Bell, Book, and Candle. (See page 120, col 1, Bell , etc.)
Fine (or Gay) as the king's candle. “Bariolé comme la chandelle des rois,” in allusion to an ancient custom of presenting, on January 6th, a candle of various colours to the three kings of Cologne. It is generally applied to a woman overdressed, especially with gay ribbons and flowers. “Fine as five-pence.”
The game is not worth the candle (Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle). Not worth even the cost of the candle that lights the players.
To burn the candle at both ends. In French, “Brûler la chandelle par les deux bouts.” To indulge in two or more expensive luxuries or dissipated habits at the same time; to haste to rise up early and late take rest, eating the bread of carefulness.
To hold a candle to the devil. To aid or countenance that which is wrong. The allusion is to the practice of Roman Catholics, who burn candles before the image of a favourite saint, carry them in funeral processions, and place them on their altars.
When Jessica (in the Merchant of Venice, ii. 6) says to Lorenzo: “What, must I hold a candle to my shame?” she means, Must I direct attention to this disguise, and blazon my folly abroad? Why, “Cupid himself would blush to see me thus transformed to a body.” She does not mean, Must I glory in my shame?
To sell by the candle. A species of sale by auction. A pin is thrust through a candle about an inch from the top, and bidding goes on till the candle is burnt down to the pin, when the pin drops into the candlestick, and the last bidder is declared the purchaser. This sort of auction was employed in 1893, according to the Reading Mercury (Dec. 16), at Aldermaston, near Reading.
“The Council thinks it meet to propose the way of selling by `inch of candle,' as being the most probable means to procure the true value of the goods.” —Milton: Letters, etc.
To smell of the lamp (or candle). To betray laborious art, but the best literary work is the art of concealing art; to manifest great pains and long study by night.
To vow a candle to the devil. To propitiate the devil by a bribe, as some seek to propitiate the saints in glory by a votive candle.
What is the Latin for candle?- Tacë. Here is a play of words: tace means hold your tongue, don't bother me. (See Goose.)
Candles used by Roman Catholics at funerals are the relic of an ancient Roman custom.
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894