On this day in 1842, the great writer Ambrose Bierce was born. Like most writers of most times, he wrote a lot of different stuff. He was especially known in his own time for his short fiction—especially ghost and war stories. Today, he is known for his satire, especially, The Devil’s Dictionary. In contained definitions like this one for “conservative”: “A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.” That definition actually makes him quite a lot less cynical than I am.
Fundamentally, however, Bierce was a journalist. And that is what is ultimately most interesting about him. At the age of 71, he traveled with Pancho Villa I assume to report on the Mexican Revolution. But then he just vanishes. It’s not terribly surprising, I suppose. There was a war going on. He was probably just killed. There is a legend that he was killed by firing squad. Although that sounds far fetched, Bierce was known for his biting wit, and maybe the old man made the wrong remark to the wrong man. Or maybe one night he had a heart attack and died. He wasn’t exactly a celebrity in the United States; in Mexico he was doubtless just some old Gringo who was hanging around.
But I like the idea that it was all a final joke. He split off from the army’s advance, went to a peaceful place on the coast and drank wine and enjoyed an anonymous retirement. Regardless, he’s dead now.
Happy birthday Ambrose Bierce!