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Tymon Smith

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Footnotes: Ambrose Bierce

He’s most famous for disappearing without a trace while travelling with rebel troops in Mexico in 1913, but writer, critic, journalist, satirist and short-story writer Ambrose Bierce also left behind him many short stories including “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and the collection of satirical pieces The Devil’s Dictionary.

The 10th child of a family of 13 children whose names all began with the letter A, Bierce was born today in Ohio in 1842. After leaving home at the age of 15 to become a printer’s devil, Bierce enlisted in the Union Army at the outbreak of the American Civil War. He lived most of the rest of his life in San Francisco, where he wrote for Randolph William Hearst’s Examiner and established himself as one of the West Coast’s most influential journalists and critics before he left the paper in 1906.

The Devil’s Dictionary, his collection of satirical definitions of words, was originally published as The Cynic’s Word Book but later retitled under Bierce’s preferred name in 1909. In 1913, he travelled to Mexico where he joined the revolutionary forces of Pancho Villa as an observer. According to legend he wrote a letter to a friend on December 26 in which he said: “As to me, I leave here tomorrow for an unknown destination.” These were the author’s last known words as he subsequently vanished without a trace and his body has never been found. His disappearance was the subject of the late Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes’ novel The Old Gringo, later adapted into a film starring Gregory Peck. Biographers still try to uncover what happened to Bierce and many critics consider the stories he wrote based on his war experiences among the best in the genre.


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Paige</a>
    June 25th, 2012 @13:44 #

    Devil's Dictionary is one of my favourite books, he's such a legend. Happy Birthday Mr Bierce, whereever you may be.

    Here are a few of my favourite of his birthday 'B's':

    'Beauty, n. The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.'

    'Belladonna, n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison.
    A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.'

    'Brain, n. An apparatus with which we think that we think.'

    'Brandy, n. A cordial compound composed of one part thunder-and-lightning, one part remorse, two parts bloody murder, one part death-hell-and-the-grave and four parts clarified Satan.'

    'Bride, n. A woman with a fine prospect of happiness behind her.'


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