The Town Crier

Ambrose Bierce

San Francisco News Letter/November 13, 1869

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

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

 The conventional falsifier, who skirts timidly along the coast of truth, occasionally touching upon a promontory, or hauling into an inlet for supplies, is entitled to a certain meed of praise; but the courageous and weather-beaten liar, who strikes boldly out into the illimitable ocean of mendacity, and sees the very mountain peaks of probability sink beneath his horizon without a misgiving, merits our heartiest applause and receives the homage due to genius of the highest order. In publishing a card eulogistic of the Rev. Father Eagan, and intended to refute our charges against that Prince of Scoundrels, the vestrymen of St. James’ Church have fairly earned the title of Liars-in-Chief to His Majesty the Devil. We shall not divide the honors with them by assigning any possible motive for their sunburst of mendacity. To do so would rob them of half their well-earned glory, and bring down their achievement to the plane of the ordinary theft and the common-place robbery. Such lofty lying as theirs is its own explanation and excuse, and the question of motive no more enters into a discussion of it than into an account of the sunward soaring of an eagle or the glassy implacability of Niagara’s verge. They have lied from the same cause that the sun shines, the flowers blossom and the birds sing—for the same reason that the pious poet says “bears and lions growl and fight”—because God hath made them so. We have only to add that God doubtless looks upon them as about the completest success he has ever compassed in adapting means to an end.

It is a melancholy fact that notwithstanding our evident good sense, certain of our contributors persist in regarding us as unmitigated muffs, and continue to favor us with what they are pleased to term “impromptu verses.” During a long and brilliant journalistic career the Town Crier has never had the pleasure of receiving any impromptu verses; that cheerful sort of thing never finds its way to the press. We have already decided upon our course of action whenever it shall do so. We are proverbially good-natured, and our columns are notoriously open to infantile prattle, manly dullness and senile stupidity; we extend a long arm of welcome to struggling lunacy, and lend a helping hand to aspiring idiocy; we delight in well-sustained and consistent stuff, and revel in elaborate bosh—but you need not indulge the hope of coming the impromptu on us, my little dears; we are not of that way of thinking. We have tried to do impromptu verse ourselves, and the only creditable thing we ever accomplished in that line was a proposal of marriage in rhyme. A watchful Providence shielded us from the danger we rashly incurred thereby, and since then our only impromptu achievements have been getting away from creditors and kicking church-beggars.

Oakland complains that letters from Stockton to that place come first to San Francisco and are then sent back across the bay by the same route. That arrangement is rendered necessary by the fact that most of the letters are written by the inmates of the Stockton Lunatic Asylum, and they must first come here to be examined by Emperor Norton to see that they contain no heretical matter calculated to mislead the Terminopolitan mind. We do not wish to be understood as defending the practice; we think the censorship might as well be exercised at Goat Island by the corporal of the guard. There is no sense in distracting the Imperial attention from the more weighty matters of the annexation of Mexico and the acquisition of new feathers for the Imperial hat, to the comparatively unimportant affairs of fraternal correspondence.

The negro Baptists of Marysville have had a church quarrel, and many broken heads are the result of the misunderstanding. Our colored co-religionists worship God not wisely but too well. But we cannot expect a race who for centuries have worn the bondsman’s chain, to adopt at one fell swoop the Christian forbearance of a high civilization, and instead of abrading the fraternal scalp content themselves with mild reprisals upon the fraternal pocket. Their uncultivated intellect falls naturally into the barbaric vice of occpetal contusion:

We never had a baby; came very near it once, but the calamity was skillfully averted. Since then we have resorted to vaccination and feel secure, but still can sympathize with Hughes. It must be terrible to be unexpectedly thrown into a state of baby. The particular bantling in question does not differ materially from any other baby, except as to the trifling matter of paternity. It requires, we believe, the same revenue stamp that is affixed to all healthy children born under this meridian since the war. Don’t know how many times per day it has to be washed, but presume not oftener than other babies of its sex—it is a boy, or as with rare humor the scriptures term it—a man-child. Boys have to be washed oftener and more elaborately than girls. Why this is we don’t know; we only know that it was so in the case of ourself and little sister. We were washed four or five times in the most merciless and heart-rending manner, to her not any. This is about all we have to say of Hughes’ baby, save that it is, we suppose, eligible to the Presidency, which don’t its papa wish it may get. We defer a more extended notice until the innocent shall have acquired more age. It is difficult to write intelligently upon a subject so extremely new.

It would appear that this entire peninsula has at some period been used as a cemetery. One can scarcely kick over a chip without coming upon a skeleton, and in pulling an onion you usually have to detach a grinning skull from the bulb. Nobody can dig a cellar without being put to considerable expense in carting away the bones, and in boring a well you may safely calculate upon going through at least a dozen unsuspicious strangers. Now this is getting to be a serious annoyance, and if these pre-Adamites continue to poke up their ridiculous pates whenever we stick a spade into the ground there is no telling to what we may be driven. We have stood this osseous nonsense about long enough, and our temper is giving out. So far, we have treated these obtrusive squatters with the most gentle forbearance. Every center-table and what-not in the city bears evidence of our tender consideration in the shape of a set of teeth, a tibia or a short rib. Our book-shelves are hideous with the sacred relics of an exhumed civilization; our cabinets teem with ossification; our sideboards groan with a Golgotha of occipital and parietal souvenirs. We are pretty nearly supplied with these ornaments, and it they continue to turn up at the present rate we shall soon begin to throw them away or grind them into bone dust. The dead-head system is become an active nuisance.

Dogs are rational beings. They have souls—if we have. It would be a good thing to be a dog. Dogs don’t lie to one another, nor slander, though it must be confessed they are somewhat given to back-biting. To say that the dog is Man’s best friend, is to exhibit a proneness to invert that would do credit to a philosopher, and a tendency to misstate that might honor a logician. The man is Dog’s most worthless companion. We know a dog who is as much better than the average man as is the horse, the sheep, or the pig. He is a bull pup, and blind as a Mammoth Cave bat. Also he is mangy and toothless, and boasts a tail of such phenomenal brevity that a moralist would find it difficult to base a reverie upon it. And yet, gentle reader, this dog displays an honesty quite equal to ours, and an intelligence incomparably superior to your own. As for the natural affections, there is not a wife in town who loves her accomplished husband as this poor creature dotes upon a humble piece of raw beef.

J. Booth & Co. publish a card in reply to one from the Iron Moulders’ Union, in which the following terse assertion appears: “They demanded his [an apprentice’s] discharge under penalty of a strike. They did strike; are now on a strike. So far as we are concerned they may remain on a strike forever. We do not intend to discharge the boy.” There is a vim and vigor about this that we like. Clearly there is a Man about that concern. We don’t know who he is, nor does it matter, but if he will take the trouble to come to this office he shall have the advantage of taking the Town Crier by the hand that itches to cuff every mother’s son who would shut the doors of useful employment upon American youth.

Sitting in a street car last Sunday evening, waiting for it to move, we observed four young people of the middle class, two males and two females, enter the car and sit down—a male and a female on each side. Presently they became restive and impatient, and the females made petulant remarks to the effect that unless the car started pretty soon the sermon would be half concluded before they should arrive. Finally, one of the males arose and said: “Come girls. Let’s not go to hear Dr. Scudder at all. Let’s go down to North Beach and see the monkeys.” And they left the car. “Surely,” soliloquized the Town Crier, “procrastination is the parent of wisdom.”

Last week we expressed the opinion that Oakland was a good fellow. She is; she has become the rival of San Francisco. We have a Mercantile Library a quarter of a million in debt, and eternally begging. Oakland has a similar source of proud satisfaction, one thousand dollars in debt; and it vexes the ear of charity with just as persistent appeals for aid as ours does. Oakland makes a creditable show as a downright mendicant upon a stock in trade that would hardly set us up in a small strawberry festival.

On Sunday evening a man fell down a pair of stairs on Montgomery street, and refusing to give a newspaper reporter his name, the latter took a malicious revenge by stating that his injuries were trifling. The truth is, his neck was broken, but a dozen policemen being promptly dispatched for Dr. Murphy, it was neatly tied in a double-bow with the knot in front, and the gentleman is saved all future cravat expenses. The dailies always allow their personal spite to color their reports.

On last Tuesday evening the Coroner held inquests upon three bodies. The causes of death were ascertained to be arsenic, strychnia and morphia. It is gratifying to observe a concerted movement amongst the unfortunate to determine by actual experiment what is the best article in the market for their purpose. So far, however, as ultimate results are concerned, the triple test alluded to decided nothing; the bodies seemed to be about equally dead.

A preacher named Avery murdered a young girl behind a haystack, where he thought God couldn’t see him and he would escape punishment. Vain hope! he has just been stricken down by death in the midst of worldly prosperity, at the early age of seventy—only thirty-six years after the crime. It will not do to bet too recklessly upon the slumbering of Divine vengeance.

A man in Oregon was sued by his wife for a divorce. While the action was pending he fell heir to forty thousand dollars by the death of a relative, whereupon the faithful wife generously withdrew the suit. A stinging rebuke to the brutes who claim that woman will desert her lord in the hour of his greatest need—the need of an object upon which to spend money.

There is a man living on Stockton street who is so deaf that, although his pew is directly in front of Dr. Scudder’s pulpit, he cannot half the time determine whether the Doctor is quoting from some published sermon, or telling a lie of his own. Poor fellow; we are afflicted in the same way! But let us take heart; the Lord chasteneth His annointed. He belteth them sore.

A Boston clergyman complains that his people clasp their hands so fervently in prayer that they don’t have any luck getting them open when the deacon comes round with the saucer.—Exchange. [Let the deacon turn away his head as he presents the plate, and if there happen to be anything in it those pious palms will be divorced with a readiness that will astonish him.]

Mr. Sinton, of the Board of Education, is very much opposed to having music taught in the public schools. This is just what might have been expected of Mr. Sinton. Being fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils—especially the latter—he has, of course, no music in his soul. He supplies the deficiency, however, by a kind of droning melody called “chin music.”

The Bulletin gravely informs us that if the Central Pacific Railroad Company cannot secure Goat Island for a terminus, “an island with basins can be constructed.” We suggest that this island be of the floating variety, which has proved so unqualified a success in puddings. This would keep the Bulletin’s prolific head in grateful remembrance.

The Rev. Dr. Lucky, of the Prison Commission, advertises for gifts of books and newspapers for the convicts. We are disposed to be generous. We will send the News Letter to any address upon the prison register for ten dollars per annum, or the News Letter and any one of the religious weeklies for seven dollars and a half.

An elderly lady up at Shasta went to a creek to wash her face, and while stooping over to do so was struck by paralysis. We note this circumstance not so much for the sake of the warning to dirty-faced old ladies, as to condemn the cowardice of the paralysis in striking a woman when she is down.

One of the sharp whalebone points of an umbrella was accidentally thrust up the nose of a clergyman, recently, and he came near bleeding to death from the hemorrhage that followed.—Exchange. [People who do not know enough to go in when it rains cannot be expected to know how to manage an umbrella.]

During the progress of the Industrial School investigation a witness testified that he had heard General Cobb address the starved and beaten pupils as rascals and scalawags. We have seldom heard of an instance in which the venerable retort, “you’re another,” would have been more in point.

The Rev. J. P. Moore, Superintendent of the City Missionary Society, reports having established a child’s prayer meeting, and poetically describes its operation as follows: “We sing we pray; we talk of Jesus and his love. It is good to be in such a meeting.” It is likewise very exciting.

The Times confesses its inability to decide upon the merits of a prohibitory liquor law until it has been fully enforced. Happily, however, with regard to the merits of a law which can never be enforced, a decision may be indefinitely postponed without endangering the common weal.

Messrs. Cavallier, Nunan and Humphreys, have been appointed a committee to determine the expense of opening Second street into Montgomery. The public may confidently rely upon an estimate which will be ample for all purposes, including a margin. Of course we mean a sidewalk.

A religious weekly is of the opinion that the resurrection at the Day of Judgment will be accomplished by an earthquake. Perhaps so; but in that case the dead in Christ will not rise first. We imagine we shall all get up and dust at pretty nearly the same moment.

A German astronomer has written a book to prove that we are soon to have a second moon, much nearer to the earth than the present one. This will of course effect an enormous increase in the number of lunatics, and German astronomy will become popular.

A church society is to be established for the support of the Magdalen Asylum. An association will be established for the support of the society. By the way, why should the church be taxed to support Magdalens? It doesn’t make ’em.

The Call says those who encourage cheap labor are traitors. Traitor or not, the Town Crier will undertake to devote his leisure moments to editing the Call more sensibly than it is done at present, for half the money now paid.

At the last meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Mr. Canavan and Mr. Cole had a little war of words, in which the latter got the worst of it. In repartee Cole always gets the worst of it; in a contract or an appropriation he does not.

Old things are passing away everywhere.—Alta. [Granny, it is an unkind thing to say, but we do wish you could make it convenient to pass away along with the rest.]

The Municipal Government of Montgomery, Alabama, has decided to rifle a cannon belonging to the city. Ours will continue to rifle our pockets.

Mr. Burnell lectured before the Young Christians. Subject—“To everyone his own work.” To Burnell, that of teaching nonsense to idiots.

A correspondent would like to know what is meant by “the plea of necessity.” It is a thief’s excuse for accumulating luxuries.

A very common newspaper caption is this: Recovery of a Stolen Horse. Do thieves steal only sick horses?

(Source: California State Library, Microfilm Collection)