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Lesson 1
Thinking as a Hobby

William Golding

While I was still a boy, I came to the conclusion that there were three grades of thinking;and that I myself could not think at all.

It was the headmaster of my grammar school who first brought the subject of thinkingbefore me. He had somestatuettes in his study. They stood on a high cupboard behind his desk. One was a lady wearing nothing but a bath towel. She seemed frozen in an eternal panic lest the bath towel slip down any farther, and since she had no arms, she was in an unfortunate position to pull the towel up again. Next to her, crouched the statuette of a leopard, ready to spring down at the top drawer of a filing cabinet. Beyond the leopard was a naked, muscular gentleman, who sat, looking down, with his chin on his fist and his elbow on his knee. He seemed utterly miserable.

Some time later, I learned about these statuettes. The headmaster had placed them where they would face delinquent children, because they symbolized to him to whole of life. The naked lady was the Venus. She was Love. She was not worried about the towel. She was just busy being beautiful. The leopard was Nature, and he was being natural. The naked, muscular gentleman was not miserable. He was Rodin's Thinker, an image of pure thought.

I had better explain that I was a frequent visitor to the headmaster's study, because of the latest thing I had done or left undone. As we now say, I was not integrated. I was, if anything, disintegrated. Whenever Ifound myself in a penal position before the headmaster's desk, I would sink my head, and writhe one shoe over the other.

The headmaster would look at me and say,

"What are wegoing to do with you?"

Well, what were they going to do with me? I would writhe my shoe some more and staredown at the worn rug.

"Look up, boy! Can't you look up?"

Then I would look at the cupboard, where the naked lady was frozen in her panic and themuscular gentleman contemplated the hindquarters of the leopard in endless gloom. I had nothing to say to the headmaster. His spectacles caught the light so that you could see nothing human behind them. There was no possibility of communication.

"Don't you ever think at all?"

No, I didn't think, wasn't thinking, couldn't think - I was simply waiting in anguish for the interview to stop.

"Then you'd better learn - hadn't you?"

On one occasion the headmaster leaped to his feet, reached up and put Rodin's masterpiece on the desk before me.

"That's what a man looks like when he's really thinking."

Clearly there was something missing in me. Nature had endowed the rest of the human race with a sixth sense and left me out. But like someone born deaf, but bitterly determined to find out about sound, I watched my teachers to find outabout thought.

There was Mr. Houghton. He was always telling me to think. With a modest satisfaction, he would tell that he had thought a bit himself. Then why did he spend so much time

drinking? Or was there more sense in drinking than there appeared to be? But if not, and if drinking were in fact ruinous to health - and Mr. Houghton was ruined, there was no doubt about that - why was he always talking about the clean life and the virtues of fresh air?

Sometimes, exalted by his own oratory, he would leap from his desk and hustle usoutside into a hideous wind.

"Now, boys! Deep breaths! Feel it right down inside you - huge draughts of God's good air!"

He would stand before us, put his hands on his waist and take a tremendous breath. You could hear the wind trapped in his chest and struggling with all the unnatural impediments. His body would reel with shock and his face go white at the unaccustomed visitation. He would stagger back to his desk and collapse there, useless for the rest of the morning.

Mr. Houghton was given to high-minded monologues about the good life, sexless and full of duty. Yet in the middle of one of these monologues, if a girl passed the window, his neck would turn of itself and he would watch her out of sight. In this instance, he seemed to me ruled not by thought but by an invisible and irresistible spring in his nack.

His neck was an object of great interest to me. Normally it bulged a bit over his collar.But Mr. Houghton had fought in the First World War alongside both Americans and French, and had come to a settled detestation of both countries. If either country happened to be prominent in current affairs, no argument could make Mr. Houghton think well of it. He would bang the desk, his neck would bulge still further and go red. "You can say what you like," he would cry, "but I've thought about this - and I know what I think!"

Mr. Houghton thought with his neck.

This was my introduction to the nature of what is commonly called thought. Through them I discovered that thought is often full of unconscious prejudice, ignorance, and hypocrisy. It will lecture on disinterested purity while its neck is being remorselessly twisted toward a skirt. Technically, it is about as proficient as most businessmen's golf, as honest as most politician's intentions, or as coherent as most books that get written. It is what I came to call grade-three thinking, though more properly, it is feeling, rather than thought.

True, often there is a kind of innocence in prejudices, but in those days I viewed grade-three thinking with contempt and mockery. I delighted to confront a pious lady who hated the Germans with the proposition that we should love our enemies. She taught me a great truth in dealing with grade-three thinkers; because of her, I no longer dismiss lightly a mental process which for nine-tenths of the population is the nearest they will ever get to thought. They have immense solidarity. We had better respect them, for we are outnumbered and surrounded. A crowd of grade-three thinkers, all shouting the same thing, all warming their hands at the fire of their own prejudices, will not thank

you for pointing out the contradictions in their beliefs. Man enjoys agreement as cows will graze all the same way on the side of a hill.

Grade-two thinking is the detection of contradictions. Grade-two thinkers do not stampede easily, though often they fal linto the other fault and lag behind. Grade-two thinking is a withdrawal, with eyes and ears open. It destroys without having the power to create. It set me watching the crowds cheering His Majesty the King and asking myself what all the fuss was about, without giving me anything positive to put in the place of that heady patriotism. But there were compensations. To hear people justify their habit of hunting foxes by claiming that the foxes like it. To her our Prime Minister talk about the great benefit we conferred on India by jailing people like Nehru and Gandhi. To hear American politicians talk about peace and refuse to join the League of Nations. Yes, there were moments of delight.

But I was growing toward adolescence and had to admit that Mr. Houghton was not the only one with an irresistible spring in his neck. I, too, felt the compulsive hand of nature and began to find that pointing out contradiction could be costly as well as fun. There was Ruth, for example, a serious and attractive girl. I was an atheist at the time. And she was a Methodist. But, alas, instead of relying on the Holy Spirit to convert me, Ruth was foolish enough to open her pretty mouth in argument. She claimed that the Bible was literally inspired. I countered by saying that the Catholics believed in the literal inspiration of Saint Jerome's Vulgate, and the two books were different. Argument flagged.

At last she remarked that there were an awful lot of Methodists and they couldn't bewrong, could they - not all those millions? That was too easy, said I restively (for the nearer you were to Ruth, the nicer she was to be near to) since there were more Roman Catholics than Methodists anyway; and they couldn't be wrong, could they - not all those hundreds of millions? An awful flicker of doubt appeared in her eyes. I slid my arm round her waist and murmured that if we were counting heads, the Buddhists were the boys for my money. She fled. The combination of my arm and those countless Buddhists was too much for her.

That night her father visited my father and left, red-cheeked and indignant. I was given the third degree to find out what had happened. I lost Ruth and gained an undeserved reputation as a potential libertine.

Grade-two thinking, though it filled life with fun and excitement, did not make for content. To find out the deficiencies of our elders satisfies the young ego but does not make for personal security. It took the swimmer some distance from the shore and left him there, out of his depth. A typical grade-two thinker will say, "What is truth?" There is still a higher grade of thought which says, "What is truth?" and sets out to find it.

But these grade-one thinkers were few and f

ar between. They did not visit my grammar school in the flesh though they were there in books. I aspired to them, because I now saw my hobby as an unsatisfactory thing if it went no further. If you set out to climb a mountain, however high you climb, you have failed if you cannot reach the top.

I therefore decided that I would be a grade-one thinker. I was irrelevant at the best of times. Political and religious systems, social customs, loyalties and traditions, they all came tumbling down like so many rotten apples off a tree. I came up in the end with what mustalways remain the justification for grade-one thinking. I devised a coherent system for living. It was a moral system, which was wholly logical. Of course, as I readily admitted, conversion of the world to my way of thinking might be difficult, since my system did away with a number of trifles, such as big business, centralized government, armies, marriage...

It was Ruth all over again. I had some very good friends who stood by me, and still do. But my acquaintances vanished, taking the girls with them. Young people seemed oddly contented with the world as it was. A young navy officer got as red-necked as Mr. Houghton when I proposed a world without any battleships in it.

Had the game gone too far? In those prewar days, I stood to lose a great deal, for the sake of a hobby.

Now you are expecting me to describe how I saw the folly of my ways and came back to the warm nest, where prejudices are called loyalties, pointless actions are turned into customs by repetition, where we are content to say we think when all we do is feel.

But you would be wrong. I dropped my hobby and turned professional.

Lesson 2
Waiting for the Police

I wonder where Mr Wainwright's gone?' said Mrs Mayton.

It didn't matter to her in the least where he had gone. All that mattered was that he paid his three guineas a week regularly for board and lodging. But life - and particularly evening life -was notoriously dull in her boarding-house, and every now and again one tried to whip up a little interest.

`Did he go?' asked Monty Smith.

It didn't matter to him, either, but he was as polite as he was pale, and he always did his best to keep any ball rolling.

`I thought I heard the front door close,' answered Mrs Mayton. `Perhaps he went out to post a letter,' suggested Miss Wicks, without pausing in her knitting. She had knitted for seventy years, and looked good for another seventy.

`Or perhaps it wasn't him at all,' added Bella Randall. Bella was the boarding-house lovely, but no one had taken advantage of the fact. `

You mean, it might have been someone else?' inquired Mrs Mayton.

`Yes,' agreed Bella.

They all considered the alternative earnestly. Mr Calthrop, coming suddenly out of a middle-aged doze, joined in the thinking without any idea what he was thinking.

`Perhaps it was Mr Penbury,' said Mrs Mayton, at last. `He's always popping in and out.'

But it was no

t Mr Penbury, for that rather eccentric individual walked into the drawing-room a moment later.

His arrival interrupted the conversation, and the company became silent. Penbury always had a chilling effect. He possessed a brain, and since no one understood it when he used it, it was resented. But Mrs Mayton never allowed more than three minutes to go by without a word; and so when the new silence had reached its allotted span, she turned to Penbury and asked:

`Was that Mr Wainwnght who went out a little time ago?

Penbury looked at her oddly.

`What makes you ask that?' he said.

`Well, I was just wondering.'

`I see,' answered Penbury slowly. The atmosphere seemed to tighten, but Miss Wicks went on knitting. `And are you all wondering?'

`We decided perhaps he'd gone out to post a letter,' murmured Bella.

`No, Wainwright hasn't gone out to post a letter,' responded Penbury. `He's dead.'

The effect was instantaneous. Bella gave a tiny shriek. Mrs Mayton's eyes became two startled glass marbles. Monty Smith opened his mouth and kept it open. Mr Calthrop, in a split second, lost all inclination to doze. Miss Wicks looked definitely interested, though she did not stop knitting. That meant nothing, however. She had promised to knit at her funeral.

`Dead?' gasped Mr Calthrop.

`Dead,' repeated Penbury. `He is lying on the floor of his room. He is rather a nasty mess.'

Monty leapt up, and then sat down again. `You - don't mean . . . ?' he gulped.

`That is exactly what I mean,' replied Penbury.

There had been,countless silences in Mrs Mayton's drawing-room, but never a silence like this one. Miss Wicks broke it.

`Shouldn't the police be sent for?' she suggested.

`They already have,' said Penbury. `I phoned the station just before coming into the room.'

`How long - that is - when do you expect . . . ?' stammered Monty.

`The police? I should say in two or three minutes,' responded Penbury. His voice suddenly shed its cynicism and became practical. `Shall we try and make use of these two or three minutes? We shall all be questioned, and perhaps we can clear up a little ground before they arrive.'

Mr Calthrop looked angry.

`But this is nothing to do with any of us, sir!' he exclaimed.

`The police will not necessarily accept our word for it,' answered Penbury. `That is why I propose that we consider our alibis in advance. I am not a doctor, but I estimate from my brief examination of the body that it has not been dead more than an hour.Since it is now ten past nine, and at twenty to eight we saw him leave the dining-room for his bedroom . . .'

`How do you know he went to his bedroom?' interrupted Miss Wicks.

`Because, having a headache, I followed him upstairs to go to mine for some aspirin, and my room is immediately opposite his,' Penbury explained. `Now, if my assumption is correct, he was killed between ten minutes past eight and ten minutes past nine, so anyone who can prove that he or s

he has remained in this room during all that time should have no worry.'

He looked around inquiringly.

`We've all been out of the room,' Miss Wicks announced for the company.

`That is unfortunate,' murmured Penbury.

`But so have you!' exclaimed Monty, with nervous aggression.

`Yes -so I have,' replied Penbury. `Then let me give my alibi first. At twenty minutes to eight I followed Wainwright up to the second floor. Before going into his room he made an odd remark which - in the circumstances -is worth repeating. "There's somebody in this house who doesn't like me very much," he said. "Only one?" I answered. "You're luckier than I am." Then he went into his room, and that was the last time I saw him alive. I went into my room. I took two aspirin tablets.Then as my head was still bad, I thought a stroll would be a good idea, and I went out. I kept out till approximately - nine o'clock. Then I came back. The door you heard closing, Mrs Mayton, was not Wainwright going out. It was me coming in.'

`Wait a moment!' ejaculated Bella.


`How did you know Mrs Mayton heard the front door close? You weren't here!'

Penbury regarded her with interest and respect.

`Intelligent,' he murmured.

`Now, then, don't take too long thinking of an answer!' glared Mr Calthrop.

`I don't need any time at all to think of an answer,' retorted Penbury. `I know because I listened outside the door. But as I say, I came back. I went up to my room.' He paused. `On the floor I found a handkerchief. So I went into his room to ask if the handkerchief was his. I found him lying on the ground near his bed. On his back. Head towards the window. Stabbed through the heart. But no sign of what he'd been stabbed with . . . It looks to me a small wound, but deep. It found the spot all right . . . The window was closed and fastened. Whoever did it entered through the door. I left the room and locked the door. I knew no one should go in again till the police and police doctor turned up.I came down. The telephone, as you know, is in the dining-room. Most inconvenient. It should be in the hall. Passing the door of this room,I listened, to hear what you all were talking about. Then I went into the dining-room and telephoned the police. And then I joined you.'

Flushed and emotional, Mrs Mayton challenged him.

`Why did you sit here for three minutes without telling us?' she demanded.

`I was watching you,' answered Penbury, coolly.

`Well, I call that a rotten alibi!' exclaimed Mr Calthrop. `Who's to prove you were out all that time?'

`At half past eight I had a cup of coffee at the coffee-stall in Junkers Street,' replied Penbury. `That's over a mile away. It's not proof, I admit, but they know me there, you see, and it may help. Well, who's next?'

`I am', said Bella. `I left the room to blow my nose. I went to my room for a handkerchief. And here it is!' she concluded, producing it triumphantly.

`How long were you out of the room?' pr

essed Penbury.

`Abour five minutes.'

`A long time to get a handkerchief.'

`Perhaps. But I not only blew my nose, I powdered it.'

`That sounds good enough,' admitted Penbury. `Would you oblige next, Mr Calthrop? We all know you walk in your sleep. A week ago you walked into my room, didn't you. Have you lost a handkerchief?'

Mr Calthrop glared.

`What the devil are you implying?' he exclaimed.

`Has Mr Calthrop dozed during the past hour?' pressed Penbury.

`Suppose I have?' he cried. `What damned rubbish! Did I leave this room without knowing it, and kill Wainwright for -for no reason at all ?' He swallowed, and calmed down. `I left the room,sir, about twenty minutes ago to fetch the evening paper from the dining-room to do the crossword puzzle!' He tapped it viciously. `Here it is!'

Penbury shrugged his shoulders.

`I should be the last person to refute such an emphatic statement,' he said, `but let me suggest that you give the statement to the police with slightly less emphasis, Mr Smith?'

Monty Smith had followed the conversation anxiously, and he had his story ready.

`This is why I left the room. I suddenly remembered that I'd forgotten to return Mr Wainwright's latchkey. Then I met Mrs Mayton, who asked me to help her with the curtain of the landing window. It had come off some of its hooks. I did so and then returned to the drawing-room with her. You'll remember, all of you, that we returned together.'

`That's right,' nodded Mrs Mayton. `And the reason I went out was to fix the curtain.'

Penbury looked at Monty hard.

`What about that latchkey?' he demanded.

`Eh? Oh, of course,' jerked Monty. `The curtain put it out of my mind. I came down with it still in my pocket.'

`And you didn't go up to his room?'

`No! I've just said so, haven't I?'

Penbury shrugged his shoulders again. He did not seem satisfied. But he turned now to Miss Wicks, and the old lady inquired, while her needles moved busily.

`My turn?'

`If you'll be so good,' answered Penbury. `Just as a matter of form.'

`Yes, I quite understand,' she replied, smiling. `There's no need to apologize. Well, I left the drawing-room to fetch some knitting-needles. The steel ones I'm using now. My room, as of course you know, is also on the second floor and after I'd got the needles I was just about to come down when I heard Mr Wainwright's cough ...

`What time was that?' interrupted Penbury.

`Just before nine, I think it was,' said Miss Wicks. `Oh, that irritating cough! How it gets on one's nerves, doesn't it? Or I should say, how it did get on one's nerves. Morning, noon and night. And he wouldn't do anything for it. Enough to send one mad.'

She paused. The tense atmosphere grew suddenly tenser. `Go on,' murmured Penbury.

`Well,' continued Miss Wicks. ` Your door was open, Mr Penbury, and I went in to ask if we couldn't do something about it. But you were out.And suddenly, when I heard Mr Wainwright coughing again

across the passage ,well, I felt I couldn't stand it any more, and I was knocking at his door almost before I knew it. It was my handkerchief you found in your room, Mr Penbury. I must have dropped it there.'

She paused again. Again Penbury murmured, `Go on.'

She turned on him with sudden ferocity.

`Will you stop interrupting?' shouted the old woman.

Penbury moistened his lips. For a few moments Miss Wicks knitted rapidly, the steel points of the needles making the only sound in the room.Then she continued, in a queer hard voice.

"Come in," called Mr Wainwright. "I'm coming in," I called back. And I went in. And there he stood smiling at me. "You haven't come to complain of my cough again, have you?" he asked. "No," I answered. "I've come to cure it." And I plunged a steel knitting-needle into his heart - like this!'

She stretched out a bony hand, and, with amazing strength, stabbed a cushion.

The next instant there came a knocking on the front door. `The police !' gasped Mr Calthrop. But no one moved. With tense ears they listened to the maid ascending from the basement, they heard the front door open, they heard footsteps entering . . .

A moment later they heard Mr Wainwright's cough.

`Yes, and I heard it when he went out ten minutes ago,' smiled Miss Wicks. `But thank you very much indeed, Mr Penbury. I was as bored as the rest of them.'

Lesson 3
Why Historians Disagree
 Most students are usually introduced to the study of history by way of a fat textbook and become quickly immersed in a vast sea of names, dates,events and statistics. The students' skills are then tested by examinations that require them to show how much of the data they remember; the more they remember, the higher their grades. From this experience a number of conclusions seem obvious: the study of history is the study of "facts" about the past; the more "facts"you know,the better you are as a student of history. The professional historian is simply one who brings together a very large number of "facts". Therefore students often become confused upon discovering that historians often disagree sharply even when they are dealing withe the same event.

 Their common-sense reaction to this state of affairs is to conclude that one historian is right while the other is wrong. And presumably, historians who are wrong will have their "facts" wrong. This is seldom the case, however. Historians usually all argue reasonably and persuasively. And, the "facts"---the names,dates, events, statistics--ussally turn out to be correct. Moreover, they often find that contending historians more or less agree on the facts; that is , they use much the same data. They come to different conclusions because they view the past form a different perspective. History, which seemed to be a cut-and -dried matter of memorizing "facts," now becomes a matter of choosing one good interpretation form among many. Historical truth becomes a matter of personal preference.

 This position is hardly satisfying. They cannot help but feel that two diametrically opposedpoints of view about an event cannot both be right; yet they lack the ability to decide between them.

 To understand why historians disagree, students must consider a problem they have more or less taken for granted. They must ask themselves what history really is .

 In its broadest sense, history denotes the whole of the human past. More restricted is the notion that history is the recorded past, that is , that part of human life which has left some sort of record such as folk tales, artifacts, or written documents. Finally, history may be defined as that which historians write about the past. Of course the three meanings are related. Historians must base their accounts on the remains of the past, left by people. Obviously they cannot know everything for the simple reason that not every event, every happening, was fully and completely recorded. Therefore the historian can only approximate history at best. No one can ever claim to have concluded the quest.

 But this does not say enough. If historians cannot know everything because not everything was recorded, neither do they use all the records that are available to them. Rather, they select only those records they deem most significant. Moreover, they also re-create parts of the past. Like detectives, they piece together evidence to fill in the gaps in the available records.

 Historians are able to select and create evidence by using some theory of human motivations and behavior Sometimes this appears to be easy, requiring very little sopistication and subtlety. Thus, for example, historians investigating America's evtry into World War I would probably find that the sinking of american merchant ships on the high seas by German submarines was relevant to their discussion. At the same time, they would most likely not use evidence that President Woodrow Wilson was dissatisfied withe a new hat he bought during the first months of 1917. The choice as to which fact to use is based on a theory--admittedly, in this case a rather crude theory, but a theory nonetheless. It would go something like this: National leaders contemplating war are more likely to be influenced by belligerent acts against their countries than by their unhappiness with their haberdashers.

 If the choices were as simple as this ,the problem would be easily resoved. but the choices were not so easy to make. Historians investigating the United States' entry into World Was I will find in addition to German submarine warfare a whole series of other facts that could be relevant to the event under study. For instance, they will find that the British government had a propaganda machine at work in the United States that did its best to win public support for the British cause. They will discover that American bankers had made large loans to the British, loans that would not be repaid in the event of a British defeat. They

will read of the interception of the "zimmerman Note," in which the German Foreign Secretary ordered the German minister in Mexico, in the event of war, to suggest an alliance between Germany and Mexico whereby Mexcio, with German support, could win back territory taken form Mexico by the United States in the Mexican War. Tey will also find among many American political leaders a deep concern over the balance of power in Europe, a balance that would be destroyed --to America's disadvantage--if the Germans were able to defeat the French and the British and thereby emerge as the sole major power in Europe.

 What the are historians to make of these facts? One group could simply list them .By dong so, they would be making two important assumptions: (1)those facts they put on their list are the main reasons, while those they do not list are not important; and (2)those things they put on their list are of equal importantance in explaining the U.S. role.But another group of historians might argue that the list is incomplete in that it does not take into account the generally pro-British views of Woodrow Wilson, views that disagreement among the historians. Moreover, because the second group raise the question of Wilson's views, they will find a number of relevantfacts that the first group his teachers, the books he read, and the books he wrote. In short, although bothgroups of historians are dealing with the same subject they will come to different conclusions and use different facts to support their points of view. The facts selected, and those ignored, will depend not on the problem studied but on the points of view of the historians.

 Similarly a third group of historians might maintain that the various items on the list should not be given euqal weight, that one of the reasons listed, say, bankers' loans,was most important. The theory here would be that economic matters are the key to human motivation, and that a small number of wealthy bankers have a disproportionate ability to influence government.

 In the examples given, historians disagree because they begin from different premises. But there is still another realm of disagreement which stems form something rather different. Historians sometimes disagree because they are not really dicussing the same thing. Often they are merely considering different levels of cause and eeffect, Suppose the teacher asked you "Why were you late for class this morning?" "I was late for class," you explained, "because I overslept." Or to use a historical example, "The Civil War began because South Carolina shore batteries opened fire on the federal garrison at Fort Sumter on April 12,1861." Neither statement can be faulted on the grounds that it its inaccurate; at the same time, however, neither is sufficient as an explanation of the event being considered. The next question is obvious.Why did you oversleep, or why did relations between one state and the Fedeal government reach the point where diffe

rences had to be settled by war? In other words, we have to go beyond the proximate cause and probe further and further. but as we dig more deeply into the problem, the answer becomes more difficult and comples. In the end, you might argue that the ultimate cause of your being late was the fact that you were born, but obviously this goes too far back to be meaningful. Taht you were born is of course a necessary foctor, but it iis not a sufficient factor; it does not really tell enough to explain your behavior today. Similarly you could trace the cause of the Civil War back to the discovery of America, but again, that is a necessary but not a sufficient cause. The point at which causes are both necessary and sufficient is not self-evident. Therefore historians may again disagree about where to begin the analysis. By now students should see that the well-used phrase "let the facts speak for themselves" has no real meaning. The facts do not speak for themselves; historians use the facts in a particular way and therefore they, and not the facts, are doing the speaking.

 Historians not only often disagree with others. They often disagree with themselves. Indeed they are often revising their ideas. They have to do so because they are constantly discovering new information, gaining new insights form other social scientists and mastering and using new techniques. Historians also learn form each other and benefit form international comparisons of similar events and institutions.

 Can we eliminate all disagreement? If the state of our knowledge were such that it provided us with a model of unquestioned validity that completely explained human behavior, we can. But since we do nto hve such a complete and foolproof explanation, disagreements are destined to remain. when students realize that there is no one easy answer to the problems historians raise and that "truth" is but an elusive yet intriguing goal in a never ending quest, they will find the study of history to be a significant, exhilarating, and useful part of their education.

Lesson 4
A Drink in the Passage

In the year 1960 the Union of South Africa celebrated its Golden Jubilee, and there was a nationwide sensation when the one-thousand-pound prize for the finest piece of sculpture was won by a black man, Edward Simelane. His work, Afican Mother and Child, not only excited the admiration, but touched the conscience or heart or whatever it was that responded, of white South Africa, and seemed likely to make him famous in other countries.

It was by an oversight that his work was accepted, for it was the policy of the government that all the celebrations and competitions should be strictly segregated. The committee of the sculpture section received a private reprimand for having been so careless as to omit the words "for whites only" from the conditions, but was told, by a very high personage, it is said, that if Simelane's work "was indisputably the best", it should receive

the award. The committee then decided that this prize must be given along with the others, at the public ceremony which would bring the particular part of the celebrations to a close.

For this decision it received a surprising amount of support from the white public; but in certain powerful quarters, there was an outcry against any departure from the "traditional policies" of the country, and a threat that many white prize-winners would renounce their prizes. However, a crisis was averted, because the sculptor was “unfortunately unable to attend the ceremony”.

"I wasn't feeling up to it,“ Simelane said mischievously to me. "My parents, and my wife's parents, and our priest, decided that I wasn't feeling up to it. And finally I decided so too. Of course Majosi and Sola and the others wanted me to go and get my prize personally, but I said, ‘boys, I'm a sculptor, not a demonstrator.’”

"This cognac is wonderful," he said,"especially in these big glasses. It's the first time I've had such a glass. It's also the first time I've drunk a brandy so slowly. In Orlando you develop a throat of iron, and you just put back your head and put it down, in case the policy should arrive."

He said to me, "This is the second cognac I've had in my life. Would you like to hear the story of how I had my first?"

You know the Alabaster Bookshop in won Brandi Street? Well, after the competition they asked me if they could exhibit my African Mother and Child. They gave a whole window to it, with a white velvet backdrop, if there is anything called white velvet, and some complimentary words.

Well somehow I could never go and look in that window. On my way from the station to the Herald office, I sometimes went past there, and I felt good when I saw all the people standing there; but I would only squint at it out of the corner of my eye.

Then one night I was working late at the Herald, and when I came out there was hardly anyone in the streets, so I thought I'd go and see the window, and indulge certain pleasurable human feelings. I must have got a little lost in the contemplation of my own genius, because suddenly there was a young white man standing next to me.

He said to me, "What do you think of that, mate?"And you know, one doesn't get called "mate" every day.

"I'm looking at it," I said.

"I come and look at it nearly every night," he said."You know it's by one of your own boys, don't you?"

"Yea, I know."

"It's beautiful," he said. "Look at that mother's head. She's loving that child, but she's somehow watching too. Like someone guarding. She knows it won't be an easy life."

Then he said confidentially, "Mate, would you like a drink?"

Well honestly I didn't feel like a drink at that time of night, with a white stranger and all, and a train still to catch to Orlando.

"You know we black people must be out of the city by eleven," I said.

"It won't take long. My flat's just round the corner. Do you speak Afrikaans?


"Since I was a child," I said in Afrikaans.

"We'll speak Afrikaans then. My English isn't too wonderful. I'm van Rensburg. And you?"

I couldn't have told him my name. I said I was Vakalisa, living in Orlando.

By this time he started off, and I was following, but not willingly. We didn't exactly walk abreast, but he didn't exactly walk in front of me. He didn't look constrained. He wasn't looking round to see if anyone might be watching.

He said to me, "Do you know what I wanted to do?"

"No," I said.

"I wanted a bookshop, like that one there. I always wanted that, ever since I can remember. But I had bad luck. My parents died before I could finish school."

Then he said to me, "Are you educated?"

I said unwillingly, "Yes." Then I thought to myself, how stupid, for leaving the question open.

And sure enough he asked, "Far?"

And again unwillingly, I said, "Far."

He took a big leap. "Degree?"




He expelled his breath, and gave a long "ah". We had reached his building, Majorca Mansions, not one of those luxurious places. I was glad to see that the entrance lobby was deserted. I wasn't at my ease. The lift was at ground level, marked White Only. Van Rensburg opened the door and waved me in. While I was waiting for him to press the button, so that we could get moving and away from that ground floor, unselfish envy.

"You were lucky," he said. "Literature, that's what I wanted to do."

He shook his head and pressed the button, and he didn't speak again until we stopped high up. But before we got out he said suddenly, "If I had had a bookshop, I'd have given that boy a window too."

We got out and walk along one of those polished concrete passageways. On the one side was a wall, and plenty of fresh air, and far down below von Brandis Street. On the other side were the doors, impersonal doors. Van Rensburg stopped at one of the doors, and said to me, "I won't be a minute." Then he went in, leaving the door open, and inside I could hear voices. Then after a minute or so, he came back to the door, holding two glasses of red wine. He was warm and smiling.

"Sorry, there's no brandy," he said. "Only wine. Here's happiness."

Now I had not expected that I would have my drink in the passage. I wasn't only feeling what you may be thinking, I was thinking that one of the impersonal doors might open at any moment, and someone might see me in a "white" building, and see me and van Rensburg breaking the liquor laws of the country. Anger could have saved me from the whole embarrassing situation, but you know I can't easily be angry. Even if I could have been, I might have found it hard to be angry with this particular man. But I wanted to get away from there, and I couldn't.

Van Rensburg said to me, "Don't you know this fellow Simelane?"

"I've heard of him," I said.

"I'd like to meet him," he said. "I'd like to talk to him." He added, "You know, talk out my heart to him."

A woman of about fifty years of age came from the room beyond, bringing a plate of biscuits. She smiled and bowed to me. I took one of the biscuits, but not for all the money in the world could I have said to her dankie, my nooi or that disgusting dankie, misses, nor did I want to speak to her in English because her language was Afrikaans, so I took the risk of it and used the word mevron, for the politeness of which some Afrikaners would knock a black man down, and I said, in high Afrikaans, with a smile and bow too, "Ek is a dankbaar, Mevrou."

But nobody knocked me down. The woman smiled and bowed, and van Rensburg, in a strained voice that suddenly came out of nowhere, said, "Our land is beautiful. But it breaks my heart."

The woman put her hand on his arm, and said, "Jannie, Jannie."

Then another woman and man, all about the same age, came up and stood behind van Rensburg.

"He's a B.A.," van Rensburg told them.

The first woman smiled and bowed to me again, and van Rensburg said, as though it were a matter of grief, "I wanted to give him brandy, but there's only wine."

The second woman said, "I remember, Jannie. Come with me."

She went back into the room, and he followed her. The first woman said to me, "Jannie's a good man. Strange, but good."

And I thought the whole thing was mad, and getting beyond me, with me a black stranger being shown a testimonial for the son of the house, with these white strangers standing and looking at me in the passage, as though they wanted for God's sake to tough me somewhere and didn't know how, but I saw the earnestness of the woman who had smiled and bowed to me, and I said to her, "I can see that, Mevrou."

"He goes down every night to look at the statue," she said. "He said only God could make something so beautiful, therefor God must be in the man who made it, and he wants to meet him and talk out his heart to him."

She looked back at the room, and then she dropped her voice a little, and said to me, "Can't you see, it's somehow because it's a black woman and a black child?"

And I said to her, "I can see that, Mevrou."

She turned to the man and said of me, "He's a good boy."

Then the other woman returned with van Rensburg, and van Rensburg had a bottle of brandy. He was smiling and pleased, and he said to me, "This isn't ordinary brandy, it's French."

He showed me the bottle, and I, wanting to get the hell out of that place, looked at it and saw it was cognac. He turned to the man and said, "Uncle, you remember? The man at the bottle-store said this was the best brandy in the world."

"I must go," I said. "I must catch that train."

"I'll take you to the station," he said. "Don't you worry about that."

He poured me a drink and one for himself.

"Uncle," he said, "what about one for yourself?"

The older man said, "I don't mind if I do," and he went inside to get himself a glass.

Van Rensburg said, "happiness," and lifted his glass to me. It was a good

brandy, the best I've ever tasted. But I wanted to get the hell out of there. Then uncle came back with his glass to me too. All of us were full of goodwill, but I was waiting for the opening of one of those impersonal doors. Perhaps they were too, I don't know. Perhaps when you want so badly to touch someone, you don't care. I was drinking my brandy almost as fast as I would have drunk it in Orlando.

"I must go," I said.

Van Rensburg said, "I'll take you to the station." He finished his brandy, and I finished mine too. We handed the glasses to Uncle, who said to me, "Good night, my boy."

The first woman said, "May God bless you," and the other woman bowed and smiled.Then van Rensburg and I went down in the lift to the basement, and got into his car.

"I told you I'd take you to the station," he said. "I'd take you home, but I'm frightened of Orlando at night."

We drop up Eloff Street, and he said, "Did you know what I mean?" I wanted to answer him, but I couldn't, because I didn't know what that something was. He couldn't be talking about being frightened of Orlando at night, because what more could one mean than just that?

"By what?" I asked.

"You know," he said, "about out land being beautiful?"

Yes, I knew what he meant, and I knew that for God's sake he wanted to touch me too and he couldn't; for his eyes had been blinded by years in the dark. And I thought it was a pity he was blind, for if men never touch each other, they'll hurt each other one day. And it was a pity he was blind, and couldn't touch me, for black people don't touch white men any more; only by accident, when they make something like Mother and Child.

He said,to me, "What are you thinking?"

I said, "Many things," and my inarticulateness distressed me, for I knew he wanted something from me. I fell him fall back, angry, hurt, desiring, I didn't know. He stopped at the main entrance to the station, but I didn't tell him I couldn't go in there. I got out and said to him, "Thank you for the sociable evening."

"They liked having you," he said. "Did you see that?"

I said, "Yes, I saw that."

He sat slumped in his seat, like a man with a burden incomprehensible, insoluble grief. I wanted to touch him, but I was thinking about the train. He said Good night and I said it too. We each saluted the other. What he was thinking ,God knows, but I was thinking he was like a man trying to run a race in iron shoes, and not understanding why he cannot move.

When I got back to Orlando, I told my wife the story, and she wept.

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