The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/September 11, 1859

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

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

The Town Crier family, male, female and young, attended church on last Sunday as a treat to the children. The male listened with decent gravity and much interest to the prayer of the eloquent divine in the pulpit, and was seized with a desire to imitate or even surpass it if possible. Returning home full of his subject he seized a quill, and lo! the subjoined: “O, Lord, who for the purposes of this supplication we will assume to have created the heavens and the earth before man created Thee; and who, let us say, art from everlasting to everlasting; we beseech Thee to turn Thy attention this way and behold a set of the most abandoned scalawags Thou has ever had the pleasure of setting eyes on. We frankly admit, O Lord, that we are but worms wriggling in the sand hills South of Market street and elsewhere. In addition to this we confess ourselves a sweet lot of smooth-tongued hypocrites, with a goodly sprinkling of healthy sneaks, and insist that our villainy is something phenomenal, and that we are capable of any inexpensive enormity. Not one of us has the hardihood to claim a single redeeming virtue. We were born so, and can’t help it; and wouldn’t if we could. But in consideration of the fact that Thou sentest Thy only begotten Son among us, and afforded us the felicity of murdering him, we would respectfully suggest the propriety of taking into heaven such of us as pay our church dues, and giving us an eternity of exalted laziness and absolutely inconceivable fun. We ask this in the name of Thy Son whom we strung up as above stated. Amen.” The Town Crier will dispose of the copyright of this prayer to the parson who will pay the most unreasonable price for it. If it is not sufficiently cheeky to please the meek and lowly Christian congregations of this city, it can be altered to suit, or may be used at Oakland.

The Independent Press inveighs sturdily against “the Cliff House Brigade,” whose love of recreation got the better of their patriotism upon election day. Captain Foster, we learn, looks upon them quite leniently—is to their faults a little blind. To harmonize the interests of all parties we suggest that at the next municipal election a polling place be established at the Cliff. It would, however, be more in keeping with modern legislation to compel Foster to close his hostelry when the attendance of nice young Tax-Payers at the polis is desirable. Anyhow, this discussion of political absenteeism has rendered it tolerably apparent that the straight-out Democracy of this village is just perishing from lack of recreation, and that Radicalism is waxing exceeding florid of cheek, stout of limb and fat of belly from inspiring healthy sea breezes and sweet country air. And this suggests the thought that the morality of elections might be vastly improved by compelling the entire horde of Mayor-makers to leave town on the decisive day. Ah! How delightful for the women and children to walk the streets one day in the year without getting their clothes torn and their eyes blacked, and being compelled to sprain themselves by straddling over prostrate drunks. We prescribe a diet of new mown hay for the political nose. Rusticate, ye rascals, and let the present stealing go on!

O Lord, we implore Thee to send on earth a new batch of idiots, that the clamor of the religious press may be stopped by exceeding great additions to its subscription list. For behold its voice ascendeth up forever and ever, and vexeth more the ear of Thy servant. Grant, O Lord, that fools, and flats, and buffers, and snuffs, in number so great that the same may not be reckoned, may go up into the sanctum and pungle down talents of silver and shekels of gold, from the rising of the sun even to the going down of the same. Lo! the religious press hath gone clean daft, and its itching palm is spread abroad on every side to intercept the filthy lucre of sinner and saint—which, albeit, cometh not to gladden the editorial heart and make the editorial face to shine. The rams of the flock bleat aloud and the ewes answer unto them. Lamb unto lamb uttereth speech, and all wax fat upon the goodly pasture. Yet they come not up to be fleeced of the shepherd, neither give they of their mutton to be eaten of the master. Therefore, O Lord, we pray Thee that Thou wilt drive them into the fold to be shorn and slaughtered, lest the secular wolf shall come and rend them; yea, lest they be despoiled by the News Letter! Amen.

We learn that the Superintendent of the Branch Mint has neatly removed the official chignons of some half-dozen women thereunto appertaining. We trust he may replace them by a handsomer lot. The old set were so homely that while filing the edges of the double-eagle pieces the latter were in such an agony of fear that they sweat great drops of verdigris. There is no good reason why the honest miner should any longer be lured into the Mint, frightened into a conniption fit by peep into the ladies’ department, his body sent up chimney and his “light amalgam mixed dust” pounced upon by conspiring officials. The thing is not honest. Likewise it makes talk. Let the withering blot of female physiognomical noxiousness be removed from the fair fame of our beloved Mint. Appoint beautiful young girls; among others our sweetheart, and our mother-in-law, and our aunt’s cousin, and the female members of their respective families.

One day last week a woman at the Brooklyn Hotel attempted to refute some amputations against her character by passing through an ordeal of arsenic. She was speedily pumped dry by a meddling medico, and her chastity is still a bone of contention, Poor dear, if she will come to this office she shall have the use of it rent free, to establish the purity of her soul by the wager of unlimited poison, without hindrance. The Town Crier will accord her the largest liberty of action –reserving for himself the widest latitude of opinion. Come on, darling, and expire triumphantly in these protecting arms. [Lying epitaphs furnished at ten cents a line, invariably in advance.]

The Alta, speaking of the orderly manner in which our municipal election was conducted, complacently remarks, “This is truly a spectacle worthy of admiration, which will not be credited by monarchical governments.” The Alta is mistaken; not a single monarchical, so far as the returns are in, has given official expression to its incredulity. We believe all Europe and two-thirds of Asia have wallowed the unwelcome fact that our Mayor was chosen without bloodshed. The effete dynasties may totter, and the crumbling despotisms may writhe, but they won’t go back on the logic of San Francisco events.

The Times, in an obituary notice of the late Secretary Rawlins, quotes the concluding sentence of a really neat little speech of his at Galena, Illinois, and adds: “It was that speech that sent Grant to the war. It may have been that speech which saved the Union.” Strange blindness of the Government to expend untold millions casting cannon and buying muskets, when it might, at a trifling expense, have put a copy of that speech into the hand of every cerulean hero to be read off at the grey legions of the enemy from a cheap camp stool. Will the Times favor us with a lucid moment?

A local divine is very much of the opinion that “true religion is the abstract idealization of all that is good, intensified by the moral sense, and interpreted by a divine radiation acting upon the susceptible human organism.” O, my! No one but an iconoclastic scoundrel would spring so startling a heresy upon a calm Christian community. We are getting up a gallery of preserved mean men, and the author of that unscrupulous definition shall be placed by the hanging committee in the most advantageous light. Let him depend from the most conspicuous hook.”

As Miss Anna Dickinson has let fall her “last word,” and gone away, there can be no impropriety in inquiring how she acquired so minute and practical a knowledge of the Social Evil; and in calling attention to the remarkable fact that familiarity with it does not seem to have bred contempt—at least not a mutual one.

On Monday last, as the congregation “Sherith Israel” left Pacific Hall, where they had been celebrating the solemnities of the Jewish New Year, a man named, we believe, Vanetta, stood at the door and handed his business card to each lady as she came out. We should really like to know which of the Christian congregations have been similarly favored, and if none, why this partiality? If by some mistake in the records Mr. Vanetta should get passed into heaven, we suppose his first business would be to paste a handbill on the back of the great white throne. Decent man, that Vanetta—painfully so.

A city clergyman says: “There is something lacking in the intellectual or moral organization of the man who lies down at night without saying a prayer.” Ah! at last the parson and the philosopher—the town sniveler and the Town Crier—meet upon common ground, and clasp hands with a mutual respect. For we, also plead guilty to an holy detestation and contempt for the man who can go to sleep at night without thanking God for not killing him since breakfast.

About two weeks ago a little boy was run over by a truck and mashed to the consistence of double-extra family flour. His mortal powder was passed through a seive, chemically analyzed and assayed at the Branch Mint. The Coroner’s jury find that the innocent is indisputably dead. The grief of the parents upon hearing the verdict is described by an eye-witness as heart-rending to the verge of absurdity.

One Waterman has been declared insane and ordered to the Asylum by Judge Wright, for insulting people on the street. We rejoice at the precedent thus established, and recommend our friends at Stockton to make ready a few hundred cells for the accommodation of the itinerant antique youths of the Christian Association, whose calling and election are rendered sure thereby. O, just and upright judge!

The meeting of officers at Gettysburg, with a view of settling disputed points as to the positions and movements of troops at the great battle, was a failure. There was but a slim attendance.—Exchange. [They met for that business once before, and we shrewdly suspect they then and there acquired a mutual distaste for settling disputed points upon a battle field.]

In our next issue we shall overwhelm and confound our readers with a torrent of wisdom in relation to China and the mission of Mr. Burlingame. The views we shall take the unpardonable liberty to present are entirely our own, and we hope the press will generously abstain from their appropriating or refuting them until it knows what they are.

The Sisters of Mercy, in charge of the Magdalen Asylum, publish a card gratefully acknowledging the munificent donation of $14.25 from the late Grand Jury. Such generosity is absolutely unparalleled. We will venture the assertion that not one Grand Jury in a thousand would have given that odd twenty-five cents. The Mags are jubilant.

At the annual pow-wow of the Young Christians, last Sunday evening, the Rev. H.D. Lathrop compared the association to a ladder set against the wall of denominational differences. A man’s similes are usually drawn from the occupation with which he is most familiar. That of Mr. Lathrop is remarkably suggestive of fruit stealing.

A celestial has been declared insane for proclaiming himself Emperor of China. The commissioners have acted hastily in this matter. For aught we know the man’s statement may be false. Suppose a man should declare himself Mayor of Oakland; would that be evidence of insanity—unless he could prove his assertion?

We have the following intelligence from Virginia City: “Dedman, sentenced to State Prison for life for killing Springer, is going to marry Kate Kerrison forthwith. She was the cause of the difficulty.” It is gratifying to learn that this female provoker of iniquity is about to meet with a righteous retribution.

The reverend gentleman said that a friend of his had visited the Holy Land. In Jerusalem he set out to examine the place known as the “Sepulchre of Jesus.” Not being acquainted with the geography of the place he got lost.—Alta [He is not the only man who has got lost fooling round that vicinity.]

The Call is “out in a card,” offering the protection of the Phlag of Phreedom to Prince Arthur when he shall have been compelled to flee from the wrath of England’s fierce Democracie. For the Lord’s sake, neighbor, tone down your prodigal hospitality; the prince will never vote your ticket.

The Alta, alluding to our regular election frauds, says: “It is evident that some additions will have to be made to the registry law in relation to the counting, sealing up and delivery of ballots.” It might be as well first to experiment with some additions to our honesty.

A splendid homestead has been purchased in Illinois, and was not presented to either President Grant or General Sherman. They will play a friendly game of euchre to decide who shall have it, and the winner will immediately institute legal proceedings.

“The French political reformation is nearly complete, and there will be no more important changes in the Government.” [Properly this intelligence should have appeared in our telegraphic abstract. We give it here because it sounds like a capital joke.]

The London Times thinks it is not essential to abolish Trades Unions, but to convince the individual members of their error. Our own impression is that it is not essential to convince the Unions of their error, but to abolish the individual members.

We ought indeed to have, by this time, a machine for jotting down thoughts by some process far quicker than the one now in use.—Times. [Our contemporary hath greater need of a machine for hatching them.]

The other day a man endeavored to shoot two employees of the Lick House and failed because he had forgotten to cap his pistol. Such criminal neglect merits the severest censure. Let him be denounced.

Last Sunday evening the Rev. Father Eagan delivered his weekly caw at St. James’ rookery. Subject—He passed by on the other side. So did every intelligent citizen within lungshot of the Father’s pulpit.

“A Working Girl,” in a letter to the Call, makes a graceful appeal to the editor’s “kind ears.” You are upon delicate ground, my indiscreet youngling; “kind” is not the proper adjective.

The Alta has an article entitled. “A Remarkable River and a Surprising Echo.” How admirably descriptive of the Alta’s editorial water-flux, and the faint second fiddle of its local drivel.

A religious weekly urges its readers to pray for the watchful care of Providence. It is unnecessary, neighbor; Providence already has his eye on you fellows.

Our drafts upon the Bank of Faith have been very heavy.—Occident. [Not half so heavy as your drafts upon the Bank of Patience.]

Dr. Stone compares man to an organ with a hundred stops. The doctor “plays” him admirably.

Rosa Bonheur smokes.—Ex [Put her out!]

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)