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Some Reminiscences and the Bagpipe
Chapter XXI — Piper Pan


"'Twas ever thus since first the world began!
The adoration of his fellow-man,
Proclaims the genius hero first, then God —
Ruling his maker, man, with iron rod.
’Twas thus with Thor, the strong, and Piper Pan,
And all the ancient gods, now under ban.”—
Anon.

PAN was one of the most popular gods in the heathen world. He was an universal favourite with the Greeks, and also—under a different name— with the Latins.

His divinity was, however, only first acknowledged by the Greeks about the year 470 B.C. He was worshipped by the country-folk—by the shepherds in Arcadia and round about—long before this, but he only became known to the learned dwellers in Athens shortly after the battle of Marathon; and his country charms made him at once popular with that fickle people.

With his ruddy cheek, and his hearty laugh, and his jovial unsophisticated manners; with his mouth dropping honey fresh from the comb, and his breath sweet with the odours of the violet ; no ascetic he, but of jovial tastes—as the wine-stain still fresh upon his lips from late revels shewed—and carrying with him into the jaded town two gifts worth having, the fresh airs from Nature’s wilds, and the gift of exquisite music, this hairy creature fairly captivated the volatile Greek heart.

We need not here repeat the story of Pan and his Pipes. It has been told by many writers, and well told too. None, however, excels Mrs Elizabeth Browning’s version in the exquisite poem beginning with these well-known lines :

“What was he doing, the Great God Pan,
Down by the side of the river?'’

She also tells the story of his death with a charm inimitable in the more ambitious poem entitled, “Pan, Pan is dead.”

We may perhaps—in spite of all this—be forgiven for trying our hand, not at the story itself, but at the prologue to the story of Piper Pan.

The beginning of the tale takes us back to a very remote past: to a time when the Aryan race, hitherto one and undivided—with its home in the great central plain of Europe—was beginning to break up, by pressure from within, into a number of separate tribes or nations.

At first there was only one possessive pronoun in the language, Meum, or mine. But just about the time our story opens up there appeared a most unwelcome stranger, a troublesome little fellow called “Tuum,” or thine, who claimed acquaintanceship with “Meum,” and demanded a share of his inheritance.


This Photograph shews (from left to right)
The Pan Pipe, the Single Tibia of the Romans,
AND THE
Tikia Pares:
The latter got from a shepherd boy in North Africa

He had been heard of in several places, more or less remote, but had so far left the Celt unmolested. The rumours of his appearance had been gravely discussed by the seniors of the tribe in council, because from the very first he was noted as a mischief-maker.

Wherever he appeared speedy quarrels arose, and much shedding of blood often followed. But all mention of him was strictly avoided in public, and most of the people were as yet ignorant of the impending danger which, Damocles like, hung over their heads.

Formerly the patriarch of the tribe, as he stretched himself lazily in the door of his tent at break of day and narrowly scanned the horizon for sign of other life than his own, looked in vain. The world lying around him, far as the keenest of visions carried, was all his own. There was no sign of life in that vast region to disturb the roseate dawn, nor sound nor movement outside the sleeping camp.

Fresh pasture upon fresh pasture lay waiting for the coming of his flocks and herds, and of his alone. Peace and contentment reigned within and without. And as it was, so it had been, for untold centuries.

But in process of time the natural increase of population, and the rapid increase of sheep and cattle, brought about changes which were distasteful; imposed restrictions which were galling to a race hitherto free as the wind—free to roam about from year to year, and from place to place ; free to wander wherever its fancy led it, unchallenged of any.

When, therefore, for the first time in the history of the tribe the smoke of a stranger’s camp-fire was perceived like a thin blue streak staining the deeper blue of the far-distant horizon, the wise men foretold that the day of trouble was at hand, and their forebodings were, alas ! soon realised. Messengers were sent out to spy upon the intruders, and great was the excitement when these brought back word that little “Tuum,” born of rumour, was settled there, and had come to stay.

“Tuum ! tuum!” said the tribesmen, for the word was soon in the mouth of everyone. “What is this new word, and what does it mean?”

“It means,” said the elders of the tribe, “that the time has come for us to trek.”

And so tents were struck, the waggons were loaded with the household necessaries, the women and little children were carefully stowed away on the top of these, and, last of all, the patient oxen were yoked to, and these simple shepherd folk, giving up all that meant home to them, wandered away out into the wilderness rather than submit to the unwelcome encroachments of little “Tuum.” Which, put into plain language, means that the cradle of the Aryans became too small, in the fulness of time, to hold the race now grown to manhood.

“The deeds of the times of old,” said Duthmarno, “are like paths to our eyes.” “A tale of the times of old,” sings Ossian.

As this prologue takes up a tale of the times of old, “a tale of the years that have fled,” we will begin it in the good old-fashioned way, beloved of our grandfathers, and dear yet to the youthful mind.

Once upon a time, a little shepherd boy, whose ruddy locks and light blue eyes bespoke him a Celt of the Celts, sat by the side of a river, paddling with cool feet, in the clear waters running below, while his flocks grazed peacefully along its green banks.

He was listening to and wondering at the music which the soft winds made, playing in and out of the reeds, that grew in the bed of the river.

He had often before listened to those sweet sounds and wondered. Fairy music they called it at home and among his playmates, but the explanation was not a satisfying one to this boy of enquiring mind. And so, on this particular morning, of which we write, with the sun shining brightly out of a cloudless sky, and leaving not a single dark nook or cranny anywhere for fear to lurk in, the boy, taking his courage in his hand, stepped boldly down into the water, and seizing hold of a reed which had been broken off by some stronger gust of wind than usual, he pulled it up by the root, and putting his mouth to the hole in the fractured stem he blew a sharp quick breath across it, and instantly there floated away upon the still summer air the first note of human music.

Eagerly seizing another and yet another reed, he blew again and again, and always with the same result; but also with—to him—a strange difference. Or did his ear play him false? For surely the notes were of varying quality, some high and some low.

He soon discovered that the low notes came from the longer reeds and the high notes from the shorter reeds, and so, putting together a number of these reeds of different lengths, he produced the first wind instrument in the world : one which is known to-day as the Pandean or Pan Pipe.

It was this instrument which gave the world afterwards the idea of the Bagpipe drones, and of the combined pipes of the more complex organ. It did not take very great thought, or research, to further discover that the different notes got from this combination of reeds could also be got from one reed by notching holes at uncertain intervals along its course.

This accordingly was done, and the Shepherd’s Pipe came into being.

Now the shepherd’s occupation, at all times a solitary one, gave the boy the very opportunities which he required for study. Nature was his teacher. The sighing of the wind in the tree-tops, the murmur of the running stream over the shallows at the ford: these were his studies.

His notes he learned from the feathered songsters of the grove, and in his own poetical way—the Celt’s way—he called the little instrument Piob (pronounced in the soft Gaelic tongue, peep), after the peep, peep, of his teachers, the little birds.

Practising constantly, steadfastly, cheerfully, the boy became a clever musician, and at length, falling in love with his own music—as who wouldn’t—and neglecting his herds and his flocks, he wandered away among the neighbouring tribes, piping as he went, and was everywhere received with open arms by these rude children of nature, for the sake of the splendid gift which was his—the gift of music. A never-ending wonder it was to them; a never-ending source of delight. And if after a time, when he was taken from them, they deified the boy, can you blame them?

Now this boy, with all his quiet ways and gentle manners, cherished another ambition than that of becoming a musician. One night, when sitting on his father’s knee, and supposed to be fast asleep, he learned from the talk of the elders, sitting round the camp fire at the end of the day, as was their wont, that long, long ago, part of the tribe to which he belonged had broken away—after a fierce family quarrel—from the main body, and disappeared over the mountains to the south. That a message once came through in some mysterious way, many years after, saying that they had prospered, and that they were living in a beautiful country, well-wooded, and full of green pasture-lands, where droughts were unknown, because through it all there ran a great river of purest waters. But tor many years nothing further had been heard of the wanderers. To visit his long-lost relations in their new home, a home which always appeared to him in dreams as Fairyland : this was the ambition which the little shepherd boy secretly cherished.

It was therefore with great delight that he received a message one day to return home, as his people had determined, on account of the persistent encroachments of strangers upon their pastures, to go in search of a new country, and of those relatives who had trekked over the mountains long years ago.

He arrived just in time to join the last of the waggons, as it was going out from the old home.

Of the long and wearisome journey over difficult country; of his piping with which the tedium of the way was beguiled; of the hundred and one dangers from storms and floods, from wild beasts and treacherous foe; of the terrible winter months spent perforce wandering in the mountains of Noricum, where they got lost in the snow, and where man and beast died off as in a murrain; of these and many other privations endured, what need is there to tell ? Suffice it to say that one morning in spring, when the earth had put off its winter garments, and the little yellow flowers, coaxed into new life by the warm sun, peeped out cautiously from the crevices of the rocks, and a fluty mellowness in the twitter of the mountain linnet, recalled the fuller throated song of summer, the tired wayfarers arrived at the end of their toilsome journey. As they emerged from the passes which had engaged their attention for days, a gladsome sight met their eyes. At the foot of the mountains, rolling one into the other like the billows of some giant ocean, green fertile valleys spread themselves out before them, while in the distance a mighty river, shimmering in the soft morning light, went winding its sinuous way through bank and brake, by bush and fell, looking for all the world like some huge silver snake guarding the land. While the leaders stood gazing upon the magnificent panorama—the realisation of their hopes by day and by night, for weary months past, more than fulfilled—the scouts, who always preceded the caravan, brought in the joyful intelligence that in the valley below there dwelt a people bearing the same name as themselves, and the country, they were told, was called Pannonia, after them.

These Pannonians, then, were their long-lost relatives. The great river in front was the Danube; and the country, still thinly populated, which stretched out before them, beautiful as the Fairyland of the little piper-boy’s dream, was to be their future home.

When the two peoples met, there were great rejoicings on both sides.

Time had taken all the sting out of the old feud, and warm hands were clasped, and loving embrace met loving embrace. What questions were put and answered, what marvels recounted, what treasures

shewn, what memories revived, it matters not to us here. But of all the wonders each had to tell or to shew the other, none equalled in marvel the piping of the little shepherd boy. He was the hero of the hour.

In this beautiful country then, by the banks of the Danube, the gifted one lived and dreamed, and piped and taught, for the remainder of his days. And when he died in the fulness of time, his honoured remains were laid to rest beside his father’s, to the mourning of a whole nation.

Now, as the years went by, while many things were forgotten, the memory of the piper’s performances on the Pipe remained ever green ; the marvel of his playing grew and evermore grew; until in time the personality of the player was altogether lost in the divineness of his gift. Hero worship, in short, raised him to a place among the immortals.

And when we first meet with our little shepherd boy in History, he is already known as the Great God Pan.

“What was he doing, the Great God Pan,
Down in the reeds by the river?
Spreading ruin and scattering ban,
Splashing and paddling with hoofs of a goat,
And breaking the golden lilies afloat,
With the dragon fly on the river.
He tore out a reed, the Great God Pan,
From the deep cool bed of the river;
The limped water turbidly ran,
And the broken lilies a dying lay,
And the dragon fly had fled away,
Ere he brought it out of the river/’

The god then fashioned a Pipe out of the reed, and playing upon it with power, he fairly startled the world with the sweetness of his music. The picture drawn for us by Mrs Browning, of the pause which took place in Nature’s workshop, as the strains of the first music fell upon listening ears, is too charming to be omitted ; and with the last verse of the poem I will close this prologue, with full apologies to the classical scholar for the many liberties I have taken with the different texts in my treatment of Pan the Piper. Mrs Browning places the piping out of doors. This is as it should be, in the fitness of things. Piercing sweet, and blinding sweet, would not be sweet, indoors.

“Sweet, sweet, sweet, O Pan!
Piercing- sweet by the river!
Blinding sweet, O Great God Pan!
The sun on the hill forgot to die,
And the lilies revived, and the dragon fly
Came back to dream on the river.”

As it was in the days when the world was young, so is it in these jaded days of syren and steam-whistle.

It is not given to every man to hear, nor hearing to understand; but nevertheless, the old music once so beloved of the Immortals can still be heard whenever a piper tunes up. Standing — like the great Dr Johnson — with “one fond ear to the drone,” the intelligent listener marks not time’s flight.

Once under the spell of the master, what does it matter to him that the sun has set, that the flowers have faded, and the dragon-fly has long since folded its gossamer wings in sleep ?

He heeds not these things : he marks them not: his thoughts are elsewhere. He is back in the old days; and he sees his forefathers clad in goatskins leading the sheep with sweet music to the green pastures beside the still waters; or transported on the wings of the so “blinding sweet” music, he finds himself standing at the portals of Mythland, and there he catches a glimpse of a still older life within as he eagerly watches the gay crowds of “nimphes, faunes, and amadriades,disporting themselves on the green sward in the cool of the evening the while Pan pipes.


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