The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/September 25, 1869

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

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

 Two hundred Chinese prostitutes came over on the last steamer. They were met at the wharf by a delegation of our first citizens, and taken in carriages to the Occidental Hotel, where apartments had been prepared for their reception. During the afternoon the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and many of our principal merchants called upon them and welcomed them to our hospitable shores. In the evening they were serenaded by Willis Band, and in response to loud calls from an enthusiastic crowd they appeared upon the balcony and made an eloquent speech, for which we regret that we have not space. The next day they went on board the tug Goliah, and visited Alcatraz, Angel Island and Fort Point. They expressed themselves much pleased with our noble harbor and its defenses. In the evening they attended the California Theater in a body, and upon entering, the orchestra played Hail to the Chief, and Mr. Barrett advanced to the foot-lights and made a neat speech of welcome, which was patiently listened to. As soon as our distinguished visitors have somewhat recovered from the fatigue of their journey, they will be tendered a banquet at the Lick House. Next week they go to Yosemite and the Big Trees. They speak in the highest terms of our infant empire of the West. They admit that they are in a devil of a state!

The Oaklanders report that they were favored with an earthquake last Monday. It was only a young one that got lost in the foothills last October. Messrs. Rhoades and Stewart happened to be out there hunting quail and writing poetry, and seeing it lying round laid hold of its tail, and got into a row for the possession of it. Stewart insisted upon springing it on San Francisco at once. He had predicted one about this time, and the publication of his poems had failed to bring it on. His reputation was at stake. Rhoades was determined it should not come off until next century. The Chamber of Commerce had paid him to repress earthquakes until that time, and he was bound to earn his money. Besides, his recent nomination for District Attorney had placed him in a particular position, where his every action would be scrutinized, and if this thing were let off, charges of bribery would not be wanting. This spirited contention waked the slumbering temblor, and seeing itself in the hands of the Philistines it gently wagged its tail and prostrated its (and our) tormentors like the shock of a gymnotus. The vibration was felt on the populous shores of Lake Merritt. Both gentlemen got up demented. Rhoades has not since been heard from, the latest from Stewart will be found in another column.

The whisky distillers in certain revenue districts have made overtures to the government officers, pledging themselves to deal honestly with them hereafter. So the telegraph informs us. When we shall learn that a South wind has been blowing steadily from the North, that Orion has had his leg crushed in a collision on the San Jose railroad, that earthquakes may be prevented by pouring paregoric into a rat hole, that the Board of Education has met without a row and the supervisors without stealing, that Holliday’s steamers are safe and comfortable, that Jack Stratman’s moustache has grown to its former dimensions during a single swindle, and that H. H. Bancroft & Co. have disposed of a book without selling a customer—we shall be prepared to believe that the color of an Ethiop is optional, that a leopard can dispense with his spots without personal inconvenience, and that a whisky distiller has embraced one of the cardinal virtues—the virtue quietly submitting.

We have reliable information that on some of these fine evenings a fiendish attempt will be made to burn all the barrels and dry-goods boxes along the city front, thousands of which now repose in fancied security upon the sidewalks in that quarter. The diabolical arson is to break out simultaneously in one hundred and twenty places between North Point and the Pacific Mail Company’s wharf; and will continue loosely and miscellaneously as far up as Montgomery and Second streets. The parties engaged in this enterprise are among our most public spirited and respectable citizens, and it behooves the police and barrel-holders to be on their guard to frustrate the base conspiracy against our inherent right of obstruction. If the hellish plot is consummated, we shall expose the names of the incendiaries as soon as they shall have been convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction. As guardian of the public peace it is our duty to do so.

The Nicolson pavement is still being laid down upon divers of our streets. Will someone kindly inform us what private arrangement the supervisors have with the company? Twenty-eight cents per superficial foot leaves a handsome profit, and it is useless to attempt to convince us that it all goes to the contractors. We are, unhappily, so constituted that upon this question and that of the cubical figure of the earth we are not open to conviction. We suggest that the board look in the Book of Revelations. They will find an authentic account of a pavement which has been tried with gratifying success in the New Jerusalem. It costs more to lay it down, but it would be considerably cheaper in the end. Let a contract be made with Gen. LaGrange, of the Mint, to supply us with enough “fine bars” to pave Montgomery street as an experiment. The trouble is that the police would steal the blocks faster than they could be laid down.

It has been discovered that for the last eight or ten years frauds have been going on in the Methodist book concern, amounting to several hundred thousand dollars. This mammoth conversion machine will never be decently managed until the elect are all turned out, and it passes into the hands of secular thieves who have sense enough to cover up their rascalities with something more opaque than the cloak of religion. That venerable and threadbare garment is rapidly failing into disgrace, and the day is not far distant when if upon the translation of a saint his mantle shall descend on the shoulders of his successor it will be incontinently cast off into the dust, and no one will touch it with a ten-foot pole. Even now it has become so disreputable a toggery that the Town Crier is almost ashamed to be seen with it on for any considerable length of time. Cateris paribus he prefers to serve the devil in his own proper livery.

Puseyites and Ritualists have been wittily and felicitously compared to boys knocking at the door of a Roman Catholic Church, and then like cowards running away before giving time to anyone to come and see who is there. It appears that one of these runaways, conscious of having been seen at these pranks, pretends to put a bold face on the matter, and as he learns there is going to be a jolly time at the ecumenical meeting at Rome, asks his Holiness to be allowed to take a hand in it. His Holiness, however, knowing the character of the man, reminds him that it is a family party, and that he is notoriously a breeder of dissension in his own sect, snubs him by plainly telling him he wants no such people to destroy the harmony of the meeting. If such fellows as these were placed at the mouths of the canons of the church and spiritually blown to atoms, as the less culpable Indian mutineers were corporeally by the cannons of the British army, it would serve the treacherous, cowardly miscreants right.

The Christian Association have begun a course of weekly lectures for young men. This is very commendable, but they have foolishly decided to have them delivered on Sunday evenings when the fellows are all at billiards. The plan resembles the members of the association—it won’t work. We counsel everybody to attend, but it will be very silly to do so. There are better things in this life than these lectures. One should have his mind centered on the things that appertain unto a good time, and not go about drifting aimlessly into lecture rooms, when he does not know how soon he may be called upon to play the leading part in a funeral. Many a man has passed out of the lecture room into the lake of fire and brimstone, and never come back any more. Young men, beware!

Among the delegates to the Grand Lodge of Odd Fellows are Joshua Maris, of Delaware, and Hugh Latham, of Virginia. Both these gentlemen are Past Great Incohonees of the Improved Order of Red Men, the highest official position known to that order. Both are talented and eloquent speakers.—Bulletin. [There must be some mistake here: Incohonees are among the most intelligent of the brute creation, and are remarkably imitative in their habits, but we have never learned that they had been taught to articulate words. Buffon expressly states that the ingenuity of man has been completely baffled in the vain attempt to confer speech upon the lower quadrumana.]

On Sunday afternoon the Oakland Society of Inquiry (not Iniquity as reported by the Bulletin) met and debated the question, “Does public discussion of religious topics by the laity promote the interests of Christianity?” The Town Crier does not propose to eternally adjust this question by taking either side, but would modestly remark that the kind of religious discussion in vogue with the Oaklanders tends to promote nothing so much as violent cranial dissolution and the general handiness of brick-bats. The latter essential adjuncts of Oakland logic have had their sphere of usefulness very much extended by these religious debates.

We would respectably urge upon the Chief of Police that previously to incarcerating Chinamen in the City Prison they be turned over to the unchecked license of the nearest Irish crowd. They have lately adopted the extremely disagreeable fashion of hanging themselves by their pigtails, in preference to manfully facing the music of Judge Provines, and the treatment suggested would deprive them of the means of evading justice; their tails would be incontinently removed. If the heads should happen also to be plucked away, it would save court expenses, and be a graceful concession to the Judge’s political supporters.

The Herald, game to the last, emits the following truculent advice to its poor inoffensive and long suffering readers, who do not know enough to keep from under the hoofs of horses and the wheels of swill-carts: “Let every man, in defence of life and limb, carry a good serviceable revolver, and on the first attempt to ride or drive over him, shoot down mercilessly the aggressor. Let a general Revolver Club be organized, and let numerous examples be made. Take no prisoners.” The Herald’s readers will at least avail themselves of one part of this advice. They will take no prisoners.

An Episcopal clergyman in New York is endeavoring to prove that there are no essential points of difference between the Catholic and Protestant churches. Nor is there; except in the trifling matter of doctrine. Up to date, however, the Protestants are ahead in the number of their killed and wounded. But there is no telling how the score will stand a hundred years hence. Both are exceedingly enterprising concerns, and when politics give out we may confidently expect lively times again.

On last Sunday St. Bridget’s Church was dedicated with a solemnity befitting the occasion. St. Biddy herself was not present; a previous engagement had made her too sick to attend. Her place was supplied by a chamber-maid from one of the literary weeklies, who fulfilled the arduous and responsible duties of her position to the unspeakable satisfaction of the reporters. The church will be dedicated weekly until further notice. For gentlemen only; consequently, seats free—of sitters.

A very important case has just been decided by Judge Hoffman. It was entitled. “The United States vs. Thirty-six Empty Casks.” It is gratifying to our national pride to know that the casks were ignominiously beaten and condemned to be sold into slavery. We trust this may prove a warning to all empty vessels disposed to buck against the land of the brave and the home of the free. [Music—our Country ‘tis of thee!]

The Bulletin’s reporter makes merry over the luxuriant head of hair adorning a lady he saw at the Mechanics’ Pavilion. It will be comforting for him to know that he was himself not unobserved by the lady in question. In our presence she spoke admiringly of his luxuriant growth of nose, and sympathizingly of his deficient head of brains. She and we mingled our tears over this palpable mistake of Nature.

Is President Grant to be allowed to plunge this country into a war with Spain for the mere gratification of his personal taste? It is plain as a pike staff: Grant wants Cuba for the United States in order that he may get cheap cigars. But we won’t have it. As Hamlet very properly observes, “What’s a Cuba to him or he to Cuba that he should weep for her?” There’ll be no war; it will all end in smoke.

In the case of Franetti vs. Herzo, it has been decided that the money value of an eye is $14,000. Gad! We’d sell ours for half the money if the purchaser would agree not to remove them from the premises, but expend a few hundreds in improvements, so as to increase the value of the adjoining nose—which we expect soon to have bitten off by Michael Fennell, or some other dissatisfied admirer.

The president of the Western Union Telegraph Company is coming to California per Pacific Rail. He will be entertained by the Herald if they both live long enough to meet. It will be a touching spectacle to behold Messrs. Orton and Nugent falling upon another’s neck and weeping; and then proceeding amicably to kill somebody else’s fatted calf.

The Call says that at twenty-two John G. Saxe could “write poetry, engrave, take plaster casts, make speeches extempore, tell you stories all night long, and put out your fire with tobacco juice.” If he will agree to operate in his last named specially upon the poetic fire in the bosom of the editor of the Call, we will furnish the tobacco for the occasion.

A man named Martin has been declared insane for threatening to kill his wife. The Commissioners of Lunacy can secure another just such maniac by lurking about the Town Crier’s humble roof when that gentleman’s estimable spouse shows premonitory symptoms of attending Dr. Stone’s church.

The Barnacle asks if we are a civilized people? If the gentlemen of that institution have any doubts, we beg they will confine them to themselves. We feel all right as regards ourselves, and are quite willing to allow our neighbors the benefit of the doubt.

The best bond is a man’s unsullied reputation.—Call. [Yes, but how the deuce can he have one in a city that boasts six daily newspapers, averaging three columns of local matter each? The thing is impossible.]

Some young Parisians have set the example of wearing bracelets.—Exchange. [A great many young San Franciscans have followed it under the admirable tutelage of Chief Crowley.]

San Leandro is boasting about a sixteen-feet stalk of corn. Oakland, however, produces the longest ears that are grown in the State. Vide the first native you meet.

The Times continues to imitate our Telegraphic Dottings. If we cared as little for our readers as they for us, we should imitate the Times editorials.

The Great Incohonee is the title of one of the Chiefs of the Order of Red Men. As in is a negative prefix, in what kind of a fix is this individual?

A morning cotemporary says he does not believe in the report of the cattle disease in Texas—that it is all rot. How very like that paper.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)