Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Ambrose Bierce: Vanished in Thin Air?



Ambrose Bierce was best known as an journalist and author in the times of the Civil War Era. He was often called "Bitter Pierce" for having a very negative overall attitude about mankind and the human experience. 

For this time, his work was respected and acknowledged, but other than his sour disposition, there was not much about him to recall for the long-term except from tantalizing oddities.

For one thing, Bierce was preoccupied in his writings about the concept of people just walking away in thin air- disappearing into perhaps another realm in mid-action/mid-step. This showed up in many of his works of supposed reporting of events:

"The Spook House" 
"The Difficulty of Crossing a Field 
"An Unfinished race" 
"Charles Ashmore's Trail"

In "The Difficulty of Crossing a Field," he reported; 
"Williamson strolled leisurely down the gravel walk, plucking a flower as he went, passed across the road and into the pasture, pausing a moment as he closed the gate leading into it, to greet a passing neighbor, Armour Wren, who lived on an adjoining plantation. Mr. Wren was in an open carriage with his son James, a lad of thirteen. When he had driven some two hundred yards from the point of meeting, Mr. Wren said to his son: "I forgot to tell Mr. Williamson about those horses."

Mr. Wren had sold to Mr. Williamson some horses, which were to have been sent for that day, but for some reason not now remembered it would be inconvenient to deliver them until the morrow. The coachman was directed to drive back, and as the vehicle turned Williamson was seen by all three, walking leisurely across the pasture. At that moment one of the coach horses stumbled and came near falling. It had no more than fairly recovered itself when James Wren cried: "Why, father, what has become of Mr. Williamson?"

It is not the purpose of this narrative to answer that question.

Mr. Wren's strange account of the matter, given under oath in the course of legal proceedings relating to the Williamson estate, here follows:

"My son's exclamation caused me to look toward the spot where I had seen the deceased [sic] an instant before, but he was not there, nor was he anywhere visible. I cannot say that at the moment I was greatly startled, or realized the gravity of the occurrence, though I thought it singular. My son, however, was greatly astonished and kept repeating his question in different forms until we arrived at the gate. My black boy Sam was similarly affected, even in a greater degree, but I reckon more by my son's manner than by anything he had himself observed. [This sentence in the testimony was stricken out.] As we got out of the carriage at the gate of the field, and while Sam was hanging [sic] the team to the fence, Mrs. Williamson, with her child in her arms and followed by several servants, came running down the walk in great excitement, crying: 'He is gone, he is gone! O God! what an awful thing!' and many other such exclamations, which I do not distinctly recollect. I got from them the impression that they related to something more--than the mere disappearance of her husband, even if that had occurred before her eyes. Her manner was wild, but not more so, I think, than was natural under the circumstances. I have no reason to think she had at that time lost her mind. I have never since seen nor heard of Mr. Williamson."



Ambrose Bierce appeared to have a preoccupation with a Dr. Hern and Dr. Hegel the philosopher. 

Source:  "According to Bierce, the theories of Dr. Hern had attracted some attention " particularly among the followers of Hegel, and mathematicians who hold to the actual existence of a so-called non·Euclidean space--that is to say, of space which has more dimensions than length, breadth, and thickness ..... space in which it would be possible to tie a knot in an endless cord and to turn a rubber ball inside out without a solution of its continuity, or, in other words, without breaking or cracking it."


It was Dr. Hern's contention that in the visible world that we call our reality there exist void places, vacua, and something more--''holes, as it were, through which animate and inanimate objects may fall into the invisible world and be seen and heard no more." Dr. Hern viewed Space as being pervaded by " . , . luminiferous ether, which is a material thing--as much a substance as air or water, though almost infinitely more attenuated." The scientist believed that "all force, all forms of energy must be propagated in this; every process must take place in it which takes place at all." In an attempt to restate Dr. Hern's theory, Bierce writes: "But let us suppose that cavities exist in this otherwise universal medium, as caverns exist in the earth, or cells in Swiss cheese. In such a cavity there would be absolutely nothing. It would be such a vacuum as cannot be artificially produced; for if we pump the air from a receiver there remains the luminiferous ether. Through one of these cavities light could not pass, for there would be nothing to bear it. Sound could not come from it; nothing could be felt in it. It would not have a single one of the conditions necessary to the action of any of our senses. In such a void, in short, nothing whatever could occur." Bierce next quotes the statement of an anonymous mathematician who had studied the theory of Dr. Hern: "A man enclosed in such a closet could neither see nor be seen; neither hear nor be heard; neither feel nor be felt; neither live nor die, for both life and death are processes which can take place only where there is force, and in empty space no force could exist." Out of genuine concern (or his genuine love of the macabre), Bierce wondered: "Are these the awful conditions under which the friends of the lost are to think of them as existing and doomed forever to exist?" ****** 

Source: Best known for his short story "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," the journalist and author earned the nickname "Bitter Bierce" for his sarcastic, biting wit. ("Brain: an apparatus with which we think that we think.") 


The Civil War veteran also had a morbid fascination with horror and death, both of which became recurring themes in his writing. Bored with life in the U.S., he moved to Mexico in 1913 to witness Pancho Villa's revolution. He was 71. In a letter to his cousin Lora, Bierce didn't attempt to assuage his family's fear about such a trek, writing:

"Good-bye — if you hear of my being stood up against a Mexican stone wall and shot to rags please know that I think that a pretty good way to depart this life. It beats old age, disease, or falling down the cellar stars. To be a Gringo in Mexico — ah, that is euthanasia!"

While in Mexico to report on the war, Bierce went missing, completely unaccounted for and never heard from again.


Some scholars believe he was killed in the siege of Ojinaga in January 1914. Others speculate that Bierce's final letters were a ruse and that he never actually went to Mexico but instead committed suicide.


There is still a wide faction who believe that Bierce, consumed by the concept of walking between the worlds, proceeded to do just that!

To this day, his disappearance is high on the list of unusual famous people who went missing.

No comments:

Post a Comment

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...