The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/July 31, 1869

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

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

We suppose Mr. Knight, of the Board of Education—or as he humorously styles himself, Chairman of the Teachers’ Institute—labors under the impression that he has been and gone and done it. At the meeting of the Board, on Tuesday evening, he read a carefully prepared inanity, intended to gracefully annihilate Mr. Denman, for his audacity in showing Mr. Knight up last week. To say that in this elaborate effort Mr. Knight surpassed himself would be to assert a physical impossibility, and to affirm of his ears an increase in length which the scope of heaven would be wholly unable to accommodate. To say that he outdid all former efforts, would be to assert the possibility of a human voice, to which the voice of Niagara would be as but the sighing of a zephyr or the boughs of a pig thistle. Mr. Knight did neither the one nor the other, he simply made a fool of himself in the good old educational way. If he imagines he distinguished himself, we hasten to disabuse his mind of the hallucination. He long ago ascended to the very highest plane of intellectual insignificance; any farther advance in that direction is impossible, and in no other is he competent to advance at all. And so it happens that Mr. Knight’s status is fixed. He occupies exactly the position of a silly worm, which has dragged itself to the summit of a bean-pole, and not knowing how to get down, is yet unable to advance. And so it reaches its ridiculous body in circular sweeps on every side, seeking a rest for the sole of its belly and finding none. Whatever of fame Mr. Knight may hereafter enjoy he will owe to us. We shall see that he is properly “kept before the people,” and Messrs. Burnett and Holt are hereby warned that the next time they attempt to choke him off they will not be allowed to forestall the public executioner.

Senator Harlan seems to possess some advanced ideas upon the subject of religion, and some unique ones with regard to the natural advantages of cities. At a meeting of the Church Extension Society last Sunday evening, in this city, he said: “The emigration to Salt Lake City commenced about the same time it did to San Francisco; and yet at the present time the former has but 25,000 inhabitants, and the latter 150,000. The wealth of the Mormons is between thirty and fifty millions, while this city is worth nearly five hundred millions, and yet the two possess about the same natural advantages. The reason of this remarkable contrast is to be found in the religion dispensed to each.” The Senator from the other side of the mountains is weak; he fails to see that the Mormons possess even greater natural advantages than we. The water of Salt Lake is three times as briny as that of San Francisco Bay; while its single steamboat can ride at anchor as securely in one harbor as another. In the matter of emigrant trains also we are at a disadvantage; more arrive at Salt Lake City in one year than at San Francisco in five. Besides, the latter is restricted to a narrow peninsula, while the former might expand uninterruptedly a thousand miles in any direction. Also, San Francisco has had to contend against the lively competition of Oakland and Mud Springs, while Salt Lake City is absolutely master of the situation. The latter place has also had the advantage of Senator Harlan’s presence before we got him. We trust it may secure him again, and keep him; we have donkeys enough of our own.

What a damnably fair paper the Bulletin is! It flings the Twelfth District Judge over with as little ceremony as if he were a mere common Irish “peeler.” We couldn’t for the life of us tell what Pratt had been doing to that sleek church warden of journalism, that it should have found him out for a bad boy. We have inquired. We learn that Pratt once refused to grant a motion for a new trial to the Bulletin. (See Wilson vs. Fitch.) Hence the Bulletin’s woe! Hence its independent admiration of Crockett! “No rouge,” etc. Unfortunate Pratt! His road acres of ranch, his extended interests in property, his very pride of opinion, cannot save him from the shambles. He is but a poor office-beggar after all; and the Bulletin turns with willing ear to some attorney, whom Pratt has touched on the raw sometime, and declares that Pratt is unpopular with the bar. Count noses, oh, sagacious Bulletin—not those noses that are out of joint because of Pratt’s acknowledged sagacity in seeing the weakness of their causes; but noses that have not been wrung—our nose for instance.

Most of the old stock sinners at whom News Letter delights to project his paper pellets, are rapidly acquiring a foreign notoriety corresponding to that which they enjoy at home. Jack Stratman, Dr. Scudder, Gen. Cobb, Father Eagan and the rest of them figure quite conspicuously each week in the lighter columns of the ponderous English papers, and what is really remarkable are touchingly alluded to in the identical words employed by us. We note this merely as a singular coincidence. For example, the last number of Public Opinion, one of the best and most widely circulated journals published in London, contained, without comment or credit, our beautiful adaptation of Leigh Hunt’s poem of Abou Ben Adhem (or as with rare humor we had it, Stratman Ben Jacky) under the head of “Amusing.” We fail to discover anything amusing in this kind of literary piracy, and think that “Cool” would have been a more felicitous caption. Still, we trust that it was found sufficiently amusing to Mr. Stratman.

The wrangle over the extension of Second street into Montgomery has fairly set in. At their last meeting the Board of Supervisors passes a resolution inviting interested property holders to come before them and fight it out. To this resolution there were but two dissenters—Ashbury and Cavallier. The former wished to prevent contention; the latter was anxious to avoid depletion; the former desired to preserve his peace; the latter was solicitous to protect his purse, either will succeed. Poor old Ashbury would not, of course, be regarded for an instant in any case, but in this, Cavallier will be as ruthlessly slaughtered by the voting as if he did not belong to it. Its members are a pack of wolves, who will fall upon a companion and stain their jaws with his blood as readily as they will ring down a deer. To their credit be it said, however, they are not wantonly cruel, and will not throw over one of the their number so long as there is plunder.

Mr. H. C. Bennet has received his commission as Pension Agent, and opened office at the corner of Washington and Sansome streets, where, with the invaluable assistance of Mr. Jack Stratman, he will proceed systematically to go through any patriotic youth who had the misfortune to lose his head in the war. His leisure moments will be devoted to editing a few Police Gazettes for Mr. Jack Stratman. The title pages of these will be embellished by zincograph portraits of Mr. Jack Stratman. Mr. Bennett’s office may be known by a doorplate, bearing the monogram of Mr. Jack Stratman; and, finally, the Agent may be easily identified by a beautiful brass collar inscribed: “I am Mr. Jack Stratman’s dog; whose dog are you?”

The Times, alluding to the Directors of the Industrial School asks: “What shall be said of the whole Board?” We confess we do not know. In the infancy of our language, anything that may be said will be feeble; perhaps in a thousand years, vituperative science will have made such an advance that the infamy of this board may be adequately expressed. Let us content ourselves with recording the acts with regard to these men, and leave posterity to curse them with a richness of diction, a copiousness of epithet, a force and terseness of abuse, to which we cannot hope to attain.

Last Sunday evening, at the church of Dr. Hallelujah Cox, the Rev. Dr. Tiffany said he was positive there was something in the Methodist religion peculiarly adapted to the inhabitants of California. So there is; there is an exalted absurdity about it that our people relish as they do Mark Twain in his most abandoned moments.

The prize medal offered by Colonel McKenzie to the best shot in the Second Infantry, N. G. C., was won last Sunday by Private J. B. Mulcahy, of the Franklin Light Infantry. The medal is a massive Maltese cross of solid silver. The center is formed of a valuable pearl, in an enameled setting of gold. The cross is surmounted by a gold militiaman, down one knee and squinting unsteadily along a dissipated musket. A grizzly bear, also of gold, is suspended from the bottom by a couple of staples neatly inserted in his back, which make him writhe and look very sick. Over all is a very bald, silver eagle, balancing himself with some difficulty upon a shovel-blade. Upon the whole; the medal is a very tasteful tribute to a very bad marksman. We do not know its exact value, but presume it can be “spouted” for thirty or forty dollars.

Some wretch has produced another senile celebrity with which to plague us. He announces the death of the first driver on the Erie Canal. Just as we had got done with the daily demise of Gen. Washington’s body servant, and right in the midst of our grief for the perennial exit of the first soldier of the revolution, we are called upon to bewail the initial death of this hitherto overlooked canal driver. We may as well resign ourselves to about twenty years of steady mourning for this ancient mariner; he will average at least one death per week for about that length of time.

A local report in a contemporary of yesterday morning says: “The attendance at the colored school was fair.” Hardly fair if colored.—Herald. [We see here, my young friends, a mournful example of an intemperate indulgence in telegraphy. The constitution shattered, the intellect gone, the moral faculties numbed, the whole man a complete wreck! And only a few short months ago, this man was a kind father, a tender husband, an eminent lawyer, and an ornament to society. Beware, oh! beware the insidious ravages of the electric fluid!]

We observe that in the weekly announcements of divine service it is becoming customary to insert a pledge that no collection will be taken up. If this little bait fail to allure the penurious worshiper, we suggest that as an experiment a small sum of money be distributed each Sunday among the elect, on the lottery plan. If this do not bring out the latent religion of the community the Town Crier is wholly unacquainted with the action of saving grace upon the Christian soul.

A boy at the Industrial School testified as follows: “General Cobb told my mother one day to go to hell, while she was asking to have me discharged.” As General Cobb has so frequently announced in the Board of Education that he loves the ladies, we think the least this poor widow can do in return is to comply with his gracious invitation to precede him to his father’s house; in which there are many mansions—the warmest being kept ready for the General.

Capt. Scott, the Secretary of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, has made his second annual report. He begins thus: “Mr. President and Gentlemen:–Another link has been added to Time since you first met to inaugurate a society which has proved a signal success.” We have heard Time compared to many rare and beautiful things, but never before to a string of sausages.

On last Monday evening a man named John Mr. Farrell was locked up by the Police for drunkenness. It has seldom been our duty to chronicle a more atrocious outrage by the municipal authorities upon a Secretary of the Father Mathew Temperance Society. We should really like to know where this base interference with the personal liberty of teetotalers is going to end.

A writer in a recent scientific work predicts an earthquake all along the western coast of this continent about the middle of the forty-second century. We trust some steps may be taken while there is yet time, to put an end to the criminal carelessness of our architects and compel them to put up wooden cornices to protect the vulgar, and match the scientific, head.

A religious weekly has solved the Chinese problem; there is no more to say.

(Source: California State Library Microfilm Collection)