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George William Curtis Letters

An inventory of his letters at Syracuse University

Overview of the Collection

Creator: Curtis, George William, 1824-1892.
Title: George William Curtis Letters
Inclusive Dates: 1851-1892
Quantity: 89 items (SC)
Abstract: Papers of the American critic, social commentator, essayist; Chiefly outgoing correspondence.
Language: English
Repository: Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries
222 Waverly Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2010

Biographical History

George William Curtis (1824-1892) was an American critic, social commentator, and essayist.

Select Works

1851 Nile Notes of a Howadji
1852 The Howadji in Syria
Lotus-Eating: A Summer Book
1853 The Potiphar Papers
1856 Prue and I
Our Best Society
1861 Trumps. A Novel
1891 Washington Irving: A Sketch
1891-1894 From the Easy Chair, 3 volumes
1893 Other Essays from the Easy Chair
1894 Orations and Addresses of George William Curtis
Literary and Social Essays
1896 Emerson

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Scope and Contents of the Collection

The George William Curtis Letters are a collection of chiefly outgoing Correspondence which illuminate the journalism career, political activities, and personal life of this 19th century American social commentator and orator. As editor of "The Easy Chair," a feature which appeared in Harper's Monthly, Curtis's widely-read opinions generated interest in him as a speaker, and a number of letters concern invitations to address various political organizations and educational institutions (Bond, Lee, Partington, Prince). Also among the letters are several responses to social invitations (Croffut, Graham, Hart, Tenney, Wharton), and a number of more personal letters (Dwight, Downing, Fields, Robbins, Taylor) which concern social engagements, typical among them is this to Eastman: "I cannot tell you how fresh and beautiful the little excursion was - nor how much I owe you - euchre included."

While the personal letters (Lossing, Putnam, Stoddard) reveal much of the wit and warmth of Curtis the journalist and literary critic, there are also a number of letters which reflect on beliefs and opinions of this political activist (Moffat, Pruyn, Ranney, Pierrepont). Responding to his nomination by acclamation for Secretary of State of New York at the Republican convention, Curtis wrote to Judge Edwards Pierrepont ( 1 Oct 1869):

Certainly one of the most agreeable events in a man's life must be his summons to an honorable public position by the spontaneous and unanimous voice of a multitude of his fellow citizens personally unknown to him; and certainly he must feel very grateful to the friend who was the immediate cause of that expression of preference. You must know, therefore, before I say it, how sincerely I thank you for naming me in the Convention and how truly sorry I am that I could not, with an honorable regard for my present duties and engagements, even permit myself to think of accepting.
I hope meanwhile, to be of more actual service both to the state and to the country in an unofficial post.

Although active in Republican Party politics, Curtis rejected the choice of James G. Blaine for the American presidency and urged the election of Grover Cleveland, becoming the most influential of the Independents in national affairs. In a letter of 14 Nov 1884, Curtis explains:

If support of a candidate who is believed to be dishonest or of a measure which is thought to be injurious to the public welfare, be compatible with Republicanism, no self respecting man can be a Republican.

And in a letter addressed to Henry S. Ranney and others, Curtis outlines his personal view of the role of political parties ( 30 Oct 1829):

You hold that the first duty of an American citizen is to his country; and while we all agree that under our political system the country is to be served through party organization, you assert the great conservative truth that organization can be kept faithful to its purpose only by the individual independence of its members. Undoubtedly the party majority must rule but the only way to compel it to rule rightly is to refuse obedience to its recommendations when they cannot be obeyed without sacrifice of principle.

Offering some advice to an aspiring social activist; Curtis advises C. W. Stickney ( 15 Feb 1870):

I should beg you to think a little of the manner of your action, whether speaking or writing or advocating this or that special measure - but everything of great result, and of the carefulness, the conscience, the training, the knowledge, which are essential to success in every form. If you fit your heart upon the pen as your weapon, - it may deceive you. If upon the tongue, - it may disappoint you. But everywhere and everyhow as opportunity offers, to speak or to write or to do, for whatever is best and generous & manly, that is really to live, and not to do it is to die.

The Subject Files series contains a single photograph.

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Arrangement of the Collection

The collection is divided into two series: Subject Files and Correspondence. The correspondence is arranged chronologically; there is a Selected Index to Correspondence located at the end of the finding aid.

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Access Restrictions

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

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Subject Headings


Bond, William.
Bourne, Wm. Oland (William Oland), 1819-1901.
Cotting, Benjamin Eddy, 1812-1897.
Croffut, William Augustus.
Curtis, George William, 1824-1892.
Dwight, John Sullivan, 1813-1893.
Fields, James Thomas, 1817-1881.
Lanman, Charles, 1819-1895.
Lossing, Helen (Mrs. Benson)
Moffat, Reuben Burnham, 1861-
Pierrepont, Edwards, 1817-1892.
Pruyn, John VanSchaick Lansing, 1811-1877.
Putnam, George Palmer, 1814-1872.
Ranney, Henry S.
Stickney, C. W.
Stoddard, Richard Henry, 1825-1903.
Taylor, Bayard, 1825-1878.
Tenney, William Jewett.
Ward, William Hayes.
White, Francis Wayland.
Whittier, John Greenleaf, 1807-1892.

Corporate Bodies

Republican Party (N.Y.)


American literature, 19th century.
Authors, American.
Journalists, Political activity.
Journalists, United States.


New England, Intellectual life.
New England, Social life and customs.
New York (State), Politics and government.

Genres and Forms

Letters (correspondence)



Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

George William Curtis Letters
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Finding Aid Information

Created by: KM
Date: Feb 1989
Revision history: 1 Oct 2008 - converted to EAD (LDC)

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Subject Files
SC 71 Photograph undated
SC 71 1851-1855 (4 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1856-1859 (7 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1860-1865 (10 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1866-1869 (11 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1870-1874 (10 outgoing letters; 1 incoming letter (fragment))
SC 71 1875-1879 (10 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1880-1884 (12 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1885-1889 (11 outgoing letters)
SC 71 1890-1892 (12 outgoing letters)

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Selected Index to Correspondence

  • Black : 1 Apr 1862
  • Bonaparte, Mr. : 3 Jan 1889
  • Bond, William : 9 Sep 1857
  • Bourne, William Oland : 12 Feb 1866; 13 Mar 1866; 16 Apr 1874
  • Chadwick : 20 Apr 1875
  • Collins, Mr. : 16 Dec 1857
  • Cotting, Benjamin Eddy : 19 Jan 1856
  • Croffut, William Augustus : 28 Feb 1867
  • Downing, Mrs. : 28 Jan 1855
  • Dwight, John Sullivan : 12 Aug 1851
  • Eastman : 3 Aug 1862
  • Eleanor : 1 Nov 1875
  • Fields, James Thomas : 16 Mar 1857; 7 Oct 1861; 10 Dec 1872
  • Francis, David G. : 26 Dec 1883
  • Gilder, Mr. : 17 May 1890
  • Graham, Mr. : 10 Dec 1865; 23 Dec 1865
  • Hart, Dr. : 1 Jun 1870; 25 Nov 1871
  • Horatio : 8 Dec 1878
  • Huntington, D : 21 Nov 1879; 2 Dec 1879
  • Ireland, Mr. : 18 Apr 1879
  • Lanman, Charles : 24 Jan 1878
  • Lee, Mr. : 18 Dec 1859
  • Lossing, Helen (Mrs. Benson) : 8 Apr 1866
  • Mackaye, Mrs. : 11 Jul 1888
  • Mayer, Mr. : 23 Mar 1857
  • Moffat, Reuben Burnham : 22 Nov 1884
  • Osgood, J. R. & Co. : 20 Jan 1875
  • Partington, Mr. : 15 Apr 1888; 1 Jun 1889; 5 Feb 1890; 2 Jun 1890; 18 Aug 1891; 18 Feb 1892; 15 Jun 1892
  • Pierrepont, Edwards : 1 Oct 1869
  • Prince, Mr. : 20 Jan 1865
  • Pruyn, Anna Parker : 12 Jun 1890
  • Pruyn, John VanSchaick Lansing : 25 Sep 1867
  • Putnam, George Palmer : 2 Dec 1863; 9 Jan 1869
  • Ranney, Henry S. : 30 Oct 1879
  • Richards, Mr. : 5 May 1890
  • Richelson, Mr. : 21 Oct 1874
  • Robbins, Mr. : 31 Dec 1860
  • Sargent, Mr. : 26 Apr 1866
  • Sheldon, Mr. : 20 Oct 1888
  • Sherwood, Mr. : 12 Jun 1885
  • Smith, Mr. : 23 Oct 1872
  • Stickney, C. W. : 15 Feb 1870
  • Stoddard, Richard Henry : 22 Oct 1859
  • Taylor, Bayard : 25 Feb 1865
  • Tenney, William Jewett : 22 Sep 1867
  • Ward, William Hayes : 14 Nov 1881
  • Wharton, Mr. : 2 Oct 1885
  • White, Francis Wayland : 22 Jan 1855
  • Whittier, John Greenleaf : 20 Jan 1884
  • Wilstach, Mr. : 27 Dec 1881
  • Wiman, Mr. : 12 May 1890

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