The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/August 21, 1869

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

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


In London there is a house of worship called the Church of St. Judas Iscariot. We are glad to observe that this long-suffering and wholly misunderstood ancient is having tardy justice done him at last. From certain brass plates in our possession it is clear that he was a most worthy old gentleman, who had the misfortune to incur the displeasure of the apostolic “ring,” and was grossly libeled by them in the newspapers of the period. The Jerusalem Bulletin in particular pursued him with a malignity and persistence wholly irreconcilable with a regard for the public welfare. That journal was then conducted by Mr. Luke, a very incisive but utterly unprincipled writer. Mr. John was the city editor, and some of the severest articles were from his pen. Messrs. Matthew and Mark were regular contributors, and as both had been engaged in some outside land transactions in which Mr. Iscariot had got the better of them the animus of their attacks are easily understood. But Truth crushed to earth is pretty certain to get on her legs again, while Error, if she once has a head put on her, squeals like a stuck pig, and passes in her checks in the presence of a large audience of her admirers. From present indications we feel justified in announcing that matters are about to take their usual course in the case under consideration, and there is every reason to believe that J. Iscariot will yet succeed in refuting the base calumnies of a venal and prostituted press.

Recently, we noticed the formation of a “Caucasian Society,” whose object it is “to protect the physical and political character of the Caucasian race in the United States of America.” We are glad to see that these gentlemen have gone about their work with the activity and intelligence of an educated clam. Through the Chairman of their Executive Committee (who glories in the unsullied name of Isaac Baggs), they have addressed a number of foolish and impertinent questions to all political candidates, to which they “demand” categorical answers. As the society consists of some thirty-three boys, old women and hod-carriers (exclusive of our good friend Baggs, who we presume is a miller), it is hoped the candidates will perceive the necessity of returning immediate replies. Now, Mr. Baggs, we are a candidate for any position we can get, and in consideration of our intention at some time in the future to reply to your queries, we beg from you, in your individual capacity, concise answers to the following interrogatories, that we many know whether you are worthy to vote for us: How long have you been a prodigious donkey? Also, were you born so, or are your peculiar qualities the result of a perverted education? Was your father an idiot before you? Can you state positively, from personal knowledge, that you ever had a father? Where do you exist, and why?

The editor of the Barnacle has a hobby which he has ridden for a number of years, to the perfect satisfaction of his readers and the unspeakable delight of ourselves. That hobby—now somewhat sore in the back—is the Darwinian theory. How much the rider knows about his horse will be seen from the following, upon the freedom of thoughts: “One man is not to be deterred from advocating the Darwinian theory because his neighbor is shocked at the idea that man is a development of the monkey.” Very true, but he ought to be debarred from advocating it if he shocks his neighbor at his utter ignorance of what it really is. The Darwinian theory, James, does not imply that man is “a development of the monkey,” but that both are descended from a common parent. See the difference? Your error is the same as if you should claim to be the offspring of a mule, instead of admitting that the ass is the father of both the mule and yourself. In the one case you would assert a physical impossibility, in the other you would simply support an extremely probable hypothesis.

The Times and Bulletin have got into an unseemly rage because some worthy people ask compensation from the city for furniture destroyed by the Health Officer during the prevalence of the small-pox. They claim that had vaccination been used the disease would not hav been contracted and the furniture infected We beseech our neighbors to look a little beyond the tips of their jolly noses and they will see that in a great many cases the infection was communicated by persons outside the householders’ families, and over whose vaccination these had no control. We personally know of cases where the disease was brought into poor women’s houses by strange lodgers. We would suggest to our contemporaries that it is not nice to be stupid, and that it is indecorous to slop over. It is, however, consistent to be the one, and characteristic to do the other.

There is no consistency among thieves, and if we may—for once—credit the statement of a contemporary the fact has just received a striking illustration. The statement is to the effect that a certain aspirant for office went into an equally certain political convention in this city, and bribed enough delegates to secure his nomination. When it came to a vote, however, all but three of these delegated went dead against him, and he was, of course, defeated. Now it would naturally be supposed that this thief (the aspirant in question) would recognize in the action of the bribes a sagacity superior to his own, and would rejoice therein as a minor wit revels in the exalted humor of the Town Crier. Had he been a consistent thief he would have done so. On the contrary he goes about whining at the trick put upon him, and begging for sympathy. He can’t have it from us; we have no sentiment to waste upon a convicted incapable who has shown himself wholly unfit to represent a shrewd people. Evidently he is a parsimonious fellow, who allowed some rival to outbid him. We do not propose to entrust our liberties to a close-fisted wretch whose only experience in pulling political strings has been acquired by operating upon those of his purse.

We have frequent occasion to rebuke our neighbors of the press for their weak attempts to imitate our style, but until yesterday it never entered our head that we should have to take an eminently respectable lexicographer to task for the same amiable weakness. But there is no betting on the undeviating hard sense of anybody, and the lexicographic mind is a merely human affair and will occasionally cut its caper. Observe this, from Webster’s latest and biggest: “Vicegerent, N. [L. Vicem gerens, acting in the place of another.] A lieutenant; a vicar; an officer who is deputed by a superior or by proper authority to exercise the powers of another. Kings are sometimes called God’ vicegerents. It is to be wished they would always deserve the appellation.” Could anyone but an American humorist ever have conceived the idea of a comic dictionary? It is mournful to think what a fame Noah Webster might have acquired had his genius not been diverted into a philological channel.

We hear a great deal of sentiment with regard to the solar eclipse of last Saturday. Considerable ink has been consumed in setting forth the terrible and awe-inspiring features of the scene. As there will be no other good one this season, the following recipe for producing one artificially will be found useful: Suspend a grindstone from the center of a room. Take a cheese of nearly the same size, and after blacking one side of it, pass it slowly across the face of the grindstone and observe the effect in a mirror placed opposite, on the cheese side. The effect will be terrific, and may be heightened by taking a rum punch just at the instant of contact. This plan is quite superior to that of nature, for with several cheeses graduated in size, all known varieties of eclipse may be presented. In writing up the subsequent account, a great many interesting phenomena may be introduced quite impossible to obtain either by this or any other process.

In adopting the infamous O’Neil report abusing Mr. Barnes, the Managers of the Industrial School will find that in the elegant diction of the poet they have taken the wrong sow by the ear. At the meeting on Thursday evening, Mr. Barnes announced his intention to bring this whole matter before the legislature, and he is a man not easily diverted from any darling project which involves smashing the head of an enemy. We have no overweening confidence in the success of the plan; our observation of California legislatures, coupled with our varied experience as an active member of the third house therein, has not been conducive to an exalted faith in them. Mr. Barnes might advantageously have left the punishment of these managers to Time and News Letter. The former of these public avengers waits for no man, and the latter waits for no Legislature.

We do not wish to appear impertinent, but really we should like to know how long the enterprising management of the weather intends running the present piece. The thing is becoming an outrage which we do not purpose submitting to all our lives; it is a first class imposition upon a good natured and forbearing public. It may be very fine sport for the celestial gentlemen to amuse themselves by drenching us with catarrhs and immersing us in asthmas, but we would mildly suggest that this sort of practical joking is somewhat infra the omnipotent dig.

The Catholic Bishop of Vermont, in a circular just issued, asking aid toward building a cathedral at Burlington, uses the following bit of soft soap to rub down the Burlingtonians withal: “The people of Burlington elected the Blessed Mother of God as the Patroness of their city. The clergy confirmed that election, and finally Pius IX, in a document signed with his hand, declared the great Mother of God the Patroness of the city of Burlington.” Since receiving her commission the Mother of God has been rummaging amongst the school atlases to ascertain the exact location of her lucrative sinecure.

We observe that the Times makes frequent use of the word “alleged” in the headings of its local items, as “Alleged Robbery,” “Alleged Murder,” etc. As about nine-tenths of the stuff printed in the local columns of a daily newspaper are pure fiction, we think the Times shows remarkable good sense in not endorsing it all. We would suggest, however, that the principle might also be advantageously applied in its editorial columns: “Alleged Political Situation,” “Alleged Democratic Inconsistency,” “Alleged Aspect of the Labor Market,” “Our Alleged Reason for Supporting the People’s Ticket,” etc.

It is now positively settled that the annual posturing of the Olympic Musclemen will take place on the evening of September 10th, and will be kept up until the inquiring female mind is entirely familiar with masculine anatomy. After the young girls have become thoroughly conversant with the subject, the living mannikens will put on their clothes and teach the delighted darlings the mysteries of the waltz—for a very fine description of which see my Lord Byron.

The dailies record several narrow escapes from accidents resulting from careless blasting in the Rincon Hill cut. A very narrow one occurred a few days ago: a stone weighting about five pounds passed within an inch of the side of a man’s head. The slightest deviation to the Southwest would have caused it to take off his right ear. As it happened, it merely knocked a hole through the center of his head.

A British paper, speaking of the exodus of the “natural blondes” from this country to the tight little isle, says: “It is gratifying to hear that, though a little maltreated, they are enabled to return to their native country, and that none of the burlesque actors and actresses have as yet been revolvered or bowie-knifed.” In the simplicity of our soul we fail to see anything gratifying about it.

A morning paper reports that on last Saturday night a burglar entered the room of a man who was to be married next day and robbed him of forty dollars. We don’t believe it: the young man told that story as an excuse for not paying the parson. It is an old dodge: we have resorted to it quite frequently ourselves. It is utterly impossible to have forty dollars after procuring a wedding outfit.

A few weeks ago we announced that one John M. Farrell had been locked up by the police for drunkenness, and added that he was the Secretary of the Father Mathew Temperance Society. In this we unintentionally did Mr. Farrell injustice. He has no connection with the Society in question, and we cheerfully apologize for coupling his name with so disreputable an institution.

Vice President Colfax thinks the Pacific Railroad has conferred an immense benefit upon this coast by bringing public men this way. We do not see it in precisely that light, but are willing to admit that in taking them back again it has done a good service. The road is a kind of rule that works both ways, and so far, its work from west to east has been the more agreeable to us.

Brigham Young says that disembodied spirits desire above all things to be born again in the flesh. We think they exhibit some sagacity in this: a fellow can, undoubtedly, have more fun in the flesh than out of it, and it must be awfully annoying to the disembodied souls to stand in a row, each waiting his turn to get into some new-born babe or untenanted parson.

Some misguided gentlemen in South San Francisco presented the Methodists a building lot, upon condition that a church costing three thousand dollars should be erected thereon. It was promptly done; your zealous Christian is not going to lose his grip on a valuable lot of land from any absurd scruples about swindling secular benevolence out of a paltry three thousand dollars.

A man was found by the police, dead drunk on Pacific street, and when searched at the station house had over five hundred dollars in his pocket. The Herald says it is surprising how he escaped from the Barbary Coast with so much money. It is still more surprising how he managed to keep it all the way to the station house, with a policeman on each side of him.

The Golden City says this paper is conducted by an Invective, an Epithetic and a General Dissatisfaction editor. We have also an Idiotic editor, whose function it is to render the smartness of the Golden City into wit. He makes it intelligible, but ‘fore Gad we believe the wretch rewrites every line of it!

The Bulletin has a silly poem about our Mayor, entitled “When was McCoppin Born?” He was born at the precise time when nature became ashamed of herself for creating the editor of the Bulletin, and resolved to counteract the effect of a prodigious dunce by offsetting against it that of a Man.

During the past week the papers have recorded, under the head of suicide, several deaths which upon examination prove to have resulted accidentally from the too prevalent custom of taking strychnine punches with too great a proportion of whisky. Mixed drinks are always unhealthy.

Dr. Tiffany, in his lecture at the Hall of the Young Men’s Christian Association, on Monday evening last, said that “people who can laugh, even at others, have something good in them.” If this be so there is hope of us, bad as we seem, for we laugh at Dr. Tiffany.

The religious weeklies are doing as well as could be expected. The last one we looked at informs us that the true minister of the blessed gospel may be known by his aversion to display. He may be more easily known by his aversion to work.

A morning paper, noticing the formation of a Yacht Club, says the initiation fee has been placed at ten dollars, “which is considered a low figure.” So it is, but it is accurately adjusted to the character of the organization.

One of one religious exchanges is considerably exercised about “whisky in the church,” and frantically demands to know if preachers and class leaders are asleep. Not at all; they are only boozy.

The inspiration which we draw from the gathering of so many foreign nationalities is trooly sublime!—Alta. [The sublimity does not crop out much in your remarks thereon.

Other points in the application of the subject were very impressive, and we should like to see the whole sermon in print.—Times. [And should like the job of printing it.

On last Monday evening the Rev. O. H. Tiffany lectured at the hall of the Y. M.C.A. upon “The Pretenses of Modern Life.” His eloquence is one of them.

Dr. Eells has preached his farewell sermon and gone away. Our dog Jack is much affected; he is an affected puppy. So is the Doctor.

The Oakland Transcript has been sold. It was sold once before—when Parson Benton took charge of it.

The Examiner demands that the Call show its hand. We pray the Examiner to exhibit its head.

The Times has a leading article entitled. “What the People Want.” They don’t want you.

(Source: California State Library, Sacramento, Microfilm Collection)