- Two Newly Recovered Pieces of Journalism by Ambrose Bierce
While conducting digital research, I have lately come across a pair of journalistic works by Ambrose Bierce that may be of interest to readers of American literature in general and literary realism in particular. These items do not appear in even the most complete bibliography of Bierce’s work—namely, S. T. Joshi’s and David E. Schultz’s Ambrose Bierce: An Annotated Bibliography of Primary Sources (1999)—nor can I locate any mention of them online or in digital archives. The two new pieces are “War and Carnage,” a short political poem published in 1897, and “Polar Drift Not Sure,” a 1909 letter to a newspaper editor concerning glaciology. The poem graphically underscores Bierce’s hatred for oversimplified political reporting, while the letter sheds light on the author’s strong (but critically less emphasized) interest in the sciences. Incidentally, I have also discovered an earlier version of a Bierce editorial known as “The Ethics of War,” whose appearance in the same Atlanta newspaper as “War and Carnage” helps establish the authenticity of the latter.
Bierce, like many American writers of the late-nineteenth century, wrote quickly, constantly, and for money. Though he occasionally compiled and annotated scrapbooks of his newspaper writings, Bierce did not keep exceptionally scrupulous track of his journalism. To do so would have been a full-time job in itself; offhand, Joshi has estimated that the author’s total writings top six million words, excluding personal correspondence.1 Adding to the complexity of his bibliography, Bierce’s journalistic bylines vary wildly, from attributions as complete as “Ambrose G. Bierce” to the rather sparse “A.B.,” or simply “B.”—and, of course, much of his [End Page 270] journalism was unsigned.2 The result is that Bierce’s already huge literary corpus is still growing. Joshi and Schultz are perhaps more aware of this than anyone. Just before printing their 1999 bibliography—which they freely admit has not attained “absolute completeness,” at least not yet—the two bibliographers discovered a trove of unsigned Bierce columns in two San Francisco papers, the Wasp and the Argonaut, a list of which appears in their volume as an appendix.3 Joshi has since reported finding evidence that even more unsigned Bierce columns may exist than previously thought.4
For literary researchers and Bierce enthusiasts, this situation is wonderfully exciting. Compared to the astoundingly complete bibliographies of, say, Mark Twain or Emily Dickinson, Bierce’s is still partial, with many more discoveries left to be made. Invaluable to the pursuit of buried Bierce works will be the digital search. Ream after ream of nineteenth-century periodicals is being digitized every day; quite a few are freely available online, either via Google Books or in databases like Chronicling America, the Library of Congress’s database of historic American newspapers. Even more digitized periodicals are available in subscription-based databases such as ProQuest Historical Newspapers, C19, and LexisNexis. Importantly, the material in these databases is often scanned, converted, and indexed automatically, usually from pre-existing microfilm—meaning that much of what remains to be uncovered is simply sitting there, contained but not accounted for, waiting for the right researcher with the right keywords to come along. What I found especially interesting about the experience of discovering the Bierce works below, is that my methodology was nothing more complex than restricting the timespan of a digital search to Bierce’s adult writing years, 1860 to 1914, searching for signatures containing the name “Bierce,” and cross-referencing the results with Bierce works listed online and in printed bibliographies. (For the latter, Joshi’s and Schultz’s text proved invaluable.) During these searches, many potential new finds turned out to be accounted for. In the end, two did not. I am happy to provide their complete transcriptions below, along with bibliographic information and a few brief textual notes.
To me, the simplicity and success of this research method indicates that there are still many nuggets of American literary realism out there, hidden in digital darkness and patiently awaiting the light of day. I do not mean to suggest that digital research can or should replace...