The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/September 4, 1869

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

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

It is hoped the following brief statement of Mr. Selby’s political views will prove satisfactory to everybody who is interested in knowing them: Mr. Selby has been a life-long Democrat, and is strongly opposed to the Fifteenth Constitutional Amendment and Negro equality. His position upon the Chinese labor question been so admirably explained by himself that we cannot do better than endorse it entirely, and without any other mental reservation than is rendered necessary by total inability to comprehend a word of it. A blind guess, however, gives a result something like this: He is opposed to the introduction of coolies, but in favor of importing labor. This labor he does not believe in employment except where it may be necessary, and then only under protest, and to an extent limited to the number of available laborers. Mr. Selby’s ideas regarding Sunday law are briefly these: He is unalterably opposed to compelling attendance at theaters by appropriate legislation, but believes in every man worshiping or neglecting God according to the dictates of his own or some other person’s conscience—the same to be determined by a court of competent jurisdiction. He believes the present laws of the State amply sufficient to enforce a decent respect the Christian Sabbath if the heart of the people is in the right place; and if not, why is it not? Finally, Mr. Selby believes in the utmost freedom consistent with liberty of speech and action, and maintains the inherent right of every member of the community to do exactly as he pleases, and if he will not it is Mr. Selby’s opinion that he should be compelled thereto by law. It is hoped that this brief and authoritative statement of Mr. Selby’s position will satisfy a consuming anxiety to know something of the man whom the events of last Wednesday placed in a particular position. It would be unjust to dismiss this subject without stating that Mr. Selby sets his face like a flint against corruption in the mayoralty and will not be guilty of it—not this year. Later.—Such, dear reader, would have been our gentle satire had Mr. Selby been defeated.

It is the function of the press to expose all manner of rascality and corruption. That is also our function. A most infamous case of swindling has recently come to our ears, and we hasten to brand the scoundrel who is guilty of it—merely suppressing his name in accordance with time-honored custom and journalistic decency. A young man of this city, of remarkable personal attraction, has for some years supported himself by asking for the gift of some favorite curl from the head of each of his lady admirers. The amount of hair he has been able to accumulate in this manner is something astonishing, and upon the proceeds of its sale to a well-known dealer on Montgomery street the base trafficker in man filament has lived in princely splendor. He devotes his entire time and talents to the business, and as his ill-gotten gains enable him to move in the first circles, he has succeeded in despoiling the pretty heads of half our fairest ladies. No sooner does he see a young woman with a good head of hair, amongst which recognizes none of his own previous accumulations, than he seeks an introduction, and with the diabolical art of a Mephistopheles insinuates his image into her heart and his fingers into her ear-locks at a single operation. Then follow a bolder appeal, a bashful protest, an affectionate snip of the scissors, and the deceitful scoundrel is off to fresh heads and pastures new. We warn our lady readers against the subtle blandishments of this fiend in human shape! Young woman with natural hair, be careful of the youth who is anxious to make your acquaintance; avoid the nice young man who would toy with your locks; shun, as you have been accustomed to shun the deadly upas tree, the perfectly splendid fellow who begs the donation of just one little-curl! “ ’Tis he—the Hair Demon!” By these tokens may he be known, and by his habit of wearing a pair of scissors. When you come across him, get up and get!

One of the most mournful careers in history has been that of John Allen. Years ago he subtended a large popular angle: now he has dwindled to an insignificant mathematical point, without moral length, social breadth, or intellectual thickness. A few short months ago he was in the mouth of the nation, and tasted sweet; his fame as the wickedest man in New York placed him beyond the reach of calumny; his notoriety seemed established upon a firm and enduring basis. Children were taught to syllable his name and lisp his praise; the press teemed with him, and chronicled his lying down drunk and his getting up with the headache; the church concerned itself with the eternal welfare of his grosser part. Where now, alas, is John Allen? Go seek him in the musty shade of an obscure respectability. Unknown, unhonored and unhung, he drags out the miserable and purposeless existence of a church member. What a lesson is here, O my little friends! It is only an honest persistence that can clinch the nail of this world’s esteem. The vacillating, the infirm of purpose, are irrevocably lost, and their every name shall perish. Whenever you start in to be anything in particular, see that you keep up your lick.

It is with a grim satisfaction that we record the destruction by fire of Bierstadt’s celebrated picture of Yosemite Valley. That picture has been the prolific parent of ten thousand abominations. We have had Yosemite in oils, in water color, in crayons, in chalk and charcoal until in our very dreams we imagine ourselves falling from the summit of El Capitan or descending in spray from the Bridal Veil cataract. Besides, that picture has incited more unpleasant people to visit California than all our conspiring hotel-keepers could compel to return. The most persistent robbery and conscientious spoliation have failed to keep them back. For each one we have despoiled a score have appeared. We are glad that a blow has finally been struck at the root of immigration. If we can now corral Hill’s picture and send East all the rest we may hope for peace. If not, we trust some daring spirit may be found to blow up the infernal valley with Giant powder or glycerine soap.

The Congressional Retrenchment Committee have declined the proffered hospitalities of several prominent citizens. This is something new under the sun—a very suspicious-looking innovation. We should just like to know what that Committee came here for if not to eat. They cannot possibly imagine we have any other use for distinguished visitors than to stuff them in the manner of the taxidermist. California relies upon the visits of committees to get rid of her cold victuals, and hitherto none have failed us. If these gentlemen intend to go back on us they would better leave these Occidental shores in double quick disorder. We have our own peculiar ideas regarding the duties of guests, and are not to be dictated to by any small members of an abstemious Congress. For obvious reasons they need not fear putting an enemy into their mouths to steal away their brains. We insist upon putting our new wine into their old skins.

The Women’s Co-operative Printing Union are a blessed set of unsophisticated ducks. They offer to sell ten thousand dollars’ worth of their stock for three thousand dollars, but no one will accept their generous proposal. Only five or six ladies stick to the Union, and they won’t accept thirty dollars a week. Cannot Mrs. P., as President of these industrious doves, induce them to endeavor to live on five dollars per day until something turns up? Mrs. Peterson has victimized Dr. Scudder to the air of one thousand dollars, and has folded up her skirts like an Arab and silently stolen away to South America. We should have liked to co-operate in that last transaction—the stealing (away), not the folding up.

We note a tendency amongst the smart writers of the hour to satirize the peculiar teetering hobble of our heel-exalted women. There is no sense nor manliness in poking fun at the misfortunes of the dear creatures, and the readiest answer to the small wits is the question. What should we do without them? We have propounded this logical conundrum in a variety of instances, and always but once with smashing effect. In the exceptional case the wretch in whom we had misplaced our trust irrelevantly replied, “I suppose we should have to domesticate the sprightly kangaroo.” Live, ladies, and save us from Kangaroobial infelicity.

The Call got drunk yesterday over either the success or the defeat of its ticket—we can’t tell which—and perpetrated the following metaphorical stagger: “Let the vanquished prove their worthiness to win by bearing their defeat manfully, gathering up their scattered forces—mental, physical and political—mending the flaws in their creed and the faults of their policy, rest and think, study to be right or to get right, never despair but pick their flints and try again, put on fresh caps and take a new aim.” Who will kindly undertake to supply these vanquished but unsubdued heroes with a few fresh caps for their flint-lock muskets?

A religious exchange has an article upon the unspeakably important subject of “Posture in Prayer,” and the pith of its remarks may be given in the common slang expression, “Position is everything.” There is at one of our melodeons a cunning female contortionist, who nightly electrifies her audience by shutting herself up like a jack-knife in a box three feet long. The parsons might possibly take a hint from her success and derive some valuable ideas from her wise counsel. Consultation free.

The Bulletin, alluding to the expected visit of the Chamber of Commerce of Cincinnati, says: “A delegation of her merchants and business men coming here to look into our resources and exchange views in a quiet way, is an event of more than ordinary significance.” There’s for you, Cincinnatans. You are to exchange views “in a quiet way.” No more banquets, no more excursions, no more displays for us, thank you. You will do well to take this hint and act with a seemly modesty.

Sawtelle’s monthly vacuity, the Spare Hour, says it has found the preaching of the Rev. Dr. Ball “of a most profitable character.” The Rev. Doctor himself has found it even more profitable. Sawtelle speaks in a moral sense, we in a pecuniary. By so much in our sense better than Sawtelle’s sense. Likewise it considerably exceeds it in quantity. Our sense is matter of common remark, while Sawtelle hasn’t any sense to speak of.

Mr. W. McK. Culp (Phoebus, what a name!) contributes an obituary notice to a religious weekly, from which it appears that it is a rather good thing to be dead—which, were we W. McK. Culp, we should certainly believe. M. Culp says: “He suffers no more. His little sister preceded him but a few weeks ago. The father and four children are safely landed in glory. Happy saints!” Happy, indeed, to get away from W. McK. Culprit!

That was a rather good thing of the Rev. B. T. Martin, late Assayer of the Branch Mint. When relieved of his office by Mr. Munson, he sent for all the clerks and other employees of his department, and addressed them thus: “Gentlemen, it would give me exquisite pleasure to introduce you to my successor, but I learn that you have all made his acquaintance already.” They had—rather.

On last Thursday evening Professor Le Conte delivered a lecture at the Mechanics’ Institute upon “The Mechanical Principles which render Perpetual Motion Impossible.” We wish there had been some mechanical principles rendering Professor Le Conte impossible.

It is presumable that the editor of a religious sheet is influenced by some other motive than fear of his fellow men.—Pacific. [It is even presumable that in some isolated cases he is influenced by a hankering after this world’s goods—the filthy lucre of the secular scribe.]

A telegram announces the finding of the body of a man who had died of violence, and says it is not known whether he was killed or committed suicide. We think it is definitely known that he was killed; the only question being whether it was done by a villain or a fool.

The editor of the Occident lately delivered a sermon entitled “God our Refuge.” If the reverend gentleman expects to shield himself in that way for the Town Crier’s vigorous stirring-up with a sharp stick, we beg leave to inform him that God declines to interfere.

Carl Schurz was presented with a beautiful Manzanita cane by Dr. L. J. Czapkay. The head is of gold-bearing quartz, with a quack doctor rampant, a bloody child dormant and a woman sprawlant; and the gift is designed to commemorate the public career of the generous donor.

The Saturday Mercury agitates for the suppression of the crowd of stock brokers who congregate at the corner of Montgomery and California streets. They are a nuisance, but we have never seen them molesting our literary neighbor’s bulletin board.

The editor of the San Francisco Advocate seems to be unaware that immersion, as a religious ordinance, was instituted by Christ—Evangel. [He is probably unaware, also, that Christ must have taught it to the Hindoos at least four thousand years ago.]

The Advocate says: “There is reason to fear that in some instances even ministers indulge in the use of wine as a beverage.” Never, unless somebody else pays for it. A wholesome penuriousness is the strongest ally of the Temperance shrieker.

A contemporary says that for her Lord Byron article in the Atlantic, Mrs. Stowe deserves ducking in a horse-pond. So she does, but what horse-pond deserves it? We would suggest that she be ducked in the dirtier Atlantic.

The Rev. Dr. Adams says the whole community is suffering from a neglect of definite Christian teaching. Our skirts are clear: we have been endeavoring to teach Christians definite decency, for lo these many moons.

The Barnacle advises its readers to “steer by Scudder.” We counsel ours to do likewise—steer by him with all possible dispatch, as you would past any other nasty alligator wallowing in the mud.

If you meet a man on the narrow crossing of a muddy street, stand perfectly still. He will turn out and go round you bowing his apologies. It is only common courtesy to accept them.

Every man, woman and child in Wales attends Sunday school.—Exchange. [The nasty little cannibal!]

The Boston Advocate of Peace has a touching lament upon The Lack of Thought on Peace. The Advocate seems to be the organ and exponent of that particular heresy.

Officer Keefe, who was arrested for committing a rape upon Ellen McKean, has been triumphantly acquitted. The face of the complaining witness was accepted as a quite sufficient defense.

The taste for reading sermons is evidently becoming more general.—Occident. [Ours, however, are somewhat more popular than yours.]

The Examiner speaks of the six “able-bodied notists” of the Alta. Let us be fair; there are only five. The other is only an empty demijohn.

The condition of the Emperor is more satisfactory.—Telegram. [To whom? Himself, or his devoted subjects?]

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection.)