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Joseph C. Lincoln bibliography

posted Dec 2004

The Bookman 60 (5): 593-597
Jan 1925
George H. Doran Co.

Joseph C. Lincoln

By Arnold Patrick

    IF you consider the character of the inhabitants of Cape Cod essentially New England, it is perhaps difficult to understand the continued and consistent success of Joseph Lincoln's stories of Cape Cod folk. Why should local color stories of a small section of America be received with enthusiasm in Australia? I mention Australia because Mr. Lincoln told me the other day that many of the most interesting letters in his huge correspondence come from that far distant part of the British Empire. He recalled particularly a mail friendship, during the war, with an Australian captain who wrote him long and detailed accounts of his activities from the front line.

    "The really honest letters from readers are one of the finest rewards of a writer", said Mr. Lincoln, and went on to tell me of others, some inspiring, some pathetic, some entertaining, and some, of course, annoying. It is not, however, in Australia alone that his breezy, homely, wittv stories are read. They are read all over the w orld. Isn't the secret of their popularity the fact that, in addition to being well done, they deal w ith folk who represent a curious mingling of the qualities that appeal to most of us? Cape Cod people are, in the first place, of the sea— sailors, fishermen, life savers. and a love of the sea is universal. Yet they till their own soil. They are of the farm, and there are few of us who can go back many generations without finding a sturdy grower of grain among our forebears. Then, if you look carefully into their an-cestry, in certain localities of the cape you'll detect a touch of "Injun" blood. Perhaps that is why they are so fond of their own folk lore and legendry.

    Yet New England contributes more definitely, too, to Mr. Lincoln's success, in my opinion Where, after all, do most midwesterners come from? Old New England. Most far westerners? Old New England. And in Mr Lincoln's people these pioneers and descendants of pioneers recognize their own characteristics and those-of their ancestors.                                         

    Above all, though, Mr. Lincoln's " stories are of the home, they are of home loving people, and that fact constitutes an appeal without limit of country.

    Isn't that why, from the very first, Mr. Lincoln's books have sold well; why every new book sells more than the preceding one; why he has had little trouble in reaching the 100,000 class, in "getting into six figures"?

    Mr. Lincoln could not write of these people as he does if he were not of them. The characters in "Cap'n Eri", in "The Postmaster", in "The Portygee", in "Rugged Water", and more than a dozen other volumes are beyond the shadow of a doubt authentic. So is their author. Short, robust, stout enough to be jolly yet not stout enough to be called fat, ruddy of com-plexion, enjoying a good story and telling many good ones, proud of his


family, fond of his friends, wholesome, honest, interested in the world at large, he is obviously a Yankee, and a Cape Cod Yankee at that! And that Yankee habit of story telling is the reason, probably, why he is one of the best of American authors to read aloud. He knows perfectly how to compress an incident so as to make a dramatic and a pointed anecdote.

    What can we learn of becoming a successful writer from Joseph Lincoln's career? Again, as in the case of Zane Grey, we find that the recipe lies in living enthusiastically and working hard; that no special training makes the great story teller.

    "The things I have done in my life have always been the unexpected things, those for which I had really not planned at all", Mr. Lincoln told me laughingly; but most of us would add to that statement the belief that success has followed because he has taken advantage of those unexpected opportunities.

    Mr. Lincoln is, first of all, like so many other writers, a product of the sea. Chance alone kept him from being a sea captain as were all his ancestors, great-grandfathers, grandfathers, uncles, cousins. His father, Joseph Lincoln, was a captain also. His mother had often voyaged with her husband. She, too, knew the sweep of storm and the shine of phosphorous in a still sea; in fact, she was planning to join Captain Lincoln when he was taken sick of a fever and died in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1871. The son was then a year old. Brewster, Massachusetts, was their home village; but they soon moved nearer Boston, where the boy went, to school. His spare hours he spent with the local fishermen, and in the life saving stations along the coast. Here are still to be seen the old records of adventures, in cramped hands, strange dialect, but with power of their own, ably transcribed now by Mr. Lincoln in "Rugged Water".

    Although young Joe was a sportsman and an out-of-door boy, although he liked to go out in boats, to fish, to swim, the dramatic instinct, and the artistic, showed in him early. He built himself a toy theatre. From R. L. S. backward and forward, this has been a childhood amusement of authors, artists, and playwrights, you'll find. Lincoln built his miniature structure, painted his scenes and characters, wrote his own plays and put them on. In a darkened room hewould raise the small curtain and behold his own stories come to life for him. Long after the proper age for toys he indulged in this pastime. Finally, he feared this was an occupation not befitting a man.

    "You know why I gave up my toy theatre?" he questioned. I nodded, laughing. "Well, I guess lots of youngsters have given up things like that because they thought other youngsters or their elders wouldn't understand."

    His family were practically minded for him. He was to be trained for business, and, being a dutiful son, he turned his mind wholly in that direction. College was impossible for him. His son, who intends to be a writer, has just completed his college course, and I wondered how he felt about university training for writers.

    "I'm sorry that I didn't go to college", he confessed.

    I protested a trifle at that, and asked him if he didn't think academic training sometimes took the edge off the natural ability to tell a story well, if it didn't tend to make writers self conscious and over-literary?

    "Perhaps", he admitted. "But it's


the friendships, the associations of college, that are important. I'm glad that my son was graduated successfully. He's being a reporter on a Philadelphia paper now. That will give him the practical side of writing." Mr. Lincoln himself never had any actual reportorial experience. He started his business career early, in a broker's office. This work, he says, he disliked. He has been quoted as stating: "I have always felt that they were as glad to get rid of me as I was to leave them." Feeling, however, that it would have been difficult for Mr. Lincoln actually to fail at anything, I pressed this point, and he told me how he lost his first job.

    The firm, it appears, had one of those annoying reorganizations which business men know so well, when most of the working force suddenly find themselves without jobs. He, however, was one of the few retained. This pleased him very much, in a way; and proves to our satisfaction his business ability. However, it created something like over-confidence in his breast. He went to his employer, since times were hard and wages slim, and asked for a raise. The raise was not forthcoming. Mr Lincoln left to seek other fields of endeavor.

    Since the days of the toy theatre he had always wanted to draw. He took lessons of Henry Sandham ("Hy"), a prominent illustrator and caricaturist of that period. In Boston he and a friend set out to make their art commercial. They took an office and attempted to sell their pictures. With these pictures, Mr. Lincoln sometimes sent along a verse or a bit of humorous prose, and presently discovered to his surprise that the literature was better than the art. It was, again, the unexpected. Even more unexpected was his next position.

    "Everyone, except myself, was riding a bicycle in those days", he told me. "So knowing nothing of bicycling I found myself associate editor of 'The League of American Wheelmen Bulletin'. I did the illustrations for the magazine." And he added, under his breath, "They were pretty dreadful pictures, too."

    Never having seen the pictures, one cannot give an opinion. The verses of those days, though, were good. They were salty and amusing, they had a fine swing and were filled with homely philosophy. While Mr. Lincoln was holding his editorial position, he kept busy nights writing, and had moderate success in placing his material. His first short story appeared in "The Saturday Evening Post", his verses were to be found in various magazines, among them "Puck", of which Harry Leon Wilson was then editor. That veteran humorist's kindliness and cordiality to him, he remembers with gratitude; for when he finally broke away from Boston in 1899 and came to New York City, it was his verses that made friends for him among writers and editors.

    He had married in 1897, and even in those days the sale of poetry and an occasional short story proved precarious living on which to support a family. It is much better, Mr. Lincoln believes, for the young writer with dependents to have some source of regular income. It leaves the mind freer for good work, if there is a weekly pay check to stave off major worries. If there isn't enough vitality in a man's creative impulse to survive a daily job, to write in spite of everything, he'd better not write at all. Study the careers of writers, and I think you'll agree with him that if a man is destined to be a success in the world of


editors and magazines he will turn out his copy in spite of everything, that not even the exigencies of desk work by day can stop him.

    Again it was the unexpected.

    "Knowing little of banking, I found myself in the office of the American Institute of Bankers", he told me. This institution, in those days starting on a small scale, has since turned into the large and well known Junior Bankers of America. Mr. Lincoln here acted in the capacity of secretary, combined with duties which would now be termed, I presume, "publicity".

    "Never having made a speech," he went on, "I was sent to Cincinnati to talk on banking and the Association."

    This was his first public speech, and he admits that he was filled with confusion. Would he be able to hold his audience, to convince them of what he had to say? He is glad now that such an opportunity came to him, for it gave him confidence and taught him something of how to interest people. Since then, he has delivered hundreds of lectures. His anecdotal talk on "Cape Cod Folks" has delighted men and women all over America. For the most part, he now enjoys lecturing, although it is harder work than writing, in his opinion — "takes more out of you!"

    Living in the suburbs at Hackensack — which is still his winter home — he found time for much hard work turning out verses and short stories. His first book, "Cape Cod Ballads", was published in 1902. He now found that his income warranted giving over the regular office routine, and he made the profession of writing his only one.

    His first novel, "Cap'n Eri", was greeted with enthusiasm and some critical praise, and from then on his success as a writer of fiction was assured. His is character fiction, he explains:

    "My situations always develop from a set of characters. I suppose I could more of a plot than I do, if I wanted to; but that's not my kind of writing. I am interested, first and foremost, in the people of whom I write."

    And it is his people, rather than his situations, that we remember: Cap'n Eri, Galusha, Albert, Solomon Pratt, Keziah Coffin. What they do does not so much matter as does the sort of person they are and how they set about doing what they do.

    Mr. Lincoln likes to write joyfully. He writes, in a sense, psychological stories — character novels must have a modicum of psychology in them — but he dislikes morbidity and he sees the bright side of human nature. He has often made it plain that he likes to write tales with happy endings and that he considers it his privilege to do so. Eugene O'Neill chooses to write of New Englanders and sea folk on the verge of insanity. Joseph Lincoln chooses the eminently sane. Each of these types of story is perfectly true; if anything, I think O'Neill's is the more exaggerated, although by such exaggeration often he achieves great tragic beauty, just as Mr. Lincoln by slight exaggeration achieves sparkling humor. Such departures from literal reality are an author's privilege, and it is his use of them that creates manner and style. When New York critics, as they did recently in reviewing a play, occupy themselves with long discussions of the inbred and decaying New England character, Mr. Lincoln must find himself much entertained. Doubtless, in his Cape villages, he has seen many delightful homely happenings and few examples of murder and incest.


    I am not defending Joseph Lincoln's characters. They need no defense. Even if they were entirely untrue to Cape Cod characteristics they would be worthwhile in themselves. What I am trying to point out is that in these days of psychological meandering on the part of authors, it is a relief to find an author as wholesome as Joseph Lincoln — and that the very fact that it is the wholesome authors which the public rewards by wide sales proves the fundamental soundness of the public mind. There are occasional novels of a sensational character that reach sales beyond the 100,000 mark, but on no such reputation can a steady and continuing sale for an author be builded.  It is not the caller who excites us by walking around the ceiling whom we most like to see. In the long run, the dependable and quietly humorful guest is most welcomed

    Mr. Lincoln's methods of work are simple. His material is a part of him, and he does not need to go far afield to collect it. He spends his summers on Cape Cod, and many of his stories are undoubtedly compounds of tales he still hears there or remembers from his youth. He has claimed that he never puts a real character into his books, that they are all mixtures of people he has known. Before he wrote "Rugged Water" he traveled up and down the Massachusetts coast seeking the retired life savers and consulting them about ways and means during the heyday of the old service.

    He writes in the mornings, with stern instructions for no interruptions, which Mrs. Lincoln carries out with determination. A writer's family must be not only a f amily, it must be a bulwark. It must learn to be silent and to fight for silence. After all, it is on the family's conduct that livelihood partly depends. I know one young author who has taught his baby the sacredness of the typewriter by telling him that this the machine on which papa grinds out pennies. The dishonesty of such education may be questioned; but at least it is a protection for the typewriter until the young man decides to try grinding for himself.

    Mr. Lincoln works longer on a novel than many of our popular story writers, for it takes him about six months to complete a manuscript. He writes with a soft pencil on large sheets of paper. This is an interesting point to note. Few writers, unless they began their career in newspaper offices of a somewhat late date, can "think on a typewriter." There is no rule for ways of putting thought to paper. Some academicians might frown at learning that a novelist dictated his stories Do they frown when they learn that Joseph Conrad dictated his? So, in Hackensack or at Cape Cod, Joseph Lincoln writes his gay novels. When he is not writing, he is playing golf or fishing or taking a part in the interests of the community or his family's pleasures. It has become usual to say that a well known novelist is modest or shy. Joseph Lincoln is not shy, but he is, beyond any shadow of a doubt, one of the most modest men I have ever met — and one of the most wholehearted. Good luck to him! May every new book go on selling more copies than the last, until Cape Cod and its Lincoln characters are as permanent a part of our legendry as Washington and his cherry tree.