The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/October 23, 1869

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

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

Really the Alta’s legal knowledge is only exceeded by its political, and the only peer of the latter is the erudition of a Baltimore oyster. It said last Wednesday that it is of “no sort of consequence” what may be the decision of an inferior Court upon a political question, so that said question is put in motion toward the tribunal of last resort. Let us see: In the Police Court, under a decision of Judge Provines, a Chinaman cannot testify; in the Fourth District Court, under a decision of Judge Sawyer, he can. There is no present probability of the question being carried to the Supreme Court. Doubtless this state of things is of no sort of consequence to the Alta—as the Alta is of no sort of consequence to News Letter—but it is barely possible the intelligent Mongol may regard the matter in a different light. In the succeeding article our neighbor says that “Presidents and Governors are so far removed that they cannot in any manner interfere with the interests of the people”! O feeble radiance of Towne Crier’s tallow candle, what are thy beams to this swashing deluge of editorial light? O fearful flutter of our callow mind, what are thy wildest flights to this stupendous soaring of the Alta intellect?

That old lady of one hundred and five summers is still threading her needle without spectacles, all over the country. It is a burning shame, considering the vast number of her descendants, that none of them have soul enough to purchase the old thing a pair of glasses. She has been threading that needle ever since her counterpart, the hale old gentleman of one hundred and six, started in on that cord of wood, and that must have been over fifty years ago. It must be extremely blind finally, and won’t be able to get the old man’s dinner for him when he shall come in and put away his saw. Will not some of the benevolent editors who watch her career with such touching solicitude send the poor girl a pair of green goggles right away? If not, they will one day find themselves very hard up for a lie, and will have to dig up General Washington’s body servant again from the numerous tombs to which he is being constantly consigned.

On last Wednesday that gruesome old body, the Teachers’ Institute, held a solemn debate upon the question of educating boys and girls together—that is, in the same school. We approach this subject with the natural delicacy of a man who has never been educated together, and is therefore more likely to take a one-sided view of it than one who has never been educated at all; but really it appears to us that a tender regard for our young would dictate that they be kept out of one another’s way while preparing for matrimony. They gather more strength in that way, and, as it were, secrete more moisture to sustain them in their sweltering travel across conjugal sands. It is a refinement of cruelty to subject the youth of either sex to the society of the other until they are themselves willing to submit to the infliction, and take to it naturally, as an insolvent cobbler to the bottom of Mission Bay, or a remorseful parson to ratsbane.

We have had considerable rain during the past week. There has likewise been some mud. Moreover, it has been cloudy a part of the time. The public will please bear these facts in mind. We record them for three excellent reasons: First, for the benefit of our city subscribers, who in the bustle of business may not have observed the phenomena. Second, for the delectation of our European readers, who will naturally be deeply interested in this peculiar phase of the finest climate in the world, sir. Third, because in all things we love to follow in the most servile and abject manner the example of the dailies, which give the very latest and most reliable intelligence from every quarter of the globe, up to the time of going to press. Besides, it’s a comfort to be garrulous and stupid—like other people.

Vice President Rebecca Colfax has been laboring with the Mormons, seeking to convert them to his religion—which is Conservative Republican. He upbraided them severely for their polygamy, and showed them that if was forbidden by their faith—that in short they were not polygamists. It must be extremely edifying to the Latter Day Saints to have a nice orthodox Vice President come all the way from the holy city of Washington, via the pious village of San Francisco, to pick the motes out of the Mormon eye free of charge. We suggest that when Missionary Colfax recovers somewhat from the fatigue of his labors in the moral vineyard, he print that lecture under the title of Sixty Minutes in a Ridiculous Position.

At the Columbus celebration last Sunday, the orator, Signor Splivalo, let fall the following hard sense from his eloquent lips: “The throne of America rests on the high peak of her colossal mountains—the starry panoply of heaven is its only cover: the fragrance of her flowery valleys and prairies ascends daily to it as he purest incense, accompanied by the music of her roaring cataracts, surrounded by the genius of her people as her only nobility, and her loyal sons as her only defenders, to sit thereon the martyr of the past, the heroine of the present, and only queen of the future—Liberty.” After this he said California ought to be grateful for the anniversary. Consummate cheek!

Ratsbane is winning golden opinions upon all sides, as a perfectly safe and efficacious specific for life’s fitful fever. Several disconsolate parties have taken it within the last few weeks with gratifying success. It seldom fails to land the patient in Kingdom Come in an excellent state of preservation. Last Monday, however, a gentleman suffering from the pangs of unrequited labor, invoked its aid in vain, and at last accounts was, we believe, threatened with a serious attack of convalescence and a replace of life. Clearly he is not a rat; let him experiment with foolsbane.

“Albion” has an original poem in the Call upon the “recent” well-merited death by lightning of two spooney lovers, who had sneaked behind a hay-stack—ostensibly to get out of the wet. “Albion” concludes his rhapsody with the oracular remark, “Oh! but ’twas sweet in such an hour to die.” We trust he may speedily have an opportunity to verify his opinion by dying in such an hour, or some other, but would counsel him to make his arrangements to leave the world on a more reputable manner than the shameless young folks whom he celebrates in mournful numbers.

A fellow whose name we withhold out of consideration for his victim has been arrested for an attempt to outrage a deaf and dumb girl. The extraordinary caution of that man was deserving of better success, but he had yet to learn that though dead men tell no tales, live women are still addicted to that cheerful vice. And will indulge in pleasant gossip, even when laboring under the disadvantage of being unable to speak. There is positively no betting on the discreet reticence of any woman whose silence you have not secured with a meat-ax.

The Chicago press, with whey-faced complacency, says the naughty play of Formosa did not succeed in that village. Certainly not; it must have seemed very sane and commonplace to a community accustomed to having spiced corpses upon its breakfast table, and smoking blood in its cream-jug. It is hoped Boucicault may be induced to write something nice for the Chicago market; something with startling murders, a love of an incest and a few perfectly splendid bigamies and divorces. The Formosa thing is so stupidly moral.

Only one hundred and ten thousand pious pilgrims visited Mount Ararat in a body this year. The urbane and gentlemanly proprietors of the Ark sample rooms complain that their receipts have hardly been sufficient to pay for the late improvements in this snug retreat. These gentlemen continue to keep on hand their usual assortment of choice wines, liquors and cigars. Opposite the Noah House, Shem street, between Ham and Japhet.

The Rev. J. P. Moore, Superintendent of the City Missionary Society, in his last report—we had almost said explosion—says the labors of the tract distributors during the last quarter have been eminently successful. They have been miraculously so; in proof of which we point to the continued existence of the distributors themselves, and the perfect impunity with which they pursue their cheerful vocations among the forbearing ungodly.

At the Mechanics’ Fair is exhibited a lariat made of the twisted hair of convicts cropped at the State Prison. The compiler of this eclectic work has displayed wonderful skill, patience and good taste. Upon looking at it we felt a consuming desire to fasten one end to a strong beam, open the running noose in the other, and say unto the ingenious youth, “Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into thy reward.”

Horace Greeley being asked to write a pamphlet upon the glacial period, for the Massachusetts Geological Society, replied that he knew nothing of the subject.—Exchange. [What an absurd excuse. Horace Greeley is a disgrace to the profession. If we should act in that way what would our readers do for their weekly batch of wisdom? Agonizing thought; they might be driven to the dailies!]

The Examiner is industriously compiling statistics to prove the advantages of slavery over freedom. We protest against this unsettling of the public mind upon the coming issue. Let us wait until the question is fairly upon us before we attempt an exhaustive discussion of a subject so entirely novel. Besides, it is not right to raise hopes in the breasts of the freedmen, which may after all prove illusory.

Commenting upon the election, the Times remarks with owlish gravity: “Upon the whole, the result will be accepted by the mass of our citizens as satisfactory.” We believe it is apt to be the case, that where the mass of our citizens express a decided preference for certain candidates by electing them, the result is tolerably satisfactory.

Last Tuesday evening a Chinaman was knocked down and mangled by a street car. It is thereby demonstrated that vehicles have political prejudices as well as men. But it is hard that the shilelah should be robbed of its prerogative by a Democratic horse car. It is like taking the bread out of the mouth of the Celtic orphan.

On last Sunday evening the Rev. Mr. Birdsall delivered a lecture before the Young Christians, taking for a text the words, “Then Jesus beholding him, loved him, and said unto him One thing thou lackest.” We, also, beholding the Rev. Birdsall, love him, and say unto him One thing thou lackest—and that is brain.

Professor Faber, of Hamburg, has invented an automatic speaking machine. It is said to possess some peculiarities startlingly human. For instance, it cannot by any process be brought to articulate, “Certainly: any sum you desire,” but says “I haven’t got that much about me,” with extreme readiness and fluency.

The other day a suicide left behind him the following written explanation of his conduct: “The cause of my death is the influence of bad whisky; I wish to find the influence of good.” It is doubtful whether he regarded heaven as a distillery, or had a hankering after the “hot Scotch” of the other place.

The Caucasian vice of advertising one’s business by means of gaudy signs appears to have taken strong hold upon the Mongolian mind. Who has not remarked the numberless announcements of the ubiquitous Chinese firm of Wang Shing & Iro Nigh?

A lady of Santa Clara, in kneeling to pray, cut her leg so badly upon one of the steel springs of her hoop-skirt that it had to be amputated. We sympathize with her, deeply, but she shouldn’t pray with her clothes on; it’s a slatternly habit.

In an oracular caption the Alta warns its readers to “Be Wise in Time.” They may possibly learn wisdom in eternity, but if they are to continue their present course of reading, their status during the flight of time is irrevocably fixed.

A correspondent of a morning paper writes a confessedly funny letter, asking for protection against earthquakes. He may dismiss his apprehensions; it is Nature’s deliberate and declared intention that he shall die of idiocy.

The Examiner attempts to make political capital out of a nasty slander in the Barnacle. This reminds us of genius whom we once knew, who advertised his wife’s funeral by pasting a notice of it upon the side of a sleeping hog.

At the recent judicial election, the San Francisco Benevolent Society placed contribution boxes at all the polling places for the benefit of the indigent. The proceeds will be equitably divided among the defeated candidates.

A New York parson declares that gold gamblers should be ejected from the church unless they reform their ways. The most acceptable reformation would naturally take the pleasing shape of a fat donation to the church.

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of a sea captain for crucifying a sailor. We believe there is no sufficient justification for the murder of this man, but there is excellent precedent for the manner of doing it.

The lecture of Dr. Wozencraft, upon “The United States in Prophesy,” was postponed. The wet weather was not favorable to the interpretation of dry prophecies to empty benches.

The Times says no respectable citizen believes the City Missionary Society has done anything wrong. No sensible citizen believes it has done anything whatever.

Miss Charlotte Cushman has written a novel, but is keeping it till death, that it may be published posthumously. How slowly the moments must seem to drag!

Some years since Pere Hyacinthe was so poor that he thought of emigrating to South America.—Exchange. [How very poor Pere Hyacinthe must have been!]

A posey is advertised at Woodwards’ Gardens, called the Holy Ghost Flower. Won’t some pious botanist favor us with a Trinity Pumpkin, or a Jehovah Turpin?

A song just published is entitled “The Girl in the Dollar Store.” She will be followed by “The Boy in the Bit Saloon” and the “Man in the Wagon.”

The Chinese—What shall be done with them?—Examiner. [Let them alone and they will come home—with their little tails behind them.]

The man who can vote and votes not is simply a traitor.—Alta. [The editor who can write sense and writes sense not is simply a fool.]

Betsey Bowman was arraigned before the police court for using vulgar and obscene languages. It appears to be a family failing.

(Source: California State Library, microfilm collection)