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Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography

This was first printed in the Falmouth Enterprise, 26 Feb 1993,
and posted here in May 2005, with the kind permission of George L. Moses

George MosesGeo. L. Moses

Dry On The Rocks.

The Cape's Best Press Agent

    September 1940, Better Homes and Gardens Magazine: "Ask any inhabitant of the slender strip of Massachusetts sand dunes, cranberries, clam chowders and homegrown hospitality known the world over as 'The Cape' and you will learn that Joseph C. Lincoln is as much a part of its local color as the fishing shacks that line its mossy piers or the graceful gulls that wheel above them."

    I dunno just when Joseph C. (for Crosby, what else?) Lincoln died. (He was 70 when the above was written.) But I do know that all too few Cape Codders of this day and age are familiar with the story of the man who, more than any other single individual, put Cape Cod on the tip of the world's tongue. He was by far the best press agent this practically peerless peninsula has ever had.

    Joe Lincoln wrote 45 books in 45 years, about 40 of them novels that featured Cape settings and characters . . . and every one was a best seller. In addition, he turned out reams of lilting, homespun verse about the Cape as well as a wonderful collection of essays about our nearly noble Narrow Land put together in a book entitled Cape Cod Yesterdays. Alas, I haven't many of Lincoln's books, but I do have that one. I also have his very first, a volume of verse published in 1902, titled Cape Cod Ballads. And one other, 1907's Cape Cod Stories, a gift from a faithful reader, Ellen Brodsky.

Just Who Was He?

    Who was this Joseph Crosby Lincoln? Well, for one thing he was (almost inevitably) a prophet without honor in his own county. Many of his fellow Cape Codders didn't like him because they thought he made fun of them in his books.

    Actually, he simply used the old Cape way of speech and went out of his way to disguise the people he wrote about and even our towns, inventing such once well-known communities as "Wellmouth" and "Ostable."

    Born in 1870, he was the son of a sea captain, Joseph Lincoln, and Emily Crosby Lincoln. On his father's side, three generations of deep-sea skippers sailed square-riggers on the seven seas. His mother's brother was an old sea dog, too. Joe was born in Brewster, a happenstance that failed to endear him to crusty natives of that town, especially when he built a summer home in Chatham, eight miles away. His parents were married nearly 20 years before Joe, their only child, was born. That year his father died on a voyage south and his body was returned for burial in Brewster. Joe and his mother remained in Brewster until 1883, when they moved to Chelsea.

    From then on, whenever Lincoln wrote, he wrote mainly from memory, although he did come back frequently to reacquaint himself with the Cape and its people, particularly their speech since he used the vernacular assiduously in his books.

Several Pursuits Later...

    Actually, he didn't set out to become a writer. He first tried a job in a Boston bank but stayed only a few months before quitting to become an artist. He wasn't a very successful artist, either. Often, to make his pictures sell better, he wrote a little verse to go with them. It wasn't long before the canny Cape Codder in him realized that his verses sold better than his pictures and he began to write them in earnest. Many of the rhymes in Cape Cod Ballads first ran in Harper's Weekly, The Youth's Companion and other such periodicals of the era.

    Lincoln sold his first short story to the Saturday Evening Post. When you stop to remember (if you're old enough) how many other famous American authors got their start that way, you have to mourn the passing of the old Post. (Even I mourn it, since I wrote the full-page newspaper ads that featured its weekly content back in the late '30s and early '40s.) His first novel was Cap'n Eri, an amusing tale about three old sea captains who advertise for a wife.

    In his early days, Lincoln used to stay at the Consodine House in Brewster. The proprietor was also a blacksmith and on some visits Lincoln would hide in a haymow above the blacksmith shop while the smithy would engage customers and hangers-on in conversation — and Joe would take notes recording their expressions.

    I said earlier that all too few folks nowayears remember Joe Lincoln. Those who do, however, are ardent admirers. Other writers' books may be more collectible, but it's highly doubtful that they have as many collectors as you'll find in these parts. Back in the 1960s a collection of Lincoln first editions sold at a Bourne auction in Hyannis for $1,100. Today I doubt that you could buy a single first printing for much less than that, depending on various circumstances and conditions, of course. And to think that once upon a time on the Cape, first editions of Lincoln were awarded to children as prizes for perfect Sunday School attendance.