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Biography of Francis Bret Harte


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Harte, Francis Bret (1839-1902), a noted American writer. He was born at Albany, New York, August 25, 1839, and died at Aldershot, England, May 5, 1902. During the gold excitement of 1854 Harte went to California. He taught school at Sonora and spent his small savings in mining, in which, however, he failed utterly. In 1857 he found work as a compositor in the office of the San Francisco Golden Era. Short sketches written for that paper began to attract attention. In 1864 Harte obtained an appointment in the branch mint at San Francisco. Four years later he was invited to become editor of the Overland Monthly. The Luck of Roaring Camp appeared in its pages and it made him famous. In 1871 Harte returned to New York City and wrote regularly for the Atlantic Monthly. In 1878 he was appointed consul at Crefeld, Germany, and two years later he was transferred to the consulate of Glasgow, Scotland. In 1885 he settled at London, where he continued to write stories of Western life.

Harte was the first American writer to seize upon the picturesque features of California. Miners, stage drivers, gamblers, road agents, and boarding-house keepers, the mountains, gulches, torrents, fords, and dust of California, and the shifting scenes of mining camps, were introduced into literature for the first time. Some of his celebrated short stories are The Outcasts of Poker Flat, The Twins of Table Mountain, M'liss, and A Protege of Jack Hamlin's. Among his longer stories and novels are Gabriel Conroy, Snowbound at Eagle's, Colonel Starbottle's Client, etc. Harte also wrote several volumes of verse, including Echoes of the Foothills.

Opinions of Harte's work vary. His writings deal necessarily with vice. Most of his characters, however, have a touch of human nature, ascribed by some to the sweetness and charity of the writer's nature, and by others to a propensity on his part to surround the daring and the picturesque with a sort of halo.