For my research, I get to have fun digging around in the old newspapers on TROVE. The following is a short “story” (really more a moral piece) published in the Ballarat Star on the 1st of January, 1890. I fixed the poor OCR and, as I can’t find a text edition online, thought I’d post it here. Unfortunately, there are a few missing lines due to issues with the digital copy of the paper.
The Story of the Chimes
Muffle the bells!. the old year lies a-dying.
Darkness has settled over the city, and the hour of midnight is fast drawing on. In the busy streets an air of half-acknowledged expectancy. In the very air a suggestion of a solemn event near at hand. Let us seek some secluded spot where we may call up visions of the dying year, and note them as they pass. And from where they come, a shadowy panorama, and a sombre one. From out of the darkness of the night the spectral procession emerges for a moment, and recedes again into that darkness. This is the end of one distinct period in the battle of life, and there passes before our mental vision tumbril after tumbril filled with dead hopes, lost opportunities, thoughts and words and deeds of unkindness and of evil. They all are beyond our reach now, and are passing into the dimness of the eternity that is behind us to tell their own. story in the record of our lives. It is not a cheerful feeling this. Muffle the bells!
Other forms glide dimly and silently past. Here come those to whom we failed in word or deed of kindness, which would have cost us so little and which would have meant so much. We never realised that the list could be so long. Sadder still, there follow those who in need, or extremity, sought our aid, and we either evaded our duty or refused to fulfil it. As they pass us with mute lips and sad reproachful eyes we would, if only we could, perform those duties now, but it is too late. The stream of time flows only one way, and the ocean of eternity returns nothing. Muffle the bells!
More yet. Here comes a string of pale phantoms who regard us with a sort of dumb menace. They are those to whom, in the passing year, we have done overt wrong in word or deed. And what an array of them. Where we acted well inside the lines of commercial honesty we see now that We were guilty of something like robbery. Our conventional truth, in this dim light, looks like falsehood and deceit. That unkind speech was lightly spoken, but it embittered our friend’s life, and to some degree poisoned his heart against, not only us, but all his fellows. That man to whom we refused help in his need fell heavily by the way, and we are somehow, conscious that the blame of his [text unclear] Muffle the bells!
But these are [text unclear] whose bright glances inspire comfort and hope. Every effort we have truly and honestly made to battle with wrong, to help misfortune, to comfort sadness, and to raise the fallen, is impersonated in one of these spectral figures which glide past us into the night. We would this line were longer, but it is a comfort that there are ever so many witnesses on our side. The last dim figure passes onward into the mists of the night, and we realise that the duration of the year can now be measured by minutes. By-and-bye there will be a spell of silence while the last few moments are checked off upon the dial. In the mean-while the muffled peal goes on.
Now look up, and around. As the hour comes nearer and nearer we can imagine that spirits are abroad, ready to take their allotted part in the obsequies of the dying year. And see, when on the summit of the tower the flickering shadows seem to take substance and form. Surely that is the figure of the year which is just passing away. A tall form, wrapped in sombre drapery, with a weird earnest face set intently upon the west, waiting for the signal of the bells. The muffled peal is dumb now, and there is a thrill of awed expectancy which seems to develop in sound, like a night wind in the trees. Then comes the solemn boom of the midnight bell, and as the last stroke falls, the spectral figure glides away on sombre pinions to the darkness of the eternal past.
* * * *
How shall we begin the new year? How fitly welcome this chapter of the history of our lives, the contents of which are as yet mysterious and unknown? As we ask the questions the year has already begun. The measured swing of the pendulum has not paused. The sands of times’ hourglass have commenced to fall. If we but vaguely realise the enormous possibilities of a year—possibilities to ourselves and those dear to us, to the society in which we live, to the community of which we form integers, to all the countless and mighty interests of the great human family.—lf we think of this, and of our utter ignorance of what is in store, of our utter helplessness to avert or avoid the shadows of evil and of sorrow, surely we blindfold wayfarers on Time’s journey shall turn to the source of all light, and love, and power; to Him whose almighty voice seems audible in the whisperings of the night, to Him whom we are told to call Our Father who is in Heaven.— Let the bells ring softly. It is good to begin the year with prayer. Let our soul’s voice mingle with the tremulous music of the rising peal, and, like that music, pass up-wards in the direction of the silent stars.
* * * * *
Ring them higher yet! As they swing upward their voice changes. The softer melody is followed by the clang of martial music. Clear and sharp the strokes fall upon the resonant and vocal bells. Who shall interpret their story? Listen reverently now not with the ear only, but with the soul, and you shall understand the message of the bells. It is God’s reveille to his children. It is the roll call of the soul! “Up!” it says, “ and forward. Be no recreant in the battle of life. There are foes to conquer, there is work waiting the doing. There is ‘wrong that needs resistance, there is right that needs assistance;’ there is work for all to do. Up, brother, you who have worn your arms for pleasure and for show. You have wealth; what good are you doing with it? strength and health, not as yet exercised for the good of the suffering and the weak: opportunities for pulling the thorns from the path of your weaker brothers; what account can you render of them? Now, in the beginning of this year, interpret for yourself the message of the bells.” Nor you alone. The King’s roll call includes not only those whose place is in the front of life’s battle, but those also who have been wounded in the fight, and those who have fallen in the ranks. The laurel crown of victory shall be allotted to him that overcometh, and he who nobly and patiently endures is of equal merit with him who being thereto able in first in the fray. And to those who have stained their armour with smudges of vice and even of crime, the bells say “Come.” Let the dead past bury its dead. He who perseveres in his struggle with his soul’s enemies, and never acknowledges defeat, will assuredly conquer in the end, and shall stand in the ranks of those who have fought a good fight. This is what the bells are saying. Up, fight your battle bravely, quit you like men, be strong.
Ring them higher yet! From the clang of the reveille swing them upward into the majestic measure of the full peal. Louder and louder let their sacred music be poured upon the night, filling the air with tremulous ecstasy, flooding our ears with harmony, until our very souls seem to sway to and fro in the sonorous surges of sound. What is their story now? Again listen, and you shall find the music of the bells take the exultant strain of a Te Deum. We praise Thee, O God. Surely angel voices are around us now. and giving articulate interpretation to the story of the bells. As the tide of joyful sound swells far and wide into the night, we hear or seem to hear lines of solemn adoration. “Let the sea make a noise, and all that therein is; the round world and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands, and let the hills be joyful together before the Lord. O, come let us worship and fall down, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah!”
The bells have told their story. And now after the solemn watches of the night, there comes the wistful waiting for the dawn. And we pilgrims of the night, may gird up our loins and taking our staff, enter anew upon life’s journey. With better purpose surely, than of old. With more resolute determination to fight the good fight against the legions of evil, more vigorous effort to do our Master’s work, more watchfulness that we fall not by the way, more kindly hearts for our brothers and sisters, more reverence and love for the author of all. And so brother let us onward. But stay. Through the golden glory on the Orient there flashes forth the beams of tho beautiful Morning Star. Let its brightness be the emblem of our hopes, its purity the symbol of our lives. So may we travel upon life’s path by the help and in the name of Our Father which is in Heaven. So may we anticipate the realisation of A HAPPY NEW YEAR.
Published in the Ballarat Star, Wednesday 1 January 1890, page 2. Newspaper image available at https://trove.nla.gov.au