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
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.