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ingly forget what we would.—Nor is there any Ætna in the soul of man but what the
makes*.” Mere abstraction, or what is called absence of mind, is often attributed very unphilosophically to a want of memory. believe it was La Fontaine who in a dreaming mood forgot his own child, and after warmly commending him, observed how proud he should be to have such a son. In this kind of abstraction external things are either only dimly seen or are utterly overlooked; but the memory is not necessarily asleep. In fact, its too intense activity is frequently the cause of the abstraction. This faculty is usually the strongest, when the other faculties are in their prime; and fades in old age, when there is a general decay of mind and body. Old men, indeed, are proverbially narrative, and from this circumstance it sometimes appears as if the memory preserves a certain portion of its early acquisitions to the last, though in the general failure of the intellect, it loses its active energy. It ceives no new impressions, but old ones are confirmed. The brain seems to grow harder. Old images become fixtures.
It is a stale proverb that great wits have short memories, and that small wits have long ones. Truth demands, however, that the saying should be reversed. It is not to be denied that extraordinary powers of memory have been often found in the possession of the dullest minds. Jedidiah Buxton, after seeing Garrick perform, was asked what he thought of the player and the play.
Oh,” he said, he did not know, he had only seen a little man strut about the stage and repeat 7956 words.” He could remember the number of words, because he took an interest in numerical calculations; but he forgot the poetry, and saw nothing in the actor's art. So there are men who recollect dates and names, and forget things and persons. When a mind of very inferior range concentrates its whole power in the faculty of memory, and exerts that faculty on some peculiar class of objects, those observers will inevitably be puzzled who do not sufficiently connect the result with the process by which it is effected.
* Of all afflictions taught a lover yet
'Tis sure the hardest science to forget.
Nemonica, or the art of memory, was studied by some of the ancients, and an attempt has lately been made to revive it. Mr. Feinaigle, a German, gave instruction in this art in Paris about the beginning of the present century; and as a reply to hostile critics he exhibited the progress of fifteen of his pupils. After they had been tried in various ways, one of the pupils desired the company to give him a thousand words without any connection whatsoever and without numerical order ; for instance the word astronomer, for No. 62; wood, for No. 188; lovely, for No. 370; dynasty, for No. 23; David, for No. 90; &c. &c. till all the numbers were filled ; and he repeated the whole (though he heard these words without order and but once) in the numerical order ; or he told what word was given against any one number, or what number any one word bore.” But a system of arbitrary association or artificial memory, though it may serve to prove how much a particular faculty is capable of improvement, is more plausible than useful ; for to cultivate any one power of the mind to such an extreme degree, is to destroy the balance of the intellectual powers. To be the brilliant pupil of a Feinaigle a man must give up every other object, and improve one of his faculties at the expense of all the rest. Fuller advises us not to overburthen the memory, and not to make so faithful a servant a slave. Remember,” says he, that “ Atlas was weary. Have as much reason as a camel, to rise when thou hast thy full load. Memory is like a purse, if it be over-full that it cannot shut, all will drop out.” The same writer makes a ludicrous observation that “ Philosophers place memory in the rear of the head ; and it seems the mine of memory lies there, because, there men naturally dig for it, scratching it when they are at a loss." People as often strike the forehead under the same circumstances.
If men who complain of feeble powers of retention were to cultivate their memory with the same assiduity with which they cultivate their other faculties, they would soon find that it would keep an equal pace with the general advance of the mind. Few people have given it a fair trial, and still fewer know the extent to which it may be invigorated and improved. William Hutton divided a blank book into 365 columns, and resolved, as an experiment, to recollect, if possible, an anecdote of his past life, to fill up each division. He was astonished at the success of his plan, and contrived to fill up 355 columns with his different reminiscences. What a delightful treasure are such recovered relics of the past ! What a triumph over time! It is a kind of immortality. Without memory, life would be a daily death ; and would be no more brief than desolate. How ignorantly then has this faculty been undervalued! It is as it were the very
foundation of genius. Wit and fancy are furnished by the memory with the materials for analogy, combination, or contrast. It is also more closely connected with the imaginative faculty than is generally supposed, and is sometimes even unconsciously confounded with it. People are as apt to say that they fancy they see a particular object as that they remember it.
The past is tinged with a soft twilight lustre. It is this colouring which makes it seem so much more delightful than the present.
'Tis distance lends enchantment to the view,
The far-off landscape is not more lovely to the corporeal sight than are distant objects to the inward eye. They are alike steeped in beauty. But the divine power of memory is incomparably more precious than the pleasures of external vision. It is independent of time and place. It is like a fairy enchanter, and can conjure up spring flowers in a wintry desert, and reflect a magic light on the dreariest moments of existence. It resembles, in some respects, a glorious instrument which requires but a single air-like touch and its linked sweetness, long drawn out," enthrals the soul with ineffable delight. Its rich music is like a river “ that wanders at its own sweet will” through some romantic valley.
Mr. Rogers has beautifully described the associating principle;
“ Lulled in the countless chambers of the brain,
Our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain.
They who call themselves practical philosophers, and talk with contempt of the pleasures of imagination, are strangely ignorant of our nature. The literal forms an extremely small and by far the least precious portion of our enjoyments. The past and the future are but dreams. Even the present is rife with doubt, mystery and delusion, and the few dull objects that remain uncoloured with the hues of imagination are scarcely worthy of a thought. All men complain of the shortness of life, but a cold and dry philosophy would make it shorter still. It would confine its limits to the passing moment, that dies even in its birth ; for it is only in such a pitiful span that the little which is really literal in life can at all exist. That moment's predecessor is dead-its successor is unborn-and all that is actual or material in its own existence is as a drop in the ocean, or as a grain of sand on the sea-shore.
A supposed want of memory is often nothing more than a want of method. Desultory readers and thinkers generally complain of imperfect memories. The reason is, that their thoughts are in a state of chaos. Thus Montaigne, who was irregular and capricious in his studies, though his memory was probably natu
rally a good one, was perplexed with vague and confused remembrances. Those who run from one subject to another of the most opposite and uncongenial kinds, receive of course, but very imperfect and transitory impressions. Southey, though an imaginative writer, does not complain of want of memory, because he is singularly regular and methodical in his studies. Coleridge may have done so, because his thoughts were dream-like and indistinct; but he no doubt recollected the wildest visions and most romantic tales with greater strength and facility than the generality of mankind, though he could not perhaps have carried a domestic pecuniary account in his head from one street to another. When a man finds that he forgets those things in which he takes a deep interest and which other persons who take less interest in them remember, he may then-but not till then, complain of want of memory. But as no man can remember all things, he must be satisfied to confine the exertions of his memory within a chosen range, and to retain only those things which are the dearest to his heart and the most congenial to his mind.