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de Gurowski, Adam (1805-1866)

Essayist, Historian, Journalist, Lecturer, Reformer, Translator

Born the son of a Polish count, de Gurowski’s strong political opinions led to his expulsion from the Gymnasia of Warsaw and Kalisz, and later led to his imprisonment. His estates were confiscated because of his objections to Russian influence in the region. At the University of Berlin he studied philosophy under Hegel and later graduated from the University of Heidelberg in 1823. In Paris he studied with Charles Fourier, working on the notion of Pan-slavism which he developed in his book on the subject La Verite sur la Russie (1835). The ideas in this work interested Czar Nicholas I; he granted de Gurowski a pardon and invited him to St. Petersburg.

By 1844 de Gurowski was again on the move, relocating to Germany and then to Switzerland, where he taught political economics at the University of Bern. His next move was to New York where he became a naturalized citizen. He lectured at Harvard (at one point he challenged another professor to a duel) and joined the editorial staff of Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune for which he wrote articles favorable to the Russian cause during the Crimean War. It was through his association with the Tribune that de Gurowski became involved at Pfaff’s. A. L. Rawson labels de Gurowski as “one of the unique characters who frequented Pfaff’s” and a “rare bird” who visited “the saloon when he had a fresh supply of wrath in his literary vials, which he poured out on the heads of the ignoramuses and pretenders--asses, who deluge the journals with inane trash” (40-1). Whitman would later describe this rather boisterous member of the group as "'one of the clearest headed most remarkable men I ever came in contact with'" (Lause 51). During this period, de Gurowski would also write for the New American Cyclopaedia and would later submitted work to the Atlantic Monthly.

During the early flourishing of Pfaff’s, de Gurowski was actively writing. He published pro-Russian pamphlets and commented on the relationship between the United States and other nations. He wrote The Turkish Question (1854), Russia as It Is (1854), A Year of the War (1855), and America and Europe (1857). Starting in August 1860, de Gurowski began writing a series, “Minor Experiences in America,” for the Saturday Press. Spanning from August to December, the series told of de Gurowski’s travels to and experiences on American soil.

His keen political mind and devotion to the abolitionist movement, as stated in his Slavery in History (1860), led de Gurowski to Washington D.C. Once there, he supported the Union war effort by translating articles in foreign newspapers for the Secretary of State. The publication of his Diary (1862), however, caused a break with the administration due to his frank criticism of Lincoln, Seward, and other military officials’ mismanagement of the war. He advocated the organization of a troop of African-American soldiers and offered suggestions for its formation.

De Gurowski succumbed to typhoid fever at the home of Charles Eames and he was buried in the Congressional Cemetery in Washington. His funeral in May 1866 attracted a great deal of attention. Walt Whitman was "well acquainted" with de Gurowski who he describes as "a strange old man, a great lord in his own country, Poland, owner 30,000 serfs & great estates -- an exile for conspiracy against the government -- he knew everything & growled & found fault with everybody -- but was always very curteous [sic] to me & spoke very highly of me in his book, his Diary printed last winter..." (Whitman 8:175-6).