After an extended trip to Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa, he joined the literary world in New York (as did many other former Book Farmers). He worked with notable people like George Palmer Putnam, Charles Frederick Briggs, and Parke Godwin. He also married the sister of Robert Gould Shaw, who later commanded the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War. Curtis's own writings are mostly journalistic; many are travel sketches. He also wrote short biographies and was a popular lecturer.
In the charming collection Little Journeys to the Homes of American Authors (1896), Curtis contributed a sketch on the home of Ralph Waldo Emerson — which reads more like a long walk through the town of Concord, Massachusetts. Curtis occasionally flirted with Transcendentalism and was a frequent visitor to Emerson's home. He also was a particular proponent of the work of James Russell Lowell; his last lecture before his death focused on Lowell on his birthday — which happens to be George Washington's birthday as well:
His birth on Washington's birthday seems to me a happy coincidence, because each is so admirable an illustration of the two forces whose union has made America. Massachusetts and Virginia, although of very different origin and character, were the two colonial leaders.. Virginia was the Cavalier of the Colonies, Massachusetts was the Puritan.