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瓦尔登湖:经济篇23

2006-07-28 23:22

  As with our colleges, so with a hundred "modern improvements";there is an illusion about them; there is not always a positive advance.  The devil goes on exacting compound interest to the last for his early share and numerous succeeding investments in them. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.  They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York.  We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.  Either is in such a predicament as the man who was earnest to be introduced to a distinguished deaf woman, but when he was presented, and one end of her ear trumpet was put into his hand, had nothing to say.  As if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly.  We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough.  After all, the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages; he is not an evangelist, nor does he come round eating locusts and wild honey.  I doubt if Flying Childers ever carried a peck of corn to mill.

  One says to me, "I wonder that you do not lay up money; you love to travel; you might take the cars and go to Fitchburg today and see the country."  But I am wiser than that.  I have learned that the swiftest traveller is he that goes afoot.  I say to my friend,Suppose we try who will get there first.  The distance is thirty miles; the fare ninety cents.  That is almost a day's wages.  I remember when wages were sixty cents a day for laborers on this very road.  Well, I start now on foot, and get there before night; I have travelled at that rate by the week together.  You will in the meanwhile have earned your fare, and arrive there some time tomorrow, or possibly this evening, if you are lucky enough to get a job in season.  Instead of going to Fitchburg, you will be working here the greater part of the day.  And so, if the railroad reached round the world, I think that I should keep ahead of you; and as for seeing the country and getting experience of that kind, I should have to cut your acquaintance altogether.

  Such is the universal law, which no man can ever outwit, and with regard to the railroad even we may say it is as broad as it is long.  To make a railroad round the world available to all mankind is equivalent to grading the whole surface of the planet.  Men have an indistinct notion that if they keep up this activity of joint stocks and spades long enough all will at length ride somewhere, in next to no time, and for nothing; but though a crowd rushes to the depot, and the conductor shouts "All aboard!" when the smoke is blown away and the vapor condensed, it will be perceived that a few are riding, but the rest are run over —— and it will be called, and will be, "A melancholy accident."  No doubt they can ride at last who shall have earned their fare, that is, if they survive so long,but they will probably have lost their elasticity and desire to travel by that time.  This spending of the best part of one's life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.  He should have gone up garret at once.  "What!" exclaim a million Irishmen starting up from all the shanties in the land, "is not this railroad which we have built a good thing?"  Yes, I answer, comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish, as you are brothers of mine, that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt.

  正如我们的学院,拥有一百种“现代化的进步设施”;对它们很容易发生幻想;却并不总是有肯定的进步。魔鬼老早就投了资,后来又不断地加股,为此他一直索取利息直到最后。我们的发明常常是漂亮的玩具,只是吸引我们的注意力,使我们离开了严肃的事物。它们只是对毫无改进的目标提供一些改进过的方法,其实这目标早就可以很容易地到达的;就像直达波士顿或直达纽约的铁路那样。我们急忙忙要从缅因州筑一条磁力电报线到得克萨斯州;可是从缅因州到得克萨斯州,也许没有什么重要的电讯要拍发。

  正像一个人,热衷地要和一个耳聋的著名妇人谈谈,他被介绍给她了,助听的听筒也放在他手里了,他却发现原来没有话要对她说。仿佛主要的问题只是要说得快,却不是要说得有理智。我们急急乎要在大西洋底下设隧道,使旧世界能缩短儿个星期,很快地到达新世界,可是传入美国人的软皮搭骨的大耳朵的第一个消息,也许是阿德莱德公主害了百日咳之类的新闻。总之一句话,骑着马,一分钟跑一英里的人决不会携带最重要的消息,他不是一个福音教徒,他跑来跑去也不是为了吃蝗虫和野蜜。我怀疑飞童有没有载过一粒谷子到磨坊去。

  有一个人对我说,“我很奇怪你怎么不积几个钱;你很爱旅行;你应该坐上车,今天就上菲茨堡去,见见世面嘛。”可是我比这更聪明些。我已经明白最快的旅行是步行。

  我对我的朋友说,假定我们试一试,谁先到那里。距离是三十英里,车票是九角钱。这差不多是一天的工资,我还记得,在这条路上做工的人一天只拿六角钱。好了,我现在步行出发,不要到晚上我就到达了;一星期来,我的旅行都是这样的速度。那时候,你是在挣工资,明天的什么时候你也到了,假如工作找得巧,可能今晚上就到达。然而,你不是上菲茨堡,而是花了一天的大部分时间在这儿工作。由此可见,铁路线尽管绕全世界一圈,我想我总还是赶在你的前头;至于见见世面,多点阅历,那我就该和你完全绝交了。

  这便是普遍的规律,从没有人能胜过它;至于铁路,我们可以说它是很广而且很长的。使全人类得到一条绕全球一圈的铁路,好像是挖平地球的表面一样。人们糊里糊涂相信着,只要他们继续用合股经营的办法,铲子这样子铲下去,火车最后总会到达某个地方的,几乎不要花多少时间,也不要花什么钱;可是成群的人奔往火车站,收票员喊着“旅客上车!”烟在空中吹散,蒸气喷发浓密,这时可以看到少数人上了车,而其余的人却被车压过去了,这就被称做“一个可悲的事故”,确是如此。毫无疑问,挣到了车资的人,最后还是赶得上车子的,就是说,只要他们还活着,可是说不定那时候他们已经失去了开朗的性情和旅行的愿望了。这种花了一个人的生命中最宝贵的一部分来赚钱,为了在最不宝贵的一部分时间里享受一点可疑的自由,使我想起了那个英国人,为了他可以回到英国去过一个诗人般的生活,他首先跑到印度去发财。他应该立即住进破旧的阁楼去才对。“什么!”一百万个爱尔兰人从土地上的所有的棚屋里发出呼声来了,“我们所造的这条铁路,难道不是一个好东西吗?”是的,我国答,比较起来,是好的,就是说,你们很可能搞得更坏;可是,因为你们是我的兄弟,我希望你们能够比挖掘土方更好地打发你们的光阴。

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