March 15, 2011

Bierce: Very cheerfully yours

Ambrose Bierce contributed a series of "Grizzly Papers" under the name "Ursus," published in the Overland Monthly in California. To anyone who has ever had an editor, no explanation is necessary. The following is a letter from Bierce, dated March 15, 1871:

Dear Sir; If the "proofs" I had yesterday represent the amount of my copy which is accepted, I think I will quit. Everything I send you is constructed with the utmost care; most of it being written three times over, and all of it twice. This involves too much labor to be undertaken without some reasonable hope that it will not be wasted. You told me the character of the mag[azine] was not to be changed when [Bret] Harte left. Harte never suppressed, nor altered, a line of my composition—nor, I may say, did anybody else ever do so, to any great extent.

Of course, I cannot hope to remain incog[nito]; some of the Eastern papers are even now publishing the "Grizzlies" over my real name. I cannot therefore concede the right of any editor to make any alterations or excisions in what he accepts—it is unfair and unprofessional. Whatever a writer (if he is known—especially if he have already some reputation) is permitted to say, he should be allowed to say in his own way. I have myself some editorial experience, and this rule I never dared to disregard. The suppression of entire articles is perfectly proper, but has in my case been carried too far to be endurable. Besides it changes the tone of the papers as a series—a tone which I carefully decided upon giving them, and in accordance with each separate article or paragraph is written. But I cannot complain of the principle of suppression—only its excessive application.

...This scissors business is quite unprecedented, and I don't like it.

Very cheerfully yours,
A. G. Bierce

*Special thanks to editors S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for including this letter in A Much Misunderstood Man: Selected Letters of Ambrose Bierce (2003).

1 comment:

  1. This is one of the most respectfully written "screw you" letters I've ever read!