In addition to coining the writing term "blurb," Burgess was known for a series of comical works, sometimes aimed at children, which also ranged into the territory of nonsense. His most famous work, in his lifetime and after, is a two-line bit of doggerel which came to be known as "The Purple Cow: Reflections on a Mythic Beast Who's Quite Remarkable, At Least":
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 later publications it was broken into four lines. First published in May 1895 in a new magazine Burgess started called The Lark, the poem was surprisingly popular — especially to its author, who later resented its success. Among its avowed admirers was Theodore Roosevelt and soon Burgess became known as "the author of the Purple Cow," no matter what else he wrote. One story claims that, some 45 years later, a man in New York brought a cow dyed purple to Burgess and declared, "There, now you've seen one." Well before then, he already had it with the poem and published "Confession: and a Portrait Too, Upon a Background that I Rue" in The Lark:
Ah, yes, I wrote the "Purple Cow"—
I'm Sorry, now, I wrote it;
But I can tell you Anyhow
I'll Kill you if you Quote it!