how-i-edited-an-argricultural-paper

How I Edited An Agricultural Paper

I did not take temporary editorship of an agricultural paper without misgivings. Neither would a landsman take command of a ship without misgivings. But I was in circumstances that made the salary an object. The regular editor of the paper was going off for a holiday, and I accepted the terms he offered, and took his place.

The sensation of being at work again was luxurious, and I wrought all the week with unflagging pleasure. We went to press, and I waited a day with some solicitude to see whether my effort was going to attract any notice. As I left the office, toward sundown, a group of men and boys at the foot of the stairs dispersed with one impulse, and gave me passage-way, and I heard one or two of them say: “That’s him!” I was naturally pleased by this incident. The next morning I found a similar group at the foot of the stairs, and scattering couples and individuals standing here and there in the street, and over the way, watching me with interest. The group separated and fell back as I approached, and I heard a man say, “Look at his eye!” I pretended not to observe the notice I was attracting, but secretly I was pleased with it, and was purposing to write an account of it to my aunt. I went up the short flight of stairs, and heard cheery voices and a ringing laugh as I drew near the door, which I opened, and caught a glimpse of two young rural-looking men, whose faces blanched and lengthened when they saw me, and then they both plunged through the window with a great crash. I was surprised.

In about half an hour an old gentleman, with a flowing beard and a fine but rather austere face, entered, and sat down at my invitation. He seemed to have something on his mind. He took off his hat and set it on the floor, and got out of it a red silk handkerchief and a copy of our paper.

He put the paper on his lap, and while he polished his spectacles with his handkerchief, he said, “Are you the new editor?”

I said I was.

“Have you ever edited an agricultural paper before?”

“No,” I said; “this is my first attempt.”

“Very likely. Have you had any experience in agriculture practically?”

“No. I believe I have not.”

“Some instinct told me so,” said the old gentleman, putting on his spectacles, and looking over them at me with asperity, while he folded his paper into a convenient shape. “I wish to read you what must have made me have that instinct. It was this editorial. Listen, and see if it was you that wrote it: ‘Turnips should never be pulled, it injures them. It is much better to send a boy up and let him shake the tree.’ ”

“Now, what do you think of that?—for I really suppose you wrote it?”

“Think of it? Why, I think it is good. I think it is sense. I have no doubt that every year millions and millions of bushels of turnips are spoiled in this township alone by being pulled in a half-ripe condition, when, if they had sent a boy up to shake the tree … ”

“Shake your grandmother! Turnips don’t grow on trees!”

“Oh, they don’t, don’t they? Well, who said they did? The language was intended to be figurative, wholly figurative. Anybody that knows anything will know that I meant that the boy should shake the vine.”

Then this old person got up and tore his paper all into small shreds, and stamped on them, and broke several things with his cane, and said I did not know as much as a cow; and then went out and banged the door after him, and, in short, acted in such a way that I fancied he was displeased about something. But not knowing what the trouble was, I could not be any help to him.

Pretty soon after this a long cadaverous creature, with lanky locks hanging down to his shoulders, and a week’s stubble bristling from the hills and valleys of his face, darted within the door, and halted, motionless, with finger on lip, and head and body bent in listening attitude. No sound was heard. Still he listened. No sound. Then he turned the key in the door, and came elaborately tiptoeing toward me till he was within long reaching distance of me, when he stopped, and after scanning my face with intense interest for a while, drew a folded copy of our paper from his bosom, and said:

“There, you wrote that. Read it to me, quick! Relieve me. I suffer.”

I read as follows; and as the sentences fell from my lips I could see the relief come, I could see the drawn muscles relax, and the anxiety go out of the face, and rest and peace steal over the features like the merciful moonlight over a desolate landscape:

“The guano is a fine bird, but great care is necessary in rearing it. It should not be imported earlier than June or later than September. In the winter it should be kept in a warm place, where it can hatch out its young.

“It is evident that we are to have a backward season for grain. Therefore it will be well for the farmer to begin setting out his cornstalks and planting his buckwheat cakes in July instead of August.

“Concerning the pumpkin. This berry is a favorite with the natives of the interior of New England, who prefer it to the goose-berry for the making of fruit-cake, and who likewise give it the preference over the raspberry for feeding cows, as being more filling and fully as satisfying. The pumpkin is the only esculent of the orange family that will thrive in the North, except the gourd and one or two varieties of the squash. But the custom of planting it in the front yard with the shrubbery is fast going out of vogue, for it is now generally conceded that the pumpkin as a shade tree is a failure.

“Now, as the warm weather approaches, and the ganders begin to spawn … ”

The excited listener sprang toward me to shake hands, and said, “There, there, that will do. I know I am all right now, because you have read it just as I did, word for word. But, stranger, when I first read it this morning, I said to myself, I never, never believed it before, notwithstanding my friends kept me under watch so strict, but now I believe I am crazy; and with that I fetched a howl that you might have heard two miles, and started out to kill somebody—because, you know, I knew it would come to that sooner or later, and so I might as well begin. I read one of them paragraphs over again, so as to be certain, and then I burned my house down and started. I have crippled several people, and have got one fellow up a tree, where I can get him if I want him. But I thought I would call in here as I passed along and make the thing perfectly certain; and now it is certain, and I tell you it is lucky for the chap that is in the tree. I should have killed him, sure, as I went back. Goodbye, sir, good-bye; you have taken a great load off my mind. My reason has stood the strain of one of your agricultural articles, and I know that nothing can ever unseat it now. Good-bye, sir.”

I felt a little uncomfortable about the cripplings and arsons this person had been entertaining himself with, for I could not help feeling remotely accessory to them. But these thoughts were quickly banished, for the regular editor walked in! (I thought to myself, now if you had gone to Egypt as I recommended you to, I might have had a chance to get my hand in; but you wouldn’t do it, and here you are. I sort of expected you.)

The editor was looking sad and perplexed and dejected.

He surveyed the wreck, which that old rioter and these two young farmers had made, and then said, “This is a sad business—a very sad business. There is the mucilage-bottle broken, and six panes of glass, and a spittoon and two candlesticks. But that is not the worst. The reputation of the paper is injured—and permanently, I fear. True, there never was such a call for the paper before, and it never sold such a large edition or soared to such celebrity; but does one want to be famous for lunacy, and prosper upon the infirmities of his mind? My friend, as I am an honest man, the street out here is full of people, and others are roosting on the fences, waiting to get a glimpse of you, because they think you crazy. And well they might after reading your editorials. They are a disgrace to journalism. Why, what put it into your head that you could edit a paper of this nature? You do not seem to know the first rudiments of agriculture. You speak of a furrow and a harrow as being the same thing; you talk of the moulting season for cows; and you recommend the domestication of the pole-cat on account of its playfulness and its excellence as a ratter! Your remark that clams will lie quiet if music be played to them was superfluous—entirely superfluous. Nothing disturbs clams. Clams always lie quiet. Clams care nothing whatever about music. Ah, heavens and earth, friend! If you had made the acquiring of ignorance the study of your life, you could not have graduated with higher honor than you could to-day. I never saw anything like it. Your observation that the horse chestnut as an article of commerce is steadily gaining in favor is simply calculated to destroy this journal. I want you to throw up your situation and go. I want no more holiday—I could not enjoy it if I had it. Certainly not with you in my chair. I would always stand in dread of what you might be going to recommend next. It makes me lose all patience every time I think of your discussing oyster-beds under the head of ‘Landscape Gardening.’ I want you to go. Nothing on earth could persuade me to take another holiday. Oh! why didn’t you tell me you didn’t know anything about agriculture?”

“Tell you, you cornstalk, you cabbage, you son of a cauliflower? It’s the first time I ever heard such an unfeeling remark. I tell you I have been in the editorial business going on 14 years, and it is the first time I ever heard of a man’s having to know anything in order to edit a newspaper. You turnip! Who write the dramatic critiques for the second-rate papers? Why, a parcel of promoted shoemakers and apprentice apothecaries, who know just as much about good acting as I do about good farming and no more. Who review the books? People who never wrote one. Who do up the heavy leaders on finance? Parties who have had the largest opportunities for knowing nothing about it. Who criticize the Indian campaigns? Gentlemen who do not know a war-whoop from a wigwam, and who never have had to run a foot race with a tomahawk, or pluck arrows out of the several members of their families to build the evening camp-fire with. Who write the temperance appeals, and clamor about the flowing bowl? Folks who will never draw another sober breath till they do it in the grave. Who edit the agricultural papers, you—yam? Men, as a general thing, who fail in the poetry line, yellow-covered novel line, sensation-drama line, city-editor line, and finally fall back on agriculture as a temporary reprieve from the poorhouse. You try to tell me anything about the newspaper business! Sir, I have been through it from Alpha to Omaha, and I tell you that the less a man knows the bigger the noise he makes and the higher the salary he commands. Heaven knows if I had been ignorant instead of cultivated, and impudent instead of diffident, I could have made a name for myself in this cold selfish world. I take my leave, sir. Since I have been treated as you have treated me, I am perfectly willing to go. But I have done my duty. I have fulfilled my contract as far as I was permitted to do it. I said I could make your paper of interest to all classes—and I have. I said I could run your circulation up to 20,000 copies, and if I had had two more weeks I’d have done it. And I’d have given you the best class of readers that ever an agricultural paper had— not a farmer in it, nor a solitary individual who could tell a watermelon tree from a peach vine to save his life. You are the loser by this rupture, not me, Pie-plant. Adios.”

I then left.


我把一个农业报的临时编辑工作担任了下来,正如一个惯居陆地的人驾驶一只船那样,并不是毫无顾虑的。但是我当时处境很窘,使得薪金成了我追求的目标。这个报纸的常任编辑要出外休假,我就接受了他所提出的条件,代理了他的职务。
又有工作了,心里觉得非常舒服,我以孜孜不倦的兴致,整整干了一个星期。后来稿件付印,我怀着迫切的心情等待了一天,急于想看看我写的文章是否能引起什么注意。将近傍晚,我离开编辑室的时候,楼梯底下有一群大人和孩子以一致的动作向旁边闪避,给我让出路来,我听见他们之中有一两个人说:“这就是他!”这桩事情自然使我很高兴。第二天早上,我又发现类似的一群人在楼梯底下,另外还有些人,东一对西一个,到处在街上站着,在街道对面站着,很感兴趣地注视着我。我走近的时候,那一群人就分开向后退,我还听见一个人说,“你瞧他那双眼睛!”我假装没有看出我所引起的注意,可是内心却很得意,还准备写信给我的姑母叙述这种情况。我爬上那一道短短的楼梯,在走近门口时,听见一阵兴高采烈的声音和响亮的哈哈大笑。我把门打开,一眼瞟见两个乡下派头的青年人;他们看见我的时候,脸上都发白,显出害怕的样子,接着他们两人砰的一下子由窗户里冲了出去。我觉得有些诧异。
大约过了半个钟头,有一位飘着长胡子的老先生走进来,他的面容很文雅,可是颇为严肃。我请他坐,他就坐下了。他似乎是心中有点什么事情。他把帽子取下来,放在地板上,然后从帽子里面取出一条红绸子手巾和一份我们的报纸。
他把报纸放在膝头上,一面用手巾擦着眼镜,一面说道:“你就是新来的编辑吗?”
我说是的。
“你从前编过农业报吗?”
“没有,”我说,“这是我初次的尝试。”
“大概是这么回事。你对农业有过什么实际经验吗?”
“没有;可以说是没有。”
“我有一种直觉使我看出了这一点,”这位老先生把眼镜戴上,以严峻的神气从眼镜上面望着我说,同时他把那份报纸折成一个便于拿的样子。“我想把使我发生那种直觉的一段念给你听听。就是这篇社论。你听着,看这是不是你写的——
“‘萝卜不要用手摘,以免损害。最好是叫一个小孩子爬上去,把树接一摇。’”
“喏,你觉得怎么样?——我看这当真是你写的吧?”
“觉得怎么样?嗐,我觉得这很好呀。我觉得这很有道理。我相信单只在这个城市附近,每年就要因为在半熟的时候去搞萝卜而糟蹋了无数万担;假如大家叫小孩子爬上去摇萝卜树的话——”
“摇你的祖奶奶!萝卜不是长在树上的呀!”
“啊,不是那么长的,对不对?哎,谁说萝卜长在树上呢?我那句话是个比喻的说法,完全是比喻的说法。稍有常识的人都会明白我的意思是叫小孩子上去摇萝卜的藤呀。”
于是这位老人站起来,把他那份报纸撕得粉碎,还拿脚踩了一阵;他用手杖打破了几件东西,说我还不如一条牛知道得多;然后他就走出去,砰的一声把门带上了。总而言之,他的举动使我觉得他大概有所不满。可是我不知道究竟出了什么岔子,所以我对他也就无能为力了。
随后不久,又有一个个子很高的死尸似的家伙,头上有几络细长的头发垂到肩膀上,他那满是坑坑洼洼的脸上长着密密麻麻的短胡子,大概有一个星期没有刮过,他一下子冲进门里,站着不动,手指按在嘴唇上,头和身子都弯下去,做出静听的姿势。并没有听见什么声音。可是他还在听,仍旧没有声音。然后他就把门锁上,小心翼翼地跟着脚尖向我走过来,走到他勉强可以和我交谈的地方就站住,以浓厚的兴趣把我的面孔仔细察看了一会之后,从怀中掏出折了起来的一份我们的报纸,说道——
“啊,是你写的吧。请你念给我听——快点!帮我解脱痛苦吧。我难受得很。”
我念出了下面的文章;当那些词句从我嘴里吐出来的时候,我看得出果然产生了解救的作用,看得出他那紧张的肌肉松弛下来,脸上的焦躁神情也消失了,安静和舒适的表情悄悄地掠过他的眉宇,就像慈祥的月光照在凄凉的景物上面一般:

瓜努①是一种很好的鸟,可是饲养必须多加小心。由产地输入的时期不宜在6月以前或9月以后。冬天应该把它养在温暖的地方,好让它把小鸟孵出来。

①原文为guano,意思是“海鸟粪”,根本不是鸟名,这里是译音。

我们今年谷物的收成显然会是很晚的。所以农人最好是在7月里开始把麦秸插上,同时将养麦饼种下,而不宜迟到8月间才种。
再谈谈南瓜吧。这种浆果是新英格兰内地人最喜欢吃的,他们觉得拿它制果子讲比醋栗子强,同时也认为拿它喂牛比复盆子好,因为它比较容易饱肚子,而且牛也爱吃。除了葫芦和一两种瓠瓜的变种而外,南瓜是柑橘科中惟一能在北方繁殖的蔬菜。但是把它和灌木一同种在前院里的那种老办法现在越来越不时兴了,因为一般人都认为靠南瓜树遮荫是一桩未见成效的事情。

现在暖和的天气快到了,公鹅已开始产卵——
这位兴奋的倾听者连忙向我跑过来,和我握手,他说——
“好了,好了——这就够了。现在我知道我并没有毛病,因为你念的正和我念的一样,一字一句都相符。可是,先生,今天早上我第一次读这篇文章的时候,我自己心里就想:虽然我那些朋友把我监视得很严,我可从来不相信自己疯了!可是这下子我相信我确实是疯了;于是我大吼一声,那声音儿英里以外都可以听得见,接着我还想冲出去杀人——因为,你明白吧,我知道迟早会到这个地步,还不如趁早开始。我把你那篇文章当中的一段又念了一遍,为的是证明自己确实是疯了,然后我把自己的房子放火烧了,动手干起来。我已经把几个人打成了残废,另外还把一个家伙弄到树上,这样等我要干他的时候,还可以把他弄下来。可是我走过这儿的时候,觉得还是到里面来请教一下,把事情彻底弄清楚为好;现在确实是弄清楚了,我说刚才弄上树的那个小伙子真是运气好哩。要不然我回去的时候准会把他杀死。再见吧,先生,再见;你给我心里卸去了一副重担。我的理智居然抵住了你的一篇农业文章对我的影响,现在我知道无论什么事情都不能再使我的心理反常了。再见,先生。”
这个人为了给他自己开心而把人家打成了残废,还放火烧了房于,颇使我有点于心不安,因为我不免感到自己间接地与这些举动有些关系。可是这种念头很快就被撵走,因为正式的编辑进来了!(我心里想道,你假如听从我的意见,到埃及去了的话,那我还可以有机会大干一番;可是你偏不到那儿去,现在就回来了。我本来就担心着你会这样哩。)
编辑先生显得很懊恼、惶惑和沮丧。
他把那个老暴徒和那两个年轻的农民所捣毁的东西巡视了一番,然后说道:“这真是一桩很倒霉的事情——非常倒霉的事情。胶水瓶子打破了,还有六块玻璃,还有一只痰盂和两只蜡烛台。可是最糟糕的还不是这个。报纸的名誉受到了损失——恐怕是永久的损失哩。当然,这个报纸从来没有像这样受过欢迎,也从来没有卖过这么多份数,从来没有出过,这么大的风头;可是我们难道希望靠疯狂行为出名,希望靠神经病发展业务吗?朋友,我给你说老实话,外面街上站满了人,还有许多人骑在栅栏上,大家都在等着要瞧你一眼,因为他们都认为你是个疯子。他们看了你写的那些文章之后,当然也就不免有那种想法。你那些大作真是新闻界的耻辱。嗐,你怎么居然会异想天开,认为自己可以编这种报纸呢?你似乎连农业上的一点最起码的常识都没有嘛。你提到犁沟和犁耙,就把它们当成同一种东西;你还说什么牛换羽毛的季节;还主张饲养臭猫①,因为它好玩,又最善于捉耗子!你说什么给蛤蜊奏乐就可以使它规规矩矩呆着不动,真是废话——地道的废话。什么也不会惊动蛤蜊呀。蛤蜊经常都是规规矩矩呆着不动的。蛤蜊对音乐根本就丝毫不感兴趣。啊,天哪,朋友!即令你把专门学糊涂当做一生的学业,那你毕业的时候也不可能比现在得到更高的荣誉。我从来没见过这样的事情。你说什么七叶果作为商品越来越受欢迎,这简直是有意要毁掉这份报纸。我叫你放弃这个职务,赶快滚蛋。我也不要再休假了——休了假也不痛快。叫你在这儿代替我的职务,当然我就无法安心休假了。我会时时刻刻提心吊胆,不知你还要提出一此什么别的卞张。我一想到你在‘园艺’这一栏里讨论养蚝场的问题,就禁不住冒火。现在我叫你滚。天大的事情也不能让我再去休一天假了。啊!你为什么不早点告诉我,你对农业一窍不通呢?”

①臭猫是一种放出强烈臭气的野兽,根本不能饲养。

“告诉你吗,你这玉米秆,你这白菜帮子,你这卷心菜仔子①?我这辈子还是第一次听到你这种无情无义的话哩。我告诉你吧,我干编辑这一行已经干了十四年,这还是头一次听说当个编辑需要有什么知识才行。你这萝卜头!请问你,是谁给那些第二流的报纸写剧评的?嗐,还不是一些出了师的鞋匠和药剂帅的学徒吗?他们对于演戏的知识并不见得比我的农业知识强呀。是谁在写书评呢?都是些从来没有着过书的人。是谁写那些关于财政的长篇大论?就是那些对财政恰好是一无所知的诸公。是谁在评论对印第安人的战争呢?就是那些连临阵的吼叫和林中的狗叫都辨别不清楚、从来没拿着印第安人的战斧飞奔猛冲的人,也就是没有从家里人的身上拔下箭来烧过营火的大人先生们。是谁写文章呼吁戒酒、大声疾呼地警告纵酒之害的呢?就是那些直到进了坟墓的时候嘴里才会不带酒气的人们。谁编农业刊物呢?就是你吗——你这山药蛋?一般而论,都是些写诗碰了壁、写黄色小说又不成功、写噱头剧本也不行、编本地新闻也失败了的人,他们最后才退守农业这一行,借此暂时免于进游民收容所。你居然来教训我,大言不惭地谈起办报的问题来了!先生,这一行我是从头到尾都精通了的,老实告诉你,一个人越是一无所知,他就越是有名气,薪金也越拿得多。天知道,我如果不是受过教育,而是愚昧无知,不是这样小心翼翼,而是轻举妄动,那我很可以在这个冷酷自私的世界上成了名哩。我告辞了,先生。你既然这样对待我,我是十分情愿走的。可是我已经完成我的任务了。在你所容许的范围之内,我已经履行了合同。我说过我能够使你的报纸投合各阶层的脾胃——这一点我做到了。我说过我能够使你的报纸销数增加到两万份;如果我能再编两个星期,那原是不成问题的。我本可以给你找到一个农业报纸所能得到的一批最好的读者——其中一个农民也没有,无论哪一个,要了他的命也弄不清楚西瓜树和桃子藤的区别。我们这次的决裂,吃亏的是你,而不是我,你这大黄梗!再见吧。”

①这位代理编辑故意乱用了一些植物名称来骂人,表示他对农业并非一无所知。以下三处也是这样。

于是我就离开了。


 

 

 

Words:

The world I living now is same as the one MT lived!! No change.

disgrace
rudiments
furrow
harrow
moulting
domestication
pole cat
excellence
ratter
superfluous
horse-chestnut
oyster-beds
cauliflower
unfeeling
turnip

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