Ambrose Bierce

Bierce, Ambrose [Gwinett] (1843-1914?) American journalist, short-story writer, and poet. Emerging from a sternly religious Ohio family, Bierce fought with distinction in the Civil War, then settled in San Francisco, where he became writer-editor of the San Francisco News-Letter and made his reputation as a scathing satirist who could make or break a writer with his acid comments. He began publishing stories of his own and, with his friends Joaquin Miller, Bret Harte, and Mark Twain, formed an important literary circle. Following marriage to a wealthy miner’s daughter, Bierce took his bride to England, where they stayed for four years. There Bierce published Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (1874), Back in San Francisco with a freshly polished wit, he began to write his famous column “The Prattler” (1887-1906). a mixture of literary gossip, epigrams, and stories. Later, as Washington correspondent for the Hearst newspapers, he also wrote for Cosmopolitan and prepared his collected works (12 vols, 1909-12). Divorced in 1904, he broke completely with his family and gradually lost touch with his friends. In 1913, he disappeared into Mexico. His fate remains unknown.

Bierce’s fame rests on three volumes: In the Midst of Life, Can Such Things Be (1893), and The Devil’s Dictionary (1911; first published as The Cynic’s Word Book, 1906). He had a peculiar knack for establishing an atmosphere of horror. His wit was sardonic, cruel, and brilliant; his style crisp and incisive. He was a clever epigrammist and a forerunner of such American realists as Stephen Crane. His contemporaries felt in him a force of genius that was never fully realized.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

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