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Walt Whitman to Abraham Paul Leech, 25 March [1841]


By what Overacre1 would call an "exceedingly natural and extensive concatenation of radical causes," I begin thinking, now that I sit down to write to you, of the time and place that I used to hail from some eight or nine months ago. You no doubt remember those precious missives that sprang almost diurnally from my teeming hand at Purgatory Place.—But that Place! O, it makes my nerves quiver as I think of it.—Yes, anathema! anathema curse, curse upon thee thou fag end of all earthly localities, infernal Woodbury!2 But I fear I am getting warm.—Let me push the subject no farther.—The fact is, the most distant mention of that diabolical region, that country of buckwheat dough-nuts, and pot-cheese, and rye sweet–cake, always makes me fall a swearing.—Faugh!

Have you never in your travels come across a village where some half dozen principal characters seemed to give a colour and tone to the whole place? Of such a nature is this Whitestone, which your servant, now irradiates with  loc_gk.01460_large.jpg the benign light of his countenance.—The principal feature of the place is the money making spirit, a gold-scraping and a wealth-hunting fiend, who is a foul incubus to three fourths of this beautiful earth.—Unfortunately, too, these "leaders" here, set but a poor example to the rest as regards their strict adherence to the domestick ties and institutions which old Madame Custom has planted and nourished and made at last so deeply rooted among us.—Enough of this however.—Do not think I am going to fall into the splenetic, fault-finding current, on which those Woodbury documents were set afloat.—

I am quite happy here; and when I say this, may I flatter myself that some chord within you will throb "I am glad to hear that?"—Yes, as far perhaps as it falls to mortal lot, I enjoy happiness here.—Of course, I build now and then my castles in the air.—I plan out my little schemes for the future; and cogitate fancies; and occasionally there float forth like wreaths of smoke, and about as substantial, my day dreams.—But, take it all in all, I have reason to bless the  loc_gk.01461_large.jpg breeze that wafted me to Whitestone.—

We are close on the sound.—It is a beautiful thing to see the vessels, sometimes a hundred or more, all in sight at once, and moving so gracefully on the water.—Opposite to us there is a magnificent fortification under weigh.—We hear the busy clink of the hammers at morn and night, across the water; and sometimes take a sail over to inspect the works, for you know it belongs to U.S.—

My quarters are quite satisfactory too as regards boarding.—One of the windows of my room commands a pleasant view of the sound.—Another looks to the east and the great round face of the sun, [cut away] he comes along in the morning, almost seems to kiss me with a loving kiss.—I am generally dressed and ready to receive him at his first appearance.—This said room of mine is something that I much value.—It is my sanctum sanctorum, which profane foot invadeth not.—Its hallowed precincts are forbidden ground to every she in the house, except for absolutely necessary entrances, which concern the vital well–being of its lord.—

I hope this will find you enjoying  loc_gk.01462_large.jpg health and peace.—O that I were a Napoleon that I might load the heads of my friends with golden coronets.—My best wishes I waft to you, wrapped up and sealed with a wafer.—May your shadow never be less.—

Adieu Walter Whitman Abraham P. Leech Jamaica L. I. W Whitman March 26th (1841 Whitstone)

Abraham Paul Leech (1815–1886) was the son of Obadiah Paul Leech (1792–1881), an auctioneer, and his wife, Susan Holland Leech. One of three children, Leech would go on to become a bookkeeper and friend of Walt Whitman. Leech also served as secretary pro tem of The Jamaica Lyceum in the 1840s in Jamaica, New York. He and his wife, Phebe Kissam Duryea Leech (1823–1885) had two children: Abraham Duryea Leech (1851–1876) and John Leech (1860–?).


  • 1. Jacob Overacre lived in Jamaica, Long Island, New York in 1840, and he started "The Children's Retreat" for Home Education. An advertisement for Overacre's educational program appeared in the April 13, 1841, issue of The New York Tribune, and indicated that Overacre would receive a limited number of boys under twelve years of age into his family, to "effect a thorough training of the faculties; a seasonable and harmonious development of the moral, physical, and intellectual powers." The ad also indicated that Overacre's "mode of discipline [was] strictly parental," and that the Bible would be the primary source of "religious principle and moral duty" ("Home Education," The New York Tribune [April 13, 1841], 3). Given that Overacre's "Children's Retreat" is advertised in mid-April 1841 and Whitman mentions having seen papers that printed news about the school, this letter almost certainly dates to May 4, 1841. Later, Jacob Overacre is listed as a teacher at the Mechanics' Institute School in the 1851 Manual of the Corporation of the City of New York and, according to the state census, still resided in Brooklyn as a schoolteacher in 1865. [back]
  • 2. In the summer of 1840, Whitman taught for three months in the agrarian town of Woodbury, New York. Based on the letters he wrote to his friend Abraham Paul Leech from "Purgatory Fields" and "Devil's Den," he did not enjoy his time there. Walt Whitman Elementary School now stands a stone's throw away from the site of the one-room schoolhouse Whitman knew. [back]
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