The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/July 24, 1869

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

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

 Does anyone know Elder J. L. Hopkins? He has begun, at 806 Kearny Street, the publication of a “Monthly periodical, devoted to the Christianity of the Bible,” and says it is a “trumpet of no uncertain sound.” This magnificent boast is fully justified by the title, which is as follows. [The reader will please inflate his lungs with the atmosphere of the nearest church]: “The Silence of the Scriptures respecting a Ghost-entity in Man, called the Immortal Soul; showing that God only hath Immortality.” The necessity for a publication of this character has long been felt by the reading community, and especially by those who have particularly to do with ghost-entities. We are glad this niche in American periodical literature, which to our discredit has been for so long a time suffered to remain vacant, is to be creditably filled. It is perhaps hardly fair to pass judgment upon the initial number of a new magazine, but we cannot help remarking that the beautiful yellow cover seems to be edited with exceptional ability, while the arrangement of the single advertisement gives abounded promises of pecuniary success. The fresh and sparkling originality of its pages together with its bold and trenchant binding, are evidence of the hand of a master; while the unselfish announcement that it is “not entered according to an Act of Congress—full permission to print,” overcomes us with gratitude, and prepares us for something even better to come. We extend a long arm of welcome to this bright precursor of a regenerated Kearny Street literature.


We note a tendency in the female head to drape itself in rather more of dead-woman’s hair than is either wholesome or nice. Yesterday we saw a very pretty black eye, peeping into our own from beneath a mass of hair, to procure which at least three corpses must have been despoiled. We felt a vindictive desire to inscribe a lying epitaph above the little bonnet which officiated in place of a tomb-stone above the sacred relics of those three women. We itched to write In Memoriam or Hic Jacet upon that young person’s head. But the little grave-robber smiled so innocently beneath her load of sin that, as usual, we were subdued, and allowed her to pass unmolested. Whenever we see a young girl packing about the remains of a defunct sister, the ear of our imagination is saluted with the cry of “stop thief” from some injured ghost dogging her footsteps. We wonder how long it will be incumbent upon us to stand this thing. At the present rate, unless the small-pox should visit us again, it will soon be impossible to supply our wives and sweethearts with hair, without killing off some of them to bedeck the rest. We trust we shall not be driven to this extremity, but if so, the ladies must remember that the crime is upon their own heads.


The Town Crier had prepared the following little speech expressly for the banquet on last Monday evening at the Lick House, but failing to receive an invitation to be present, has consented to deliver it here: “Gentlemen from Chicago, it affords me great pleasure to welcome you with your little samples. The present is the happiest moment of my life. [Applause]. You Couldn’t have done a better thing than to come to California during the present depression of business; we have nothing to do but eat you and drink you. [Laughter]. We shall someday come to Chicago, and shall then expect you to eat us. If we lie heavy on your stomachs, gentlemen, take an emetic. [Applause]. Yes, gentlemen, I repeat it, take an emetic! [Tremendous silence]. This, gentlemen, is a consumption devoutly to be wished. Until that time, let us join brotherly in cheating one another in teas, and doing a good thing in sugars. Let us turn an honest penny by swindling the Great West and doing the Chinamen! [Sensation]. Yes, gentlemen, let us then be up and doing—Still achieving, still pursuing. You will pursue us, and we shall pursue the Celestials. Gentlemen, here’s luck. [Unbounded bibulation].”


There is something charmingly American in the following advertisement clipped from the New York Herald: “West Point Military Academy.—A vacant cadetship to be filled by appointment before September. Accredited parties of means address ‘Congressman,’ Herald office, for ten days.” [It almost makes one wish to be an accredited party of means, with a son panting for military glory, that one might make the acquaintance of at least one member of our glorious National Legislature who is possessed of undoubted political abilities, and statesmanlike qualities of no common order. It is sad to reflect that in the barely possible event of receiving no pecuniarily satisfactory reply to his delicate overture, a false sense of modesty may prevent this representative American from appointing his own son, if he have one. How delightful it would be for our brave soldiers in some future campaign to read in the nearest daily newspaper an advertisement like this: “Attention, Enemies of Our Country!—An army to be surrendered upon liberal terms. Accredited parties of means address ‘General,’ at this office, for ten days!”


The honors of the Industrial School investigation must certainly be awarded Dr. William A. Grover. It gives us pleasure to present a part of his testimony, relating as it does to some pleasant incidents in his own experience: A boy whose name I cannot recall was often whipped by me, and he never comes to the city and meets me but he treats; and over a glass of wine or something else he recalls with pleasure the time I raw-hided him stretched over a flour barrel. Another boy I used to raw-hide very frequently until, in fact, he got to like it. He liked it so much that he preferred it to any other punishment, and used to beg to be raw-hided in preference to being confined in his bed: which latter mode of punishment we had finally to adopt.” Could anything be more exquisitely touching than this simple recital? Fancy that poor boy down upon his marrow bones before the reluctant Doctor, pleading with tears in his eyes for just one more application of the lash!


On last Tuesday evening. Mr. Thomas Mooney delivered himself of that practical bit of advice to the Board of Education, just as we warned the public he would do unless forcibly prevented. As we have not space for even a synopsis of his remarks, we hasten to seize upon the salient point of his discourse. He urged the necessity of instructing our youth in the manufactures. Such a knowledge of them as he himself possessed would be invaluable for kid gloves, while our own vine-clad hills are swarming with young goats. Just at this point the rats set up such a squeak and scamper and clatter that the remainder of the speaker’s dissertation on kid gloves was wholly inaudible. Our reporter retired, profoundly impressed with the eminently practical character of Mr. Mooney’s knowledge of manufactures.


All the newspapers in town having had their say about Elise Holt, the Town Crier thinks it is about time for him to take a turn at her. His tender consideration of the feelings of actresses (as recently illustrated in the case of Miss Thompson with a P) is proverbial, and he is inclined to let Miss Holt off as early as candor and immutable justice will admit. He is pained at the coarse and brutal criticisms that have already appeared; the more so because they all savor of the cowardice of striking a woman when she is a down—on the bills. His own gentle chiding shall go no farther than calling her a nasty little beast, who kicks up her heels lasciviously before the eyes of the pure women and uncontaminated men, who pay a dollar per head to be shocked and have their decent feelings outraged. This, he fancies, is drawing it extremely mild.


At the Republican state convention at Sacramento, Jack Stratman introduced a resolution demanding the removal of nine hundred copperheads from the Mare Island Navy Yards. By all means turn out the copperheads and give the leather heads a show. However, as the gallant major is himself a cunning worker in metals, there seems to be no necessity for him to trouble the Secretary with this matter. A skillful alchemist ought to be able to transmute the copper of these official heads into gold for himself, without the assistance of anybody. Put ’em through your alembic, Mr. Stratman, and pocket the result.


If the young woman who dropped her chignon last Thursday afternoon at the corner of Montgomery and Clay streets will call at this office she will hear of something to her advantage. The stockings are of the wrong sex, and we have not used them. They shall be washed and neatly darned if the owner desires. The ball of yarn seems to be of little value, but it has been sacredly guarded. The paper of pins is intact. There are some grease spots of tallow upon the piece of rag, but they seem to be integral parts of it, and to have existed since the creation. The miscellaneous filling, wadding and stuffing are as good as new. The comb has been sent to the dentist. In conclusion, a piece of advice: The next time it occurs don’t run. There are always friends near at hand.


Captain Flannigan—an Italian we believe—who had the honor to command one of the companies of play-at-soldiers mustered out for worthlessness, announces his intention to take the field again with one hundred veteran warriors as an independent company. The Town Crier is also putting on his war paint, and Captain Flannigan will find him fully prepared. He proposes to uniform himself at his own expense, with a chemise from an adjacent clothes-line; throw himself astride of a snorting saw-horse; and break a lance of Bologna sausage over the Flannigan head. The T. C. is a dangerous cuss when thoroughly roused, and when fairly set on is not easily called off. Flannigans beware!


On last Sunday, Dr. Scudder spent a pleasant half hour trying to evolve from his inner consciousness the particular kind of wine into which Christ changed that water. In the absence of any accurate information upon this important problem we would suggest that it be not left for individual parsons to decide, each according to his own folly, but that the aggregate wisdom of the Church be brought to bear upon it. Let an international council of clerics be called at once, that this vital question may be forever settled to the unspeakable advancement of morality and the immediate revival of the languishing industry of saving souls.


We noted last Monday evening at the Hotel de Lique that the customary toast, “the Press,” was not given. Naturally we were at first indignant at what seemed to us an inexcusable neglect, but subsequently a glance about the tables revealed the presence of one Fred. MacCrellish, digesting a well-considered set speech, and ready to spring it upon us the moment he had a plausible pretext. We felt that we had done a mental wrong to the discreet president of the occasion, and apologized to the gentleman upon our left for the injustice.


The editor of our ultra-religious contemporary, the Occident, keeps this announcement standing at the head of his editorial columns: “If any omissions or errors are detected in the list of clergymen published in this paper, a favor will be conferred by sending notice to this office.”  Thank you: for several weeks you have omitted the name of that eloquent divine, the Rev. Towne Cryer, D. D., and if you do not at once rectify the error, without any more fooling, he will no longer omit your name from his own list.


Dr. J. Flattery tells exactly your disease: if curable, doubtful or incurable; and how long you will live.—Advr. [The last mentioned information is easily given, and the time can be accurately measured by a stop-watch. If you employ Dr. Flattery you will live somewhat more than five minutes. We give the Doctor the benefit of this first-class notice, for the sake of cheering up the dying invalid. In the lively diction of the medical almanacs, “Joy to the afflicted!”]


A prominent business house advertises as follows: “The excitement yesterday on Montgomery St, was owing to the fact that Miss Elise Holt appeared upon the street wearing one of — & Co.’s fashionable cloaks.” We should imagine it would cause some excitement in the public mind to behold so unusual a spectacle as Elise Holt wearing a fashionable cloak or anything else. She is not in the habit of hiding the light of her charms under a bushel of cloak.


A religious weekly says: “To feel the inspiring breath of God’s morning upon one’s feverish cheek, and to gaze majestically upon the glorious sun, are in themselves acts of adoration.” Fancy this reverend editor, after a night’s debauch, going out into the morning to cool his feverish cheek, and bracing himself against a lamp post to gaze majestically upon the rising sun, while his trembling lips move with inaudible prayer to God bless us, what an idiot!


A Liverpool correspondent of the Alaska Herald says the Alta’s leading articles are feeble, and that it seems to have exhausted itself in the effort to make the smallest amount of brains cover the largest amount of paper. Evidently this Englishman underrates the Alta’s power. So far from being exhausted by the effort, it goes on doing the same thing day after day, year in and year out. It is exhausted in no other sense than that it is empty.


The Barnacle complains that upon a recent occasion two newspaper reporters misbehaved themselves, and says: “As a general rule, people who find themselves placed among gentlemen act that role for the time being, as a necessity.” This necessity has become apparent to the reporter of the Barnacle since a certain wedding we wot of. There is nothing equal to a heavy cowhide boot as a means of conveying lesions in etiquette.


During the progress of the Industrial School investigation, a witness concluded his testimony as follows: “I am the author of an article which appeared in the Morning Call.” We regard that man’s testimony as more worthy of belief that all the other that has been given. The man who will frankly make such a confession as that can no more tell a lie than could young George Washington.


On last Monday two little Christians (with a big C) were up before his Honor (with a big H) for pelting a Chinaman with rocks. On account of their youth, good character, color, nationality, religion and the politics of their fathers, they were let off with a reprimand.


Last evening a Chinese boy was attacked by three white boys on Washington street, near Dupont, and after being otherwise maltreated was thrown down a basement. One of his wrists was severely injured.—Times. [Call and Herald please copy, and indignantly deny.]


The interests of the church on this coast are greatly involved in the success of its newspaper organ.—Spectator (beggingly). [The interests of the proprietor of that organ are also involved to a considerable extent.—Oursleves (acutely).]


The Pacific Churchman pathetically asks: “What is Truth?” A too close attention to its own logic has wholly incapacitated us for giving an intelligible answer to this unique conundrum.


The apothecaries of this city have organized to put down what they term “an unreasonable and degrading competition.” We learn that the undertakers will at once enter a vigorous protest.


The Spectator says the church edifices in this city should be centers whence light should radiate through our streets. Does the Spectator mean to counsel incendiarism?


A book of conundrums, entitled Calvary Catechism, contains the following question: “What are you made in baptism?” Made disagreeably wet, we suppose.


John Ruskin is writing another book entitled The Decline of the Arts. That of book-making is not likely to fall into a decline while Mr. Ruskin lives.


The Call terms Major Jack Stratman the cloven-hoof of the Republican party. Nonsense; he is the tail.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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