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中英:月亮和六便士(2)

2006-08-22 20:58

    Chapter II

    When so much has been written about Charles Strickland, it may seem unnecessary that I should write more. A painter's monument is his work. It is true I knew him more intimately than most: I met him first before ever he became a painter, and I saw him not infrequently during the difficult years he spent in Paris; but I do not suppose I should ever have set down my recollections if the hazards of the war had not taken me to Tahiti. There, as is notorious, he spent the last years of his life; and there I came across persons who were familiar with him. I find myself in a position to throw light on just that part of his tragic career which has remained most obscure. If they who believe in Strickland's greatness are right, the personal narratives of such as knew him in the flesh can hardly be superfluous. What would we not give for the reminiscences of someone who had been as intimately acquainted with El Greco as I was with Strickland?

    But I seek refuge in no such excuses. I forget who it was that recommended men for their soul's good to do each day two things they disliked: it was a wise man, and it is a precept that I have followed scrupulously; for every day I have got up and I have gone to bed. But there is in my nature a strain of asceticism, and I have subjected my flesh each week to a more severe mortification. I have never failed to read the Literary Supplement of The Times. It is a salutary discipline to consider the vast number of books that are written, the fair hopes with which their authors see them published, and the fate which awaits them. What chance is there that any book will make its way among that multitude? And the successful books are but the successes of a season. Heaven knows what pains the author has been at, what bitter experiences he has endured and what heartache suffered, to give some chance reader a few hours' relaxation or to while away the tedium of a journey. And if I may judge from the reviews, many of these books are well and carefully written; much thought has gone to their composition; to some even has been given the anxious labour of a lifetime. The moral I draw is that the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success.

    Now the war has come, bringing with it a new attitude. Youth has turned to gods we of an earlier day knew not, and it is possible to see already the direction in which those who come after us will move. The younger generation, conscious of strength and tumultuous, have done with knocking at the door; they have burst in and seated themselves in our seats. The air is noisy with their shouts. Of their elders some, by imitating the antics of youth, strive to persuade themselves that their day is not yet over; they shout with the lustiest, but the war cry sounds hollow in their mouth; they are like poor wantons attempting with pencil, paint and powder, with shrill gaiety, to recover the illusion of their spring. The wiser go their way with a decent grace. In their chastened smile is an indulgent mockery. They remember that they too trod down a sated generation, with just such clamor and with just such scorn, and they foresee that these brave torch-bearers will presently yield their place also. There is no last word. The new evangel was old when Nineveh reared her greatness to the sky. These gallant words which seem so novel to those that speak them were said in accents scarcely changed a hundred times before. The pendulum swings backwards and forwards. The circle is ever travelled anew.

    Sometimes a man survives a considerable time from an era in which he had his place into one which is strange to him, and then the curious are offered one of the most singular spectacles in the human comedy. Who now, for example, thinks of George Crabbe? He was a famous poet in his day, and the world recognised his genius with a unanimity which the greater complexity of modern life has rendered infrequent. He had learnt his craft at the school of Alexander Pope, and he wrote moral stories in rhymed couplets. Then came the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, and the poets sang new songs. Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. I think he must have read the verse of these young men who were making so great a stir in the world, and I fancy he found it poor stuff. Of course, much of it was. But the odes of Keats and of Wordsworth, a poem or two by Coleridge, a few more by Shelley, discovered vast realms of the spirit that none had explored before. Mr. Crabbe was as dead as mutton, but Mr. Crabbe continued to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. I have read desultorily the writings of the younger generation. It may be that among them a more fervid Keats, a more ethereal Shelley, has already published numbers the world will willingly remember. I cannot tell. I admire their polish —— their youth is already so accomplished that it seems absurd to speak of promise —— I marvel at the felicity of their style; but with all their copiousness (their vocabulary suggests that they fingered Roget's Thesaurus in their cradles) they say nothing to me: to my mind they know too much and feel too obviously; I cannot stomach the heartiness with which they slap me on the back or the emotion with which they hurl themselves on my bosom; their passion seems to me a little anaemic and their dreams a trifle dull. I do not like them. I am on the shelf. I will continue to write moral stories in rhymed couplets. But I should be thrice a fool if I did it for aught but my own entertainment.

    关于查理斯。思特里克兰德的文章既已写了这么多,看来我似乎没有必要再多费笔墨了。为画家树碑立传归根结底还是他的作品。当然喏,我比大多数人对他更为熟悉;我第一次和他会面远在他改行学画以前。在他落魄巴黎的一段坎坷困顿的日子里,我经常和他见面。但如果不是战争的动乱使我有机会踏上塔希提岛的话,我是不会把我的一些回忆写在纸上的。众所周知,他正是在塔希提度过生命中最后几年;我在那里遇见不少熟悉他的人。我发现对他悲剧的一生中人们最不清晰的一段日子,我恰好可以投掷一道亮光。如果那些相信思特里克兰德伟大的人看法正确的话,与他有过亲身接触的人对他的追述便很难说是多余的了。如果有人同埃尔。格列柯象我同思特里克兰德那样熟稔,为了读到他写的格列柯回忆录,有什么代价我们不肯付呢?

    但是我并不想以这些事为自己辩解。我不记得是谁曾经建议过,为了使灵魂宁静,一个人每天要做两件他不喜欢的事。说这句话的人是个聪明人,我也一直在一丝不苟地按照这条格言行事:因为我每天早上都起床,每天也都上床睡觉。但是我这个人生来还有苦行主义的性格,我还一直叫我的肉体每个星期经受一次更大的磨难。《泰晤士报》的文学增刊我一期也没有漏掉。想到有那么多书被辛勤地写出来,作者看著书籍出版,抱着那么殷切的希望,等待着这些书又是什么样的命运,这真是一种有益身心的修养。一本书要能从这汪洋大海中挣扎出来希望是多么渺茫啊!即使获得成功,那成功又是多么瞬息即逝的事啊!天晓得,作者为他一本书花费了多少心血,经受多少磨折,尝尽了多少辛酸,只为了给偶然读到这本书的人几小时的休憩,帮助他驱除一下旅途中的疲劳。如果我能根据书评下断语的话,很多书是作者呕心沥血的结晶,作者为它绞尽了脑汁,有的甚至是孜孜终生的成果。我从这件事取得的教训是,作者应该从写作的乐趣中,从郁积在他心头的思想的发泄中取得写书的酬报;对于其他一切都不应该介意,作品成功或失败,受到称誉或是诋毁,他都应该淡然处之。

    战争来了,战争也带来了新的生活态度。年轻人求助于我们老一代人过去不了解的一些神祇,已经看得出继我们之后而来的人要向哪个方向活动了。年轻的一代意识到自己的力量,吵吵嚷嚷,早已经不再叩击门扉了。他们已经闯进房子里来,坐到我们的宝座上,空中早已充满了他们喧闹的喊叫声。老一代的人有的也模仿年轻人的滑稽动作,努力叫自己相信他们的日子还没有过去;这些人同那些最活跃的年轻人比赛喉咙,但是他们发出的呐喊听起来却那么空洞,他们有如一些可怜的浪荡女人,虽然年华已过,却仍然希望靠涂脂抹粉,靠轻狂浮荡来恢复青春的幻影。聪明一点儿的则摆出一副端庄文雅的姿态。他们的莞尔微笑中流露着一种宽容的讥诮。他们记起了自己当初也曾经把一代高踞宝座的人践踏在脚下,也正是这样大喊大叫、傲慢不逊;他们预见到这些高举火把的勇士们有朝一日同样也要让位于他人。谁说的话也不能算最后拍板。当尼尼微城昌盛一时、名震遐迩的时候,新福音书已经老旧了。说这些豪言壮语的人可能还觉得他们在说一些前人未曾道过的真理,但是实际上连他们说话的腔调前人也已经用过一百次,而且丝毫也没有变化。钟摆摆过来又荡过去,这一旅程永远反复循环。

    有时候一个人早已活过了他享有一定地位的时期,进入了一个他感到陌生的新世纪,这时候人们便会看到人间喜剧中一幅最奇特的景象。譬如说,今天还有谁想得到乔治。克莱布①呢?在他生活的那一时代,他是享有盛名的,当时所有的人一致承认他是个伟大的天才,这在今天更趋复杂的现代生活中是很罕见的事了。他写诗的技巧是从亚历山大。蒲柏②派那里学习来的,他用押韵的对句写了很多说教的故事。后来爆发了法国大革命和拿破仑战争,诗人们唱起新的诗歌来。克莱布先生继续写他的押韵对句的道德诗,我想他一定读过那些年轻人写的风靡一时的新诗,而且我还想象他一定认为这些诗不堪卒读。当然,大多数新诗确实是这样子的。但是象济慈同华兹华斯写的颂歌,柯勒律治的一两首诗,雪莱的更多的几首,确实发现了前人未曾探索过的广阔精神领域。克莱布先生已经陈腐过时了,但是克莱布先生还是孜孜不倦地继续写他的押韵对句诗。我也断断续续读了一些我们这一时代的年轻人的诗作,他们当中可能有一位更炽情的济慈或者更一尘不染的雪莱,而且已经发表了世界将长久记忆的诗章,这我说不定。我赞赏他们的优美词句——尽管他们还年轻,却已才华横溢,因此如果仅仅说他们很有希望,就显得荒唐可笑了——,我惊叹他们精巧的文体;但是虽然他们用词丰富(从他们的语汇看,倒仿佛这些人躺在摇篮里就已经翻读过罗杰特的《词汇宝库》了),却没有告诉我们什么新鲜东西。在我看来,他们知道的太多,感觉过于肤浅;对于他们拍我肩膀的那股亲热劲儿同闯进我怀抱时的那种感情,我实在受不了。我觉得他们的热情似乎没有血色,他们的梦想也有些平淡。我不喜欢他们。我已经是过时的老古董了。我仍然要写押韵对句的道德故事。但是如果我对自己写作除了自娱以外还抱有其它目的,我就是个双料的傻瓜了。

    ①乔治。克莱布(1754—1832),英国诗人。

    ②亚历山大。蒲柏(1688—1744),英国诗人。

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