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Walt Whitman to Abraham Paul Leech, 26 August [1840]

 loc_gk.01473_large.jpg Dearly beloved—

Moved by the bowels of compassion, and pushed onward by the sharp prickings of conscience, I send you another epistolary gem.—For compassion whispers in mine ear that you must by this time have become accustomed to the semi-weekly receipt of these invaluable morsels, and therefore to deprive you of the usual gift, would be somewhat similar to sending a hungry man to bed without his supper.—Besides, conscience spurs me to a full confession; which generally operates on me like a good dose of calomel1 on one who has been stuffing immoderately, making a clear stomach and comfortable feelings to take the place of overburdened paunch and rumbling intestines.—Excuse the naturality of my metaphor.—

Speaking of "naturality" reminds me of the peculiarities that distinguish the inhabitants, young and old, of this well-bred and highly romantick village.2—For instance, I was entertained the other day at dinner, with a very interesting account by the "head of the family" (families of fourteen or fifteen, in these parts, have but one head amongst them) of his sufferings from an attack of the gripes; how he had to take ipecachuana,3 and antimonial wine;4 the operation of those substances on his stomach; the colour and consistency of the fluids and solids ejected from the said stomach; how long  loc_gk.01474_large.jpg it was before epsom salts5 could be persuaded to take pity on his bowels; with many and singular concomitant matters, which, you may well imagine, contributed in a high degree to the improvement of my appetite.—I frequently have the felicity of taking my meals surrounded by specimens of the rising generation—I mean little young ones getting out of bed; and as "to the pure all things are pure,"6 the scene of course is in a high degree edifying to my taste and comfort.—

We have had delightful weather out here for the past few days.—The sun at this moment is shining clear, the cool breeze is blowing, the branches of the trees undulate, and all seems peace and joy but the mind—the mind, that strange unfathomable essence, which is, after all, the main spring of our happiness here.—My period of purgation is almost up in these diggins.—Thank the pitying fates! in two weeks more I shall wind up my affairs, and with tears in my eyes bid a sorrowful adieu to these hallowed precincts.—Shady walks, venerable old school-house, dismantled farms, innocent young ideas—all—all—will I look upon for the last time.—But I must stop—I cannot carry out the affecting thought any farther.—My heart swells, and my melting soul almost expires with the agonising idea.—Let me hold out a little longer, O, ye powers!


How are politicks getting along down your way?—Is hard cider7 in the ascendant; or does democracy erect itself on its tip-toes and swing its old straw hat with a hurrah for "Little Matty?"8 Down in these parts the people understand about as much of political economy as they do of the Choctaw language; I never met with such complete unqualified, infernal jackasses, in all my life.—Luckily for my self-complacency they are mostly whigs.—If they were on my side of the wall, I should forswear loco-focoism,9 and turn traitor in five minutes. We had a swinging meeting at the Court house, last Saturday.—I tell you what, our speakers went as far ahead of "the fat gentleman in striped trousers," as a Baltimore clipper does beyond a North River dung boat.—There was no 'kimparysun.'

Can't you look around Jamaica and find out whether they dont want a teacher somewhere, for a quarter?—I shall probably drop down there in the course of a week or two, and stay a day.—See to it, and oblige me.—I hope that holy angels will have you in keeping, and that the fragrance of plenty and the musick of a pleasant heart, will never be foreign to you.—Sweet blossoms bloom beneath your eyes, and the songs of birds gladden your hearing!—

Farewell,— Walter Whitman  loc_tb.00302.jpg Abraham P. Leech | Jamaica, L.I.10 W Whitman | Aug 26 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 nineteenth century, calomel was used as a purgative agent to treat numerous illnesses, especially gastrointestinal symptoms like constipation, dysentery, and vomiting. In high doses, calomel could lead to mercury poisoning. [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]
  • 3. Also known as ipecac; a preparation of this root is used as an emetic or purgative. [back]
  • 4. A tartar emetic dissolved in sherry wine that can be used for purgative purposes. [back]
  • 5. Epsom salt is crystallized magnesium sulfate that can be used as a laxative. [back]
  • 6. Whitman is quoting from the Bible; he is referring to Titus 1:15. [back]
  • 7. "Hard cider" was a potent campaign symbol for the Whig candidate William Henry Harrison in the 1840 United States presidential election. Democrats who supported incumbent president Martin Van Buren accused Harrison of being a "granny" who would rather sit in a log cabin and drink hard cider. Whigs quickly began promoting Harrison as the "log cabin and hard cider candidate" to establish his image as man of the people and painting Van Buren as snobbish and out of touch. In reality, Van Buren was the son of a tavern keeper, while Harrison was born into a wealthy, slaveholding family in Virginia. Harrison went on to win the election and became the ninth president of the United States. [back]
  • 8. Whigs who supported William Henry Harrison in the 1840 presidential election referred to then president Martin Van Buren as "Little Matty" or "Little Van" in campaign songs, alluding to his small stature. Van Buren was 5 feet 6 inches tall. [back]
  • 9. In the 1830s and 1840s, the Locofocos were a faction of the Democratic Party in the United States. The Locofocos originated in New York as a response to Tammany Hall. Known as the Equal Rights Party, the Locofocos supported free trade and opposed state banks. The party largely disbanded after the passage of the Independent Treasury Act (1840) separated the management of the United States federal government money supply from the national financial system. In the election of 1840, between Whig candidate William Henry Harrison and Democratic incumbent Martin Van Buren, Whigs derisively referred to all Democrats as Locofocos. [back]
  • 10. Whitman wrote Leech's address on the back of the final page of this letter. [back]
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