The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/March 20, 1869

“Hear the Crier!” “What the devil art thou!”

“One that will play the devil, sir, with you.”

Dr. Scudder, who publicly announces himself an instructor of the people, made a speech last Monday evening at the meeting of the Teacher’s Institute, in which he gravely advised his hearers to abstain from the reading of magazines, reviews and pamphlets, and to stick to their newspapers and Bibles. We acknowledge the compliment, but modestly disclaim any title to the honor of joint perusal with the Bible, to the exclusive of the magazines and reviews, which, generally speaking, contain the best thought of the age. We flatter ourselves we have a dim perception of the Rev. Doctor’s motives. Magazines, reviews and pamphlets exhibit a general tendency toward untrammeled thought, alias skepticism. Their effect might be bad upon the Doctor’s pet lambs. The newspapers on the contrary are tolerably orthodox, free from heresy and abounding in velocipede; while the Bible—well, the Doctor lives by that. So the Doctor’s position is at least a consistent one: but it really provokes a smile to think of turning from the academic shades of the Saturday Review to flounder in the muck of Deuteronomy, or of relinquishing the Overland to batten on that moor, the Alta.


The Emmet Guard came down from Sacramento like a sheep on the fold, and their coat-tails were gleaming with purple and gold. They brought a field piece along on the boat, and keg containing powder. Being wholly unacquainted with the nature of the latter articles they used the open keg as a spittoon into which to cast their cigar stumps. Quite unexpectedly the powder took fire, and before the flames could be extinguished somebody got blown sky-high; also several innocent passengers. The latter have our deepest sympathy, but as for the Emmet Guard—well, if full grown men will persist in making Guys of themselves in the guise of real soldiers, they ought to smell gunpowder. A thoughtful Providence is kindly training our embryonic defenders for real service. We regard the occurrence as a rare blending of poetic justice with accidental discipline. It would be unkind to wish that some of our city companies might be trained in the same school.


A good deal of unnecessary nonsense having been talked in relation to the powder explosion on board the Chrysopolis, it is gratifying to learn by a card from the major general commanding the Emmet Guard, that neither himself nor the captain of the boat knew of the cannon and powder being on board until the moment of the explosion. The gun, which is nearly the size of a dump-cart, was smuggled on board surreptitiously in a coffee sack, and the salutes at all the towns along the river were fired so secretly as to cause no suspicion. General Sheehan does not claim that the keg of powder was only a basket of harmless onions, and that no explosion occurred, but we venture the suggestion for his benefit in case his ingenious defense should not be believed. It seems, after all, that none of the Guard were injured—the more’s the pity.


The Rev. A. W. Loomis is to preach regularly to the Chinese convicts at San Quentin. He is expected to bring a great deal of China-ware into the pagoda of the “Melican Josh.” We suggest the propriety of employing ritualistic auxiliaries, modified to suit Mongolian ideas. Censers exhaling fumes of opium would be attractive, and a few burning Josh-sticks would pleasantly remind these barbarians of the solemnities to which they have been accustomed in their own temples. A bunch of fire-crackers suspended to the reverend gentleman’s coat-tail, and ingeniously arranged to punctuate the discourse with sacred explosions, would add a pleasing excitement to the services, and infuse an originality into the gestures which could not fail to make conversion follow upon the heels of conviction.


The House Carpenters’ Eight-hour League are quarreling over the question of putting a portion of the capital of which they have robbed their employers into White Pine speculations. The matter has of course been referred to General Winn, who will dispose of it. We suggest that the money also be referred to him. He would doubtless dispose of that, too, and33 the bone of contention would be removed. Now, aspiring mechanics, look here. Take that money—if you won’t give it to Winn—and go in a body to White Pine to invest. Our boys up there will make you very sick before you come back. They are just “laying” for such as you.


The Herald rejoices over the supposed fact that the Union Pacific Railroad will be blocked with snow for four months of the year, thus giving us the interior trade and necessitating the construction of another trans-continental road. Would it not have been better for us had it not been built? We should then have enjoyed an undisputed monopoly of the trade. Is it not also to be hoped that the prospective southern road may be idle half the year, so that another will have to be constructed? The Herald’s wisdom is indisputable, but it flows in tortuous channels and inscrutable gullies. It is a good article of wisdom, but it is little understood.


It is perfectly natural that the Herald should become excited and enthusiastic about St. Patrick’s Day, but we should really like to know what there is in that anniversary to provoke such a sun-burst of blather as the following: “Every unprejudiced lover of human freedom and progress will salute and consecrate this day with the prayer that the right and superiority of institutional self-government may soon be vindicated by a recovered and publican nationality on the beautiful Isle of St. Patrick.” We are not well versed in theoretical morality—the practical is more in our line, but we believe such language is wicked. It sounds wicked.


It is reported that Mr. Sumner is stated to have intimated a possible intention of deciding at some time in the future to make a speech. To this the English minister is said to have remarked that the inception of Mr. Sumner’s possible intention would be the inauguration of war; while the French minister, with characteristic astuteness, expressed a decided opinion that the result of Mr. Sumner’s decision would be an expansion of territory; whether that of France, England, the United States, or Dahomey, he declined to say. (For continuation of this startling narrative see editorial columns of the dailies.)


A person who signs himself “Altogether,” and forgets to add the “Stupid,” writes a letter to the Times for the purpose of showing that the possesses an armchair, a pair of slippers, and an ivory letter-folder. He complains bitterly because the publisher of the Overland Monthly does not cut the leaves, and concludes by announcing his intention of not paying his subscription to that periodical until the same shall be done. One cannot help admiring the felicitous manner in which “Stupid” blends economy with revenge, and makes his zeal for reform the guardian of his purse.


Of Stockton matters the Occident thus discourseth: “The town is prosperous: the country about filling up with people; religion gaining its just ascendency in all thinking minds; and the future bright with hope.” It will be observed that the Occident artfully classifies the people of Stockton into the thinking and the unthinking, and claims the former for its own. This is unfair; it excludes from the fold the inmates of the two institutions which have given that city all its importance, the Lunatic Asylum and the Gazette establishment.


Mrs. Cady Stanton is writing gossipy and rather interesting Washington letters to her paper, the Revolution. Prominent politicians are her theme, and the charming matter-of-fact way in which she almost invariably speaks of the fine eyes of those favorable to her cause, is significant as an indication of the qualities which will be requisite in the coming statesman. Well, it will be an improvement anyhow; as a controlling element in politics fine eyes are in most respects preferable to a talent for feathering the political and personal nest.


Mister, Master, Mistress, or Miss J. H. Atkinson is writing letters from this city to the Woman’s Rights paper, the Revolution. He, she, or it, eulogizes some of the members of our Board of Education for their tremendous efforts in behalf of “the cause.” We think we discern in this the reason of President Cobb’s late assertion in the Board that he loved the ladies. He knew it would be trumpeted abroad, and win-him the undying affection of the fair all over the land. Didn’t you, Cobb? Sly dog! (Nudging him in the ribs.) Ah, you rascal!


About the prettiest piece of stupidity it has ever been our misfortune to observe can be found in last Wednesday’s Alta, in which the learned editor of that sheet characterizes a sensible decision of the Supreme Court as “Quixotic.” The Alta has itself been supposed heretofore to be the most perfect modern representative of the doughty Don, but we are confident this was a mistake. Let justice be done though the heavens fall; the Alta’s prototype was no less a personage than Sancho Penza.


The Alta has already begun to lick the feet of Gen. Geo. H. Thomas, who will command this Military Division. Among his other virtues, the Alta calls attention to his “affability!” We trust that immediately upon the general’s arrival the Alta will dispatch a delegation of the Franklin Light Infantry, under command of a Lieutenant-Colonel, to receive him at the wharf and “smash” his baggage. We apprehend they would get a taste of the old veteran’s affability that would be an astonisher.


The Alta has given its reason for not condemning Grant’s appointment of a rebel to the New Orleans Collectorship. The name of the reason is Magnanimity—with a big M. It is hoped that this will cover with shame and confusion the slanderers who insist that the Alta had no other motive than party sycophancy. The undoubted honesty of that paper’s belief in its own magnanimity ought to carry conviction to us all. Let us revere what we do not understand.


Speaking of the country traversed by the Pacific Railroad, the Bulletin gravely remarks: “This interior country will soon be teeming with a large and prosperous population, and it is not possible that we can avoid being greatly benefited by trade and intercourse with them.” [The Bulletin is certainly becoming sensational in its startling manner of warning us against inevitable benefits hitherto overlooked.


The Rev. T. J. Wilson preached last week from the following text, which we presume, he got out of his own head: “O Lord, God! by whom shall Jacob now rise? for he is small.” To say nothing of the shocking profanity of this text, we think the Rev. Mr. Wilson might let up on Jake now that he is down. Otherwise it would be a fair fight, for the Rev. Mr. Wilson also is exceedingly small.


We learn that a movement is on foot to establish an educational institution for the teachers of Normal schools. By all means let us have it, and then another for the instruction of teachers of that. If a principle is good, let us carry it out boldly and to something like its legitimate results; leaving posterity to make such additions as the improved finances of the future may warrant.


On last Sunday evening the Rev. John Doughty, whilom bar-keeper, preached at the New Jerusalem church. Subject: “Continuation of the Third Commandment.” We thought this commandment had been discontinued in San Francisco, and a patient hearing of the Rev. John convinced us that it must at least have been suspended for that occasion. He swore awfully.


On last Saturday, while it was raining copiously in this city, not a drop fell in Oakland. Of course not; we had only enough for ourselves. This is one of the few instances in which God did not send the rain alike upon the just and the unjust. The latter will have to come here for their washing fluid. Happily for both them and us they don’t use a deluge of the article.


Sacramento is clamoring for a public park. We hope she may get it, and have it nicely set out to sea-weed and stocked with porpoises. The proposition to build a levee about it to keep the water out we look upon as absurd. A surface of water is prettier than one of baked clay, besides being more easily navigated.


The Call terms the velocipede “the nuisance of the present time.” We should like to hear the velocipede’s opinion of the Call. We suspect that judgment of a headless horse is quite as good as that of a headless newspaper might be expressed in the same terms.


If the spring puts forth no blossoms, in summer there will be no beans and in autumn no fruit. So, if youth be trifled away without improvement, adult years will be contemptible, and old age miserable.—El Dorado. [“A hit, a palpable hit”—at Alta.]


The  Alta, in noticing a performance at the California Theater, says: “Mr. McCullough, though afflicted, appeared as ‘Mr. Icebrook.’” [Mr. McCullough always afflicted; and always will be while the Alta has a single critic outside lunatic asylum—or inside the militia.]


The following gem of brutality is from the Alta, of course: “Some officers of the police were on hand, but fortunately there was no need of assistance. The injured young lady was so badly burned that it was impossible to remove her.”


Of course we have opinions in relation to these matters, but they are just as likely to be wrong as right.—Call. [A rather superfluous admission, neighbor. We have not yet forgotten the opinions you entertained about election time.]


The Barnacle is exposing the brutalities of the County Jail. That the author may have better opportunities for observation, we suggest—begging pardon of the present inmates—that he be furnished permanent quarters there.


The El Dorado has the following very sensible advice, entitled ‘How to Treat the Hair:’ “Pass a fine-tooth comb, at regular intervals every twenty-four hours, through the hair, in order to”—etc., etc.


The Sacramento Union speaks of the Morning Call as a “little thing.” The Call is just the size of the Union, and contains considerably more matter. A well-developed boil contains more than either.


At a late meeting of the Ministerial Union of this city, volunteers were asked for to conduct religious services in the County Jail. Why not delegate some of the resident members?


The legislature of Illinois projected an excursion to Quincy, but then refused to extend an invitation. (Oakland and San Jose papers and people to copy.)


The notice is too obscene for publication, otherwise we would give it. – Oakland Transcript. [Why not print it by itself in a supplement?]


Who knows Prior Perkins? His mother, at Snelling’s, wants to hear from him.—Sacramento Bee. [Who knows his mother?]


The report that the Hale & Norcross turned out as a company on the celebration of the 17th, is not true.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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