The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/October 9, 1869

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

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

We have to suggest to the Chief of Police that the men under his command be drilled in pistol-shooting. There was never a lot of such poor marksmen known. They almost invariably miss people who are running to fires and after street cars, and seldom do more than break the arms or legs of men who are standing quietly on the corners, or of women gazing into shop-windows. In the case of the latter, the fault probably lies in the haste of the officer, who usually fires before he gets a good shot, when it is just as easy to approach and stick his pistol under the bonnet. Some allowance must of course be made for excitement, and more for the timidity which impels the officer to break around the corner before the trigger is fairly drawn. But excitement and timidity should have no place in the bright lexicon of the model policeman. We recommend that at the next meeting of the Commissioners the name of every officer who has not killed his man between now and then be dropped from the rolls.

There can be seen almost any fine afternoon, in the Chinese quarter, a most edifying spectacle—one which accords exactly with our ideas of the eternal fitness of things, and is calculated to make Rome howl. There or four stalwart president-makers of the “superior race,” bristly as to scalp, pug as to nose, long as to upper lip—wide in the mouth, thick and red in the neck—in figure gorillean, and in general appearance suggestive of Eight-hours, strikes, potatoes and poteen, may be discovered sinking the hissing saw into the knotty oak, at the behest of the moon-eyed Mongolian merchant, who puffs his opium in placid serenity as he watches the labor of his hirelings. The sight is beautifully suggestive of the old conundrum, “Whither are we drifting?” –and in no less of the answer thereto—“Into the haveth of assured consistency.”

In the Spring the cunning ground-squirrel and the little are wont to add fresh paint to their stripes, and blossom out in all the gorgeousness of rehabilitated brilliance. It is then, also, that Nature doth-a wooing go, and the simple country lass bedecks her with a new calico dress to attract the males. Within the past week her urban sister, with a charming disregard for times and seasons, has despoiled Iris and the dying dolphin of their hues to decorate her back withal. She flaunts before the masculine optic all the glory of a streaked shawl, and her vision floats across the retina in an agony of intoxicated solar spectra. The seductive darling invites the masculine approach with slashes of bright color, as the matador provokes an assault of Taurus with a crimson scarf. And her object is the same.

There are degrees of frigidity so infinitely below zero that science may will despair of inventing a thermometer capable of recording them. Such was the declaration of Mr. Drake, Wilson’s attorney, before the Fire Department investigation last Wednesday. Mr. Drake asserted that the Board was convened for an unlawful purpose, and gave notice that he should hold every member responsible for listening to the evidence, and every newspaper for publishing it. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear this lame canvas-back in his last strong agony. Now that the investigation is fallen through, we suppose it is in order to be terrified at the quack of this doughty duck. We counsel the press to make common cause against the impending water-fowl. He comes, he comes—the Drake, the Drake!

Two draymen lately tied a Chinaman to a wheel, and lashed his bare back with a piece of harness until it resembled the map of Richmond and vicinity in the spring of ’65. The citizens in the neighborhood of this occurrence were much annoyed by the scoundrel’s discordant Asiatic clamor, but they unanimously agreed that the exalted absurdity of his foreign gestures and contortions was ample compensation to the Caucasian retina for the injury done to the Caucasian tympanum. We have not heard what compensation was awarded for that done to the Mongolian back.

The other night an Italian appeared at the door of the police office, and, with the diabolical impertinence of his race, looked in. He was ordered to leave, but not understanding Irish was knocked down by an officer and beaten to the consistency of Russian caviar. We commend this affair to the attention of Mayor-elect Selby, with the recommendation that when he assumes control of the city government he take immediate steps to have the low Italians instructed in the use of the Celtic tongue, as this one has been in the use of the Celtic club.

On last Tuesday a man who declared he could not support his family in the style to which they had been accustomed concluded to relieve himself of further responsibility in the matter by departing this life. As his first essay was made with ratsbane, it is rather singular that he is still available for the hangman’s purpose. He now announces an intention to cut his throat. It would afford us singular felicity to utilize our anatomical acquirements by pointing out to this gentleman the exact location of the left subclavian vein.

The Oakland Transcript has discovered something new under the sun. Speaking of the railroad over there, it says: “By laying turnouts on the present track, trains going in opposite directions can pass each other, and it is the intention of the company to adopt that expedient.” We warn the company against the wretches who seek to compass their downfall by counseling the hasty adoption of new-fangled expedients. The Transcript will be advising experiments with rails and ties next.

“The investigation of questions which concern man in his social and religious relations is not only a right but a duty also.”—Alta. [We have a vague recollection of a paper about your size, sex and general appearance, arguing a few months ago that the Hamilton defection in the Presbyterian Church was not a matter for discussion by the secular press. But then you had subscribers on both sides, and—but do hold Brooks in; or at least don’t go back on what you allow him to say.]

The dentists of the city have formed themselves into an association “for the advancement of dental science, and for social intercourse.” We learn, also, that steps will be taken to exclude from the profession many whose pretentions to the title of dentist have no other foundation than their business of filing sawteeth. We are glad these quacks are about to be weeded out of a profession which they are altogether unfitted to disgrace.

Women who ride much on horseback will be sorry to learn that it is practically impossible to gallop over a milk wagon. The lady who tried it the other day succeeded in getting over, but her charger remained ingloriously upon the other side. The daring rider is supposed to be very much disappointed with the result of her experiment; but as she has not spoken since, her feelings cannot be accurately ascertained.

Apropos of the Shaw letter, the Call would like to know whether editors of the Alta desire the public to class them as fools or knaves. Before making up their minds finally upon this point, we recommend that the editors in question consider carefully the advantages offered by the Call and Examiner, respectively, and decide if it is worthwhile to be identified with either.

It is reported that the Catholic Church refused the rights of sepulture to the late Consul Godoy because he had neglected to confess and receive absolution before he died. Hereafter, when a good Catholic finds himself falling from a stroke of apoplexy or lightning, it is to be hoped he will attend to these trifling matters before he reaches the ground.

During the week the following paragraph has been in every newspaper published in the State: “Two women are necessary to make the life of a man complete; the woman he loves and the woman who loves him.” Neither are essential, and both are insufficient. One woman who loves his money will complete his life with neatness and dispatch.

The Folsom Telegraph says Sacramento is growing daily, and where all her money comes from has long been a mystery. It is a mystery no longer. That money debouches grandly from the ample pockets of San Franciscans sojourning at the Sacramento hotels. Every one of these hostelries should be called the Golden Fleece.

A reporter of one of the dailies, visiting the Industrial Fair, looked into a mirror, and, thinking it was a painting of the bald summit of Mt. Hood, criticized it as “a possibly truthful reproduction of a very ugly and unpicturesque scene.” Beware, O beware, my little readers, the frightful hallucinations of industrial Vichy water!

Last Sunday evening the rector of Trinity Church, Rev. Elias Birdsall, delivered a lecture upon “Balaam.” During the lecture, a donkey passing that way, hearing his name mentioned, replied with a shrill trumpeting like the war-whoop of a wounded elephant. “Behold!” said a startled auditor, “he calleth for Elias.”

On Tuesday of last week a stranger entered our sanctum and saluted us in genuine Choctaw. The words were familiar to our ear, and yet we could not respond readily in the same tongue.—Advocate. [Had the stranger saluted you in genuine Donkey, you would have outlied him in his own tongue in five minutes.]

A man has been sent to the Stockton lunatic asylum because he insisted upon working night and day. Rather than jeopardize his reputation for sound sense, the Town Crier has decided to work neither night nor day. Any small parcels that may be left at his door—barring babies—will be thankfully eaten.

During the past month there were issued in Oakland one hundred and eighteen marriage licenses, and not a single divorce was granted. Thereat the News doth greatly felicitate itself, and rapturously exclaims: “Everything is lovely!” Ah! fickle News, are the blushing brides so soon forgotten?

The first regular train of the Western Pacific rail will enter Oakland about the last of the present month; the last one about the middle of next. They will be profoundly and equally disgusted. Desultory trains will continue running over the Oakland Branch whenever there is anything to carry.

A parson writes from San Francisco to the Baptist Home Mission, New York: “Do not encourage ordinary ministers to come to this coast.” Pray, do not; our home manufactories are turning out as many as can be taken care of without another outlay of public money at San Quentin and Stockton.

“The horses of the Fire Department may not all be exactly sound physically, but mentally they are equal to many of the best circus trick horses.”—Bulletin. [Which is equivalent to a confession that they are several degrees of mentality above the average of the wild asses of the Bulletin ring.]

We wish the editor of the Call would let up on that luckless “man with a hole in his head.” His own head is all hole—except a slight frame work to support a hat. There is, however, some hard sense inside. You can hear it rattle when with energetic pantomime he declines to stand treat.

The Carpenters’ and Joiners’ National Union have endorsed Senator Casserly’s Chinese speech. If this does not prove that the Senator is a statesman, it is at least evidence that the Union are idiots, and leaves Casserly’s status to be determined by the Town Crier, as before.

An otherwise respectable citizen was walking along Market street the other night, when he was set upon by robbers, and only escaped with life and money by drawing a pistol. It is a comfort to know that he was arrested and fined twenty dollars for exhibiting a deadly weapon.

A young man has been up before the police court for stealing several thousand dollars’ worth of diamonds from his mother. Ladies, whose sons have access to the houses, cannot be too careful to lock up the little souvenirs presented by gentlemen living over the way.

“Perhaps some of the Board of Supervisors can tell the reason of the big fire the other evening.”—Mr. Shrader. [If not, we can. It was caused by “incendiaries”—a name given to that class of public pests immediately below the one to which Mr. Shrader belongs.]

Our apish contemporary, the Times, has a batch of brevities entitled “Motes.” They were stolen from the eye of the News Letter while we were asleep. We always sleep with one eye open. The Times imitates us to the life. It is a remarkably stupid paper.

The Times heads an account of Payne vs. Brocas thus: “Payne-ful for Brocas.” Were the alternative presented, we would cheerfully die and go to heaven rather than lie under the suspicion of having made that joke.

A telegram from Grass Valley says: “The Christian Church was destroyed by fire this evening.” We have long predicted the destruction in that way of a great portion of it, but did not expect to see it done at Grass Valley.

Mr. Nunan accused Chief Whitney of trying to make the Board of Supervisors appear like a body of thieves. If such was Mr. Whitney’s object, we congratulate him upon his perfect and unqualified success.

The Oakland Poundmaster reports that during the month ending September 15th, he impounded forty animals. In other words, two score of Oakland’s best citizens were arrested without warrants.

“A mistaken idea prevails in San Francisco in regard to titles in Oakland.”—Transcript. [We are not aware of any very alarming prevalence of ideas upon the subject—mistaken or otherwise.]

The town breathes more freely. Captain Moss, of the Examiner, declares he does not employ Chinese. There is now but one vexed question to be settled: Do the Chinese employ him?

The ladies are circulating a memorial, asking all persons to withdraw their patronage from the Chinese laundry-men. Crafty darlings! They want to do our washing themselves.

The Vicar General of San Francisco has sent a gold snuff-box to His Holiness, Pio Nono. Carvers at table will be interested in watching the effect upon the Pope’s nose.

“It is generally claimed that editors lead and mold public opinion.”—Alta. [We claim also that the tail leads the dog, and that they clay molds the potter. But we are enthusiastic.]

Treasure City has the gospel dispensed to her. She has a “White Pine Presbyterian Church.” Bass-wood is still the favorite material here.

John G. Saxe says the Yankees are the most imaginative people on the face of the earth. They are; they imagine Mr. Saxe a poet.

“Lunacy is improving. See our Court proceedings.”—Times. [It is also increasing. See all your other proceedings.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm)