Parker Addison, Philosopher by Ambrose Bierce

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BBC Radio 7, 24 March 2010

Read by Stacy Keach, this eponymous hero of this macabre tale was a spy arrested for spying for the Federal side during the American Civil War. About to lose his head for his crimes, Addison displayed an apparent insouciance; his death would achieve nothing: the Confederates would still have to fight the battle knowing no more or less than they did before; while Addison himself regarded death as nothing more than a transition to another world. The General was quite amused, not to say intrigued, by Addison’s attitude; both men started a metaphysical speculation on the relationship between life and death.


In the end, however, the General tired of Addison’s procrastinations and ordered his immediate execution. Addison immediately responded with alarm; the execution had been set for a specific time, and no one should have the right to change it. Addison immediately became violent, drew a knife and fought valiantly for his life. In the ensuing struggle a Confederate captain was stabbed in the throat, the General fainted with a fatal wound to his side, while Addison himself was recaptured and executed twenty minutes later.


However the entire episode had a profound effect on the General; whereas once he saw Addison as nothing more than an enemy spy, by the end of the story he had come to accept death not as something final, but as a passage between one life and another. If nothing else, “Parker Ambrose, Philosopher” taught us fortitude in the face of adversity – even if the odds are completely against you, you can still persuade others of the veracity of your point of view. The director of this short story was Martin Jarvis.