Monday, 19 May 2008

The Devil's Dictionary by Ambrose Bierce

Ambrose Bierce's sardonic preface to the 'Devil's Dictionary' of 1911 bemoans the fact that he had not the power to prevent the original 1906 edition from being titled 'The Cynic's Word Book'. The more reverent title was forced upon him by the religious scruples of a newspaper in which a part of the work had appeared. In those days there were so many books and pamphlets titled The Cynic's...this, that and the other, that the very word cynic was in bad repute. 'The Cynic's Word Book' joined the list. The change of title in 1911 possibly saved it from obscurity.
As well as word definitions 'The Devil's Dictionary' contains much humorous verse including the following -


A critic who all day had railed
Against a poem which had failed
To please him, as the sun went down
Stopped cursing and forgot to frown.
A goose, which, sitting near, had heard
In silence each censorious word,
Now solemnly exclaimed: 'My friend
I've heard you calmly to the end,
Unwilling to disturb you, though
I smarted at each bitter blow.'
'Pray what have my remarks to do'
The critic cried, 'with such as you?'
'With me, indeed! That serves to show
How little critics care to know
About the object of their curses;
I grew the pen which wrote the verses!'


The clergyman to Tom, one day,
Said: 'Work is worthy of its pay;
You to your body did attend,
But I your soul did ever mend.'
Said Tom: 'I recognize the debt,
And pay it thus.' A coin he set
Before the parson's eyes awhile,
Then pocketed it with a smile,
Remarking: 'Since the thing you mend
Is unsubstantial, pious friend,
It clearly seems the fitting way
In unsubstantial coin to pay:'

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913?)*

*In 1913 Bierce set off for the Mexican Revolution and was never seen again.
His life was a tissue of facts embroidered with legend.

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