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Reading3

2006-07-29 00:12

  The works of the great poets have never yet been read by mankind, for only great poets can read them.  They have only been read as the multitude read the stars, at most astrologically, not astronomically.  Most men have learned to read to serve a paltry convenience, as they have learned to cipher in order to keep accounts and not be cheated in trade; but of reading as a noble intellectual exercise they know little or nothing; yet this only is reading, in a high sense, not that which lulls us as a luxury and suffers the nobler faculties to sleep the while, but what we have to stand on tip-toe to read and devote our most alert and wakeful hours to.

  I think that having learned our letters we should read the best that is in literature, and not be forever repeating our a-b-abs, and words of one syllable, in the fourth or fifth classes, sitting on the lowest and foremost form all our lives.  Most men are satisfied if they read or hear read, and perchance have been convicted by the wisdom of one good book, the Bible, and for the rest of their lives vegetate and dissipate their faculties in what is called easy reading.  There is a work in several volumes in our Circulating Library entitled "Little Reading," which I thought referred to a town of that name which I had not been to.  There are those who,like cormorants and ostriches, can digest all sorts of this, even after the fullest dinner of meats and vegetables, for they suffer nothing to be wasted.  If others are the machines to provide this provender, they are the machines to read it.  They read the nine thousandth tale about Zebulon and Sophronia, and how they loved as none had ever loved before, and neither did the course of their true love run smooth —— at any rate, how it did run and stumble, and get up again and go on! how some poor unfortunate got up on to a steeple, who had better never have gone up as far as the belfry; and then, having needlessly got him up there, the happy novelist rings the bell for all the world to come together and hear, O dear! how he did get down again!  For my part, I think that they had better metamorphose all such aspiring heroes of universal noveldom into man weather-cocks, as they used to put heroes among the constellations,and let them swing round there till they are rusty, and not come down at all to bother honest men with their pranks.  The next time the novelist rings the bell I will not stir though the meeting-house burn down.  "The Skip of the Tip-Toe-Hop, a Romance of the Middle Ages, by the celebrated author of `Tittle-Tol-Tan,' to appear in monthly parts; a great rush; don't all come together."  All this they read with saucer eyes, and erect and primitive curiosity, and with unwearied gizzard, whose corrugations even yet need no sharpening, just as some little four-year-old bencher his two-cent gilt-covered edition of Cinderella —— without any improvement, that I can see, in the pronunciation, or accent, or emphasis, or any more skill in extracting or inserting the moral.  The result is dulness of sight, a stagnation of the vital circulations, and a general deliquium and sloughing off of all the intellectual faculties.  This sort of gingerbread is baked daily and more sedulously than pure wheat or rye-and-Indian in almost every oven, and finds a surer market.

  The best books are not read even by those who are called good readers.  What does our Concord culture amount to?  There is in this town, with a very few exceptions, no taste for the best or for very good books even in English literature, whose words all can read and spell.  Even the college-bred and so-called liberally educated men here and elsewhere have really little or no acquaintance with the English classics; and as for the recorded wisdom of mankind, the ancient classics and Bibles, which are accessible to all who will know of them, there are the feeblest efforts anywhere made to become acquainted with them.  I know a woodchopper, of middle age, who takes a French paper, not for news as he says, for he is above that,but to "keep himself in practice," he being a Canadian by birth; and when I ask him what he considers the best thing he can do in this world, he says, beside this, to keep up and add to his English. This is about as much as the college-bred generally do or aspire to do, and they take an English paper for the purpose.  One who has just come from reading perhaps one of the best English books will find how many with whom he can converse about it?  Or suppose he comes from reading a Greek or Latin classic in the original, whose praises are familiar even to the so-called illiterate; he will find nobody at all to speak to, but must keep silence about it.  Indeed,there is hardly the professor in our colleges, who, if he has mastered the difficulties of the language, has proportionally mastered the difficulties of the wit and poetry of a Greek poet, and has any sympathy to impart to the alert and heroic reader; and as for the sacred Scriptures, or Bibles of mankind, who in this town can tell me even their titles?  Most men do not know that any nation but the Hebrews have had a scripture.  A man, any man, will go considerably out of his way to pick up a silver dollar; but here are golden words, which the wisest men of antiquity have uttered, and whose worth the wise of every succeeding age have assured us of; ——and yet we learn to read only as far as Easy Reading, the primers and class-books, and when we leave school, the "Little Reading," and story-books, which are for boys and beginners; and our reading, our conversation and thinking, are all on a very low level, worthy only of pygmies and manikins.

  伟大诗人的作品人类还从未读通过呢,因为只有伟大的诗人才能读通它们。它们之被群众阅读,有如群众之阅览繁星,至多是从星象学而不是从天文学的角度阅览的。许多人学会了阅读,为的是他们的可怜的便利,好像他们学算术是为了记账,做起生意来不至于受骗;可是,阅读作为一种崇高的智力的锻炼,他们仅仅是浅涉略知,或一无所知;然而就其高级的意义来说,只有这样才叫阅读,决不是吸引我们有如奢侈品,读起来能给我们催眠,使我们的崇高的官能昏昏睡去的那种读法,我们必须踮起足尖,把我们最灵敏、最清醒的时刻,献予阅读才对。

  我想,我们识字之后,我们就应该读文学作品中最好的东西,不要永远在重复a-b一ab和单音字,不要四年级五年级年年留级,不要终身坐在小学最低年级教室前排。许多人能读就满足了,或听到人家阅读就满足了,也许只领略到一本好书《圣经》的智慧,于是他们只读一些轻松的东西,让他们的官能放荡或单调地度过余生。在我们的流通图书馆里,有一部好几卷的作品叫做“小读物”,我想大约也是我没有到过的一个市镇的名字吧。有种人,像贪食的水鸭和鸵乌,能够消化一切,甚至在大吃了肉类和蔬菜都很丰盛的一顿之后也能消化,因为他们不愿意浪费。如果说别人是供给此种食物的机器,他们就是过屠门而大嚼的阅读机器。他们读了九千个关于西布伦和赛福隆尼亚的故事,他们如何相爱,从没有人这样地相爱过,而且他们的恋爱经过也不平坦,——总之是,他们如何爱,如何栽跟斗,如何再爬起来,如何再相爱!某个可怜的不幸的人如何爬上了教堂的尖顶,他最好不爬上钟楼;他既然已经毫无必要地到了尖顶上面了,那欢乐的小说家于是打起钟来,让全世界都跑拢来,听他说,啊哟,天啊!他如何又下来了!照我的看法,他们还不如把这些普遍的小说世界里往上爬的英雄人物一概变形为风信鸡人,好像他们时常把英雄放在星座之中一样,让那些风信鸡旋转不已,直到它们锈掉为止,却千万别让它们下地来胡闹,麻烦了好人们。下一回,小说家再敲钟,哪怕那公共会场烧成了平地,也休想我动弹一下。“《的-笃-咯的腾达》一部中世纪传奇,写《铁特尔-托尔-但恩》的那位著名作家所著;按月连载;连日拥挤不堪,欲购从速。”他们用盘子大的眼睛,坚定不移的原始的好奇,极好的胃纳,来读这些东西,胃的褶皱甚至也无需磨练,正好像那些四岁大的孩子们,成天坐在椅子上,看着售价两分钱的烫金封面的《灰姑娘》——据我所见,他们读后,连发音,重音,加强语气这些方面都没有进步,不必提他们对题旨的了解与应用题旨的技术了。其结果是目力衰退,一切生机凝滞,普遍颓唐,智力的官能完全像蜕皮一样蜕掉。这一类的姜汁面包,是几乎每一天从每一个烤面包的炉子里烤出来,比纯粹的面粉做的或黑麦粉和印第安玉米粉做的面包更吸引人,在市场上销路更广。

  即使所谓“好读者”,也不读那些最好的书。我们康科德的文化又算得了什么呢?

  这个城市里,除了极少数例外的人,对于最好的书,甚至英国文学中一些很好的书,大家都觉得没有味道,虽然大家都能读英文,都拼得出英文字。甚至于这里那里的大学出身,或所谓受有自由教育的人,对英国的古典作品也知道得极少,甚至全不知道;记录人类思想的那些古代作品和《圣经》呢,谁要愿意阅读它们的话,是很容易得到这些书的,然而只有极少数人肯花功夫去接触它们。我认识一个中年樵夫,订了一份法文报,他说不是为了读新闻,他是超乎这一套之上的,他是为了“保持他的学习”,因为他生来是一个加拿大人;我就问他,他认为世上他能做的最好的是什么事,他回答说,除了这件事之外,还要继续下功夫,把他的英语弄好和提高。一般的大学毕业生所做的或想要做的就不过如此,他们订一份英文报纸就为这样的目标。假定一个人刚刚读完了一部也许是最好的英文书,你想他可以跟多少人谈论这部书呢?再假定一个人刚刚读了希腊文或拉丁文的古典作品,就是文盲也知道颂扬它的;可是他根本找不到一个可谈的人。

  他只能沉默。我们大学里几乎没有哪个教授,要是已经掌握了一种艰难的文字,还能以同样的比例掌握一个希腊诗人的深奥的才智与诗情,并能用同情之心来传授给那些灵敏的、有英雄气质的读者的;至于神圣的经典,人类的圣经,这里有什么人能把它们的名字告诉我呢?大多数人还不知道唯有希伯来这个民族有了一部经典。任何一个人都为了拣一块银币而费尽了心机,可是这里有黄金般的文字,古代最聪明的智者说出来的话,它们的价值是历代的聪明人向我们保证过的;——然而我们读的只不过是识字课本,初级读本和教科书,离开学校之后,只是“小读物”与孩子们和初学者看的故事书;于是,我们的读物,我们的谈话和我们的思想,水平都极低,只配得上小人国和侏儒。

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