“Humor is sweet wine, wit is dry; we know which is preferred by the connoisseur.”
Ambrose Bierce, also called “Bitter Bierce,” was known for his biting wit. Born in Meigs County, Ohio, he became the only war writer of his time to have actually experienced battle, after enlisting in the Indiana Infantry to fight the Civil War and sustaining a bullet wound to the head. His wartime experiences inspired much of his writing; his injury might have inspired much of his cynicism. His best known works include An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, which took place during the Civil War, and The Devil’s Dictionary, an encyclopedia of sarcasm, from which the headings for his “Highlights of a Life” were taken. His tumultuous employment and relationship with newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst led to writings that insulted celebrities, implicated “railrogues” and (might have) inspired President McKinley’s assassination.
Bierce is as well-known for his mysterious death as for his life. He disappeared in 1914; most think it was amidst the Civil War in Mexico. Thus, his writing career began and ended in civil war. Perhaps this, too, is an oxymoron, for when can war truly be civil? Thankfully, “Bitter Bierce” left behind many words of acid wit, and even after a century, their flavor hasn’t lost much bite.