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约翰·沃森 苏格兰人的幽默

2006-07-07 17:06

John Watson

SCOTTISH HUMOUR

1896—1897

  Ladies and gentlemen:

  I shall have the pleasure of speaking to youabout certain traits of character of the people of mynation.One of the first traits I shall illustrate istheir humour.We are,I hope,a Christian people,but I am certain that our Christianity has been tested a good many times by that often-repeatedproverb of Sidney Smith's,that it takes a surgical operation to get a joke into a Scotchman's head.

  A recent writer,whom I cannot identify,andwhose name I do not want to know,denies thatthere is anything in our humour that is light intouch,delicate and graceful.He asserts insteadthat there is much that is austere and awkward,tiresome,and unpleasant.Now each nation takesits own humour in its own way,some joyously,some seriously,but none more conscientiously than the Scotch.

  When an Englishman sees a joke in the dis- tance,he immediately capitulates and laughs rightout.He takes it home for the enjoyment of the family,and perhaps the neighbours hear it throughthe doors.Then for days afterwards the man who captured it shares it with his fellowpassengers inconveyances,possibly impressing it forcibly uponthem.In the Scotch mind,when a jest presents it-self,the question arises:“Is it a jest at all?”and itis given a careful and analytical examination,andif,after twenty-four hours,it continues to appearto be a jest,it is accepted and done much honour.Even then it may not cause a laugh.As some griefis too deep for tears,so some humour is appreciat-ed without demonstration,and,again,as all soilsare not productive of the same fruit,so each coun-try has its own particular humour.Understand thehumour of a nation and you have understood its character and its traditions,and even had somesort of an insight into its grief.

  If you want the most beautiful flower of hu-mour,wit,you must go to France for it.There isno wit so subtle,so finished,so complete as theFrench wit,especially the wit of the Parisian.There you will find what might be termed the aris-tocracy of wit.

  What I mean by wit is this:Two men were rid-ing together one day through Paris.One was ex-ceedingly bright and clever,while the other wascorrespondingly dull.As is usually the case,thelatter monopolized the conversation.The talk ofthe dullard had become almost unendurable,whenhis companion saw a man on the street far aheadyawning.“Look,”he exclaimed,“we are over-heard!”

  That story divides the sheep from the goats.Iwas telling it once to a Scotch lady,who re-marked:“How could they have been overheard atthat distance?”“Madam,”I replied,“that neveroccurred to me before.”

  The Scotch have no wit.Life to them hasbeen too intense and too bitter a struggle for theproduction of humour of the French kind.Neitherhave they drollery,which is the result of standingthe intellect upon its head,so that it sees thingsbottom upwards.This is the possession of theIrish;not the North Irish,who are only Scotchpeople who went over to Ireland to be born;butthe South Irishman,the Milesian,who sees thingsupside down habitually.It is because of drollerythat these lovable,kind-hearted people are so irre-sistible.

  An Irishman was once sent to deliver a livehare,which escaped and started to run for its lib-erty.The Irish made no attempt at pursuit.Nothe.He simply shook his sides with laughter,whilehe exclaimed:“Ye may run,ye may run and kapeon running,but small good it'll do yez.Ye haven'tgot the address!”

  We Scotch have not the most democratic formof humour,which is called“fun.”Fun seems to bethe possession of the English race.Fun is JohnBulll's idea of humour,and there is no intellectualjudgment in fun.Everybody understands it be-cause it is practical.More than that,it unites allclasses and sweetens even political life.To studythe elemental form of English humour,you mustlook to the school-boy.It begins with the practicaljoke,and unless there is something of his natureabout it,it is never humour to an Englishman.Inan English household,fun is going all the time.The entire house resounds witn it.The fathercomes home and the whole family contribute to theamusement;puns,humorous uses of words,littlethings that are meaningless nonsense,if you like,fly round,and every one enjoys them thoroughlyfor just what they are.The Scotch are devoid ofthis trait,and the Americans seem to be,too.

  If I had the power to give humour to the na-tions I would not give them drollery,for that isimpractical;I would not give them wit,for that isaristocratic,and many minds cannot grasp it;but Iwould be contented to deal out fun,which has nointellectual element,no subtlety,belongs to oldand young,educated and uneducated alike,and isthe natural form of the humour of the Englishman.

  Let me tell you why the Englishman speaksonly one language.He believes with the strongestconviction that his own tongue is the one that allpeople ought to speak and will come in time tospeak,so what is the use of learning any other?Hebelieves,too,that he is appointed by Providenceto be a governor of all the rest of the human race.From our Scottish standpoint we can never see anEnglishman without thinking that there is oozingfrom every pore of his body the conviction that hebelongs to a governing race.It has not been his de-sire that large portions of the world should be un-der his care,but as they have been thrust uponhim in the proceedings of a wise Providence,hemust discharge his duty.This theory hasn't en-deared him to others of his kind,but that isn't amatter that concerns him.He doesn't learn anyother language because he knows that he couldspeak it only so imperfectly that other peoplewould laugh at him,and it would never do that aperson of his importance in the scheme of the uni-verse should be made the object of ridicule.

  An Englishman and a German were once speaking of this subject,and the latter asked theformer why it was that Englishmen did not speakas good French as the Germans,to which the Eng-lishman replied:“I'll tell you why.If NapoleonBonaparte had come twice to our nation to teach ushis language,we would speak it as well as youdo.”

  Here is another sample of the English jest.The Duke of Wellington was once introduced byKing Louis Philippe to a marshal whose troops theDuke had whipped in the Peninsula.The marshalgruffly refused the Duke's hand,turned andwalked away,while the Duke said:“Excuse him,your Majesty;I taught him that lesson.”

  But English humour consists of fair fighting,hitting above the belt.It is healthy fun that hasmade family life happy,taken precociousness outof boys,and enabled the Englishman to give hisneighbour a slap when he needed a slap,and nohard feelings.

  If I may venture to say anything of Americanhumour,I would say that it has two conspicuousqualities.The one is its largeness.It is humour ona great scale,which I presume is due to the threethousand miles between San Francisco and NewYork.We live in a small poor country,and ourhumour is thrifty;your country is large and rich,and your humour is extravagant.The other qualityof your humour is its omissions,which perhaps isdue to the fact that,having so huge a country,youcannot travel through it in daylight.So in your hu-mour you give the first and last chapters of a jest,which is like a railroad journey across this bigcountry,much of the time spent in sleep,but withfrequent sudden awakenings.But did it ever occurto you that you Americans are a terribly seriouspeople?Your comic papers,for example,containalmost no genuine fun.They leave a bitter taste.The fun is there for a purpose;it is bitter,well-nigh malignant.The items hit,as well as raise alaugh,and they never lack an ulterior motive.Youare too busy;you put out too much nervous ener-gy;your life is too tense to make pure fun for thepleasure of it;such,for example,as is found inour Punch.

  There is one department still left,perhaps themost severely intellectual of all.It is irony.Inirony there is a sense of the paradox of things,theunexpectedness of things,the conjunction of joyand sorrow,the sense of the unseen.The Scotchliterature and life are exceedingly rich in irony.Ithas come from the bitter indignation of a peoplewho have seen some amazing absurdity or wrong.Hence,the sair laugh of the Scotchman is a bitterlaugh,not on the outside,but on the inside,anddeep down.Irony is the most profound form of hu-mour,and in that department of humour the Scotch are unexcelled.The Scotchman has toplough ground that is more stones than earth,hehas to harvest his crops out of the teeth of thesnow-storm,three centuries of the sternest Calvin-ism are behind him,his life has been a continualstruggle and surprise;and all these things havetaught him the irony of life.

  Let an Englishman and a Scotchman come to-gether for a bit of banter.The Englishman asksthe Scot why so many of his people go abroad andnever return to their native land.The Scotchmantells the Englishman that it is for the good of theworld.Then he retorts by telling the Englishmanthat just across the border is a city in Scotlandcomposed of 30,000 Englishmen.The Englishmanis incredulous until the Scotchman tells him thatthe name of the town is Bannockburn,that thesame Englishmen have been inhabiting it for sever-al centuries and that they are among the mostpeaceful and law-abiding citizens of Scotland.Then the Scotchman wants to be alone for a coupleof minutes to enjoy the taste of that in his mouth.

  A Scot's humour is always grim because he isalways in contact with the tragedy of life.Ascotchman goes out to play golf.He is annoyed bya slow player who is ahead of him on the links,andtells his caddie to gather up the sticks and go backto the club,as he does not want to follow a funeralprocession all day.The caddie replies,afterthought:“Ah noo!Dinna be hasty.He might dropdeid afore he has gone three holes.”Is there anynation like this,sensible always of the divinitieshanging over them?

  Scotch humour is always dry and never sweet;always biting and never consoling.There was aScotch woman whose husband was sick.Althoughshe attended the church of the Rev.NormanMcLeod,she sent for another minister to adminis-ter spiritual advice to her husband.The ministercame and discovered that the man was sufferingfrom typhus fever.In speaking to the wife heasked her what church she attended.She repliedthat she went to Norman's church.

  “Then why did you not have him come?”wasthe query.

  “Why,”answered the woman,“do you thinkwe would risk Normie with the typhus fever?”

  The grimmest example of Scotch humour thatI ever heard is this story that was told me of acriminal who was condemned to death.Just beforethe execution his counsel went to see him for thepurpose of cheering him up.He told the Scot thatsentence had been pronounced,it was perfectlyjust,and he must hope for no mercy,but he askedif there were anything he could do for him.Thecondemned man thanked him,said he was mostkind,and there was one request he would make.

  “What is that?”asked his visitor.

  “I would ask you to go to my chest and fetchmy Sabbath blacks?”

  “And what do you want with your Sabbathblacks?”

  “I wish to wear them as a mark of respect forthe deceased,”said the condemned man.

约翰·沃森

苏格兰人的幽默

1896-1897年

  女士们、先生们:

  我很高兴对诸位谈谈我国人民性格中的一些特点。第一个特点就是幽默。我希望我们是信奉基督的人民;但我可以肯定,我们的基督教信念已经屡屡受到西德尼·史密斯所说的那句格言的考验——需要通过外科手术,才能把笑话塞进苏格兰人的脑袋。

  最近有一位作家断言——我不知道这位作家是谁,也不想知道他是谁——我们的幽默没有任何轻灵、巧妙和优美的感觉,而是显得十分严厉笨拙,令人厌倦和不快。先生们,各个民族都是以自己的方式对待幽默的,有的表现为欢快,有的则是严肃,但若论认真二字,那就非苏格兰人莫属了。

  英国人在外面见到一个笑话,立即会全盘接受并开怀大笑。他把笑话带回家,让全家人都乐一乐,也许邻人也透过门窗听到了这个笑话。然后,接连好几天,他与同车的乘客共享这个笑话,也许还会使乘客们留下非常深刻的印象。但苏格兰人不同。当一个笑话发生时,他的脑子里会闪出疑问:“这到底是不是个笑话?”他会仔细地进行分析。如果过了24小时,它似乎仍然是个笑话,它才会被恭恭敬敬地接受下来。即使到那时候,它可能还不会引起笑声。就像过分悲伤反而欲哭无泪,人们在欣赏有些幽默时也会不动声色;同样,就像所有的土地长不出相同的果实,每个国家也有自己的特定的幽默。要理解一个国家的幽默,就要了解这个国家的性格和传统,甚至还要有所深入地了解它的悲伤。

  如果你想摘取最美丽的幽默之花——风趣,你就必须到法国去。没有像法国人,尤其是巴黎人这样精巧微妙、精美绝伦的风趣了。在那里,你可以发现不妨称之为贵族气派的风趣。

  举一个例子。有一天,两个人骑马穿过巴黎,一个聪明绝顶,另一个愚笨无比。像往常一样,后者成了谈话的主角。就在笨人的喋喋不休几乎要使聪明人忍无可忍的时候,聪明人看见远处街上有一个人在打呵欠。“瞧,”他叫起来,“我们的话被别人偷听到了!”

  这个故事可以试出人们对待幽默的不同态度。有一次,我对一位苏格兰女士讲了这个故事,她问:“既然离得很远,他们的话怎么能听得到?”“夫人,”我回答说,“我从未想到这个问题。”

  苏格兰人没有风趣可言。对他们来说,生活是紧张而艰苦的搏斗,不可能产生法国式的幽默。他们也不善于解嘲,因为解嘲把人的理解能力颠倒过来,常常逆向思考问题。这是爱尔兰人的属性。但我不是指北爱尔兰人,他们仅仅是生于爱尔兰的苏格兰人;而是指南爱尔兰人,他们常常倒过来看待事物。正因为具有解嘲的天性,这些可爱而善良的人们才这样不可压制。

  有一次,一个爱尔兰人被派去送一只活兔子,可是兔子逃了,开始奔向自由了。这个爱尔兰人不想追赶,他没有追赶。他一边大笑,一边说:“你跑吧,不停地跑吧。跑有什么用?你又没有地址!”

  我们苏格兰人不善“逗乐儿”,尽管这是最民主的幽默形式。逗乐儿似乎是英国人的秉性,是约翰·布尔所说的幽默,不需区分智力高下。它切合实际,人人都懂。不仅如此,它把各阶层人士联系在一起,甚至还使政治生活变得盎然有趣。要研究英国幽默的基础形式,你必须观察学童。逗乐儿始于恶作剧,但须顺其自然,否则在英国人看来,就无幽默可言。在一个英国家庭里,逗乐儿无时不在进行,整幢屋子其乐融融。父亲回家了,全家人各显其能,津津乐道;双关语、俏皮话、大实话、空话废话满天飞,人人尽情享受。苏格兰人没有这种性格,美国人恐怕也没有。

  如果我有权给予各民族幽默,那么我不给予他们解嘲,因为那不切实际;也不给予他们风趣,因为那过于贵族派头,以致多数人无法理解;我要心满意足地给予他们逗乐儿,即不分智力高下,没有隐晦曲折,无论老少或受教育与否都能享受的英国式的自然幽默。

  让我告诉诸位为什么英国人只讲一种语言。英国人坚信,英语是各国人民都应该讲、而且迟早都会讲的语言,因此,学其他语言有什么用?他还认为,上帝已委派他成为全人类的主宰。从苏格兰人的立场来看,英国人每一个毛孔都散发着他是属于统治民族的信念。他虽然不想把各国人民置于自己的监护之下,但是,既然贤明的上帝让他这样做,他就必须尽到责任。这种理论没有使他对其他人、包括对和他一样的人变得亲切可爱,但那不关他的事。他之所以不学其他语言,因为他知道自己说得很糟,唯恐别人耻笑,而像他那样重要的人是万万不能成为别人的笑柄的。

  有一次,一个英国人与一个德国人谈论起这个话题。那个德国人问,为什么英国人讲法语不如德国人讲得好,那个英国人答道:“我来告诉你为什么。如果拿破仑·波拿巴两次来到我们的国家教法语,我们就会讲得同你们一样好。”

  这里还有一个英国幽默的例子。有一次,法国国王路易·菲利普把威灵顿公爵介绍给一位元帅,元帅的部队曾在伊比利亚半岛被威灵顿击败。元帅粗暴地拒绝了威灵顿的手,转过身就走。这时公爵说:“让他走吧,陛下,我教训过他了。”但英国幽默是按规则进行的搏斗,它决不暗箭伤人。这种健康的玩笑使家庭生活愉快活泼,使孩子们全无少年老成习气,使英国人能在其邻居需要有人给以讥刺时毫无敌意地给他一番讥刺。

  如果我可以斗胆说一说美国幽默,我就把它归纳为两个显著的特点。第一个特点是博大。这是一种气派很大的幽默,我以为,这是因为从旧金山到纽约有3,000英里的缘故。我们生活在一个又小又穷的国家,我们的幽默也很节约;你们的国家又大又富,所以你们的幽默也很奢侈。第二个特点是省略。这也许是因为你们拥有辽阔的国土,以致无法在白天走完全程。所以,你们的幽默总是给出一个笑话的开头和结尾,就像你们乘火车穿过辽阔的国土,大部分时间在睡觉中度过,不过常常会突然醒过来。但是,诸位是否想过,你们美国人也是一个非常严肃的民族?比如,贵国的连环画报就几乎没有真正的逗乐的成分。它们有一种苦味。逗乐是为着某种目的;逗乐辛辣无比,近乎恶毒。各期内容不但引人发笑,而且令人深思,从不缺乏某种不可告人的目的。你们太忙碌了;你们太全力以赴了;你们的生活太紧张了,以致不能像我国的《笨拙》周报那样,纯粹地为逗乐而逗乐。

  到现在为止,我还有一个部分没有谈到,也许这是心智最具锋芒的部分,这就是讽刺。在讽刺中,事物表现出似是而非,突如其来,苦乐并存,无法明察。苏格兰文学和生活中特别富于讽刺,这与苏格兰人民目睹过许多荒唐和谬误,因而悲愤填膺有关。因此,苏格兰人的笑是一种苦笑,这种笑不是挂在脸上,而是发自内心深处。讽刺是最深沉的幽默,在这方面,苏格兰人是无与伦比的。苏格兰人不得不在山石比泥土多的土地上耕种,他们不得不在暴风雪的间隙收割,长达3个世纪的加尔文主义跟随着他们,他们的生活充满了斗争和意外,所有这一切,都教会他们生活就是讽刺。

  有一次,一个英国人和一个苏格兰人在一起戏谑。英国人问,为什么那么多苏格兰人远走他乡,从不思归。苏格兰人回答说,那样做对世界有好处。接着,他进行了反击。他告诉那个英国人,就在边境外不远处有一座苏格兰城市,城里住着3万英国人。那个英国人感到大惑不解,这时,那个苏格兰人才接着说,那座城市名叫班诺本,在那里,英国人已居住了几个世纪之久,他们一直是苏格兰最热爱和平的、最守法的公民。然后,那个苏格兰人要求单独呆一会儿,品味一下刚才说那番话的乐趣。

  苏格兰人的幽默历来是严厉无情的,因为他总是接触到生活悲惨的一面。有一次,一个苏格兰人去打高尔夫球,他的前面有一个动作缓慢的高尔夫球手。他发火了。于是,他叫球童把球杆收拾好,准备回俱乐部,因为他不想花一整天跟在送葬队伍后面。球童想了一想,说:“啊,别走!不能着急!他也许打不到3个洞就会倒地死的。”世界上难道还有另一个认为天意一直在对自己起作用的民族吗?

  苏格兰幽默永远是苦涩的,而不是甜蜜的;永远是刺人的,而不是安慰人的。有一次,一位苏格兰妇女的丈夫生病了,她虽然是到诺曼·麦克劳德神父的教堂做礼拜的,但她却请了另一位神父来为丈夫做祷告。神父来了,发现她丈夫患的是伤寒。他问她到哪个教堂做礼拜,她说她到诺曼的教堂。

  “那么你为什么不叫他来呢?”

  “哎呀,”女人回答说,“您认为我们因为伤寒就会冒险让诺曼人来吗?”

  我所听到的最无情的苏格兰式幽默,是一个关于被判死刑的罪犯的故事。在执行死刑前,律师前去看他,以便让他快活起来。律师告诉他,判决已经宣布了,而且是完全公正的,所以他不能指望得到饶恕。接着律师问可以为他做些什么。犯人表示感谢,说律师非常善良,还说他只有一个请求。

  “什么请求?”律师问。

  “我想请您把我衣橱里的黑色安息服拿来。”

  “你要安息服干什么?”

  “我希望穿上它,表示对死者的尊敬。”

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