Ambrose Bierce birthday: “To My Liars”

Ambrose Bierce was born on June 24, 1842.

Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (born June 24, 1842, died sometime after December 26, 1913)

“To My Liars”
By Ambrose Bierce
(Originally appeared in the Wasp, November 11, 1882)

Attend, mine enemies of all degrees,
From sandlot orators and sandlot fleas
To fallen gentlemen and rising louts
Who babble slander at your drinking bouts,
And, filled with unfamiliar wine, begin
Lies drowned, ere born, in more congenial gin.
But most attend, ye persons of the press
Who live (though why, yourselves alone can guess)
In hope deferred, ambitious still to shine
By hating me at half a cent a line–
Like drones among the bees of brighter wing,
Sunless to shine and impotent to sting.
To estimate in easy verse I’ll try
The controversial value of a lie.
So lend your ears–God knows you have enough!–
I mean to teach, and if I can’t I’ll cuff.

A lie is wicked, so the priests declare;
But that to us is neither here nor there.
‘Tis worse than wicked, it is vulgar too;
N’importe–with that we’ve nothing here to do.
If ’twere artistic I would lie till death,
And shape a falsehood with my latest breath.
Parrhasius never more did pity lack,
The while his model writhed upon the rack,
Than I for my collaborator’s pain,
Who, stabbed with fibs again and yet again,
Would vainly seek to move my stubborn heart
If slander were, and wit were not, an art.
The ill-bred and illiterate can lie
As fast as you, and faster far than I.
Shall I compete, then, in a strife accurst
Where Allen Forman is an easy first,
And where the second prize is rightly flung
To Charley Shortridge or to Mike de Young?

In mental combat but a single end
Inspires the formidable to contend.
Not by the raw recruit’s ambition fired,
By whom foul blows, though harmless, are admired;
Not by the coward’s zeal, who, on his knee
Behind the bole of his protecting tree,
So curves his musket that the bark it fits,
And, firing, blows the weapon into bits;
But with the noble aim of one whose heart
Values his foeman for he loves his art
The veteran debater moves afield,
Untaught to libel as untaught to yield.
Dear foeman mine, I’ve but this end in view–
That to prevent which most you wish to do.
What, then, are you most eager to be at?
To hate me? Nay, I’ll help you, sir, at that.
This only passion does your soul inspire:
You wish to scorn me. Well, you shall admire.

‘Tis not enough my neighbors that you school
In the belief that I’m a rogue or fool;
That small advantage you would gladly trade
For what one moment would yourself persuade.
Write, then, your largest and your longest lie:
You sha’n’t believe it, howsoe’er you try.
No falsehood you can tell, no evil do,
Shall turn me from the truth to injure you.
So all your war is barren of effect;
I find my victory in your respect.
What profit have you if the world you set
Against me? For the world will soon forget
It thought me this or that; but I’ll retain
A vivid picture of your moral stain,
And cherish till my memory expire
The sweet, soft consciousness that you’re a liar
Is it your triumph, then, to prove that you
Will do the thing that I would scorn to do?
God grant that I forever be exempt
From such advantage as my foe’s contempt.

From Bierce, Ambrose (author), Joshi, S.T., and Schultz, David E. (eds.). “A Sole Survivor: Bits of Autobiography.” University of Tennessee Press, 1998. pages 171-173.

 
 


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