Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

an object has been known to suggest the idea of it as formerly, although the sight of the object ceased to suggest the name.

[Something similar to this last fact (it may not be improper here to remark) occurs in an inferior degree, in the case of most old men, even when they do not labour under any specific disease. When the faculty of memory begins to decline, the first symptom of its failure is, in ordinary cases, a want of recollection of words; first, of proper names and dates; and afterwards of words in general. The transition from the sign to the thing signified, seems, in every case, easier than from the thing signified to the sign; and hence it is, that many persons who are able to read a foreign language with ease, are perfectly unable to express themselves in that language in conversation, or even in writing. Of this fact some explanation may be given, without having recourse to any physiological consideration; for we are accustomed to pass from the sign to the thing signified every time we read a book, or listen to the conversation of another person; whereas we pass from the thing signified to the sign, only when we have occasion to communicate our own ideas to others; and cases of this last sort bear (it is evident) no proportion, in point of number, to the former. With respect to our peculiar tendency to forget proper names when the memory begins to be impaired, the fact seems to be owing: 1st, To the firmer hold which general words take of the mind, in consequence of their smaller number; 2d, To the exercise which our recollection of general words is constantly receiving in the course of our solitary speculations; for (as was formerly shown) we can carry on general reasonings by means of language only; whereas, when we speculate concerning individuals, we frequently fis

frequent repetition of the same story to the same hearers indicates some defect of memory in the story-teller. But from my own observation, I am perfectly satisfied that this is not always the case. To some men and women, the incessant exercise of speech seems to be no less

necessary than the function of respiration; and to such persons, while indulging this uncontrollable propensity, the entertainment of their hearers is not at all an object. It is sufficient if they can obtain apparent listeners, however impatient.]

our thoughts on the object itself, without thinking of the name.

I shall only add farther on this head, that, as far as my own personal observations have extended, the forgetfulness of proper

[ocr errors]

1 [In this observation, it gives me great pleasure to find my own conclusion confirmed by the opinion of a late eminent and enlightened physician, Dr. Percival of Manchester. I shall quote his words at length, as they contain (beside that coincidence of views which leads me at present to introduce them) a very curious physiological remark, which was not likely to occur to any one but to a medical observer, and which I do not recollect to have seen taken notice of by any previous writer.

Slight paralytic affections of the organs of speech sometimes occur without any correspondent disorder in other parts of the body. In such cases, the tongue appears to the patient too large for his mouth-the saliva flows more copiously than usual-and the vibratory power of the glottis is somewhat impaired. Hence the effort to speak succeeds the volition of the mind slowly and imperfectly, and the words are uttered with faltering and hesitation. These are facts of common notoriety, but I have never seen it remarked, that in this local palsy the pronunciation of PROPER NAMES is attended with peculiar difficulty, and that the recollection of them becomes either very obscure, or entirely obliterated; whilst that of persons, places, things, and even of abstract ideas, remains unchanged. Such a partial defect of meinory, of which experience has furnished me with several examples, confirms the theory of association, and at the same time admits of an easy solution by it. For as words are arbitrary marks, and owe their connexion with what they import to established usage, the strength of this connexion will be exactly proportioned

to the frequency of their recurrence ; and this recurrence must be much more frequent with generic than with specific terms. Now, proper names are of the latter class, and the idea of a person or place may remain vivid in the mind, without the least signature of the appellative which distinguishes each of them. It is certain also, that we often think in words; and there is probably at such times some slight impulse on the organs of speech, analogous to what is perceived when a musical note or tune is called to mind. But a lesion of the power of utterance may break a link in the chain of association, and thus add to the partial defect of memory now under consideration."-Percival's Works, vol. ii. p. 73.

I transcribe the following very curious statement from the account of the late distinguished naturalist and agriculturist, Mr. Broussonet, (published in the Biographie Universelle, Paris, 1812.) “ La maladie de Broussonet présenta une particularité propre à éclaircir l'histoire idéologique de l'homme. Broussonet dans les derniers mois de sa vie, depuis sa chute avait entièrement perdu la mémoire des noms propres et des substantiss ; les adjectifs, soit Français, soit Latins, se présentaient en foule, et il s'en servait pour caractériser les objets dont il voulait parler."

The explanation of this fact turns, I apprehend, on the same principle as that of the foregoing-that avljectives being universally and essentially general terms, they form necessary instruments of thought in all our speculations, and must, of consequence, take a much firmer hold of the memory than the names of the innumerable sensible ob

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

names incident to old men, is chiefly observable in men of science, or in those who are habitually occupied with important affairs; and this, I apprehend, is what might reasonably have been expected a priori; partly from their habits of general thought, and partly from their want of constant practice in that trivial conversation which is every moment recalling particulars to the mind.

In endeavouring thus to account, from the general laws of our constitution, for some of the phenomena which are commonly referred immediately to physical changes in the brain, I would not be understood to deny, that age often affects the memory through the medium of the body. This, indeed, is one of those melancholy truths to which every day's experience bears witness. It is beautifully and pathetically stated by Locke in the following words :—“ The pictures drawn in our minds are laid in fading colours, and, if not sometimes refreshed, vanish and disappear. Thus the ideas as well as children of our youth often die before us, and our minds represent to us those tombs to which we are approaching; where, though the brass and marble remain, yet the inscriptions are effaced by time, and the imagery moulders away.”l— Essay, &c., book ii. chap. 10.]

jects with which we are surrounded, and abont which we have every moment occasion to think, without taking the trouble to employ the mediation of languages.]

64

1

* [In ordinary cases, I confess, I strongly suspect that the physical effects of old age on this part of our constitution are not so great as is commonly imagined; and that much of what is generally imputed to advanced years, may be fairly ascribed to a disuse of the faculty, occasioned by a premature retreat from the business of the world. One thing is certain, (as Cicero has remarked,) that those old men who have force of mind to keep up their habits of activity to the last, are, in most cases,

distinguished by a strength of memory
unusual at their years; to which I may
aild, that this faculty, after a temporary
decline, frequently recovers a great deal
of its former vigour.

I never yet heard of any old man,"
says Cicero in the character of Cato,
“whose memory was so weakened by
time, as to forget where he had con-
cealed his treasure. The aged seem,
indeed, to be at no loss in remembering
whatever is the principal object of their
attention; and few there are at that
period of life who cannot tell what re-
cognizances they have entered into, or
with whom they have had any pech-
niary transactions. Innumerable in-
stances of a strong memory in advanced
years might be produced from among

In so far as this decay of memory which old age brings along with it, is a necessary consequence of a physical change in the constitution, or a necessary consequence of a diminution of sensibility, it is the part of a wise man to submit cheerfully to the lot of his nature. But it is not unreasonable to think, that something may be done by our own efforts, to obviate the inconveniences which commonly result from it. If individuals, who, in the early part of life have weak memories, are sometimes able to remedy this defect, by a greater attention to arrangement in their transactions, and to classification among their ideas, than is necessary to the bulk of mankind, might it not be possible, in the same way, to ward off, at least to a cer

[ocr errors][merged small]

our celebrated lawyers, pontiffs, augurs, mand of them. Indeed, this habit of and philosophers; for the faculties of frequently reviewing the information the mind will preserve their powers in we possess, either in our solitary meditaold age, unless they are suffered to lose tions, or (which is still better) in our their energy, and become languid for conversations with others, is the most want of due cultivation.”

effectual of all the helps to memory that “ The mind and body equally can possibly be suggested. But these thrive by a suitable exertion of their remarks properly belong to another powers, with this difference, however, branch of our subject. that bodily exercise ends in fatigue, I mentioned likewise the effects of inwhereas the mind is never wearied in toxication as a proof of the dependence its activity. When Cæcilius therefore of memory on the state of the body. represents certain veterans as fit sub- These effects too are curiously diversijects for the Conic Muse, he alludes fied in different constitutions. Some only to those weak and credulous do- men, notwithstanding their ebriety, are tards, whose infirmities of mind are not able to converse with distinctness and so much the natural effects of their coherence, so that their derangement of years, as the consequence of suffering mind is not at the time observable by their faculties to lie dormant and un- their companions; and yet, after a short exerted in a slothful and spiritless in- sleep, they find all the occurrences which activity.”—Melmoth's Translation of happened to them during intoxication Cicero on Old Age.

completely obliterated from the memory. Among the practices to which Cato Others, whose intoxication is much had recourse for exercising his memory, more apparent at the moment, retain an he mentions his observance of the Py. accurate recollection of all that they see thagorean rule, in recalling every night, and do while in this condition. Facts all that he had said, or done, or heard of this sort are not unworthy the attenthe preceding day:-And, perhaps, few tion of those who study the varieties of rules could be prescribed of greater effi- the Intellectual Character in different cacy for fixing in the mind the various individuals, not to mention the interestideas which pass under its review, or for ing field of observation which they open giving it a ready and practical com- to the medical inquirer.]

tain degree, the encroachments which time makes on this faculty ? The few old men who continue in the active scenes of life to the last moment, it has been often remarked, complain, in general, much less of a want of recollection than their cotemporaries. This is undoubtedly owing partly to the effect which the pursuits of business must necessarily have, in keeping alive the power of attention. But it is probably owing also to new habits of arrangement, which the mind gradually and insensibly forms, from the experience of its growing infirmities. The apparent revival of memory in old men, after a temporary decline, (which is a case that happens not unfrequently,) seems to favour this supposition.

One old man, I have myself had the good fortune to know, who, after a long, an active, and an honourable life, having begun to feel some of the usual effects of advanced years, has been able to find resources in his own sagacity, against most of the inconveniences with which they are commonly attended, and who, by watching his gradual decline with the cool eye of an indifferent observer, and employing his ingenuity to retard its progress, has converted even the infirmities of age into a source of philosophical amusement.

SECT. II.--OF THE VARIETIES OF MEMORY IN DIFFERENT

INDIVIDUALS.

It is generally supposed, that of all our faculties, Memory is that which nature has bestowed in the most unequal degrees on different individuals; and it is far from being impossible that this opinion may be well founded. If, however, we consider that there is scarcely any man who has not memory sufficient to learn the use of language, and to learn to recognise, at the first glance, the appearances of an infinite number of familiar objects; besides acquiring such an acquaintance with the laws of nature, and the ordinary course of human affairs, as is necessary for directing his conduct in life, we shall be satisfied that the original disparities among men, in this respect, are by no means so immense as they seem to be at first view;

« PredošláPokračovať »