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He was endeavouring to pierce the darkness with his ferret eyes, when the chimes of a neighboring church struck the four quarters.

1.How did he know that the church struck four quarter? 2.I think it is 4.15 AM.Is that right?

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  • This little sentence is from A CHRISTMAS CAROL.
    – user66705
    Dec 17, 2017 at 10:05

1 Answer 1

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Some bell towers strike every quarter of an hour. The pattern for this is that there's a whole melody that's struck on the hour: at quarter past, a quarter of this melody is struck; at half past, half the melody is struck, etc. Then when the hour is struck, the whole melody - ie. the four quarters - plays out. This is then followed by the 'dongs' that count out which hour it is.

For example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9wWBjnaEck

Also compare this other Dickens story:

"What's the time?"

"Hark! The bells are going in the Tower!"

They strike four quarters, and then the great bell strikes.

"Two!" cries Durdles, scrambling up; "why didn't you try to wake me, Mister Jarsper?"

First the four quarters strike, then the great bell strikes. Durdles listens for the great bell and (it is implied) it has struck twice so he cries "Two!"

So, no it doesn't mean quarter past four. If Dickens says the clock has struck the four quarters, he's saying that the time is exactly on the hour (eg. 1 o'clock, 2 o'clock, etc.), but without saying anything more about how many beats/dongs follow, we don't know what time it is.

I should note that this is an archaic/old-fashioned Dickensian term. I'm not sure anyone would say this now, and if they heard the phrase they would have to pause to think about it.

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  • HIGHLY ELABORATE!!!!
    – user66705
    Dec 17, 2017 at 19:43
  • Haha, yeah I kept adding to it. I hope not overly so, though.
    – Igid
    Dec 18, 2017 at 0:19

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