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Walt Whitman to Abraham Paul Leech, 11 August [1840]

 loc_gk.01465_large.jpg My friend,

Why the dickins didn't you come out to the whig meeting at the court house, last Saturday week?—I went there, with the hope of seeing you and one or two others, as much as for any thing else.—I dare say you would have been much gratified; at any rate you would have been astonished, for the orator of the day related facts, and cut capers, which certainly never before met the eye or ear of civilised man.—Just before sundown the performance concluded, and starting from the C. H. I was overtaken by a most impertinent shower, which drenched me to the skin; probably all the whig enthusiasm generated on that occasion was melted down again by this unlucky shower, for we passed loads of forlorn gentlemen, with draggle-tailed coats, crest-fallen hats, and sour-looking phizzes.—The mighty patriotism they felt was drowned by a tormenting slipperiness of coat, shirt, and pantaloons.—

Were you ever tried?—I don't mean tried before Squire Searing2 or Judge Strong3 for breach of promise or theft; but tried as they try mutton fat, to make candles of—boiled down— loc_gk.01466_large.jpgmelted into liquid grease?—tried as they try martyrs at the stake?—If you havn't—I have.—The scene was "Huckleberry plains," The Day Friday last—the time, from twelve o'clock, M. until 3½ P.M.—You see I'm particular.—The awful occasion impressed indeliby upon my memory every agonising moment of that infernal excursion. It was what the ladies and gentlemen of this truly refined place called a party of pleasure.—Yes; it was delightful; fun to the back-bone: but it cost me a sun-burnt face and neck, from which the skin is even now peeling, and four mortal pounds of flesh which ran off in a state of dilution from my body.—The sun poured down whole lumps of red hot fire—not a tree not a shed to shelter us from the intolerable glare.—

I gave you in my last some account4 of my first "huckleberry frolick," but this beats it all hollow.—I can only wonder why I was such a thundering fool as to try it again.—

How are you all in Jamaica?—What is the news?—Do you have any games at Twenty Questions?—Does "our portrait" yet remain in the condition of the southern banks?—O, how I wish I was among you for a few hours: how tired and sick I am of this wretched, wretched hole!—I wander about like an evil spirit, over hills  loc_gk.01467_large.jpg and dales, and through woods, fields, and swamps. In the manufactory of Nature, the building of these coarse gump-heads that people Woodbury, must have been given to some raw hand; for surely no decent workman ever had the making of them.—And these are the contemptible ninnies, with whom I have to do, and among whom I have to live.—O, damnation, damnation! thy other name is school-teaching and thy residence Woodbury.—Time, put spurs to thy leaden wings, and bring on the period when my allotted time of torment here shall be fulfilled.—Speed, ye airy hours, lift me from this earthly purgatory; nor do I care how soon ye lay these pudding-brained bog-trotters, amid their kindred earth.—I do not believe a refined or generous idea was ever born in this place; the whole concern, with all its indwellers, ought to be sunk, as Mosher5 says, "to chaos." Never before have I entertained so low an idea of the beauty and perfection of man's nature, never have I seen humanity in so degraded a shape, as here.—Ignorance, vulgarity, rudeness, conceit, and dulness are the reigning gods of this deuced sink of despair.—The brutes go barefoot, shave once in three weeks, call "brown cow" "brown ke-ow"; live on sour milk, rye bread, and strong pork; believe L.I. sound and the south bay to be the ne plus ultra of creation; and the "gals" wear white frocks with red or yellow waist-ribauds.6


Think, my friend, think on all this; and pray nightly for my deliverance from this dungeon—where grace or good-breeding never were seen, and from whence happiness fled shrieking twenty years ago.—Farewell—and may the blessings of hope and peace, the sunshine of a joyous heart, never be absent from you.—May the bloom of health glow on your features, the tide of joy swell in your heart, and care and grief be strangers to your dwelling

W. Whitman Abraham P. Leech | Jamaica, L.I.7

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. 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]
  • 2. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 3. Whitman may be referring to Judge Thomas Shepard Strong (1765—1840) of Brookhaven, Suffolk County, New York. Judge Strong and his wife Hannah Brewster Strong (1770–1836) were the parents of Selah B. Strong (1792–1872), who served as the District Attorney of Suffolk County for twenty-six years, from 1821 to 1847, and also went on to become a judge. [back]
  • 4. See Whitman's letter to Leech of July 30, [1840]. [back]
  • 5. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 6. Whitman wrote the word "over" at the bottom of this page of the letter. [back]
  • 7. Whitman wrote Leech's address on the back of the final page of this letter. [back]
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