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“A Biographical Sketch of the great American author and writer, Bret Harte, one for all ages and generations and times”

“A Biographical Sketch of the great American author and writer, Bret Harte, one for all ages and generations and times”


My dear fellow lovers of literature and thinkers, readers and men and women who treasure thoughts and ideas and all opinions. I bid you and ask you to join with me in another voyage of intellectual discovery. I welcome you in this quest and task of attaining and coming to know intellectual honesty and honest discernment. Join with me in this voyage of discovery to get at and find what is valid and authentic in this present world of confusion. Come with me in tearing apart the curtain of lies and darkness that hides from us what is truth and facts. 

Today I will speak of the life and literary work of one of the greatest and most enduring prose writers of America, Bret Harte. For me to even speak of this writer is a great and overwhelming privilege and honor and I do this with great humility and hesitation. I am a great fan of English and American literature as well as Russian and French literature. I have written in these pages of such poets as Keats, Shelley, Byron, Tennyson and Browning and such novelists as Dickens, Thackeray, Melville, Conrad, Jane Austen and many, many others including such writers as Steinbeck, Sinclair Lewis and Jack London. I speak of and write of Bret Harte as the equal of all these greats. 

Bret Harte was born in 1836 and died in 1902. He was an American short-story writer and poet. In addition, he wrote plays, book reviews and magazine sketches. His career spanned four decades. He moved from California to the eastern US and later to Europe. 

He was born in Albany, NY. He moved to California in 1853 and later worked there in a number of positions: miner, teacher, school master and journalist. He signed on as a messenger with Wells Fargo and guarded treasure on stagecoaches. From 1857 to 1860 he began his first literary efforts and wrote poetry. He was hired as the editor of The Golden Era in 1860 and reported on an Indian massacre in 1860. He married in 1862. He published his first story in The Atlantic Monthly in 1863. He started a new literary journal in 1864. In 1865 he was asked to edit a book of California poetry. In 1868 he became editor of the Overland Monthly, a new literary magazine. In it there appeared one of his most famous short stories, “The Luck of Roaring Camp.” His fame increased with the publication of his poem entitled “Plain Language for Truthful James,” which was widely republished in many newspapers. In 1871 he travelled to New York and Boston to pursue his literary career. 

He contracted with The Atlantic Monthly for an annual salary of $10,000, but his popularity waned and by 1872 he was without a publishing contract. He spent the next few years struggling to publish and delivering lectures. In 1878 he took the position of US Consul in Germany. He was given a similar position in Glasgow in 1880 and in 1885 settled in London. He wrote to his wife and children and sent them financial contributions but did not invite them to join him nor did he visit them. He stayed for 24 years in Europe producing a huge literary output of stories. He died in 1902 of throat cancer in England and his wife died in 1920. 

As a short-story writer Harte is one of my favorites. His western stories are the best and, along with Jack London, his books stand on my shelf. I will never forget his outstanding stories such as “The Luck of Roaring Camp” and “The Outcasts of Poker Flats.” They stand out in my mind and heart. I urge one and all to read his work and not to cease doing so. 


I am indebted to the article on this author in Wikipedia for the content of this essay.