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American Literary Studies

Ambrose Gwinett Bierce Papers

The Papers

Location: Department of Special Collections, Green Library

Call Number: M0080

Size: 2 linear feet

Finding Guide: A printed version is available in the reading room of the Department of Special Collections. Electronic versions of this finding guide are also available. If you have Microsoft's Internet Explorer version 6.0 or higher, click here to connect to the XML version on the Stanford server; if not, click here for the html version on the Online Archives of California server.

Research Access and Use: Materials in the Department of Special Collections are non-circulating and must be used in the Special Collections' Reading Room in the Cecil H. Green Library. The Reading Room is open 10:00am to 5:00pm Monday through Friday. Photocopies, photographs, and microfilm can be made of some materials in the collections. For more information about the collections and access policies, please contact Special Collections by telephone at (650) 725-1022, by electronic mail at or by regular mail at the Department of Special Collections, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305-6004.

Career of Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?)

Ambrose Gwinett Bierce was born in Meigs County, Ohio on June 24, 1842, the tenth of thirteen children born to Marcus Aurelius and Laura Sherwood Bierce. He became a printer's apprentice in Kosciusko County, Indiana, before entering the Kentucky Military Institute in 1859. Bierce entered the Union Army after the outbreak of the Civil War, where he served with the 9th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. He rose quickly in rank from private to lieutenant and became the acting topographical engineer on General W. B. Hazen's staff. At the battle of Kenesaw Mountain, Bierce sustained a near-fatal head wound which led to his eventual discharge after a lengthy recuperation. His first job in journalism was as managing editor for the San Francisco News-Letter and California Advertiser in 1868, writing the entries for the weekly column "Town Crier." Bierce married Mary Ellen Day on Christmas Day, 1871, and eventually had three children, Day, Leigh, and Helen. From 1872-74, Bierce was in England writing for Tom Hood's Fun and James Mortimer's Figaro, where he published his first book, The Fiend's Delight (1873), culled from his journalistic pieces. He returned to San Francisco in September of 1875, where he worked editing magazines, including Argonaut and the Wasp. Bierce became a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner in 1887, while continuing to produce his own books. His experiences in the war formed the basis for his first book of short stories, Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891), which contains his most famous story, "The Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." The next year he produced his first volume of poetry, Black Beetles in Amber (1892) which was later followed by Shapes of Clay (1903). In 1896, he was sent to Washington, D.C. by the Examiner to cover the Railroad Funding Bill controversy, where he stayed as a political reporter for the Hearst papers. He is perhaps best known for his satirical work lapooning human folly, first in Fantastic Fables (1899) and later in his celebrated The Devil's Dictionary (1906). His last major literary work was the massive project, Collected Works (1912) which filled twelve volumes. In 1913, at the age of seventy-one, Bierce disappeared into Mexico to cover the expolits of the bandit Pancho Villa, whom he much admired. The exact circumstances of his death remain a mystery.

Highlights and Research Potential of the Bierce Papers

The Ambrose Gwinett Bierce Papers consist primarily of correspondence to Bierce from 1872-1913. Correspondents include: Upton Sinclair, Joaquin Miller, Gertrude Atherton, H.L. Mencken, Edwin Markham, William Randolph Hearst, George Sterling, and Percival Pollard. Also included in the collection are photographs, diaries, and sketches by Bierce. There are several letters by Bierce himself but of these, many are printed copies or carbons. Several of the photos in the collection have notations and inscriptions in Bierce's hand, as do many of the incoming letters.

The papers cover Bierce's journalistic career in England, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.; the publication of his works and commentaries on the political controversies and governmental policies of the day including the Spanish American War, the question of annexation, and the treaty of Hawaii. The telegram correspondence to Bierce in 1896 details the Railroad Funding Bill controversy which Bierce covered in Washington, D.C. for William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. Other topics include women's suffrage and the Titanic. The collection also contains reminiscences and memorabilia of the Civil War, including the sketchbook Bierce kept while serving as a Union topographer with the staff of General W. B. Hazen. Of special note is the diary which records Bierce's wanderings through the Southwest and into Mexico in late 1913 before his disappearance somewhere in Mexico.

The papers are arranged in seven series:

1. Correspondence

2. Legal documents and business contracts

3. Other personal papers

4. Papers about Bierce

5. Miscellaneous printed materials

6. Sketches

7. Photos

Bibliography of Ambrose Bierce

  • Gaer, Joseph. Ambrose Gwinett Bierce: Bibliography and Biographical Data. New York : B. Franklin, 1968. Z8094.3.G13 1968
  • Starrett, Vincent. Ambrose Bierce, a Bibliography. Philadelphia : The Centaur Book Shop, 1929.
    Z8094.3 .S79

Selected Biography and Criticism

  • Grenander, M. E. (Mary Elizabeth). Ambrose Bierce. New York : Twayne Publishers, 1971.
  • Davidson, Cathy N. Critical Essays on Ambrose Bierce. Boston, MA. : G.K. Hall, 1982. PS1097.Z5D3
  • Saunders, Richard. Ambrose Bierce : The Making of a Misanthrope. San Francisco : Chronicle Books, 1985. PS1097.Z5 S28 1985

Other Manuscript Collections

  • The Clifton Waller Barrett Collection at the University of Virginia
  • The Huntington Library in San Marino, California
  • Mills College in Oakland, California
  • University of Southern California




Last modified: July 3, 2006

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