Friday, April 5, 2013

The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess

Author Gelett Burgess

A post by Simon over at Stuck in a Book prompted me to pull an oldie but a goodie off my shelves: The Romance of the Commonplace by Gelett Burgess.

This is a book of personal essays published in 1902. I found it about ten years ago in the attic of Poor Richard's Bookstore in Frankfort, Ky. I also discovered, among books stored higglety-piggletty on long wooden tables in the dusty space, a 1944 edition of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations. It was quite a day.

Anyway, I had not heard of Mr. Burgess when I purchased the book, but upon doing a little research I discovered that he was an author, humorist, artist and poet. Here is one of his little ditties that you might be familiar with:

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!

In the book of essays, Mr. Burgess takes on everything from slang to maps to living the life of a bachelor to dining out.

Here are his thoughts on The Art of Playing:

Time was when we made our own toys; when a piece of twine, a spool, a few nails and a good supply of imagination could keep us busy and happy all day long. There were no newfangled iron toys "made in Germany," so tiresome in their inevitable little routine of performance, so easily got out of order, and so hard, metallic and realistic as to be hardly worth the purchase.

I wonder what Mr. Burgess would think of the toys - i.e. computer games - that children sluggishly entertain themselves with today.

Here is what he had to say about being struck with Wanderlust:

The wanderlust is on me and I must go. Not tomorrow, nor even next month, perhaps, but the call has come and sooner or later obey I must. There is no gipsy blood in me; I can settle down and remain contented for a year or so in one place, but then, and usually when I am happiest, with friends, habits and my household gods about me, comes the mysterious mandate that can not be gainsaid. It is like the spell of a magician or the irresistible command of a hypnotist to his patients. My parting is fated. I may obtain a few weeks' grace, but the summons is as powerful as death, and my rest from now on is broken, my life becomes a temporary makeshift until the duty of travel is begun.

Mr. Burgess was born in Boston in 1866. He became part of San Francisco area's bohemian life and in 1895 founded the literary magazine The Lark. His Purple Cow poem appeared in the first issue.

He wrote a number of books including the Goops children's books. He lived in New York City for a while, married, and often traveled to France. He died in 1951 in California. 

No comments:

Post a Comment