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Deus Terminus

The practical Roman, stern constructor of roads and codes, when he
needs must worship, loved a deity practical as himself; and in his
parcelling of the known world into plots, saying unto this man, Bide
here, and to that, Sit you down there, he could scarce fail to evolve
the god Terminus: visible witness of possession and dominion, type of
solid facts not to be quibbled away. We Romans of this latter day --
so hailed by others, or complacently christened by ourselves -- are
Roman in nothing more than in this; and, as much in the less tangible
realms of thought as in our solid acres, we are fain to set up the
statue which shall proclaim that so much country is explored, marked
out, allotted, and done with; that such and such ramblings and
excursions are practicable and permissible, and all else is exploded,
illegal, or absurd. And in this way we are left with naught but a
vague lingering tradition of the happier days before the advent of the
ruthless deity.

The sylvan glories of yonder stretch of woodland renew themselves each
autumn, regal as ever. It is only the old enchantment that is gone;
banished by the matter-of-fact deity, who has stolidly settled exactly
where Lord A.'s shooting ends and Squire B.'s begins. Once, no such
petty limitations fettered the mind. A step into the woodland was a
step over the border -- the margin of the material; and then, good-bye
to the modern world of the land-agent and the ``Field'' advertisement!
A chiming of little bells over your head, and lo! the peregrine, with
eyes like jewels, fluttered through the trees, her jesses catching in
the boughs. 'Twas the favourite of the Princess, the windows of whose
father's castle already gleamed through the trees, where honours and
favours awaited the adventurous. The white doe sprang away through the
thicket, her snowy flank stained with blood; she made for the
enchanted cot, and for entrance you too had the pass-word. Did you
fail on her traces, nor fox nor mole was too busy to spare a moment
for friendly advice or information. Little hands were stretched to
trip you, fairy gibe and mockery pelted you from every rabbit-hole;
and O what Dryads you have kissed among the leaves, in that brief
blissful moment ere they hardened into tree! 'Tis pity, indeed, that
this sort of thing should have been made to share the suspicion
attaching to the poacher; that the stony stare of the boundary god
should confront you at the end of every green ride and rabbit-run;
while the very rabbits themselves are too disgusted with the altered
circumstances to tarry a moment for so much as to exchange the time of
day.

Truly this age is born, like Falstaff, with a white head and something
a round belly: and will none of your jigs and fantasies. The golden
era of princesses is past. For your really virtuous 'prentices there
still remain a merchant's daughter or two, and a bottle of port o'
Sundays on the Clapham mahogany. For the rest of us, one or two decent
clubs, and plenty of nice roomy lunatic asylums. ``Go spin, you jade,
go spin!'' is the one greeting for Imagination. And yet -- what a lip
the slut has! What an ankle! Go to: there's nobody looking; let us
lock the door, pull down the blinds, and write us a merry ballad.

'Tis ungracious, perhaps, to regret what is gone for ever, when so
much is given in return. A humour we have, that is entirely new; and
allotments that shall win back Astræa. Our Labor Program stands for
evidence that the Board School, at least, has done enduring work; and
the useless race of poets is fast dying out. Though we no longer
conjecture what song the Sirens sang, or what name Achilles assumed
when he hid himself among women, yet many a prize (of guineas galore)
awaits the competitor who will stoop, week by week, to more practical
research. ``Le monde marche,'' as Renan hath it, ``vers une sorte
d'americanisme.... Peut-être la vulgarité générale sera-t-elle un jour
la condition du bonheur des élus. Nous n'avons pas le droit d'etre
fort difficiles.'' We will be very facile, then, since needs must;
remembering the good old proverb that ``scornful dogs eat dirty
puddings.'' But, ere we show Terminus the door, at least let us fling
one stone at the shrieking sulphureous houses of damnation erected as
temples in his honour, and dignified with his name! There, 'mid
clangour, dirt, and pestilence of crowding humanity, the very spirit
of worry and unrest sits embodied. The old Roman was not such a bad
fellow. His deity of demarcation at least breathed open air, and knew
the kindly touch of sun and wind. His simple rites were performed amid
flowers and under blue sky, by sunny roads or tranquil waters; and on
this particular altar the sacrifice was ordained to be free from any
stain of gore. Our hour of sacrifice, alas, has not yet come. When it
does -- ( et haud procul absit!) -- let the offering be no bloodless
one, but let (for choice) a fat and succulent stationmaster smoke and
crackle on the altar of expiation!

Kenneth Grahame