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英汉双语《西南联大英文课》43:英语学习的自我培养_乔治·赫伯特·帕玛

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2018年07月07日

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43 SELF-CULTIVATION IN ENGLISH

By George Herbert Palmer

SELF-CULTIVATION IN ENGLISH, by George Herbert Palmer, published 1909 by the Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston as one of the “Riverside Education Monographs.”

George Herbert Palmer (1842-1933), American philosopher and teacher of English at Harvard University.

英汉双语《西南联大英文课》43:英语学习的自我培养_乔治·赫伯特·帕玛

English studies have four aims: the mastery of our language as a science, as a history, as a joy, and as a tool. I am concerned with but one, the mastery of it as a tool. Philology and grammar present it as a science: the one attempting to follow its words, the other its sentence, through all the intricacies of their growth, and so to manifest laws which lie hidden in these airy products no less than in the moving stars or the myriad flowers of spring. Fascinating and important as all this is, I do not recommend it here. For I want to call attention only to that sort of English study which can be carried on without any large apparatus of books. For a reason similar though less cogent, I do not urge historical study. Probably the current of English literature is more attractive through its continuity than that of any other nation. Notable works in verse and prose have appeared in long succession, and without gaps intervening, in a way that would be hard to parallel in any other language known to man. A bounteous endowment is for every English speaker, and one which should stimulate us to trace the marvelous and close-linked progress from the times of the Saxons to those of Tennyson and Kipling. Literature, too, has this advantage over every other species of art study, that everybody can examine the original masterpieces and not depend on reproductions, as in the cases of painting, sculpture, and architecture; or on intermediate interpretation, as in the case of music. To-day most of these masterpieces can be studied as a history only at the cost of solid time and continuous attention, much more time than the majority of those I am addressing can afford. By most of us our mighty literature cannot be taken in its continuous current, the latter stretches proving interesting through relation with the earlier. It must be taken fragmentarily, if at all, the attention delaying on those parts only which offer the greatest beauty or promise the best exhilaration. In other words, English may be possible as a joy where it is not possible as a history. In the endless wealth which our poetry, story, essay, and drama afford, every disposition may find its appropriate nutriment, correction, or solace. He is unwise, however busy, who does not have his loved authors, veritable friends with whom he takes refuge in the intervals of work, and by whose intimacy he enlarges, refines, sweetens, and emboldens his own limited existence. Yet the fact that English as joy must largely be conditioned by individual taste prevents me from offering general rules for its pursuit. The road which leads one man straight to enjoyment leads another to tedium. In all literary enjoyment there is something incalculable, something wayward, eluding the precision of rule and rendering inexact the precepts of him who would point out the path to it. While I believe that many suggestions may be made, useful to the young enjoyer, and promotive of his wise vagrancy, I shall not undertake here the complicated task of offering them. Let enjoyment go, let science go, still English remains, English as a tool. Every hour our language is an engine for communicating with others, every instant for fashioning the thoughts of our minds. I want to call attention to the means of mastering this curious and essential tool, and to land everyone who hears me to become discontented with his employment of it.

The importance of literary power needs no long argument. Everybody acknowledges it, and sees that without it all other human faculties are maimed. Shakespeare says that “Time insults o'er dull and speechless tribes.” It and all who live in it insult over the speechless person. So mutually dependent are we that on our swift and full communication with one another is staked the success of almost every scheme we form. He who cannot is left to the poverty of individual resource; for men do what we desire only when persuaded. The persuasive and explanatory tongue is, therefore, one of the chief levers of life. Its leverage is felt within us as well as without, for expression and thought are integrally bound together. We do not first possess completed thoughts, and then express them. The very formation of the outward product extends, sharpens, enriches the mind which produces, so that he who gives forth little after a time is likely enough to discover that he has little to give forth. By expression, too, we may carry benefits and our names to a far generation. This durable character of fragile language puts a wide difference of worth between it and some of the other great objects of desire, —health, wealth, and beauty, for example. These are notoriously liable to accident. We tremble while we have them. But literary power, once ours, is more likely than any other possession to be ours always. It perpetuates and enlarges itself by the very fact of its existence, and perishes only with the decay of the man himself. For this reason, because more than health, wealth, and beauty, literary style may be called the man. Good judges have found in it the final test of culture, and have said that he and he alone, is a well-educated person who uses his language with power and beauty. The supreme and ultimate product of civilization, it has been well said, is two or three persons talking together in a room. Between ourselves and our language there accordingly springs up an association peculiarly close. We are sensitive to criticism of our speech as of our manners. The young man looks up with awe to him who has written a book, as already half divine; and the graceful speaker is a universal object of envy.

But the very fact that literary endowment is immediately recognized and eagerly envied has induced a strange illusion in regard to it. It is supposed to be something mysterious, innate in him who possesses it, and quite out of the reach of him who has it not. The very contrary is the fact. No human employment is more free and calculable than the winning of language. Undoubtedly there are natural aptitudes for it, as there are for farming, seamanship, or being a good husband. But nowhere is straight work more effective. Persistence, care, discriminating observation, ingenuity, refusal to lose heart, —tend toward it here with special security. Whoever goes to his grave with bad English in his mouth has no one to blame but himself for the disagreeable taste; for if faulty speech can be inherited, it can be exterminated too. I hope to point out some of the methods of substituting good English for bad. And since my space is brief, and I wish to be remembered, I throw what I have to say into the forms of four simple precepts, which, if pertinaciously obeyed, will, I believe, give anybody effective mastery of English as a tool.

First, then, “Look well to your speech.” It is commonly supposed that when a man seeks literary power he goes to his room and plans an article for the press. But this is to begin literary culture at the wrong end. We speak a hundred times for every once we write. The busiest writer produces little more than a volume a year, not so much as his talk would amount to in a week. Consequently through speech it is usually decided whether a man is to have command of a language or not. If he is slovenly in his ninety-nine cases of talking, he can seldom pull himself up to strength and exactitude in the hundredth case of writing. A person is made in one piece, and the same being runs through a multitude of performances. Whether words are uttered on paper or to the air, the effect on the utterer is the same. Vigor or feebleness resulted according as energy or slackness has been in command. I know that certain adaptations to a new field are often necessary. A good speaker may find awkwardness in himself when he comes to write, a good writer when he speaks. And certainly cases occur where a man exhibits distinct strength in one of the two, speaking or writing, and not in the other. But such cases are rare. As a rule, language once within our control can be employed for oral or for written purposes. And since the opportunities for oral practice enormously outbalance those for written, it is the oral which are chiefly significant in the development of literary power. We rightly say of the accomplished writer that he shows a mastery of his own tongue.

This predominant influence of speech marks nearly all great epochs of literature. The Homeric poems are addressed to the ear, not to the eye. It is doubtful if Homer knew writing, certain that he knew profoundly every quality of the tongue, —veracity, vividness, shortness of sentence, simplicity of thought, obligation to insure swift apprehension. Writing and rigidity are apt to go together. In these smooth-slipping verses one catches everywhere the voice. So, too, the aphorisms of Hesiod might naturally pass from mouth to mouth, and the stories of Herodotus be told by an old man at the fireside. Early Greek literature is plastic and garrulous. Its distinctive glory is that it contains no literary note, that it gives forth human feeling not in conventional arrangement, but with apparent spontaneity—in short, that it is speech literature, not book literature. And the same tendency continued long among the Greeks. At the culmination of their power, the drama was their chief literary form—the drama, which is but speech ennobled, connected, clarified. Plato, following the dramatic precedent and the precedent of his talking master, accepted conversation as his medium for philosophy, and imparted to it the vivacity, ease, waywardness even, which the best conversation exhibits. Nor was the experience of the Greeks peculiar. Our literature shows a similar tendency. Its bookish times are its decadent times, its talking times its glory. Chaucer, like Herodotus, is a story-teller, and follows the lead of those who on the Continent entertained courtly circles with pleasant tales. Shakespeare and his fellows in the spacious times of great Elizabeth did not concern themselves with publication. Marston, in one of his prefaces, thinks it necessary to apologize for putting his piece in print, and says he would not have done such a thing if unscrupulous persons, hearing the play at the theater, had not already printed corrupt versions of it. Even the “Queen Anne's men,” far removed though they are from anything dramatic, still shape their ideals of literature on speech. The essays of the “Spectator,” the poems of Pope, are the remarks of a cultivated gentleman at an evening party. Here is the brevity, the good taste, the light touch, the neat epigram, the avoidance of whatever might stir passion, controversy, or laborious thought, which characterize the conversation of a well-bred man. Indeed, it is hard to see how any literature can be long vital which is based on the thought of a book and not on that of living utterance. Unless the speech notion is uppermost, words will not run swiftly to their mark. They delay in delicate phrasings while naturalness and a sense of reality disappear. Women are the best talkers. I sometimes please myself with noticing that three of the greatest periods of English literature coincide with the reigns of the three English queens.

Fortunate it is, then, that self-cultivation in the use of English must chiefly come through speech; because we are always speaking whatever else we do. In opportunities for acquiring a mastery of language, the poorest and busiest are at no large disadvantage as compared with the leisured rich. It is true the strong impulse which comes from the suggestion and approval of society may in some cases be absent, but this can be compensated by the sturdy purpose of the learner. A recognition of the beauty of well-ordered words, a strong desire, patience under discouragements, and promptness in counting every occasion as of consequence, —these are the simple agencies which sweep one on to power. Watch your speech, then. That is all which is needed. Only it is desirable to know what qualities of speech to watch for. I find three—accuracy, audacity, and range—and I will say a few words about each.

Obviously, good English is exact English. Our words should fit our thoughts like a glove, and be neither too wide nor too tight. If too wide, they will include much vacuity beside the intended matter. If too tight, they will check the strong grasp. Of the two dangers, looseness is by far the greater. There are people who say what they mean with such a naked precision that nobody not familiar with the subject can quickly catch the sense. George Herbert and Emerson strain the attention of many. But niggardly and angular speakers are rare. Too frequently words signify nothing in particular. They are merely thrown out in a certain direction, to report a vague and undetermined meaning or even a general emotion. The first business of everyone who would train himself in language is to articulate his thought, to know definitely what he wishes to say, and then to pick those words which compel the hearer to think of this and only this. For such a purpose two words are often better than three. The fewer the words, the more pungent the impression. Brevity is the soul not simply of a jest, but of wit in its finest sense where it is identical with wisdom. He who can put a great deal into a little is the master. Since firm texture is what is wanted, not embroidery or superposed ornament, beauty has been well defined as the purgation of superfluities. And certainly many a paragraph might have its beauty brightened by letting quiet words take the place of its loud words, omitting its “verys,” and striking out its purple patches of “fine writing.” Here is Ben Jonson's description of Bacon's language: “There happened in my time one noble speaker who was full of gravity in his speech. No man ever spoke more neatly, more pressly, more weightily, or suffered less emptiness, less idleness, in what he uttered. No member of his speech but consisted of his own graces. His hearers could not cough or look aside without loss. He commanded when he spoke, and had his judges angry or pleased at his discretion.” Such are the men who command, men who speak “neatly and pressly.” But to gain such precision is toilsome business. While we are in training for it, no word must unpermittedly pass the portal of the teeth. Something like what we mean must never be counted equivalent to what we mean. And if we are not sure of our meaning or of our word, we must pause until we are sure. Accuracy does not come of itself. For persons who can use several languages, capital practice in acquiring it can be had by translating from one language to another and seeing that the entire sense is carried over. Those who have only their native speech will find it profitable often to attempt definitions of the common words they use. Inaccuracy will not stand up against the habit of definition. Dante boasted that no rhythmic exigency had ever made him say what he did not mean. We, heedless and unintending speakers, under no exigency of rime or reason, say what we mean but seldom, and still more seldom mean what we say. To hold our thoughts and words in significant adjustment requires unceasing consciousness, a perpetual determination not to tell lies; for of course every inaccuracy is a bit of untruthfulness. We have something in mind, yet convey something else to our hearers. And no moral purpose will save us from this untruthfulness unless that purpose is sufficient to inspire the daily drill which brings the power to be true. Again and again we are shut up to evil because we have not acquired the ability of goodness. But after all, I hope nobody who hears me will quite agree. There is something enervating in conscious care. Necessary as it is in shaping our purposes, if allowed too direct and exclusive control, consciousness breeds hesitation and feebleness. In piano-playing we begin by picking out each separate note; but we do not call the result music until we play our notes by the handful, heedless how each is formed. And so it is everywhere. Consciously selective conduct is elementary and inferior. People distrust it, or rather they distrust him who exhibits it. If anybody talking to us visibly studies his words, we turn away. What he says may be well as school exercise, but it is not conversation. Accordingly if we would have our speech forcible we shall need to put into it quite as much of audacity as we do of precision, terseness, or simplicity. Accuracy alone is not a thing to be sought, but accuracy and dash. It was said of Fox, the English orator and statesman, that he was accustomed to throw himself headlong into the middle of a sentence, trusting to God Almighty to get him out. So must we speak. We must not, before beginning a sentence, decide what the end shall be; for if we do, nobody will care to hear that end. At the beginning, it is the beginning which claims the attention of both speaker and listener and trepidation about going on will mar all. We must give our thought its head, and not drive it with too tight a rein, nor grow timid when it begins to prance a bit. Of course we must retain coolness in courage, applying the results of our previous discipline in accuracy; but we need not move so slowly as to become formal. Pedantry is worse than plundering. If we care for grace and flexible beauty of language, we must learn to let our thought run. Would it, then, be too much of an Irish bull to say that in acquiring English we need to cultivate spontaneity? The uncultivated kind is not worth much; it is wild and haphazard stuff, unadjusted to its uses. On the other hand, no speech is of much account, however just, which lacks the element of courage. Accuracy and dash, then, the combination of the two, must be our difficult aim; and we must not rest satisfied so long as either dwells with us alone.

But are the two so hostile as they at first appear? Or can, indeed, the first be obtained without the aid of the second? Supposing we are convinced that words possess no value in themselves, and are correct or incorrect only as they truly report experience, we shall feel ourselves impelled in the mere interest of accuracy to choose them freshly, and to put them together in ways in which they never coöperated before, so as to set forth with distinctness that which just we, not other people, have seen or felt. The reason why we do not naturally have this daring exactitude is probably twofold. We let our experiences be blurred, not observing sharply, not knowing with any minuteness what we are thinking about; and so there is no individuality in our language. And then, besides, we are terrorized by custom, and inclined to adjust what we would say to what others have said before. The cure for the first of these troubles is to keep our eye on our object instead of on our listener or ourselves; and for the second, to learn to rate the expressiveness of language more highly than its correctness. The opposite of this, the disposition to set correctness above expressiveness, produces that peculiarly vulgar diction known as “school-ma'am English,” in which for the sake of a dull accord with usage all the picturesque, imaginative, and forceful employment of words is sacrificed. Of course we must use words so that people can understand them, and understand them, too, with ease; but this once granted, let our language be our own, obedient to our special needs.“Whenever,” says Thomas Jefferson, “by small grammatical negligences the energy of an idea can be condensed or a word be made to stand for a sentence, I hold grammatical rigor in contempt.” “Young man,” said Henry Ward Beecher to one who was pointing out grammatical errors in a sermon of his,“when the English language gets in my way, it doesn't stand a chance.” No man can be convincing, writer or speaker, who is afraid to send his words wherever they may best follow his meaning, and this with but little regard to whether any other person's words have ever been there before. In assessing merit, let us not stupefy ourselves with using negative standards. What stamps a man as great is not freedom from faults, but abundance of powers.

Such audacious accuracy, however, distinguishing as it does noble speech from commonplace speech can be practiced only by him who has a wide range of words. Our ordinary range is absurdly narrow. It is important, therefore, for anybody who would cultivate himself in English to make strenuous and systematic efforts to enlarge his vocabulary. Our dictionaries contain more than a hundred thousand words. The average speaker employs about three thousand. Is this because ordinary people have only three or four thousand things to say? Not at all. It is simply due to dulness. Listen to the average schoolboy. He has a dozen or two nouns, half a dozen verbs, three or four adjectives, and enough conjunctions and prepositions to stick the conglomerate together. This ordinary speech deserves the description which Hobbes gave to his “State of Nature,” that “it is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” The fact is, we fall into the way of thinking that the wealthy words are for others and that they do not belong to us. We are like those who have received a vast inheritance, but who persist in the inconveniences of hard beds, scanty food, rude clothing; who never travel, and who limit their purchases to the bleak necessities of life. Ask such people why they endure niggardly living while wealth in plenty is lying in the bank, and they can only answer that they have never learned how to spend. But this is worth learning. Milton used eight thousand words, Shakespeare fifteen thousand. We have all the subjects to talk about that these early speakers had; and in addition, we have bicycles and sciences and strikes and political combinations and all the complicated living of the modern world.

Why, then, do we hesitate to swell our words to meet our needs? It is a nonsense question. There is no reason. We are simply lazy; too lazy to make ourselves comfortable. We let our vocabularies be limited, and get along rawly without the refinements of human intercourse, without refinements in our own thoughts; for thoughts are almost as dependent on words as words on thoughts. For example, all exasperations we lump together as “aggravating,” not considering whether they may not rather be displeasing, annoying, offensive, disgusting, irritating, or even maddening; and without observing, too, that in our reckless usage we have burned up a word which might be convenient when we should need to mark some shading of the word “increase.” Like the bad cook, we seize the frying pan whenever we need to fry, broil, roast, or stew, and then we wonder why all our dishes taste alike while in the next house the food is appetizing. It is all unnecessary. Enlarge the vocabulary. Let anyone who wants to see himself grow, resolve to adopt two new words each week. It will not be long before the endless and enchanting variety of the world will begin to reflect itself in his speech, and in his mind as well. I know that when we use a word for the first time we are startled, as if a firecracker went off in our neighborhood. We look about hastily to see if anyone has noticed. But finding that no one has, we may be emboldened. A word used three times slips off the tongue with entire naturalness. Then it is ours forever and with it some phase of life which has been lacking hitherto. For each word presents its own point of view, discloses a special aspect of things, reports some little importance not otherwise conveyed, and so contributes its small emancipation to our tied-up minds and tongues.

But a brief warning may be necessary to make my meaning clear. In urging the addition of new words to our present poverty-stricken stock, I am far from suggesting that we should seek out strange, technical, or inflated expressions, which do not appear in ordinary conversation. The very opposite is my aim. I would put every man who is now employing a diction merely local and personal in command of the approved resources of the English language. Our poverty usually comes through provinciality, through accepting without criticism the habits of our special set. My family, my immediate friends, have a diction of their own. Plenty of other words, recognized as sound, are known to be current in books, and to be employed by modest and intelligent speakers, only we do not use them. Our set has never said “diction,” or “current,” or “scope,” or “scanty,” or “hitherto,” or “convey,” or “lack.” Far from unusual as these words are, to adopt them might seem to set me apart from those whose intellectual habits I share. From this I shrink. I do not like to wear clothes suitable enough for others, but not in the style of my own plain circle. Yet if each one of that circle does the same, the general shabbiness is increased. The talk of all is made narrow enough to fit the thinnest there. What we should seek is to contribute to each of the little companies with which our life is bound up a gently enlarging influence, such impulses as will not startle or create detachment, but which may save us from humdrum routine, and weary usualness. We cannot be really kind without being a little venturesome. The small shocks of our increasing vocabulary will in all probability be as hateful to our friends as to ourselves.

Such, then, are the excellences of speech. If we would cultivate ourselves in the use of English, we must make our daily talk accurate, daring, and full. I have insisted on these points the more because in my judgment all literary power, especially that of busy men is rooted in sound speech. But though the roots are here, the growth is also elsewhere. And I pass to my later precepts, which, if the earlier one has been laid well to heart, will require only brief discussion.

Secondly, “Welcome every opportunity for writing.” Important as I have shown speech to be, there is much that it cannot do. Seldom can it teach structure. Its space is too small. Talking moves in sentences, and rarely demands a paragraph. I make my little remark, —a dozen or two words, —then wait for my friend to hand me back as many more. This gentle exchange continues by the hour; but either of us would feel himself unmannerly if he should grasp an entire five minutes and make it uninterruptedly his. That would not be speaking, but rather speech-making. The brief groupings of words which make up our talk furnish capital practice in precision, boldness, and variety; but they do not contain room enough for exercising our constructive faculties. Considerable length is necessary if we are to learn how to set forth B in right relation to A on the one hand, and to C on the other, and while keeping each a distinct part, we are to be able through their smooth progression to weld all the parts together into a compacted whole. Such wholeness is what we mean by literary form. Lacking it, any piece of writing is a failure; because, in truth, it is not a piece, but pieces. For ease of reading, or for the attainment of an intended effect, unity is essential—the multitude of statements, anecdotes, quotations, arguings, gay sportings, and appeal, all “bending one way their precious influence.” All this dominant unity of the entire piece obliges unity also in the subordinate parts. Not enough has been done when we have huddled together a lot of wandering sentences, and penned them in a paragraph, or even when we have linked them together by the frail ties of “and, and.” A sentence must be compelled to say a single thing; a paragraph, a single thing;an essay, a single thing. Each part is to be a preliminary whole, and the total a finished whole. But the ability to construct one thing out of many does not come by nature. It implies fecundity, restraint, an eye for effects, the forecast of finish while we are still working in the rough, obedience to the demands of development, and a deaf ear to whatever calls us into the bypaths of caprice; in short, it implies that the good writer is to be an artist.

Now something of this large requirement which composition makes, the young writer instinctively feels, and he is terrified. He knows how ill-fitted he is to direct “toil coöperant to an end”; and when he sits down to the desk and sees the white sheet of paper before him, he shivers. Let him know that the shiver is a suitable part of the performance. I well remember the pleasure with which, as a young man, I heard my venerable and practiced professor of rhetoric say that he supposed there was no work known to man more difficult than writing. Up to that time I had supposed its severities peculiar to myself. It cheered me, and gave me courage to try again, to learn that I had all mankind for my fellow-sufferers. Where this is not understood, writing is avoided. From such avoidance I would save the young writer by my precept to seek every opportunity to write. For most of us this is a new way of confronting composition—treating it as an opportunity, a chance, and not as a burden of compulsion. It saves from slavishness and takes away the drudgery of writing, to view each piece of it as a precious and necessary step in the pathway to power. To those engaged in bread-winning employments these opportunities will be few, for only practice breeds ease; but on that very account let no one of them pass with merely a second-best performance. If a letter is to be written to a friend, a report to an employer, a communication to a newspaper, see that it has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The majority of writings are without these pleasing adornments. Only the great pieces possess them. Bear this in mind, and win the way to artistic composition by noticing what should be said first, what second, and what third.

I cannot leave this subject, however, without congratulating the present generation on its advantages over mine. Children are brought up to-day, in happy contrast with my compeers, to feel that the pencil is no instrument of torture, hardly indeed to distinguish it from the tongue. About the time they leave their mother's arms they take their pen in hand. On paper they are encouraged to describe their interesting birds, friends, and adventures. Their written lessons are almost as frequent as their oral, and they learn to write compositions while not yet quite understanding what they are about. Some of these fortunate ones will, I hope, find the language I have sadly used about the difficulty of writing extravagant. And let me say, too, that since frequency has more to do with ease of writing than anything else, I count the newspaper men lucky because they are writing all the time, and I do not think so meanly of their product as the present popular disparagement would seem to require. It is hasty work undoubtedly, and bears the marks of haste. But in my judgment, at no period of the English language has there been so high an average of sensible, vivacious and informing sentences written as appears in our daily press. With both good and evil results, the distinction between book literature and speech literature is breaking down. Everybody is writing, apparently, in verse and prose; and if the higher graces of style do not often appear, neither on the other hand do the ruder awkwardnesses and obscurities. A certain straightforward English is becoming established. A whole nation is learning the use of its mother tongue. Under such circumstances it is doubly necessary that anyone who is conscious of feebleness in his command of English should promptly and earnestly begin the cultivation of it.

My third precept shall be, “Remember the other person.” I have been urging self-cultivation in English as if it concerned one person alone, ourself. But every utterance really concerns two. Its aim is social. Its object is communication; and while unquestionably prompted halfway by the desire to ease our mind through self-expression, it still finds its only justification in the advantage somebody else will draw from what is said. Speaking or writing is, therefore, everywhere a double-ended process. It springs from me, it penetrates him; and both of these ends need watching. Is what I say precisely what I mean? That is an important question. Is what I say so shaped that it can readily be assimilated by him who hears? This is a question of quite as great consequence, and much more likely to be forgotten. We are so full of ourselves that we do not remember the other person. Helter-skelter we pour forth our unaimed words merely for our personal relief, heedless whether they help or hinder him whom they still purport to address. For most of us are grievously lacking in imagination, which is the ability to go outside ourselves and take on the conditions of another mind. Yet this is what the literary artist is always doing. He has at once the ability to see for himself and the ability to see himself as others see him. He can lead two lives as easily as one life; or rather, he has trained himself to consider that other life as of more importance than this, and to reckon his comfort, likings, and labors as quite subordinated to the service of that other. All serious literary work contains within it this readiness to bear another's burden. I must write with pains, that he may read with ease. I must

Find out men's wants and wills,

And meet them there

As I write, I must unceasingly study what is the line of least intellectual resistance along which my thought may enter the differently constituted mind; and to that line I must subtly adjust, without enfeebling, my meaning. Will this combination of words or that make the meaning clear? Will this order of presentation facilitate swiftness of apprehension, or will it clog the movement? What temperamental perversities in me must be set aside in order to render my reader's approach to what I would tell him pleasant? What temperamental perversities in him are to be accepted by me as fixed facts, conditioning all I say? These are the questions the skilful writer is always asking.

And these questions, as will have been perceived already, are moral questions no less than literary. That golden rule of generous service by which we do for others what we would have them do for us, is a rule of writing too. Every writer who knows his trade perceives that he is a servant; that it is his business to endure hardships if only his reader may win freedom from toil, that no impediment to that reader's understanding is too slight to deserve diligent attention, that he has consequently no right to let a single sentence slip from him unsocialized—I mean, a sentence which cannot become as naturally another's possession as his own. In the very act of asserting himself he lays aside what is distinctively his. And because these qualifications of the writer are moral qualifications, they can never be completely fulfilled so long as we live and write. We may continually approximate them more nearly, but there will still always be possible an alluring refinement of exercise beyond. The world of the literary artist and the moral man is interesting through its inexhaustibility;and he who serves his fellows by writing or by speech is artist and moral man in one. Writing a letter is a simple matter but it is a moral matter and an artistic; for it may be done either with imagination or with raw self-centerdness. What things will my correspondent wish to know? How can I transport him out of his properly alien surroundings into the vivid impressions which now are mine? How can I tell what I long to tell and still be sure the telling will be for him as lucid and delightful as for me? Remember the other person, I say. Do not become absorbed in yourself. Your interests cover only the half of any piece of writing; the other man's less visible half is necessary to complete yours. And if I have here discussed writing more than speech, that is merely because when we speak we utter our first thoughts, but when we write, our second, or better still, our fourth; and in the greater deliberation which writing affords I have felt that the demands of morality and art, which are universally imbedded in language, could be more distinctly perceived. Yet none the less truly do we need to talk for the other person than to write for him.

But there remains a fourth weighty precept, and one not altogether detachable from the third. It is this: “Lean upon your subject.” We have seen how the user of language, whether in writing or speaking, works for himself, how he works for another individual too; but there is one more for whom his work is performed, one of greater consequence than any person, and that is his subject. From this comes his primary call. Those who in their utterance fix their thoughts on themselves, or on other selves, never reach power. That resides in the subject. There we must dwell with it, and be content to have no other strength than its. When the frightened schoolboy sits down to write about Spring, he cannot imagine where the thoughts which are to make up his piece are to come from. He cudgels his brains for ideas. He examines his pen point, the curtains, his inkstand, to see if perhaps ideas may not be had from these. He wonders what his teacher will wish him to say, and he tries to recall how the passage sounded in the “Third Reader.” In every direction but one he turns, and that is the direction where lies the prime mover of his toil, his subject. Of that he is afraid. Now, what I want to make evident is that his subject is not in reality his foe, but his friend. It is his only helper. His composition is not to be, as he seems to suppose, a mass of his laborious inventions but it is to be made up exclusively of what the subject dictates. He has only to attend. At present he stands in his own way, making such a din with his private anxieties that he cannot hear the rich suggestions of the subject. He is bothered with considering how he feels, or what he or somebody else will like to see on his paper. This is debilitating business. He must lean on his subject, if he would have his writing strong, and busy himself with what it says, rather than with what he would say. Matthew Arnold, in the important preface to his poems of 1853, contrasting the artistic methods of Greek poetry and modern poetry, sums up the teaching of the Greeks in these words: “All depends upon the subject;choose a fitting action, penetrate yourself with the feeling of its situations; this done, everything else will follow.” And he calls attention to the self-assertive and scatter-brained habits of our time. “How different a way of thinking from this is ours! We can hardly at the present day understand what Menander meant, when he told a man who inquired as to the progress of his comedy that he had finished it, not having yet written a single line, because he had constructed the action of it in his mind. A modern critic would have assured him that the merit of his piece depended on the brilliant things which arose under his pen as he went along. I verily think that the majority of us do not in our heart believe that there is such a thing as a total impression to be derived from a poem, or to be demanded from a poet. We permit the poet to select any action he pleases, and to suffer that action to go as it will, provided he gratifies us with occasional bursts of fine writing and with a shower of isolated thoughts and images.” Great writers put themselves and their personal imaginings out of sight. Their writing becomes a kind of transparent window on which reality is reflected, and through which people see, not them, but that of which they write. How much we know of Shakespeare's characters! How little of Shakespeare! Of him that might almost be said which Isaiah said of God, “He hideth himself.” The best writer is the best mental listener, the one who peers fartherest into his matter and most fully heeds its behests. Preëminently obedient is the strong writer, —refinedly, energetically obedient. I once spent a day with a great novelist when the book which subsequently proved his masterpiece was only half written. I praised his mighty hero, but said I should think the life of an author would be miserable who, having created a character so huge, now had him in hand and must find something for him to do. My friend seemed puzzled by my remark, but after a moment's pause said, “I don't think you know how we work. I have nothing to do with the character. Now that he is created, he will act as he will.”

And such docility must be cultivated by everyone who would write well, such strenuous docility. Of course there must be energy in plenty; the imagination which I described in my third section, the passion for solid form as in my second, the disciplined and daring powers as in my first; but all these must be ready at a moment's notice to move where the matter calls and to acknowledge that all their worth is to be drawn from it. Religion is only enlarged good sense, and the words of Jesus apply as well to the things of earth as of heaven. I do not know where we could find a more compendious statement of what is most important for one to learn who would cultivate himself in English than the simple saying in which Jesus announces the source of his power, “The word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me.” Whoever can use such words will be a noble speaker indeed.

These, then, are the fundamental precepts which everyone must heed who would command our beautiful English language. There is, of course, a fifth. I hardly need to name it, for it always follows after, whatever others precede. It is that we should do the work, and not think about it; do it day by day and not grow weary in bad doing. Early and often we must be busy, and be satisfied to have a great deal of labor produce but a small result. I am told that early in life John Morley, wishing to engage in journalism, wrote an editorial and sent it to a paper every day for nearly a year before he succeeded in getting one accepted. We all know what a power he became in London journalism. I will not vouch for the truth of the story, but I am sure an ambitious author is wise who writes a weekly essay for his stove. Publication is of little consequence, so long as one is getting oneself hammered into shape.

But before I close this address, let me acknowledge that in it I have neglected a whole class of helpful influences, probably quite as important as any I have discussed. Purposely I have passed them by. Because I wished to show what we can do for ourselves, I have everywhere assumed that our cultivation in English is to be effected by naked volition and a kind of dead lift. These are mighty agencies, but seldom in this interlocked world do they work well alone. They are strongest when backed by social suggestion and unconscious custom. Ordinarily the good speaker is he who keeps good company, but increases the helpful influence of that company by constant watchfulness along the lines I have marked out. So supplemented, my teaching is true. By itself it is not true. It needs the supplementation of others. Let him who would speak or write well seek out good speakers and writers. Let him live in their society, —for the society of the greatest writers is open to the most secluded, —let him feel the ease of their excellence, the ingenuity, grace, and scope of their diction, and he will soon find in himself capacities whose development may be aided by the precepts I have given. Most of us catch better than we learn. We take up unconsciously from our surroundings what we cannot altogether create. All this should be remembered, and we should keep ourselves exposed to the wholesome words of our fellow-men. Yet our own exertions will not on that account be rendered less important. We may largely choose the influences to which we submit; we may exercise a selective attention among these influences; we may enjoy, oppose, modify, or diligently ingraft what is conveyed to us, —and for doing any one of these things rationally we must be guided by some clear aim. Such aims, altogether essential even if subsidiary, I have sought to supply; and I would reiterate that he who holds them fast may become superior to linguistic fortune and be the wise director of his sluggish and obstinate tongue. It is as certain as anything can be that faithful endeavor will bring expertness in the use of English. If we are watchful of our speech, making our words continually more minutely true, free, and resourceful; if we look upon our occasions of writing as opportunities for the deliberate work of unified construction;if in all our utterances we think of him who hears as well as of him who speaks; and above all, if we fix the attention of ourselves and our hearers on the matter we talk about and so let ourselves be supported by our subject, —we shall make a daily advance not only in English study, but in personal power, in general serviceableness, and in consequent delight.

参考译文

【作品简介】

《英语学习的自我培养》,作者乔治·赫伯特·帕玛。1909年由波士顿的霍顿·米夫林公司作为“河畔教育专著”系列之一出版。

【作者简介】

乔治·赫伯特·帕玛(1842—1933),美国哲学家,哈佛大学英语教师。

43 英语学习的自我培养

学习英语的目标有四:视为科学习之,视为历史明之,视为娱乐悦之,视为工具用之。我只关注其中一点:视为工具用之。语文学和语法学将之视为一门科学,分别以词和句为研究脉络,厘清各自纷繁复杂的发展过程,发现潜于词句背后的语言规则,好比从移动的点点繁星,春日的簇锦繁花中寻求规律。此种思路固然重要而且也有趣,但在此我并不推介,因为我希望大家关注的仅仅是那类脱离群书厚册的英语学习。同理,我也不主张视其为历史明之,虽原因差强人意。现今的英语文学源远流长,可能比其他任何民族的文学都更充满吸引力。文学杰作接连涌现从未间断,此乃人类其他任何语言所难以匹敌。每个说英语的人都赋有一种天资,激励我们去追溯从撒克逊人时期一直到诗人丁尼森和吉普林时代的非凡发展历程。文学还有其胜过其他任何艺术研究的优势,即每个人都可以研究经典原作,而不用依赖于复制品,比如绘画、雕刻和建筑,也无需依靠媒介表达,比如音乐。在当下,要把经典作品视为历史来研究,大多必须投入充足的时间和持续的关注,而这对本书的大多数读者而言是无法承受的。我们大多数人不能持续地关注现今强大的文学,只有通过和早期文学的联系,后期文学的发展才显得更加有趣。如果必须碎片式地阅读文学,我们的注意力则只会停留在那些能够提供至美和允诺极乐的文学段落上。换言之,如果不是从历史的角度学习英语,或许可以从娱乐入手。在我们的诗歌、小说、散文、戏剧等创造的无尽财富中,每一部分都能找到适合自己的养分、修正和慰藉。一个人无论多忙,如果没有自己热爱的作者——他真正的朋友,那么他是不明智的。因为热爱一个作者,可以让他在工作间隙有一席避难之地,他与作者的亲密关系可以让他有限的存在得以扩充、完善,从而让他变得心平气和,大胆英勇。然而,英语作为一种乐趣主要取决于个人喜好,这样我就无法为这类人提供普适法则了,因为吾之蜜糖可能成为彼之砒霜。就文学的乐趣而言,有些无法预测,有些反复无常,它没有精准的规则可言,试图承担引路人角色的人的格言显得并不准确。虽然我相信许多建议的提出对年轻的“文学逐乐者”有所裨益,让他们游移不定的思想变得明智,但在此我并不打算着手其繁、出计献策。驱散乐趣的喧嚣,剥离科学的外衣,英语就是个工具。我们的语言无时无刻不在塑造大脑中的思维,充当与他人交流的工具。我想提请大家掌握这不同寻常的重要工具,让每一位听到我想法的人都不再满足于自己对这个工具的使用。

文学的力量其重要性勿需长辩。众所周知,没有它,人类的才智就会变得残缺。莎士比亚曾说:时间只能对愚昧无言的种族猖狂。[1]文学及置身于其中之人都会藐视不会用言语表达之人。我们和文学之间相互依存,通过彼此之间敏捷充分的交流,才能使每项计划顺利完成。做不到这一点的人其个体资源就会匮乏,因为人只有在被说服之时才会做我们期望之事。因此,口才成为生活的主要手段之一。这种手段既外显于表达,又内存于心智,因为语言表达和思维能力是一个整体。我们并不是首先拥有完整的思维,然后才将其表达出来。正是因为外在语言的表达可以使心智这一形成本源变得更具延展性、敏锐性和丰富性,所以,一段时间不说话的人很有可能会发现自己无话可说。同样,借助于语言表达,我们可以使自己的价值和声名长久流传。语言是脆弱的,但它的持续性特征使得它与其他人类欲求之物,比如健康、财富、美貌等之间出现了较大的价值差异。后者即使为我们拥有,但很有可能因一些变故而被剥夺,所以我们总是惴惴不安。但是,文学的力量一旦为我们所有,就可能比其他任何东西都更加属于我们自己。凭借自身的存在,它会继续发展并不断充实,直到随着人肉身的陨灭而消散。因此,相较于健康、财富、美貌,拥有文学风格才更能被称为人。优秀的鉴赏家已经发现,终极的修养是在文学风格中,并且还说只有语言有力量有美感的人是有修养之人。有人说,文明的至高终极产物也就是二三人同处一屋交谈,让说话的我们与我们所使用的语言之间产生相应的密切联系。因而,在我们和我们的语言之间也就相应地出现了一种特别的紧密联合。我们对自己的言谈就像对自己的举止一样敏感。年轻人对著书之人充满敬畏,几乎视其为神。说话人言语优雅则会是众人钦羡的对象。

文学天赋能迅速得到人们认可并引起艳羡,但这也造成一种奇怪的假象,似乎文学天赋是拥有者与生俱来的一种神秘特质,是不具备这种特质的人难以企及的。而事实正好相反。在人类所能中,没有哪一样能比驾驭语言更自由更可靠。毋庸置疑,有的人确实有学习语言的天资,就像有的人天生擅于耕作,有的人长于航海,有的善为人夫一样。但是,最有效的始终是后天的付出。坚持不懈、悉心谨慎、辨别观察、独出心裁、百折不挠这些品质才是其根本保障。至死英语都说不好的人要怪也只能怪自己没品,因为如果病语能被继承的话,它也就能被消灭。我希望提供一些方法,让英语说不好的人说得好。鉴于空间有限,也因为我想留名,所以我把所有我要说的归结为四个简单的准则。如果坚持遵从,那么任何人都可以有效地将英语作为一种工具掌握好。

首先,“悉心留意自己的言语”。通常认为,若有人要寻求文学的力量,他会走进自己的房间,认认真真写好一篇文章去发表,但这其实是本末倒置的。动笔一回,已是言说百次。最忙碌的作家一年产出不过一卷,还不及他一周的言谈。因而,人们总是通过言语来判定一个人是否掌握好了自己的语言。如果一个人在九十九次的口头言说中都很马虎懒散,那么他在第一百次的笔头写作中也几乎不可能做到挥斥方遒、严谨正确。文如其人,人有千象。懒散懈怠导致语言无力,精力充沛则使表达充满活力。我知道顺应新领域做出调整经常是必须的。优秀的演说家伏案落笔时会感到无所适从,而优秀的作家唇口开阖时又会语无伦次。在言说和写作之中,有些人只是长于其一,不能兼攻两项。但这种情况其实是比较少见的。通常,语言一经掌握,就均可服务于言谈与写作。由于口头练习的机会远远多于书面写作,所以在培养文学功力方面,口头表达尤其重要。我们可以公正地讲,成绩斐然的作家也是巧舌如簧。

口头言说的决定性影响力在几乎所有伟大的文学时代都留有印记。荷马史诗是说给耳朵听的,不是写给眼睛看的。荷马是否会写作尚未可知,但可以肯定的是他精于口头言说,熟知它的每一个特质:精确、生动、言简、意赅、易懂,而写作往往与刻板联系在一起。在那些流畅圆润的诗句中人们随处都能听到声音的回响,所以诗人赫西奥德的格言能很自然地口口相传,历史学家希罗多德的故事也可以由炉火旁的老人讲述。早期的希腊文学富有创造力,且繁言多语。它的显著成就在于没有文学注释,从而给人感觉行文排列不按惯例,而是明显出于自发——简言之,这是口头文学,而非书面文学。这个趋势在希腊持续了很长一段时间。在其顶峰时期,戏剧是当时的主要文学形式——而戏剧的高贵、连贯与明晰都只是靠言语来实现的。柏拉图秉承了戏剧这一文学表达先例,因袭导师苏格拉底的风格,将“对话”作为探讨哲学的媒介,把哲学讲得活泼、生动,甚至任性,而这些都是最出色的对话才能显示出的特质。这一倾向并非希腊人独有,我们的文学也表现出类似的趋势。学究的时代是颓废的时代,对话的时代才是辉煌的。英国作家乔叟与希罗多德一样,是个讲故事的人。他效仿前人,在欧洲大陆上用讨人喜欢的故事取悦宫廷。在伟大的伊丽莎白扩张时期,莎士比亚和他的同伴们并不关心文学出版。马斯顿在他一部作品的前言中写道,他为刊发自己的作品致歉,若非一些无耻之徒在剧院听了剧后先行刊印了拙劣的版本,他也不会出此下策。安妮女王统治时期的文学大家虽然已经远离戏剧形式的创作,但仍旧以口头言说的形式来塑造理想的文学。《旁观者》中的文辞,蒲伯的诗篇,这些都会被参加晚宴的儒雅文士引用。这些引辞简洁明了、品味高雅、轻触浅沾、机智警世,能避免引起任何可能的情绪波动、争议辩驳或者沟通不畅,而这些正是儒雅之士的言谈特点。实际上,任何基于书本思想而非活生生话语的文学,其活力都很难持久。假如不把言说观念摆在首位,表达内容就会被延迟,会被精细的措辞耽误,从而失去它的自然和现实感。女性最擅长讲话。当我注意到英国文学史上最伟大的三个时期刚巧都是女性执政时,有时会陶然自乐。

有幸的是,英语学习的自我培养主要得靠口头说,因为不管我们做什么,我们总是要讲话。就掌握好一门语言的概率来说,最穷和最忙的人与悠闲的富人相比并没有多大的劣势。的确,在一些情况下,源自于社会鼓励与认可的强大动力可能会有所缺失,但学习者坚定的目标感足以弥补这样的不足。对用词井然美的认识,强烈的欲望,挫败之时的耐心,对每一次机会及时把握,这些都是让人迅速掌握语言能力的基本特质。关注自己的言语,这就是你要做的。当然,还需要明确的是要关注你话语的哪些方面,我发现有三个方面特别重要——用词准确、胆大、词汇量。下面我来分别谈一谈。

显然,好的英语一定是用词准确的英语。言语要符合思想,就像戴手套,不能太松也不能太紧。太松会在表意之余留下大片空白;太紧又会阻碍深度理解。两种危险之下,松的弊端更突出。有些人,他们表达意思时用词吝啬至极,但凡不熟悉话题的人都不能迅速会意。乔治·赫伯特和爱默生的语言,很多人听了都会走神。但吝啬生硬的演说家还是少数。很多情况下,词并不指示任何事物,它们只是被抛出来,表达模糊的不确定的意思或一种笼统的情感。任何人想要练习语言的时候,第一件事就是学会准确表达自己的想法,明确知道自己想要表达什么,然后只挑出能让听众准确会意的那些词。因此,两个字能表达的就不要用三个字。用词越少,越一针见血。简洁不仅是笑话的精髓,更是妙语的灵魂,此处妙语等同于智慧。能把复杂问题三言两语说清楚,这是大师。因为他所追求的是坚实的质地,而非刺绣式的重叠装饰,所以美是对多余的净化。在许多段落中,通过用安静的词替代喧闹的词,删掉类似“很、非常、极其”等词,以及那些体现“文采”的辞藻华丽的语句,整个段落就活色生香,美不胜收了。本·琼森曾这样描述培根的语言:“我所在的时代出现了一位伟大的演说家,他的言词充满了吸引力。没有人能像他那般用词简短、紧迫、落地有声,讲话不空洞不闲散。他的演说有他的优雅,听众咳嗽一下或是向一边张望一下都会是一种损失。他讲话时他就是主宰,让他的评判者在他的判定中愤怒或是喜悦。”这样的人具有语言的操控力,他们的言说“简洁有力”。但要做到如此精准是要花功夫的。训练过程中,每个词都要“过牙关”。有些貌似是我们所指,实则并非我们本意。如果我们对自己的意思或者话语无法确定,停下来,想好再说。准确不会不请自来。会说几种语言的人,可以试着把一种语言翻译成另一种语言,看意义是不是得以完整传递,进而做到准确。只会说母语的人可以试着定义自己经常使用的词,也可从中获益。下定义的习惯不会与精确相左。但丁曾骄傲地说即便苛求韵律他从未言不由衷。在无须苛求韵律和严密推理的情况下,我们漫不经心的讲话,很少能用语言完全地表达自己的意思,自己的表达也很少就是心里的所想。协调思想与话语保持一致就需要有一种讲真话的持久意志力,因为每一次的用词不当都会有些许言不属实。我们脑子里想的是一回事,说给听众的又是另一回事。道德目标并不能让我们免于这种不真实,除非这一目的足以激励日常言语练习,直到我们有能力做到言必实。我们一次又一次地对邪恶缄默,就是因为我们尚未获得真实善良的能力。

但我终究不希望我的每一位听者完全赞同我的上述观点。因为关注意识这一点有些苍白。纵然意识对实现目标很重要,但如果控制得太直接,太在乎,就又会导致犹豫不决,语言软弱无力。拿弹钢琴来说,一开始我们挑出的只是独立的音符,但只有弹了几个音符之后,才能产生音乐,虽然我们并没有在意这段音乐是如何形成的。同样的道理无处不在。有意识有选择的行为是初级的、劣等的。人们并不信任这种行为,更确切地说,不信任实施这种行为的人。如果有人跟我们说话明显在研究他该如何用词,我们会转身而去。他的语言可能是很好的课堂练习,但不能用来交谈。因此,我们的言说要有说服力,除了要准确、简洁、精炼外,还应当胆大无畏。我们追求的不单单是准确,我们追求的是准确以及胆大。英国演说家、政治家福克斯说过,他习惯于匆忙地讲一段话,然后指望万能的上帝将他从中解救。我们讲话的时候也必须这样。我们一定不能在一句话开始之前,就先确定好结尾。如果这样做了,就不会有人想听那个结尾。开始就是开始,需要说话人与听众双方都全神贯注,害怕继续会毁掉一切。我们必须得给自己的思路开个头,不要把缰绳勒得太紧,也不要在马儿稍一跳腾时就胆怯。当然,我们要在英勇中保持冷静,用之前提到的自制力力求准确,但也不必太过缓慢前行,不然就拘谨了。谨小慎微比粗心大意更糟糕。我们要想追求语言优雅灵活,就必须学会放手自己的思想任其奔跑。要习得英语,我们需要培养英语母语者才具有的那种自发性,这是自相矛盾的吗?未经训练的语言没有多少价值可言,它不受控制,杂乱任性,无法达到预定目的。不过,从另一方面来看,缺乏勇气的言说,无论它有多么恰如其分,一定是无关紧要的。所以,精确与胆大应该合二为一。做到这一点很难,但只要我们还只是拥有其一,就永不该满足。

但是二者是否真的就像乍一看那么互不相容呢?或者说,没有后者的辅助能实现前者吗?假使我们相信词语本身并没有价值,只有当它们真正用来表述经验时才会有对与错,那么我们会觉得自己是为了表达准确而不得已临时选择词语,并将它们以之前不曾有的组合方式整合在一起,明确表达出我们自己而非他人所看到的或感受到的东西。我们并非天生准确且大胆,原因可能有二。首先,我们对自己的经验有些模糊,观察不敏锐,想法不透彻,所以我们的语言没有个性。其次,受习惯的钳制,我们倾向于根据别人之前说的话来调整自己的话语。前一个问题的解决办法是将目光关注于客观事物,而非听众或自身;后一个问题则需要我们把语言的生动性置于正确性之上。反之,如果将正确性置于生动性之前,那么措辞就会相当平庸,变成一板一眼的“女教师英语”——这种表达产生的乏味感却是以牺牲那么多栩栩如生、充满想象、铿锵有力的词为代价的。当然,我们必须使用人们能听得懂的词。能做到这一点,语言就可以自成一体,遵从我们自己的特殊需求。“任何时候,”托马斯·杰弗逊说道,“如果一点小小的语法失误能让思想更浓缩,抑或一个词就能代表一句话,那么我们就无须在乎语法。”亨利·沃德·比奇曾对一个指出他布道中语法错误的人说:“当英语成为我前进的羁绊时,我不会让它得逞的。”无论是作家还是演说家,但凡是知道哪些词最能表达自己但又不敢表达的,他的话就都不能让人心悦诚服,而这与其他人是否有过类似表达无关。在品评价值方面,我们不要用一些消极标准来麻木自己。伟人的特征不是不犯错,而是做事游刃有余。

然而,这种大胆的精确,虽正是这一点将卓越的演说与平庸的演说区分开来,却都是只有掌握大量词汇的人才能实现的。我们普通人的词汇量少得可怜。因此,每个人要提高自己的英语,就要费大功夫系统地扩大词汇量,这一点很重要。字典包含约十万多单词,普通人掌握大概三千。这是因为普通人只有三四千字的内容要说吗?根本不是。这只是因为愚钝罢了。听一下小学生讲话,他掌握十几或几十个名词,六七个动词,三四个形容词,以及足够的连词和介词,然后就能把想说的组合在一起。这种普通的表达与霍布斯对自己的作品《自然状态》的描述很像:“孤独,可怜,令人生厌,简单粗暴”。事实上,我们会陷入这样一种思维:好词佳句都属于别人,与我无关。我们就像是继承了一大笔财产,却要坚持硬板床和粗衣陋食带给我们的不便。我们也从不旅行,消费只限于可怜的生活必需品。要问这样的人为何让大笔的财富躺在银行而自己生活得如此吝啬,他们也只会回答说因为他们不知道怎么消费。但是这值得去学习。弥尔顿能够使用八千词汇,莎士比亚则能使用一万五千。我们谈论的话题都是这些前辈先贤所涉及过的,除此之外,我们还拥有自行车、科学、工人罢工、政治联合体等现代世界的复杂生活方式。

那么为什么我们不愿意扩大词汇量来满足自己的需求呢?这个问题问得没有道理。没有为什么,就是懒,懒到让自己都不舒服。我们词汇有限,活得粗糙,不去改进人际交往,不去提炼自己的思想,而思想与话语相互依赖,相辅相成。比如,所有的愤怒我们都只用一个词“aggravating(惹人生气的)”——不去考虑这个词可能是令人不快、让人恼怒、得罪人、惹人生厌、招人心烦或是让人抓狂,也不去在意我们鲁莽的用词会埋葬本来很便利的那个词,而这只需要我们注意一下“程度递增”的细微差别即可——我们就像厨艺不佳的厨子,不管是煎炒,烧烤,烘焙还是焖炖,都只用油炸锅,然后又质疑为什么菜品都是一个味儿,而隔壁人家的饭却那么香。让每一个想见证自己成长的人都下定决心每周学习两个新词,要不了多久,世界多样化的无穷魅力就会体现在他的言语中、思想中。我知道大家首次使用新词时都会惊讶,就像鞭炮在街区爆炸一样。我们四处张望,看看是否有人注意,但发现没有,这就壮了自己的胆。一个词使用三次后会自然地从舌尖流出,然后永远成为我们的一部分,生活从此以后不会再缺少它。每个词都会代表它自己的观点,揭示事物特定的一面,描述其他词所无法描述的那一点重要性,因而为解放我们受抑制的言语和思想贡献绵薄之力。

但有一点我必须提醒,以此来明晰我的意思:增加我们现有的可怜的词汇储备并不意味着使用那些日常对话中很少见的怪异、夸张表达或专业术语。我的目的恰好相反,我只是让措辞的人用他掌握的英语资源表达得地道、个性。词汇贫乏通常源于保守,源于我们不加批判地接受自己所属阶层的习惯。我的家人,我最亲密的友人,他们都有自己的措辞,还有很多得到认可的词,在书本中通用,谦虚智慧的演说家也会使用,可我们不去学。我们的阶层一向不习惯使用“措辞”、“通用”、“范畴”、“贫乏”、“迄今”、“传达”、“缺乏”——绝不是这些词不常用,而是用了这些词会显得把自己和与自己智识相当的人分离开了。就像是我不喜欢去穿那些在别人身上看着很合适,却与我自己的平凡生活圈子格格不入的衣服。然而,如果我这圈子里的人都如此,整体的寒酸气则更加凸显。所有人的谈话都尽量压窄自己的词汇到最薄弱。我们应该试图对自己小圈子的每个人都逐渐施加一些影响,给他们一些不至于造成惊吓或制造距离感的刺激,好让我们免于单调乏味的常规和惯常。不大胆一些就无法做到真正的友好。一天天扩大的词汇量带来的小冲击,对我们和我们的朋友都很可能是不那么令人愉快的。

这些就是口头言说的妙处。如果要培养自己的英语使用能力,我们就必须让自己的日常谈话准确、大胆、丰富。我坚持强调这些特质,是因为在我看来所有的文学功底,尤其是大忙人的文学功底,都植根于精湛的口头表达。根在此处,成长可见在他处。接下来我们进入到下一个准则,如果前面的准则已深入人心,那么后面的内容只需简短讨论即可。

第二点,“欢迎每一次的写作机会”。尽管口头言说的重要性我们已经做了讨论,但它也并非万能。它不能教人谋篇布局,因为言语间隔太短。口头谈话以句为单位进行,基本上用不着段落。我说句话——十几二十个词,然后就等着朋友回给我几十个词。这种温和的交流可持续几小时。但如果一方连续说上五分钟不间断,另一方就会感觉他没礼貌。那样就不是谈话了,而是演讲。简短的单词组合构成的日常交流提供了极好的机会锻炼我们用词准确、胆大和丰富,但它无法提供足够的空间提升我们的组织能力。如果我们要阐明B与A以及B与C的关系,就必须要很长的表达。虽然每一个部分都是独立的,我们要能通过流畅的语言组织把部分整合成紧密联系的整体。这一整体就是我们常说的文体。少了它,任何写作都是败笔,因为事实上,它不是一篇文章,而是很多个片段的杂糅。为便于阅读,或达到一种预期的效果,整体性是必要的——一系列的陈述、轶事、引语、论证、幽默嘲讽、诉求,都“共同朝着一个方向发挥作用”。文章的统一性也要求各个部分具有统一性。把散乱的句子拼在一起,凑成一个段落,甚至只用无力的连接词“和,和”把它们联系在一起,这样做远远不够。一句话必须只说一件事;一个段落必须只说一件事;一篇文章也必须只说一件事。每一个部分是一个初步的整体,整篇文章就是一个完成的整体。然而,基于一堆东西组织出一件事情的能力不是与生俱来的。它需要有创造性,同时又能自我约束,关注效果,能在草稿阶段就预测结局,还要遵循发展主题的各类需求,同时做到对任何引人入歧途的突发奇想充耳不闻。简言之,好的作家需要是艺术家。

现在,年轻的作家本能地意识到上述写作要求的重要性,并为之恐惧。他知道自己这样迈向“辛劳的一生”是多么欠缺准备。他坐在桌前,看着一页白纸,不寒而栗。要让他知道,不寒而栗是正常的。我清楚地记得自己还是年轻小伙子的时候,十分崇拜一位有着丰富经验的修辞学老师,他说在他看来人类所知道的所有工作中没有比写作更难的了,那一刻我特别开心。在那之前我一直以为只有我写作时才举步维艰。老师的话鼓舞了我,使我有勇气再次尝试,因为我知道全人类都和我同病相怜。不明白这一点就不要写作。不写作,年轻的作家就也不用遵循我的上述准则,不用寻找机会去写作了。对于大部分人来说,这才是面对写作的新方式——把写作当作一种机遇,一个机会,而不是强加的负担。这样一来,写作就不会缺乏独创性,也不再是一桩苦差事。相反,每一部分都会是珍贵而必要的台阶,让我们通往驾驭写作的路。对于那些靠写作吃饭的人而言,基本不会有这样的机会,因为只有把写作当作练习才会是自然的。但是说到这一点,不能因为练习就可以是二等品然后蒙混过关。不管是写给朋友的信件,写给老板的报告,还是写给报纸的通讯,都要懂得有开头,有发展,有结尾。大多数写作都没有这么合意的结构,这些都是优秀作品的专有。记住,要让作品有美感,必须要注意首先写什么,其次写什么,然后写什么。

然而关于这个主题,我必须要祝贺当下的一代,因为比起我的年代,他们优势多多。如今孩子的成长,比我们那一代要幸福。他们不会觉得铅笔是折磨人的工具,口和笔基本没有区别。从他们离开母亲怀抱的那一刻,他们手中就已经握着笔了。他们被鼓励在纸上描述他们感兴趣的小鸟、朋友及探险经历。他们的写作课基本和口语课一样多。他们在还不知道写作是什么的时候就开始学习写作。其中的一些幸运儿,希望他们会发现我悲哀地用来描述写作之难的语言有些铺陈过度。我还想说,因为写作的熟练程度与频率最为相关,我认为新闻工作者非常幸运,因为他们一直在写作。现在对新闻产品普遍会有贬低,但我并不认为对他们要有如此苛刻的要求。毫无疑问,新闻写作是非常仓促的工作,带有仓促的印记。但在我看来,新闻出版的英语书写中达意、生动、信息量大的句子比比皆是,这比以往任何时代出现的频率都要高。书面文学和口头文学之间的界限正逐渐打破,这一现象既有好的影响,也有不好的影响。大家似乎都在写作,不管是韵文还是散文;如果说高质量的写作不会经常出现,另一方面粗鲁拙劣晦涩的写作也不多见。一种简单直接的英语文体正在确立其地位。整个民族都在学习书面文学。在这种情况下,那些意识到自己英语薄弱的人就更有必要立即认真地培养自己的语言能力。

第三条准则是“想着他人”。我一直在强调英语学习中的自我培养,这似乎只涉及一方,也就是我们自己。但实际上每一话语都涉及两方,其目标是社会性的,其目的是交流。毫无疑问,尽管说话时我们半路上会被自我表现的欲望驱使,但只有当另外一方能够从说话中有所获取时,才能够为说话找到正当理由。因此,任何言说或写作都是双向的过程,从我开始,向他渗透,双方都需要给予关注。我所说的就是我想说的吗?这是一个重要的问题。我所说的话组织得够清晰,足以让听到的人都理解吗?这个问题同样事关重大,但却更容易被人忽略。我们只顾及表现自己,而忘记了对方。我们匆忙地说出那些毫无目的的话,只为一己轻松,不去考虑它们是帮助还是阻碍听话人的理解。我们大多数人都极为缺乏想象力,无法从自己的世界走出,去接受另一种思想,而文学艺术家却一直致力于此。他能够轻松自如地把两种生活合二为一;或者说,他已经能够让自己把别人的生活看得更为重要,并且认为自己的舒适、喜好和劳动都是从属于为他人服务的。所有认真的文学作品随时都在担此重任。我必须痛苦地写作,让他人能够轻松阅读。我必须找出他人的所想所需,然后去满足他们。

写作时,我必须不停地审视每一行字,尽量保证这些话不遭抵触,而且还能让我的思想进入到不同的思想中去。为了做到这一点,我必须在不削弱我本意的情况下,微调我的意思。这样组词或那样组词能让意思明白吗?这种表达顺序是有助于快速理解还是会阻碍理解?为了顺从读者的阅读方式,让他感受语言的愉悦,我要搁置自己性情中的哪些任性呢?而且,我要接受读者性情中的哪些任性,并将它们作为固定的事实来进行自我调整呢?这些都是娴熟的作家一直自问的问题。

这些问题,不只是文学问题,同时也是道德问题。欲取之,必先予之。这一黄金法则同样适用于写作。每一位懂行的作家都有为仆意识。忍受艰难是他的职责,这样他的读者才能免于辛劳。不能让读者付出哪怕一点点的精力去排除理解障碍。因此他无权说出不考虑他人的言语——我是指那些不能顺理成章地被他人接受的语言。在坚持己见的同时,他把自己的与众不同搁置在一边,因为这些都是作家的道德素养,所以只要我们还活着并还在写作,它们就不可能得以充分发挥。我们可能会持续靠近这些特质,但仍然还会有更高一级的改进吸引我们。文学艺术家与道德之人的世界因无穷尽而变得有趣。那些通过写作或演讲服务于人的都是艺术家,同时也是道德之人。写信是一件简单的事情,但也包含着道德和艺术,因为我们既可以充满想象地完成它,也可以以自我为中心粗糙地去写。收信人想知道什么?我怎样才能把他从对他而言完全陌生的环境中带出来,继而进入我的生动感觉里?我怎样才能把我所有渴望讲的话讲出来,同时还能保证他和我一样明白愉悦?我想说:想着他人。不要一味专注于自己的世界。你的兴趣只能占据写作的一半;属于对方的那一半隐藏其中,是写作得以完整的必要部分。如果此处我谈写作的篇幅多过口头言说,也只是因为说话时我们发出的是最直接的思想,但写作则表达的是再思甚至是三思后更成熟的想法。深思熟虑之间,我已更加明显地感受到写作在道德和艺术方面的要求,而这是语言的普遍要求。但不是说我们说给别人听时就不用像写给别人看时那么要求严格。

还有第四条很重要的准则,它和第三条密不可分,即“紧靠主题”。我们讨论过语言的使用者,不管是写作还是说话,要为自己服务,也要为他人服务;但他还要服务于另外一样东西,它的影响力比任何人都大,那就是他的主题。主题产生最初的需求。那些把注意力都集中在自己或别人身上的人是绝不会达到效果的。效果依附于主题。我们必须与话题同在,并要乐意承认它无可匹敌的优势。当小学生胆战心惊地坐下来描写春天时,他根本想象不出作品需要的思路从何而来。他绞尽脑汁,寻找灵感。他一会儿瞧瞧笔尖、瞅瞅窗帘、看看墨台,看看这些东西是不是能给他带来什么想法。他猜想老师希望他说什么,并竭力想象第三读者眼中的文章会是什么样的。他尝试从各个方面去思考,唯独忘记一点,那个让他如此辛劳付出的根源:他的主题。而他畏惧主题。现在我想澄清的是,主题实际上不是敌人,而是朋友,是他唯一的助手。他的文章不是费力想象的虚构,其构成只能依靠主题。他只是出席者。现在,他挡着自己的道,烦恼于无人给他与主题相关的丰富建议,因此一个人大吵大闹。他纠结于自己的感受,纠结于自己或是他人希望他说些什么。这让他心力交瘁。如果他想让自己的作品有力,如果他着力于作品要说什么而不是他要说什么的话,他必须紧靠主题。马修·阿诺德1853年出版的诗集序言中对比了希腊诗歌和现代诗歌的艺术手法,他这样归纳希腊人的智慧:“一切依赖于主题,选择一个适宜的行为,把自己融入情境,这些做好了,其他的就水到渠成了。”他指出我们这个时代疏行专断,思想散漫。“那种思维方式与我们的时代太不相同。现在没有人能懂米南德,当有人问他的喜剧进展时,他告诉人家他已经写完了,而事实上他一个字都还没开始,他只是已经在脑海里构建出了整个故事。可能有现代评论家会向他断言,说作品的亮点都是在写作过程中才唤醒于笔下的。我真的认为我们大多数人从内心深处不相信诗歌需要源于整体印象,也不相信诗歌需要诗人有整体印象。我们允许诗人选择任何他乐意的行为,使其纵性而为,这样他才能偶尔爆发出让读者满意的作品,让读者在大量孤立的思想和意象中得到满足。”伟大的作家无视自我以及自我幻象的塑造。他们的作品是一扇玻璃窗,从中反映的就是现实。透过这面玻璃,人们看到的不是作家,而是作家的作品。我们对莎士比亚笔下的人物了解多少?我们对莎士比亚又了解多少呢?人们评论他可能就像希伯来预言家以赛亚评论上帝一样:“他隐藏了自己”。一流作家都擅于倾听思想。他们目光深远,能洞察到事物最深处,并完全听从它的指令。强势的作家都是卓越的顺从者——巧妙地积极地顺从。我曾经与一位伟大的小说家待了一整天,当时他的那部经典之作只写了一半。我称赞了书中英雄人物的伟大,但也说到这样一来作家的生活可能就悲惨了,因为他创作的角色太伟大了,手头有这样一个人物,还必须得给他找点大事去做。我的朋友满脸困惑,停顿了一下说:“我想你不懂我的工作。我本人与角色无关。既然人物已定,他就可以随心所欲了。”

想好好写作的人都必须培养这种顺从的能力,这是一种艰苦的顺从。当然这需要充沛的精力,第三节中描述的想象力,第二节中对结构一致性的热情,以及第一节中提到的自律与大胆。但即便所有这些都准备就绪,还是要在某一时刻注意到,事物本身需要发展到哪里,而且还要承认所有上述要求的价值都是要通过这一点才能得以提取。宗教只是把道理放大,耶稣的话适用于天堂也适用于凡间。要说培养英语能力最重要的一点,我想最简练的答案就是耶稣宣称自己力量之源时的那句话:“你们所听到的话不来自于我,而是来自上帝。”任何能够使用这样言词的人都将会成为真正伟大的演说家。

上述都是基本的准则,想要掌握英语这门美丽语言的人都必须注意。当然,还有第五点。我基本不需要为此命名,因为不管上述四点哪一个在先,它都紧随其后。这就是:我们得去做,而不是想。日复一日地做,做坏了也不会烦。早动手,多动手,还要满足于付出多收获少。据说约翰·莫莱早年间希望从事新闻业,然后他写了一篇社论,每天寄给一家报社,天天如此,坚持了一年,终于成功地被其中一家录用。我们都知道他后来成了伦敦新闻界的风云人物。我不能保证这个故事的真实性,但我能确定的是,一个每周坚持写作还能将之付诸火炉的作家是多么的雄心壮志和英明智慧。只要把自己打磨成形,文章发不发表都不重要。

收尾之前,请允许我承认自己忽略了一整类具有建设意义的影响因素,它们的重要性不次于任何一个上述提到的准则。这是我有意忽略,因为我希望说明我们能为自己做些什么。我一直认为英语的学习需要赤裸裸的意识力,需要全力以赴。上述因素作用巨大,但在这个事事皆关联的世界,它们单凭一己之力无法发挥作用。只有在群体的建议和下意识习惯的支持下,作用才会发挥到最强。一般来说,优秀的演说家都会与优秀的人为伴,并能通过遵守我之前列出的那些准则,时时留心,来增强优秀之人对自身的有利影响。所以作为补充的话,我教的是对的。但就教授内容本身而言又是不对的,它还需要其他方面的补充。让口才好写作好的人去发现优秀的作家和演说家,让他进入他们的圈子——因为一流作家的世界对最与世隔绝的人开放——让他去感受他们完美、精巧、优雅又游刃有余的措辞中的那份轻松与舒适,然后很快他会发现自己的能力,继而在我所罗列的准则辅助下去发展这些能力。对大多数人来说,专门的学习不如偶然的捕获。我们会无意识地从周围环境中学习到我们完全创造不了的东西。我们应该牢记这些话,让自己接触同伴的美辞善语,但不能就此认为自己的努力没有那么重要。我们多半可以去选择我们需要顺从的影响因子,然后对其有选择地重视;我们可以享受、反对、修改抑或是煞费苦心地嫁接传达给我们的信息——因为要合理做到以上任何一点,都必须有清晰的目标指引我们。我已经提供了这些目标,尽管只是辅助性的,但非常必要。我还要重申,能快速掌握这些目标的人,都会比语言学层面的能力更胜一筹,而且还能够给自己迟缓又固执的舌头做出明智的指示。非常确定的是,只要忠于努力,就必然会成为使用英语的能手。如果我们注意自己的言语,让说出的话更正确一些,自由一些,丰富一些;如果我们把每一次写作都看作是一次机会,为实现统一的结构而深思熟虑;如果每次说话都能既考虑听众又考虑说话人;最重要的是,如果说话人和听话人都能集中注意力于我们所谈的主题,由此让说话人得到主题的支撑——那么我们每一天都会取得进步,不仅是英语学习,还有服务于他人的总体能力,以及由此带来的愉悦感。

(罗选民 译)

[1]典出莎士比亚《十四行诗》第一〇七首。


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