...I consider anybody a twerp who hasnt read the greatest American short story, which is Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, by Ambrose Bierce. It isnt remotely political. It is a flawless example of American genius, like Sophisticated Lady by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove. (Kurt Vonnegut — 2005)
DEFINITIVE AMBROSE BIERCE SITE ORIGINAL ART, FICTION, DRAMA, ESSAYS SINCE 1996
The field was too small for his genius. —Gertrude Atherton
Cogito ergo cogito sum — I think; therefore, I think I am. —Ambrose Bierce
Alas and alack. Social media has prevailed. Our years-old Bravenet message board, with its annoying ads, has essentially been replaced by Facebook. If you have questions or comments about Bierce, simply join our new Bierce Facebook page. It's an open group. Just click to join. Our old message board will soon vanish -- although not as mysteriously as Bierce. It'll remain up for a while if you want to read old postings -- or even post.
Once upon a time, there was a brave soldier. His specialty was going in front of the Union armies with small units and making maps and sketches of the tricky spots on the proposed route, under fire. But he is not famous for this.
Then he went West, exploring, and made the first maps of the Black Hills that were useful. He taught himself to write by reading the classics at a boring job at the San Francisco Mint, and broke into newspaper work. He became the top columnist in San Francisco in a time when the writer stood behind his work with a gun, not a lawyer. He married rich, went to England, learned a lot from the writers there, and taught some tricks himself. But this is just a footnote.
He wrote the first Civil War fiction that included the terror and put the glory in its place. It was so good that a whole generation of professional officers became abject fans. And every time the press fomented a war fever, he wrote on military subjects with a stark clarity that never forgot that the final result would be flowing blood and shattered bone. But this is poorly remembered.
He wrote fine poetry, often to a deadline, and trained a generation of poets -- became a sort of literary cult leader. But this is a matter for English professors.
And he was funny politically, too, always opposed to demagogy and privilege alike, showing no faith that the common man could command politics, or the rich man transcend his greed. Split the difference between George Orwell and Herbert Spencer and you might approach the ideas of this writer who reached millions through the Hearst press. But this interests very few.
Thus, Ambrose Bierce is best remembered today because nobody knows what happened to him. He went into the whirlpool of the Mexican Revolution in December 1913, and never popped up. He was good at writing spooky stories, and four or five have been hitched to his star.
San Francisco Bulletin, March 24, 1920
About Leon Day
This amateur historian sought to locate Bierce's remains in the Mexican desert -- and published his findings on The Ambrose Bierce Site. Unfortunately, he came up short. The colorful, eccentric Day -- whose coffee cup was often filled with more than coffee -- died in 2011 without proving his theory.
...influenced the writing of HBO's TRUE DETECTIVE. Louisiana cops Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson discover the symbols of a satanic cult of child killers. Read HERE
Bierce & the Thanksgiving Tradition "The Glutton," painting by Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827)
It's not certain what Ambrose Bierce felt about this holiday, since he would not have known to whom or what to give thanks. But he would have recognized it as a day of eating. He defined "eat" this way: "To perform successively (and successfully) the functions of mastication [chewing], humectation [moistening], and deglutition [swallowing]."
The Many Deaths of Ambrose Bierce
Forrest Gander in The Paris Review of Oct. 17, 2014, writes of the innumerable theories about Bierce's mysterious death. "According to witnesses, Bierce died over and over again, all over Mexico..." Read HERE
In 1880, an Alabama farmer mysteriously disappears -- allegedly in full view of his family and neighbors. Was it a hoax? Did Ambrose Bierce base his famous story "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field" on the tale of the vanishing farmer? Read: HERE
Author Gerald Kersh came up with a yarn in the 1950s about Bierce being fattened up by cannibals in Mexico. It appeared in Kersh's story collection Men Without Bones and was republished in The Saturday Evening Post. Details HERE [scroll down] .
This new site created the University of Cincinnati's Archives and Rare Books Library, directed by Kevin Grace, focuses on fifty-nine letters sent by Bierce between 1895 and 1911 to Myles Walsh, whose sister was a protégé of Bierce. The letters have been transcribed for all to read. The site also offers a short biography, bibliography, photos, and links. Connect HERE
Bierce once defined a "fiddle" as: "An instrument to tickle human ears by friction of a horse's tail on the entrails of a cat." The following violin piece was said to be Bierce's favorite song. Do you know what it is?
AMBROSE BIERCE IN THE 21st CENTURY Alas, he'd be a REPUBLICAN!
The following Bierce doggerel may not be what it seems:
Here lies the body of the Republican Party;
Corrupt, and generally speaking, hearty.
In Bierce's day, the Republican Party was the "good" party. It ended slavery, preserved the union, created national parks, bolstered consumer protection, and manifested reforms against vested interests that favored the rich over the poor. To his credit, Bierce fought in the Civil War on the winning side, that of the Republicans. It was the party of Lincoln and, later, both Roosevelts, after all. By the late twentieth century, Republicans and Democrats reversed their values by 180 degrees, and the concept of today's Republicans as being the "good" party is laughable.
The majority of Americans, as Pulitizer Prize-winning columnist Timothy Egan wrote in The New York Times, oppose nearly everything the G.O.P. stands for. But that just might, if anything, be an incentive for Bierce to be one of them—although he might reconsider were he to learn, as a poll showed in 2013, that one in five Republicans believe President Obama is the anti-Christ, and that two-thirds of Republicans think people can be possessed by demons.
Aside from the supersitious and religious ignorance tainting wide numbers of Republicans, Bierce would be considered, in current parlance, a libertarian.
However, if his amusing cynicism can be taken seriously, he was skeptical of newness and change, including the telephone, the camera, the phonograph, modern novels, and most music—although he embraced the typewriter. He was convinced man would never fly, and might have even swallowed the tenuous notion that climate change is a hoax, as do a majority of Republicans (the "science-denial party," as Egan put it).
Bierce opposed Prohibition and women's suffrage. A progressive he was not, although, unlike most of today's Republicans (and a smaller majority of Democrats), he would never accept the dubious notion of an unfathomable Almighty.
After Edwin Markham's famous poem "The Man with the Hoe" was published in 1899, Bierce launched a campaign of vituperation and vilification against the mild-mannered Markham that was excessive even by Bierce's standards. Bierce was enraged by Markham's poem, which was sympathetic to the plight of the laboring class. Bierce attacked it as advocating demagoguery and anarchy, and spreading the gospel of hate known as "industrial brotherhood." Bierce, in other words, despised unions. Sound like today's Republicans?
Would he have supported George W. Bush's ruinous invasion of Iraq, as many otherwise intelligent people did? Hard to say, but Bierce would have loved the fight. Unlike his jingoistic employer, William Randolph Hearst, Bierce's support of the Spanish-American War was muted, and he did not help to light, as he put it, "patriotism's altar fires." And, a century later, would he have embraced a disastrous, incompetent presidency like George W. Bush's that would wreck the U.S. economy for generations? Personally, I would like to think that even Bierce would have said enough's enough.
Bierce was facile and superficial regarding politics. He preferred to outrage rather than inform. He reported on enough corruption by the early railroad interests—"the railrogues"—that he actually suggested nationalizing the rails. No one will ever know what he truly believed. Perhaps he never knew himself.
Unfortunately, his libertarian instincts would make Bierce more likely to be a Republican than a Democrat today, even though the current Republican Party is not one sympathetic to intellectuals, academics, historians, scientists, and the artistic and literary community. Still, despite his pig-headed notions, Bierce was an equal-opportunity cynic and his moral compass was often in the right direction—even if his politics were anomalous. —DS
HE NEVER SAID IT! War is Gods way of teaching Americans geography. & The covers of this book are too far apart.
The geography quote attributed to Ambrose Bierce has been knocking around the Internet for years. [Google shows 860,000 entries for it.] Ive never found the origin for War is Gods way of teaching Americans geography, nor has David E. Schultz, who along with S.T. Joshi, has created a voluminous database of Bierces works. Schultz told The Ambrose Bierce Site: Ive looked high and low through my electronic archive of Bierces writings (c. 4.5 million words) and have never come across this. Ive found numerous attributions to Bierce on the Web, but believe that Paul Rodriguez [Mexican-born stand-up comedian] is probably the originator. Its one of those quotes that sounds like Bierce but isnt.
Nor do I believe Bierce ever said, "The covers of this book are too far apart." If he did, I've never found the source, nor the name of the book to which he allegedly referred. The line is often repeated as though it's a given that Bierce authored that devastating put-down, but even if he didn't it's almost too good a line not to award it to him.
That said, I found an excellent site called QUOTE INVESTIGATOR that goes into super detail about Bierce's alleged book covers quote. Essentially, it says, the quote is second-hand by the humorist Irvin S. Cobb in 1923 — long after Bierce's death. Many others picked it up. This is the best debunking I've seen of the Bierce quote, which has also been attributed to Mark Twain and, yes, even to Jack Benny. —DS
Composite illustration by K.A. Silva pictures Don Swaim, who edits The Ambrose Bierce Site, and Ambrose Bierce in the library of William Randolph Hearst's Castle, San Simeon, California. Note the incongruity of the ornate cross behind Bierce. click to enlarge
Don Swaim's definitive article, "Ambrose & Henry," is in the spring 2011 edition of the online scholarly publication Menckeniana, all about H.L. Mencken, published by the Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore. To read the actual issue go to: Menckeniana. Courtesy Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore.
AVOID ANSWERS.COM AS AN ACCURATE SOURCE FOR BIERCE
1. Bierce is NOT best known as the author of A Fiend's Delight.
2. Bierce did NOT "establish his reputation" with A Fiend's Delight and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull.
3. A Fiend's Delight and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull are NOT novels.
4. Bierce did NOT work "off and on" for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. He was employed steadily by Hearst from 1887 through 1908.
5. Bierce was NOT known for his "legendary carousing" with Mark Twain and H.L. Mencken. He is thought to have had, at the most, two personal meetings with Twain, one known (perhaps a few others) with Mencken.
Who supplies the wrong answers at Answers.com? DS
The Ambrose Bierce Site invites original articles, fiction, poetry, art related to the mind and myth of Ambrose Bierce.
**Bierce's favorite song: Antonin Dvorâk's "Humoresque Number 7," composed in 1894. It's widely available in both classical and popular forms, as well as a bawdy vocal version sung by Oscar Brand.