The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
VOLUME XVI. Early National Literature, Part II; Later National Literature, Part I.

VI. The Short Story

§ 19. Bierce

In the same group belongs Ambrose Bierce (1838–1914?), though in mere point of time he is to be counted with the California group of the early Overland Monthly days. A soldier of the Civil War, editor of the San Francisco News Letter in 1866, associate editor, with the younger Tom Hood, of London Fun in 1872, author in London of the brilliant satirical fables Cobwebs from an Empty Skull in 1874, then in California again as editor of The Argonaut and The Wasp, and finally a resident of Washington, D. C., he was one of the most cosmopolitan of American writers. It was not until 1892 that his Tales of Soldiers and Civilians, later changed to In the Midst of Life, gave him a place with the short story writers, a very prominent place some critics would insist. Power undoubtedly he had, a certain scintillating brilliance, and a technique almost uncanny. His world was the world of Poe, timeless and placeless, ghastly often, chilling always and unnerving. At his best he was Poe returned after a half century equipped with the short story art of the new generation. Few have surpassed him in precision of diction, in reserve, in the use of subtle insinuation and of haunting climax. Some of his tales cling in one’s soul like a memory of the morgue. His failure was his artificiality and his lack of sincerity and of truth to the facts of human life. Like Poe, he was a man of the intellect only, a craftsman of exquisite subtlety, an artist merely for the sake of his art.