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2006-07-29 00:11

  However much we may admire the orator's occasional bursts of eloquence, the noblest written words are commonly as far behind or above the fleeting spoken language as the firmament with its stars is behind the clouds.  There are the stars, and they who can may read them.  The astronomers forever comment on and observe them. They are not exhalations like our daily colloquies and vaporous breath.  What is called eloquence in the forum is commonly found to be rhetoric in the study.  The orator yields to the inspiration of a transient occasion, and speaks to the mob before him, to those who can hear him; but the writer, whose more equable life is his occasion, and who would be distracted by the event and the crowd which inspire the orator, speaks to the intellect and health of mankind, to all in any age who can understand him.

  No wonder that Alexander carried the Iliad with him on his expeditions in a precious casket.  A written word is the choicest of relics.  It is something at once more intimate with us and more universal than any other work of art.  It is the work of art nearest to life itself.  It may be translated into every language, and not only be read but actually breathed from all human lips; —— not be represented on canvas or in marble only, but be carved out of the breath of life itself.  The symbol of an ancient man's thought becomes a modern man's speech.  Two thousand summers have imparted to the monuments of Grecian literature, as to her marbles, only a maturer golden and autumnal tint, for they have carried their own serene and celestial atmosphere into all lands to protect them against the corrosion of time.  Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations. Books, the oldest and the best, stand naturally and rightfully on the shelves of every cottage.  They have no cause of their own to plead, but while they enlighten and sustain the reader his common sense will not refuse them.  Their authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind.  When the illiterate and perhaps scornful trader has earned by enterprise and industry his coveted leisure and independence, and is admitted to the circles of wealth and fashion, he turns inevitably at last to those still higher but yet inaccessible circles of intellect and genius, and is sensible only of the imperfection of his culture and the vanity and insufficiency of all his riches, and further proves his good sense by the pains which be takes to secure for his children that intellectual culture whose want he so keenly feels; and thus it is that he becomes the founder of a family.

  Those who have not learned to read the ancient classics in the language in which they were written must have a very imperfect knowledge of the history of the human race; for it is remarkable that no transcript of them has ever been made into any modern tongue, unless our civilization itself may be regarded as such a transcript.  Homer has never yet been printed in English, nor AEschylus, nor Virgil even —— works as refined, as solidly done, and as beautiful almost as the morning itself; for later writers, say what we will of their genius, have rarely, if ever, equalled the elaborate beauty and finish and the lifelong and heroic literary labors of the ancients.  They only talk of forgetting them who never knew them.  It will be soon enough to forget them when we have the learning and the genius which will enable us to attend to and appreciate them.  That age will be rich indeed when those relics which we call Classics, and the still older and more than classic but even less known Scriptures of the nations, shall have still further accumulated, when the Vaticans shall be filled with Vedas and Zendavestas and Bibles, with Homers and Dantes and Shakespeares,and all the centuries to come shall have successively deposited their trophies in the forum of the world.  By such a pile we may hope to scale heaven at last.

  不管我们如何赞赏演说家有时能爆发出来的好口才,最崇高的文字还通常地是隐藏在瞬息万变的口语背后,或超越在它之上的,仿佛繁星点点的苍穹藏在浮云后面一般。

  那里有众星,凡能观察者都可以阅读它们。天文学家永远在解释它们,观察它们。它们可不像我们的日常谈吐和嘘气如云的呼吸。在讲台上的所谓口才,普通就是学术界的所谓修辞。演讲者在一个闪过的灵感中放纵了他的口才,向着他面前的群众,向着那些跑来倾听他的人说话;可是作家,更均衡的生活是他们的本份,那些给演讲家以灵感的社会活动以及成群的听众只会分散他们的心智,他们是广着人类的智力和心曲致辞的,向着任何年代中能够懂得他们的一切人说话的。

  难怪亚历山大行军时,还要在一只宝匣中带一部《伊利亚特》了。文字是圣物中之最珍贵者。它比之别的艺术作品既跟我们更亲密,又更具有世界性。这是最接近于生活的艺术。它可以翻译成每一种文字,不但给人读,而且还吐纳在人类的唇上;不仅是表现在油画布上,或大理石上,还可以雕刻在生活自身的呼吸之中的。一个古代人思想的象征可以成为近代人的口头禅。两千个夏天已经在纪念碑似的希腊文学上,正如在希腊的大理石上面,留下了更成熟的金色的和秋收的色彩,因为他们带来了他们自己的壮丽的天体似的气氛,传到了世界各地,保护他们兔受时间剥蚀。书本是世界的珍室,多少世代与多少国土的最优良的遗产。书,最古老最好的书,很自然也很适合于放在每一个房屋的书架上。它们没有什么私事要诉说,可是,当它们启发并支持了读者,他的常识使他不能拒绝它们。它们的作者,都自然而然地,不可抗拒地成为任何一个社会中的贵族,而他们对于人类的作用还大于国王和皇帝的影响。当那目不识丁的,也许还是傲慢的商人,由于苦心经营和勤劳刻苦,挣来了闲暇以及独立,并厕身于财富与时髦的世界的时候,最后他不可避免地转向那些更高级,然而又高不可攀的智力与天才的领域,而且只会发觉自己不学无术,发觉自己的一切财富都是虚荣,不可以自满,于是便进一步地证明了他头脑清楚,他煞费心机,要给他的孩子以知识文化,这正是他敏锐地感到自己所缺少的;他就是这样成了一个家族的始祖。

  没有学会阅读古典作品原文的人们对于人类史只能有一点很不完备的知识,惊人的是它们并没有一份现代语文的译本,除非说我们的文化本身便可以作为这样的一份文本的话。荷马还从没有用英文印行过,埃斯库罗斯和维吉尔也从没有,——那些作品是这样优美,这样坚实,美丽得如同黎明一样;后来的作者,不管我们如何赞美他们的才能,就有也是极少能够比得上这些古代作家的精美、完整与永生的、英雄的文艺劳动。从不认识它们的人,只叫人去忘掉它们。但当我们有了学问,有了禀赋,开始能研读它们,欣赏它们时,那些人的话,我们立刻忘掉了。当我们称为古典作品的圣物,以及比古典作品更古老,因而更少人知道的各国的经典也累积得更多时,当梵蒂冈教廷里放满了吠陀经典,波斯古经和《圣经》,放满了荷马、但丁和莎士比亚的作品,继起的世纪中能继续地把它们的战利品放在人类的公共场所时,那个世代定将更加丰富。有了这样一大堆作品,我们才能有终于攀登天堂的希望。

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