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2006-07-29 00:35

  I heard that a distinguished wise man and reformer asked him if he did not want the world to be changed; but he answered with a chuckle of surprise in his Canadian accent, not knowing that the question had ever been entertained before, "No, I like it well enough."  It would have suggested many things to a philosopher to have dealings with him.  To a stranger he appeared to know nothing of things in general; yet I sometimes saw in him a man whom I had not seen before, and I did not know whether he was as wise as Shakespeare or as simply ignorant as a child, whether to suspect him of a fine poetic consciousness or of stupidity.  A townsman told me that when he met him sauntering through the village in his small close-fitting cap, and whistling to himself, he reminded him of a prince in disguise.

  His only books were an almanac and an arithmetic, in which last he was considerably expert.  The former was a sort of cyclopaedia to him, which he supposed to contain an abstract of human knowledge, as indeed it does to a considerable extent.  I loved to sound him on the various reforms of the day, and he never failed to look at them in the most simple and practical light.  He had never heard of such things before.  Could he do without factories? I asked.  He had worn the home-made Vermont gray, he said, and that was good.  Could he dispense with tea and coffee?  Did this country afford any beverage beside water?  He had soaked hemlock leaves in water and drank it, and thought that was better than water in warm weather. When I asked him if he could do without money, he showed the convenience of money in such a way as to suggest and coincide with the most philosophical accounts of the origin of this institution,and the very derivation of the word pecunia.  If an ox were his property, and he wished to get needles and thread at the store, he thought it would be inconvenient and impossible soon to go on mortgaging some portion of the creature each time to that amount. He could defend many institutions better than any philosopher,because, in describing them as they concerned him, he gave the true reason for their prevalence, and speculation had not suggested to him any other.  At another time, hearing Plato's definition of a man—— a biped without feathers —— and that one exhibited a cock plucked and called it Plato's man, he thought it an important difference that the knees bent the wrong way.  He would sometimes exclaim, "How I love to talk!  By George, I could talk all day!"  I asked him once, when I had not seen him for many months, if he had got a new idea this summer.  "Good Lord" —— said he, "a man that has to work as I do, if he does not forget the ideas he has had, he will do well.  May be the man you hoe with is inclined to race; then, by gorry, your mind must be there; you think of weeds."  He would sometimes ask me first on such occasions, if I had made any improvement.  One winter day I asked him if he was always satisfied with himself, wishing to suggest a substitute within him for the priest without, and some higher motive for living.  "Satisfied!" said he; "some men are satisfied with one thing, and some with another.  One man, perhaps, if he has got enough, will be satisfied to sit all day with his back to the fire and his belly to the table,by George!"  Yet I never, by any manoeuvring, could get him to take the spiritual view of things; the highest that he appeared to conceive of was a simple expediency, such as you might expect an animal to appreciate; and this, practically, is true of most men. If I suggested any improvement in his mode of life, he merely answered, without expressing any regret, that it was too late.  Yet he thoroughly believed in honesty and the like virtues.

  There was a certain positive originality, however slight, to be detected in him, and I occasionally observed that he was thinking for himself and expressing his own opinion, a phenomenon so rare that I would any day walk ten miles to observe it, and it amounted to the re-origination of many of the institutions of society. Though he hesitated, and perhaps failed to express himself distinctly, he always had a presentable thought behind.  Yet his thinking was so primitive and immersed in his animal life, that,though more promising than a merely learned man's, it rarely ripened to anything which can be reported.  He suggested that there might be men of genius in the lowest grades of life, however permanently humble and illiterate, who take their own view always, or do not pretend to see at all; who are as bottomless even as Walden Pond was thought to be, though they may be dark and muddy.


  他只有一本历书和一本算术书,他很精于算术。前者在他则好比一本百科全书,他认为那是人类思想的精华所在,事实上在很大限度内也确实是如此。我喜欢探问他一些现代革新的问题,他没有一次不是很简单,很实际地作出回答的。他从没有听到过这种问题。没有工厂他行不行呢?我问。他说他穿的是家庭手工织的佛蒙特灰布,说这很好嘛。他可以不喝茶或咖啡吗?在这个国土上,除水之外,还供应什么饮料呢?他说他曾经把铁杉叶浸在水里,热天喝来比水好。我问他没有钱行不行呢?他就证明,有了钱是这样的方便,说得仿佛是有关货币起源的哲学探讨一样,正好表明了pecunia 这个字的字源。如果一条牛是他的财产,他现在要到铺子里去买一点针线了,要他一部分一部分地把他的牛抵押掉真是不方便啊。他可以替不少制度作辩护,胜过哲学家多多,因为他说的理由都是和他直接关联着的,他说出了它们流行的真正理由,他并不胡想出任何其他理由。有一次,听到柏拉图所下的人的定义,——没有羽毛的两足动物,——有人拿起一只拔掉了羽毛的雄鸡来,称之为柏拉图的人,他却说明,膝盖的弯向不同,这是很重要的一个区别。有时候,他也叫嚷,“我多么喜欢闲谈啊!真的,我能够说一整天!”





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