Gelett Burgess

Gelett Burgess books and biography


Gelett Burgess

Frank Gelett Burgess (January 30, 1866 - September 18, 1951) was an artist, art critic, poet, author, and humorist. He was born in Boston, and graduated from Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S., in 1887.

It is reported that he lost his job as a technical drawing instructor at the University of California, Berkeley (1891-1894) because of unmentionable alterations of statues (he deliberately toppled several of them that he considered an eyesore) of Henry Cogswell, a famous Bay Area dentist who had donated several statues of himself to the city of San Francisco, California.

He is most famous for writing the poem Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least (in 1895), which initially appeared in The Lark, published in San Francisco:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one!

Having become inextricably linked with this verse, he wrote the following Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue:

Ah yes, I wrote The Purple Cow,
I'm sorry now I wrote it;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'll kill you if you quote it!

He also wrote and illustrated several children's books about the habits of strange, baldheaded, idiosyncratic childlike creatures he called "The Goops" -- sort of a dark humor take on Miss Manners.

Of Queen Anne architecture he wrote:

"It should have a conical corner tower; it should be built of at least three incongruous materials or, better, imitations thereof; it should have its window openings absolutely haphazard; it should represent parts of every known and unknown order of architecture; it should be so plastered with ornament as to conceal the theory of its construction. It should be a restless, uncertain, frightful collection of details giving the effect of a nightmare about to explode."

An influential article by Burgess ([1]) The Wild Men of Paris (Architectural Record, May 1910), was the first introduction of cubist art in the United States. The article was drawn from interviews with Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and Georges Braque.

The word "blurb", meaning a short description of a book, film, or other product written for promotional purposes, was coined by Burgess in 1907, in attributing the cover copy of his book, Are You a Bromide?, to a Miss Belinda Blurb.

He created the syndicated comic strip, Goops, in 1924, and worked on it through its end in 1925.

He also founded the San Francisco Boys' Club Association, now the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco, in 1891. The Club was the first of its kind west of the Mississippi.


  • Vivette (1897) Novelette
  • The Lively City O'Ligg (1899) Juvenile
  • Goops, and How to be Them (1900) Juvenile
  • A Gage of Youth (1901) Poems, chiefly from The Lark
  • The Burgess Nonsense Book (1901) Prose and Verse
  • The Romance of the Commonplace (1901)
  • More Goops, and How Not to Be Them (1903) Juvenile
  • The Reign of Queen Isyl (1903) Short stories in collaboration with Will Irwin
  • The Picaroons (1904) Short stories in collaboration with Will Irwin
  • The Rubaiyat of Omar Cayenne (1904) Satire and Parody
  • Goop Tales (1904) Juvenile
  • A Little Sister of Destiny (1904) Short stories
  • Are You a Bromide? (1906) short book
  • The White Cat (1907) Novel
  • The Heart Line (1907) Novel
  • The Maxims of Methuselah (1907) Satire and Parody
  • Blue Goops and Red (1909) Juvenile
  • Lady Mechante (1909) Novel
  • The Purple Cow


  • Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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