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The Great God Pan

Aubrey Beardsley rarely wasted an opportunity to include a faun, satyr, herm or Pan figure in his early drawings, whether suitable or not. His title page for Oscar Wilde’s Salomé featured a herm (censored by the publisher) which had nothing to do with the play, and there’s a Pan figure brandishing pipes in his earlier How King Arthur Saw the Questing Beast, from the Morte D’Arthur. Beardsley was an increasingly celebrated artist by the time he was asked to illustrate the Keynotes series of novels for John Lane in 1893 and with Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, the notoriety of the artist joined forces with an author whose weird tale was condemned as obscene, even as it established Machen as a uniquely gifted writer. Machen knew Crowley via The Golden Dawn and his tale of femme fatale Helen Vaughan was followed by an eruption of Edwardian paganism with Saki’s stories, A Touch of Pan and Pan’s Garden by Algernon Blackwood, The Blessing of Pan by Lord Dunsany, The Goat-Foot God by Dion Fortune and others. There’s even that curious moment in The Wind in the Willows whose seventh chapter, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, finds Mole and Rat having a mystical encounter:

Perhaps he would never have dared to raise his eyes, but that, though the piping was now hushed, the call and the summons seemed still dominant and imperious. He might not refuse, were Death himself waiting to strike him instantly, once he had looked with mortal eye on things rightly kept hidden. Trembling he obeyed, and raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn, while Nature, flushed with fullness of incredible colour, seemed to hold her breath for the event, he looked in the very eyes of the Friend and Helper; saw the backward sweep of the curved horns, gleaming in the growing daylight; saw the stern, hooked nose between the kindly eyes that were looking down on them humorously, while the bearded mouth broke into a half-smile at the corners; saw the rippling muscles on the arm that lay across the broad chest, the long supple hand still holding the pan-pipes only just fallen away from the parted lips; saw the splendid curves of the shaggy limbs disposed in majestic ease on the sward; saw, last of all, nestling between his very hooves, sleeping soundly in entire peace and contentment, the little, round, podgy, childish form of the baby otter. All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.

Read the original article at: Feuilleton

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