In 1874, publishers Chatto & Windus asked their most renowned author, the inimitable Samuel Clemens, for a brief but quotable review of ‘Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California by Dod Grille,’ the most recent book by another of their authors, Ambrose Bierce. Given that Clemens and Bierce had known each other since the 1860s and remained good friends, the idea was perfectly understandable; if not a surefire way to generate some positive buzz about a book which had, so far since publication, failed to sell in quantity.
What they hadn’t considered was that Clemens would respond with brutal honesty.
Transcript follows. Image courtesy of Boston Public Library.
“Dod Grile” (Mr. Bierce) is a personal friend of mine, & I like him exceedingly — but he knows my opinion of the “Nuggets & Dust,” & so I do not mind exposing it to you. It is the vilest book that exists in print — or very nearly so. If you keep a “reader,” it is charity to believe he never really read that book, but framed his verdict upon hearsay.
Bierce has written some admirable things — fugitive pieces — but none of them are among the “Nuggets.” 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