“Bitter Bierce”?

By:  Michael Tipton, Archives & Rare Books Library intern

 Ambrose Bierce headshot     Shortly after the conclusion of World War II in 1945, a Mr. Myles Walsh of Oradell, New Jersey traveled to Cincinnati for the purpose of visiting his daughter, who at the time worked in the city.  While on an extended stay, Mr. Walsh decided to take some coursework in the Classics Department at the University of Cincinnati.  So impressed was Mr. Walsh with the courses and the campus of the university that he decided to donate to UC some very rare and unique letters personally written and addressed to him from noted American author and journalist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?).

Though they were consulted once or twice by scholars over the past half-century, the fifty-nine donated letters have never been generally accessible for research and teaching.  In 2011, the letters were digitized and now, with the development of a Bierce presence on ARB’s website, they have assumed their rightful place on the internet for all to study and enjoy.

Ambrose BierceFor my culminating experience practicum for a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree from Kent State University, I undertook the task of researching, transcribing, and creating a webpage for the fifty-nine letters handwritten by Ambrose Bierce between 1895 and 1911 to the brother and sister duo of Myles and Elizabeth (Lily) Walsh.  Like most of the individuals that inquired about the project I was working on for my practicum, I too (at first) did not have much of an idea about who exactly Ambrose Bierce was.  In fact, beyond a vague notion of the satirical definitions he penned in his work The Devil’s Dictionary (1911), I was clueless.  However, through conducting research on Bierce and through numerous readings (and re-readings) of the letters in the collection, I was able to gather a better understanding about Ambrose Bierce the writer and, more importantly, the man.

While the letters discuss already known and documented matters of Bierce’s professional career as a journalist and writer, what is unique about the letters is that throughout the correspondence a range of emotions—from amusement to fear to downright sadness—are expressed by Bierce which aid in chipping away at the icy façade to reveal and humanize a man much more caring and less reserved than his public persona would lead one to believe, a more complex man than his nickname of “Bitter Bierce” would indicate.  For example, his concern for Elizabeth (Lily) Walsh in her final days and his advice for and encouragement of Myles Walsh throughout the correspondence is of a father-like quality (even while the relationship with his own children was nearly non-existent) which discloses Bierce as he truly was.

Ambrose Bierce standingI encourage you to take a look through The Ambrose Bierce Letters Project.  It includes a biographical sketch of Bierce, scans of the letters, the transcripts, links to other institutions that hold Bierce material, and a bibliography of Bierce’s works as well as that of Bierce scholars.

It is has been my hope for this project that it serves to entertain as well as educate all who use it to learn more about a great American satirist and author.

For more information on the holdings of the Archives & Rare Books Library, please contact us at 513-556-1959, archives@ucmail.uc.edu, or visit us on the web at http://www.libraries.uc.edu/arb.html.

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