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约翰·沃森 苏格兰人的幽默

2006-07-07 17:06

John Watson



  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.






























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