Memory Culture

Memory Culture

     'Twas wisely said by Plato, when he called
    Memory "the mother of the Intellect,"
    For knowledge is to wisdom what his realm
    Is to a monarch that o'er which he rules;
    And he who hath the Will can ever win
    Such empire to himself Will can do all.

There is nothing in which the might of the Will can be so clearly set forth as in the making of memory. By means of it, as is fully proved by millions of examples, man can render his power of recollection almost infinite. And lest the reader may think that I here exaggerate, I distinctly assert that I never knew a man of science, familiar with certain facts which I shall repeat, who ever denied its literal truth.

There are two methods, and only two, by means of which we can retain images, facts or ideas. One of these is that which in many varied forms, which are all the same in fact, is described in the old Artes Memorandi, or Arts of Memory. There are several hundreds of these, and to the present day there are professors who give instructions according to systems of the same kind. These are all extremely plausible, being based on Association of ideas, and in most cases the pupil makes great progress for a short time. Thus, we can remember the French for bread, pain, Italian Pane, by thinking of the pan in which bread is baked, or the difficult name of the inventor, SSCZEPANIK (pronounced nearly she-panic) by thinking of a crowd of frightened women, and which I remembered by the fact that pane is the Slavonian for Mr. or Sir. For there is such a tendency of ideas to agglutinate, and so become more prominent, as we can see two bubbles together in a pool more readily than one that we can very soon learn to recall many images in this way.

But after a time a certain limit is reached which most minds cannot transgress. VOLAPUK was easy so long as, like Pidgin-English, it contained only a few hundred words and no grammar. But now that it has a dictionary of 4,000 terms and a complete grammar it is as hard to learn as Spanish. It invariably comes to pass in learning to remember by the Associative method that after a time images are referred to images, and these to others again, so that they form entire categories in which the most vigorous mind gets lost.

The other method is that of direct Memory guided by Will, in which no regard is paid to Association, especially in the beginning. Thus to remember anything, or rather to learn how to do so, we take something which is very easy to retain the easier the better be it a jingling nursery rhyme, a proverb, or a text. Let this be learned to perfection, backwards and forwards, or by permutation of words, and repeated the next day. Note that the repetition or reviewing is of more importance than aught else.

On the second day add another proverb or verse to the preceding, and so on, day by day, always reviewing and never learning another syllable until you are sure that you perfectly or most familiarly retain all which you have memorized. The result will be, if you persevere, that before long you will begin to find it easier to remember anything. This is markedly the case as regards the practice of reviewing, which is invariably hard at first, but which becomes ere long habitual and then easy.

I cannot impress it too vividly on the mind of the reader, that he cannot make his exercises too easy. If he finds that ten lines a day are too much, let him reduce them to five, or two, or one, or even a single word, but learn that, and persevere. When the memory begins to improve under this process, the tasks may, of course, be gradually increased.

An uncle of the present Khedive of Egypt told me that when he was learning English, he at first committed to memory fifty words a day, but soon felt himself compelled to very much reduce the number in order to permanently remember what he acquired. One should never overdrive a willing horse.

Where there is a teacher with youthful pupils, he can greatly aid the process of mere memorizing, by explaining the text, putting questions as to its meaning, or otherwise awaking an interest in it. After a time the pupils may proceed to verbal memorizing, which consists of having the text simply read or repeated to them. In this way, after a year or eighteen months of practice, most people can actually remember a sermon or lecture, word for word.

This was the process which was discovered, I may say simultaneously, by DAVID KAY and myself, as our books upon it appeared at almost the same time. But since then I have modified my plan, and made it infinitely easier, and far more valuable, as will be apparent to all, by the application of the principles laid down in this book. For while, according to the original views, Memory depended on Will and Perseverance, there was no method indicated by any writer how these were to be created, nor was energetic Forethought considered as amounting to more than mere Intention.

Now I would say that having the task selected, first give energetic forethought, or a considerate determination to master this should precede all attempts to learn, by everybody, young or old. And when the lesson is mastered, let it be repeated with earnestness and serious attention before going to sleep, with the Will that it shall be remembered on the morrow. And it will be found that this process not only secures the memory desired, but also greatly facilitates the whole course and process.

It is to be noted that by this, or any process, we do not remember everything, but only what is first considered and measured by Forethought. Also that by it the Memory is never overcharged at the expense of Intellect, for the exertion of will in any way strengthens the mind. To explain the immense power which this all implies, I observe:

That previous to the invention of printing, it was usual for students to get their text-books by heart. Thus in India, according to MAX MULLER, the entire text and glosses of PANINI'S Sanskrit grammar were handed down orally for 350 years before being committed to writing. This work is about equal in size to the Bible.

There are Indian priests now living who can repeat accurately the whole poems of the Mahabarata of 300,000 slokas or lines.

That these incredible feats were the result of a system of memorizing similar to what I have explained.

That the Guzlas or Slavonian minstrels of the present day have by heart with remarkable accuracy immensely long epic poems. I have found the same among Algonquin Indians, whose sagas or mythic legends are interminable, and yet are committed word by word accurately.

I have heard in England of a lady ninety years of age whose memory was miraculous, and of which extraordinary instances are narrated by her friends. She attributed it to the fact that when young she had been made to learn a verse from the Bible every day, and then constantly review it. As her memory improved, she learned more, the result being that in the end she could repeat from memory any verse or chapter called for in the whole Scripture. The habit had marvelously developed her intelligence as well as memory.

Now I confidently declare that if this lady had submitted what she learned to the suggestive-will process she could have spared herself half the labor. And it is to be observed that as in time the labor of reviewing and the faculty of promptly recalling becomes easier and easier till it is simply mechanical, so the memorizing by suggestion becomes more facile until it is, so to speak, only a form. And as it becomes easier the foresight strengthens till it wields an absolute power.

If the reader is interested in this subject of developing the memory, I would refer him to my work on Practical Education in which it is discussed with reference to recalling objects through all the Senses.

No one who has made even a very slight trial of the process of impressing on the mind before sleep something which must be remembered, can fail to be convinced ere long of the truth that there is in it a marvelous power which will with easy and continued practice enable him to recall whatever he pleases. It follows as a matter of course, that this would be of incredible value in education, but notwithstanding the vast discussion of this subject which is ever going on, it does not seem to occur to a living man that we should develop and train the mental faculties, such as memory and quickness of perception, as well as set them to hard work.

It is also safe to say that there is not a man living who was educated from boyhood upon this principle, and yet I am confident that no scientist in existence, knowing the facts on which my statement is based, will deny that it is as easy to develop the mental factors alluded to, as to learn a language or play on the piano. It is not a matter of theory but of facts. Millions of men have in the past acquired the faculty of being able to repeat and remember whatever they heard, if they earnestly attended to it. Earnest attention in this case means a strong exercise of forethought, or determination to an end or given purpose. In Iceland, that which has since become the English common law, was at an early date very fully developed, without any books or writing. And there were lawyers who had by heart all the laws, and incredible numbers of precedents, as appears from several sagas, among others, that of The Burnt Njall.

Our present system of Education is that of building houses without foundations. No one suspects or dreams what mighty powers there are latent in us all, or how easily they may be developed. It would not be so reprehensible if men entirely neglected the subject, but they are always working hard and spending millions on the old system, and will not even make the least experiment to test a new theory. One reason for this is the old belief that we are all born with a certain quantum of "gifts," as for example memory, capacity, patience, et cetera, all more or less limited, and in reality not to be enlarged or improved. The idea is natural, because we see that there are very great differences, hereditary or otherwise, in children. But it is false. So we go to work to fill up the quantum of memory as soon as possible by violent cramming, and in like manner tax to the utmost all the mental faculties without making the least effort to prepare, enlarge or strengthen them.

I shall not live to see it, but a time will come when this preparation of the mental faculties will be regarded as the basis of all education.

To recapitulate in a few words. When we desire to fix anything in the memory we can do so by repeating it to ourselves before we go to sleep, accompanying it with the resolution to remember it in future. We must not in the beginning set ourselves any but very easy tasks, and the practice must be steadily continued.

It has been often said that a perfect memory is less of a blessing than the power of oblivion. Thus THEMISTOCLES (who, according to CATO, as cited by CICERO, knew the names and faces of every man in Athens) having offered to teach some one the art of memory, received for reply, "Rather teach me how to forget" esse facturum si se oblivisci quæ vellet, quam si meminisse docuisset. And CLAUDIUS had such an enviable power in the latter respect that immediately after he had put to death his wife MESSALINA, he forgot all about it, asking, "Cur domina non veniret?" "Why the Missus didn't come?" while on the following day, after condemning several friends to death, he sent invitations to them to come and dine with him. And again, there are people who have, as it were, two memories, one good, the other bad, as was the case with CALVISIUS SABRINUS, who could recall anything in literature, but never remembered the names of his own servants, or even his friends. But he got over the difficulty by naming his nine attendants after the nine Muses, while he called his intimates Homer, Hesiod, and so on. This scholar would truly seem to have drunk of the two fountains sacred to Trophonius, by the river Orchomenus, one of which bestowed memory and the other oblivion. And like unto them is the power of the Will, aided by Forethought and Suggestion, for while it properly directs and aids us to remember what we will, it per contra also helps us to forget.





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