The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/August 7, 1869

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

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

The Bulletin rails at Eastern and European capitalists because they won’t invest in a Pacific cable from San Francisco to Hongkong, via Honolulu. The Town Crier remembers, as if it were but yesterday, when he edited the Hang Tree Herald. For six months he devoted his best talent to advocating the construction of a railroad between that place and Jayhawk, thirty miles distant. The route presented every inducement. There would be no grading required, and not a single curve would be necessary. As it lay through an uninhabited alkali-flat, the right of way could be easily obtained. As neither terminus had other than pack mule communication with civilization, the rolling stock and other material must necessarily be constructed at Hang Tree because the people at the other end didn’t know enough to do it, and hadn’t any blacksmith. The benefit to our place was indisputable, and constituted the most seductive charm of the scheme. After six months conscientious lying, the company was incorporated, and the first shovelful of alkali turned up and preserved in a museum, when suddenly the devil put it into the head of one of the Directors to inquire publicly what the road was designed to carry. It is needless to say the question was never answered, and the most daring enterprise of the age was knocked out cold. That very night a deputation of stock-holders waited upon the editor of the Herald and prescribed a change of climate. If this anecdote has any bearing upon Pacific telegraphy, the Bulletin is welcome to apply it. History is chock full of similar lessons.


If we were asked to describe the function of the San Francisco daily press, we should reply: To regulate the rates of freight and passage on the Pacific Railroad. If we were asked how they succeed we should say: Admirably; everything is arranged daily to their perfect satisfaction. The laws of trade have been suspended for this occasion only, and those of nature generally have been considerably modified. The Union and Central companies watch with the utmost solicitude for the diurnal suggestions, and hasten to adopt them with a dispatch bordering upon precipitation. The weight of their influence is something appalling; enough of it would sink a whale-boat. Our influence, too, is immense, and is always exerted upon the side of the powerful and in favor of measures that will succeed. In the case of the railroad we go in for the tariff that is most agreeable to the managers of the road. By this bit of keen diplomacy we are confident of obtaining every concession we ask in the name of business interests. We respectfully commend our policy to the attention of our neighbors, the dailies. In the bright lexicon of him who adopts it there is no such word as fail.


An association is being organized in this city called the Caucasian Society, Its principal object is thus stated: “To protect the physical and political character of the Caucasian race in the United States of America.” The necessity for an organization of this kind has long been felt, and the Town Crier has repeatedly urged the identical action that has been taken. The physical and political character of the Caucasian race in the United States of America has always been subject to unprovoked outrage while walking peaceably about the streets, and the police have shown a criminal disregard of its inalienable right to be locked up for protection. So long as our republican institutions offer it a refuge from the oppressions of the old world, our local officials should see that it is not knocked down and kicked by any ruffian who may take a dislike to the cut of its clothes. We hail the Caucasian Society as a harbinger of peace on earth and good will toward physical and political character. Its members are the geese whose cackling shall save the Caucasian Rome.


Taxpayers express considerable dissatisfaction that the eclipse of the sun today has not been arranged with special reference to San Francisco. For their benefit we chalk out the following as the line upon which the eclipse will be total. Beginning at the base of Mount Diablo, it runs spirally up to the summit, descends by a convenient bridle-path and trends sky-west and crooked to the Vallejo grain elevator. Thence to Marysville, back to dinner, and then diagonally to San Rafael. Obliquely thence to Santa Cruz, carefully avoiding San Francisco; and leaving Redwood City several points to leeward. On its return it makes a detour to Belmont, as the guest of W. C. Ralston, and arriving at Goat Island very sick, runs into a gopher hole. By following up this line on a velocipede, the observer can enjoy Ethiopian darkness for two hours and a half. If the usual fog is on schedule time, the same result can be attained by remaining in San Francisco; but as the police force is to be doubled the risk is proportionally great.


The Young Men’s Christian Association is an institution designed with the best of intentions to do as much harm as possible. It succeeds. If it would confine its operations to the inside of its showy (and unpaid-for) building on Sutter Street, content itself with doing the work of a private employment office, or making an honest dollar by the investment of a three cent postage stamp, we should not complain. But when it purloins an apple box and plants it bottom upward in front of a hotel on a Sunday morning; places on this purloined box an excited fanatic with a red beard, and for half an hour does its best to bring Christianity into contempt we have a right to complain.—Alaska Herald. [O yes; you think you can be a Town Crier, do you. You!]


The Tax-Payers’ Union—which is not a political organization—designing to nominate independent municipal candidates, have caused a printed petition to be widely circulated, imploring them in the name of heaven to do so. It is believed that due consideration will be given to the wishes of the petitioners, and we trust that the request may be complied with. As the avowed object of the Union is to watch office-holders, they could not do better than elect from their own ranks men with whose peculiar style of stealing they are familiar. By this plan the base machinations of dishonest officials could be more easily circumvented—or at least more patiently tolerated.


The Chief of Police, in his report just published, notices the case of a man who, since 1854, has been sentenced to the State Prison six times, for periods which in the aggregate we find to be forty-seven years. Unlike most facts recorded in these parts, this one has no bearing upon the mildness of our climate. It speaks well, however, for the mildness of our governors. If it were our function to make instead of enforce the laws, the governor, in shortening the term of a convict, would dock his own to exactly that extent.


It affords us unspeakable satisfaction to announce that the Alta has expressed a decided opinion. Last Thursday it had an article severely denouncing the action of the Eight-Hour Leagues, sharply censuring their leaders, and vigorously condemning their policy. The trenchant boldness with which it starts in with “Editors Alta” is kept up with unflagging courage to the very signature—“Fair Play.” Such outspoken editorial opinions in a daily newspaper are absolutely unparalleled.


We are not accustomed to call names, but there are men who can be made to writhe in no other way. Such are the members of the Board of Managers of the Industrial School who voted to adopt the infamous O’Neil report. At the risk of a libel suit, we venture to brand these men as Durney, Deeth, Bosqui, Dean, Davis, Martin, Kelly and O’Neil! This is severe, but we believe they richly deserve these unpleasant epithets, the stigma of which shall attach to them as long as they live.


On last Sunday afternoon a Chinaman passing guilelessly along Dupont street was assailed with a tempest of bricks and stones from the steps of the First Congregational Church. At the completion of this devotional exercise the Sunday scholars retired within the hallowed portals of the sanctuary, to hear about Christ Jesus and him crucified. [Suffer little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.—Old Play.]


Four sailors of a Norwegian barque mutinied, and will be sent back to Scandinavian retribution. This will cost about a thousand dollars per Norwegian. The expense might have been saved by adhering to the usual custom of chucking them into the bay and supplying their places by our cheap shanghai system. These Norway skippers may be very good navigators, but clearly they are lacking in ordinary gumption.


The Sacramento correspondent of the Alta, noticing the arrival at the village of a few thousand Union Pacific roughs, piously ejaculates, “God help us!” We think the divine influence will be given to the other side. God helps those who help themselves, and immigrants are likely to help themselves to such of the worldly goods of the Sacramentans as are hanging out on the line.


Mr. Thomas Mooney, having once been allowed to speak his piece before the Board of Education, has become clamorous to speak it all the time. He has applied to the Board of Supervisors for permission to go through it again, before them, and next Monday evening has been set apart for the infliction. Does Mr. Mooney aspire to be Head Center of the Fenian Blatherhood?


A religious weekly urges its readers to join in a vigorous movement for the dissemination of orthodoxy. By simply continuing their subscriptions they can also participate in a vigorous movement for the dissemination of idiocy; and as the latter is a necessary prelude to the former, we think our pious contemporary displays an unseemly impatience.


The Herald improves every opportunity to make a silly fling at the Chinese Protection Society. The editors of that concern may spare themselves the trouble; one of the association’s rules reads thus: “No person will be considered an efficient officer of this society who cannot control his temper when taunted or jeered by a crowd of loafers.”


  1. C. Dameron, at a lecture before the Temperance Legion on Sunday evening, said “the distillation of spiritual liquors seemed to be characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon race.” Oh my! The Norwegian Lion will devour him yet.—Call. [Will you kindly attend to your own business? Take the bread out of the mouth of the poor Town Crier, would you?]


The southern part of this State has been visited by a hail-storm of meat, bones, blood, lungs, liver and hair. The public mind is exercised thereat, and seeketh diligently for a cause. The explanation is simple; Secession has again reared its head in heaven, and coercion has been rather freely resorted to by the Administration.


At the last meeting of the Supervisors a petition was returned to its author, on the ground that it was disrespectful to the Board. Disrespectful, quotha! Do these gentlemen expect us to simulate a respect we feel not? They’ll soon be requiting the Town Crier to take off his hat when he petitions them to refrain from stealing!


At the meeting of the Board of Managers of the Industrial School, Mr. Nunan said that he was ashamed of Mr. O’Neil. If we had previously any doubts about Mr. O’Neil’s depravity—which we had not—this sets the question at rest. The man whom Mr. Nunan can be ashamed of must be simply infamous.


We note a change in military fashions: Shoulder-straps are not so much worn by idiots as during the early part of the season. Our record of army affairs would be incomplete without noticing also the resignation of Major Jack Stratman. Good fortune attend him. [Music: The Rogue’s March.]


It has been discovered that the sand in the river bed at Sacramento is worth eight dollars per ton.—Exchange. [This exceeds by seven dollars the average value of the adjacent brains; and when the Legislature assembles the disproportion will be considerably increased.


The Democratic Judicial Convention has nominated Judge Provinces for the bench of the Twelfth District Court. We cordially concur, and will do what in us lies to have him elected. Several Chinamen, with badly bruised heads, have expressed the same preference.


The Call is opposed to the election of School Directors who consort with femmes du plaisir. The Call may calm itself; no respectable harlot who cares for her reputation would continue her acquaintance with a man after he had been elected to the Board of Education.


Mr. J. Livingston petitioned the Board of Supervisors to appropriate five thousand dollars for fireworks to celebrate the return of that cold-water shrieker, Chief Whitney. Prayerfully and with a Christian hope we await the advent of the Livingston-killer.


There is a German secret society in town which calls itself A. J. O. K.S. B., and considerable curiosity is manifested as to what may be the meaning of the cabalistic initials. They mean, Ancient Jackasses of the Order of Kraut and Sour Beer.


The Woman’s Advocate says the women of our time are more modest than those of former periods. If this be true we should have liked to see the Elise Holt of the eighteenth century. The imagination reels before the conception of so exalted a nastiness.


According to the school census of Oakland, there are in that city seven thousand five hundred and forty-one children between the ages of twenty-five and fifty; and the higher you go beyond fifty the more children there are.


A statistician has discovered that in the towns, widows are married off twice as fast as in the country.—Exchange. [Another statistician has discovered that duck shooting is twice as profitable among the ponds as in the mountains.]


Mr. Zeke Vreeland, who was lately appointed Gauger in the Internal Revenue Department, has been informed that his place is vacant. It was never more so than during his own incumbency.


A morning paper says three unclaimed gold watches are in the hands of the police, and that it is not definitely known who stole them. It is definitely known who will steal them.


If there be any truth more indisputable than that party politics should be ignored in municipal elections, it is that this is never discovered by any party until it is out of power.


A large number of workmen have been discharged from the Washington Navy Yard, on account of the singular neglect of Congress to appropriate money for the payment of Democrats.


As we understand the matter, the Eight-Hour men do not claim “ten hours’ wages for eight hours’ work.—Call. [Then we have been a liar of to these many years!]


Dr. Scudder preached last Sunday upon the “miraculous draught of fishes.” He owed his eloquence to a miraculous draught of whisky.


The Honolulu Commercial Advertiser apologized because its Kanakas did not celebrate the Fourth of July. We apologize because ours did.


To the Christian Public: The undersigned announces himself as an orthodox candidate for Mayor.—Town Crier.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)

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