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The Rural Pan

An April Essay

Through shady Throgmorton Street and about the vale of Cheapside the
restless Mercury is flitting, with furtive eye and voice a little
hoarse from bidding in the market. Further west, down classic
Piccadilly, moves the young Apollo, the lord of the unerring (satin)
bow; and nothing meaner than a frock-coat shall in these latter years
float round his perfect limbs. But remote in other haunts than these
the rural Pan is hiding, and piping the low, sweet strain that reaches
only the ears of a chosen few. And now that the year wearily turns and
stretches herself before the perfect waking, the god emboldened begins
to blow a clearer note.

When the waking comes at last, and Summer is abroad, these deities
will abroad too, each as his several attributes move him. Who is this
that flieth up the reaches of the Thames in steam-launch hired for the
day? Mercury is out -- some dozen or fifteen strong. The flower-gemmed
banks crumble and slide down under the wash of his rampant screw; his
wake is marked by a line of lobster-claws, gold-necked bottles, and
fragments of veal-pie. Resplendent in blazer, he may even be seen to
embrace the slim-waisted nymph, haunter of green (room) shades, in the
full gaze of the shocked and scandalised sun. Apollo meantime
reposeth, passively beautiful, on the lawn of the Guards' Club at
Maidenhead. Here, O Apollo, are haunts meet for thee. A deity
subjectively inclined, he is neither objective nor, it must be said
for him, at all objectionable, like them of Mercury.

Meanwhile, nor launches nor lawns tempt him that pursueth the rural
Pan. In the hushed recesses of Hurley backwater where the canoe may be
paddled almost under the tumbling comb of the weir, he is to be looked
for; there the god pipes with freest abandonment. Or under the great
shadow of Streatley Hill, ``annihilating all that's made to a green
thought in a green shade''; or better yet, pushing an explorer's prow
up the remote untravelled Thame, till Dorchester's stately roof broods
over the quiet fields. In solitudes such as these Pan sits and
dabbles, and all the air is full of the music of his piping.
Southwards, again, on the pleasant Surrey downs there is shouting and
jostling; dust that is drouthy and language that is sultry. Thither
comes the young Apollo, calmly confident as ever; and he meeteth
certain Mercuries of the baser sort, who do him obeisance, call him
captain and lord, and then proceed to skin him from head to foot as
thoroughly as the god himself flayed Marsyas in days of yore, at a
certain Spring Meeting in Phrygia: a good instance of Time's revenges.
And yet Apollo returns to town and swears he has had a grand day. He
does so every year. Out of hearing of all the clamour, the rural Pan
may be found stretched on Ranmore Common, loitering under Abinger
pines, or prone by the secluded stream of the sinuous Mole, abounding
in friendly greetings for his foster-brothers the dab-chick and
water-rat.

For a holiday, Mercury loveth the Pullman Express, and a short hour
with a society paper; anon, brown boots on the pier, and the pleasant
combination of Métropole and Monopole. Apollo for his part will urge
the horses of the Sun: and, if he leaveth the society weekly to
Mercury, yet he loveth well the Magazine. From which omphalos or hub
of the universe he will direct his shining team even to the far
Hesperides of Richmond or of Windsor. Both iron road and level highway
are shunned by the rural Pan, who chooses rather to foot it along the
sheep track on the limitless downs or the thwart-leading footpath
through copse and spinney, not without pleasant fellowship with
feather and fir. Nor does it follow from all this that the god is
unsocial. Albeit shy of the company of his more showy brother-deities,
he loveth the more unpretentious humankind, especially them that are
adscripti glebć, addicted to the kindly soil and to the working
thereof: perfect in no way, only simple, cheery sinners. For he is
only half a god after all, and the red earth in him is strong. When
the pelting storm drives the wayfarers to the sheltering inn, among
the little group on bench and settle Pan has been known to appear at
times, in homely guise of hedger-and-ditcher or weather-beaten
shepherd from the downs. Strange lore and quaint fancy he will then
impart, in the musical Wessex or Mercian he has learned to speak so
naturally; though it may not be till many a mile away that you begin
to suspect that you have unwittingly talked with him who chased the
flying Syrinx in Arcady and turned the tide of fight at Marathon.

Yes: to-day the iron horse has searched the country through -- east
and west, north and south -- bringing with it Commercialism, whose god
is Jerry, and who studs the hills with stucco and garrotes the streams
with the girder. Bringing, too, into every nook and corner fashion and
chatter, the tailor-made gown and the eyeglass. Happily a great part
is still spared -- how great these others fortunately do not know --
in which the rural Pan and his following may hide their heads for yet
a little longer, until the growing tyranny has invaded the last
common, spinney, and sheep-down, and driven the kindly god, the
well-wisher to man -- whither?

Kenneth Grahame