Complete Encyclopaedia of Music/B/Bell

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bell. A well-known pulsative metallic machine, ranked by musicians among the most musical instruments of percussion. The bell, the metal of which is a composition of tin and copper, consists of three distinct parts - the body, or barrel ; the clapper ; and the ear, or cannon, by which the bell is suspended.. When bells were first invented, or who first introduced them into use in the Latin church, is not positively known. But it is certain that they were employed in the Eastern church in the ninth century, when Ursus Patrisiacus, Duke of Venice, made a present of a set to Michael, the Greek emperor, who built a tower to the church Sancta Sophia, to hang them in. Frequent mention is made of bells in ancient history. At the funeral of Alexander, the collars of the mules that drew the chariot were "enriched with precious stones and gold bells ; and to the pavilion of entire gold, erected on the chariot, were fastened large bells, whose sound was heard at a great distance." Cowper, in the person of Alexander Selkirk, finds no stronger mode of expressing the dreary desolation of the island of Juan Fernandez than the following : -

"The sound of the church-going bell These valleys and rocks never heard, Never sighed at the sound of a knell, Nor smiled when the Sabbath appeared."

All ears delight in the music of a bell. Milton, for instance, numbers it among his pensive pleasures : -

"Oft, on a plat of rising ground, I hear the far-off curfew sound, Over some wide-watered shore, Swinging slow with sullen roar."

The accents of its iron tongue have a strange influence over human sympathies; or, rather, they chime in with every tone of sentiment, and make religion more venerable, grief more tender, and joy more gladsome. Such an effect has been recognized from the earliest times. The Egyptians ushered in the festal days of their deities by the ringing of bells ; and bells were rung, too, in some of the religious solemnities of the ancient Greeks. It is supposed that bells were introduced into Christian churches about the year 400, although they were not brought into general use till three or four centuries afterwards. They were given by princes and great men to religious communities ; and, in the early ages of the Catholic faith, it was usual to baptize the hells, with great ceremony; the crossing, benediction, and other rites being performed by a bishop. Many marvellous virtues were attributed to them ; and among the rest that of dispelling thunder storms, in order to effect which, they were generally rung amid the roar of the tempest. The church bells were also sounded at the moment when the soul of a dying person was passing from his body ; a custom for which there were two reasons - one, that all Christians might be reminded to pray for their departing brother ; and the other because the knell was believed to chase away the evil spirits, who watched around the sinner's death bed. Bells have the same general shape in all countries ; and it is conjectured that their form was imitated from that of a pot or kettle. They have recently been made without any curvature of the sides, but straight up and down, like a tub. The largest bells in the world are in Nankin and in Moscow. In the former city there were four bells of such size, that, though they were never swung in the belfry, but merely struck with a wooden mallet, they caused the tower to fall, and are said to be still lying amid the ruins. In Moscow there is a bell which was presented to the cathedral of that city by the Empress Anne, the height of which is twenty-one feet, its circumference near the bottom more than sixty-seven feet, and its weight at least four hundred and thirty-two thousand pounds. It remains in a deep pit, where it was cast, and has a fissure in its side, through which two persons may pass abreast without stooping. This enormous bell is worth above three hundred thousand dollars, considering it merely as a mass of old bell metal, and without reckoning the gold and silver, a large amount of which is supposed to be mingled with its materials ; for tradition affirms that, while the metal was in a state of fission, many of the Russian nobility and people threw in their plate and coin. The tone of a bell is thought to be greatly improved by a mixture of silver. Bell metal is composed of copper and tin, generally in the proportion of twenty-three pounds of the latter to one hundred of the former; and it is a singular fact, that not only is the compound more sonorous than either of the metals separately, but is also heavier than their aggregate weight. Bells of moderate size are moulded in the manner of large pots. In the manufacture of larger ones, pits are dug in the earth, and they are cast in a sort of plaster moulds. A cracked bell is generally considered irremediably ruined ; but attempts have recently been made, and sometimes with success, to restore the proper tone by cutting out the fractured part. While the "Great Tom" of Lincoln was undergoing this operation, a piece was broken off the rim, eight feet in length, and weighing six hundred pounds. It would have been by no means wonderful, if our pious ancestors, when they emigrated to New England, had rejected the use of bells, and refused to be thus summoned to public worship, because the same mode was practised in the churches and high cathedrals of the ancient faith. They do, in fact, in some of the country towns, and probably in Boston, during the first years of its settlement, appear to have substituted the beat of a drum, instead of the ringing of a bell, on Sabbath and Lecture days. This, however, was attributable to the necessity of the case ; and bells were imported from England almost as soon as the Pilgrims had exchanged the canopy of forest boughs for a temple built with hands. The earliest use of bells in North America was probably in the French and Catholic city of Quebec. Every little chapel in the wilderness, where the French Jesuits preached to the red men, had its bell. We recollect to have seen, in the museum of Bowdoin College, one which, we believe, had belonged to the chapel of the martyred Father Ralle. After the priest was slain, and his altar desecrated, by the bloody hands of the New England rangers, this bell, if we mistake not, lay hidden many years beneath the forest leaves ; until, being accidentally brought to light, it was suspended in the belfry of the college chapel.