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Walt Whitman to Abraham Paul Leech, 30 July [1840]

 loc_gk.01469_large.jpg My friend

I feel but little in the humour for writing any thing that will have the stamp of cheerfulness.—Perhaps it would be best therefore not to write at all, and I don't think I should, were it not for the hope of getting a reply.—I believe when the Lord created the world, he used up all the good stuff, and was forced to form Woodbury and its denizens, out of the fag ends, the scraps and refuse: for a more unsophisticated race than lives hereabouts you will seldom meet with in your travels.—They get up in the morning, and toil through the day, with no interregnum of joy or leisure, except breakfast and dinner.—They live on salt pork and cucumbers; and for a delicacy they sometimes treat company to rye-cake and buttermilk.—Is not this enough to send them to perdition "uncancelled, unanointed, unannealed?"—If Chesterfield2 were forced to live here ten hours he would fret himself to death: I have heard the words "thank you," but once since my sojuorn in this earthly purgatory.—Now is the season for  loc_gk.01470_large.jpg what they call "huckleberry frolicks."—I had the inestimable ecstasy of being invited to one of these refined amusements.—I went.—We each carried a tin pail, or a basket, or a big bowl, or a pudding bag.—It was fun no doubt, but it cost me two mortal pounds of flesh, besides numerous remnants of my apparrel, which still remain, for what I know, on the briars and bushes.—Wasn't it hot!—And then our dinner—our pic-nic dinner!—There's the rub!—Guess now what we had.—A broken-bowl half full of cold potatoes; three or four bones thinly garnished with dirty, greasy ham; a huge pie, made out of green apples, molasses, and buckwheat crust; six radishes, and a tin pan of boiled beans!!—And all this had to be washed down with a drink they called "switchell," a villanous compound, as near as I could discover, of water, vinegar, and brown sugar.3—Our conversation, too, was a caution to white folks; it consisted principally, as you may imagine, of ethereal flashes of wit, scraps of Homeric and Italian poetry, disquisitions on science and the arts, quotations from the most learned writers, and suggestions on the speediest way of making butter.—Tim Hewlett4 vowed he ought to have a buss5 from Patty Strong6; Patty modestly declined the honour.—A struggle was the result, in which Tim's face received permanent marks of the length of Patty's finger nails; and the comb of that vigorous young damsel  loc_gk.01471_large.jpg lost some of its fair proportions.—It was a drawn battle.—At the conclusion of this performance, we gathered together our forces and the, bowls, baskets, and pudding-bags aforesaid, and returned home: for my part feeling "particularly and peculiarly kewrious" from the weight of amusement.—

I am much obliged for the paper you sent me.—Write soon.—Send me something funny; for I am getting to be a miserable kind of a dog: I am sick of wearing away by inches, and spending the fairest portion of my little span of life, here in this nest of bears, this forsaken of all God's creation; among clowns and country bumpkins [torn-away] flat-heads, and coarse brown-faced girls, dirty, ill-favored young brats, with squalling throats and rude manners, and bog-trotters, with all the disgusting conceit, of ignorance and vulgarity.—It is enough to make the fountains of good-will dry up in our hearts, to wither all gentle and loving dispositions, when we are forced to descend and be as one among the grossest, the most low-minded of the human race.—Life is a dreary road, at the best; and I am just at this time in one of the most stony, rough, desert, hilly, and heart-sickening parts of the journey.—But Time is the Great Physician who cures, they say, our ills of mind and body.—I pray the fates he may rid me of my spleen ere long

W. W.  /loc_gk.01472_large.jpg Abrahan P. Leech | Jamaica L.I.7 W Whitman July 30 (1840)

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. The British Statesman and diplomat Philip Dormer Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield (1694–1773), wrote over 400 letters to his illegitimate son on a variety of topics, including history, literature, politics, and general advice. These letters were compiled and published in 1774 as Letters to His Son on the Art of Becomming a Man of the World and a Gentleman. The text was used as a handbook for gentlemanly manners and etiquette. [back]
  • 3. Switchel, or haymaker's punch, was a drink enjoyed by nineteenth-century farmers in the northeastern U.S. during the hay harvest, although it dates back to the colonial period. Whitman was correct about the ingredients, though variations often contained ginger or substituted molasses, honey, or maple syrup for brown sugar. [back]
  • 4. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 5. A buss is a kiss. [back]
  • 6. As yet we have no information about this person. [back]
  • 7. Whitman wrote Leech's address on the back of the final page of this letter. [back]
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