Skip to main content

Full text of "Selected Essays Of Robert Louis Stevenson"

with unapt foot, and make a halting figure in the universal
dance. And some, Hke sour spectators at the play, receive
the music into their hearts with an unmoved countenance,
and walk like strangers through the general rejoicing. But
let him feign never so carefully, there is not a man but has
his pulses shaken when Pan trolls out a stave of ecstasy
and sets the world a-singing.

Alas if that were all! But oftentimes the air is changed ;
and in the screech of the night wind, chasing navies,
subverting the tall ships and the rooted cedar of the hills ;
in the random deadly levin of the fury of headlong floods,
w^e recognize the ' dread foundation " of Me and the anger
in Pan's heart. Earth wages open war against her children,
and under her softest touch hides treacherous claws. The
cool waters invite us in to drown ; the domestic hearth
burns up in the hour of sleep, and makes an end of all.
Everything is good or bad, helpful or deadly, not in itself,
but by its circumstances. For a few bright days in
England the hurricane must break forth and the North
Sea pay a toll of populous ships. And when the universal
music has led lovers into the path of dalliance, confident
of Nature's sympathy, suddenly the air shifts into a minor,
and death makes a clutch from his ambuscade below the
bed of marriage. For death is given a kiss ; the dearest
kindnesses are fatal; and into this life, where one thing
preys upon another, the child too often makes its entrance
from the mother's corpse. It is no wonder, with so
traitorous a scheme of things, if the wise people who
created for us the idea of Pan thought that of all fears the
fear of him was the most terrible, since it embraces all.
And still we preserve the phrase : a panic terror. To
reckon dangers too curiously, to hearken too intently for
the threat that runs through all the winning music of the
world, to hold back the hand from the rose because of the
thorn, and from Me because of death : this it is to be
afraid of Pan. Highly respectable citizens who flee
Me's pleasures and responsibilities and keep, with upright
hat, upon the midway of custom, avoiding the right hand
and the left, the ecstasies and the agonies, how surprised
they would be if they could hear their attitude mythologic-