Journalist, humorist, and sardonic gadfly Ambrose Bierce was a Civil War hero whose disillusionment of war brought him literary fame with such stories as "An Occurance at Owl Creek Bridge." His mordant, caustic humor caused him to be known as "Bitter Bierce" and (among his enemies) as "The Wickedest Man in San Francisco." Little can deny, though, that he was one of the most influential and important journalists of his time. Bierce famously disappeared in Mexico while attempting to cover Pancho Villa and speculation about his death has been varied and rampant.
His first three collections were published under the pseudonym of "Dod Grile." Nuggets and Dust was the second of these and was published in England with no immediate American publication, thus it remains one of his more little-known books. In a wide variety of sketches Bierce gleefully skewers his fellow man and his shibboleths.
The contents, with some selected quotes:
- "A Midsummer's Day Dream" "...my thoughts strayed to the Day of Resurrection, and the lively time which might be expected in that vicinity when Gabriel should give the signal for a general getting up for breakfast."
- "A Mournful Property" "I will go with you to the end of the world, or even to Sacramento, if you insist."
- "The Disgusted Convert" ""But out through the door of the tabernacle, down the crowded street, past the stately churches with their skyward spires -- with a look of heaven in his eyes and a prayer in his heart -- passed a muscular Christian with that time-piece nestling cozily in his pocket, alongside a young Bible and a volume of Watts' divinest melodies."
- "The Classical Cadet" "One fine summer's eve, I was ambling innocently among the sands of Oakland, noting curiously the habits of the lower animals -- the lithe gopher, the cheerful chipmunk, the nimble squirrel, and the meditative Methodist -- when my eye was arrested by a ponderous knapsack that attempted to pass between my feet."
- "D. T." ""I am quite certain I had not been drinking too much, for I make it a rule never to do so, though there is an irreconcilable difference between my wife and myself as to the exact amount one may take without having too much."
- "A Working Girl's Story" "I shed tears of gratitude, and, kneeling, proceed to examine my treasures, when my door was pushed ajar, and a voice cried out of the passage: 'Hi, missy! you luff dem fings be, will ye: dey b'longs to number seben on de furst flo'!'"
- "Ex Parte Omne" "'Madam," he replied, with slow sorrow, 'I know the name of everything triangulsr, and everything that any Christian eats.'"
- "A Delicate Hint" "A man persuaded his wife to go to the market for a steak, and took a mean advantage of her absence by shooting the top of his head off."
- "Making a Clean Breast of It" "In the year 1850 two men were playing poker upon the exact spot where Dr. Stone's church now stands."
- "Paternal Responsibility" "I need hardly say that, after a burst of boisterous laughter, the six-year-old was sent to bed, and his excellent father remained, to be carried home some hours later in a state of absolute worthlessness as regards powers of locomotion."
- "Hanner's Wit" "After he had lain down and gone deeply into dreams, she tied a cord to his ankle, and the other end of the same she looped about a standing shotgun heavily charged with leaden pellets, intended for the buoyant duck or the fleeting rabbit."
- "Somebody's Arms" A sufferer by a railway accident has both arms taken off at the shoulder, and another pair -- rights and lefts -- being picked up a mile or two away, the physician attending him naturally supposed they belonged to his dismembered patient, and after paring off the rough edges fastened them on."
- "A Deceptive Heading" "Is it not the policy of this paper to ridicule the stupidity of the President by every device known to journalism?"
- "The Suicide" "'I do not like to trouble you, but the truth is I have been a little despondent of late, and, just before coming in, I shot myself in the breast, and really I have no confidence in the fidelity of my legs, they are a trifle weak and frail -- like one whom it is needless to name, but who, as you will readily surmise, is connected with this unfortunate affair.'"
- "Maternal Precaution" "One day Professor Fowler received a call from a lady, who requested him to examine the head of her infant, and tell her for what pursuit in life he was best fitted."
- "Unclaimed Luggage" "On the morning after the ball at Sucker Flat, the level sunbeams stole warmly into the dressing-room, and gilded the nose of an unknown babe with a ricj crimson glory."
- "The Pridies" "MORAL: If people will have children -- Bah! of course they will."
Notes. Written in Invisible Ink by a Phantom American:
- [A collection of notes and observations of an American tourist in England. The author assures us that he has "studiously excluded a mass of matter in which the prevailing idiocy was debased by the chance introduction of common sense." Articles in this section include "St. Pauls," "Seeing a Journalist," "Straford-on-Avon." "Warwick Castle," "Kenilworth," "Coventry," "The Story of Lady Godiva," and "The Size of London."] "I believe there is not a carpet in the castle, and i know there is not a stove. I think there is not a stove in England."
The Model Philosopher by Ursus:
- [Thoughts and comments on a variety of subjects, from grizzly bears and vanilla ice cream to much greater philosophical subjects.] "It is, of course, very delightful to be alone with Nature; but it is, at best, but a selfish pleasure to sit upon a rock and smash the pinching ants, clammy worms, and stinging beetles that come to dispute your empire." and "The error of putting Madeira in turtle soup -- and I know not a more mischievous one -- was once as wide-spread as the belief in witchcraft."
Editorial Fine Frenzies:
- [Further thoughts and comments (some rather vehement) on the hypocrisy and muddleheadedness of mankind, both collectively and individually. The pieces in this section include: Man in Quantity," "The Beast Without a Name," Perseverance," "MacSnuffle," "Ad Stultes," "February Twenty-Second," "Equine," "A Small Mistake," "July Fourth," "The Social Outlook," "Saint Decoration," "Un Ballo," and "We Are Seven."] "Christianity, the religion of peace and love, is also somewhat more widely professed than at any former period; and by a singular and most exasperating coincidence, nearly all the slaughtering is done amongst and by the most Christian nations."
- [Wherein the author repeatedly punctures the balloon of religious hypocrisy.] "We admire the wisdom of Solomon, and wish he had chosen to display it; and are amazed at the miracles of the Prophets, so inferior to our own prestidigitateurs, and some respects superior to the corresponding ones of their heathen predecessors and contemporaries."
The Model Reporter:
- [Satires on "typical" newspaper stories, especially those of the community news type, along with some pointed pieces on the folly of newspaper editors.] "Senator Casserley has been at it again. He made a speech to the Tammany Society of New York on the 4th of July, compared with which all his previous efforts were as but the growl of a sick spaniel to the concerted roar of all the bulls of Bashan."
Nuggets and Dust is prime Bierce, his acerbic voice ringing through in every paragraph. Perhaps a bit old-fashioned for everyone's taste, but I can't help but wish the old curmudgeon were alive to comment on what is going on in the world today.