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Walt Whitman to Abraham Paul Leech, 19 August [1840]


Have you never heard people advance the opinion that earth is man's heaven or hell, according as he acts or is situated, good or evil?—I believe that doctrine; or, at any rate, I believe half of it, as the man said when he was told that his wife had twins.—That this earthly habitation, is a place of torment to my miserable self, is made painfully evident every day of existence.—Fate never made a place where dulness perched on every tree, obtuseness located himself on every hill, and despair might be seen "sittin on a rail," every ten yards, so completely as in this cursed Woodbury.—

—Woodbury! appropriate name!—it would-bury me or any being of the least wish for intelligent society, in one year, if compelled to endure its intolerable insipidity without the hope of relief.—Before many weeks, I expect to be in the condition of those pleasant beings of whom it is said "They are nothing but skin and bone."—you do not know, my friend, nor can you conceive, the horrid dulness of this place.—Making money, plodding on, and on, and on; raising ducks, carting dung, and eating pork, are the only methods of employment that occupy the Woodbury animals.—And as avocations of this nature never met my fancy in any great degree, you may easily imagine what an interesting situation I am in.—


I have eaten my dinner since the last line over leaf was written; but I don't know that I feel any the better as to good-humour.—What do you think I had for dinner?—Guess now.—Beef?—no.—Mutton?—No.—Pot–pie? No.—Salad and iced champagne?—No, no, no,—I'll tell you in the order that it was put up, or rather put down.—Firstly, two cold potatoes, with the skins on, one of said potatoes, considerably nibbled in a manner which left me in doubt whether it had been done by the teeth of a mouse or the bill of a chicken; secondly three boiled clams, that had evidently seen their best days;—thirdly a chunk of molasses cake made of buckwheat flour:—fourthly, a handful of old mouldy pot-cheese, with a smell strong enough to knock down an ox;—fifthly, and lastly, two oblong slats of a mysterious substance, which I concluded, after considerable reflection, must have been intended for bread:—this last would undoubtedly been very interesting either to a Grahamite, or to one fond of analyzing and studying out the nature of the mineral kingdom.—Wasn't this a feast for an Epicure?—Think, O thou banquetter on good things, think of such an infernal meal as that I describe and bless the stars that thy lot is as it is.—Think, moreover, that this diabolocal compound was wrapped up in huge piece of brown paper, and squeezed into a  loc_gk.01479_large.jpg little tin pail, which said pail, being minus in the matter of a handle or bail, had to be carried by a tow string instead!—Imagine to yourself, now that you see me toting along with such an article as I been describing.—Don't I cut a pretty figure? O, ye gods, press me not too far—pour not my cup too full—or I know what I shall do.—Dire and dreadful thoughts have lately been floating through my brain.—The next you hear of me, I may possibly be arraigned for murder, or highway robbery, or assault and battery, at the least.—I am getting savage.—There seems to be no relief.—Fate is doing her worst.—The devil is tempting me in every nook and corner and unless you send me a letter, and Brenton remits me an armful of news, there is no telling but what I shall poison the whole village, or set fire to this old school-house, and run away by the light of it.—

I suppose all "your folks" are the same as usual, and that Jamaica is "situate, lying, and being" as in November last.—But do for pity's sake foreward something or other to me soon, in the shape of mental food.—May you grow fat with peace and good cheer.—May the sun of peace warm you, and the dews of prosperity fall thick around your path.—May the Fates be busy with cutting other threads than yours—and may kind fingers shield you in the hour of death.—

Adieu.— Walter Whitman  loc_gk.01480_large.jpg Abraham P. Leech Jamaica L. I. W Whitman August 19th 1840 Woodbury / 40

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]
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