The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/April 24, 1869

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

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

The following precepts are calculated for the meridian of California, but may be applied in Oakland, making due allowance for ethnological differences: Cultivate an equable temper; never allow yourself to drop too suddenly into good humor. Many a man has died with a smile upon his lips. Eat regularly, and as nearly all the time as possible. When you can think of nothing else to do—eat. Retire at regular hours and go to sleep at once, without any preliminary fooling. Don’t attempt to sing your morning prayer to the tune of “Widow Machree”; it is disrespectful. Avoid labor when you are fatigued, and get fatigued as easily as possible. Smoke not exceeding a dozen cigars before breakfast; the thirteenth always leaves a bad taste in the mouth, and if you live at a boarding-house, the coffee will seem nasty. You will soon learn that the cigars in the boxes of the other lodgers are infinitely superior to your own. Don’t mix your whisky with kerosene oil; it is not good for to take. If you will attend church three times on Sunday, you may go as often during the week as you feel like it, without seriously interfering with your business. If you feel a call to preach, make careful inquiry as to whether any one feels a call to hear you. If not, preach anyhow. Be a Christian whenever you are not making a bargain, or making your goods, or advertising, or stealing in some way. Finally, be—“blowed”!


A prolonged wail goeth up from the Branch Mint. The ax hath fallen upon the block, and many be the heads that roll therefrom; yea, three heads of exceeding comeliness, around which clustered the curls of innocence, and upon whose brows sat loyalty enthroned, even as the jackass rabbit sitteth upon a stone. And the Assayer, and the Coiner, and the Melter and Refiner do lift up their voices, and the sound thereof filleth all the high places. And the morrow’s light shall fall upon a new Assayer, and a new Coiner, and a new Melter and Refiner. The Rev. B. T. Martin shall lengthen in face as he gathereth his hymn-books about him and departeth across the bay to his sorrowful flock, to make way for the joyful Munson. Likewise shall the haughty crest of Eckfeldt droop as the intelligent countenance of Cochran beameth in upon him from the door. Schmolz shall gnash his unavailing teeth as Harmstead asketh him to pass over those little books. Truly the devil clamoreth for compensation and the pitch declineth to boil. What shall it profit a man if he gain a whole election and lost his own head?


There is a sturdy young man about town who hath recently taken unto himself a third wife, and who is, perchance, a local policeman, who, if he keeps up his present gait of littleness, will drop into a large-sized notoriety. We have examined our code of morals, and find that when a man takes a third wife he should relinquish all attempts to extort money from the second; and we find further that the laws relating to divorce in this state sustain this view. Furthermore, Messrs. Drake & Rix know this quite as well as we. We have our intelligent eye upon this guardian of the peace, and would whisper in his ear this our friendly advice: When a divorce is granted a woman upon the ground of extreme cruelty (and something more), the decree does not necessarily confer upon the husband an interest in the woman’s property, unless it is so stated therein. She who dances must pay the piper, but in this case the lady does not dance. The reader will please give this matter his close attention, and, if he fail to understand it, may reasonably conclude that it refers to someone else.


The Rev. Dr. Velocipede Scudder announces that he does not believe in a literal hell-fire. We do; and are impelled thereto by the necessity of providing for the future of the Reverend Doctor. There must be a material hell so long as there is a material Scudder. The Town Crier has one Christian hope to buoy up his gentle soul in this life: it is that he may one day nestle snugly in Abraham’s bosom, and return a perpetual negative to the eternal supplication of the Doctor for a drop of water to cool his parched and no longer garrulous tongue; and he regards any attempt to deprive him of this only “consolation of religion” as at once dastardly and inhuman.


The Herald o’ Freedom has been in existence just three months today, and during that time, scarce a day has passed that it has not been assailed by the other city papers, with a concupiscence, a propinquity and a collateral and persnickative consanguinity that is cantankerously cataplasmical. Our readers will remember that, except on seventy-two occasions, we have uniformly declined to notice these sarcophagi, and have treated the whole indigenous brood of extraditional indigestible, with all their eleemosynary miscegenativeness and octagonal heterogeneity with contumelious incompatibility.—Herald o’ Freedom.


Nine out of ten of the reports of casualties conclude thus: “The unfortunate man’s injuries were attended to by Dr. Murphy.” Now, who is Dr. Murphy? How comes he always on hand? Is he singly ubiquitous, or is he patronymically numerous? We suspect he is kind of John Doe, tacitly accepted by all reporters as a convenient cloak for their ignorance. At all events, we are pretty sure to hear of him tomorrow in attendance upon the regular diurnal installment of feeble old women, ground to an impalpable powder by the Howard streetcars.


At the meeting of the Teachers’ Institute last Monday evening, one Marks, an enemy of his race, consumed several hours of the time by reading an essay upon Woman’s Rights, intended as a reply to the really clever little effort of Miss Manning upon the same subject some weeks before. At the conclusion of this there was no time for the “Remarks by Dr. Lucky” and the “Address by Mr. Denman.” An affliction which relieves us from a dire distress may be patently endured.


Mr. Pickering, of the Bulletin, may be readily known by the falsehood which the Herald says it branded on his forehead, and which, it informs us, “blisters there to this hour” (seven o’clock last Monday morning). We presume it blisters there still, unless the late rains have washed it away. Pity the callous sinner is not sensible of his misery.


The driver of an express wagon having run over a child, declined to stop and pick it up. He was overtaken by a policeman, who, but for the interference of the bystanders, would have given him a severe thrashing. We have a certain respect for that officer, which is, however, not sufficient to go round. The remainder of the force need not apply.


Last Sunday evening, while the Rev. Dr. Lucky was delivering a lecture before the Temperance Legion, there was an alarm of earthquake—unhappily without foundation. Upon this shallow pretext most of the audience slipped out and went home. The Doctor, however, finished his discourse to auditors less lucky than himself.


Mr. McNabb, of this city, is under arrest for a murderous assault upon a supervisor of San Mateo county. The act cannot be too strongly condemned. San Franciscans, when visiting the rural districts, are not permitted to treat the supervisors of other counties in a manner which would be perfectly justifiable at home.


The dailies have begun to sing their hosannas that the city is no longer afflicted with a scourge; the small-pox has disappeared. Softly there, friends, the Board of Supervisors have resumed their sittings.


The public will, we trust, bear with us a few moments while we gibbet a scoundrel.—Herald. [As long as you like, neighbor; we enjoy suicides.]


The commercial editor of the Herald estimates that the farmers have lost $3,000,000 by the crazy prophesies of the Union on the subject of a dry winter, and attributes the blame to a “meteorological pundit” at Sacramento. The blame lies with a demented citizen of San Francisco, who corresponded with the Union, and whom “Young Anthony” has not yet found out. The fellow who fired the Ephesian dome became immortal, and why should not also our grain phenomenon?


“Sarcastic” is informed that we do not consider him at all witty, and shall not publish his “strictures” upon the proprietors of the Barnacle. We prefer to let the law take its course in this as in every other instance where these gentlemen are concerned. Our correspondent’s remarks are barbarous, inhuman, libelous, disgusting and—true. They are unfit for publication, and therefore cannot appear until next week.


One McKnight, of New York, has been swindling that politico-charitable machine yclept Grand Army of the Republic, by appealing to their generosity. We should like to see him come that kind of game over the San Francisco branch. So far as we have observed, all appeals to that sentiment have failed in this latitude.


A city daily suggests that United States senators be elected for eight years, and favors a law preventing their serving a second term. “Let senators know that they have only eight years to serve, and they will be apt to try and make a clean record.” Exactly, a nice, clean, healthy financial record at their bankers.


The magnetic arrangements for swapping lies with White Pine have been completed. Very appropriately the season was inaugurated by Fitz-Smythe, who neatly terms himself, “Dwellers amid the Clouds.” Considering the protean nature of the animal, his assumption of a plural title is not inapt.


Patrick Donaho has a habit of stealing everything he can lay his hands on, and then falling upon his knees and praying. He has been declared insane and sent to Stockton. The various religious societies of the city are making strong efforts to have the decision reversed. It comes too near home.


The Grand Army of the Republic announce that the new soldiers’ cemetery is not for their exclusive use, but any soldier may be buried there who likes the locality. This is kind, but we think a mistake. The cemetery should be filled by members of the Grand Army, solely—and speedily.


At the last meeting of the Academy of Sciences, the president, Professor Blake, said he thought hydrogen ought to be classed as a metal, because it will lengthen wire by absorption. Will the learned professor enlighten a curious public as to its effect upon the brass in a scientific cheek!


A correspondent writes to a city paper asking if there be such a crime known to our laws as “compounding a felony.” There is, but there is a still more heinous one, known as pounding a felon. Several persons have recently been convicted of it, under the name of “assaulting an officer.”


About a year ago, a shrewd business man of this city gave it as his matured opinion that grain exporters from San Francisco would lose money during the then ensuing year.”—Bulletin. [That is our opinion also. Gigantic intellects ours, also Bulletin’s.]


It gives us pleasure to chronicle an instance of commendable enterprise upon the part of the Alta. That paper now describes all the details of new vessels several months before they arrive in port. Bulletin and Times stand aghast, and chop-fallen.


When everything which appears in the columns of a journal is subjected to the censorship of an autocrat, journalism must inevitably sink into common place staleness and inane puerility.—Call. [This is true, but unkind to the autocrat of the Alta.]


Messrs. Scott & Co., in a communication to the Alta, say: “Unjust innuendoes, unfair inferences, false suggestions and lying statements are not in keeping with the nineteenth century.” We should be pleased to learn what are more so.


A city contemporary complains that none of our ministers ever preach the gospel to the inmates of the Alms House. Why can’t a meddlesome press leave these poor creatures in the enjoyment of their only immunity from evil?


The counter-jumpers have had to back down on closing the shops at seven o’clock, and are now making superhuman but ineffectual efforts to shut them up at eight. Gentlemen tape-worms, your demands are increasing—in modesty.


The Bulletin furnishes the astonishing intelligence that Lime Point gets its name from the rocks thereabout being covered with bird lime. Somebody must have gone into the business of trapping sea-gulls rather extensively.


A juggler performed some amusing tricks in the Police Court last Tuesday. The only circumstance that renders this incident in any way remarkable, is the fact that the juggler on this occasion did not occupy the bench.


Robert Inches has brought suit against eighteen hundred of our citizens to get possession of about half the city. This suggests the inquiry: How many Inches go to make up the stature of a full-grown fool?


The Supreme Court has decided that a tax upon lawyers is constitutional. Persons who contemplate contesting the dog-tax can now spare themselves the trouble; the decision is unfavorable.


The Herald has turned earthquake-architect, and advises in the construction of buildings that the principal weight be placed at the base. That is where it lies in the editor of the Herald.


A reporter winds up an account of a noisy female, with the remark, that he “felt like choking a little sense into her.” Owing to the difficulty of procuring the sense, he refrained.


The Call meagerly informs us that Charles Carvalho, Chinese interpreter, “has been confined several months.” He is now doing as well as could be expected.


A member of the Independent Order of Red Men committed suicide by blowing his brains out. We would have bet that no member of the Order could do it.


A scheme for widening Dupont street is on foot. By all means let it be widened—on both sides. Doll Tearsheet would kick against it, also the Barnacle.


Ned Buntline lectured on temperance at Gold Hill. This is right; after the tragedy should come the screaming farce.


The Alta calls a new ditch-digging machine, “a step in the march of agricultural advancement,” and hails it. Charming!


The recent fire at San Antonio has been definitely ascertained to have been the work of an incendiary document.


We notice the organization of an Independent Order of White Men. We have never seen one.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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