Obrázky na stránke
PDF
ePub

section, the species of memory possessed by philosophers with that possessed by the vulgar and illiterate, I evidently have in view those effects only which their respective pursuits have a tendency to produce on the intellectual character. Many exceptions to our general conclusions may be expected in particular instances; nor does there seem to be any impossibility in the nature of things to unite, by a proper education, the advantages of both kinds of memory. That incapacity, for example, of attending to trifling details, of which Montesquieu complains in the above quotation, and which is one great source of what is generally called a bad memory, is undoubtedly a most serious inconvenience to all who have to mingle in the business of the world; and although it is justly overlooked in those whose talents and acquirements raise them much above the common level, yet it can scarcely be guarded against enough by all those who have any concern in the education of youth. To enable a person to command his attention at all times to whatever object is before him, whether trifling or important, so that “whatsoever his hand findeth to do he may do it with all his might,” is one of the most important habits that can be communicated to his mind. And it would form a most valuable article in a systematical treatise on education, to point out the means by which this habit may be cultivated, or the contrary habits of inattention corrected where they have unfortunately been contracted.

The following judicious remark of Mr. Knox, (in his Treatise on Education,) while it throws some additional light on these varieties of memory which have been now under our consideration, suggests a practical lesson which cannot be too steadily kept in view by all who devote themselves to the study of literature and of the sciences. In point of value it seems to me to rise considerably above the ordinary level of this author's philosophy.

“Some persons seem to think that a good memory consists in retaining dates and minute particulars, but I believe, that, though a reader remember but few dates and few minute particulars, he may yet retain all the necessary general ideas and

[ocr errors]

valuable conclusions. He will see a wide and beautiful arrangement of important objects, while another, who stoops to pick up and preserve every trifle, will have his eyes fixed on the ground. It is not enough that the mind can reproduce just what it has received from reading, and no more; it must reproduce it, digested, altered, improved, and refined. Reading, like food, must show its effects in promoting growth; according to a striking remark of Epictetus, the application of which is sufficiently obvious without any comment; 'Sheep do not show the shepherd how much they have eaten by producing the grass itself; but by producing outwardly wool and milk after their pasture is inwardly digested.'” póßata, χόρτον φέροντα τους ποιμέσιν επιδεικνύει πόσον έφαγεν αλλά την νομήν έσω πέψαντα, έριον έξω φέρει και γάλα.

We are informed by Dr. Priestley, in the Memoirs of his life, of some intellectual peculiarities of his character, which he very judiciously connects with certain defects in his faculty of memory. “As I have not failed,” he observes, “ to attend to the phenomena of my own mind, as well as to those of other parts of nature, I have not been insensible of some great defects, as well as some advantages, attending its constitution ; having, from an early period, been subject to a most humbling failure of recollection, so that I have sometimes lost all ideas of both persons and things that I have been conversant with, I have so completely forgotten what I have myself published, that in reading my own writings, what I find in them often appears perfectly new to me, and I have more than once made experiments, the results of which had been published by me.

“I shall particularly mention one fact of this kind, as it alarmed me much at the time as a symptom of all my mental powers totally failing me, until I was relieved by the recollection of things of a similar nature having happened to me before. When I was composing the Dissertations which are

1 [Epicteti Enchiridion, cap. xlvi. [42.]-Mr. Knox might also have quoted the 84th Epistle of Seneca, which

contains nearly the same train of thinking, accompanied too by illustrations strikingly similar)

[ocr errors]

prefixed to my Harmony of the Gospels, I had to ascertain something, which had been the subject of much discussion, relating to the Jewish Passover, (I have now forgotten what it was,) and for that purpose had to consult and compare several writers. This I accordingly did, and digested the result in the compass of a few paragraphs, which I wrote in short-hand. But having mislaid the paper, and my attention having been drawn off to other things, in the space of a fortnight I did the same thing over again, and should never have discovered that I had done it twice, if, after the second paper was transcribed for the press, I had not accidentally found the former, which I viewed with a degree of terror.

“ Apprized of this defect, I never fail to note down as soon as possible every thing that I wish not to forget. The same failing has led me to devise, and have recourse to, a variety of mechanical expedients to secure and arrange my thoughts, which have been of the greatest use to me in the composition of large and complex works; and what has excited the wonder of some of my readers, would only have made them smile if they had seen me at work. But by simple and mechanical methods, one man shall do that in a month which shall cost another, of equal ability, whole years to execute. The methodical arrangement of a large work is greatly facilitated by mechanical methods, and nothing contributes more to the perspicuity of a large work than a good arrangement of its parts.”!

а

[ocr errors]

“ As great excellencies are often balanced by great, though not apparent, defects; so great and apparent defects are often accompanied by great, though not apparent, excellencies. Thus my defect, in point of recollection, which may be owing to a want of sufficient coherence in the association of ideas formerly impressed, may arise from a mental constitution more favourable to new associations; so that what I have lost with respect to memory, may have been compensated by what is called invention, or new and original combinations of ideas. This is a subject that deserves attention, as well as everything else that relates to the affections of the mind.”—Priestley's Memoirs of his own Life, pp. 105-108.

1 [This remark of Priestley's reminds me of a MS. which was shown to me (among many other curious papers) by the late Abbé Morellet in the year 1806. It was entitled “Moyens de faciliter les travaux des hommes littéraires." I had not an opportunity of reading it;

but from what he told me of its contents, I am persuaded that it would be a most valuable present to the republic of letters. As the MS. appeared to be fairly written out for the press, I trust that in due time it will be given to the world.)

The foregoing statement, considering the very high authority upon which it rests, forms a most valuable accession to our stock of facts with respect to memory; and it has the additional merit of being given in plain and precise language, without being at all adulterated by any mixture of the author's physiological theories. In the concluding paragraph, too, where he indulges himself in a short speculation concerning this peculiarity in his own intellectual character, he has followed, so far as he goes, that mode of reasoning which seems to me the only legitimate one in examining any of the phenomena of mind. How satisfactory are such modest and cautious conclusions when compared with the vibrations and vibratiuncles of his favourite school !]

SECT. IV.*_OF THE IMPROVEMENT OF MEMORY.

ANALYSIS OF THE PRINCIPLES ON WHICH THE CULTURE OF MEMORY

DEPENDS.

The improvement of which the mind is susceptible by culture is more remarkable, perhaps, in the case of Memory than in that of

any

other of our faculties. The fact has been often taken notice of in general terms, but I am doubtful if the particular mode in which culture operates on this part of our constitution has been yet examined by philosophers with the attention which it deserves. Of one sort of culture, indeed, of which memory is

susceptible in a very striking degree, no explanation can be given,-I mean the improvement which the original faculty acquires by

* (This and the following sections, in in the present edition, advanced a consequence of the preceding insertion, number.- Ed.]

are,

mere exercise ; or, in other words, the tendency which practice

: has to increase our natural facility of association. This effect of practice upon the memory seems to be an ultimate law of our nature; or rather, to be a particular instance of that general law, that all our powers, both of body and mind, may be strengthened by applying them to their proper purposes.

Besides, however, the improvement which memory admits of, in consequence of the effects of exercise on the original faculty, it may be greatly aided in its operations by those expedients which reason and experience suggest for employing it to the best advantage. These expedients furnish a curious subject of philosophical examination : perhaps, too, the inquiry may not be altogether without use; for although our principal resources for assisting the memory be suggested by nature, yet it is reasonable to think that in this, as in similar cases, by following out systematically the hints which she suggests to us, a farther preparation may be made for our intellectual improvement.

Every person must have remarked, in entering upon any new species of study, the difficulty of treasuring up in the memory its elementary principles, and the growing facility which he acquires in this respect as his knowledge becomes more extensive. By analyzing the different causes which concur in producing this facility, we may perhaps be led to some conclusions which may admit of a practical application.

1. In every science, the ideas about which it is peculiarly conversant are connected together by some particular associating principle; in one science, for example, by associatious founded on the relation of cause and effect; in another, by associations founded on the necessary relations of mathematical truths; in a third, on associations founded on contiguity in place or time. Hence one cause of the gradual improvement of memory with respect to the familiar objects of our knowledge ; for whatever be the prevailing associating principle among the ideas about which we are habitually occupied, it must necessarily acquire additional strength from our favourite study.

2. In proportion as a science becomes more familiar to us, we acquire a greater command of attention with respect to the

« PredošláPokračovať »