The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/October 30, 1869

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

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

On Tuesday last the Alta’s “five able-bodied notists” combined their intellect and produced the following quotation from the New York Tribune: “Californians, restrained perhaps by their proverbial modesty, do not even hint that San Francisco is the Athens of America; but while yet isolated she produced the Overland Monthly, conspicuously the best of all our magazines—.” Right at this point, the five stopped short in blank amazement, and looked into one another’s face with the expression of five hogs who had simultaneously broken five teeth upon five pebbles which they had mistaken for five peach-pits. For the remainder of the sentence reads thus: “and the News Letter, irreverent and sometimes coarse, but of all humorous journals in the language, the keenest, the wittiest, and the most genuinely American.” The first part of the sentence had already been incontinently gobbled up by the impatient foreman, and was beyond redemption, but, “restrained perhaps by their proverbial modesty,” they declined to pursue the harrowing theme, and just incident had prostrated them like the shock of a gymnotus. Poor devils, they went and got beastly drunk.

A turkey cock campaigning against a red shirt is a tolerably satisfactory spectacle of exalted absurdity, but for pure and innocent diversion commend us to the capers of W. Frank Stewart, thoroughly aroused and on the war-path. His cuticle is of so gossamer-like a texture that the lightest touch of the pen throws him into the most extraordinary convulsions, and wrings from him a shriek of agony, compared with which the wail of a lost soul over the gates of paradise is as but the sighing of a sleepy zephyr in a field of flax. In last Wednesday’s Times he rushes manfully to the rescue of that charming scientific body, the Earthquake Committee, and proves beyond a peradventure that it is an injured female of phenomenal virtue and varied accomplishments. Dear W. Frank, do us the favor to shut up. We have had enough of you and your earthquakes, and meat showers, and rhymes, and frantic justifications. Let up on us, or we shall toast thee before a blaze of public indignation, and toss thee smoking before a universe hungering for the unholy viands of the Town Crier’s inimitable cuisine.

Mr. Laffry was arraigned before the Police Court for setting a dog upon a Chinaman, whereby the latter was seriously chewed up. This sort of thing ought to be checked; it is becoming outrageously fashionable. We know several dogs, who three months ago bore irreproachable characters, and would take a beef steak with perfect resignation and thankfully dine off a leg of mutton, but who have now become so fastidious that they will touch no meat but Mongolian rare. This entails upon the city a considerable expense for removing Asiatic skeletons from the streets. We do trust Judge Provines will do what in him lies to reclaim these animals and reform their perverted taste. The transition to a normal diet of sheep shanks should not be too sudden; the dogs might for a few months be put upon an exclusively Caucasian Society diet, which would in time prepare their stomachs for general Celt, and so on up to pork. By that time Judge Provines’ term of office will have expired, and he can save his own bacon by removing to Oakland.

We learn that the Board of Managers of the Industrial School dispatched Mr. O’Neill as a special emissary to Paraguay to prevail upon President Lopez to stop the cheerful but unprofitable business of roasting helpless prisoners, bisecting erring females, and flaying offending babies. They offered him a wider field for the display of his peculiar talents, as Superintendent of the school. Lopez declined the honor, for the reason that his actions in that capacity would be brought into comparison with those of his predecessor, and his reputation as a Paraguayan, but would never satisfy the demands of so critical a body as the Board of Managers of a civilized Industrial School. He thought he would fight it out on his present line, but was willing to spare his trusty Lieutenant, the Devil, if the Board were dissatisfied. Mr. Satan came up and took a look at Mr. O’Neill, and said he had another engagement.

At a late meeting of the Board of Supervisors, a man named Brennan put in bids for cleaning streets—those of section two for $5,784, and those of section three for $5,894. His bids being the lowest received, the contract was awarded him. At the last meeting he sent in a petition stating that by a perfectly natural mistake he had neglected to put the figure one before each of these bids, and he prayed the honorable body to do him the favor of making that trifling amendment. As the sums first mentioned did not allow the honest contractor much margin for douceurs to the Ring, they considerately let him off, but testified their disgust by refusing to amend. But they also declined to re-advertise for bids. So the worthy croakers who run the city will be swindled on street-cleaning contracts may calm their agitated souls—the streets will not be cleaned for a year; though it is pleasant to reflect that some of the lighter human clay will be fanned away gratis by the wings of a pigeon.

The fresh countryman-like simplicity of the newspaper reporter is absolutely charming. Constant familiarity with every form of amusement does not affect him—perennial attendance upon all kinds of “literary exercise” makes him not blasé. Every lecture or sermon is to him “replete with pathos and power,” every speech—except by a political opponent—is “eloquent and exhaustive,” and the proceedings of every pack of insufferable muffs, from a meeting of the Young Men’s Christian Association to the orgies of the Olympic Limbermen, are “of an exceedingly interesting nature.” His capacity for being entertained is absolutely super human, and would do credit to a baby with a tack-hammer and rivet the attention of a tobacconist’s mannikin upon a leading article in the Alta. Your eulogistic reporter is an obtrusive mistake, an illimitable vexation, an unabatable nuisance. May the Lord confound him!

The brick-burners in the Twelfth District have applied for another extension of time, and the Board of Supervisors have passed the petition to print. They have already been granted about a dozen extensions, and the smoke of their burning ascendeth up for ever and ever from our populous suburbs. It is required that the bids for cleaning the sewers shall be accompanied by a check for five hundred dollars. It is more than probable that the brick-burners, in the plenitude of their sagacity, sent along a check for an equal amount with their annual petition. If not, the Ring will soon remind them sharply of their neglect of so obvious a precaution.

The Alta soundly berates the Bulletin for discouraging wheat growing. A few months ago the Alta did precisely the same thing, and we soundly berated it. As this type of idiocy seems to be a constantly recurring one, we patiently and with Christian resignation await the time when the Bulletin shall pelt us with paragraphs for the same offense. Whenever it occurs, a newspaper of about our proportions can be bought cheap for cash; the culminating point of journalistic lunacy will have been attained, and the end of all things may be plainly discerned with a marine glass of moderate power.

There is a boy in France who has eaten nothing for three years, and is still breathing. Lately it has been discovered that he is sustained by absorbing sustenance through the pores of his skin, from sponges placed against his person. We regard the discovery is one calculated to work much mischief. Every lazy man who can afford it will now want to dine in that way, and the price of sponge will be so increased by the new demand that the honest manufacturer of life preserves can no longer make a decent profit of five hundred per cent, to the unspeakable detriment of navigation.

On last Sunday evening the Rev. Dr. Hill made use of Dr. Stebbin’s church to favor an audience of adults with what he was pleased to term “The Mathematician’s Explanation of the First Chapter of Genesis.” Upon reading the Alta’s report of it we profoundly sympathized with the poor Mathematician in his terrible affliction. A few such lectures as that, judiciously distributed through the interior, would found a dozen lunatic asylums—and fill them. If the reporter of the Alta is not a liar, Dr. Hill is a fool. They can settle it between them.

James Dobson, while on a steamboat bound for Marin county to attend a prize fight, was arrested for carrying concealed weapons. Judge Provines discharged him upon the ground that he was a “traveler,” and as such entitled to go armed. Judge Provines doubtless made this extraordinary decision to cover his own case. He is himself in the habit of cruising about the Barbary Coast, armed with a pocket pistol of large caliber, the contents of which at irregular intervals he discharges into his own neck.

The Board of Supervisors are considering the expedience of abolishing a mill costing sixty thousand dollars, which they permitted Mr. Ham to erect on Bryant street, on the pretext that the chimney smokes. We think we detect in this a determination to smoke the gentleman out. If he does not wish to be smoked Ham he will judiciously distribute largess in that Board during the next few weeks. That is all that will save his bacon.

A religious weekly defines worldly morality in the following unique and pleasing terms: “It is the cold compliance with law, the dead obedience of passive acquiescence, the body of goodness sheeted and swathed in the habiliments of the tomb, and embalmed in tasteless spices and odorless oils.” Lord, what a nice roast it would make; and how we should like to punch it down the godly esophagus with a pick-handle!

The Alta has a story of a coffin being found too short for a negro. The end was knocked out so as to let his feet protrude. We are surprised that the Alta,  being a champion of local industry, did not, as a commentary on this procedure, state that a humane San Francisco undertaker would have cracked the negro’s shins with a crowbar, turned his feet into the coffin, and given the poor fellow a decent burial.

At the ordination of a new parson at Surprise Valley, Bro. Ludlow preached from the following text: “For I am determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and him crucified.” A rather slender intellectual provision for even Surprise Valley. We will lay a wager that the reverend gentleman at least knows enough of practical matters to draw his salary with unswerving regularity.

A few days ago William Younkel committed suicide by taking arsenic. He left a cheerful letter saying he was going to apply to the Devil for a position as fireman. Since Gen. La Grange has discharged so many needy patriots from the Branch Mint, the Devil has probably as many similar applications on file as he will get time to consider before the next session of Congress.

At the laying of the cornerstone of their new hall, on Monday, the Druids kindled a fire in an urn, and sang “See, O See, the Flames Arise.” If by some unusual display of summary justice they had all died with that chant upon their lips they would have begun eternity with the expression of a sentiment highly appropriate to their new condition.

The city of Chaes, Peru, has been totally destroyed by an earthquake, and every inhabitant killed. This information was obtained from one of the sufferers and can be confidently relied on. We publish it for the purpose of setting at rest any exaggerated rumors that may get about as to the extent of the disaster.

Charles Miller has been sent to the Stockton Asylum as a lunatic. The record of his case shows that some time since he was severely injured in the head by a fall from a horse, but as he is known to have lived seventeen years in California, this seems to be a wholly irrelevant piece of information.

A correspondent of the Examiner, writing from Castroville, says: “One interesting feature of this place is its many widows. They are numerous and captivating.” This must indeed be an interesting feature; we should think it would interest the married male resident deeply and peculiarly.

A correspondent of an English journal suggests that, instead of flogging, criminals should be exposed to daily doses of electric shock.—Times. [San Francisco offenders might be compelled to read the “Motes” of the Times, and thus be exposed daily to excruciating intellectual spasms.]

Of course the Republicans must account in some way for the recent defeat of their party—Examiner. [The necessity being admitted, it must be extremely gratifying to them to find that the numbers of the Democracy will furnish them with an explanation at once simple and lucid.]

Last Monday as the steamer Gipsy, with a party of reporters and other roughs on board, neared Saucelito, the passengers were startled by the cry of “Hog overboard!” Upon calling the roll of the members of the press, however, the falsehood was detected.

To-day the San Francisco Yacht Club have a clam-bake at Saucelito. They announce that tickets will be sold only to those whose society is agreeable. Members of the Club will please take notice; they will be charged nothing.

On Monday a female one hundred and ten years of age died at the alms house. Notwithstanding the plain fact that her name was Neouglars, the daily papers persist in saying this girl died of senility.

Let a young woman take the degree of A. B.—that is, A Bride—and she may hope in due time to be entitled to that of A. M.—Cincinnati Times. [And her husband, by the same token, to that of A. C.]

The Rev. Dr. Cox advertises that at his establishment “rich and poor fare alike.” This is no idle boast: all with whom we have conversed have expressed themselves as about equally bored.

The Rev. Mr. Faekler lately preached from the text—“It was now dark, and Jesus had not come unto them.” He has not come yet—but he has sent Faekler. Facetious Son of Man!

The ague has almost entirely disappeared from Indiana.—Exchange. [Our contemporary neglects to state that the inhabitants have almost entirely disappeared with it.]

The Examiner says the Times has timber on the brain. The latter retorts that the former has timber in the brain. They are both blockheads, if that’s what they mean.

Pious Presbyterians will be pleased to learn that the last number of the Occident is infinitely more stupid than any preceding one. There is a treat in store for them.

The Virginia Enterprise says that San Francisco is the stomach of the interior. Virginia City is the interior of the stomach.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)