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Bells

The Koran says that bells hang on the trees of Paradise, and are set in motion by wind from the throne of God, as often as the blessed wish for music. (Sale.)

Bells as musical
As those that, on the golden-shafted trees
Of Eden, shook by the eternal breeze.

T. Moore: Lalla Rookh, part i.

At three bells, at five bells,
etc. A term on board ship pretty nearly tantamount to our expression o'clock. Five out of the seven watches last four hours, and each half-hour is marked by a bell, which gives a number of strokes corresponding to the number of half-hours passed. Thus, “three bells” denotes the third half-hour of the watch, “five bells” the fifth half-hour of the watch, and so on. The two short watches, which last only two hours each, are from four to six and six to eight in the afternoon. At eight bells a new watch begins. (See Watch.)

“Do you there hear? Clean shirt and a shave for muster at five bells.” —Basil Hall.

I'll not hang all my bells on one horse. I'll not leave all my property to one son. The allusion is manifest. Give her the bells and let her fly. Don't throw good money after bad; make the best of the matter, but do not attempt to bolster it up. When a hawk was worthless, the bells were taken off, and the bird was suffered to escape, but the advice given above is to “leave the bells” and let the hawk go.

Ringing the bells backwards,
is ringing a muffled peal. Backwards is often used to denote “in a contrary direction” (tout le contraire), as, “I hear you are grown rich-” “Yes, backwards.” To ring a muffled peal, is to ring a peal of sorrow, not of joy.

In olden times bells were rung backwards as a tocsin, or notice of danger.

“Beacons were lighted upon crags and eminences; the bells were rung backwards in the churches; and the general summons to arm announced an extremity of danger.” —Sir W. Scott. The Betrothed. chap. iii.

Like sweet bells jangled, out of tune and harsh (Hamlet, iii. 1). A most exquisite metaphor for a deranged mind, such as that of Don Quixote.

Warwick shakes his bells.
Beware of danger, for Warwick is in the field. Trojans beware, Achilles has donned his armour. The bells mean the bells of a hawk, the hawk shakes his bells.

Neither the king, nor he that loves him best,
Dares stir a wing, if Warwick shakes his bells.

Shakespeare: 3 Henry VI., i. 1.

Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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