resumed practice. His professional skill won him a grudging measure of community respect and the renewed love of a former friend, wealthy widow Katherine Powell. Finally, in an attempt to prevent the separation of two young lovers, Dr. Nye revealed that the thief had been not himself but his deceased wife, who had suffered from kleptomania. Katherine Powell had never fully believed in his guilt. When she heard this story, she ascertained that he still loved her and insisted that he marry her.
In general, Lincoln preferred to focus his studies of criminal and pathological situations upon their effect on innocent bystanders. A number of his young lovers were separated not by their own misuse of money but by their parents'. Banks Bradford and Elizabeth Cartwright in Silas Bradford's Boy had to deal with theft across two generations, Elizabeth's grandmother, Maybelle Truman, was Lincoln's one major depiction of a totally unscrupulous woman. In an attempt to unload some bad debts, she used her granddaughter both to entice Christopher Trent, a local banker, and to involve Banks Bradford, a young lawyer. Elizabeth, however, refused to be used beyond a certain point. Banks had other friends and relatives who informed him of irregularities in Trent's and Mrs. Truman's dealings. Furious over this frustration of her scheme, Mrs. Truman did everything in her power to separate Elizabeth and Banks. Then she died.
When Elizabeth examined her grandmother's papers she found documents revealing a scandal concerning Banks' father. His "accidental" death was proven to have been suicide following the deliberate burning of his ship for the insurance. He had shot himself when Maybelle, his discarded mistress, had tried to blackmail him. His partners, Captain Truman, whom Maybelle later married, and Christopher Trent's grandfather, had made their fortunes by the incident. After these discoveries, when Banks asked Elizabeth to marry him, he said
"I haven't any money. It may be a good while before I earn enough to take care of you. I shall try hard, but we may have to wait—and wait.
She did not let him finish. . . . "Don't talk of money! Money, and what people do to get it, has been responsible for all this disgrace and horror. Your family's and—and mine! Don't mention it!"
Some of Lincoln's lovers were brought together by the same kinds of economic difficulties that separated others. In her search for employment, Martha Snow in Cap'n Eri answered a matrimonial advertisement inserted by three retired sea captains who had agreed that one of them should marry to provide a housekeeper for the rest. When Mrs. Snow arrived for an interview, she found the captains caring for a friend who had suffered a stroke near their home. They postponed the question of matrimony and hired her to nurse the invalid until he died several weeks later. As they all became acquainted Cap'n Jerry, who had placed the advertisement, decided that he did not want to marry Mrs. Snow, but Cap'n Eri, who had not taken the scheme seriously at first, fell in love with her instead.
Galusha Cabot Bangs, Galusha the Magnificent, became involved in Martha Phipps' affairs when her investments began to lose their value. He was an eminent but absent-minded archaeologist of an old and wealthy Boston family who became Martha's lodger when he came to the Cape for his health. On learning that she was in financial difficulty, he purchased her shaky stocks himself. His attempts to conceal his generosity from Martha and her inquisitive neighbors led him into a series of shrewd and complicated maneuvers which not only shored up Martha's finances and secured her love but also solved the problem of a pair of young lovers separated by parental opposition.
John Heath and Susan Harwell in Blowing Clear decided to marry as a direct result of someone else's misuse of money. After John's wife deserted him, he drifted bitterly for several years before he came to rest on Cape Cod, where he lived by fishing. When his wife died, leaving a child whom she insisted was his, John adopted the boy, Raymond, and educated him. He was very proud of Raymond's success as a college football star, which brought him an offer of employment from a Wall Street magnate. In the meantime John met Susan while searching for a housekeeper. Circumstances prevented him from employing her, but she accepted a position in the same town and they became good friends. Then John learned that Raymond was in fact not his son but the son of the scoundrel for whom his wife had abandoned him. Before he had digested this discovery, Raymond came home to confess that he had been speculating to make money enough to marry his boss's daughter, and had "borrowed" from the firm to cover his losses. John contemptuously refused to help him, but injured himself seriously a few hours later trying to prevent Raymond from committing suicide. When Susan heard the story, she immediately lent Raymond the money he needed. John found this out when he regained consciousness several days later. Then he finally put his disappointment behind and asked Susan to marry him.
All of these stories show that love and money were inseparable on Joseph Lincoln's Cape Cod. Of course we must not take the stories themselves as relations of fact. The situations presented in these brief summaries are familiar plots of popular fiction, and many of the incidents are exaggerated to bring out their humorous aspects. But the various characters' reactions toward the events in which they participate are facts of another kind. People from different regions in other periods would not have reacted to the same events in the same way. We know from other observers that people on Cape Cod when Lincoln knew it did in fact respond to similar situations as people in his stories do. Therefore we can believe that Lincoln was depicting the ways in which Cape Codders actually thought and behaved when they fell in love and planned to marry.
It is interesting to note that Lincoln's characters did not themselves get their ideas about love from stories. The only ones who took time to read love stories were idlers who were trying to avoid doing something worthwhile. Those who attended plays on their rare visits to the city usually saw nautical melodramas and came away criticising the author's ignorance of navigation. Their responses to art and music were similarly utilitarian. None of Lincoln's characters had any conception of love as an ideal experience similar to those expressed in works of literature or art. The one exception was Albert Speranza—and his mother, who eloped with the baritone—but Lincoln made it clear that both the mother's indiscretion and the son's infatuation were youthful follies which experience taught them to regret. Nevertheless, every one of Lincoln's books was itself a story of love triumphant over all obstacles. What did love mean to his star-crossed lovers?
Without exception, they thought of love as the necessary basis of marriage. No couple had any business marrying without being in love; conversely no couple had any business being in love without specific matrimonial intentions. It therefore followed that no young man, in particular, had any right to consider himself in love until he had a sufficient regular income to support his bride in the style to which she was accustomed. If a couple happened to fall in love before the young man had made himself financially independent, they expected to postpone marriage until he became so. Sometimes a girl who was working kept her job in the meantime and added to their joint savings, but only rarely did Lincoln's women plan to remain employed after their weddings. Nor did young people expect help from their parents beyond an opportunity for the man with his father-in-law's firm.
Whether Lincoln's lovers were wealthy or poor, employed or in need of employment, most of them were alone in the world and lonely. Of course, any love story that is to end in marriage must be about persons who are free to marry. But Lincoln's lovers were usually only children, orphans, spinsters and bachelors bereaved of their other relatives, or widows and widowers. If these lovers had any living kin, they were usually responsible for their support. Those very young lovers—usually girls—who had complete families very often disagreed with one or both of their parents. Nevertheless, in Lincoln's novels parental objections to young love usually seem to be a plot device, while economic impediments to marriage appear as a human problem. This difference in tone unquestionably reflects Lincoln's personal experience. He was an only child whose father was drowned at sea when he was a baby. He grew up with his mother's family on the Cape until he went to a suburb of Boston to attend high school. He was unsuccessful as a stockbroker's clerk and as a commercial artist before he became a writer. His own marriage took place in the midst of this struggle for existence. Therefore, Lincoln was in a position to observe and to record with special sympathy the attempts of others to deal with like situations.
It is particularly important to notice that Lincoln always did see troubles of this sort as human problems. Although he was writing at a time when such difficulties were often considered to be the product of impersonal economic and social forces, Lincoln never looked at them from that viewpoint. Nor did he see the individual as a conglomeration of atoms adrift in outer space. Want appeared to him as an individual problem, which a person could solve for himself by going to work. Loneliness he saw likewise as an individual problem, which a person could solve for himself by making a compatible marriage.
Lincoln made no essential distinction between the responses of men and women to these basic problems of want and loneliness. Lincoln's men forfeited the respect of their neighbors and their loved ones if they were not gainfully employed, but his women worked just as hard in their homes and did not hesitate to earn their keep or even to support their families if necessary. Both men and women married to escape loneliness. Ordinarily the men proposed marriage, as is customary, but Lincoln depicted with great sympathy a number of situations in which women had good reason to take the initiative Joseph Lincoln's subject was the everyday life of people at a certain place and time. He showed how their ordinary activities were meaningful to them as the means by which they supported their families. It is quite clear from the kind of mates his characters selected what kind of family life they wanted. They considered loving marriage on a sound financial basis the cornerstone of human security in a star-crossed universe.
Alice P. Kenney is Chairman of the Department of Inter-studies and Associate Professor of History at Cedar Crest College. She has published a family biography, The Ansevoorts of Albany, and several articles on American regionalism.
". . . See how truly the human history is written out in the faces around you. The silent assembly thus talks very loud. The old farmer, like Daniel Wood or David Buttrick, carries, as it were palpable in his face, stone walls, rough woodlots, the meadows and the barnyard; the old Doctor is a gallipot; the bookbinder binds books in his face; and the good landlord mixes liquors, yet in motionless pantomime. Beauty, softness, piety and love come there also in female form, and touch the heart. Vices even, in slight degree, improve the expression. Malice and scorn add to beauty. I see eyes set too near, and limited faces, — faces, I mean, of one marked but invariable expression. I wonder how such wear with the husband. They pique, but must tire. I prefer universal faces, countenances of a general humane type which pique less, but to which I can always safely return home. I read plainly in these manifold persons the plain prose of life, timidity, caution, appetite, old houses, musty smells, stationary, retrograde, faculties puttering round (to borrow Peter Howe's garden phrase) in paltry routines from January to December."
The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, abridged and edited, with an introduction, by Robert N. Linscott (New York, 1960), page 109.
posted June 2004 at CapeCodHistory.us