Publication information
view printer-friendly version
Source: The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce
Source type: book
Document type: essay
Document title: “A Thumb-Nail Sketch”
Author(s): Bierce, Ambrose
Volume number:
Neale Publishing Company
Place of publication: New York, New York
Year of publication:
Pagination: 305-15 (excerpt below includes only pages 308-09)

Bierce, Ambrose. “A Thumb-Nail Sketch.” The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce. Vol. 12. New York: Neale Publishing, 1912: pp. 305-15.
excerpt of essay
Ambrose Bierce; McKinley assassination (public response); Hearst newspapers (role in the assassination).
Named persons
Leon Czolgosz; William Goebel; William Randolph Hearst; William McKinley.
The essay comes from a portion of the volume collectively titled “Miscellaneous.”


A Thumb-Nail Sketch [excerpt]

Soon after the assassination of Governor Goebel of Kentucky—which seemed to me a particularly perilous “precedent” if unpunished—I wrote for one of Mr. Hearst’s New York newspapers the following prophetic lines:

The bullet that pierced Goebel’s breast
Can not be found in all the West.
Good reason: it is speeding here
To stretch McKinley on the bier.

     The lines took no attention, naturally, but twenty months afterward the President was shot by Czolgosz. Every one remembers what happened then to Mr. Hearst and his newspapers. His political enemies and business competitors were alert to their opportunity. The verses, variously garbled but mostly made into an editorial, or a news dis- [308][309] patch with a Washington date-line but usually no date, were published all over the country as evidence of Mr. Hearst’s complicity in the crime. As such they adorned the editorial columns of the New York Sun and blazed upon a bill-board in front of Tammany Hall. So fierce was the popular flame to which they were the main fuel that thousands of copies of the Hearst papers were torn from the hands of newsboys and burned in the streets. Much of their advertising was withdrawn from them. Emissaries of the Sun overran the entire country persuading clubs, libraries and other patriotic bodies to exclude them from the files. There was even an attempt made to induce Czolgosz to testify that he had been incited to his crime by reading them—ten thousand dollars for his family to be his reward; but this cheerful scheme was blocked by the trial judge, who had been informed of it. During all this carnival of sin I lay ill in Washington, unaware of it; and my name, although appended to all that I wrote, including the verses, was not, I am told, once mentioned. As to Mr. Hearst, I dare say he first saw the lines when all this hullabaloo directed his attention to them.



top of page