The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/November 6, 1869

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

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

 It is said that Californians are the most liberal people on the face of the earth, and it must be confessed that nowhere can be found people more ready than certain class of our citizens to encourage all sorts of exhibitions that can be seen for nothing. It is surprising to see how generously they devoted their time (and which is money) to waiting patiently in crowds to witness the entrée of Tom Thumb Co. to, and their exit from Platt’s Hall, day after day. They patronize to the same liberal extent the transparencies at the Alhambra, evening after evening. Even the man with his monkey playing tricks is not neglected by them, and to show their exquisite taste for and appreciation of music, they will stand for hours listening to the organ of the unfortunate, dismembered soldiers. We believe that any more would make the sacrifice of going to church; were it not for the plate going round and the belief that they are invited there for what can be got out of them. This remarkable kind of liberality is one of the glorious results of common school education, where the children generously devote their time to being taught for nothing, and carry the principle with them through life. To foster this noble sentiment, the theaters ought to be occasionally thrown open for gratuitous admission, and the proprietors would have the satisfaction of seeing crowded houses.

A deftly executed piece of petty meanness is an achievement not easily compassed by the merely ordinary sinner; it takes the intellect of a temperance shrieker to turn out a thoroughly satisfactory specimen of hatefulness. During the past week the McMahon Grenadiers had made preparations to give a reception Gen. Cazneau, at their armory at Congress Hall. Everything was in readiness, when at the last moment it was discovered that those immaculate saints, the Temperance Legion, who control the hall, refused to allow a single drop of wine to be taken across their sacred threshold. Of course the reception was a failure. We simply remark that the McMahons ought to have seized the water-logged resident of the concern, Chief Whitney of the Fire Department, inserted the nozzle of Shrader’s hose in his mouth, and pumped him full of his own blessed element. The trouble is, the hose would burst under the pressure necessary to commit so great an outrage upon the reluctant water. It would be unkind to add the wish that the entire Legion might be severally thrust into gunny sacks, and owned like superfluous kittens or supernumerary pigs.

The Collector of Internal Revenue at Oakland has gone away with seven dollars and fifty cents in currency, belonging to the Government—the accretions his office during the last six years. It is feared that the abstraction of so large sum from the public vaults will seriously derange the money market, unless the Bank of California shall hasten to the rescue with a temporary loan of half a dozen postage stamps and a box of brass buttons. This, we understand, the Bank declines to do, and we warn our Oakland creditors that nothing but the utmost promptness in collecting all outstanding debts will save them from irretrievable disaster. With the ruin of her finances her scrub oaks will give place to the poison variety, the cheerful squirrels will abandon her streets, Lake Merritt will incontinently dry up, and some future Thalaba shall sit amongst the ruins of a terinopolis and talk bathos like his prototype.

The Oakland News rails at San Diego with the volubility of a toothless old crone favoring the circumambient air with her impressions of the youth who has had the misfortune to upset her apple stand. We dislike being obtrusively impertinent, but should very much like to be informed what our cow-county neighbor knows about San Diego—or San Diego about him. There is no occasion for Oakland to fight San Diego. As the sacred poet has beautifully remarked, it is impolitic to interfere with the personal liberties of pugnacious dogs, or to put injunctions upon belligerent bears and lions, but small children should cultivate an evenness of temper for the reason that their hands were not constructed with a view to raids upon the visual organs. Why should not railroad terminal dwell together as brothers?

We consider it our bounden duty to chaff the Board of Supervisors upon suitable occasions, but there are times when adverse criticism would be little more than cruelty to animals. At the last meeting a communication was read from the Board of Underwriters, stating in effect, that inasmuch as the fire hose ordered for the city had proved of no account, they would pay the difference between that and a good hose, rather than to see the city burn down before their eyes. Let those who are disposed to cavil and carp at what they are pleased to term the criminal play of the Supervisors, acknowledge their error and pray the mountains to cover them. The proposition was promptly referred to the Fire and Water Committee.

A man is Oakland has been shut up in jail for blasphemy. He is said to have openly expressed doubts of that city’s commercial importance, and to have resisted in taking a gloomy view of her future. He even went so far as to assert that she is the most absurd and pretentious inutility on the Pacific coast—the pettiest community of vainglorious vagabonds, droning dunces and simpering simpletons that ever escaped annihilation from omnipotent indifference. Upon the whole, the man appears to have been more unfortunate than designedly wicked. And he possessed a bad heart he might have said some very rough things about Oakland.

A few days since two men stopped at a house in the suburbs of Oakland, and demanded dinner of the only occupant, a girl of sixty odd summers. Being dissatisfied with the quality of their tea they heaved the dishes out of doors and went through the old lady’s pockets. The cow county press is greatly enraged thereat, and clamoreth for summary vengeance; but does not so much as attempt to defend the quality of the tea. Such is bucolic fairness; such are our neighbors’ ideas of journalistic impartiality! In this city the old girl’s misfortune would not have shielded her from the righteous denunciations of a virtuous press.

The Society of Pioneers have decided to write a biography of each individual member, for the edification of posterity. We have at this establishment a selection of assorted incidents of the time “when the water came up to Montgomery street, when all south of Market was a snipe preserve, and a hundred on Kearny was offered me for an ounce, sir,” which we will dispose of to the society cheap for cash. It will be necessary to apply early, as we intend publishing the biographies of the inmates of the San Quentin prison shortly, and shall have use for these pleasant anecdotes ourselves.

Gold Hill is to have another newspaper, the People’s Tribune. As the world will be interested in knowing why this paper is started, we take pleasure in stating upon the authority of its prospectus that it will be issued for the sole purpose of “emancipating the community from ignorance, prejudice, injustice and error, for the reclamation of the fallen and for the people’s defence.” It will be observed that, as is the case with the News Letter and all other journals, the P.T. is not intended to bring its proprietor a cent of profit.

Last Wednesday, at the commencement exercises of the Toland Medical College, Dr. Lane told the graduates that the day would be one of the epochs of their lives, and in after years they would look back upon it and feel a fresh heartthrob as the whole scene should “rise up illumined by the tender moonlight of memory.” Yes, poor old buffers, with what a knowing professional look they will lay their fingers upon their own wrists to note any acceleration of the pulse as they feel the tender moonshine a-coming on!

The Cincinnati Board of Education have voted to exclude the Bible from the public schools, and great is the indignation of the porkopolitans thereat. It is rough on the budding butchers and adolescent packers of that pleasant village to be deprived of their regular Scripture, but we presume the interdicted volume will be replaced by some standard work on the hog, which will amply supply the moral wants of the children, and fix their thoughts upon the only beatific state a Cincinnatian is capable of appreciating.

The Monitor fears lest the Overland Monthly shall lose its “distinctively Californian character.” Does our contemporary imagine that the supply of distinctively California character is inexhaustible? That lead is about worked out, and since the great commingling by the Pacific Railroad, what we have been wont to call a “California flavor” is become simply an ancient and a fish-like smell.

John Nugent still contemplates reviving the Herald. We had labored to convince Mr. Nugent by figures that the thing is impolitic; let us now demonstrate by logic that it is impossible. Attend: The man who should revive the Herald would be a greater goose than Mr. Jack Stratman of the Evening Tribune. No man can be a greater goose than Mr. Jack Stratman of the Evening Tribune.

The Alaska Herald asks the following conundrum: “Was ever greater folly thrust upon the human race than this creed of a superhuman person rejoicing in the name of Jesus Christ?” We give it up; here’s another: Will some Christian gentlemen present this office with a good, strong orthodox rack, that we may have the satisfaction of sundering the joints of this awful heretic?

In a letter published in the New York Tribune, Ben Butler says: “Suppose I should stop to answer all the newspaper slanders which have been published about me, what time should I have for any respectable employment?” We cannot conceive what disposition Mr. Butler could make of time for any respectable employment; it would hang very heavy on his hands.

A music sharp, who at last accounts was still alive, says of Camilla Urso, the violinist, that she can “nurse into life the very spirit of the air, and sway it with an expression of delicious tenderness.” As the lady is now in San Francisco, and makes no concealment of her designs, there seems to be no further excuse for delay upon the part of the police.

Last Monday Louis Becker was fined twenty dollars for assaulting a Chinaman with a chair. He had previously been in the habit of pelting him with rotten eggs, in which sport he had long enjoyed perfect immunity from legal interference. The case is but another illustration of the wisdom of letting well enough alone.

A well-known clergyman, who for the last eight or ten years has been trying to convert us to the true faith, has written us another cheerful letter, in which he is so good as to explain that unless we abandon our evil ways God will certainly broil us “like a flounder.” Don’t believe it; consider it a clerical fish story.

It has often been remarked, and with undoubted truth, that no people in the world surpass, and but few equal, Californians in energy.—Alta. [It has been as often remarked and the above sentence proves it, that no newspaper in the world surpasses, and but few equal, the Alta California in idiocy.]

Speaking of California’s neglect of her artists, the Call says that with most of these “it is either starve at home or go East and live.” The suggestion of going to work at some decent occupation for which they are fitted by nature and education seems not to have been made to them. We make it now.

We trust our readers will pardon the omission this week of our record of births, marriage and deaths. During the week the people have gone through with the same old farce of being born, marrying and dying in the old humdrum way. Disgusting details next week.

A policeman who lost his revolver advertises the fact, and with inimitable good taste adds that if the finder wishes to avoid arrest for petty larceny he will bring it to the office. The man who could resist so touching an appeal is no better than the policeman himself.

A meeting has been held at Limerick, Ireland, to discuss the fixity of land tenure. Anxious friends will feel relieved to learn that the discussion was not strikingly national in character, and the “fixity” has escaped with a few trifling occipital bruises.

On Monday William Wallace was fined seventy-five dollars for choking his wife. The law is no respecter of persons: it makes a Hero of Scotland pay just as promptly and regularly for his conjugal fun as it does the humblest American parson.

In the case of the man who was crushed by having a brick wall pushed on him, the coroner’s jury find that his death was accidental. We believe no fault can be found with this verdict; no one has contended that the man committed suicide.

Carter’s Real Estate Circular fixes that lowest price of an oath, in cases of disputed land titles, at two dollars and a half. The quotation is incorrect; we can purchase all the perjury we can use at two bits per swear hard, land measure.

The Call says the articles written by the commercial editor of the Alta are more valuable than all the rest of the paper, What has the commercial editor of the Alta done to the Call that he should be damned with faint praise?

The telegraph informs us that Secretary Boutwell meditates a grand financial coup, by which we are to resume specie payments. The Secretary seems to have little to do, to be passing his time billing and couping.

A morning paper reports that a lady teacher in one of our public schools defined a horizontal line as one running from east to west. Will our people never get the Pacific railroad out of their heads?

Dr. Mary Walker advocates a law compelling men to marry before the age of forty. Doctor Mary is liberal. Allow the Town Crier forty years of single life and he cares not what becomes of his remains.

Sacramento compels her meat shops to close on Sunday. She expects thus to win her citizens from mutton to morality, but so far has succeeded only in diverting their affection from beef to beer.

Some reverend gentleman has sent us an article entitled “A Talk About Preachers.” We can only repeat to the writer the publisher’s advice to Mr. Thackeray: “Promote your characters.”

Judge R. P. Spalding, of Ohio, is said to be writing a history of greenbacks. At the completion of his work a comfortable lunatic asylum will do what is still possible for a shattered intellect.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)