BIERCE, AMBROSE GWINNETT The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce
. New York and Washington: Neale, 1909-12. One of 250 copies, signed in pencil by Bierce in the first volume on the "Compliments of" leaf following the half-title; and with three letters from Bierce to the publisher and other autograph material inserted into various volumes. Twelve volumes, publisher's full brown morocco gilt designed by Frederick Polley (who also designed the title-page), purple moire silk pastedown and endleaves, all edges gilt. 8 1/8 x 5 1/2 inches (21 x 14 cm); various paginations. Some rubbing to joints, spines somewhat darkened, but in all a sound set. From the nature of the insertions, this is perhaps the publisher's copy. Bookplate of Siegel on the front endpaper of the first volume.
A remarkable copy of the Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, with a fine selection of documents send to his publisher and friend, Walter Neale, including one of the last Bierce letter to come to auction before his enigmatic disappearance into the Mexican Revolution. "Bitter Bierce", the author of the eminently readable Devil's Dictionary, and of short stories including the oft-anthologized An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, is perhaps best known for the mystery surrounding his death. In life, though, Bierce was the definition of the late nineteenth-century literary American. Having fought for the Union at Shiloh, Bierce landed in San Francisco following post-war military expeditions across the great plains into the west. For many years, Bierce was a contributor to The Wasp and was one of the first regular columnists at Hearst's San Francisco Examiner. Bierce was sent to Washington to uncover the corruption in the Railroad Refinancing Bill (his reporting career was nearly ruined during this time by his controversial prediction of the McKinley assassination). At the time the latest letter contained in these volumes was written, Bierce was 71 years old.
The first volume of this set of the Works has an important two-page Bierce ALS tipped-in at the front, on folded notepaper, addressed to Walter Neale, Bierce's publisher, which has been annotated by Neale, "Probably the last letter written by Ambrose Bierce." This is dated September 9, 1913. We are aware of just one later letter written by Bierce before his disappearance, one of which sold in these rooms (April 2013). The present letter, like that example, discusses his intended Mexican sojourn "My plans include an invasion of Mexico (if I can get in) and later (if I can get out) a journey to South America. As the prayers of the righteous avail much you are invited to pray for me as hard as you can. I'll write again before I go."
Volume II has no insertion present. Volume III has a fine two-page Bierce ALS on Army and Navy Club stationery to Neale, dated July 6, 1908, discussing arrangements for the Collected Works, "In case of my death or disability." Volume IV has no insertion present. Volume V has an autograph postcard of the Amphitheater and Rostrum at Arlington; addressed to Neale, this bears the legend, "For the canonization of Bierces and the cussing-out of Neales, a useful distinction." Volume VI has a letter from J. S. Cowley-Browne to Bierce dated March 5, 1913, forwarded to Neale with a five-line footnote. Volume VII bears a July 4, 1913 letter from a San Francisco publisher to Bierce, requesting publishing permissions, again forwarded to Neale. Volume VIII has an envelope in Bierce's hand addressed to Neale. Volume IX has no insertion. Volume X has a splendid letter four-page LS (apparently dictated) from Bierce to Neale, dated November 6, 1911, signed "Ambrosius Lumbagus," regarding Bierce's back problems, and various publishing matters. Volume XI has has an envelope in Bierce's hand addressed to Neale. Volume XII has no insertion. We can trace no other example with this number of inserted letters.
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