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Guide to the Gelett Burgess papers, circa 1847-1951 (bulk 1900-1951)
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Collection Details
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  • Collection Summary
  • Information for Researchers
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Biography

  • Collection Summary

    Collection Title: Gelett Burgess Papers,
    Date (inclusive): circa 1847-1951
    Date (bulk): (bulk 1900-1951)
    Collection Number: BANC MSS C-H 52
    Creator: Burgess, Gelett, 1866-1951
    Extent: Number of containers: 8 boxes, 5 cartons, 5 oversize folders, 2 oversize volumes, 2 microfilm reels, 1 volume (10 linear feet)
    Repository: The Bancroft Library
    Berkeley, California 94720-6000
    Physical Location: For current information on the location of these materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.
    Abstract: Papers the San Francisco Bay Area poet, critic, artist, and humorist Gelett Burgess. Includes correspondence; manuscripts of novels, stories, poems, articles, plays; manuscript of incomplete autobiography; notebooks; genealogical and biographical data; mid-nineteenth-century journals of Burgess' parents; personalia; bibliographies; scrapbooks; clippings. A few papers of his wife, Estelle (Loomis) Burgess also included.
    Languages Represented: English

    Information for Researchers


    Collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright has not been assigned to The Bancroft Library. All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Head of Public Services. Permission for publication is given on behalf of The Bancroft Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Gelett Burgess papers, BANC MSS C-H 52, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

    Alternative Formats Available

    Copies of 15 letters of Charles Howard Hinton and 1 letter of Mary Hinton (from Series I) and "Travels of an Idea" and "Parables" (from carton 5, folder 6-8) also available on microfilm with call number BANC FILM 2750
    2 letters from Sinclair Lewis (from Series 1) also available on a partial microfilm reel (negative [Rich. 550:14] and positive [X-X FILM 11]).
    Letters from William Dean Howells to Burgess, 1897-1900 (from Series 1) also available on a partial microfilm reel (negative [Rich. 550:15] and positive [X-X FILM 12]).
    Notebooks 15, 16, 34, 36, 39 and 42 (from carton 3) also on microfilm with call number BANC FILM 3201.
    Henry James letters (from Series 1) also available on microfilm with call number BANC FILM 3348.

    Material Cataloged Separately

    • Diaries removed to:
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC MSS 81/115c
      (Gelett Burgess diaries)
    • Pictorial material transferred to the Bancroft Pictorial Collections
      Identifier/Call Number: (BANC PIC 1953.005--PIC,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1953.006--A,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1954.010--A,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1959.069-.071,
      Identifier/Call Number: BANC PIC 1961.014--ALB)

    Administrative Information


    No additions are expected.

    Processing Information

    Processed by The Bancroft Library Staff and Lara Michels. Finding aid encoded by Xiuzhi Zhou and Lara Michels.

    Scope and Content

    The bulk of the Burgess papers were acquired by purchase from Gabriel Engel and Ruth Morissey in 1953 and from Edward Morrill in 1958. The rest of the collection came as gifts from Mrs. Will Irwin, Mrs. William H. Haan, Oliver Onions, Anthony Boucher, Theodore M. Lilienthal, Mrs. Juliet W. T. Pottle, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Waybur, Mrs. Elsie W. Martinez, Homer Croy and Joseph Bransten.
    The papers cover the period from 1873-1951, but most of them date from the period after 1900. They consist mainly of correspondence; manuscripts of novels, stories, poems, articles, plays and scenarios, musical comedies, radio programs and lectures, some with related notes; autobiographical and biographical data; diaries; notebooks; scrapbooks; clippings; personalia; bibliographies. The collection also includes papers of his wife, Estelle Loomis Burgess, and journals of Burgess' parents from Kingston, Massachusetts (1847-1855). A list of correspondents is included in this finding aid.
    Sketches, drawings, paintings, and photographs have been transferred to the Pictorial Collections.


    Gelett Burgess was born on Jan. 30, 1866, in Boston, Massachusetts and graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1887 as a civil engineer. After serving a number of years as a draughtsman on survey work for the Southern Pacific Railway and as an instructor of topographical engineering at the University of California, he turned to writing.
    His literary career began in 1894 in San Francisco as associate editor of The Wave. During the period 1895-97 he not only served as editor of The Lark but, with Porter Garnett, published Le Petit Journal des Refusées and Phyllida. All three were radical departures from conventional magazines and The Lark, with its originality and the famous Purple Cow verse which appeared in its first issue, gained him considerable fame.
    With the demise of The Lark in 1897, Burgess left California for New York to pursue a literary career. By the time of his death in 1951, he had written some 30 books, illustrating many of them also, and had been a frequent contributor to magazines with his short stories, poems and essays. Despite the variety and quantity of his literary output, his name was generally associated with humorous, satirical writing. Included among his most famous works are the Burgess Nonsense Book (1901), Are You A Bromide? (1907), The Heart Line (1907), the satirical Maxims of Methuselah (1907), and Maxims of Noah (1913), Two O' Clock Courage (1934), and Look Eleven Years Younger (1937). His manuals of manners in rhyme for children, the Goop books, have become nursery classics.
    Although Burgess traveled widely and lived in New York, Boston, San Francisco, London and Paris, in the public mind he has been identified with San Francisco. In 1950 he returned to California and settled in Carmel, and it was there he died in 1951.