Ambrose Bierce

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Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842-c.1914) was an American satirist, Union Civil War veteran, journalist and short story writer, famous for his sardonic humor. Bierce used the pseudonym Grile Dod at times.

He went to Chihuahua, Mexico in 1913 to get a firsthand account of the ongoing revolution, but vanished without a trace the following year, possibly killed by Mexican revolutionaries.[1]

Early life

He was born on June 24, 1842, in Meigs County, Ohio. His parents were Laura Sherwood Bierce and Marcus Aurelius Bierce.[2]

Devil's Dictionary

His most famous work is The Devil's Dictionary (1906), where he mocks both liberals and conservatives with his usual pessimistic humor.

Sample Definitions

Christian (n):One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ insofar as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.

Lighthouse (n): A tall building on the seashore in which the government maintains a lamp and the friend of a politician.

Mammon (n): The god of the world's leading religion. The chief temple is in the holy city of New York.

Non-combatant (n): A dead Quaker.

Opposition (n): In politics the party that prevents the Government from running amok by hamstringing it.

Outdo (v.t.): To make an enemy.

Painting (n.): The art of protecting flat surfaces from the weather and exposing them to the critic.
Formerly, painting and sculpture were combined in the same work: the ancients painted their statues. The only present alliance between the two arts is that the modern painter chisels his patrons.

Philosophy (n): A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.

Pray (v): To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled on behalf of a single petitioner confessedly unworthy.

Rational (adj):Devoid of all delusions save those of observation, experience and reflection.

Religion (n): A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.

Vote (v): The instrument and symbol of a freeman's power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.

Civil War

At the outset of the war, Bierce enlisted and was a part of the Union Army's 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment.[3]

Bierce wrote some of the best war fiction in American literature, thanks to his own horrific combat experience, his sharp ear for the language people used, his uncanny memory, and his critical perspective that avoided bombast and old stereotypes.

Further reading

  • Davidson, Cathy N. The Experimental Fictions of Ambrose Bierce: Structuring the Ineffable (1984) 166 pp. advanced literary criticism focused on the short stories
  • Fatout, Paul. Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Lexicographer (1951) online edition
  • Gale, Robert L. An Ambrose Bierce Companion (2001). online edition, summarizes all his stories
  • Owens, David M. The Devil's Topographer: Ambrose Bierce and the American War Story (2006) 166pp.
  • online books and articles

Primary sources

  • Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil's Dictionary (1906) free download from Project Guttenberg
  • Fadiman, Clifton, ed. The Collected Writings of Ambrose Bierce (1946).
  • Hopkins, Ernest Jerome, ed. The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce (1970).


External links