Monday, July 29, 2013

Ambrose Bierce

by Edd Doerr

There is naught so fierce
As the wit of Ambrose Bierce
As folly he'd pierce.                 (ED, 2013)

Ambrose Bierce vanished in Mexico exactly 100 years ago, presumably killed during the Revolution. We will never know. Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes' novel The Old Gringo (Gringo Viejo) speculates as to what might have happened. The novel was made into a great film of that name starring Gregory Peck, as Bierce, and Jane Fonda, who sparked the film.

Bierce was born in Ohio and grew up in Indiana, two states in which Republican legislators have defecated on their state constitutions and started tsunamis of public funds to religious private schools through vouchers as a way of undermining religiously neutral public schools. Too bad Bierce has not been around to properly lambast  these subversives.

Bierce was the only major American writer to serve in combat throughout the Civil War, in which he was seriously wounded. His writings about war would turn anyone pacifist. For the rest of his life he was a major journalist and writer, outshone, but just barely, only by Mark Twain. Like Twain he was a humanist. He was married in a Unitarian church in California, though it is not known if he ever attended services.

Bierce's voluminous writings are readily available. The best recent collection of some of his best work is the 2011  800-page Library of America book, Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary, Tales and Memoirs, edited by S.T. Joshi, the current editor of The American Rationalist (a post I held for a while 50 years ago).  The 220-page Devil's Dictionary, included in the volume in toto, is a classic that belongs in everyone's library.


Gary Berg-Cross said...

In my youth I ran across Ambrose Bierce's Devils Dictionary. It was something you could page through and find irreverent things like:
“PRAY, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.” or
“Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage.”

Charis said...