Every so often there is a book that stands out from the rest. While I was organizing the shelves I caught sight of this small brown book with a prancing satyr on the cover. The little, gilt figure was adorable–jolly even. I picked it up and read the title: “The Fiend’s Delight.” Wow, what a title!
I brought it inside and later that evening, I sat down to leaf through the pages. The first oddity was the dedication. It read:
TO THE IMMUTABLE AND INFALLIBLE GODDESS, GOOD TASTE, IN GRATITUDE FOR HER CONDEMNATION OF ALL SUPERIOR AUTHORS, AND IN THE HOPE OF PROPITIATING HER CREATORS AND EXPOUNDERS,
This Volume is reverentially
Dedicated BY HER DEVOUT WORSHIPPER,
Then, came the preface which really got me really curious.
The atrocities constituting this “cold collation” of diabolisms are taken mainly from various Californian journals. They are cast in the American language, and liberally enriched with unintelligibility. If they shall prove incomprehensible on this side of the Atlantic, the reader can pass to the other side at a moderately extortionate charge. In the pursuit of my design I think I have killed a good many people in one way and another; but the reader will please to observe that they were not people worth the trouble of leaving alive. Besides, I had the interests of my collaborator to consult. In writing, as in compiling, I have been ably assisted by my scholarly friend Mr. Satan; and to this worthy gentleman must be attributed most of the views herein set forth. While the plan of the work is partly my own, its spirit is wholly his; and this illustrates the ascendancy of the creative over the merely imitative mind. Palmamquimeruit ferat—I shall be content with the profit.
Diabolisms? The scholarly Mr. Satan? What in the world was this book about? Suddenly the image of a man roasting a baby over coals on the title page made sense!?
I had to investigate further.
Turns out that Dod Grile was the nome de plume of notorious author/journalist Ambrose G. Bierce (June 24, 1842– circa 1914) who compiled the satirical lexicon “The Devil’s Dictionary” and whose life motto was “Nothing matters.” Bierce’s sardonic view of human nature won him the nickname Bitter Bierce and his writing was widely repudiated while being widely (and secretly) consumed.
Bierce’s works often highlight the inscrutability of the universe and the absurdity of death. He shockingly wrote (realistically) about the horrors he had seen in war and many believe him to be the father of psychological horror.
The Fiend’s Delight was his first book. In it, Bierce illustrates, through small vignettes, the humor, wit and satiric style that would mark his legacy. Samuel Clemens, upon being asked by the publisher what he thought of Bierce’s controversial book wrote:
There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive.
Samuel L. Clemens
Turns out that the book in my book pile was the first book that Bierce ever wrote. It’s a first edition and extremely rare, especially in the condition it’s in. I could not believe that at random I had stumbled on such a controversial and special gem of a book. A first edition of this book in poor condition goes for over $1,000. My jaw dropped. In my hand I was holding the first American edition of The Fiend’s Delight in great condition. Wow! Those are the moments antiquarian dealers live for. I love this book so much I don’t even know if I’ll be able to part with it.
But that is not all.
As I leafed through the book, I came to a page with a penciled-in inscription that read. “Ida’s hair Jan 15, 1908.” Pressed in the pages was a beautifully preserved lock of golden brown hair that shone in the light as surely as it had when its owner had lived. These are the kinds of finds that make you ponder. Who was Ida? And who was the person that preserved her hair? Was it a lover? If so, why choose this book? Was Ida a bit of a she-devil? Was she sweet? My mind wandered as it often does when I find a previous owner’s belongings inside a book. I have found old letters, receipts, photographs, pressed flowers, old Christmas cards…but never a lock of hair. This was a first.
Many people would not think much of this, I suppose. But I am a romantic. I began thinking about Ida and her life and what the world was like in 1908. In January of that year, a long-distance radio message is sent from the Eiffel Tower for the first time. And across the world, Ernest Shackleton set sail from New Zealand on the Nimrod for Antarctica. In February, the first around-the-world car race, the 1908 New York to Paris Race, begins. In April, Frederick Cook claims to have reached the North Pole. In July, the Summer Olympics are held in London. In August, Émile Cohl makes the first fully animated film, Fantasmagorie. In September, The Bosnian crisis begins after the Austro-Hungarian Empire annexes Bosnia and Herzegovina. In October, bandits Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are supposedly killed in Bolivia, after being surrounded by a large group of soldiers. Theodore Roosevelt is declined to run for a third term, and Young Emperor Puyi ascends the Chinese throne at age 2. What a world!
In 1908, Bierce is still alive. He was 66 years old and splitting his time between Washington DC and New York. Many of his letters survive in which he speaks about editing his books. Little does he know that in a few short years he, himself, would become a mystery. In 1913 Bierce crossed the border into Mexico and was never seen or heard from again. He disappeared without a trace, a mystery that continues to plague scholars to this day.
How crazy is this little book? Read on…
MUSINGS, PHILOSOPHICAL AND THEOLOGICAL
…. Seated in his den, in the chill gloom of a winter twilight, comforting his stomach with hoarded bits of cheese and broad biscuits, Mr. Grile thinketh unto himself after this fashion of thought:
I. To eat biscuits and cheese before dining is to confess that you do not expect to dine.
II. “Once bit, twice shy,” is a homely saying, but singularly true. A man who has been swindled will be very cautious the second time, and the third. The fourth time he may be swindled again more easily and completely than before.
III. A four-footed beast walks by lifting one foot at a time, but a four-horse team does not walk by lifting one horse at a time. And yet you cannot readily explain why this is so.
IV. If a jackass were to describe the Deity he would represent Him with long ears and a tail. Man’s ideal is the higher and truer one; he pictures Him as somewhat resembling a man.
V. The bald head of a man is a very common spectacle. You have never seen the bald head of a woman.
VI. Baldheaded women are a very common spectacle.
VII. Piety, like small-pox, comes by infection. Robinson Crusoe, however, caught it alone on his island. It is probable that he had it in his blood.
VIII. The doctrine of foreknowledge does not imply the truth of foreordination. Foreordination is a cause antedating an event. Foreknowledge is an effect, not of something that is going to occur, which would be absurd, but the effect of its being going to occur.
IX. Those who cherish the opposite opinion may be very good citizens.
X. Old shoes are easiest, because they have accommodated themselves to the feet. Old friends are least intolerable because they have adapted themselves to the inferior parts of our character.
XI. Between old friends and old shoes there are other points of resemblance.
XII. Everybody professes to know that it would be difficult to find a needle in a haystack, but very few reflect that this is because haystacks seldom contain needles.
XIII. A man with but one leg is a better man than a man with two legs, for the reason that there is less of him.
XIV. A man without any legs is better than a man with one leg; not because there is less of him, but because he cannot get about to enact so much wickedness.
XV. When an ostrich is pursued he conceals his head in a bush; when a man is pursued he conceals his property. By instinct each knows his enemy’s design.
XVI. There are two things that should be avoided; the deadly upas tree and soda water. The latter will make you puffy and poddy.
XVII. This list of things to be avoided is necessarily incomplete.
XVIII. In calling a man a hog, it is the man who gets angry, but it is the hog who is insulted. Men are always taking up the quarrels of others.
XIX. Give an American a newspaper and a pie and he will make himself comfortable anywhere.
XX. The world of mind will be divided upon the question of baptism so long as there are two simple and effective methods of baptising, and they are equally disagreeable.
XXI. They are not equally disagreeable, but each is disagreeable enough to attract disciples.
XXII. The face of a pig is a more handsome face than the face of a man—in the pig’s opinion.
XXIII. A pig’s opinion upon this question is as likely to be correct as is a man’s opinion.
XXIV. It is better not to take a wife than to take one belonging to some other man: for if she has been a good wife to him, she has adapted her nature to his, and will therefore be unsuited to yours. If she has not been a good wife to him she will not be to you.
XXV. The most gifted people are not always the most favored: a man with twelve legs can derive no benefit from ten of them without crawling like a centipede.
XXVI. A woman and a cow are the two most beautiful creatures in the world. For proof of the beauty of a cow, the reader is referred to an ox; for proof of the beauty of a woman, an ox is referred to the reader.
XXVII. There is reason to believe that a baby is less comely than a calf, for the reason that all kine esteem the calf the more comely beast, and there is one man who does not esteem the baby the more comely beast.
XXVII. To judge of the wisdom of an act by its result is a very shallow plan. An action is wise or unwise the moment it is decided upon.
XXIX. If the wisdom of an action may not be determined by the result, it is very difficult to determine it.
XXX. It is impossible.
XXXI. The moon always presents the same side to the earth because she is heaviest on that side. The opposite side, however, is more private and secluded.
XXXII. Camels and Christians receive their burdens kneeling.
XXXIII. It was never intended that men should be saints in heaven until they are dead and good for nothing else. On earth they are mostly
I, Grile, have arranged these primal truths in the order of their importance, in the hope that some patient investigator may amplify and codify them into a coherent body of doctrine, and so establish a new religion. I would do it myself were it not that a very corpulent and most unexpected pudding is claiming my present attention.
To read more go to: Project Guttenberg