Skip to main content

About "Lingave's Temptation"

The place and date of the original publication of "Lingave's Temptation" remain uncertain. The Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman at the Library of Congress includes a clipping of the tale that may have come from the New-York Observer and Chronicle or from an as yet unidentified periodical. Whitman's handwritten revisions, likely intended for the version later published in Specimen Days & Collect (1882), also appear on this clipping.1

The earliest known printing of "Lingave's Temptation" can be found in the New-York Observer and Chronicle—sometimes referred to as the New-York Observer—on November 26, 1842. Just before the title of the story, the editor has printed the phrase "For the New-York Observer," suggesting that Whitman wrote the story for this specific newspaper as opposed to the editor having reprinted the tale from another periodical. This would seem to suggest that the New-York Observer version is the original printing of the story.

"Lingave's Temptation" is unique among Whitman's short stories insofar as it is the only tale in which the title character is a young poet.2 Lingave is a "pitiable, unfortunate man," who lives in poverty, with only a "little canary bird" for company because the caged bird is the only pet he can afford. Ridman, "a money-maker" (emphasis Whitman's) attempts to retain Lingave's services as a writer, offering him a large sum of money if only he will agree to labor for the purpose of forwarding some economic scheme. Lingave struggles with the choice because the writing job means he would be able to afford his room and board; yet, he is haunted by the thought of "labor[ing] for the advancement of what he felt to be unholy."3 He believes that if he "tosses around him the seeds of evil in his writings, or his enduring thoughts, or his chance words," they are likely to do great damage in the future when they "spring up in distant time and poison the air, and putrify and cause to sicken . . . a whole nation." In the end, it seems that Lingave passes up the ready cash and the economic scheme since he sends Ridman an answer that is never explicitly revealed, but the story ends nearly as it began with Lingave who "plodded on as in the days before," presumably continuing in his former impoverished employment.4

The New-York Observer was edited by brothers Sidney E. and Richard C. Morse, who founded the paper after coming to New York City in order to establish a religious newspaper in 1823. The main focus of the paper was religious topics and viewpoints, especially those articles and advertisements of interest to the Presbyterian church.5 By the start of the Civil War, the paper had a circulation of some 60,000.6 According to a book written in celebration of the paper's first fifty years, its "platform" was described as largely "the same as that of the National Benevolent Institutions that were so prevalent in the first half of the nineteenth-century"; this book also claims that the paper was the first to hire a foreign correspondent on annual salary.7 Lingave's determination to uphold virtue at the expense of personal economic gain clearly resonates with the paper's purpose.

Lingave's decision not to take on work that would compromise his values and his writing talent correspond to Whitman's own distancing of himself, late in his life, from much of the fiction writing he had done in the 1840s.8 The comparison may be an apt one given that if the New-York Observer printing marks the original appearance of "Lingave's Temptation," then the tale was first published only three days after J. Winchester's The New World issued Whitman's temperance novel Franklin Evans; or, the Inebriate. A Tale of the Times as an extra edition of that paper. Whitman would later claim that he wrote the novel only for the fast cash—the $75 down payment and an additional $50 because it sold 20,000 copies.9 While it is hard to imagine that writing a novel with a temperance message was tantamount to the poison Lingave imagines coming from Ridman's seemingly shady economic ventures, it is tempting to make connections between Lingave's struggle over whether to write for economic gain and Whitman's own financial need, which may have prompted him to write Franklin Evans for The New World.10

There are no known reprints of "Lingave's Temptation" except the revised version that Whitman included as part of "Pieces in Early Youth" in Specimen Days and Collect (1882), a volume in which he published a selection of his short fiction.11 Several of Whitman's revisions to the language of the New-York Observer version of "Lingave's Tempation" (1842) for publication in Collect (1882) are recorded in our footnotes. For a complete list of revisions that Whitman made to the clipping of an early version of the story now located in the Feinberg Collection in preparation for reprinting the story in Collect, see Thomas L. Brasher's The Early Poems and the Fiction.12

"Lingave's Temptation."

Walter Whitman Lingave's Temptation New-York Observer November 26, 1842 192 per.00332


1. Additional research would be necessary to confirm whether the clipping in the Feinberg Collection matches the story as printed in the New-York Observer and Chronicle. For a full description of the clipping, see Thomas L. Brasher, ed., The Collected Writings of Walt Whitman: The Early Poems and the Fiction (New York: New York University Press, 1963), 331n1. Hereafter, EPF. [back]

2. Patrick McGuire, "Lingave's Temptation," in Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J. R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), 396. [back]

3. McGuire, "Lingave's Temptation," 396. [back]

4. See Whitman's "Lingave's Temptation"; McGuire, "Lingave's Temptation," 396. [back]

5. For additional information about the paper, see the New-York Observer of January 5, 1833. [back]

6. "The Religious Press," in Encyclopedia of Religion in America, ed. Charles H. Lippy and Peter W. Williams (Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2010), 1862. [back]

7. "First Fifty Years of the New-York Observer," in The Jubilee Year Book of the New-York Observer. 1873. (New York: Sidney E. Morse & Company, 1873), [3]. [back]

8. McGuire, "Lingave's Temptation," 396. [back]

9. For Whitman's account of his reasons for writing Franklin Evans, see Horace Traubel's entry in With Walt Whitman in Camden dated Wednesday, May 2, 1888. See also Traubel's entry dated Saturday, September 15, 1888. [back]

10. Frances Winwar, American Giant: Walt Whitman and His Times (New York: Harper, 1941), 73. [back]

11. See Walt Whitman, "Lingave's Temptation," in Specimen Days & Collect (Philadelphia: Rees Welsh & Co., 1882), 366–368. "Pieces in Early Youth" was also reprinted in Whitman's Complete Prose Works (1892): see "Lingave's Temptation." [back]

12. See Brasher, EPF, 331–334. [back]

Back to top