The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/May 29, 1869

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

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

 Go ye out into the slums of the city and find us a dirty blackguard, and we shall wash his face and make him a first-class local policeman. We shall trick him out with a tin star, stick a pistol in his pocket, a club in his sleeve and a cigar in his mouth, and lo! you have a Guardian of the Peace. He shall eye you insultingly as you pass, and make himself a nuisance to modest women and young girls. He shall rejoice in all beastliness. When you pay him his monthly dues for protecting your property, you shall have the soothing consciousness that you are encouraging vice by rewarding idleness—that you are promoting burglary, and arson, and midnight theft, and all naughtiness, by sustaining a system upon which they fatten and grow bold—that you are bilked. The local policeman is of all created things the most useless. He is a moral hybrid, barren of good. His only claim upon society is a fraudulent one, and each and every recognition of it is a surrender of principle. The only excuse we can offer for his existence is that we are, as a community, too niggardly to pay an efficient regular police, and are therefore obliged to submit to be despoiled of twice the amount by these irresponsible drones, who spend their time in bawdy houses, leaving our property to take care of itself. They are no more to blame for being worthless than they are for having legs and arms. They are the legitimate product of a stupid system. These are the opinions of the Town Crier, who has studied the rascals day and night, summer and winter, in all disreputable places.


A native Californian, supposed to be about ninety years old, was picked up on a road leading to Los Angeles lately. If it could only be made to appear that that venerable relic was not a Californian, but came round the Horn in ’49, his future could be provided for by packing him nicely in sawdust and sending him up here. A premium is offered for genuine Pioneers, in the original packages, and if old persons are so plenty in Los Angeles as to be picked up along the highways, some enterprising company might make a good thing of it by gathering them up, whitewashing them, and forwarding them to this market. They could easily be taught to mumble the proper Pioneerian jargon to get their claims recognized. The mysteries of Sutter’s Mill, and how the water came up to Montgomery Sstreet, could be taught them in fifteen minutes, and they would make just as good Pioneers as the best of us. The Society has tried to pass off a good many old fellows lately, as veritable ’49ers, but as these have been in most cases well-known citizens who came over by the Pacific Railroad—old residenters not being anxious for the honor—the fraud has usually been detected. With native Californians from Los Angeles the case would be different and the thing easily managed.


The Bulletin suggests founding an institution to be called Home for Consumptives—with a big H and a big C. Our benevolent neighbor is rather of the opinion that such a charity would be a paying one in the end, as it would induce an immigration of the class to be benefited—what may be termed an irruption of hollow-chested enterprise. The idea is not a bad one; our population is sadly deficient in the consumptive element, but the Bulletin does not go far enough. There are, at the Hawaiian Islands, several hundred lepers, who might be easily secured to our state if proper lazar-house inducements were offered them. Doubtless if our pest-house were properly enlarged and rejuvenated a considerable small-pox immigration would set toward our shores from less favored localities. In treating this consumptive question, however, it must be considered in its politico-economical aspect. Our contemporary seems to have overlooked the familiar fact that, to a very considerable degree, the amount of consumption in any community depends upon the amount of production; and so insignificant a production as the article in the Bulletin can have very little effect indeed.


A member of the Haight Light Cavalry accidentally shot himself while the company was upon an excursion to Sauselito. We have heretofore alluded to the danger to life and limb resulting from the use of fire-arms by the militia, but our warnings have not been heeded by the authorities. Whole companies may be seen almost daily upon our streets, nearly every member of them carrying some sort of weapon. Why the militia are so peculiarly addicted to this dangerous practice we have never been able to ascertain, and why they are permitted by the police to endanger their lives in equally inexplicable. The hypothesis that it is because their lives are of no account we regard as untenable. Many of them are really good citizens in all other respects than this morbid desire to carry weapons, and if that could be checked by appropriate legislation, we trust that the next legislature will see to it that fire-arms be no longer tolerated in the possession of the very class to whom they are least essential, and in whose hands they are most likely to be productive of accidents.


The other evening, at the banquet of the British Benevolent Society, a young clerk, named T—, being somewhat in wine, took it into his head to be brilliant, and, after the manner of brilliant men, made himself excessively disagreeable by his impertinence. Presently, a quiet-looking gentleman sitting on the opposite side of the table and several seats removed, and whom we regret that we do not know, caught our joker’s eye, and said to him, with a slight inclination of the head: “Sir, can you reach that plate of cheese?” Smarty ostentatiously laid aside his napkin, raised his dapper person from his chair and stretched himself to his full extent, barely touching the plate with the tip of his finger. He then resumed his seat, replying with a smirk: “Yes, sir, with considerable difficulty I can.” “Ah,” quietly rejoined the other, with a bit of cheese in his fingers, “I have lost. I bet a cigar with the gentleman upon my left that you couldn’t do it.” Smarty soon after changed his seat.


Three weeks ago, the streets presented a dreary panorama of somber garments and sad-colored stuffs. The birds are now putting on their spring plumage; and—to our content—we remark that the colors are bright. The ornamental sex is discharging the function of its existence; and the appearance of the sidewalks is as that of a garden of bright flowers. High-colored cheeks appear to be going out and pales coming in. Heels are worn in the middle of the foot as heretofore. Corns—particularly soft varieties—are in favor. We men, too, evince a disposition to bloom forth in velvets; trousers are as the tulips of the field. Gloves are carried in the hand—canes under the arm. Let us rejoice that we are all become beautiful again, and that we remain pure and innocent—as before.


If it was right for King David, the man after God’s own heart, to “dance with all his might before the Lord,” it cannot but be right for us to follow his example, and rejoice and be exceeding glad in our day and generation.—Cor. Call [Even so; and if it was right for the same venerable scoundrel to get Uriah the Hittite killed off that he might marry his wife, and to commit a thousand other rascalities, we suppose it cannot but be right for us to follow those examples also. Anyhow, most of us find them very much in our line. Whenever we hear about David kicking up his heels before the Lord, we always feel that had we stood in the Almighty boots we should have made the merry villain introduce a few steps taught at no other establishment on that coast.


We observe with pleasure that our friend Supervisor Nunan has been appointed by the Board upon a committee to arrange for the proper celebration of the Fourth of July. This committee is authorized to expend as much money for fireworks as is allowed by law. We think we could have better spared a better man for this duty, but there is little reason to apprehend that the authorized amount will not be fully spent. Mr. Nunan has had some experience in pyrotechnics. He has gone up like a rocket, and if the Grand Jury had done its duty, would have come down like a stick. The question now is, will he come down with that money?


A correspondent of a city contemporary wishes to know the exact difference between a Democrat and Republican. A Democrat is a progressive individual, who believes in regenerating the National Government by inaugurating a system of wholesale plunder in place of the policy which now obtains. A Republican is a conservative person, who favors leaving matters as they are. Of the two policies, that of the Democrat is the safer and the more economical, but that of the Republican is the more practicable at present.


A singular body of men exhibited themselves on the street last Thursday. They wore a coat of green with an enormous breast plate-shaped blotch of yellow down the front—looking as though egg or some other yellow substance had been spilled over it. The trousers were, we think, red—the caps, pale blue. The men went through evolutions reminding us of the drill of soldiers. It was stated that they were a militia body of our Irish fellow-citizens, but we do not credit the report.


A new school for Chinese children has been opened by some of our public spirited citizens. Will some of our public-spirited Chinese open a school for American children? Considered as either a reciprocatory or retaliatory measure, the plan would be a good one. The difficulty would be to induce our little white heathens to attend, and to abstain from shying brickbats at the heads of the Mongolian professors when they should be learning the principles of Christian morality from the pages of Confucius.


Senor Godoy, Consul of Mexico, has requested his countrymen to contribute some of their home products to the next annual exhibition of the Mechanics Institute. About the most characteristic things they could send along would be the bodies of a few hundred citizens, with their throats and purses neatly cut in the industrial Mexican way. A few models of burning homes, ravished women and starving children, would also give us a lively and correct idea of Mexican enterprise.


The following is a little rough on our friend Canavan, but is too good not to tell. Standing last Monday on the corner of California and Montgomery streets, we overheard a man say to his friend: “Do you know who that is? That’s George Francis Train!” “O, is it?” said number two, and went away quite pleased, after a careful scrutiny of the wholesome supervisor.


A youthful correspondent would like to know the meaning of Mr. George Francis Train’s motto: “Civis Americanus Sum.” Sum is Latin, meaning “I am;” Americanus is Hog Latin, meaning “American;” Civis is a corruption of the French civette, the sweet odor of certain beasts, and the Latin felis, “a cat”—“civet-cat.” The whole motto, therefore, means, “I am an American skunk.”


The following item is among the expenditure authorized by the Board of Supervisors at their last meeting: “Thirty-three dollars, in payment to Wm. Walford, for property stolen while in the possession of the police.” The Town Crier does not see that he needs add anything of his own to his bald statement; it is good as it stands. Fine old wit, that of the Board!


A contemporary says the hatchet with which George Washington hacked the cherry-tree has been discovered, and thinks if the lie he couldn’t tell his father were found it would be an interesting relic. So it would, but a lie that Georgie Train couldn’t—and wouldn’t—tell would be a much rarer curiosity. But the devil himself couldn’t find it.


“Inquirer” is informed that the Bennett who recently shot his wife and then himself, is likely to recover. He is not the Bennett of the Barnacle, as “Inquirer” might have known from his attempt to blow out his brains; an act which in the other Bennett would have been superfluous to the verge of absurdity.


The Call says that in the providence of God it is so ordained that the newspapers must discuss hackneyed themes, or cease the work of discussion and commentation altogether. We wish that in the providence of God it were so ordained that, to most of them, only the latter alternative were open.


George Francis Train boasts that he talks at the rate of seven columns per hour. From this we infer that his tongue runs away with him. It certainly did upon one occasion. We allude to the time when he ran away from Australia owing over one hundred thousand dollars. The scoundrel!


The Howson girls have been drawing fine houses ever since they opened here, and the more our people see of them the better they like them.—Virginia Enterprise. [It is all a matter of taste; we like them best when we see nothing of them but their faces and hands].


The commissioners of Lunacy, better known as the Lunatic Commissioners, have declared a woman insane because she imagines persons come to her house in the night to steal. To us the case seems rather to call for the intervention of the police.


What position does the editor of the Bulletin occupy while preparing his copy for the printers?—Alta. [The position of a man who forgets more while nibbing his pen than all the editors of the Alta could learn in a thousand centuries.]


A young man, formerly of this city, has invented a machine intended to be attached to a piano, to print the music as it is played. If it is accurate, like the camera or the pentagraph, how little—how very little—music it will print.


Some unknown scoundrel, taking advantage of the legal tender act, has made a donation to the Magdalen Asylum of ten dollars in greenbacks. The wretch who would stoop to such an action ought to be sent to Congress.


“A Citizen” appeals through the dailies for aid to the Magdalen Asylum, the number of whose inmates he says has “sadly” increased of late: Can nothing be done to check this deplorable augmentation?


An elevated metaphor. “The garden pink of Manhattan kisses the field poppy of Yerba Buena.” Bulletin. Yah, yah! We swim in a sea of Manhattan pinks. O brave Bulletin!


One news-dealer in Chicago sells twenty-two thousand copies of the New York Ledger. That man has a responsibility resting upon him which we should not like to incur.


On last Sunday John Doughty preached about the Widows’ Mite. The widows might have been edified by the sermon, but they were not, nor was anybody else.


There has been a lively time among the trade leagues of the state during the last week.—Call. [There would be livelier one if we had our way.]


Since Josselyn has been convicted and Von Eisenberg has fled, J. Flattery, M. Particular D., and Czapkay, C. D., have returned to the field of their labors.


The story of One Who was Hanged. See Overland Monthly. The story of one who ought to be hanged, see lecture of George Francis Train.


Memphis is said to be in danger of caving into the Mississippi. If the Mississippi can stand it we can.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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