Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
Leech, Abraham Paul (1815–1886)
Author:
Golden, Arthur
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Leech was rescued from oblivion in 1985, with the recovery of nine Whitman letters he had received between 1840–1841. The letters were purchased at auction by the Library of Congress. Leech's personal eighteen-page notebook, the drafts of two letters to Whitman, and miscellaneous genealogical material rounded out the sale.

A bookkeeper by profession, Leech appears to have met Whitman in 1840 in Jamaica, Long Island, where he lived most of his life. His notebook records local marriages, births, deaths, and (Presbyterian) church and temperance meetings. The letter drafts show a pleasant, if ordinary, person of 25, who mainly provided Whitman with local gossip. Though Whitman was an ardent Democrat, Leech handled his advocacy of Whig politics without strain.

Of the nine letters, six predate the earliest letter in the Correspondence and all predate the two extant 1842 letters. They were written from July 1840, when Whitman was teaching school in Woodbury, Long Island, to late 1841, from New York City, and as such shed new light on Whitman's early years. Whitman's letters portray a generally frustrated young man with literary aspirations, chafing at the onerous rural teaching and boarding routine in "Purgatory Fields," as he termed Woodbury. His ordeal ended when he left teaching for a journalism career in New York City. After 1842 Leech appears to have dropped out of Whitman's life, but for a period of some two years he had provided him with a convenient sounding board for his views on local politics, farmers, Woodbury, and the like. The letters offer the reader an invaluable firsthand account of this early period of Whitman's life.

Bibliography

Golden, Arthur. "Nine Early Whitman Letters, 1840–1841." American Literature 58 (1986): 342–360.

Miller, Edwin Haviland, ed. The Correspondence of Walt Whitman: A Second Supplement with a Revised Calendar of Letters Written to Whitman. Spec. Double Issue of Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, 8.3–4 (1991): 1–106.

Whitman, Walt. The Correspondence. Ed. Edwin Haviland Miller. Vol. 1. New York: New York UP, 1961.


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