The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/June 19, 1869

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

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

Why can we not have clacqueurs at our theaters? Our audience are sufficiently intelligent to applaud whenever they are furnished their cue. They hardly ever clap when the actor does not wish them to, and nearly always do so when he gives them the proper signal. No matter how flat and insipid may be the sentiment, how stale the platitude, if impressively spoken, with eyes upon the gallery, hand elevated toward the ceiling, and a pause at each word, the discriminating public perceives what is wanted of it and breaks into a thunder of applause. This is right; it shows what might be accomplished had we good actors who know as well when to set an example as the audience how to follow it. But so long as actors are destitute of taste we must submit to have our enjoyment marred by ill-timed applause, and to have all the really fine parts of a play put by without notice by an appreciative parquet, a discriminating dress-circle or a cultivated gallery, from the want of a clacqueur. If we had one, people would go to the play simply to watch for the tap of his gloved hand, and to see who should be first in following. The clacqueur should be young, handsome, faultlessly attired, and possess exquisite taste and a thorough knowledge of the modern drama. Of course he should occupy a conspicuous seat just back of the orchestra. Between the acts he must fill up the pause by bowing with inimitable grace to the prettiest and best-dressed ladies of his acquaintance in the circle and boxes. Why, it would be an honor to even know such a man. We are confident he might be obtained at a trifling expense, and would more than pay in the end. ’Gad! Towne Cryer would himself accept the position.

On last Tuesday evening a fashionable wedding was celebrated at Calvary Church. A young porter in a Government office of this city led to the hymneneal slaughter the tender child of one of the most extensive boot-blacks of New Hampshire. The wedding was accomplished without accident, in the New York style, the expense of groomsmen being cleverly avoided. At one-half o’clock the bridal party entered the church, the bride blushing with an admirable similitude to real life. Her virgin embarrassment showed evidence of the most careful study and rehearsal. She was attired in a splendid, glove-fitting, No. 29 corset, laced with expensive shoe-strings—the latter a present from her pa—and a twenty-five cent bouquet. Nothing could exceed the elegance and simplicity of this magnificent toilette. The bridegroom’s apparel consisted of a pair of Benkert boots, double-soled and recklessly polished. He seemed quite at his ease, though an occasional twitching of the muscles of the back betrayed a very natural foreboding and a consciousness of the trying absurdity of his position. As the ceremony proceeded, the bride regained her usual composure. She was sedate as a cow. At the conclusion of the holy rites, the rash couple repaired on foot to the What Cheer House, and partook bountifully of the cold boiled ham which had been lavishly spread; and the guests fuddled themselves upon lager beer at their own expense. The newly-married then laid off their things and went to bed in No.1,369; “Two souls with but a single intention—Two hearts that thumped as one.”

An anonymous correspondent sends us the following, which he divides into stanzas and calls “poetry:” “The heavens declare the glory of God; the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard. Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun.” There is more of this, but we really think this is about all of our very young correspondent’s California poetry we have space for. It won’t do, friend; you cannot put that off on us as poetry. You may have some talent—you certainly possess considerable imagination. With a few years of study and practice you may reasonably hope to write a readable prose article; but poetry is clearly not in your line, and our advice is to drop it at once. You have yet to learn the unrhymed lines of the same linear measure do not constitute blank-verse. There must really be some sort of taste displayed in the sentiment, and some fitness of metaphor. These and felicity of expression are just as essential to blank-verse as to rhyme. Besides, poetic measure is not a matter of inches, but of accent and quantity. The quantity you have sent us is entirely too great. You can have your manuscript by applying to our book-keeper at the outer office.

The spirit of the Town Crier is abroad in the land. Within the last few weeks we observe amongst the ponderous dailies a tendency to playfully unbend. The Bulletin now perpetrates daily its grim editorial joke, the Times cuts its diurnal cow-caper, and the peculiar wit of the Alta overflows the editorial banks and spreads a refreshing greenness even into the dry headings of its telegraphic dispatches. The Call gambols and kicks up its heels playfully at the noses of its big brothers, like a young colt. Even the Herald occasionally pokes its absurd old head out of the tomb, and chirps sepulchrally in the sunlight of its assured prosperity. The gall of the Examiner is sometimes stirred by a gentle zephyr of mirth, and plashes pleasantly with a sweet ripple of genial satire. The merry jest files from lip to lip, the pleasant gibe goes round, the air is shimmering with the warmth of good-natured raillery, and the Town Crier waggeth his fine head, and looking upon the work that he has wrought charitably, pronounces it all good.

We have received from Dr. F. Zeile (who the devil is he?) a pressing invitation to be present at the opening of his Russian, Steam, Turkish and Roman Bath House, to-day. We think we detect a hidden sarcasm in this. Does the Doctor imagine that we need steaming, or scrubbing, or polishing with a bath-brick; or what the devil does he mean? Doubtless he would like to experiment upon our nude person for the edification of a lot of reporters. He certainly cannot suppose that we feel the slightest interest in the opening of his vulgar old wash-house, or that our favorable notice would bring him any custom. The readers of the News Letter are a naturally cleanly folk, Doctor, and have no use for your ridiculous boiling, scraping and baking processes. We shall not attend.

The city is authorized to expend three thousand dollars for fireworks on the Fourth of July. Of course not more than six hundred will be used for that purpose, and we have simply to propose that the remaining twenty-four hundred be divided equally between the Catholic and Protestant Orphan Asylums, instead of being pocketed by the Supervisors as heretofore. We are aware that to seriously advocate such an innovation would expose us to considerable ridicule, and cause our motives to be suspected, and we only modestly throw it out as a suggestion. ‘Rah for th’ Fourth o’ Jooly!’

The town is grieved at the prospect that the Mercantile Library must be declared insolvent. Last week we honestly confessed our inability to suggest a preventive. Now we have it. The membership must be increased; that is conceded. This cannot be done so long as there exist so many opposition concerns. Therefore we insist upon the immediate dissolution of the library of the Young Men’s Christian Association. If necessary, let it be destroyed. This action is defensible upon other grounds; upon these it is absolutely demanded. Let it be so.

Our Methodist neighbor, the Spectator, has a long editorial article, satisfactorily proving that God is both male and female, and continues: “This does not make Him either matter or spirit after a strict analogy to what we know of matter or spirit; but most pure spirit, perhaps having a basis of matter. Can the Christian find comfort in this?” If he can we envy him.

An order-loving community is pained to learn from the “Notist” of the Alta that “the march of events points at very critical circumstances at no distant day.” For our part, we intend to sell out and go home.

“An Old”—a very old—“Member” writes to a city paper condemning the financial management of the Mercantile Library. Alluding to the address recently issued by the Association, he justly remarks: “My language is weaker than that of the circular.” True, mine ancient, thy language falls upon the ear like the echo of a moral platitude from the side of a mud-bank, but it is spice and vinegar compare to the weakness of thine ideas. Get out, you incarnation of petulant senility!

In the Police Court, a few days since, a man was fined twenty-five dollars for pulling the nose of a young dry-goods clerk. We do not detect any criminality in this assault—provided the puller announced his designs against the nose, and gave the pullee time to blow it. We should always exercise forbearance toward dry-goods clerks, and ought not to begrudge them a paltry two minutes of preparation before tweaking their pretty snouts.

General Winn, the Great Mogul of the coming Fourth of July procession, wishes to make a feature of native California boys over ten years old, and appeals to parents to have them attend in a body. By all means, good parents; it will cost you some trouble to hunt up and identify the older ones, but let’s have ’em. If all those born about ’50–’55 had had proper ear-marks put on them, it would have saved a world of inquiry now.

Our old and long-neglected friend—whilom theatrical and musical critic of the Call—has again hesitatingly reared his head in the columns of the Times. Considering his long retirement, we shall let him off this time; but if he sticks up his ridiculous pate again, we shall ship it off, as one does the top of a carrot. Confound the fellow, he has as many lives as a cat—and as much sense. Rest, rest, perturbed spirit!

The big editor of this paper, Dog Jack, has threatened that in case of receiving any more “original poetry,” he will refer it to the Town Crier, with a peremptory command to publish it. The latter trusts that it will not be necessary to adopt such extreme measures to punish so amiable a weakness on the part of his admirers, the poets; but if they will not have done, he will not be answerable for the consequences.

The editor of the Times soundly berates the agent of the Associated Press for sending over the lines a detailed account of a brutal prize fight, and cutting down the great Peace Jubilee to a pitiful paragraph. The virtuous prude, however, finds room for both dispatches exactly as they were sent. If the Times finds its dispatches particularly revolting, we know of no law compelling it to publish them.

Two men have just been sentenced to four months’ imprisonment in the County Jail for an assault upon Young Fuller. A contemporary calls this a light sentence, and says the assault was entirely unprovoked. Unprovoked! The man is a young psalm-singer of the Christian Association, and was out at night without a muzzle. We feel it in our bones that he was on a raid against unprotected property.

In the Mercantile Library reading-room, yesterday, P. M., while we were skimming Cato for a quotation, a knot of our callow friends who haunt the California were standing near. Said George: “Barnes is going to do ‘Elliot Gray.’” “O dam,” said Jim, “he’ll kiss Emilie Melville!” “Oh-h! that’s so!” groaned Alph. And Sam.

A few days since a lady, in crossing the street, was knocked down and trampled by a horse with a ruffian on his back. An officer was present, and it is gratifying to learn that he did everything in his power for the relief of the sufferer. For this is he an officer. The ruffian? O, he went about his business.

The body of John Wilson has been found in the bay, and suspicions are entertained that he came to his death through foul play. The frequenters of the California Theater do not share this belief; they have too often seen him play foully without any bad effect upon himself.

Our correspondent, “Empty Bench,” is informed that he is mistaken as to the subject of the Rev. Mr. Ames’ lecture last Thursday evening at Mercantile Library Hall. It was not “Wasted Powder,” but “Wasted Power.” The difference is slight but important.

Last Monday a story was industriously circulated that a party of Christian young boys from the city had beaten an inoffensive Chinaman to death at San Quentin. This was afterward discovered to be a vile Radical Slander; the Chinaman may live.

The editor of a religious weekly says: “Faith is as much stronger than reason as Samson was superior to the weakest man of his time.” Not so; our faith in our contemporary’s sanity is utterly powerless before the reason we have for believing him a lunatic.

A religious exchange tells its readers to let the inspired precepts of their spiritual advisers root deeply in the mellow soil of their hearts. We fear these rooting words will turn some very offensive matter up their inspired snouts.

The Examiner, noticing the arrival of a former well known and highly esteemed citizen of this State, says: “We have not had a chance of greeting the old fellow.” It is doubtful if the “old fellow” will consider this a matter of regret.

The Hon. Henry A. Peirce, Minister Resident at Hawaii, leaves to-day for Honolulu. A city daily stigmatizes him as “a worthy successor of Gen. McCook.” May we be permitted to inquire what he has done to deserve this?

Harry Courtaine has been again locked up on the charge of being a common drunkard. This is unfair to Harry; he has an unrivalled talent for drunkenness, and to call him a common drunkard is to do injustice to his genius.

Aerambulism is the new art of walking across the street at a considerable height above the ground, on a wire which has not been put up. It was tried the other night at the American Exchange hotel, and was a total failure.

A society has been formed in New York “to promote the cause of ventilation.” Towne Cryer gravely remarks that if ventilation of venerable folly is included, it might be best promoted by subsidizing him.

The son of Brigham Young is expected in this city. We are not advised as to how many there are of himself, but suggest that all the hotels be got ready for his accommodation, as he will probably bring his wife.

Three light-houses are to be erected upon this coast during the summer. Their location has been finally determined. So Sacramento can spare herself the trouble of setting up her usual clamor.

The local editor of the Union writes an obituary notice of the pioneer horse of Sacramento; thus furnishing unmistakable evidence that the first ass of that city is still living.

The Times has a leading article entitled, “Cultivation of the Foot Hills.” We did not read it, of course, but learn that it has no reference to the growth of corns.

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)