Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an extraordinary man. He was born in 1842, and is supposed to have died in about 1914. Supposed, that is, not in the sense that Bunbury was supposed to die (Oscar Wilde “The Importance of Being Ernest”, Act 3), but rather in the sense that his death then is presumed rather than known. Certainly it is known that he crossed into Mexico at that time; that Mexico was in the throes of a violent revolution at that time; that he claimed to be tired of life at the time; that Bierce’s instincts for self-preservation were under-developed; that his capacity for giving offence to others was highly developed; and that he has not been heard of since. A circumstantial case, it is true; but a convincing one.
He worked as a printer’s devil on the local newspaper when young. He later worked as a journalist for Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. He began writing The Devil’s Dictionary in about 1881, and it was published progressively as a regular column. It was first published in book form in 1906. Bierce also wrote short stories, which have been unjustly ignored by the generality.
Bierce’s humour is as sharp and incisive as Dorothy Parker’s, but depends less than hers on recognizing the people, circumstances and issues which surrounded the writer. Instead, for the most part, all that is needed to appreciate Bierce is an unsentimental knowledge of the follies of mankind. He lays bare our frailties and vanities; he mocks our weakness and pretensions. In short, he was bound to live and die an outcast, which is the fate of all commentators on the human condition who do not have the decency to lie about their subject.
You can read extracts from the Devil’s Dictionary here.