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Harte, Bret (1836-1902)

Bret Harte

John Pettie. Oil on canvas, 1884.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

The writer of short stories such as “The Luck of Roaring Camp” grew up in Albany before his family moved to California. He joined the San Francisco Unitarian Church where Thomas Starr King helped to guide his writing, reading, and concern for the abolition of slavery. When Bret founded a newspaper, Northern California, his outraged editorial condemning drunken townsmen who had murdered many Indian women and children forced him to flee for his life.

Harte’s writing about California mining camps brought him leadership of a literary group that included Mark Twain and Ambrose Bierce. Upon moving to Boston, he was celebrated by Emerson, Lowell, and Longfellow. That peak of success was followed by failure upon failure and deepening debt until President Hayes appointed him to diplomatic posts in Germany and Glasgow.

Volumes of Bret Harte short fiction were published almost every year during his last twenty years.