Twain or Bierce -- which is better?

August 10, 1996|By GRETORY KANE

I confess. I admit what many readers have claimed for a long time: I need help.

Not the psychiatric kind (at least not yet). The literary kind. I can't, for the life of me, decide if I like the writings of Mark Twain or Ambrose Bierce better. So I've decided to wuss out and let you readers decide for me. I'll leave it to you. I'll go along with whatever vote you cast. I'll even give you a sampling of each writer's works, along with an introduction. So here goes.

In this corner, weighing in with such works as "The Prince and the Pauper," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and what many consider to be the Great American Novel, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" -- Mark Twain! Born in Hannibal, Mo., in 1835, Twain served briefly in the Civil War and became a satirist and critic of American foreign policy in his later years. He might be considered the champion of American literary figures of the latter half of the 19th century. Twain died peacefully abed in 1910.

His opponent is the challenger, Ambrose Bierce, author of such works as the supernatural short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," "Parker Adderson, Philosopher," "Killed at Resaca" and "Chickamauga." Born in Meigs County, Ohio, in 1842, Bierce served in the Union army from 1862 to 1865 and participated in the battles of Chickamauga, Kennesaw Mountain and Pickett's Mill. He was wounded once -- a bullet to the head. Some suspect the head wound may have led to the cynicism that caused critics to nickname him "Bitter Bierce." In 1913 he rode into Mexico and was never heard from again. Bierceophiles suspect that at some point he may have died.

Since both men were known for their humor, this contest will pit witty quotes from each writer. First up is Twain.

Familiarity breeds contempt -- and children.

I find that principles have no real force except when one is well fed.

It takes your enemy and your friend, working together, to hurt you to your heart; the one to slander you and the other to get the news to you.

If a person offend you, and you are in doubt as to whether it was intentional or not, do not resort to extreme measures; simply watch your chance and hit him with a brick.

There's a good spot tucked away somewhere in everybody. You'll be a long time finding it, sometimes.

The universal brotherhood of man is our most precious possession, what there is of it.

The older we grow the greater becomes our wonder at how much ignorance one can contain without bursting one's clothes.

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed the publisher. But we remember with charity that his intentions were good.

He imagined he was in love with her, but I think she did the imagining for him.

You aim for the palace and get drowned in the sewer.

Bierce's quips come from his "Devil's Dictionary," which defined the world according to Bierce.

Alliance, n. In international politics, the union of two thieves who have their hands so deeply inserted in each other's pocket that they cannot separately plunder a third.

Apologize, v.i. To lay the foundation for a future offense.

April fool, n. The March fool with another month added to his folly.

Bigot, n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Brute, n. See husband.

Circus, n. A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

Conservative, n. A statesman who is enamored of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.

Coward, n. One who in a perilous emergency thinks with his legs.

Diplomacy, n. The patriotic art of lying for one's country.

Saint, n. A dead sinner revised and edited.

There you have it. Ten pithy quotes each. Readers, cast your votes and send them to Greg Kane. Your favorite will be my favorite.

Pub Date: 8/09/96

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