John Larkin Lincoln (1817-1891), professor of Latin, was born in Boston on February 23, 1817. He entered the Boston Latin School at the age of nine and had completed the course which prepared him for college when he was thirteen. Being considered too young for college, he attended the High School in Boston for a year and then returned to the Latin School for one more year, where he was valedictorian, but was prevented by illness from delivering the farewell address. He was sent to Brown by his father, who was acquainted with President Wayland, despite the tradition that all Boston Latin School valedictorians went to Harvard. He was baptized in the Federal Street Church on Sunday, October 7, 1832, and on Monday presented himself at Brown to be examined for admission. At the end of his first term, he was called home and arrived after the death of his father, who had left him the message, “Tell him to do well; the Church expects much of him.” A diary kept while he was a student reveals that religion was uppermost in his mind. He joined the Society of Missionary Inquiry in May 1833 and noted in January 1834, “Commenced a practice of meeting with three of my classmates who are pious ... three times a week for religious conversation and prayer.” On May 26, 1833, he recorded President Andrew Jackson’s visit to Providence, “He arrived in the morning and was welcomed cordially by the citizens, and was brought into the city in a barouche amidst the shouts of the spectators. In the afternoon he came up to college attended by his suite, one of whom, Governor Cass, made an extemporaneous address to the students, which was received with great éclat.”
In allusion to the President, he remarked that ‘his whole visit has been but one procession.’ ... I fear that many expenses have been incurred in order to render his visit pleasant, whose direct tendency is to inflate the heart of man with pride and lead him to forget that he is but man.” After graduation in 1836, Lincoln was at Columbian College (now George Washington University), first as a teacher in the preparatory school and then as a tutor in the college. In 1837 he entered Newton Theological School to study for the ministry. His studies were interrupted twice by trouble with his eyes, and in his second year he began to question his fitness for the ministry, writing in his diary, “I tremble to think of the short interval now remaining previous to leaving this Institution. I am not yet prepared for the ministry. I shrink from its laborious, responsible duties.” He was offered a position as tutor at Brown, and found that his true profession was teaching. He went to Europe in 1841 for two years of study in Germany followed by a year of travel in France and Italy. In 1844 he was named assistant professor of Latin at Brown. The next year he was promoted to professor, and, although presidencies of colleges were offered him, kept that position for the rest his days with the exception of three trips to Europe, one for his health in 1857, the next in the summer of 1878, and the last a year’s absence in 1887-88.
In addition to teaching he was a member of the University library committee for 35 years, and edited the Annual Catalogue with President Francis Wayland until 1855 and after that time by himself until 1884. He published annotated editions of Livy, Horace, and Ovid, and wrote numerous articles for the Providence Journal and for Baptist periodicals. From 1858 to 1867, while still teaching the senior class and furnishing a substitute for his other classes, he was the principal of a school for young ladies, formerly operated by John Kingsbury 1826. The Lincoln School in Providence, established in 1884, was named for him at a later date by Mrs. Ames and principal Ednah Bowen, both of whom had been students at his school. In 1890 a fund of $100,000 raised in his honor was added to the endowment with the provision that the income of the fund be used to give him his usual salary for the rest of his life. He died on October 17, 1891 in Providence. President Faunce reminisced about Lincoln in the classroom:
“How he beamed and glowed over a happy translation! With what contagious gladness he expounded some callida junctura in Tacitus! How he radiated his own joy in the Ars Poetica! How he exploded over some venerable joke in Terence, as if it were the latest cartoon in Punch! The Latin a dead language? No one ever said that who sat under ‘Johnny Link’ in 23 University Hall.”