The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/April 3, 1869

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

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


Galvanic Inspiration.


[The following effusions were written against time by three galvanized corpses for a purse of ten cents:]

Node to the Perlice.


For a great many years, in the Dick Turpin slang

The thieves have called offices “cops”;

Why not raise the fame of our friends e’re we hang,

By dubbing the graybacks “McCopps?”


By dubbing the graybacks “McCopps?”

–Nipper Kid.


O, “Wood” I were a Boy again.

I have heard of hard nuts, but the hardest one yet,

I e’er knew of that well-belov’d fruit,

Took a big board to crack, and it made a man swett,

For both shell and Kernel were Wood.



A “Divine” Pome.

Why should the poor convict complain of his fare—

For good treatment and rations e’er pine?

Don’t he get his beef rare, and live on fowl-hare,

And have Soup-er-in-tin-dence Divine?



The Alta’s criticisms are valuable, not because of their merit, but as examples of dense ignorance to be avoided. In reviewing the April number of the Overland Monthly, it says of the paper entitled “An Ex-Pirate” that it is “a good characteristic.” We don’t happen to be familiar with the vernacular of yankee expirates, but for the sake of the profession, we do trust that the wretched jargon of the narrative grossly misrepresents that fine old race now becoming extinct. For the purposes of his tale the writer was compelled to create his hero a centenarian, and then seems to have deliberately put a half-idiotic yarn into his garrulous old mouth for the sake of consistency. In the course of the narrative a great number of persons are drowned, cut up with cannon shot, or have their brains knocked out. How many departed this life by these pleasant methods we have not the heart to estimate; probably three or four hundred. It is necessary to be exact where the author has been so prodigal. The thing is a good companion piece to the ambitious production of the anthropophagist who, a few months’ since, forced a whaling crew into a small boat that he might kill and eat them before our eyes. We have not the remotest idea to whom we are indebted for this acquaintance with the cheerful recreations of a class but little understood, but we will lay a volume of the News Letter against a single copy of the Overland that the cultivated editor of the latter made wry faces when a necessity we cannot comprehend compelled him to inflict this literary horror upon the accomplished editor of the former.


The sufferings of California loyalists during the late war are becoming better known, and their services to the cause are beginning to be appreciated. Speaking of a really estimable man, lately deceased, the Times, with an unconscious absurdity truly delicious, says he was “an unflinching Union man, and throughout the rebellion he did good service to the government he loved so well, by strengthening the tone of loyal sentiment, not only in the mountain counties, but indeed throughout the state.” Unflinching Union man, was he? Now allow us to ask what there was to make him flinch. He “did good service by strengthening the tone of public sentiment!” Oh bosh! What tremendous services can be rendered in this way; and at how little cost. We are something tired of this. One Confederate mule, killed by a stray shot, was a greater help to the cause than all the “strengthening” of the strengtheners combined.


The Bulletin has been to the state penitentiary. It found there a great many Indian convicts from the lower counties, and declares that the sheriffs down there are in the habit of going out and capturing them at random, securing their conviction, and bringing them along when they visit San Francisco for the sake of defraying expenses by the mileage allowed. This is really a cheerful picture of official morality in the Southern districts, but we fear it will not bear scrutiny. We know the market price of perjury in that section to be about twenty-five dollars per oath, and it takes two witnesses to convict each Indian. Add to this the customary testimonial to each juryman, and the douceur to the judge, and it is readily seen that the game is not worth the candle. The Bulletin should be above such petty slanders upon the officers of the law, because the libels reflect upon the entire community.


The Town Crier flatters himself that the press of this city owes him a testimonial—heavy gold. A few months since it was a universal custom among the parsons of the city to announce in Saturday’s papers the texts—usually sensational—of their discourses the following day; thus doing a nice thing in the way of advertising. The Town Crier saw the damage to the business of his publisher, and taking up the brazen announcements seriatim, he put them into his alembic, and they came out golden absurdities. The parsons could not stand this, and the unseemly practice has been mostly discontinued. He has now to clip off only two or three sacred dead-heads weekly, and can soon receive his testimonial conscientiously and with thanks.


The San Francisco News Letter says that the two institutions to which Stockton owes all its importance are the Lunatic Asylum and the Gazette office. If the News Letter will employ an inmate of either of these institutions to edit it, it may yet acquire some importance in the world.—Stockton Gazette. [Thank you. Then we wish to acquire your particular kind of importance, we shall act upon your suggestion; and it will then be a matter of perfect indifference to us, and of no import to our readers, whether we seek our editor in the wards of the mother establishment or in the stalls of the branch concern. We shall do neither so long as there remains the better alternative of issuing a blank paper.]


A certain detestor of “Perfidious Albion” attempts to palliate the serious character of the accident which took place on board the Sacramento boat, by remarking that it was all fun; the boys merely wishing to take a “rise” out of the passengers. For shame, O’Bouncer: it won’t do. We have been accustomed annually, about the 17th of March, to hear a very large amount of harmless blowing which we take for exactly what it is worth; but in future we must protest against blowing innocent passengers sky-high. In fact, the Town Crier, who sometimes uses strong language, says he is blowed if he will stand it.


The Call has an ingenious story about a certain man who represented himself as a writer for the press, and who attempted to blackmail a certain Dr. Murphy by threatening future revelations. He was kicked out, and the press is warned against him. Dev’lish clever ’pon honor, but we don’t believe a word of it. The Doctor is expecting some person to denounce him, and takes this means to forestall him. How do we know this? We feel it in our bones. We hope that exposé will be made; we’re half inclined to attempt it ourselves. Wish we knew the Doctor.


A woman jumped out of fifth story window and died. Well? Well, stupid, that’s all—except that she was “temporarily insane,” and her husband was fast asleep in the room from which she winged her flight, and didn’t hear her raise the window, and knew nothing about the occurrence until told of it, and wouldn’t shove his worst enemy out of a window.


On last Sunday evening, Mr. S. J. Finney delivered a lecture at the hall of the Mercantile Library, upon the Origin of the Soul. The lecturer established his theory as well as was possible under the circumstances; there being a total lack of scientific originating apparatus. It is to be regretted, also, that he neglected to exhibit a specimen of the naked human soul to his audience. We learn that there is considerable difficulty in procuring and preparing them in this climate.


Some months ago a convict in the County Jail read the Morning Chronicle’s daily exposé of the smallpox hospital. He at once contracted the disease, went there and was content. He afterward read the same paper’s disclosures in relation to the starvation in the jail, went back at once and gave himself up. This man’s ideas with regard to personal comfort may be vacillating, but his logic is faultless. “Dreams always go contrary, says Rory O’More.”


Charity is certain to bring its reward—if judiciously bestowed. The people of San Francisco are the most charitable in the world—and the most judicious. The right hand should never know of the charity that the left hand bestows. There is, however no objection to putting it in the papers. Charity is usually represented with a babe in her arms—going to place it benevolently upon a rich man’s doorstep. End of the dissertation upon charity.


The project of altering the grade of Stockton street would involve 130×19, 2 3/8, 21 northeast. No, no.—Bulletin. To alter the present grade of Stockton street would necessitate 21 northeast, 23/8×19,130. Can’t be done.—Times. The plan of lowering the Stockton st. grade would render necessary the following: 00×111=000, north by east half-west round the corner. Yow, yow, yow.—Alta. The Herald has not yet heard from its readers.


The Bulletin thinks Owens not so good as Couldock. But the Bulletin was acquainted with Couldock and is not with Owens. If that paper knew all the actors and artists in the world, and dined and wined, and hobnobbed and socialed with them, its poor brain would be puzzled to tell who was the best actor or artist. Probably the one whom it thought the best fellow, however.


Oakland has actually invented a velocipede. We have not seen it, but learn that it consists of two horizontal sugar-hogsheads, surmounted by a cellar door and propelled by a bean pole. It does not sink into the sand, and will make a trip from Dr. Merritt’s stable, through John B. Felton’s potato-patch, to J. W. Dwinelle’s wood-shed, in twenty-four hours.


A correspondent proposes the following conundrum: “Why is such a man as Scudder permitted to criticize such a man as Ralph Waldo Emerson?” Because the devil finds some mischief still—. Because fools rush in where angels—. Because—because the higher a monkey climbs the more he—. We give it up.


One Louis Schade addressed a letter to the president, demanding the missing head belonging to the body of the disinterred Wirz; but stated that he should not have objected if the skull had been retained in the interest of science. It was retained in the interest of science—the science of skull-duggery.


The Stockton Gazette is severe upon some leading newspaper of this city for stealing its thunder. Our irate contemporary should temper its righteous indignation with pity for what must be a case of extraordinary editorial indigence. Consider the straits to which the offending journal must be reduced!


The Dupont Church people don’t want to part with Dr. Stone. A word of advice. You know that those that are without sin can cast the first stone, and as this is our first and we have had enough, let’s cast him. Query: Will this stone add anything to the pavements of the celestial city?


Miss Jones, married last week, was dressed in the most beautiful white illusion of the period. Oh! this illusion. It is just fragile enough to dress a bride in, but the stuff is weaker than a bachelor’s love, and the poor bride will find the illusions of life are speedily destroyed.


By special dispatch from Washington, we have the following report of a highly important conversation which took place at the White House immediately after the inauguration. Steward.—“What will your Excellency have for dinner?” The President.—“Let us have pease.”


Speaking of the whale which was washed ashore near the Cliff House, a usually respectable contemporary remarks: “The carcass was immediately squatted upon by those who will try to render a good account of it.” The two words in italics represent as many jokes. Ah!


The Call has the following notice: “A. E.—Apply to Dr. Henry Gibbons, Sen., 26 Montgomery street, or to any member of the California Academy of Natural Sciences.” Is “A. E.” seeking to increase his stock of scientific ignorance? If so, why seek farther than the Call?


Wiggin has been removed from the office of Inspector of Internal Revenue. The Call says it sympathizes with him. Ah! Yes, that reminds us that we do not too. We believe he is a shining light in the order of Red Men; or something of that kind. We weep.


We learn that there are a great many maidens who wish to be teachers in the Lincoln School, because thirteen female Lincolners have been caught up and married during the last five years. The proposition being true, the conclusion is certainly logical.


From the Examiner we learn that a new paper has been started in Salinas Valley, and its editor announces that it shall not dabble in politics. This is right; it should not dabble. Like the Examiner, however, it may root.


The garroters of this city are working with a zeal which defeats its own ends. Last night a pair of them choked a victim so tightly that he could not breathe his last, and is now alive to inform upon them.


It is currently reported that Dr. Scudder’s hostility to magazines arises from a misconception that an article in a late number of Putnam’s entitled “The Ass in Life and Letters” was of a personal character.


The Stockton Gazette is about the most readable of our country exchanges, and is marred by but a single fault; it indulges in a course of systematic raillery against ourselves. This is “brutle.”


The Town Crier is anxious to be told why the dailies gave a synopsis of the Rev. Dr. Scudder’s lecture under the head of “City Intelligence.” He does not see the point of this fine irony.


Business, in its gradual march southward, has already leaped across Market street.—Alta. [Leaping across streets in a gradual march is good. Come again, Alta?]


The Rev. Dr. Eells delivered a lecture last Sunday evening entitled “Influence Never Dies.” That of Dr. Eells was never born.


A man wishes to explore the sewers to find valuables. Let him explore the Board of Supervisors and he will find vegetables.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

The works of Ambrose Bierce and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism. Visit our bookstore for single-volume collections–-ideal for research, reference use or casual reading.