Ambrose Bierce, the Bitter

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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Presentation of the American writer and translation of three of his short stories.

The American Ambrose Bierce (1842-1913 or 14 – https://amzn.to/45z0KkG) was one of the most hated writers of his time. A relentless satirist, he worked as a journalist for most of his life, and attacked all institutions: State, justice, family, church, military, merchants, book publishers, and so on.

Born into a very poor family, Bierce fought in the Civil War for four years, which accentuated his chronic pessimism. Despite this, the experience generated material for short stories that became anthologies in American literature. He also wrote horror and suspense stories that were highly regarded by critics.

Despite being considered one of the greats of the American short story, Bierce is best remembered for his collection of devastating criticisms, aphorisms and satirical fables, which he spread across the various newspapers where he worked, from California to London and Washington. Only Mark Twain was as sarcastic as he was in his time, with the advantage of having created fewer enemies.

An anthology of Bierce's malicious definitions yielded the Devil's Dictionary, published in Brazil by Mercado Aberto, in 1999. There is a more recent edition (Carambaia, 2018), translated by Rogerio W. Galindo. It is worth remembering that Bierce himself defined a dictionary as an “evil literary instrument made to limit the growth of a language and make it hard and inelastic”, but its entries are truly unforgettable.

One of the Brazilian admirers was Millor Fernandes, who was inspired by the Fantastic Fables de Bierce to write his Fabulous Fables. The Fantastic Fables can be found in Portuguese, and several are scattered in anthologies.

Bierce disappeared at the age of 71, in December 1913, during a trip through Mexico, in the midst of the Zapatista revolution. He stated that he preferred to die on a battlefield than in a bed, and he seems to have chosen his ending with the same care he used in his horror stories, where many times a character simply disappears without a trace.

What would you have written if you had lived in Brazil in our time, watching the performance of judges like Fux, Moro, Carmen Lucia or Toffoli? To pay homage to our highest Justice and its most dignified representatives, here are three examples of Ambrose Bierce's bitter humor. By the way, Bitter Bierce was one of his nicknames…

defective petition

An Associate Judge of the Supreme Court was sitting on the bank of the river when a traveler arrived and said: “I want to cross. Will it be legal to use this boat?” “It will be,” was the reply, “the boat is mine.” The Traveler thanked him and, throwing the boat into the water, he got on board and began to row. But the boat sank and he drowned. “Heartless man!” said an Indignant Bystander. “Why didn’t you tell him the boat was leaking?” The great jurist replied: "The question of the state of the boat was not brought to my consideration".

a quick deal

“Your Excellency,” said the Advocate, rising to his feet, “what is the present status of this case, where does it stand?” “I have handed down judgment on the residual legatee by the will,” said the Judge. “I filed costs against the litigants, decided all questions regarding fees and others; finally, the disputed goods were disposed of, with all the controversies, disputes, misunderstandings, and differences of opinion that concern them.” “Oh yes, perfectly,” said the Lawyer thoughtfully, “we are making progress.” “Progressing?” echoed the Judge. “Why, sir, the matter is concluded!” “Exactly, exactly. It would have to be completed to give relevance to the motion that I will present. Your Excellency, I request that the judgment of this Court be suspended and the case reopened.” “On what grounds, sir?” asked the Judge, surprised. “On the grounds that, after paying all the fees and costs of the litigation, and all the taxes on the property, something still remained.”. "There must have been a mistake," said His Excellency thoughtfully. “The Court may have underestimated the value of the goods. The motion is accepted for consideration.”

The Judge and the Prosecutor

An Eminent Judge of the Gowk High Court was accused of having obtained the appointment by fraud. “Thou rambles,” he said to the Accuser, “it is of little consequence how I obtained the office; it only matters how I have used it.” “I confess,” said the Accuser, “that, compared with the scoundrel way you conducted yourself in court, the scoundrel way you got there seems like a trifle.”

*Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

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