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Arch Di Peppe reviews "Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary, Tales, and Memoirs"
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Near the end of his life, he felt mostly forgotten and unappreciated. His multiple-volume anthology of work was a literary and financial failure. If a lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client, a writer who edits his own anthology has an egotistical idiot for a client. Even the best writers seldom know when to stop. They are often so enamored of their work that leaving out even one piece of it is tantamount to leaving a child behind at a train station. Bierce proved this.
SKIMMING THE CREAM
There turns out to be a light at the end of the tunnel, albeit a posthumous one. S.T. Joshi has done a wonderful job distilling Bierce's work in "Ambrose Bierce: The Devil's Dictionary. Tales, & Memoirs [Library of America, 2011, 864 pp]." Joshi's work leaves the reader with just enough of the writer's best work. It is an ample taste. The reader can stop there or hunt for more online or in libraries. (Read "Ambrose Bierce: Alone in Bad Company" by Roy Morris Jr. for an in-depth look at the writer's complex life).
"The Devil's Dictionary" lifts cynicism to an art form. It was originally published in 1906 under the title "The Cynic's Word Book" because in those times it was taboo to mention the Devil in the title of a nonreligious book. Bierce originally began publishing segments of the work in the San Francisco magazine The Wasp. The installments were very popular in their day. Here are just a few entries:
1. Marriage, n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.
2. Patience, n. A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.
3. Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
4. Amnesty, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.
5. Fidelity, n. A virtue peculiar to those who are about to be betrayed.
This book would be worth the price for "The Devil's Dictionary" part alone.
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