Brewer's: Bell

Acton, Currer, and Ellis. Assumed names of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily Brontë.


As the bell clinks, so the fool thinks, or, As the fool thinks, so the bell clinks. The tale says when Whittington ran away from his master, and had got as far as Hounslow Heath, he was hungry, tired, and wished to return. Bow Bells began to ring, and Whittington fancied they said, “Turn again, Whittington, Lord Mayor of London.” The bells clinked in response to the boy's thoughts. “Les gens de peu de judgement sont comme les cloches, à qui Von fait dire tout ce que Von veut.” Dickens has the same idea in hisChristmas Chimes.

The Passing Bell
is the hallowed bell which used to be rung when persons were in extremis, to scare away evil spirits which were supposed to lurk about the dying, to pounce on the soul while “passing from the body to its resting-place.” A secondary object was to announce to the neighbourhood the fact that all good Christians might offer up a prayer for the safe passage of the dying person into Paradise. We now call the bell rung at a person's decease the “passing bell.”

The Athenians used to beat on brazen kettles at the moment of a decease to scare away the Furies.

Ringing the hallowed bell.
Bells were believed to disperse storms and pestilence, drive away devils, and extinguish fire. In France it is still by no means unusual to ring church bells to ward off the effects of lightning. Nor is this peculiar to France, for even in 1852 the Bishop of Malta ordered the church bells to be rung for an hour to “lay a gale of wind.” Of course, the supposed efficacy of a bell resides in its having been consecrated.
Funera plango, fulgura frango, sabbata pango, Excito lentos, dissipo ventos, paco cruentos.

(Death's tale I tell, the winds dispel, ill-feeling quell,

The slothful shake, the storm-clouds break, the Sabbath wake. E.C.B.)

Sound as a bell. (See Similes.)

Tolling the bell.
(for church). A relic of the Ave Bell, which, before the Reformation, was tolled before service to invite worshippers to a preparatory prayer to the Virgin.

To bear the bell.
To be first fiddle; to carry off the palm; to be the best. Before cups were presented to winners of horse-races, etc., a little gold or silver bell used to be given for the prize.
Jockey and his horse were by their masters sent To put in for the bell... They are to run and cannot miss the bell.

North: Forest of Varieties.

It does not refer to bell-wethers, or the leading horse of a team, but “bear” means bear or carry off.

Who is to bell the cat?
Who will risk his own life to save his neighbours? Any one who encounters great personal hazard for the sake of others undertakes to “bell the cat.” The allusion is to the fable of the cunning old mouse, who suggested that they should hang a bell on the cat's neck to give notice to all mice of her approach. “Excellent,” said a wise young mouse, “but who is to undertake the job?” (See Bell-The-Cat.)

“Is there a man in all Spain able and willing to bell the cat [ i.e. persuade the queen to abdicate]?” —The Times.

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

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