The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/August 28, 1869

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

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

We would suggest to the somnolently inclined, that the extreme end of a wharf is not a success, considered merely as a sleeping couch. We were very much impressed with this truth, last Sunday, while drifting lazily along the City-front, in a small boat. It was really a peculiar spectacle—those rows of nodding humanity; perched along the outer verge of the piers, or gravely straddling the ends of the jutting timbers—all fast asleep, and dreaming economically of downy repose in sumptuous sailor-lodgings. And then the cheerful chug—chug—as one after another they tumbled into the water, as the fish-hawk drops upon his prey, was exhilarating and pleasantly soothing to the contemplative mind. Here, too, was food for philosophic speculation—here the imagination could have free play, tracing the probable mutations of each body, from its embarkation, through the long days of flotation to the final anchoring in the Coroner’s office; its checkered career diversified by such episodes as the invading shrimp, the disappointed shark, the affectionate sea-weed, the macerated head, the swelling ambition of the abdomen, the sound of cars, the exploring boat-hook, the jolting cart, the weeping relative, the inquest, the verdict of “perfectly sober,” and the long dark oblivion of Potters’ Field. Then the newspaper item of universal application—the “Found Drowned” of the reporter—the venerable editorial warning—the iterative rebuke addressed to the dull, cold ear of death! Surely, as has been once before remarked, truth is stranger than fiction: and the strangest truth of all is that people will pitch up the choice of lodgings as a proper field for the exercise of their most exalted indiscretion—notwithstanding the warning of an enlightened press.

If there is any individual who combines within himself the vices of an entire species it is your friend’s friend. A mother-in-law has usually been thought a rather satisfactory specimen of total depravity; it has been customary to regard your sweetheart’s brother as tolerably vicious for a young man; there is excellent authority for looking upon your business partner as not wholly without merit as a nuisance—but your friends’ friend is as far ahead of these in all that constitutes a healthy disagreeableness as they themselves are in advance of the average reptile or the conventional pestilence. We do not propose to illustrate the great truth we have in hand by instances; the experience of the reader will furnish ample evidence in support of our proposition, and any narration of pertinent facts could only quicken into life the dead ghosts of a thousand sheeted annoyances to squeak and gibber through a memory studded thick with the tomb-stones of happy hours murdered by your friend’s friend. Also, the animal is too well known to need a description. Imagine a thing in all essential particulars the exact reverse of a desirable acquaintance and you have his mental photograph. How your friend could ever admire so hopeless and unendurable a bore is a problem you are ever seeking to solve. Perhaps you may be assisted in it by a previous solution of the kindred problem—how could he ever feel affection for yourself? Perhaps your friend’s friend is equally exercised over that question—and perhaps from his point of view you are your friends friend.

The Town Crier acknowledge no higher felicity than to stand upon the pave, of a sunny afternoon, and watch his admirers, the ladies, meeting one another in full street costume. Everyone has observed a solitary and breasting a current of his fellows as he retraces his steps to pack off something he has forgotten. At each meeting with a neighbor there is a mutual pause, and the two confront each other for a moment, reaching out their delicate attennae, and making a critical examination of one another’s person. This the little creature repeats with tireless persistence to the end of his journey. As with the ant so with the other insect—the sprightly female of our species. It is really delightful to watch the fine frenzy of her lovely eye as she notes the approach of a woman more gorgeously arrayed than herself or the triumphant contempt that settles about her lips at the advance of a poorly clad sister. How contemplatively she lingers upon each detail of attire—with what a keen penetration she takes in the general effect at a sweep! And this suggests the fearful thought—what would the darlings do if they wore no clothes? One-half their pleasure in walking on the street would vanish like a dream, and an equal proportion of the Town Crier’s happiness in watching them would perish in the barren prospect of an inartistic nudity.

The Rev. Dr. Hallelujah Cox has played his farewell engagement, and will appear no more before a California audience. In parting with the Rev. Doctor we cannot withhold the present slight tribute to his equally slight talent. We know of no public performer who  has had to content against equal natural disadvantages of personal ignorance and professional incapacity, and the fact that with such heavy odds against him he has succeeded in getting away without incurring actual disgrace is evidence of indomitable energy upon his part and criminal neglect upon our own. We hope never to hear the Doctor again, and are confident he is willing to waive his privilege of hearing us. Good bye, Doctor; may God grant thee a safe—and speedy—journey to that blessed clime where the News Letter ceases from troubling and the parsons are at rest.

A contemporary says that every family living in the vicinity of water should keep a Newfoundland dog. We have tried it, and assure our readers that more pernicious advice could not be given. We always had to tie up our dog whenever we went to bathe in the river; and on one occasion the noble animal even broke into the bathroom of the house, and triumphantly dragged a lady out of the tub by the back hair. The brave fellow was always carrying our youngest child to an adjacent horse pond, and flinging her in for the purpose of saving her as she was going down for the last time. One day a slight error in calculation resulted in an addition to the Kingdom of Heaven, and Carlo was ruthlessly sacrificed. Newfoundland dogs, horse ponds, and domestic happiness are wholly incompatible.

A religious weekly says that so great is the efficacy of repentance that even the soldier who pierced the body of the Savior with a spear may now be in heaven singing hosannas before the great white throne. Perhaps so; but we imagine he has had to tone down his exuberance considerably. The kind of practical jokes he seems to have affected in the Old Jerusalem will not go down in the New; and if he is up to any more of his little games he will get his hosannas incontinently shut off. We think there is at least one person of the Trinity who will keep an eye upon this repentant centurion, and will seek an early opportunity to pay him off As for us, we doubt his change of heart, and trust that when we join the angelic host we shall be put into another choir.

We warn voters not to depend upon the “announcements” in the daily papers to learn who are the candidates for office at the coming election. Nearly every paper has a notice that political advertisements must be paid for in advance. This must, of course, bar out very many worthy and patriotic gentlemen, anxious to serve their state and city. In fact, we believe the dear people ought not to encourage bloated capital by electing pecunious candidates. Freemen, will you voluntarily place your necks beneath the golden heel of the aristocrat? Will you entrust the liberties of generations yet unborn to a plutocracy? Down with the moneycrats! Down with guilded corruption! Down with political announcements—paid for in advance.

Last Sunday evening the Rev. Father Eagan lectured upon “The Sins of the Tongue” A careful perusal of the News Letter today will probably convince him that not only is the tongue a very sinful member, but it is likewise a very indiscreet one. Father Eagan will do well to keep his false tongue between false teeth, or faith, we’ll run our pen through it, and leave him wagging his ears in lingual impotence. At the present time he resembles nothing so much as a stupid ant-eater, who has emitted a large volume of tongue against a frosty saw-blade. It will take considerably more than his ordinary drivel and drool to release the sinful member, and allow it to be quietly coiled away in the clerical cheek.

A Connecticut parson has been chased from the fold by the ewes of his flock for teaching that “When women fall into sin they suffer less from compunction of conscience than men.” It is true, nevertheless; and the wonder is that a Connecticut parson had sense enough to discover it. Towne Crier remembers that when he wickedly jilted a handsome girl under the erroneous impression that she was not rich, his conscience gave him no rest night or day until he went to her and offered to take her back to his heart of hearts. And then when she fell into the sin of hitting him across the head with an ax-handle, she didn’t suffer a single compunction.

The following phrases are the exclusive property of the Independent Press, and have been copyrighted: “A certain nationality”; “the dominant foreign element”; “a class of voters”; “our naturalized citizens”; “a particular race.” When any one of these expressions is used the reader will please understand that the words “d—d Irish” may be substituted without altering the want of sense, but seriously impairing the admirable weakness and independent timidity of the diction. The distinguishing trait of the Independent Press is a bold aggressiveness, beside which the strident roar of a sucking lamb is mere empty declamation.

On last Sunday Mr. George Barstow made a few fatherly remarks to the benighted pupils of the Methodist Chinese Sunday School. After alluding to the brutal assault upon them the week before, by some members of Dr. Scudder’s Church, he told them they must not grieve that the perpetrators had not been punished, for the laws of the State were such that the sufferers were not allowed to testify. At this consolotary explanation a calm serenity settled upon the troubled surface of the Mongolian mind, and stilled its pagan clamor into a sweet Christian resignation. A collection was then taken up and the school dismissed.

The Executive Committee of the Caucasian Society is ordered to prepare an address to the people of the United States. We have prepared an address to the Executive Committee of the Caucasian Society, which runs thus: Go home—you ridiculous political vermin. What in thunder do you suppose the people of the United States care for you?—you obsolete ethnologic pre-Adamites—you absurd fossils of a moral paleozoic vacuity—you wretched remnants of an intellectual anachronism—you limp cobwebs, dangling in the musty obscurity of a dense political ignorance! You Caucasian Society! Caucasian! Caw!

Francis O’Neil has been held for trial for committing an unprovoked assault upon a boy. We object; no assault upon a boy is committed without some provocation. The very existence of a boy is a standing affront, justifying any extreme measure for his suppression. The fact that boys are allowed to exist at all is evidence of remarkable Christian forbearance among men. Mankind might profitably take a lesson from other tigers in this matter; and were it not for a mawkish humanitarianism, coupled with imperfect digestive powers, we should devour our young, as Nature intended.

An immense idiotic sneak, who signs himself “Mungo Park,” makes it the business of his life to creep into people’s kitchens, and tells stupid lies about the Chinese cooks, and their manner of preparing our food. He likewise urges us to go on board the ships arriving from China, and pitch the tea overboard. If someone will kindly furnish us this statesman’s name, we shall be happy to soil our columns with it; and it would afford us equal pleasure to poison our favorite bulldog upon a mouthful of his leg.

The Examiner explains the object of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. It is “the practice of several ennobling virtues.” Exactly which ones have been singled out for the Ancient Hibernian practice we are not informed, but all the old Irishmen we know seem particularly partial to total abstinence (from cold water), piety (toward jackasses), honor (among thieves), valor (in assaulting Chinamen), forbearance (from decency), patience (under the hod), and moderation (in the use of soap).

The Call has been shown a document drawn up by a member of the Board of Education, of which the orthography is simply atrocious: for example, “seal” is spelled “ceal.” We have ourselves seen a paper emanating from the same quarter, in which “stealing” was spelled “steeling.” There is some excuse for the error pointed out by the Call, but certainly nothing can justify a man in blundering at the name of his own profession.

The resolution of the Massachusetts Democratic State Convention “recognize it as a duty to acquiesce in the results already arrived at in National affairs.” The results already arrived at are administrative inefficiency, legislative corruption and judicial plunder. These resolution, by a party which cannot get its finger into any one of these savory pies, are a striking illustration of the docility of the American political mind.

The times has made a popular hit in imitating our “Telegraphic Dottings.” Its first attempts are naturally somewhat crude, and remind one of nothing so much as the graceful gamboling of a baby elephant, or the brilliant sparkle of a luminous potato: but practice will doubtless superadd the ease of an accomplished cow, and the scintillation of a polished brick. Clever paper that Times—very.

It will be a sad day for San Francisco, if the offices should be filled by men whose sole rule of action is to follow the instructions of the people who placed them in position.—Examiner. [The Town Crier does not apprehend the immediate advent of this great public calamity. The “sole rule” is not likely to become immensely popular all at once.

The Magdalen Asylum makes a touching appeal for charity. Why not abolish it? Certainly there is little encouragement for parents to bring up their girls to a useful occupation if they are to be corralled into asylums and be made objects of charity. Magdalen Asylums should be made self-supporting, or be disestablished.

Every thinker who appreciates the dignity of human nature should scorn the fact that the labor of man is treated like that of mules, as an element in the cost of production.—Cincinnati Times. [True; thinkers who prate of the dignity of human nature are just the kind of men who scorn facts.

That is precisely the view taken by all rational minds, and which has been advanced for years in the Bulletin.—Bulletin. [In other words, that view is the common ground upon which meet the general intelligence and the special stupidity of the age.]

The U.S. District Attorney of Utah is of the opinion that the Mormon Church properly is clearly taxable. He can have the position of Collector, without bonds, for the asking. We believe there is no spirited competition for the place.

There were but two deaths in Sacramento last week. That place is so healthy that defaulters and disappointed lovers have to go up to Marysville to commit suicide.

Religion may be defined as the church members ticket entitling him to a reserved seat in the dress circle of heaven, commanding a good view of the pit.

A celebrated divine says the highest happiness in life consists in chastising the passions. We have always found it to consist in chastising the parsons.

Last week we omitted to notice that the Morning Barnacle has a new head. Most people have neglected to observe that it has any at all.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)