The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/May 22, 1869

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

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


It is a mistake to speak of she devils as myths. They do exist, and are blacker than they are painted. The she devil differs from the male of her species in several important particulars. She is neither quarrelsome, nor by education cantankerous. She is a soft-voice, mild-eyed young woman, who wouldn’t hurt a fly. She never raised a row in her life, and is so silent and velvet-footed that you are made aware of her presence only by a creeping of cold chills up the back, and an instinctive loathing at the heart. She haunts ladies’ fairs and strawberry festivals. She fastens her eye upon you—and there you are. There is no escape, except through the gate of rudeness. The she devil goes through you like a cathartic, and leaves you as limp and uninteresting as a despoiled sausage-case. She sticks a ticket under your nose and you buy it. To decline is death. You know that you are robbed, and feel like crying murder. You do not, because the she devil offers you a tin card-basket, which you buy. You grin and turn to leave; she takes your arm and in ten minutes has systematically plundered you of every cent. The she devil then invites you to call at her house. You know then that he has some tickets for somebody’s benefit, which she has forgotten to bring, and you don’t go. So she hunts you at your office, and you take them. You continue taking them during the season. We know a man who in one summer was ruined in his business by a single she devil, and she is at him yet. There is but one way to get rid of her, and that is to deliberately insult her. There is no danger in applying this remedy, for her male relatives all belong to the Young Man’s Christian Association.


Some weeks ago we flew at the Alta, and lacerated her venerable face with our indignant nails, for endeavoring to discourage the raising of wheat. We supposed that would do for her, but she has no sooner picked up her parcels, arranged her wig and adjusted her poke bonnet, than she begins mumbling cautiously the same stupid heresy. Hear her: “Wheat is a desirable article for home consumption, but when we undertake to grow it for exportation on a large scale, we show that the fertility of our soil is being exhausted, and that our industry has not yet reached the basis of high and permanent profits.” Great Scott! Shall we then stop raising wheat lest our soil become exhausted? Shall we likewise refuse to raise anything for exportation, for the same reason? One cannot but admire Granny’s pluck in endeavoring to make an exclusively manufacturing nation of the United States—and her scheme has no less breadth—but heavens above! What depth of ignorance—what a loftiness of conceit! It only remains now for her to come out squarely in favor of a protective tariff upon everything, including editorial brains. If she used that article she doubtless would.


On last Sunday, Fossil Wadsworth driveled a dedication absurdity at that ridiculous new architectural horror, the Calvary Church, upon every pinnacle of which the eye of imagination can see a wriggling Presbyterian, flung out of heaven and skewered there for the diversion of hosts of heavenly entomologists. The reverend buffoon had the remarkable modesty to institute a comparison between his spinous abortion and the Temple of Solomon, and between himself and the high Priest. He is about the highest old priest of which we have any account. By the way, the New York Round Table, in reviewing the Doctor’s recently published look of sermons, says: “His discourses are not dry husks, impossible to digest, but tender, fresh corn, grateful to the palate and easy of chymification.” Exactly; and the animals to whom tender fresh corn is grateful to the palate doubtless find them extremely satisfying, and the reverend swineherd has, doubtless, a good going of it. Anyhow, he thrives, and grows pecuniarily plethoric upon the profits of about the slenderest intellectual investment that even a Presbyterian concern will consent to put upon its books.


We learn that at the new Calvary Church a somewhat novel plan has been adopted in taking up collections. The sexton presents his plate to each worshiper with great deliberation, and when the coin is deposited takes it gravely up, rings it, bites it, and if it proves good, puts it in a bag suspended from his neck. He then makes a telegraphic signal to the pastor in the pulpit, indicating the value of the donation. If it is two bits, the pastor says aloud, “Thank God!”—if four, he says, “Lord, we thank Thee!”—if six, “Praise God from whom all blessings flow!”—and if a dollar be cast in, he rises and kicks over his spittoon. For all sums over a dollar, he throws up his Bible and catches it on his elbow. Ten cent pieces and White Pine stock are not formally acknowledged, and brass buttons and faro checks are returned to the donor. The advantages of this plan must be apparent to the dullest understanding. It is the first step toward Ritualism that has been made by the Presbyterian mind in California, and is by no means a hollow and meaningless ceremony.


The Academy of Science want a new building. At their last meeting, Gregory Yale said the members represented some three millions of property, and he was of the opinion that three hundred thousand dollars might be got out of them. We think so, too, but in case these wealthy honorary members should feel disinclined to contribute one-tenth of their possessions to facilitate the dissection of snails and beetles, and the preservation of sea-weed, we suggest that a few more and more generous bankers, brokers, real estate men, and merchants be taken in, and requested to pungle. Mike Reese would make an excellent member, and would be only too happy to come down. We could mention a number who are anxious to pay from ten thousand to fifty thousand dollars each for the honor of seeing their names on the list of Natural Fossils.


The financial genius of the Herald says: “The local money market is not cramped, although speculators find some difficulty in obtaining funds for their operations. Legitimate business, offering good collaterals, is readily accommodated at one and a fourth per cent per month.” We are pleased to learn that moneylenders are becoming such conservators of legitimate business principles as to make distinction between the purposes of borrowers when there is none between the securities offered. Let the future Shylock be represented as making careful inquiry into the nature of the coming Antonio’s venture, before accepting the carnal collateral.


An effort is making to secure the pardon of Eugene Tucker, who is at San Quentin for killing the French harlot Celine Bouclet about two years since. If the effort is unsuccessful we trust he may at least be reprieved long enough to kill another. Our pardoned convicts usually commit their second offense within a month or two after leaving prison, and a short leave of absence would answer every purpose, and save the state the expense of a second trial. Besides, a term of seven years for one woman is rather steep in California, where such women are plenty and Eugene Tuckers are scarce.


A well known Front Street merchant was last Monday bewailing the loss of his wife, whose removal to Lone Mountain, it was well understood, had given him the only peace he had known for years, when an equally well known friend, a stockbroker, put in his oar of consolation with the trite remark that “tears would not bring her back.” Thinking to rebuke him, the bereaved got off the other platitude. “That is why I weep.” “Ah,” rejoined the incorrigible consoler, a little piqued at his prompt rejection of his conventional sympathy, “your grief is both natural and—safe.”


It is said that Du Chaillu, the celebrated gorilla hunter, intends visiting and lecturing in this city during the coming summer. If George Francis Train can be prevailed upon to remain among us, Monsieur Du C. may spare himself the trouble bringing along his gorilla to illustrate his remarks. We are likely to become pretty thoroughly acquainted with the nature and antics of the animal within the next three months.


We believe we have heretofore neglected to notice the fact that our old friend Father Eagan has again resumed the pastorate of St. James’ Church. Such is the melancholy fact. How the thing has come to pass we do not clearly know, but with the natural suspicion of a guileless nature we imagine the existence of an Eagan Ring, with the power of which Bishop Kipp dares not trifle. We imagine said ring to consist of numerous decent matrons and comely damsels, who have sworn to have their beloved pastor or have blood. We can easily understand the straits to which the worthy Bishop is driven; we can sympathize with him in his defeat. We have ourselves been an underdog in the fight. As the reverend Father seems to be again saddled upon us, we shall submit with such grace as we may; but we insist upon our inherent right, when he burns with more than the ordinary holy ardor, to damp him down.


Late advices from China state that Christians are subjected to abuse. The Call ironically terms this “Chinese reciprocity.” We should like to know what would be more reciprocal. The difference between the action of the Chinese and our own is that they abuse us by posting up placards while we satirize them by knocking them over the head and setting dogs upon them. Their ridicule is the more delicate, but ours is the more effective. We rather think we can stand the placards as long as our brick-bats hold out and our bull-dogs hold on.


We have received from an esteemed correspondent a rather long criticism of a local artist. Having carefully examined the picture ourselves, we do not agree with our correspondent in any particular. Also, we personally know the artist, and we cannot do an injustice to a friend. If it were anyone else we should cheerfully indorse anything that might be said against his picture, but really there are certain distinctions to be observed in these matters. We cannot discourage art by harshly criticizing the work of a regular subscriber.


George Francis Train says the Call is published in the interest of England. We congratulate the Call upon having so thoroughly respectable a patron as the British government, and we congratulate the British government upon having so able an organ as the Call. We likewise congratulate the Call upon having so ridiculous a detractor as that wild ass, George Francis Train, aided and abetted by so stupid a one as that lop-eared young mule of the Barnacle.


The following is a mining item from Calaveras county: “Work is progressing favorably upon the Petticoat. They are making a hole in it as fast as possible. Petticoat is going up.” Now, if the garment is going up, why this haste—but we will not pursue what our contemporary seems to have considered a good joke.


A correspondent, who should have applied to the Call, would like to know the exact meaning of “benediction.” He can easily ascertain by attending church next Sunday; though, if he puts nothing in the plate, it will have no personal application to himself. If he won’t go let him look in a benedictionary.


A contemporary says that the article “cubebs” is among the things furnished to members of Congress out of the Contingent Fund. What the loose do members of Congress want with cubebs? What are cubebs; and if so how many? Why not have an Astringent Fund?—and other questions.


The Rev. Dr. Eells will submit to the Presbytery of California the decision of the question whether he shall go to Oakland for six thousand a year, or remain with his church on Stockton street.—Exchange. [Useless delay; he can go, and News Letter will pay his passage and supply his place.]


Barnacle Bennett has been appointed Pension Agent. Thank God, we are not a pensioner. We have, therefore no right to complain. We had, however, a bull-pup who lost a leg in the war, and he died upon receipt of the intelligence. Poor pup-poor Bennett!


A city daily, noticing a silk flag, says it is probably the finest of the kind in America. The usual remarks illustrative of California’s superiority to the rest of the universe, in all other particulars, would have been in order.


The Sacramento Record says it honors alike labor and the laborer. So do we; we honor the former too much to attempt any familiarity with it, and the latter because he seems to be on intimate terms with the former.


At the celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Industrial School, speeches were made by Messrs. Deeth, Crockett and Swett. One of the boys then recited “The Three Black Crows.” Facetious youth!


There has been no instance in our history in which, where the nation demanded a man, the man was not forthcoming.—Cor. Alta. [We should dearly love to know who demanded you.]


Granny Alta, like Granny Partington, has a knack of coining new words. The last dropping from her mint is “pre-emptioner.” The Alta has a philological innovationer for its editoner.


“A Parent” would like to know if “Young’s Night Thoughts” are proper for girls. We should be equally pleased to know if girls’ night thoughts are proper for anybody.


The public confidence in Grant is not so lightly shaken as the Democratic press would fain have us believe.—Times. [That is so; the shaking has been anything but a light one.]


A Chicago paper calls churches “preaching rinks.” There is one in this city which might better be termed a velocipede rink, and the Rev. Henry M. Scudder is Professor thereof.


The Call thinks the Young Mens’ Christian Association is an inutility. Ridiculous; it furnishes the Call with suggestions for editorials, and the Town Crier with material for jokes.


In his lecture last Sunday evening, Dr. Scudder announced the startling truth that leeches do not fatten upon a corpse. They frequently fatten upon a church.


Persons finding police officers’ stars lying in the gutters are requested to leave them at the City Hall. Some care is necessary in removing the officers from them.


By all means let the Mint be built in Sacramento. It is the proper place. Who seconds the motion?—Sac. Record. [Nobody, so far as heard from. Why?]


Parepa Rosa is working like a beaver again.—Call. [This is a mistake. The occupation of a beaver is damming; that of Parepa Rosa is being damned.]


Last Saturday a man named Christopher Fallon fell in a fit in Montgomery Block. “Fallon, Fallon, Fallon, from his high estate!”


Why would Dr. Ayer be a good officer in the Branch Mint? We do not know, but an Ass-Ayer is quite essential to that establishment.


An Indiana couple, divorced less than a month ago, have remarried. Since the above was in type they have been again divorced.


The Alta, speaking of a defunct journal, says: “It died with a lie in its right hand.” How about Sir Boyle Roche, Alta?

(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.