Introduction to
A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography
by Ambrose Bierce

by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz
(Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1998)

[Copyright © 1998 by University of Tennessee Press. Reprinted by permission.]

Ambrose Bierce was a private man. For all the millions of words he wrote in more than forty years as a journalist, and the hundreds of thousands of words he penned as a prolific correspondent, he made few direct statements about many of his most deeply held beliefs, and he was not given to chatting about his daily activities. To this degree, and to this alone, Ambrose Bierce matches the popular caricature of him--the misanthropic recluse spewing venom at the world.

And yet, it was Bierce himself who wrote his "memoirs" (as he termed them in a letter of 1908), by which he presumably meant the eleven essays he published in the first volume of his Collected Works under the general title "Bits of Autobiography." Most of these pieces had appeared in the newspapers and magazines for which Bierce wrote, the earliest (and best) of them, "What I Saw of Shiloh," as early as 1881. But if Bierce meant "Bits of Autobiography" to constitute his memoirs, are we to believe that nothing significant occurred in his life after 1875? For although the last item, "A Sole Survivor," is clearly the rumination of an old man who has seen his friends die one by one, the chronological sequence of "Bits of Autobiography" ends with his English visit of 1872 - 75.

Fortunately, there is in the remarkable richness of Bierce's corpus a wealth of autobiographical material--interpreting that phrase in a wider sense than merely a chronicle of the bare events of his life, to cover his piquant and challenging views of society and politics and his dicta on the principles of literature--that allows us to augment those "Bits of Autobiography" and present a few further glimpses into the long life and career of the saturnine journalist and master of the short story.

It is not surprising that Bierce offers yield little information about his upbringing. Born in 1842 to a poor and religiously (perhaps even fanatically) devout family of farmers in Meigs County, Ohio, he must have spent the years of his youth, the youngest of ten Bierce children (each with a first name beginning with the letter A), attempting to earn a hard living from the earth. Although he proclaimed himself a lifelong atheist, Bierce must have absorbed some elements of his parents' extreme Christian views, for he exhibited a lifelong puritanical intolerance for unchastity (especially in women) and judged friend and foe alike by an unwavering and rigid moral standard that took no account of differing customs or changing times.

It was mere circumstance that allowed Bierce to expand his physical and mental horizons beyond the narrow confines of his youthful environment. He first stayed briefly with his uncle Lucius Verus Bierce, a well-known politician and lawyer who took Bierce in at his residence in Akron, Ohio, in 1859, more than a decade after Bierce's own family had moved to Indiana. Later that year Bierce enrolled for a year at the Kentucky Military Institute, but of his tenure there nothing is known. Then, while Bierce was idling at home in Indiana in the spring of 1861, the Civil War broke out.

Bierce's immediate enlistment in the Ninth Indiana Volunteers appears to bespeak more a wish to be where "something was going on" (as he put it late in his life, when he was preparing to go to Mexico) than any devotion to one side or the other of the conflict. It is true that Bierce had served in 1857 as a printer's devil on an abolitionist newspaper, the Northern Indianan, but, again, little is known of that experience. Throughout his life Bierce would express a rueful wistfulness over the horrific struggle and his role in it. When, in 1903, he returned to West Virginia, the scene of his earliest fighting in the war, he told correspondent that the grave of a Confederate soldier had recently been found and remarked: "I'm going over to beg his pardon." [1]

If nothing else, Bierce's participation in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War--Shiloh, Chickamauga, Franklin---allowed him in later years to set down some of the most memorable accounts we have of those conflicts; and although several were written more than forty years after the events, they harmonize in every significant particular with the known facts. Bierce's memories of the war are found not only in his formal essays; many shorter and more informal recollections scattered throughout his journalistic work, reprinted here for the first time, substantially augment our knowledge of Bierce's involvement in the war.

Eight of the eleven "Bits of Autobiography" concern Bierce's experiences during and immediately following the war; did he, perhaps, believe that the most exciting period of his life was lived by 1865? In a sense it was: physically he would never be the same (the gunshot wound in the head, received in 1864, was nearly fatal, and for the rest of his life he was susceptible to searing headaches as a result of his injury), while his psychological state as a veteran who had somehow survived when so many of his companions had perished can only be conjectured. Although Bierce left the army for good in 1866, for the whole of his life he considered himself more soldier than civilian, and it is no surprise that his first collection of tales focuses on that distinction in its very title.

But for the immediate future there was work to be considered. A stint as an aide to the Treasury Department in Alabama during Reconstruction proving markedly unsatisfactory, Bierce joined his old friend and erstwhile commander, General William B. Hazen, in a trip to the uncharted wilderness of the West on an exploratory mission. He abandoned the party at San Francisco in early 1867; although he did not know it then, he would, for the next thirty years, be intimately identified with the Bay Area. What led Bierce to become a writer is unclear; certainly, his earliest pieces--a few poems and an essay on female suffrage for the Californian--are stiff and undistinguished. But he got a needed break when, after writing a number of unsigned items for the San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser, he was hired as its regular columnist late in 1868. Bierce's career as an editorialist had begun.

The paragraphs of random commentary Bierce wrote for the News Letter are a testament more to his energy than to his emotional maturity; for the 2500-word columns that appeared weekly almost without a break for more than three years are, in actual substance, very much the callow reflections of a young man eager to prove to the world--or, at least, to the local community--his wit, his outrageousness, and his defiance of convention. In the rough-and-tumble world of post-'49er San Francisco, where several other newspapers competed with the News Letter, including the Chronicle, the Bulletin, the Call, and the Alta California, Bierce's provocative opinions on religion, women, and politics found a receptive audience; and, as early as the summer of 1869, they also found recognition in the pages of so august a journal as the Nation, which felt that the western firebrand was worth introducing to its refined readership.

It was in the News Letter that Bierce articulated a defense of the unrelenting satire that would consume much of the rest of his career. From the beginning he was faced with the naive criticism that satire of his sort--the tart, at times biting satire of Juvenal, Swift, and Voltaire, which did not refrain from naming names, which disdained the tickle of a feather and stung with the rapier's slash--was somehow inherently improper, beyond the bounds of civilized discourse, and the product of personal spite. It may be true that some of Bierce's earlier and cruder work is mere vilification, although even this has its amusing qualities; but the overwhelming bulk of his work features satire that is both pungent and thought-provoking, marked by a carefully considered intellectual stance even at its most vicious. Few perceived that the objects of Bierce's scorn were condemned in such a way as clearly to suggest his approval of their opposite.

Given Bierce's notoriety, it is perhaps not surprising that he courted and won the well-bred society lady Mary Ellen ("Mollie") Day for his wife, marrying her on Christmas Day of 1871. Bierce's silence about his wife, and about the course of their long and often troubled marriage, is telling; even in private correspondence she is rarely mentioned, although we have several affecting letters by Bierce to his three children as well as to the wife of his nephew Carlton, whom he seemed to regard with as much tenderness as his own offspring. As with his relations with his parents, Bierce's attitude toward Mollie can only be inferred with caution from his creative work--from his celebrated definition of "Marriage" in The Devil's Dictionary ("The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two") to the numerous paragraphs in the News Letter and elsewhere on the miseries of married couples, the loathsomeness of babies, and the alarmingly frequent suicides, homicides, and infanticides within the family circle.

By the spring of 1872, when Bierce apparently found himself discontented with the narrow literary horizon of San Francisco, he boldly resettled in England. Although the dozen letters he wrote to the Alta California in the fall and winter of 1872 read in part like the notes of a wide-eyed tourist, it is likely that he felt the move to be permanent--dependent, of course, upon his success as a writer. His stay lasted only a little more than three years, but it proved remarkably fertile. He wrote hundreds of columns for the semiweekly magazine Figaro, dozens of stories and sketches for Tom Hood's comic paper Fun (and also Tom Hood's Comic Annual), as well as work (not yet traced) for at least two other periodicals. He and Mollie also found time to begin their family: a son, Day, was born in December 1872, while another, Leigh, arrived in April 1874. It was at this time that Bierce's first books appeared, albeit pseudonymously: The Fiend's Delight (1873), Nuggets and Dust (1873), and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull (1874), consisting of various scraps derived from his earlier California work and from his Fun contributions. In later years Bierce wished upon these little books an oblivion he felt they deserved; but if nothing else they exhibited his sardonic wit in a form more permanent than newspapers or magazines. It is not to be denied that in some ways these books shared the celebrity enjoyed in England at that time by California writers, among them Bierce's longtime friend Joaquin Miller (whose Songs of the Sierras was the sensation of 1871) and Mark Twain, who was sojourning in England concurrently with Bierce and whom Bierce met on a few occasions.

Perhaps the most peculiar of Bierce's experiences in England was his work in 1874 on two issues of a paper entitled the Lantern. Bierce wrote every word of the paper, unaware that it was secretly funded by the exiled Empress of France as a vehicle for attacking her bitter enemy, Henri Rochefort. Bierce later found out about the charade, writing up the event in "Working for an Empress"; and after the paper folded he resumed his work for Figaro and Fun.

Bierce himself clearly enjoyed dallying with the English literati of Grub Street and hopping from London to Bath to Leamington, with an occasional jaunt into France; but when, in the spring of 1875, Mollie became pregnant with their third child (Helen, born in October) and returned to San Francisco, Bierce regretfully followed to tend to his family. For the next two years there is silence, although we know that Bierce worked for the United States Mint in San Francisco, where he had been briefly employed in 1867.

The next stage of his career was shaped by Frank Pixley, who in the spring of 1877 founded a weekly paper named the Argonaut and invited Bierce to write for it. Bierce resumed the writing of a column of miscellaneous comment. In the News Letter Bierce had taken over a column called "The Town Crier," a title he retained in Figaro; now he revived the name he had used previously for only a single column in the short-lived Lantern--"Prattle." For the next twenty years--in three different papers--the Prattler would be the terror of San Francisco: no politician, cleric, writer, actor, or private individual could know whether he or she would be skewered with Bierce's pen. The Argonaut columns reveal both considerable expansion of Bierce's horizons--his London stay had shown him that the world, not just California, was a bountiful haven of fools and scoundrels--and a marked advance in style. Bierce quickly became a master of the most condensed literary forms--fables, epigrams, definitions, poetic couplets and quatrains--but he occasionally ventured into more expansive ruminations on the world around him and on his own three and a half decades of life. His earliest memories of the Civil War and of his English stay appear in the Argonaut.

In the summer of 1879 Bierce's contributions to the Argonaut ended abruptly. For the next year and a half we find him mired in the frustrating proposition known as the Black Hills Placer Mining Company. Gold had been discovered in the Dakota Territory, and Bierce's old colleague General Sherburne B. Eaton (who had supervised his work as a Treasury aide in 1865 and who was the company's New York attorney) urged Bierce to come out and share in the wealth expected from the venture. In the summer of 1880 Bierce was sent there by Eaton and John McGinnis, Jr., the company's vice president, to be the General Agent overseeing the progress of the mining. Romantic as this may sound, one should not picture Bierce sitting by a trickling stream panning for gold; this was big business. It was, unfortunately, a very badly run business, as Eaton and McGinnis provided almost no support to Bierce against the machinations of the company's president, General Alexander Shaler, the duplicitous treasurer, Marcus Walker, and various other individuals who appeared to resent Bierce's authority--indeed, his very presence---perhaps because of his inexperience in the business and what may have been his cantankerous attitude. Although we have little evidence of the nature of the enterprise besides that contained in Bierce's letters to Eaton and McGinnis, it appears the company was very poorly operated--with sometimes too many people in charge, at other times none at all. Bierce lasted as long as he could in the face of poor (or nonexistent) pay, hostility from workers whose salaries were far in arrears, lawsuits from all sides, and the ever-present physical danger of robbery or death at the hands of brigands. Bierce left the job in late 1880, and some years later the company itself collapsed; but for years thereafter Bierce was vexed by a lawsuit that emerged from the boondoggle.

Upon his return to San Francisco, Bierce found that Frank Pixley would not rehire him. But shortly thereafter, in March 1881, another weekly paper, the Wasp, offered Bierce his usual page of "Prattle." For the next five and a half years Bierce worked tirelessly on the Wasp, contributing his usual commentary on the follies of the world, along with poems, humorous sketches, and--in small numbers--actual short stories. Bierce's first real story, "The Haunted Valley," had appeared in the Overland Monthly in 1871. The many brief comic pieces he wrote for Fun in England, few longer than a thousand words, qualify as stories only for lack of anything else to call them. During his Argonaut stint he wrote only two stories, "The Night-Doings at `Deadman's' " and "The Famous Gilson Bequest," but for the Wasp he produced such tales of horror and the Civil War as "A Holy Terror," "George Thurston," and "An Imperfect Conflagration." How Bierce became attracted to the horror tale is not entirely clear; certainly he must have read Poe, and he retained Poe's devotion to the short story and the short poem for the whole of his life. Perhaps the morbid humor he displayed in both his journalism and his comic sketches required little alteration for transition into tales of supernatural or psychological horror. Whatever the case, Bierce was began to achieve recognition in another arena: his journalism may have attracted the notice of contemporary San Franciscans, but his tales garnered readers who knew nothing of the local personalities lambasted every week by the Prattler.

Politics--both local and national--came increasingly under Bierce's scrutiny during his Wasp years. His political convictions clearly developed over the course of his life, and it is impossible to pin him down to any specific party line. In the end he came to believe that hypocrisy and "rascality" owed allegiance to no party, and that his stance--"pox on both your houses"--was the one that best accorded with political reality. To say that Bierce's political satire--or his satire as a whole--was merely the product of an inflexible "misanthropy" is short-sighted and superficial. There is no reason to disbelieve his declaration: "I like many things in this world and a few persons." [2] But there is much reason to believe that his witnessing of the increasing corruption of American politics had much to do with his increasing censoriousnesss. The assassination of President Garfield in 1881 seemed to confirm all Bierce's fears.

By the fall of 1886 Bierce again found himself out of a job; perhaps the Wasp's purchase in 1885 by Colonel J. P. Jackson, not a man after Bierce's heart, rendered continued work untenable. For years he had struggled with increasingly severe asthma, and he moved continually from one rural or mountain locale (Auburn, Angwin, Los Gatos) to another; not coincidentally, he found in these moves a convenient opportunity to escape from his wife and the burdens of childrearing. It was while living in Oakland in the spring of 1887 that Bierce's life took its most dramatic turn; for it was then that the twenty-three-year-old William Randolph Hearst knocked at his door and asked him to become the chief editorial writer for the San Francisco Examiner.

Hearst readily dropped out of Harvard when his father gave him a chance to run the paper, and he immediately hired the best-known local journalists of the day. It is a testament to Bierce's local fame that his "Prattle" column was for several years the only signed contribution on the editorial page of the Examiner, which at that time was rather more subdued than its flamboyant incarnation of the late 1890s. Bierce plunged into his work with renewed vigor, producing weekly columns of unprecedented length (sometimes longer than 3000 words) and wondrously scintillating wit, but also writing many short stories: in his first four years at the Examiner, he published such tales as "One of the Missing," "A Son of the Gods," "A Tough Tussle," "Chickamauga," "A Horseman in the Sky," "The Coup de Grâce," "The Suitable Surroundings," "A Watcher by the Dead," "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "The Realm of the Unreal," as well as the little-known "The Fall of the Republic," a long political satire later rewritten as "Ashes of the Beacon." Bierce's continuing outspokenness embroiled him in many controversies, but he gave as well as he got--usually better. It is noteworthy, however, that two personal dilemmas--his separation from Mollie in 1888 over his discovery of what he took to be love letters to her from a Danish admirer, and the death the next year of his sixteen-year-old son Day in a sordid duel over a girl--find virtually no mention in either his published work or his surviving correspondence.

The 1890s were, at least on paper, a decade of triumph for Bierce. His Tales of Soldiers and Civilians was published by a local publisher (the edition is dated 1891, but it probably appeared in early 1892) after being rejected by major houses in New York; it was reprinted in 1892 in England as In the Midst of Life, and although Bierce then used that title in subsequent editions, several remarks in letters lead one to believe that he preferred his original title. In 1892 his translation (with G. A. Danziger) of Richard Voss's The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter appeared in book form, as did his first collection of verse (culled from his newspaper columns), Black Beetles in Amber. The volume emerged under the imprint of the Western Authors Publishing Association, a firm he and Danziger had established; for the next decade he would wrangle with Danzig over the profits of the book and the rights to the Monk. In 1893 his collection of horror tales, Can Such Things Be?, was published; in 1898 an augmented edition of In the Midst of Life appeared from Putnam's, and the next year that publisher issued his Fantastic Fables.

Beyond these literary successes (tempered by the fact that three of the publishing houses folded a year or two after the books they published appeared), Bierce found himself at the nation's political center. In early 1896 Hearst sent Bierce to Washington to lobby against the efforts of Collis P. Huntington, one of the most notorious of the "railroad barons," to pass a funding bill that would give Huntington nearly a century to repay a debt to the government for the building and maintenance of the Southern and Central Pacific Railroad. Bierce, for once agreeing with Hearst on a point of policy, believed Huntington to be a mere thief who had already pocketed too much of the government's money, and he entered the fray with gusto. His sixty or so articles on the matter, from February to May, were written for both the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Journal, which Hearst had recently acquired; most of the pieces were apparently sent to the newspaper offices by telegraph. There is little doubt that Bierce's articles were instrumental in swaying both the public and members of Congress (many of whom had initially been inclined to vote for the Huntington bill) to defeat the measure. These pieces alone are sufficient to establish Bierce as a forerunner of the Muckraker movement of the following generation.

Bierce claimed to suffer health problems upon the completion of his work in Washington, but his contributions to the Examiner continued unabated. By November he had returned to San Francisco. The next year, 1897, Bierce tendered his resignation from the Hearst staff, on this occasion because he objected to the severe editing and rewriting of his contributions in the New York paper. (It was probably not the first occasion for such an act, and it definitely was not the last.) Hearst, having many other concerns and probably not wishing to exercise rigid supervision of his staff, managed to lure Bierce back to work, but the editorial tampering continued.

In 1898 that Bierce commenced a long series of articles on the Spanish-American war and its ramifications in the Philippines and on American relations with China. Here he was manifestly not in Hearst's corner, seeing the war as merely a naked grab for power. [3] These articles, if perhaps less superficially dramatic than his broadsides against Huntington, reveal a seasoned understanding of political reality that was exceptionally rare for their period, and leagues beyond the impish abuse of local politicians that characterized Bierce's earliest work. They may stand as his most distinguished newspaper writing.

In December 1899 Bierce's work for the Examiner again lapsed briefly; but this time it was not because he went on strike. Bierce had finally decided for health reasons to uproot himself from his adopted home town, the town that had stood in mingled terror and admiration of him for thirty years. He settled in Washington, DC, where his contributions were wired to both the New York Journal (which became, in early 1902, the New York American) and the Examiner. His literary output declined both in quantity and in substance: the columns became skimpier ("Prattle" gave way to "The Passing Show," which in turn gave way to "The Views of One" and other brief pieces), and relatively few works of fiction appeared, with the notable exception of the revised "Ashes of the Beacon," which took up an entire page of the American and Examiner in February 1905. Another personal tragedy--the death of his son Leigh of pneumonia in March 1901--is mentioned tersely in a few letters.

In 1905 Hearst finally put forward to Bierce a proposal that seemed promising: Bierce would eventually cease his newspaper work and write exclusively for the newly purchased magazine, Cosmopolitan. At first he jumped at the task, writing an array of stories as well as several additional satires of the "Ashes of the Beacon" type. But Bierce's regular column, "The Passing Show," proved to be unsatisfying, as he found himself unable to discuss contemporary affairs pertinently in a column that would be published a month or two after the items were written. A shift to a less topical column, "Small Contributions," proved no more satisfactory; and the title unwittingly reflected both the size and nature of his work for the magazine. The only book publication of note during this period was The Devil's Dictionary, which Doubleday issued in 1906; Bierce did not care for the lackluster title The Cynic's Word Book, used to avoid offending readers' religious sensibilities. [4] It was also at this time that Bierce attempted valiantly to secure the publication of his young pupil George Sterling's remarkable poem of fantasy and imagination, "A Wine of Wizardry"; after being rejected by many standard magazines, it appeared in Cosmopolitan itself, accompanied by an essay on it by Bierce. Perhaps Bierce felt indebted to Sterling for the his financing of Bierce's second collection of verse, Shapes of Clay (1903). Whatever the case, the Hearst papers used the occasion to create a kind of literary tempest in a teapot, with many of Bierce's enemies upbraiding him for advocating a poem so out of tune with the placid decorum of the verse of the day.

By the spring of 1909 Bierce had had all he could stomach of Cosmopolitan, and his resignation signaled the definitive end of his work for Hearst. For more than twenty years Bierce had given the best years of his literary life to the Hearst publications, and in his rumination on those years, "A Thumbnail Sketch," which curiously does not appear among the "Bits of Autobiography," Bierce concluded that the relation had been of mutual benefit. Certainly, his contributions of 1887 - 99 represent the pinnacle of his journalistic work, and a case could be made that they constitute the most remarkable American journalism of the century.

It was tragically short-sighted of Bierce not to reprint much of this material in the twelve volumes of his Collected Works, which his friend, the publisher Walter Neale, issued between 1909 and 1912. Bierce's low view of journalism in general clearly skewed his assessment of his own work; and of course his journalism has now gained added historical value as the commentary of a keen mind on the political and social events of the period. But no reader of this body of work--which makes up the bulk of the latter two-thirds of this book--can come away unimpressed with the verbal witchery, the glittering wit, the merciless satire, the towering rhetorical fire, and, most important, the depth of thought and keenness of perception of Bierce's editorial columns. One must compare them with the average run of work written in the newspapers at this time to gain a true sense of its superiority. Even if Bierce on occasion embodies his own definition of "Positive" ("Mistaken at the top of one's voice"), there can be little doubt that most of his views are well-considered, sincerely held, and expressed with dazzling wit and acerbity.

For the last eight or nine years of Bierce's life we are largely reliant on his correspondence, which either was more voluminous during this time or merely happens to survive more copiously than for earlier periods. Bierce continued to play his hand close to the vest, treating in a sentence or a phrase matters we would like to see dealt with in paragraphs or pages; but it is all we have. The assembling, editing, and proofreading of the Collected Works was occupying much of his time, but Bierce found occasion to return triumphantly, and a little ruefully, to San Francisco in 1910 and 1912; he had overcome his resolve not to visit the city after its destruction by the earthquake and fire of 1906, of which he heard much from friends like Sterling.

By 1913 Bierce was tiring of his idle life in Washington. He was writing little save letters, and, although now past seventy, felt the need to involve himself in something. The Mexican Civil War offered an opportunity. Many of his letters of the latter half of 1913 speak of his inclination to see what was going on there, and then to continue to South America. Was this merely an elaborate deception? Did Bierce in fact not go to Mexico (beyond a brief foray in November 1913)? The puzzle of Bierce's disappearance---attested by the provocative "1842 - 1914?" that follows his name in library catalogues--has certainly augmented his reputation as a mystery man of American letters, and in all likelihood the truth will never be known. His biographer, Roy Morris, Jr., has argued that Bierce did not in fact go to Mexico; but the existence of a letter written from Chihuahua on December 26, 1913, of which Morris was evidently unaware, makes such a view unlikely. What exactly happened to Bierce may never be known for certain, but the evidence suggests that he perished in very early 1914, possibly mistaken for a spy.

Bierce's frequent strictures on the uselessness, even the perniciousness, of literary biography extended to autobiography, but they did not prevent him from writing of his own life from time to time. Perhaps he did not have the energy or inclination to write of the entirety of his life; perhaps he felt that much of his life was not worth writing about. Perhaps, too, he did not have the patience to wade through the oceans of his journalism over forty years to abstract items that might flesh out the high points of his literary and personal existence beyond those harrowing days as a raw soldier and the intoxicating few years as a man of letters in London. But at least that journalism has been left for future hands to sift, and we hope that the following volume presents at least some bits of autobiography of which Bierce might have approved.

It is true that some of this material is not "autobiographical" in the narrowest sense; but surely a writer's opinions on the world around him--and, especially, the evolution of those opinions from youth to maturity--are as much a part of his life as the bare physical events he experienced. It is indisputable that the "life" of many a writer is largely made up of writing; but for such persons the life of the mind can certainly rival that of the body in compelling interest. We make no apologies, therefore, for presenting what amounts to an anthology of Bierce's journalistic work in addition to his consciously autobiographical writing; for this work provides as transparent an index to Bierce's literary and philosophical development as anyone could wish. Perhaps, too, it will help to expand the general understanding of Bierce beyond that of a skilled writer of short stories; for those stories, brilliant as they are, are dwarfed at least in quantity by the editorial commentary Bierce expounded over nearly half a century of newspaper work. Such diligent and untiring work, which brought him his share of fame, notoriety, and obloquy, should not be forgotten.


1. Bierce to George Sterling, Sept. 12, 1903, The Letters of Ambrose Bierce, ed. Bertha Clark Pope (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1922), 75.

2. Bierce to Blanche Partington, July 31, 1892, Letters, 5.

3. Bierce's articles on the subject have been collected in Lawrence I. Berkove, ed., Skepticism and Dissent: Selected Journalism 1898-1901, rev. ed. (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1986).

4. As Bierce remarked in a letter, "Here in the East the Devil is a sacred personage (the Fourth Person of the Trinity, as an Irishman might say) and his name must not be taken in vain." Bierce to George Sterling, May 6, 1906, Letters, 120.