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Reading4

2006-07-29 00:13

  I aspire to be acquainted with wiser men than this our Concord soil has produced, whose names are hardly known here.  Or shall I hear the name of Plato and never read his book?  As if Plato were my townsman and I never saw him —— my next neighbor and I never heard him speak or attended to the wisdom of his words.  But how actually is it?  His Dialogues, which contain what was immortal in him, lie on the next shelf, and yet I never read them.  We are underbred and low-lived and illiterate; and in this respect I confess I do not make any very broad distinction between the illiterateness of my townsman who cannot read at all and the illiterateness of him who has learned to read only what is for children and feeble intellects. We should be as good as the worthies of antiquity, but partly by first knowing how good they were.  We are a race of tit-men, and soar but little higher in our intellectual flights than the columns of the daily paper.

  It is not all books that are as dull as their readers.  There are probably words addressed to our condition exactly, which, if we could really hear and understand, would be more salutary than the morning or the spring to our lives, and possibly put a new aspect on the face of things for us.  How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book!  The book exists for us,perchance, which will explain our miracles and reveal new ones.  The at present unutterable things we may find somewhere uttered.  These same questions that disturb and puzzle and confound us have in their turn occurred to all the wise men; not one has been omitted; and each has answered them, according to his ability, by his words and his life.  Moreover, with wisdom we shall learn liberality.  The solitary hired man on a farm in the outskirts of Concord, who has had his second birth and peculiar religious experience, and is driven as he believes into the silent gravity and exclusiveness by his faith, may think it is not true; but Zoroaster, thousands of years ago, travelled the same road and had the same experience; but he, being wise, knew it to be universal, and treated his neighbors accordingly, and is even said to have invented and established worship among men.  Let him humbly commune with Zoroaster then, and through the liberalizing influence of all the worthies, with Jesus Christ himself, and let "our church" go by the board.

  We boast that we belong to the Nineteenth Century and are making the most rapid strides of any nation.  But consider how little this village does for its own culture.  I do not wish to flatter my townsmen, nor to be flattered by them, for that will not advance either of us.  We need to be provoked —— goaded like oxen, as we are, into a trot.  We have a comparatively decent system of common schools, schools for infants only; but excepting the half-starved Lyceum in the winter, and latterly the puny beginning of a library suggested by the State, no school for ourselves.  We spend more on almost any article of bodily aliment or ailment than on our mental aliment.  It is time that we had uncommon schools, that we did not leave off our education when we begin to be men and women.  It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure —— if they are, indeed, so well off —— to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever?

  Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the skies of Concord?  Can we not hire some Abelard to lecture to us?  Alas! what with foddering the cattle and tending the store, we are kept from school too long, and our education is sadly neglected. In this country, the village should in some respects take the place of the nobleman of Europe.  It should be the patron of the fine arts.  It is rich enough.  It wants only the magnanimity and refinement.  It can spend money enough on such things as farmers and traders value, but it is thought Utopian to propose spending money for things which more intelligent men know to be of far more worth. This town has spent seventeen thousand dollars on a town-house,thank fortune or politics, but probably it will not spend so much on living wit, the true meat to put into that shell, in a hundred years.  The one hundred and twenty-five dollars annually subscribed for a Lyceum in the winter is better spent than any other equal sum raised in the town.  If we live in the Nineteenth Century, why should we not enjoy the advantages which the Nineteenth Century offers?  Why should our life be in any respect provincial?  If we will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best newspaper in the world at once? —— not be sucking the pap of "neutral family" papers, or browsing "Olive Branches" here in New England.  Let the reports of all the learned societies come to us,and we will see if they know anything.  Why should we leave it to Harper & Brothers and Redding & Co. to select our reading?  As the nobleman of cultivated taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his culture —— genius —— learning —— wit —— books ——paintings —— statuary —— music —— philosophical instruments, and the like; so let the village do —— not stop short at a pedagogue, a parson, a sexton, a parish library, and three selectmen, because our Pilgrim forefathers got through a cold winter once on a bleak rock with these.  To act collectively is according to the spirit of our institutions; and I am confident that, as our circumstances are more flourishing, our means are greater than the nobleman's.  New England can hire all the wise men in the world to come and teach her, and board them round the while, and not be provincial at all.  That is the uncommon school we want.  Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.  If it is necessary, omit one bridge over the river, go round a little there, and throw one arch at least over the darker gulf of ignorance which surrounds us.

  我希望认识一些比康科德这片土地上出生的更要聪明的人,他们的名字在这里几乎听都没有听到过。难道我会听到柏拉图的名字而不读他的书吗?好像柏拉图是我的同乡,而我却从没有见过他,——好像是我的近邻而我却从没有听到过他说话,或听到过他的智慧的语言。可是,事实不正是这样吗?他的《对话录》包含着他不朽的见解,却躺在旁边的书架上,我还没有读过它。我们是愚昧无知、不学无术的文盲;在这方面,我要说,两种文盲之间并没有什么区别,一种是完全目不识丁的市民,另一种是已经读书识字了,可是只读儿童读物和智力极低的读物。我们应该像古代的圣贤一样地美好,但首先要让我们知道他们的好处。我们真是一些小人物,在我们的智力的飞跃中,可怜我们只飞到比报章新闻稍高一些的地方。

  并不是所有的书都像它们的读者一般愚笨的。可能,有好些话正是针对我们的境遇而说的,如果我们真正倾听了,懂得了这些话,它们之有利于我们的生活,将胜似黎明或阳春,很可能给我们一副新的面目。多少人在读了一本书之后,开始了他生活的新纪元!一本书,能解释我们的奇迹,又能启发新的奇迹,这本书就为我们而存在了。在目前,我们的说不出来的话,也许在别处已经说出来了。那些扰乱了我们,使我们疑难、困惑的问题也曾经发生在所有聪明人心上;一个问题都没有漏掉,而且每一个聪明人都回答过它们,按照各自的能力,用各自的话和各自的生活。再说,有了智慧,我们将领会慷慨的性质。在康科德郊外,有个田庄上的寂寞的雇工,他得到过第二次的诞生,获有了特殊的宗教经验,他相信自己由于他的信念的关系已经进入了沉默的庄重和排斥外物的境界,他也许会觉得我们的话是不对的;但是数千年前,琐罗亚斯德。走过了同样的历程,获有同样的经验;因为他是智慧的,知道这是普遍性的,就用相应的办法对待他的邻人,甚至据说还发明并创设了一个使人敬神的制度。那末,让他谦逊地和琐罗亚斯德精神沟通,并且在一切圣贤的自由影响下,跟耶稣基督精神沟通,然后,“让我们的教会”滚开吧。

  我们夸耀说,我们属于十九世纪,同任何国家相比,我们迈着最大最快的步子。可是想想这市镇,它对自己的文化贡献何其微小。我不想谀赞我的市民同胞们,也不要他们谈赞我,因为这样一来,大家便没有进步了。应当像老牛般需要刺激——驱赶,然后才能快跑。我们有个相当像样的普通学校的制度,但只是为一般婴儿的;除了冬天有个半饥饿状态的文法学堂,最近还有了一个根据政府法令简陋地草创的图书馆,但却没有我们自己的学院。我们在肉体的疾病方面花了不少钱,精神的病害方面却没有花什么,现在已经到了时候,我们应该有不平凡的学校。我们不该让男女儿童成年后就不再受教育了。到了时候,一个个村子应该是一座座大学,老年的居民都是研究生,——如果他们日子过得还宽裕的话,——他们应该有裕闲时间,把他们的余年放在从事自由学习上。难道世界永远只局限于一个巴黎或一个牛津?难道学生们不能寄宿在这里,在康科德的天空下受文科教育?难道我们不能请一位阿伯拉尔来给我们讲学?可叹啊!因为我们忙于养牛,开店,我们好久没有上学堂,我们的教育是可悲地荒芜了。在这个国土上,我们的城镇在某些方面应当替代欧洲贵族的地位。它应当是美术的保护者。它是很富的。

  它只缺少气量和优美。在农民和商人看重的事业上它肯出钱,可是要它举办一些知识界都知道是更有价值得多的事业时,它却认为那是乌托邦的梦想。感谢财富和政治,本市花了一万七千元造了市政府,但也许一百年内它不会为了生命的智慧贝壳内的真正的肉,花这么多钱。为冬天办文法学校,每年募到一百二十五元,这笔钱比市内任何同样数目的捐款都花得更实惠。我们生活在十九世纪,为什么我们不能享受十九世纪的好处?为什么生活必须过得这样偏狭?如果我们要读报纸,为什么不越过波士顿的闲谈,立刻来订一份全世界最好的报纸呢?不要从“中立”的报纸去吮吸柔软的食物,也不要在新英格兰吃娇嫩的“橄榄枝”了。让一切有学问的社团到我们这里来报告,我们要看看他们懂不懂得些什么。为什么要让哈泼斯兄弟图书公司和里亭出版公司代替我们挑选读物?正像趣味高雅的贵族,在他的周围要结聚一些有助于他的修养的——天才——学识——机智——书籍——绘画——雕塑——音乐——哲学的工具等等;让城镇村子也这样做吧,——不要只请一个教师,一个牧师,一个司事,以为办教区图书馆,选举三个市政委员就可以到此为止了,困为我们拓荒的祖先仅有这么一点事业,却也在荒凉的岩石上挨过了严冬。集体的行为是符合我们制度的精神的:我确实相信我们的环境将更发达,我们的能力大于那些贵族们。新英格兰请得起全世界的智者,来教育她自己,让他们在这里食宿,让我们不再过乡曲的生活。这是我们所需要的不平凡的学校。

  我们并不要贵族,但让我们有高贵的村子。如果这是必需的,我们宁可少造一座桥,多走几步路,但在围绕着我们的黑暗的“无知深渊”上,架起至少一个圆拱来吧。

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