William Curtis was born into a prosperous family in Providence, Rhode Island. As a
teenager, he moved to New York City when his father took a position with Continental Bank.
Educated by private tutors and in a boarding school, Curtis and his older brother,
Burrill, spent 18 months at the Brook Farm commune in order to take advantage of its
academic opportunities. The Curtis brothers then sojourned to Concord, Massachusetts,
where they lived among some of Americas leading literary figures, such as Emerson,
Hawthorne, and Thoreau. From 1846 to 1850, the Curtis brothers undertook a Grand Tour of
Europe and the Middle East.
Upon his return to the United States, George William Curtis
began a career that combined journalism and literature. During the 1850s, he worked as a
critic and travel writer for the New York Tribune, an editor for the short-lived but
highly esteemed Putnams Magazine, and a columnist for Harpers Monthly
("Easy Chair") and Harpers Weekly ("Lounger"). In 1863, he was
named editor of Harpers Weekly, although the actual running of the newspaper was
left to a series of managing editors. During this period, Curtis also became a
best-selling and critically-acclaimed author of travel books and novels.
From his position as the editorial writer for Harpers two news publications,
Curtis sought to influence public opinion in support of a number of political and social
reforms. These included: emancipation; civil rights and social equality for
African-Americans, Native Americans, and women; civil service reform; public education;
and environmental conservation.
Curtis was for years a loyal, albeit independent-minded, Republican, who in the early
1870s joined forces with illustrator Thomas Nast to attack the corrupt Democratic
political machine in New York City, known as the Tweed Ring. In 1884, the two men bolted
the Republican party and used their respective talents and positions to excoriate the
partys presidential nominee, James Blaine, for his alleged corruption and opposition
to reform. In 1892, Curtis died at his home on Staten Island.Robert C. Kennedy, HarpWeek
Sources consulted: Robert C. Kennedy, "George William Curtis," Dictionary
of Literary Biography.
George William Curtis
(24 February 1824 - 31 August 1892)
Source: George William Curtis &
the Genteel Tradition