By Bruce Watson
Once derided as a hopeless cynic, American writer Ambrose Bierce now enjoys a great literary acceptance. Witty and sardonic, Bierce speaks to our personal scandal-ridden occasions. His savage Civil conflict tales became classics and his Devil's Dictionary is usually quoted. during this short biography, Bruce Watson explores the sorrow at the back of the wit, and probes Bierce's mysterious disappearance a century in the past.
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Extra resources for Ambrose Bierce. The Devil’s Cynic
For a cynic like Bierce there seemed no end to the corruption, the greed, the splendor of it all. G. Bierce wrote a column called “Prattle” and prattled against the world. ,” said a fellow columnist, stood for “Almighty God,” and godlike were his denunciations as his reputation grew. “If nonsense were black, Sacramento would need gas lamps at noonday,” he wrote of the state legislature. ” Many “Prattle” columns began “When I am dictator . ” He had developed a theatrical persona. 45. Once, when a rival editor sent a death threat, “Prattle” calmly wrote that he would leave his office at a certain hour, walk up the right-hand side of Market Street, and be ready for any hostilities.
When Bierce started at the Wasp in 1881, he added a new feature to his columns, wry definitions that mocked Webster’s. For the next 25 years he played the devil’s lexicographer. When the 1,000 definitions were later collected, The Devil’s Dictionary was born. It is still in print. Some of the definitions, which frequently surface in modern journalism, seem to have been written yesterday: “Liar, n. ” “Houseless, adj. ” “Senate, n. ” Bierce grew so bitter that he could even wax nostalgic about the Civil War.
Cynics passing judgment on one of their own see suicide in Bierce’s denouement. Yet his letters suggest that he planned to reach South America and ultimately, England. A still closer examination of his route and his demeanor reveals another destination - his past. Bidding goodbye to Helen and friends, Bierce set out from Washington in October 1913, bound for Mexico. His train took him first to Civil War battlefields in the South. Old and asthmatic, he somehow found the strength to climb Missionary Ridge under a hot sun.