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Cynic: A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be,
This review is from: Devil?s Dictionary (Kindle Edition)
Last week I was watching an episode of Lewis in which a character described politics as a "strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles". Although he indicated that the thought wasn't original, he didn't have time to mention that he was quoting from this collection of epigrams. Its author has been described as a Yankee Oscar Wilde, although his nickname - "Bitter Bierce" - suggests that the theme of his writing was less varied and more cynical than that of that warm-hearted, legendary wit.
A book like this is made to be read and quoted piecemeal - in fact, reading it all the way through is rather like trying to ingest a crate of lemons - so the best way to give some idea of its contents is to simply quote a few of the (many) definitions that remained in my mind after reading it:
Backbite: To speak of a man as you find him when he can't find you.
Peace: In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
Effect: The second of two phenomena which always occur together in the same order. The first, called a Cause, is said to generate the other - which is no more sensible than it would be for one who has never seen a dog except in the pursuit of a rabbit to declare the rabbit the cause of a dog.
Congratulation: The civility of envy.
Absurdity: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.
Wedding: A ceremony at which two persons undertake to become one, one undertakes to become nothing, and nothing undertakes to become supportable.
Exile: One who serves his country by residing abroad, yet is not an ambassador.
Christian: One who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.
Quotation: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another. The words erroneously repeated.
People who like this sort of thing will find (in the words of Abraham Lincoln) this is the sort of thing they like. I do, although, as noted above, a little goes a very long way. Reading too much of it at one sitting will cause you to muse upon the disappointments and frustrations in the author's life, which are helpfully discussed in a little introduction to this edition. It also contains the searing, savage pen-and-ink illustrations of Ralph Steadman, which gives rise to perhaps the most ironic (though - given Bierce's sardonic view of the world - entirely characteristic) thing about the book - to wit, a comment on its back cover by Raymond Briggs which reads, in its entirety:
"A superb book. Steadman has always been one of my heroes."