David Charles Bell

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Professor David Charles Bell (4 May 1817 – 28 October 1902),[1][2] was a Scottish-born scholar, author and professor of elocution. He was an elder brother to Alexander Melville Bell and uncle to Alexander Graham Bell.

Bell was born in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland. He married Ellen Adine Highland and together they had eleven children. He later followed his brother Melville to Canada, emigrating from Ireland to Brantford, Ontario along with his wife and several of his children,[3] including Aileen, Lilly, Laura and Charles James. His family's vocations and activities were highly similar to Melville's, its member's being gifted in music and elocution. As did his younger brother, David became a professor of elocution, providing lectures on proper speech.

David Charles, Professor of English Literature and Elocution, had previously taught at Ireland's Dublin University,[4] where one of his students was playwright George Bernard Shaw, whom he later introduced to Melville. Shaw, under Melville's influence was inspired to write the play Pygmalion (which spawned the musical production and movie My Fair Lady and refers directly to "Bell's Visible Speech"), and also became a life-long advocate of phonetic transcription —leaving a large part of his estate to the development of a "fonetic alfabet".[4][5]

While residing at Brantford, Ontario, Bell was an assistant to an important early test of the telephone, newly invented by his nephew Alexander Graham. Bell spoke to his nephew from the Brantford telegraph office, reciting lines from Shakespeare's Hamlet ("To be or not to be....").[6][7] The young inventor, positioned at the A. Wallis Ellis store in the neighbouring community of Mount Pleasant,[6][8] listened to his uncle's voice emanating from his receiver housed in a metal box. Initially David Bell's voice couldn't be heard distinctly as"...all kinds and sizes of wire were used in stringing from the house to Mount Pleasant road". However, the Dominion Telegraph manager, Walter Griffin, decided to attach the wire to a telegraph battery to see if it would improve the transmission, which it did, and then "the voices then came in distinctly."[9][Note 1]

David's son Charles James Bell (Dublin, April 12, 1858 – October 1, 1929) would marry Roberta Wolcott Hubbard (June 4, 1859 – July 4, 1885), and then Grace Blatchford Hubbard (October 9, 1861 – July 16, 1948), sisters of Mabel Hubbard (Alexander Graham Bell's wife),[3] and become President of the American Security and Trust Company in the Washington, D.C. area.

David Charles wrote several written works on elocution and speech, and in 1878 also co-authored Bell's Standard Elocutionist: Principles and Exercises along with his brother Melville. He died in Washington, D.C., age 86, and was survived by three sons and four daughters.[2][11]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Alexander Graham may also have transferred his uncle's voice onto a phonautogram, a drawing made on a pen-like recording device that could produce the shapes of sound waves as waveforms onto smoked glass or other media by tracing their vibrations. A phonautogram exists of the phrase "To Be Or Not To Be", published in a book coauthored by Melville Bell, Pioneering The Telephone In Canada, but was referred to as an 'oscilligraph' (sic). The phonautogram's source is not specified and it may have been subsequently produced elsewhere.[10]


  1. ^ David Charles Bell family tree, Ancestry.com website. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  2. ^ a b Death List of a Day: David Charles Bell, The New York Times, October 29, 1902.
  3. ^ a b David Charles Bell Family Tree, U.S. Library of Congress, March 3, 2004. Retrieved September 13, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "The Family Life Of The Bells When They Resided In This City", Brantford Expositor, 10 August 1936, p. 16.
  5. ^ Vosper, George. "My Fair Lady", Kingston Whig-Standard, 15 March 2000, p. 7, ISSN 1197-4397.
  6. ^ a b "First Telephone Office", CWB, 17 November 1971, pp. 4–5.
  7. ^ "You Can Tour The House In Brantford Where Bell Worked On His Telephone", Toronto Daily Star, 26 December 1970.
  8. ^ MacLeod 1999, p. 14.
  9. ^ Special Semi-Centennial Edition of The Daily Expositor, Semi-Centennial 1877-1927, Incorporation of the City of Brantford, Diamond Jubilee of Confederation, Daily Expositor (supplement), July 1, 1927, pp. 31, 34.
  10. ^ Patten & Bell 1926, p. 15.
  11. ^ Bell's Standard Elocutionist: Principles and Exercises: Followed by a Copious Selection of Extracts in Prose and Poetry, Classified and Adapted for Reading and Recitation, Hodder & Stoughton, 1889.