"'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.”—
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
The Pan Pipe, the Single Tibia of the Romans,
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
“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
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
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
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
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.