The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/August 14, 1869

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

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

 Towne Cryer wishes to have a word with his brother of the Post Office, Col. Coey. The latter employs, and the former has hitherto tolerated, a clerk at delivery window A, B, C, who seems to have been intended by nature for editing a newspaper, or some other vocation requiring the maximum of malice and the minimum of brain. This man’s malignity and inefficiency are absolutely phenomenal. Towne Cryer believes he himself is the only person in the city and county of that name. The clerk in question knows it. And yet if the surname of the former happen to be spelled with an i the latter will keep his letters for an entire week, upon the flimsy pretext that they may be intended for another person. Towne Cryer believes in his soul the wretch does this for no other purpose than to oblige him to take the Call for the sake of the letter list published each Wednesday therein. Of course he could take it for no other conceivable reason. Now this is a real grievance, and is fast prostrating the literary and other leading interests of this coast. Nor does the clerk now under the scalping knife manifest his native malice in this way alone. Even when the letters are addressed as plain as the ears upon his own head, he will not deliver them. Towne Cryer’s favorite uncle died the other day, in Pike county, Missouri, and for six days this atrocious clerk retained for his own private delectation the letter announcing decedent’s magnificent bequest of his entire estate to a foundling hospital. Could anything be more exquisitely exasperating? Now if this gentleman be not speedily removed something will happen to our new Postmaster. It is unsafe to allow a mere shuffler of letters to ride rough-shod over an entire community, represented by the writer of these withering denunciations. A word to the wise is sufficient, and a hint to a Postmaster, coupled with a kick at his clerk, ought to suffice for the securing of so trifling a reform as the lopping of an official head. If it is not we shall vice versa-fy our warning.

The eclipse of last Saturday came on at the advertised time, and nothing had been omitted to give éclat to the occasion. The drunkenness and rowdysim usually attendant upon these exhibitions were almost wholly dispensed with, although a considerable number of blackened eyes might have been seen immediately after. The spectacular effect was extremely beautiful; everything having apparently been sacrificed to that end. We have never seen so large and respectable an audience gaping with such breathless attention upon any scenic representation that has ever been produced in San Francisco; and at the close of the piece everybody seemed so thoroughly satisfied, and so deeply impressed, that not even an encore was demanded; though the previous announcement that none would be allowed may have had something to do with this. We wish it were in our power to conscientiously commend the spectacle itself, as well as the admirable manner in which it was rendered. While the enterprising management deserves the thanks of the community for catering so intelligently to its tastes by the production of this popular novelty, we would gladly see that taste somewhat more elevated. In point of real merit this last piece can no more compare with the earthquake of last October than the play of Ixion can with Hamlet. Nor in point of decency can we commend it. We did not observe a single lady in the audience who dared to gaze steadily upon it for any considerable length of time, without partially concealing her face with her hand or some other article. In fact we do not see how it could have been otherwise; during the entire exhibition one limb of the leading character was entirely exposed. We trust we shall not be called upon to chronicle prolonged success of this obscene drama. Same bill again for the matinee this afternoon.

To-morrow evening Mrs. Pitts will deliver a lecture before the Dashaways, entitled “Scenes in the Life of a Drunkard.” We are kindly allowed to give the following synopsis: “The drink; the drunk; the weeping mother; the ditto wife; the similar daughter; the starving little boy; the attenuated mother-in-law; bringing down; the father’s bald head; in sorrow to the grave; conversion by the Dashaways; the vow; the row; the redrunk; conversion by Mrs. Pitts; relapse; conversion by the church; the theft; San Quentin; pardon by the Governor; appointment on the police; the depths of degradation; rescue by political change; ornament to society; Pitts to be avoided.”

The Rev. Dr. Stabbins has returned, and we rejoice at the prospect of once more hearing some sense from the pulpit. We’ve had a hard time of it, Doctor, since you have been away. What with Scudder, and Eells, and Doughty, and Eagan, all on our hands at once, the chances of preserving the purity of the pulpit looked very slender. But we’ve done what we could, and have a fine assortment of clerical scalps with ears attached, which we shall hasten to lay before you when you have somewhat recovered from your fatigue. Surely thy servant deserveth well, and we shall wrestle with thee for thy blessing. Be careful that we do not catch thee tripping.

That aggregate of callow lawyerlings, termed the Moot Court, has flown into a rage at News Letter’s good natural strictures, and one incipient shyster, who humorously terms himself “the most prominent and talented of the Society,” also a “worthy and respectable but modest and sensitive young man,” and whose name appears to be R—, rushes inconsiderately into print with a pathetic appeal to the editor of the Herald and the public generally to choke us off. The little donkey complains that we have dragged him into the glare of a ridiculous publicity. Let him calm his gentle soul; we shall drag him out again when we get done with him.

On last Sunday the Sarafield Guard had a target excursion. In remembrance of their late glorious victory over the women and children, their banner was inscribed “Saucelito”—with the S turned the wrong way. The first prize for shooting—an elegant stone jug on a brass hod, the gift of Messrs. Shaughnessy & OToole—was won by Private Patrick Teddy O’Rafferty. The corresponding prize for drinking—a neat flint-lock musket, pattern of 1776, presented by Malone & Flannigan—was borne off, figuratively, by Captain O’Donnell; literally, by an express wagon, with the Captain atop of it.

President Grant says that at the time the celebrated Ostend Manifesto was issued, he was in favor of it. As at that particular juncture President Grant was an honest tanner of considerable influence in his ward, his opinion upon this matter is of some importance. It is to be hoped he will let us know what were his views upon the tariff when he attended the village school, and how he regarded the Eastern Question while he was practicing the manual of arms at West Point.

Dr. Scudder announces that he will preach three sermons and then take a vacation of three months. If Dr. Scudder feels irresistibly impelled toward arithmetical exercise we would suggest that he try his hand at subtraction upon the former number, and addition upon the latter. The operation, if thoroughly performed, would prove a pleasing recreation to him, and the result a no less pleasing relief to us.

We live in hopes of at some future day seeing the municipal authorities have full control of both gas and water. Should that day ever come we can rejoice and exclaim, “Fortunate city! Blessed people!”—Cor. Bulletin. [My dear friend, should the municipal authorities get control of much more than they already hold, you will not have money enough left to pay the revenue tax upon such an exclamation.]

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, Microfilm Collection)