The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/May 15, 1869

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

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


Winklius Fugit.

 Supervisor Winkle has been granted three months leave of absence from the Board.


Winkle, Winkle, little star,                            Where the Supers of your set

How I wonder what you are                           Grove after garbage yet.

Up to, getting leave to fly,                             If with spoils you take your flight,

Like a porker from the sty                             Winkle, Winkel, you’re all right.


The Town Crier, whose unfortunate tastes have so long compelled him much against his will, to scoff and sneer at the insignificant portion of mankind outside News Letter circles, rejoices that he has finally dropped upon something that he can honestly commend, and in which he frankly admits he had no hand. The completion of the Atlantic, Pacific, Baltic, China, Portugal, Cape Horn, Dutch Flat and Universe Railway affords him an opportunity to gush—and he gushes. In the first place, he begs leave to remark that a continent has been spanned, and the East and West have been made one. This must necessarily bring about a reconstruction of the magnetic needle—a result somewhat difficult to compass. We have opened up a national highway, and have fitly celebrated the event in a higher way. With his accustomed sagacity, he predicts that our existing Eastern relations will be changed—if they attempt to come to California overland. Some of them will be changed into dead relations. He congratulates the States and Territories of the Atlantic sea-board upon the tremendous wave of immigration about to sail toward their shores, and hopes they may be able to stand it. Their narrow provincialism will necessarily disappear before this infusion of Western civilization. He remarks with considerable originality and some satisfaction that the two great seas are wedded, and as they will not live in Chicago, will not be speedily divorced. What is to be the first fruit of the marriage he does not clearly know. If another ocean, he trusts it may be put out of a foreign wet-nurse. In conclusion, it is pretty evident that we have played smash, and from current reports relative to the condition of the road, there is little cause for apprehension that the game is to be discontinued.


We have nothing against the parsons—we regard them merely with curiosity. We watch them with the same sort of interest that an entomologist feels in the habits of some singular class of insects. This, however, only when they accept the obscurity of individual insignificance; when they court the notoriety of combined and collective inanity, from merely looking on with solemn curiosity we are naturally roused into laughter. In convention assembled, they say such extraordinary things; they open up such unsuspected veins of absurdity—disclose such startling depths of emptiness; they manifest so lofty a disregard of sense, so exalted an independence of reason, so astounding an inversion of logic, so total an unconsciousness of the ludicrous, that the secular mind is involved in a labyrinth of amazement, from which it can escape only by a leap into screaming hilarity. To illustrate:–dear reader, we have no illustration. If you attended the Sunday School Convention during the present week, you need none; if you did not attend it, no one but Joe Murphy can interpret it to you.


Major Jack Stratman has returned as private a citizen as when he left us. We learn that while in Washington he became so disgusted with the tribe of office-seekers—some of whom could present no better claims than the possession of a monstrous moustache and a cranial vacuum—that he haughtily refused to accept a single one of the many lucrative positions pressed upon him. He will, for the present, confine himself to the congenial duty of selling medical almanacs and police gazettes, until such time as he shall be called upon to enter the new Mint as Ass-ayer, for which position his experience as an alchemist admirably fits him. It is said he waked yesterday morning with a full realization of the anatomico-political truth that an abnormal development of the labio-capillary appendage is wholly insufficient to work a man’s political salvation. Just so; experience is a dear school, but there is a certain numerous and respectable class of citizens who will learn in no other. Dear Eng, we sympathize with thee, boy, and hope thou’lt buy into the Carrington mine along with Chang Kohler.


The Town Crier wishes to direct the attention of the proper authorities to an infernal nuisance, viz: the existence among us of a class of creatures who take a special delight in marring his enjoyment, at every excursion, picnic and celebration. He recognizes the utility of house-flies and can find excuses for bed-bugs; the virtues of mosquitoes he frankly admits, and sees extenuating circumstances in the lives of Methodists; but that “Poets of the Day” can furnish any possible evidence that they are anything but unmitigated annoyances, he wholly denies. The Town Crier is not much given to strong language; he cultivates a mild and cheerful disposition, and is overflowing with toleration and good humor; but if there are any more of these “poems” delivered this season, he’ll be blowed if he won’t give the names of the authors!


The President of the Chamber of Commerce, in his annual report, alludes to the forthcoming report of the Earthquake Committee, and says “facts and figures may be derived therefrom that will give the basis for future legislation,” and that building, in the future, must be done “under the strong arm of the law, free from private recklessness and cupidity.” It has never been made perfectly clear that private recklessness and cupidity are much worse than official negligence and greed. Under Mr. Otis’ plan, a constant succession of earthquakes would be required to keep the “strong arm” nerved up to its work. A stomach-pump is an excellent thing to keep in the house, but to get any good out of it one must acquire a habit of swallowing poison.


A city paper complains that the street railroads interfere with the maneuvering of our gallant militia. It will require considerable argument to convince outsiders that this is an unmitigated evil. If the play-at-soldiers do not like it they have one redress—they can stay in their armories without materially decreasing the enjoyment of sensible men. As for the school girls, they can always feast their eyes upon the superb physical development of the wooden Indians at the tobacconists. These do not displays as many pleasing colors and such a variety of warlike attitude as the militia, but they are handsomer and braver. As to utility, it is a toss-up between the two—with the chances in favor of the ligneous warriors.


We believe that truth is stranger than fiction in only one respect—that it is truth. Still, it really is somewhat remarkable that a well known legal light and prominent leader in the Young Men’s Christian Association should be served each morning at his house with fresh vegetables by the former husband of his own wife. It is a thing which happens in the experience of few men. It is, of course, perfectly proper—but singular, and would make an excellent foundation for a novel of the Miss Braddon kind. However, our only object in alluding to it is to show that we know it. We do dearly love to tattle.


The Eight-hour Leagues of this city declined to participate in the Pacific Railroad celebration last Saturday, upon the flimsy pretext that a great part of the members belonged to other societies who would march in the procession. General Winn says this is to be regretted. We do not see wherefore. To participate in the celebration could not possibly have done the Eight-hour men any good, and would have been seriously disgraceful to the occasion. General Winn has our gracious permission to hold his factory-burners aloof from all demonstrations of this kind, and to hang back himself. If he can hang back of the county jail, so much the better.


There is a story afloat that Senator Wilson, of Massachusetts, called casually on the Attorney General, and Hoar told him that he had read to Pixley the latter’s own testimony in the Lang case, where the witness Stanley was tampered with and told Pixley that such a record as that would disgrace any lawyer in Massachusetts. “Oh!” said Pixley, with charming nonchalance, “all lawyers do those thing in California.” This testimony as to the purity of the bar in California rather astounded the amiable officer.—Cor. Sac. Union. [Bah! they have yet several things to learn at Washington. Frank Pixley can teach the oldest rogue of them all.]


The Herald has a short biography of our new Russian Prima Donna, by one who “knows her well,” Horatio. No doubt of it. It seems she is nobly descended, and was at one time a Lady of Honor. We trust she is so still. Also, upon at least one occasion, she went to Rome with a Grand Duchess—whether with her of Gerolstein or no, is immaterial. By all means give her a show. Imagine the delight of hearing the beautiful aria of plopfskoff kizwitch okx Kapph fskniakokrgnoff Huttschuu, rippling in liquid harmony from lips that have closed upon the cold victuals of a Grand Duchess!


A writer in the Call thus protests against the interruption of a picnic at Sauselito by some Fenian toy soldiers: “As this unlooked-for prohibitory regulation of exclusiveness engendered an unpleasantness evidently manifested at Sauselito yesterday, I would respectfully suggest the desirableness of a better understanding between the Company’s agent and the management of future picnics, so that the rights of all interested may be properly defined and adjusted.” We don’t wonder that this man was excluded from the grounds; he must have polysyllabic murder in his eye.


The Bulletin is apprehensive that the community may in time forget that the completion of the Pacific Railroad was of such importance as to justify its three columns of telegraphic report. Hardly. The public may form too low an estimate of the magnitude of the event, but there is little danger of its forming a very high one of the value of the Bulletin’s space.


During the celebration exercises at the Pavilion we observed the following motto suspended from the gallery: “The Public School Teachers of California: The Pioneer Developers of the California Mind.” As these teachers are mostly old maids, we fail to see how they are the pioneer developers. They may teach the young idea how to shoot, but they don’t teach it to shoot.


We rather think Mr. Denny has distinguished himself as an artist. As early as last Wednesday, an oil painting by him, representing the scene of the “laying of the last rail,” was exhibited in this city. As his subject was a railroad, it was proper that he should “do” it at railroad speed. Landscapes executed at fifteen minutes’ notice. Studio, in the saddle.


The Mariners’ Church, at the corner of Drumm and Davis streets, has its pulpit constructed in the form of the quarter-deck of a ship, to give the weight of authority to the parson’s precepts. A very nice arrangement; but we think the wooden-head of a shop ought to hang out under the bowsprit.


The Bulletin, describing a painting by a local artist, has the following gem of art criticism: “Nothing could be finer in its way than the red boiled lobster, and especially the lustrous and moist looking sardines, which are arranged with capital effect.” Did Mark Twain ever say a better thing?


In the Sunday School Convention last Wednesday, the Rev. O. C. Wheeler said he knew “ a praying man—a scholar and an editor—who was so ignorant of the Bible as to astonish him”—Wheeler. Of Course he referred to Dr. Eells, but that is no excuse for the discourtesy.


The revenue officers are, as a class, worse than legislators, city councils or army contractors. It is scarcely possible to say more than that.—Alta. [Easiest thing in the world: they are more corrupt than the Alta. This is saying more, but at the sacrifice of truth.]


Reverend Ames lectured to the Oaklandites upon Good Society. The good people express themselves highly gratified at hearing about a subject hitherto unknown to and unsuspected. They mean to have some of it if it can be purchased by vaporizing.


An interior paper says: “The body of John E. Taylor, who has been missing for several weeks, was yesterday discovered in a mill race, and identified by his relatives as that of Frank Dwyer.” Will someone estimate the probable politics of that paper?


In his address at the opening of the Sunday School Convention, Dr. Eells stated that “through the rags in which a poor child is clothed the Christian can see the image of God.” Just so; but the “image” is usually very dirty, and smells.


“Observer” writes to ask us if it is polite for a lady in his company to look all round a theater, and when upon the street, to keep staring behind her. Being an “observer” himself, how can he consistently object to the lady’s taking notes, also?


A contemporary suggests enforcing the law for the registration of births. Nonsense! Aside from the inherent absurdity of complying with a municipal law the thing would be exceedingly annoying to a great many worthy newly married people.


The Chico Good Templars declare they will support no drinking man at the ensuing election.—Ex. [The Chico Good Templars be blowed; we suppose there are hitching-posts enough in their burg to support their inebriate candidates.]


The Times, in commending the wonderful modesty of Dr. Wadsworth, who has just published a hundred of his sermons, says he shrinks from the public gaze. Our own impression is that the Doctor has been “doing something.”


On dit—That ‘Zeke Vreeland will have to fix up that little affair at the Mint. On dit. That he can’t fix it up. On dit—That he can’t take his office until he does fix it up. On dit—That he is “bedder midoud it.”


Mr. George F. Parsons of the Times, arrived in this city from the junction of the Pacific Railroad, at nine o’clock last evening.—Times [What! has the Times no regard for the impersonality of the press?]


Vice-President Colfax telegraphs that we are united to the East “by ties that can never by destroyed.” Dunno; green cotton-wood is not altogether indestructible, Schuyler.


The Rev. Dr. Briggs asserts that there have been no new objections to Christianity since the days of Celsus. The Rev. Doctor seems to forget his own existence.


The theatrical “critic” of the Times complains of the peculiar “hardness” of Mr. Barrett’s style. It is not half so offensive as the peculiar softness of his own.


A soldier at Yerba Buena Island has invented a milk-skimmer. The invention was suggested by looking at his milk-sop Captain and skim-milk Lieutenant.


Some lunatics of the Tenth Ward have organized a Hickory Democratic Club. With singular inconsistency, they elected a bass-wood President.

(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.