The Unexplained Departure of Ambrose Bierce
September 17, 2014
AMBROSE BIERCE WAS an American original.
He was a poet.
He was a philosopher.
He was always politically incorrect at a time when political correctness was not considered a virtue.
Ambrose Bierce grew up in the fire-and-brimstone First Congregational Church of Christ and developed a serious dislike for preachers who depended more on fire and brimstone than the scriptures for his sermons.
He was a drifter.
He was a soldier in the War Between the States, fighting in the battles of Shiloh, Pickett’s Mill, and Chickamauga.
He wrote the first genuine Civil War fiction.
One of his short stories from the war, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is considered by many critics as one of the best ever written.
The ending will stun you.
It will haunt you.
You won’t soon forget it.
Ambrose Bierce wrote humorous short stories that have been compared to Mark Twain and macabre short stories that are as shocking as the works of Edgar Allen Poe.
He wrote novels, including The Fiend’s Delight, Nuggets and Dust, and Cobwebs from an Empty Skull.
His newspaper columns hurled wry, sardonic, and biting barbs at preachers, lawyers, bigots, politicians, racists, capitalists, poets, and anarchists. No one was immune from his caustic wit and black humor.
Bierce wrote The Cynic’s Word Book, which became The Devil’s Dictionary, and his observations are priceless.
History: An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools.
War: God’s way of teaching Americans geography.
Telephone: An invention of the devil, which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
Rum: generically, fiery liquors that produce madness in total abstainers.
Education: That which discloses to the wise and disguises from the foolish their total lack of understanding.
Sabbath: A weekly festival having its origin in the fact that God made the world in six days and was arrested on the seventh.
A Coward: One who, in a perilous emergency, thinks with his legs.
A Conservative: A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the liberal who wishes to replace them with others.
Politeness: The most acceptable hypocrisy.
Lawsuit: A machine, which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.
Vote: The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and wreck of his country.
Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.
Alliance: In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other’s pockets that they cannot separately plunder a third.
Beauty: The power by which a woman charms a lover and terrifies a husband.
Belladonna: In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues.
At the age of seventy-one, Ambrose Bierce watched the great revolutionary Pancho Villa storm across Mexico and decided he wanted to go back to war.
He rode across Texas.
He reached the border.
And he wrote his niece: “Goodbye. If you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags, please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stairs. To be a gringo in Mexico – ah, that is euthanasia.”
His second letter to his niece said: “I shall not be here long enough to hear from you, and don’t know where I will be next. Guess it doesn’t matter much.”
Ambrose Bierce crossed the border and disappeared.
An empty life on an empty desert.
He would never be heard from again.
Ambrose Bierce wrote a lot of strange stories about the unexplained.
In the end, he became one.
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