Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
Ambrose Bierce was an American Civil War soldier, wit, and writer and journalist.
Born in Ohio in 1842, he was the tenth of thirteen children, whose father gave them all names beginning with the letter A. His parents were a poor but literary couple who instilled in him a deep love for books and writing.
A prolific and versatile writer, Bierce was regarded as one of the most influential journalists in the United States and as a pioneering writer of realist fiction.
Bierce’s book ‘The Devil’s Dictionary’ was named as one of ‘The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature’’. Originally an occasional newspaper item, it was first published in book form in 1906 as ‘The Cynic’s Word Book‘ consisting of satirical definitions of English words . In his many stories, he helped pioneer the psychological horror story genre.
His military career started with the American Civil war where he became a First Lieutenant in The Union army from 1861-65. Bierce wrote realistically of the terrible things he had seen in the war in such stories as ‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’, ‘A Horseman in the Sky’, ‘One of the Missing’ and ‘Chickamauga’. His grimly realistic cycle of 25 war stories has been called ‘the greatest anti-war document in American literature’.
After the war, in mid 1866, he joined General Hazen as part of an expedition to inspect military outposts across the Great Plains. The expedition travelled by horseback and wagon from Omaha, Nebraska, arriving toward year’s end in San Francisco, California.
Bierce married Mary Ellen ‘Mollie’ Day in 1871. They had three children, two sons and a daughter.
He remained in San Francisco for many years, eventually becoming famous as a contributor or editor of a number of local newspapers and periodicals. Bierce lived and wrote in England from 1872 to 1875. His first book, ‘The Fiend’s Delight’, a compilation of his articles, was published in London in 1873 Returning to San Francisco in 1879, he tried a mining venture, but then resumed his career in journalism.
From 1881 until 1885 he was editor of ‘The Wasp’ magazine, in which he began a column titled ‘Prattle’. He also became one of the first regular columnists and editorialists on William Randolph Hearst’s newspaper, ‘The San Francisco Examiner’, eventually becoming one of the most prominent and influential writers and journalists of the West Coast. He remained associated with Hearst Newspapers until 1909.
In December 1913, Bierce travelled to Chihuahua, Mexico, to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. He disappeared, and was rumoured to be travelling with rebel troops. He was never seen again.