23 Facts About Bret Harte


Bret Harte was an American short story writer and poet best remembered for short fiction featuring miners, gamblers, and other romantic figures of the California Gold Rush.


Bret Harte was of French Huguenot and Dutch ancestry and descended from prominent New York landowner Francis Rombouts.


An avid reader as a boy, Bret Harte published his first work at age 11, a satirical poem titled "Autumn Musings", now lost.


Bret Harte moved to California in 1853, later working there in a number of capacities, including miner, teacher, messenger, and journalist; he was secretary of the San Francisco Mint.


Bret Harte spent part of his life in the northern California coastal town of Union, a settlement on Humboldt Bay, as a tutor and school teacher, then a printer's devil on The Northern Californian, and went on to reporting news, writing poems, and occasionally, acting editor, leaving after three years, from lynching threats for writing an editorial about the 26 February 1860 Wiyot massacre.


Bret Harte guarded treasure boxes on stagecoaches for a few months, then gave it up to become the schoolmaster at a school near the town of Sonora, in the Sierra foothills.


Bret Harte created his character Yuba Bill from his memory of an old stagecoach driver.

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Mark Twain

Mark Twain later recalled that, as an editor, Bret Harte struck "a new and fresh and spirited note" which "rose above that orchestra's mumbling confusion and was recognizable as music".


Bret Harte quit his job and moved to San Francisco, where an anonymous letter published in a city paper describing widespread community approval of the massacre was attributed to him.


Bret Harte married Anna Griswold on August 11,1862, in San Rafael, California.


In 1864, Bret Harte joined with Charles Henry Webb in starting a new literary journal called The Californian.


Bret Harte became friends with and mentored poet Ina Coolbrith.


In 1865, Bret Harte was asked by bookseller Anton Roman to edit a book of California poetry; it was to be a showcase of the finest California writers.


The book caused some controversy, as Bret Harte used the preface as a vehicle to attack California's literature, blaming the state's "monotonous climate" for its bad poetry.


In 1868, Bret Harte became editor of The Overland Monthly, another new literary magazine, published by Roman Anton with the intention of highlighting local writings.


Bret Harte's fame increased with the publication of his satirical poem "Plain Language from Truthful James" in the September 1870 issue of the Overland Monthly.


Bret Harte was chagrined to find that the popularity of the poem, which he had written to criticize the prevalence of anti-Chinese sentiment among the white population of California, was largely the result of its being taken literally by the very people he had lampooned, who completely misconstrued the ironic intent of Bret Harte's words.


Bret Harte was determined to pursue his literary career and traveled back east with his family in 1871 to New York and eventually to Boston, where he contracted with the publisher of The Atlantic Monthly for an annual salary of $10,000, "an unprecedented sum at the time".


Bret Harte's popularity waned and by the end of 1872, he was without a publishing contract and increasingly desperate.


Bret Harte spent the next few years struggling to publish new work or republish old and delivering lectures about the gold rush.


Some time between 1872 and 1881, Bret Harte rented The Willows, a Morristown, New Jersey mansion then owned by Union general and author Joseph Warren Revere.


Bret Harte declined to invite them to join him, nor did he return to the United States to visit them.


Bret Harte died in Camberley, England, in 1902 of throat cancer and is buried at Frimley.