The Passing Bell

THE solemn and impressive custom of announcing death by the tolling of the church bell will soon be but a vague and distant memory. “ The passing bell” has itself passed away, and its slow measured accents no longer tell the story of the departure of one more soul.

We do not miss the sound, for we are far too busied with our individual interests to pause and count the strokes which shall convey to us the age of the departed. A few lines in the daily paper serve the same purpose better, and are not thrust upon us unless we choose to read them. It is not necessary to toll a bell in order to spread the news that one has died, and the sound is displeasing to many utilitarian ears ; and so the bell stops swinging.

But the brief notice in the daily paper, while it conveys explicit information, fails to give something that the bell’s tolling carried with it. The solemn rhythmic tones awakened a momentary vibration in the breast of every listener, and bade each pause for sympathy and meditation. The bell admonished the sinner to repent, and warned the thoughtless to take heed and mend his ways. It spoke clearly and comprehensively, and bade all scattered and preoccupied inhabitants attend its story.

The bell’s voice is identified with all the deepest and most sacred human emotions. It has spoken the joys and sorrows of all mankind for centuries. Is its voice to die away and have no part in the life of the future ?

The wedding bells ring out no more save in some song or story. The Christmas chimes are seldom wafted to our ears. The church bells ring but faintly now, and under constant protest. “ The curfew tolls the knell of parting day ” only in verse ; a sunset gun to-day gives greater satisfaction. The Angelus sounds merely in pictorial form. The fire bells give place to still alarms. The dinner bell is silenced in polite society, and sleigh bells are discarded.

What is the future of the bell ? That happy silver tongue that has sung out the joys of all the world ; that solemn tone that has mourned for the nations’ dead, and voiced the nations’ woes, and summoned to their knees the nations’ worshipers ! That faithful servant that has flung upon the breezes God’s messages to men, men’s thankfulness to God, and has declared a great and glorious nation free !

Must it toll slowly its own passing, and murmur its inevitable doom ? We may exclaim with Tennyson,

“ Ring out the old,”

but we must pause ere we assert,

“ Ring in the new.”

The “ new ” will doubtless come to us in a far different way. It may be clicked out on a telegraphic instrument, or whispered in our ears by telephonic connection, or flashed before our sight by heliographic phenomena.

In the din of modern civilization, amid the rattle and the rumble, the tooting and the screeching, and all the various discordant noises that rise to heaven, the tolling of the bell grows fainter, and still more faint.

Shall its rhythmic music die away altogether ?

Its fading echoes waft from us something that many years of civilized invention cannot supply, for with the “ passing of the bell ” a flock of graceful sentiments take flight, and soar away as swiftly as did the “ winged steed ” when freed from his detention in the dreary village pound.

“ The silent organ
Loudest chants the master’s requiem.”