Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Lexicographer


Ambrose Pierce once said that an experienced writer "must be a sinner and in turn a saint, a hero, a wretch." In a feverish lifetime, turbulent with rampant enmities and equally rampant friendships, he was looked upon as all of those, and he still is, long after vanishing in Mexico.

Following the Bierce trail, often vague and sometimes lost, from Warsaw to San Francisco, I have been entertained by the enthusiasm of pro-Bierceians, by the grumpy distaste of antis, and by the blank ignorance of many who never heard of the man. The sharp facets of a character both positive and negative, but never merely neutral, are a challenge to a biographer. If not particularly important as a writer, he is stimulating as a person. Hence this most recent of many attempts to irterpret a controversial figure.

It is the product of a vast deal of storm and stress, several jaunts across the country, and an incredible quantity of leg work, dusty grubbing, and two-fingered typing. All of that was exhausting, but very exhilarating. Tantalizing, too, for so many lenses of all colors have been focused on Bierce that the effort to synthesize them and to view the whole man poses a difficult problem. He is not easy to understand. When you think you have a sharp image, it blurs almost immediately. At any rate, I see him as neither saint nor wretch, but as a harassed human being, and I find engaging the prickly temperament that is the source of his attraction.

I could never have completed the book without the liberal assistance of men to whom I acknowledge my deep indebted...

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Norman, OK
Publication year:
  • 1951


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