The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/October 2, 1869


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

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

The Town Crier is not of those who wax enthusiastic over manly arts, noble games and national sports. He cannot clearly tell the difference between Tick-tack-toe, Blind-man’s-buff, and Simon-says-wig-wag. With the natural contempt which we all feel for whatever we cannot comprehend, he regards all these as emptiness and vanity, and looks down upon their devotees with the lofty compassion of an owl for a blind puppy in a dark cellar, or of an educated heathen for a benighted Methodist exhorter. He rejoiced when the Harvards were defeated, and his exultation was marred only by the fact that the Oxfords were not beaten likewise. The Town Crier laughs when a member of the Olympic Club comes to grief by breaking his back in a vain struggle to balance four anvils upon his nose; the jeers when a cricket ball usurps the place of an eye or supersedes a set of teeth; he mops and mows and chatters with glee when a militiaman chokes himself upon cold chicken or snaps a leg in the imminent deadly breach of the waltz. Bah! ye absurd overgrown babies, who vaunt your prowess in the manly recreations of school children, street boys and little niggers, are ye not fearful lest a gaping crowd should suddenly be struck by an electric shock of common sense, and you be left in the middle of a “game” with your fingers in your mouths, a butt of ridicule for an awakened world? There is, indeed, something in the misfortunes of our best friends that is not altogether displeasing to us, and there is something in the defeat of our local baseball and cricket clubs that is absolutely refreshing to the Town Crier mind. Now, sweet gentlemen, you have striven nobly to uphold the honor of the Pacific Slope, and you can be excused. There are no legal objections to your adopting the profession of wood-sawyers, or winning fame as the drivers of swill-carts. You probably have a genius for shoveling sand or digging post-holes. But baseball and cricket are evidently not in your line. In time you might win distinction at jack-straws, or even rise to the sublimity of marbles; but you can’t compass the noble science of bat and ball. You haven’t it in you—you know you haven’t.

The Ring in the Board have again distinguished themselves by rejecting as improper and untrue a part of Chief Whitney’s report, showing up some of their own frauds. If Chief Whitney had sent his report to us in the first place—a plan that one would think ought to have suggested itself to any sane person—we should have taken pleasure in making it public in its original integrity. We have not the faintest knowledge of the character of the frauds in question, but it is safe to assume that they were at least gigantic in magnitude. Now the gigantic fraud is a thing your journalist revels in. He makes merry with it as a pig tosses a wisp of straw, and dallies with it as an elephant wraps his lithe trunk lovingly about the loins of a sleek puppy. To breathe an atmosphere of gigantic fraud is an editor’s heaven on earth. It affords him an opportunity to display his loftiest public virtues, to get rid of the withering sarcasm that is spoiling on his hands, to speak of the “influence of the press,” to platitudinize, to make a donkey of himself and provoke a sublime indifference in the object of his attacks. It is very jolly to be an editor under such creditable circumstances, and see seven men go on year after year robbing the public treasury under the very nose of a united, virtuous and influential press. It is nice to be a Palladium:

The whites employed on the Virginia and Truckee railroad drove away the Chinese laborers working upon the same line. Thereupon they were themselves discharged. The Caucasian foot is in it, so far as concerns that operation. Now shall we have a strike of the hod carriers here to sustain their brethren over the mountains? This would be excellent anti-coolie logic and quite as effective as most schemes of the “hardy son of toil” to better his condition by kicking vigorously against the pricks. How are you now, Eight-hours? Where is the millennium you promised about this time? Alas, like Stewart’s earthquake, it did not come off, and you must still eat bread in the sweat of your brow. Poor fool, you thought you could put an injunction upon Nature, did you—you ridiculous, unwashed vagabond. Now get thee to the Workingman’s Journal, and tell it, though it paint an inch thick, to this complexion must it come. Make it laugh at that.

The Italians continue their cheerful national recreation of stabbing one another. On Monday evening one was found badly gashed in the stomach, going about his business with his entrails thrown over his arm. Upon being questioned by an officer as to who had made the assault, he put on a look of offended dignity and declined to betray his friend. His wounds having been dressed by Dr. Murphy, however, he concluded it was about time to make a clean breast of all mundane secrets, and began to murmur “Lou—.” Just then the Doctor took a final stitch in the patient’s abdomen, and setting his foot upon him to break the thread, drew the unfortunate man into a double bow-knot, and the remainder of the game was lost. There is good reason for suspecting Louis, and we hope to see him arrested and have his own last stab attended to by Dr. Murphy.

“Mr. Barclay, who gives no address, except London, and who has insulted our musical reporter at Norwich by writing him a letter enclosing £20 in notes in order to influence his criticism on some of the performances of the Festival, is desired to call at our office for those notes, which will be delivered to him after he has described them, and given their numbers and his address.”—London Times. [We wonder if Mr. Barclay has any idea of what it costs a newspaper to establish such an influence and reputation for honesty as the Times has acquired. We are glad to see that our contemporary has the spirit to resent what it justly characterizes as an insult. Twenty pounds, indeed! It would scarcely pay the reporter. The service required is worth at least fifty.]

The Veterans of the Mexican War held a meeting on Tuesday night to consider the advisability of changing the rules and by-laws of the Society, and forming a military company. We suggest a change in the by-laws that shall disqualify a mule kick from service as an “honorable wound,” unless received in actual conflict with the animal. Also, that to be considered a survivor of Buena Vista one must have been there; or at least have expressed an intention of enlisting. As to forming a military company, we vehemently protest. The crows are not at this season of the year molesting the crops. Next spring the Veterans may trick themselves out in military toggery and take the field to some purpose.

A lot of eggs have been received directly from Chicago. If they have not yet been cracked, we recommend extreme caution in that operation. We once saw a live rattle-snake delivered at the Chicago post office, and a torpedo exploded by the thwack of a Bible upon a Chicago pulpit. Our commercial brethren of the Great Lakes are exceedingly facetious, and it takes some time to become accustomed to their little pleasantries. In the present case, there is some safety in the circumstance that we are permitted to crack these Chicago jokes ourselves. But do it gently.

The Eastern railroads have lately been playing some excellent practical jokes upon one another. When, for instance, the superintendent of the Erie learns that the Central people have placed obstructions upon his track for the purpose of destroying a few hundred passengers, and thus bringing the road into disrepute, he starts off a passenger train with only the engineer, fireman and brakemen on board. The disappointment of the obstructionists as the train is thrown off and only a dozen men killed is said to be ludicrous in the extreme.

The telegraph informs us that during his recent explorations in the Arctic regions, whenever Dr. Hall came across the remains of any of Sir John Franklin’s party he erected monuments, fired salutes, and waved the star-spangled banner in honor of the discovery of the Northwest passage. It must have been a very cheerful and hopeful business to find so unimpeachable evidence that he was in the long-sought passage, and to see such indisputable indications of where it leads to.

There must be something organically impecunious in St. James’s Church, of which Dillon Eagan is the “incumbrance;” for he has taken his organist to feed in the same house where he himself boards—by way, we presume, of eating out his wages. Who ultimately pays the piper is more than we can say, though we don’t believe he will be paid out of the collections made at the mountebank church, nor from the surplice fees; but we can make a pretty shrewd guess who will be the victim, as in the McDougall case.

A few days ago a live infant was found lying cozily among some bushes, and comfortably starving to death. It was richly dressed in embroidered petticoats. What a picture is here of maternal affection! Imagine the long weary evenings spent by that loving mother making that embroidery. How she must have admired her darling as she finally adjusted the pretty garments upon its little body, and, laying it down to starve, kissed it, and went off to Calistoga Springs to have a good time!

The Alta says that the articles in the Overland Monthly entitled “Are Our Public Schools a Failure” are logically unanswerable, and then proceeds to answer them by mild ridicule. ’Tis a blessed thing for journalism that there is no code of ridicule to hamper the discomfited controversialist. The Public School is a failure, but it is too much to expect an educated editor to pitch into his Alma Mater, when she has done nothing to (or for) him.

“A Christian Philanthropist” has just published an elaborate Plea for Polygamy. The Town Crier is in the habit of addressing his “plea” to one at a time through the kind mediation of his eloquent eye. So far, none of his numerous female admirers have responded. Probably they are deterred by the result of his present monogamical experiment, which, like all first attempts, has been but an indifferent success.

“Nobody who has money is too good to be plundered under a street contract.”—Alta. [And nobody who hasn’t money enough is too good to plunder him; unless it be ourselves, and in the present confused state of public morality it is impossible to predict with absolute certainly how even we would act if suddenly bewildered by receiving a fat contract.]

“We remember an instance of a strong Protestant who ate more animal food on a Friday than on any other day of the week, on purpose to protest more earnestly against Rome.”—Pacific Churchman. [The glutton was probably a good cook in some Catholic family, and had Friday’s supply of meat all to himself. He’ll get choked on Protestantism yet.]

The Rev. Mr. Ames delivered an excellent lecture last Sunday evening at Mercantile Library Hall. Subject: “Will the Coming Man have a Religion?” If so, we trust it may be a better one than that of the man already here. Unless he hurries along, however, he will have to bring his religion with him, for he won’t find any upon the premises.

Our saintly contemporary, the Advocate, abuses the Rev. C. G. Ames for traveling fifty miles of a Sunday to preach. From the Advocate’s point of view, the sin of Sabbath-breaking consists not so much in the traveling as in the preaching a Unitarian sermon. How these Christians love one another—the precious lambs! And how we love them.

The Spectator says the Pacific contributes “the full measure of its influence to engender and keep alive on this coast the bitterest prejudices and narrowest bigotry.” Happily the full measure of its influence is but a thimble full, even when expanded by the holy heat of its great central luminary—the Golden Dollar.

Mrs. Cady Revolution Staunton says that when women shall vote, the polling-places will be “beautiful temples, adorned with fountains and flowers on all sides.” What a charming picture is this; and how one’s fingers itch to duck the fair Cady in the fountains, and tumble her amongst the daisies.

It has been asserted that one of Holladay’s steamers would be dispatched upon a cruise of some months with a party of distinguished excursionists. It is quite certain that the excursionists in question will not be distinguished for either discretion or love of comfort.

Mr. Parton says Mrs. Stowe has lived a life of heroic virtue. With her face, a life of virtue is no very difficult matter. When Nature conferred her peculiar charms, we imagine the operation night have been called, “Chastity made easy.”

A man in Vermont was recently hanged by the neck until he was dead, dead, dead, for the trifling offense of stealing another man’s shirt. He had previously removed the head that the garment might not be soiled with hair oil.

“A pumpkin weighing one hundred and twenty-three pounds has been sent to the Alta office. We suppose it will be used as a plug for ‘The Man with a Hole in his Head.’” —Call. [In your office it would be used as the head.]

Major Gen. Geo. H. Thomas has gone East for his family. It is understood that he will withdraw all but two hundred troops from Alaska; leaving just enough to protect Messrs. Hutchinson & Co. in their God-given rights.

  1. H. Bancroft & Co. have begun the erection of a new building on Market street, between Third and Fourth. It would be unkind to wish that an earthquake might shake it down upon the Bancroft head.

“A forester in Jampol, Podolia, has discovered a rich vein of silver, and it is supposed the whole country abounds in mineral wealth.”—Exchange. [This is exceedingly interesting—to the geographer.]

The Invincible Base Ball Club has been reorganized. We suggest that the Eagle Club reorganize. They would make excellent hod-carriers and might assume the title of the Unconquerables.

A man was arrested as insane for imagining himself Louis Napoleon. He was convinced of his mistake by being put into a seven-by-nine cell—the door closing easily upon his nose.

In a sentimental caption the Occident paternally demands, “Where Are You so Late at Night?” Fooling about the comely damsels of the Church, my Christian friend.

The Pacific, in denouncing a contemporary, kindly volunteers the information that its own language is severe. Upon our soul, we had not detected the severity.

“It is a good thing for the Oaklanders that they have a ferry.’—Bulletin, patronizingly. [It is a much better thing for San Francisco.—Oakland, characteristically.]

A religious weekly says there is too much chaff in what is said respecting the different sects of the Church. These fellows are always chaffing one another.

In Formosa, Boucicault says that some of the dirtiest work in London is done by the whitest hands. Do the London playwrights wear gloves?

Under the caption of “Fallen,” a religious weekly has an obituary notice of a dead female. Poor fallen woman!

“There is a deep religious awakening in France.”—Exchange. [In the interest of religion we prescribe a soporific.]

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)