Gelett Burgess

Gelett Burgess

Burgess, Gelett (Frank Gelett Burgess), 1866-1951, American humorist, b. Boston. His ability as an illustrator led him into magazine work, and he was soon writing humorous articles and stories to accompany his illustrations. His best-known poem, "The Purple Cow," first appeared in the San Francisco periodical the Lark (1895-97), of which he was an editor and steady contributor. Among his books are Goops and How to Be Them (1900) and Are You a Bromide? (1907).
Frank Gelett Burgess (January 30, 1866September 18, 1951) was an artist, art critic, poet, author, and humorist. He was born in Boston, and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a B.S. in 1887.


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

Burgess married Estelle Loomis in 1914.


He is famous for writing the poem "The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, at Least." The poem first appeared in volume 1, number 1 (May 1, 1895) of the 16-page monthly magazine The Lark, published in San Francisco by William Doxey. It was edited and written primarily by Burgess, who took great delight in creating pseudonyms for himself. For example, in volume 1 four of the other "authors" are Burgess writing under different names. The final issue, number 25 entitled The Epi-Lark, was published May 1, 1897.

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 associated with this verse, he wrote the following "Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue" in The Lark, number 24 (April 1, 1897).

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!

"Purple Cow" has since been used as a brand name.

Other writings and projects

Burgess wrote and illustrated several children's books about the habits of strange, baldheaded, idiosyncratic child-like creatures he called "The Goops". He created the syndicated comic strip Goops in 1924, and worked on it to its end in 1925.

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, "The Wild Men of Paris", 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.

His books The Maxims of Methuselah and The Maxims of Noah were illustrated by Louis D. Fancher.

Burgess 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 River.


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. His definition of "blurb" is "a flamboyant advertisement; an inspired testimonial".

The Guinness Book of World Records lists his collection of synonyms for the word "drunken".


  • 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 Master of Mysteries (1912)
  • The Maxims of Noah (1913)
  • The Goop Encyclopedia: Containing Every Child's Every Fault (1916); juvenile
  • Have You an Educated Heart? (1923)
  • Why Men Hate Women (1927)
  • The Purple Cow
  • Ain't Angie Awful (1923)



  • Bleiler, Everett The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers.

External links

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