Henry Peacham (1638) The Valley of Varietie, Chapter XVIII, pp. 151-157.

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Of Bells.

BELLS are imagined to have beene invented in the yeare of our Redemption, Foure hundred, by Paulinus Bishop of Nola. Nola is a Towne in Campania, where Augustus died: they were called Campanæ, because they were invented in Campania: and the lesser Bells, Nolæ, from the place where they were made.

The use of Bells is very great; for by the benefit of them, the houres of the time of the day are heard a farre off, whether wee lye in our beds, or be abroad in the fields, or journeying on the way; they tell us the houre of the day, though we cannot see the clouded Sun. Before these Water-glasses, called Clepsidræ, were in use and request. Moreover, Bells call us to Divine Service; they call for helpe, when houses in Cities, and Townes are on fire; or when there is any mutinie or uproare; they call the Magistrates of Cities to their Halls, or common Counsell-house; Schollers in Universities, to Congregations, and Disputations; Judges to the Hall and Bench. And in a word, they serve, and helpe us in all publike Actions, and without them, wee knew not well what to doe.

But indeed Paulinus, that holy and religious Bishop, did rather reforme the abuse of Bells, then invent them; and taught them to call Christians to the Church, and to serve God, whereas in former times, their chiefe use was (as they then imagined) to chase away Devils, and evill Spirits; they hindred also Magicall Inchantments, as Tibullus, not obscurely notes, when hee thus writes:1

Cantus & è curru, Lunam deducere tentat,
Et faceret si non ara repulsa sonent.

For they beleeved, that by the tingling of Brasse, that the sound of Magicall verses should be hindred from comming up to the Moone; and when shee was mooved with these Verses, this sound relieved her: in which sense I take that of Statius Papinius Thebaid. 6.2

— Attonitis quoties avellitur astru,
Solis opaca soror, procul auxiliantia gentes
Aura crepant, frustraque timent — —

Yet I must confesse, as now, so in ancient times, when any one dyed, Belles did ring, and they made Brasse to sound; but they did it to the ende (as I sayde before) they might chase away Devills and Spirits from comming neere them. Bells are rung many times in thunder, to reverberate the infectious Ayre, which I am perswaded they doe. The like doeth great Ordnance, shott off as well in Thunder, as in soultry and close hote weather.

The Laconians, when their King dyed, used to beat upon Kettles, instead of ringing of Bells. The Africanes, especially those who are Prester Iohns Subjects, have Bells made of Stone. The Iewes at Funeralls used playing upon Pipes, as it may bee gathered out of Mathew 9. which Custome it seemed the Romanes borrowed from the Iewes, as appeareth by Ovid. 1. Tristium.3

Tibia funeribus convenit ista meis.

The little Bell, which we commonly call, The Saints Bell, Iohn Pierius useth for an Hieroglyphick, teaching Preachers of Gods Word, that to the sound of their voyce, they should lead their lives according; else like the Bell, while they call upon others, themselves are deafe and stupid, alluding whereunto, Beza hath this excellent Epigramme:4

Aera gravi cunctos, veluti Campana sonore,
Ipsa licet penitùs sint sibi surda, cient:
Sic es recta docens alios, perversa sequute,
Quique alijs sapiens, non sapis ipse tibi.

Thus much concerning Bells, and their use.


1 Tibullus, I.viii.21-22.

2 Statius Thebaid VI, 685-687.

3 Sc. Ovid Tristia V.

4 Bezos, Icones XXX.

This page is by James Eason.