The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/March 27, 1869

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

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

It is gratifying to record occasionally an incident which puts to shame the slanderers who would have us believe that the clergy, whom we justly revere, are behind the age in which we live; or, as the vulgar express it, are not up to snuff. These iconoclasts are in the habit of asserting that parsons are not practical men; as if there were anything in the sacred calling which tends to unfit them for the serious business of this life. An event has recently occurred which completely overthrows the hypothesis that the men who labor for our spiritual welfare are unmindful of their own temporal good. The Rev. A. L. Stone, of this city, has received a call from a wealthy congregation in Chicago to accept the pastorate of that flock, at a salary of seven thousand dollars per annum. Did he basely accept it and relinquish a lucrative position here? Not so: he declined. He did more; he caused the fact to be made known far and wide through the medium of the press. Did this in Stone seem impractical? Bab! the man who has mastered the principles of judicious advertising is as competent to elbow his pious way through a sordid world as you or we. Such a one can afford to decline a seven thousand bird in the Chicago bush—if he has a better songster in hand.

Our correspondent, “Ambitio,” is informed that we are not an intelligence office, although partial friends kindly maintain that our office is the headquarters of intelligence upon this coast. We cannot assist our correspondent to a position as reporter upon any daily paper, nor would we advise him to leave his present honest occupation to accept one. A knowledge of the rudiments of English grammar is not requisite in a reporter, provided the deficiency is counterbalanced by a sufficiently hard cheek. His qualification in the latter particular may easily be tested by attempting to make an anvil float in mid-air by vigorous “puffing.” If he cannot do it he is incompetent, and only fit for a subordinate position as editor of the Alta. In that sphere of usefulness an ignorance of grammar is absolutely indispensable, but he must not make it a specialty; he must be equally ignorant of everything else. He must take the average Mexican oyster as his standard of intellectual capacity, and the frank honesty of the weasel as his moral example.

The Alta has incubated another editorial egg, and out pops its everlasting Bunsby and Sir Boyle Roche. Like the sleepy old cow that she is, the Alta periodically swallows her green leader from the Herald’s pasture, half digests it, and up comes Bunsby and Sir Boyle to be subjected to final deglutition. The fond parent who furnished the hungry mind of the callow “notist” with the mental pabulum from which he called these two tit-bits, which he is constantly slobbering over, and with which he distends his mature cheek, has our everlasting execration. The Herald’s twaddle and meaningless metaphor are bad enough, but compared with the Alta’s comments thereon are as sugar-plums to an emetic. Faugh!

Our pruriently prudish neighbor, the Times, in a leading article upon truant boys, enlarges upon the attractive indecency of the can-can dance, and after elaborately pointing out the places in which it may be seen in all its seductiveness, gravely remarks: “While we permit exhibitions of this kind to be freely advertised and performed, it is useless to look for anything like wholesome reform among the truant boys.” Exactly; and we trust that steps may be taken to prevent them being advertised wholesale in the editorial columns of our virtuous contemporary. If the Times is not “a corrupter of youth,” its dullness is alone at fault.

A great deal of complaint is made that some persons visiting the Mercantile Library are in the habit of mutilating the newspaper kept on file. The other day we saw a clerical-looking individual surreptitiously appropriate a quarter of a column from the very center of the Pacific Churchman. We had not the heart to inform on him; it was a crime that would work its own punishment. The next Sunday the pulpit of one of our fashionable churches was vacant. The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord!

A writer in the Bulletin, who bolts his dinner in half an hour and has not time to smoke a cigar afterward, says of shrimps, that were it not for their littleness, and the bother of extracting the one small kernel of sweetness from its covering, they would be a very desirable article of diet for the epicure. We recognize in this the hand of the same genius who wrote to the Times complaining of the uncut leaves of the Overland Monthly. Moneybags is dropping into literature, but thank heaven, he has not the time to continue in it long.

The following amusing burlesques of the style of journalism prevalent in the far West were copied recently into an English paper, with severe comments upon the shocking condition of the American barbarians of the Plains.—Morning Call. [Now, Call, as you are a regular reader of the News Letter, you must have known that those amusing burlesques were ours. Then why not say so? However, we forgive you, in consideration of the satisfaction you have afforded us by showing how neatly we sold the blasted Britishers.

At Utica, New York, a criminal was recently put under the influence of chloroform before being hanged. We trust this merciful practice may be tried in San Francisco, and there are a number of persons whom we can earnestly recommend as proper subjects for initiatory experiments. Of course we cannot expect so novel a method to be fully carried out at the beginning, and for the first twenty or thirty executions we should not obstinately insist upon the chloroform; but the hanging should by no means be dispensed with.

A young man has recently been ordered to the Stockton Lunatic Asylum, because he said he was about to die and go to heaven, and had stripped himself naked for his debut upon the boards of the New Jerusalem. A morning paper says he possessed a religious temperament, and then with charming simplicity adds that the cause of his malady is unknown. This is much the same as to announces a person’s death by poison, and then confess ignorance as to the manner of his taking off.

The Counter-Jumpers’ Early Closing Association, at their meeting on Wednesday evening, resolved to recommence the transparency nonsense. We do sincerely trust that the carriers of these transparencies may not have their heads broken. In as much as they are not the principals in the transaction, we consider that all the ends of justice may be accomplished by a sound kicking. We always favor moderation.

An Eastern paper takes off a certain style of California journalism thus.—Figure. [Exactly; an Eastern paper known as the San Francisco News Letter. As a suppressionist the Call is without a rival, but as a misrepresentationist you are inimitable. Verily, if thou cast thy bread upon the waters, it shall return unto thee after many days—with the imprint of an Eastern bakery upon it.]

A banana plant grew through all last winter at the Nap Soda Springs, with no protection save a barrel open at both ends, set over or around it, to protect it against the wind. If the plant lives in 38’ 30’, it should thrive in 33’.—Alta. [It doubtless would: all that would be necessary to insure a healthy growth would be to construct a new barrel, of larger size, each year, to protect it.]

The thanks of the community are due to the Morning Call. It startled us all by asserting positively that the small-pox was again on the increase, and straightway the disease died entirely out. As early as Wednesday there was not a single case. The Call’s facts are quite as valuable from a sanitary point of view as the Sacramento Union’s predictions from a meteorological.

Everyone must have noticed the peculiar alcoholic flavor of the shrimps caught in Mission Bay. An honest fisherman has told us the cause, under the strictest injunctions of secrecy. It is owing to the number of drunken men’s funerals which take place nocturnally from Long Bridge, attended by a few bereaved garroters. The shrimps eat the bodies.

At the meeting of the Board of Supervisors, last Monday evening, Mr. Canavan naively remarked that he wished the members would pay a little more regard to their duties. Mr. Canavan should not be too exacting; the city is well content to have the Board neglect the official business which they always confound with their schemes of private plunder.

The Call argues against an “intelligence” test in the matter of suffrage, because of the difficulty of deciding upon a conclusive one. How will this one do? When a man presents himself at the polls let him be shown a copy of the Call, and be required to point out an amusing absurdity in every article. If he cannot do it he is not fit to voice.

The Pacific admits that the prospects of Christian churches in California are not encouraging, and that they do not keep pace with the increase of our population. Just wait, neighbor, until our fellows have laid up all the treasure they can upon the earth, and then they well go to depositing in heaven. We have our White Pine; religion must wait.

The New York Post says the Atlantic states have been in the habit of exiling their scum to California. Let them continue: no harm can come of it. It enables them to get rid of an element of which they have a superfluity, and furnishes us with the only available material from which to fashion a state legislature and a municipal police.

It was a dastardly act for the Times to steal that manuscript leading article from the Herald, entitled “The Sand Dunes of San Francisco,” and then print it as its own. The Times can spare its denial; we know that article could not have been written outside the Herald office. Upon this question we are not open to conviction.

The Powell-Street School is to have a piano. The Town Crier shall at once remove his children from that establishment; they get enough of that sort of thing at home. (He flatters himself that this indicated Mrs. T. C.’s accomplishments with sufficient distinctness to silence for a week her persistent requests to be “mentioned.”)

A religious contemporary has an able article exposing the evil nature of sin. We are pleased to observe that the Christian mind has finally been aroused, and we trust this subject may hereafter receive some attention from even the clergy. Sin has gone unrebuked about long enough; it is time it was corralled.

The Apaches are treacherous to a proverb, and boast of their treachery.—Herald. [We think they have some grounds for pride. Treachery to a proverb cannot be a very heinous article of treason, and is certainly indicative of considerable subtle ability.]

The Golden City probably reposes in the serene confidence that it has done it. The thing is open to dispute, when a chambermaid’s weekly goes outside its legitimate sphere to advise people in relation to mining stocks, we flatly deny that it has done anything whatever. We shall attend to this animal shortly.

A correspondent of a religious weekly counsels it to “strike every devil between the two eyes.” Considering the kind of weapon our contemporary is accustomed to use, we think compliance with this advice will be diverting to spectators and extremely disgusting to the devils.

The residence of Supervisor Shattuck was entered by burglars last Monday night, and a quantity of silver plate was stolen. So say the dailies; we beg leave to differ. We regard those “burglars” as a self-constituted delegation, seeking to get back the city’s own.

The caper is a bramble bush, and is planted in hills about ten feet apart each way—Alta [A caper to each one hundred superficial feet of soil. The Alta, at each daily harvest, cuts a caper to each one hundred words to superficial dirt.]

The Occident has a work to do which cannot be done by any other paper. Advocate. [It has undertaken to make vapidity respectable. The Advocate, however, is too modest; it can do this work quite as well as the Occident.

The Sacramento Union says the Bee, the Alta, and Solano Herald, are liars, all, because they charge it with having predicted a drought. It did predict a drought. The Union is correct in epithet, but unfortunate in instance.

The following is the stereotyped prediction of calamity usually put forth by those croakers, the daily papers: “The Board of Supervisors will meet next Monday evening to take action upon matters of public interest.”

The Herald has an editorial article recommending the government to arm certain tribes of Indians and set them to butchering certain other tribes. The next article is upon the Progress of Mankind.

A call will soon be issued for a meeting of those opposed to the Counter-Jumpers’ Early Closing Association. The cat is jumping the other way; in other words, it is itself a counter-jumper

An anonymous idiot has addressed a communication to the Board of Education, asking why the Lord’s Prayer is excluded from the schools? Because it is ungrammatical, stupid.

The Circassians in Europe and America make beasts of themselves by the use of whisky, brandy and other liquors.—Exchange. [For Circassians read Caucassians.]

The Evangel has an article upon “thought.” The editor wisely concluded that some acquaintance with the article could not safely be much longer withheld from his readers.

The proprietor of the Barnacle has been excluded from the interior of the County Jail. This is a great error; he should have been ejected from the exterior.

In justice to itself, the El Dorado denies that it has any connection with the Woman’s Co-Operative Printing Union. In justice to the Union, we corroborate.

The attaches of the Truckee Tribune have been presented with a new hat each. We suggest the propriety of presenting the editor with a new head.

A change has been made in the arrangement of one of our city churches, by which the fox is brought much nearer to the geese.

Curious people would like to know how a lantern, in conversation, talks—Alta . [More luminously than you do; doubtless.]

Louis Ryersdorf has copyrighted a play in four acts, entitled Not Dead. It will be, after the first representation.

The Alta advises farmers to plant the poppy. Why cultivate an opiate while we have the Editorial Notes?

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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