Амброз Бирс (Ambrose Bierce)






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Американский журналист, сатирик, писатель; атеист.

Амброз Бирс (Ambrose Bierce) Амброз Бирс (Ambrose Bierce)

by John Patrick, Michael Murphy (1999)

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914?) was one of the foremost writers of the 19th - century. His stories of war, of despair, of horror, of the mysterious, were epoch defining and continue to influence literature. For his wit he was called the Mark Twain of the North. He was the chum of Jack London and the mentor of H. L. Mencken. The very first tract he wrote was a defense of atheism and freethought, a theme he would never leave.

His meager childhood was brightened, and he was ultimately empowered by his father, who gave him the love of history and literature. At 19 he enlisted, and was seared by his experiences in the Civil War, where he served with distinction. Afterwards, he wrote over a thousand columns for various newspapers. William Randolph Hearst secured him as soon as he acquired the San Francisco Examiner. There he stayed for over 20 years. All the while Bierce wrote war stories, horror stories, novels, and short stories of the mysterious and the macabre. Apparently he wrote because he had to, to get it out, to deal with it, to survive the impact of the Civil War on his life - he had to tell of the headless corpses, the boar-eaten bodies of the fallen men, the blood, the screams. Bierce wrote of the insanity to keep depression from taking him. He challenged his country to become civilized enough to admit its hypocrisies, pretensions and its crassness.

He always wanted one word to do the work of four. He garnished his newspaper columns with "definitions" of various words. In 1906 he gathered them together in the Devil's Dictionary which continues to be re-published as one of the greatest in 19th century satire. A sampling -

Birth, n. The first and direst of all disas-ters.
Clairvoyant, n. A person … who has the power of seeing that which is invisible to her patron - namely that he is a blockhead.
Deluge, n. A notable first experiment in baptism which washed away the sins (and sinners) of the world.
Faith, n. Belief without evidence in what is told by one who speaks without knowledge, of things without parallel.
Heathen, n. A benighted creature who has the folly to worship something he can see and feel.
Pray, v. To ask that the laws of the universe be annulled in behalf of a single petitioner, confessedly unworthy.
Rack, n. An argumentative instrument formerly much used in persuading devotees of a false faith to embrace the living truth.
Redemption, n. Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religions, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it.
Religion, n. A daughter of Hope and Fear, explaining to Ignorance the nature of the Unknowable.
Reliquary, n. A receptacle for such sacred objects as pieces of the true cross, short-ribs of saints, the ears of Balaam's ass, the lung of the cock that called Peter to repentance, and so forth. Reliquaries are commonly of metal, and provided with a lock to prevent the contents from coming out and performing miracles at unseasonable times.
Revelation, n. A famous book in which St. John the Divine concealed all that he knew. The revealing is done by the commentators, who know nothing.
Saint, n. A dead sinner, revised and edited.
Scriptures, n. The sacred books of our holy religion, as distinguished from the false and profane writings on which all other faiths are based.

Ambrose Bierce chaffed at this world as long as he could, but after losing his wife to divorce and two sons to death, the asthmatic, superstitious, bilious atheist felt compelled to write his friends of his premonition of approaching death. Soon he would vanish with few clues. Most of his biographers believe, at age 71, he went to assist Pancho Villa and his rebel army in the struggle to unseat the corrupt church-state government of revolutionary Mexico. Others claim his "life's fitful fever" ended in a Grand Canyon suicide. His thoughts, his humor, his wit, and his social criticism remain.


Some heathens whose Idol was greatly weatherworn threw it into a river, and erecting a new one, engaged in public worship at its base.
    "What is this all about?" inquired the New Idol.
    "Father of Joy and Gore," said the High Priest, "be patient and I will instruct you in the doctrines and rites of our holy religion."
    A year later, after a course of study in theology, the Idol asked to be thrown into the river, declaring himself an atheist.
    "Do not let that trouble you," said the High Priest -- "so am I."
-- Ambrose Bierce, "Two Sceptics," Fantastic Fables

Religions are conclusions for which the facts of nature supply no major premises.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912)

Nothing is more logical than persecution. Religious tolerance is a kind of infidelity.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Theology is a thing of unreason altogether, an edifice of assumption and dreams, a superstructure without a substructure.
-- Ambrose Bierce, Collected Works (1912), quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Camels and Christians receive their burdens kneeling.
--Ambrose Bierce, quoted from James A. Haught, ed., 2000 Years of Disbelief

Altar, n. The place whereon the priest formerly raveled out the small intestine of the sacrificial victim for purposes of divination and cooked its flesh for the gods. The word is now seldom used, except with reference to the sacrifice of their liberty and peace by a male and a female fool.The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Brahma, n. He who created the Hindoos, who are preserved by Vishnu and destroyed by Siva -- a rather nearer division of labor than is found among the deities of some other nations. The Abracadabranese, for example, are created by Sin, maintained by Theft, and destroyed by Folly. The priests of Brahma, like those of the Abracadabranese, are holy and learned men who are never naughty.
     O Brahma, thou rare old Divinity,
     First Person of the Hindoo Trinity,
     You sit there so calm and securely,
     With feet folded up so demurely --
     You're the First Person Singular, surely.
               Polydore Smith
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Caaba, n. A large stone presented by the archangel Gabriel to the patriarch Abraham, and preserved at Mecca. The patriarch had perhaps asked the archangel for bread.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Christian, n. One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor. One who follows the teachings of Christ in so far as they are not inconsistent with a life of sin.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Clergyman, n. A man who undertakes the management of our spiritual affairs as a method of bettering his temporal ones.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Convent, n. A place of retirement for women who wish for leisure to meditate upon the sin of idleness.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Decalogue, n. A series of commandments, ten in number -- just enough to permit an intelligent selection for observance, but not enough to embarrass the choice. Following is the revised edition of the Decalogue, calculated for this meridian.
     Thou shalt no God but me adore:
          'Twere too expensive to have more.
     No images nor idols make
          For *Robert Ingersoll to break.
     Take not God's name in vain; select
          A time when it will have effect.
     Work not on Sabbath days at all,
          But go to see the teams play ball.
     Honor thy parents. That creates
          For life insurance lower rates.
     Kill not, abet not those who kill;
          Thou shalt not pay thy butcher's bill.
     Kiss not thy neighbor's wife, unless
          Thine own thy neighbor doth caress.
     Don't steal; thou'lt never thus compete
          Successfully in business. Cheat.
     Bear not false witness -- that is low --
          But "'hear 'tis rumored so and so."
     Covet thou naught that thou hast not
          By hook or crook, or somehow, got.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911), some versions have "Roger Ingersoll"

Embalm, v. To cheat vegetation by locking up the gases upon which it feeds. By embalming their dead and thereby deranging the natural balance between animal and vegetable life, the Egyptians made their once fertile and populous country barren and incapable of supporting more than a meagre crew. The modern metallic burial casket is a step in the same direction, and many a dead man who ought now to be ornamenting his neighbor's lawn as a tree, or enriching his table as a bunch of radishes, is doomed to a long inutility. We shall get him after awhile if we are spared, but in the meantime the violet and the rose are languishing for a nibble at his glutaeus maximus.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Evangelist, n. A bearer of good tidings, particularly (in a religious sense) such as assure us of our own salvation and the damnation of our neighbours.
--The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Excommunication, n. ... Damning, with bell, book and candle / Some sinner whose opinions are a scandal. / A rite permitting Satan to enslave him / Forever, and forbidding Christ to save him.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Houri, n. A comely female inhabiting the Mohammedan Paradise to make things cheery for the good Mussulman, whose belief in her existence marks a noble discontent with his earthly spouse, whom he denies a soul.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Immortality, n.
     A toy which people cry for,
     And on their knees apply for,
     Dispute, contend and lie for,
          And if allowed
          Would be right proud
     Eternally to die for.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Impale, v.t. In popular usage to pierce with any weapon which remains fixed in the wound. This, however, is inaccurate; to impale is, properly, to put to death by thrusting an upright sharp stake into the body, the victim being left in a sitting position. This was a common mode of punishment among many of the nations of antiquity, and is still in high favor in China and other parts of Asia. Down to the beginning of the fifteenth century it was widely employed in "churching" heretics and schismatics. Wolecraft calls it the "stoole of repentynge," and among the common people it was jocularly known as "riding the one legged horse." Ludwig Salzmann informs us that in Thibet impalement is considered the most appropriate punishment for crimes against religion; and although in China it is sometimes awarded for secular offences, it is most frequently adjudged in cases of sacrilege. To the person in actual experience of impalement it must be a matter of minor importance by what kind of civil or religious dissent he was made acquainted with its discomforts; but doubtless he would feel a certain satisfaction if able to contemplate himself in the character of a weather-cock on the spire of the True Church.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Impiety, n. Your irreverence toward my deity.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Infidel, n. In New York, one who does not believe in the Christian religion; in Constantinople, one who does. (See Giaour.) A kind of scoundrel imperfectly reverent of, and niggardly contributory to, divines, ecclesiastics, popes, parsons, canons, monks, mollahs, voodoos, presbyters, hierophants, prelates, obeah-men, abbes, nuns, missionaries, exhorters, deacons, friars, hadjis, high-priests, muezzins, brahmins, medicine-men, confessors, eminences, elders, primates, prebendaries, pilgrims, prophets, imaums, beneficiaries, clerks, vicars-choral, archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, preachers, padres, abbotesses, caloyers, palmers, curates, patriarchs, bonezs, santons, beadsmen, canonesses, residentiaries, diocesans, deans, subdeans, rural deans, abdals, charm-sellers, archdeacons, hierarchs, class-leaders, incumbents, capitulars, sheiks, talapoins, postulants, scribes, gooroos, precentors, beadles, fakeers, sextons, reverences, revivalists, cenobites, perpetual curates, chaplains, mudjoes, readers, novices, vicars, pastors, rabbis, ulemas, lamas, sacristans, vergers, dervises, lectors, church wardens, cardinals, prioresses, suffragans, acolytes, rectors, cures, sophis, mutifs and pumpums.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Koran, n. A book which the Mohammedans foolishly believe to have been written by divine inspiration, but which Christians know to be a wicked imposture, contradictory to the Holy Scriptures.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Mammon (riches), n. The god of the world's leading religion.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Piety, n. Reverence for the Supreme Being, based upon His supposed resemblance to man. The pig is taught by sermons and epistles / To think the God of Swine has snout and bristles.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Reprobation, n. In theology, the state of a luckless mortal prenatally damned. The doctrine of reprobation was taught by Calvin, whose joy in it was somewhat marred by the sad sincerity of his conviction that although some are foredoomed to perdition, others are predestined to salvation.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Reverence, n. The spiritual attitude of a man to a god and a dog to a man.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Theosophy, n. An ancient faith having all the certitude of religion and all the mystery of science. The modern Theosophist holds, with the Buddhists, that we live an incalculable number of times on this earth, in as many several bodies, because one life is not long enough for our complete spiritual development; that is, a single lifetime does not suffice for us to become as wise and good as we choose to wish to become. To be absolutely wise and good -- that is perfection; and the Theosophist is so keen-sighted as to have observed that everything desirous of improvement eventually attains perfection. Less competent observers are disposed to except cats, which seem neither wiser nor better than they were last year. The greatest and fattest of recent Theosophists was the late Madame Blavatsky, who had no cat.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

Trinity, n. In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their clames to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter.
The Devil's Dictionary (1911)

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