《约翰逊传》读后感

作者: 阮一峰

日期: 2005年10月23日

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说说我自己读《约翰逊传》的感想。

《约翰逊传》从来没有中文全译本,只在70年代台湾出过一个节译本。我一直很奇怪这件事,这样一本文学史上有名的书为什么没有中译本?

2003年,大陆引进了台湾译本,我在几个月前读了一遍,这才明白原因。

中文版虽然是节译本,但也厚达600页。即使如此,它大概也只占原书篇幅的五分之一左右。换句话说,《约翰逊传》有3000多页!

与这篇幅相应的是,关于约翰逊博士的一切,几乎事无巨细都被收入,一句话也不放过,简直像古代皇帝的起居注一样。

我开始读的时候,还有兴趣,但是越读越乏味。连篇累牍、无休止的18世纪文人之间的唱和交往,实在是太过冗长无聊。于是,我明白此书的全译本可能永远都不会有......

书中收了很多封约翰逊的信,除了我引用过的那封著名的《致齐斯菲尔特伯爵》以外,下面这封信我也觉得很有趣。

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某夫人恳请约翰逊博士帮忙,联系坎特伯雷大主教,使其儿子能够上大学。此类请求数量众多,人们往往只考虑自己的目的,而不顾及他们的请求是否合适。


约翰逊博士的回信如下:

尊敬的夫人,


我希望您能相信,我之所以迟迟未曾复信,仅仅因为我不愿意摧毁您抱有的希望。希望本身是一种快乐,也许还是这个世界上最大的快乐;但是,如同其他快乐一样,过度的希望只能带来痛苦。沉溺于不恰当的期待,必然只能以失望告终。如果有人问,什么是危险的不恰当的期望,那么经验告诉我们,期望应该出于理性,而不是出于欲望;期望应该基于日常生活,而不应该基于期望者的需求;期望也不应该违背常理和行事规则。


夫人,当您向我提出要求时,您应该想一想您正在要求什么。您出于某种我无法确认的假设,要我为一个我从未见过的年轻人,向一个我从未说过话的大人物提出请求。一方面,重要人物有那么多,我根本没有不知道为什么我一定要去向大主教请求;另一方面,哪怕大主教再仁慈慷慨,他也没有理由一定要帮助您的儿子。夫人,我知道当与自己的利益发生冲突时,认清事实是多么令人难以接受;但是,夫人,您必须知道,并没有理由表示这件事一定要由我来做,在这一点上我看不出我和其他人有什么不同;如果不是同时与大主教和您都有某种特殊的关系,是不会有人合适做这种事情的。如果我能通过任何正常的方式,在这件事上帮助您,我将感到荣幸;但是您的提议显然并非如此,我不得不冒着内心巨大的不情愿写出这样的回答,我实在很难满足您的要求。您一定是不希望我这样痛苦的。


今天早上,我见到了您的儿子;他看上去是个非常不错的年轻人,也许他自己就能找到比我介绍的更好的朋友;哪怕他最后没有机会上大学,他可能也依然将是聪明、快乐和对社会有用的。

您的最谦卑的仆人

塞缪尔.约翰逊

1762年6月8日

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A lady having at this time solicited him to obtain the Archbishop of Canterbury's patronage to have her son sent to the University, one of those solicitations which are too frequent, where people, anxious for a particular object, do not consider propriety, or the opportunity which the persons whom they solicit have to assist them, he wrote to her the following answer, with a copy of which I am favoured by the Reverend Dr. Farmer, Master of Emanuel College, Cambridge.----

'MADAM,--I hope you will believe that my delay in answering your letter could proceed only from my unwillingness to destroy any hope that you had formed. Hope is itself a species of happiness, and, perhaps, the chief happiness which this world affords: but, like all other pleasures immoderately enjoyed, the excesses of hope must be expiated by pain; and expectations improperly indulged, must end in disappointment. If it be asked, what is the improper expectation which it is dangerous to indulge, experience will quickly answer, that it is such expectation as is dictated not by reason, but by desire; expectation raised, not by the common occurrences of life, but by the wants of the expectant; an expectation that requires the common course of things to be changed, and the general rules of action to be broken.

'When you made your request to me, you should have considered, Madam, what you were asking. You ask me to solicit a great man, to whom I never spoke, for a young person whom I had never seen, upon a supposition which I had no means of knowing to be true. There is no reason why, amongst all the great, I should chuse to supplicate the Archbishop, nor why, among all the possible objects of his bounty, the Archbishop should chuse your son. I know, Madam, how unwillingly conviction is admitted, when interest opposes it; but surely, Madam, you must allow, that there is no reason why that should be done by me, which every other man may do with equal reason, and which, indeed no man can do properly, without some very particular relation both to the Archbishop and to you. If I could help you in this exigence by any proper means, it would give me pleasure; but this proposal is so very remote from all usual methods, that I cannot comply with it, but at the risk of such answer and suspicions as I believe you do not wish me to undergo.

'I have seen your son this morning; he seems a pretty youth, and will, perhaps, find some better friend than I can procure him; but, though he should at last miss the University, he may still be wise, useful, and happy. I am, Madam, your most humble servant,

'June 8, 1762.'

'SAM. JOHNSON.'

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