Francis Bret Harte (August 25, 1836–May 6, 1902) was an American author and poet, best remembered for his accounts of pioneering life in California.
Born in Albany, New York, Harte moved to California in 1854, later working there in a number of capacities, including miner, teacher, messenger, and journalist. He spent part of his life in the northern California coast town now known as Arcata, at the time it was just a mining camp on Humboldt Bay.
His first literary efforts, including poetry and prose, appeared in The Californian, an early literary journal edited by Charles Henry Webb. In 1868 he became editor of The Overland Monthly, another new literary magazine, but this one more in tune with the pioneering spirit of excitement in California. His story, "The Luck of Roaring Camp," appeared in the magazine's second edition, propelling Harte to nationwide fame.
When word of Dickens' death reached Bret Harte in July of 1870, he immediately sent a dispatch across the bay to San Francisco to hold back the forthcoming publication of his Overland Monthly for twenty-four hours, so that he could compose the poetic tribute, Dickens in Camp. This work is considered by many of Harte's admirers as his masterpiece of verse, for its evident sincerity, the depth of feeling it displays, and the unusual quality of its poetic expression. The spirit of Dickens breathes through the poems and stories of Bret Harte just as the spirit of Bret Harte breathes through the poems and stories of Kipling.
Determined to pursue his literary career, he travelled back East, to New York and eventually to Boston, where he continued writing poems, sketches, and stories capturing the excitement of his earlier years in California.
As an established literary figure, he was appointed to the position of United States Consul in the town of Krefeld, Germany in 1878 and Glasgow in 1880. In 1885 he settled in London. During the thirty years he spent in Europe, he never abandoned writing, and maintained a prodigious output of stories that retained the freshness of his earlier work. He died in England in 1902 and is buried at Frimley. In 1987 he appeared on a $5 U.S. Postage stamp, as part of the "Great Americans" Series of issues.
Writing in his autobiography four years after Harte's death, Mark Twain famously insults Harte, characterizing him and his writing as insincere. He gives light respect to "Luck of Roaring Camp" but also criticizes the miners' dialect, claiming it never existed outside of the story. Twain reserves his most damning statements for Harte's personal life, especially after Harte left the West.