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The Plough Boy Journals

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19th Century American Whaling

Bonin Islands

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Dictionaries & Glossaries

Ashley's Glossary of
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Dana's Dictionary of
Sea Terms


W. H. Macy

Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol. 49, No. 38 (March 20, 1869)
p. 2.

For the Inquirer and Mirror.
East Boston, March 8th, 1869.     

      Messrs. Editors: – In behalf not only of myself, but of many other expatriated readers of your paper, I wish to express our obligations to your correspondent "W. R. E.," who struck a responsive chord in many hearts, when he touched the tongue of "The Old Bell." We have read his historical sketch, and the characteristic anecdotes of old-time people, with the greatest interest and pleasure.

      I must, however, find a little fault in one respect, inasmuch as he has, with his besom of stubborn facts, swept to the four winds a mass of traditionary lore which I had accumulated, I know not where, and put to rout a legion of legends, more or less apocryphal, associated with that subject. I have no recollection as to when or by whom I have been told, that the bell was cast expressly for a Portuguese convent somewhere in "the Brazils," that it was cast away on our shores, (by some erratic navigator, who probably had never heard of the "Equation of Time,") and afterwards cast up by the sea (the immutable law of specific gravity to the contrary, notwithstanding). Starting from these data, I must even plead guilty to a vague impression that the bell had become ours by a kind of hocus-pocus, which, as we are told, was not uncommon in the old days when the good people managed a shipwreck much as they did a fire, by "rallying and scrawming it out;" when wreck commissioners were a myth, and stranded merchandise easily disposed of under the old comprehensive law of flotsam and jetsum, come on and get some!

      The shock of being thus awakened from my error which may be said to have assumed a chronic form, was almost as great as that felt when I first learned that Robinson Crusoe, instead of having been found on the island, was but slightly "founded on fact;" and that his man Friday was all superstructure, having no foundation whatever – in short, but an April-fool sort of personage, after all.

      But "truth is mighty, and will prevail," I have abjured my errors, – on this subject I mean; – and finding our title to ownership a better one than I supposed it, have no disposition to make the true history of the bell a casus bell-i. Thoughts retrospective have been stirred within us by the mention of this subject. The Old Bell! I seem to hear its familiar music now, though it is several years since I really had that pleasure; and memory goes back to the time when the welcome sound of its first stroke at noon was the signal for us to drop our tools for dinner and rest; when from wharves, ships, stores and workshops, poured a crowd of hungry men, whose occupations are now, for the most part, gone. Back again, to the time when, as boys in the street, its peal interrupted the half-finished evening game of "hide-and-seek," or "pompclix," – I write the word just as we pronounced it – by sending the majority of us homeward, while the few who were less under the control of parental restraint, jeered us for being "tied to the nine-o'clock bell-rope!" Back still further, to the time when, as little ones, we were rudely roused from the sweet slumber of childhood by its sonorous clang on the chilly midnight air, blending with the hoarse cry of "F-i-ire!" sweeping ominously past the window; when my elder brothers already stout enough to "pass buckets," heedless of the maternal remonstrance, rushed half-clad into the outer darkness, laughing at poor little me, the baby of the family, kept at home "to protect the women!" when Cape Horn-widows, fore-armed like the wise virgins, trimmed their lamps to illuminate the front room window, seized the leathern buckets from their perch, and opening the street-door hurled them frantically at the head of the first passer-by! "South Beach!" shouts a breathless voice; "Jeemes's rope 'ork!" roars another, and the owner of it has vanished into the gloom, while we are yet wondering how he knew where it was. By a sort of instinct, I suppose. And still through all, and over all, the tireless tongue of "The Old Bell" talks on, "cling! clang!" like "The Song of the Forge."

      In those days a fire in our town was a fire; but now, to us dwellers in cities, it is only a newspaper item. It is true we hear bells, sometimes; but we might be dwellers in another hemisphere, for all the emotion awakened by the sound; and if the fire is more than three doors off, our knowledge of the matter is limited to what next day's "Journal" or "Herald" may see fit to tell us. The romance of "Fire!" is all gone; the word no longer excites even a thrill, unless it be in our own domicile. It is refreshing, now and then to indulge in a retrospect, such as is suggested by the interesting article in your last issue. We hope "W. R. E." will "do so again," and that other elderly gentlemen may give us more historical reminiscences and anecdotes of the olden time.

W. H. M.     


Author: Macy, William Hussey
Title: Letter - Re: "The Old Bell."
Publication: Inquirer and Mirror (Nantucket)
Vol/No/Date: Vol. 49, No. 38 (March 20, 1869)
Pages: 2