The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/July 10, 1869

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

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

As aerial navigation is now exciting great public interest, it is obligatory upon the press to say a great deal about it. To say a great deal involves the necessity of having a great deal to say. To those writers who have sense enough to recognize success when they see it, this necessity presents no difficulty; the trial trips of the Avitor suggest an inexhaustible fund of ideas. But as the invention is now proved to be a thoroughly practical one, the constitutional Obstructive is put to his trumps for argument. We hasten to his relief. A glance at the early steamboat, railroad and telegraph literature will furnish him with ample material. The oracular logic by which the Obstructive’s progenitors conclusively demonstrated that a steamboat could never overcome the current of a river, or a locomotive the weight of its own machinery, may, with unimportant changes, be used with crushing force against the Avitor. It is a good, old, conceptive reasoning, and has now been in use from the time of Noah. It is applicable to any invention whatever, and has never been successfully controverted. A process of reasoning which possess such vitality as to withstand a million overthrows may always be confidently relied upon in an emergency like the present. We have at the News Letter office a large collection of scientific papers, proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that neither the locomotive engine, the steamboat nor the telegraph can ever be of any practical utility. To these we hope to add from the columns of our contemporaries a few pages of similar demonstration with regard to the Avitor, when the whole will be given to the public. Thankful for the assistance already received from the Alta and Chronicle, we solicit a continuance of the same. Country papers treated with upon liberal terms.

That was a delicious spectacle on last Monday evening at the corner of Market and some other street. We do not mean the pyrotechnical nonsense, but the display of silly delight upon the part of thirty thousand human children. How they howled as the rockets went careering skyward; how they yelled as they—the rockets—burst into brilliant fragments and dropped their dirt into their—the spectators’—faces! O you ridiculous public, you sea of upturned faces, what a gregarious beast you are! How you elbowed, and jammed, and squeezed, and rubbed the dirt one from another, and breathed and re-breathed the nasty exhalations of your own lungs, choked with powder-smoke and reeking of bad whisky and masticated tobacco! Faith, you must have your Fourth of July—you must have your annual rockets and hideous noises, you great brutal baby. You must be amused while the city officials and the thousands of other practiced and commissioned thieves go deftly through you and despoil you of your goods. Now look; fasten your stupid eyes upon this glittering toy; prick your long ears to the music of this rattle, while we cut away your purse of cheerful pennies. So shall your senses be dazed that ye neither see the scissors nor hear the snip thereof. Lay to, you lubberly whale, and investigate this tub while we circumvent your playful flukes and insert the harpoon that we may strip you of your rich blubber. Thou art an amiable prey, my imbecile public, and we wax fat upon thy substance, and feed thee with the frugal crumbs which we cast contemptuously into the air to see thee scramble for them. Out upon thee for a drooling idiot and a credulous booby!

The sore-head press is growling savagely at General Hewston, because he subtracted his brigade of play-at-soldiers from the sum of militia who were to parade in this city on the Fourth, leaving only a ridiculous Fenian remainder. We were not aware that General Hewston’s brigade was the special property of San Francisco, and have even heard there are several amiable people over the bay who have generously contributed small sums in the way of taxes to support the militia of this state. It is a silly thing to do, but the law happens to recognize it as charity well bestowed, and it is fitting that it should meet with its reward. We sympathize with the disappointed warriors who missed their annual opportunity to flaunt gorgeous store-clothes in the approving eyes of their city sweethearts, and in view of a possible repetition of the outrage of Monday would counsel them to cultivate the comely damsels of Oakland, that they may not be again swindled out of the soldier’s sweetest reward. To the gallant “Tigers,” who disregarded their general’s command, and preferred to celebrate in this city, we extend our hearty congratulation upon their approaching retirement to the jungles of private life and civilian inconsequence. Tigers may not only be permitted to wear stripes, but must be made occasionally to feel them; and the lithe savage whose strident voice but yester eve awoke the sleeping Bridgets in the wilderness of back kitchens, shall tomorrow roar you as gently as any sucking dove.

The Town Crier being weary of this cold, unsympathizing world, and having determined to travel via Mission Bay to that undiscovered country from whose bourn no traveler returns except as shrimp food, very much disfigured, offers his entire stock in trade to his contemporaries, at but a trifle of the original cost. To the Overland Monthly he commends his benevolence, confident that it will be found extremely valuable as an ingredient of book reviews. To the Bulletin he offers his facetiousness, to enliven its market reports; to the Times his faultless logic, to give pint to its jokes; to the Alta his sparkling gravity, for its editorial notes. The Herald should secure his milk of human kindness, to be used as ink in writing of the Western Union Telegraph and the Associated Press, and the Call will find in his delicate reserve something peculiarly suited to its subscriber, the modest workingman. His inimitable flashes of stupidity will cut up into excellent local items for the Chronicle, and his profound reverence and godly humility will be disposed of cheap to the religious weeklies. His occasional inanity will be appreciated by the literary chambermaid’s organs as being undeniably superior to their own, and his solemn pleasantry will be invaluable to the medical and scientific publications. The interior papers will find an inexhaustible vein of the ridiculous in the fine frenzy of his sentiment; and in short all classes of purchasers will do well to examine his large and well selected stock of goods before stealing elsewhere.

The representative California has another cause of self-congratulation: a new feather has been picked up and stuck in his cap. The Commercial Herald proves that we consume more coffee per stomach of population than any people in the world. Our performances in the matter of whisky are too well known to require comment; in eating tobacco we stand pre-eminent; our feet are larger and our heads smaller than those found in any other state. Statistics prove that we wear our underclothing longer than the inhabitants of Massachusetts, and it is claimed by physicians that the average Californian can subsist upon a smaller number of baths per lunar period than even the adult males of Nevada, who simply rub themselves once a week with the bottom of a horse-bucket. It is our private opinion, also, that our toe-nails grow faster than those of other men, but in the absence of the decennial United States census returns we cannot positively assert this. One thing, however, is certain; namely, that no people can compare with us in our minute and successful researches after cause of conceit. There are no people in the world more indefatigable in unearthing rattles and straws, nor more easily pleased with the one, and tickled with the other.

A “literary weekly,” speaking of “Barnes’ benefit” at the California Theater last week, says: “Jenkins was not present, for the best reason in the world—‘tickets $5; free list suspended.’ There sat Mrs. L.C., who but recently solved the occult mysteries of matrimony. Ye gods; what a picture! How superbly attired, and how well she knew she was the cynosure of every optic in the house.” We rather think Jenkins raised that five dollars somehow. By the way, who is the cynosural one, to whom Jenkins so earnestly directs the attention of the gallery? Doubtless some nobody who had the misfortune to smile upon a gentleman sitting in the shadow of this conceited fool’s note-book.

Last Monday the Rev. H. D. Lathrop opened the literary exercises at the California Theater with a prayer to the Throne of Grace. At its conclusion, while the sonorous “Amen” was still echoing through the auditorium, an enthusiastic patriot commenced to applaud with vigor. He was promptly checked and informed that no encore would be allowed. We fail to see why a prayer may not be encored if it be a good one. As excellent acting is done upon the knees as upon the feet; and it is certainly poor encouragement to the actor if his most carefully rehearsed pieces are compelled to pass without other recognition than his day’s salary. Let this be amended.

At the exhibition of fireworks Monday evening, the display intended as the astonisher represented a fiery locomotive engine, making the trip from China through San Francisco to New York. Evidently however, she was driven by a discreet Celestial, who not caring to visit this hospitable village, abandoned her in the middle of the Pacific, and took it afoot back to the Flowery Kingdom with a whole head on his shoulders, while the adventurous engine expired ingloriously in the waste of waters. Could anything have been more charmingly symbolic of our trade relations with the Chinese?

If we were not News Letter we would be a Boston parson; or, failing in that, a Rev. Idiot of San Francisco. The former writes thus to the latter: “The terrible Man of Sin is here. Our leading Atlantic monthly, considering itself a priestess ministering at the altar of human intelligence, sits almost every month in judgment upon the holy servants and themes of our religion. Pray that Israel’s God may triumph here mightily.” Don’t do it, Sawtelle; his first triumph would be to chuck your clerical correspondent in Boston Harbor.

The editor of a religious weekly commends the following from a celebrated preacher: “If I were worth a million of dollars, and was preaching to a people so poor that they were, all told, not worth one dollar beyond the clothes they wore, I would still teach and encourage them to make offerings to the Lord!” And if we had access to that congregation we should still teach and encourage them to make offerings to the devil, and to begin with their pastor.

The New York Nation insinuated that the Town Crier possesses “the power at mental detachment,” and intimates that he is even guilty of “spiritual sympathy.” The editor of that paper may think it very fine fun to slander an inoffensive stranger, but how would he like to be accused of “spiritual sympathy”? As to “mental detachment,” the Town Crier pleads guilty; his mind has long been detached from the harrowing task of perusing the Nation.

Our lively neighbor, the Call, thinks it a pity that General Hewston, who marched his brigade over the water to Oakland to celebrate, cannot be court-martialed for contempt of San Francisco. He has been, and the court-martial was of the genus drum-head; the Call has sat in judgment upon him. By the way, if anyone shall bring charges against us for contempt of San Francisco the expense of a court may be avoided; we plead guilty.

In last week’s News Letter, the fat-witted big editor suggests “that in all theaters a box be constructed at the extreme rear of the auditorium, for conversational purposes, and that it be called the ‘chatter-box.’” The Town Crier approves, and would further suggest that it be kept for the exclusive use of the big editor aforesaid. It is unnecessary for the T. C. to say more; he presumes “Jack-in-a-box” is sufficiently obvious.

The Call, speaking of a wagon load of little girls in the Fourth of July procession, who sported the motto “Our Flag in Embryo,” asks if this be “a delicate way of hinting that the coming national banner is to be composed entirely of petticoats,” and adds: “Surely there is something curious deeply hidden under this strange device.” What is it? O, aren’t you ashamed? [putting our fan before our eyes] you naughty, naughty Call!

The Rev. M. C. Briggs, D. D., contributes a sermon to the Pacific, mildly severe upon certain church members, whom he stigmatizes as “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Fortunately his holy sarcasm is extremely limited in its application: most churchmen are the best friends of that appliance, and should they be alive at Christ’s second coming would hasten to set it up again.

John Brougham has been playing at the California Theater in A Gentleman from Ireland. We venture to suggest that to adapt the piece to the San Francisco stage a few Chinamen be introduced nightly, to have their heads punched by the leading character. Our playful public is very fond of local hits.

The people of the city of New York complain that their water supply is poisoned by the city of New York. We think the fish have the best of the discussion, and the worst of the misfortune.

Addison Jones is contributing to a weekly inanity a series of papers upon English orthography. He says “it is probably too late to change the alphabet.” Not at all, Addison Jones; a few of your papers will so improve it that the letters composing your name shall always be read F O O L.

Miss Anna Dickinson advertise a lecture at Platt’s Hall as follows: “Subject: ‘Nothing Unreasonable.’ Tickets one dollar.” Gentle Annie, we know not if thy subject will be anything unreasonable or not, but thy charges are. We can purchase an excellent tin rattle for half the money.

A city paper, discussing the management of the Indian, says: “No party, no Superintendent, no Agent has made a success, and therefore we presume the defect has been in the system.” It does not seem to have occurred to our contemporary that the defect may be in the Indian himself.

At the celebration in Oakland, a diminutive member of our city press, who was acting as side to the Grand Marshal, was thrown from his horse and picked up by a strolling urchin, quite insensible. Previously to the accident he had been merely senseless.

The last editorial Mr. Raymond wrote was a plea in the New York Times that Mr. Seward be let alone, and allowed to travel in peace.—Barnacle. [But “our reporter” of the Barnacle got after him, and the wishes of the dead counted as but idle breath.]

General Cobb has been re-elected president of the Board of Education. This is very much to the general’s credit, and who cares for the credit of the School Department? As for the board, it never had any credit.

The Alta says some people seem to lose their senses when they put on military toggery. This is severe on McComb, but outrageously unjust. For obvious reasons he never loses any sense to speak of.

The Spectator says there are hundreds of men and women in the church who persuade themselves that they are not needed in the Sunday-school. We think they are not.

Today—Saturday—the Branch Mint closes for the present. After several scores of official heads have been neatly removed and sent up the chimney, it will re open.

California stands before the world, clothed in a peculiar glory.—Alta [So do you; the motley glory of a boasting fool.]

Someone sends us a poem entitled, Why I Sing. The reasons given are wholly unsatisfactory.


(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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