Curtis, George W.
Autograph Letter Signed, with initials G.W.C., North Shore, [Staten Island] April 11, 1861 to “X” a friend living in Paris who apparently wrote for the New York Evening Post

12mo, 4 pages, in very good, clean and legible condition.

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“My dear X –

             I foolishly sent you the first of the exchange to the old number in Ecurie d’Artois… My novel is published and I shall send it to you as soon as I find a good chance. And the Academy is open but the exhibition is very poor – the poorest of late years. Elliott is mad with them and sends nothing. Hicks has only two small landscapes, Kensett one landscape and one portrait. Church one small bit. Gray the best portrait I have seen from him. Page as Dolce far Niente and a Bacchus. Gifford a Catskill Sunset a la Church, but very fine. W. H. Furness a noble portrait of his father. McEntee a good but not interesting Italian Summer. Baker several female heads as usual, Huntington two streaked landscapes and some portraits, not good to my eye. Leutze a very poor “Meeting of Lafayette and his wife at Olmetz” Eastman Johnson who has really carried off the honor of the last two years, has several small and good, but not very striking things. It is the last exhibition in the old North St. rooms, and now they are to go to the new building, of which a Mr. Wright has made a design. It is Venetian more than anything else…

            I repeat here because you may possibly miss my other letter that Parke Godwin has written to you, Poste Restante, asking you to write regularly to the Eve. Post. I hope you will do it. He offers $ 10 a letter … Give my love to Lizzie and the children. We are all well. Annie is “expecting” any day…”

            After living at Brook Farm and traveling for years in Europe and the Middle East, George William Curtis returned to New York to become a celebrated journalist, editor, author and man about town. By the time he wrote this letter, he had already published six books, his seventh being the novel Trumps, which he mentions in this letter.

          Curtis’ interest in art is rarely cited in his biographies, but his description here of the opening of the 35th annual exhibition of the National Academy of Design is interesting for his critiques of the work of artists like McEntee, Leutze, Church, Kensett, Eastman Johnson and Charles Loring Elliott (who actually did send some works to the exhibition, including, notably, an oil portrait of photographer Matthew Brady). The date of the letter appears at first glance to be April 1, but another glance shows a small mark next to the “1” which is actually a second 1, and should be correctly read as April 11. The exhibition opened on April 12, with a “private viewing” for critics on the night of April 11. The later date is supported by his comment that his wife – sister of Robert Gould Shaw, future commander of the famous Black Regiment, the 54th Massachusetts – was “expecting any day” – she, in fact, gave birth to their daughter Elizabeth on April 16.

What makes the date significant, of course, is that the Civil War began with the attack on Fort Sumter on April 12. So Curtis probably wrote this letter, with its chit-chat about art, on the very day that saw the outbreak of a conflict which would have a great impact on his own life. Having been a founder of the Republican Party, he was to become an ardent supporter of President Lincoln and his Emancipation Proclamation, his \views finding national prominence, when in 1863, he became political editor of Harper’s Weekly, making him one of the most influential American journalists in shaping wartime public opinion.