Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Browse all available works of Richard Le Gallienne > Text of Spirit Of The Open

An essay by Richard Le Gallienne

The Spirit Of The Open

Title:     The Spirit Of The Open
Author: Richard Le Gallienne [More Titles by Le Gallienne]

I often think, as I sit here in my green office in the woodland--too often diverted from some serious literary business with the moon or the morning stars, or a red squirrel who is the familiar spirit of my wood-pile, or having my thoughts carried out to sea by the river which runs so freshly and so truantly, with so strong a current of temptation, a hundred yards away from my window--I often think that the strong necessity that compelled me to do my work, to ply my pen and inkpot out here in the leafy, blue-eyed wilderness, instead of doing it by typewriter in some forty-two-storey building in the city, is one of those encouraging signs of the times which links one with the great brotherhood of men and women that have heard the call of the great god Pan, as he sits by the river--

Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
Piercing sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O great god Pan!

And I go on thinking to this effect: that this impulse that has come to so many of us, and has, incidentally, wrought such a harmony in our lives, is something more than duck-shooting, trout-fishing, butterfly-collecting, or a sentimental passion for sunsets, but is indeed something not so very far removed from religion, romantic religion. At all events, it is something that makes us happy, and keeps us straight. That combination of results can only come by the satisfaction of the undeniable religious instinct in all of us: an instinct that seeks goodness, but seeks happiness too. Now, there are creeds by which you can be good without being happy; and creeds by which you can be happy without being good. But, perhaps, there is only one creed by which you can be both at once--the creed of the growing grass, and the blue sky and the running river, the creed of the dog-wood and the skunk-cabbage, the creed of the red-wing and the blue heron--the creed of the great god Pan.

Pan, being one of the oldest of the gods, might well, in an age eager for novelty, expect to be the latest fashion; but the revival of his worship is something far more than a mere vogue. It was rumoured, as, of course, we all know, early in the Christian era, that he was dead. The pilot Thomas, ran the legend, as told by Plutarch, sailing near Pascos, with a boatful of merchants, heard in the twilight a mighty voice calling from the land, bidding him proclaim to all the world that Pan was dead. "Pan is dead!"--three times ran the strange shuddering cry through the darkness, as though the very earth itself wailed the passing of the god.

But Pan, of course, could only die with the earth itself, and so long as the lichen and the moss keep quietly at their work on the grey boulder, and the lightning zigzags down through the hemlocks, and the arrowhead guards its waxen blossom in the streams; so long as the earth shakes with the thunder of hoofs, or pours out its heart in the song of the veery-thrush, or bares its bosom in the wild rose, so long will there be little chapels to Pan in the woodland--chapels on the lintels of which you shall read, as Virgil wrote: _Happy is he who knows the rural gods, Pan, and old Sylvanus, and the sister nymphs_.

It is strange to see how in every country, but more particularly in America and in England, the modern man is finding his religion as it was found by those first worshippers of the beautiful mystery of the visible universe, those who first caught glimpses of

Nymphs in the coppice, Naiads in the fountain,
Gods on the craggy height and roaring sea.

First thoughts are proverbially the best; at all events, they are the bravest. And man's first thoughts of the world and the strangely romantic life he is suddenly called up, out of nothingness, to live, unconsulted, uninstructed, left to feel his way in the blinding radiance up into which he has been mysteriously thrust; those first thoughts of his are nowadays being corroborated in every direction by the last thoughts of the latest thinker. Mr. Jack London, one of Nature's own writers, one of those writers too, through whom the Future speaks, has given a name to this stirring of the human soul--"The Call of the Wild." Following his lead, others have written of "The Lure," of this and that in nature, and all mean the same thing: that the salvation of man is to be found on, and by means of, the green earth out of which he was born, and that, as there is no ill of his body which may not be healed by the magic juices of herb and flower, or the stern potency of minerals, so there is no sickness of his soul that may not be cured by the sound of the sea, the rustle of leaves, or the songs of birds.

Thirty or forty years ago the soul of the world was very sick. It had lost religion in a night of misunderstood "materialism," so-called. But since then that mere "matter" which seemed to eclipse the soul has grown strangely radiant to deep-seeing eyes, and, whereas then one had to doubt everything, dupes of superficial disillusionment, now there is no old dream that has not the look of coming true, no hope too wild and strange and beautiful to be confidently entertained. Even, if you wish to believe in fairies, science will hardly say you nay. Those dryads and fauns, which Keats saw "frightened away" by the prosaic times in which it was his misfortune to be alive and unrecognized, are trooping back in every American woodland, and the god whose name I have invoked has become more than ever

the leaven
That spreading in this dull and clodded earth
Gives it a touch ethereal.

His worship is all the more sincere because it is not self-conscious. If you were to tell the trout-fisher, or the duck-shooter, or the camper-out, that he is a worshipper of Pan, he would look at you in a kindly bewilderment. He would seem a little anxious about you, but it would be only a verbal misunderstanding. It would not take him long to realize that you were only putting in terms of a creed the intuitive and inarticulate faith of his heart. Perhaps the most convincing sign of this new-old faith in nature is the unconsciousness of the believer. He has no idea that he is believing or having faith in anything. He is simply loving the green earth and the blue sea, and the ways of birds and fish and animals; but he is so happy in his innocent, ignorant joy that he seems almost to shine with his happiness. There is, literally, a light about him--that light which edges with brightness all sincere action. The trout, or the wild duck, or the sea bass is only an innocent excuse to be alone with the Infinite. To be alone. To be afar. Men sail precarious craft in perilous waters for no reason they could tell of. They may think that trawling, or dredging, or whaling is the explanation: the real reason is the mystery we call the Sea.

Ostensibly, of course, the angler is a man who goes out to catch fish; yet there is a great difference between an angler and a fishmonger. Though the angler catches no fish, though his creel be empty as he returns home at evening, there is a curious happiness and peace about him which a mere fishmonger would be at a loss to explain. Fish, as I said, were merely an excuse; and, as he vainly waited for fish, without knowing it, he was learning the rhythm of the stream, and the silence of ferns was entering into his soul, and the calm and patience of meadows were dreamily becoming a part of him. Suddenly, too, in the silence, maybe he caught sight of a strange, hairy, masterful presence, sitting by the stream, whittling reeds, and blowing his breath into them here and there, and finally binding them together with rushes, till he had made out of the empty reeds and rushes an instrument that sang everything that can be sung and told you everything that can be told.

The sun on the hill forgot to die.
And the lilies revived, and the dragon-fly
Came back to dream on the river.

Do you really think that the huntsman hunts only the deer? He, himself, doubtless thinks that the trophy of the antlers was all he went out into the woods to win. But there came a day to him when he missed the deer, and caught a glimpse instead of the divine huntress, Diana, high-buskined, short-kirtled, speeding with her hounds through the lonely woodland, and his thoughts ran no more on venison for that day.

The same truth is true of all men who go out into the green, blue-eyed wilderness, whether they go there in pursuit of game or butterflies. They find something stranger and better than what they went out to seek, and, if they come home disappointed in the day's bag or catch, there is yet something in their eyes, and across their brows, a light of peace, an enchanted calm, which tells those who understand that they, at all events, have seen the great god Pan, and heard the music he can make out of the pipy hemlocks or the lonely pines.

[The end]
Richard Le Gallienne's essay: Spirit Of The Open