Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 2: Ringing Classical Bells: Campanae Undelleneses

Academic journal article Transactions of the American Philosophical Society

Chapter 2: Ringing Classical Bells: Campanae Undelleneses

Article excerpt

Pastoral music lies at the very heart of Dillingham's Campanae Undellenses, which takes as its subject the peal and indeed the appeal of tolling bells. As such it is comparable perhaps with some vernacular verses prefixed to Thomas White's Tintinnalogia or The Art of Ringing (1671):

What Musick is mere diat compar'd may be

To well-tun'd Bells enchanting melody!

Breaking with dieir sweet sound the willing Air,

And in die list'ning ear the Soul ensnare;

The ravisht Air such pleasure loth to lose.

With thousand Echoes still prolongs each close;

And gliding streams which in the Vallies trills,

Assists its speed unto the neighbouring Hills.1

But the focus of Dillingham's poem is not so much on the actual bells themselves, but on the memories awakened in the listener, combined with an analysis of the accompanying emotional sensibilities. In this respect it seems somewhat ahead of its time, pre-empting as it does the treatment of the theme by eighteenth-century and Romantic poets. Such poets tend to emphasize both aural and emotional sensibilities, interrogating the effect of the tolling as it gradually wafts upon the breeze. And this operates on both a neo-Latin and a vernacular level. It is hardly a coincidence that in the mid-eighteenth century Dillingham's poem was anthologized by Vincent Bourne in his edition of the Musae Anglicana. for Bourne himself would compose two Latin poems on the subject, not without a backward glance at Dillingham's treatment.3

Bourne's Certamen Musicum, first published in 1734,4 takes as its theme two different types of tolling produced by the bells of two Thamesside churches: St Mary-le-Bow and St Bride's (i.e., Wren's church on Fleet Street), which possess eight and twelve bells respectively. The tolling produced by the latter is light and swifter; that produced by the former is weighty and slower. Such a disparity is replicated both syntactically and rhythmically in a poem whose language mirrors the sounds themselves.5 Likewise Bourne's short Latin epigram on the theme, entitled Si Propius Stes, Te Capiet Minus, b first published in 1743, shows how the harmony produced by the bells of St Mary Overie, London, is enhanced by the perspective of distance, thereby awakening enraptured awe in the listener. Or as George Orwell would later put it:

All the while that they were talking the half-remembered rhyme kept running through Winston's head. Oranges and lemons, say the bells of St Clement's; You owe me three farthings say the bells of St Martin's! It was curious, but when you said it to yourself you had the illusion of actually hearing bells, the bells of lost London that still existed somewhere or other, disguised and forgotten. From one ghostly steeple after another he seemed to hear them pealing forth. Yet so far as he could remember he had never in real life heard church bells ringing.

But if the tolling bell awakens memories, so too does it epitomize timelessness itself. Or as T.S. Eliot states:

The tolling bell

Measures time not our time, rung by the unhurried

Ground swell, a time

Older than the time of chronometers, older

Than time counted by anxious worried women

Lying awake, calculating the future,

Trying to unweave, unwind, unravel

And piece together the past and the future,

Between midnight and dawn, when the past is all deception,

The future futureless, before the morning watch

When time stops and time is never ending;

And the ground swell, that is and was from the beginning.


The bell a

Indeed the timelessness of Dillingham's poem becomes apparent upon closer inspection. For while the piece is strangely forward-looking, so too does it cast a backward glance to things classical, more specifically to the Latin poetic corpus of Virgil, with which it interacts on a variety of levels. …

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