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is perpetually distracting our intellectual powers, from those more important exertions, for which, in their mature state, they seem to be destined.
This tendency of literary habits in general, and more particularly of philosophical pursuits, to exercise the thoughts about words, can scarcely fail to have fome effect in weakening the powers of recollection and conception with respect to sensible objects; and, in fact, I believe it will be found, that whatever advantage the philosopher may possess over men of little education, in stating general propositions and general reasonings, he is commonly inferior to them in point of minuteness and accuracy, when he attempts to describe any object which he has seen, or any event which he has witnessed; supposing the curiofity of both, in such cases, to be interested in an equal degree. I acknowledge, indeed, that the undivided attention, which men unaccuf. tomed to reflexion are able to give to the objects of their perceptions, is, in part, the cause of the liveliness and correctness of their conceptions.
With this diversity in the intellectual habits of cultivated and of uncultivated minds, there is another variety of memory which seems to have some connection. In recognizing visible objects, the memory of one man proceeds on the general appearance, that of another attaches itself to some minute and distinguishing marks. A peasant knows the various kinds of trees from their general habits; a botanist, from those characteristical circumstances on which his classification proceeds. The last kind of memory is, I think, most common among literary men, and arises from their habit of recollecting by means of words. It is evidently much
easier to express by a description, a number of botani. cal marks, than the general habit of a tree ; and the same remark is applicable to other cases of a similar
But to whatever cause we ascribe it, there can be no doubt of the fact, that
individuals are to be found, and chiefly among men of letters, who, although they have no memory for the general appearances of objects, are yet able to retain, with correctness, an immense number of technical discriminations.
Each of these kinds of memory, has its peculiar advantages and inconveniencies, which the dread of being tedious induces me to leave to the investigation of my readers.
Of the Improvement of Memory-Analysis of the Principles
on which the Culture of Memory depends.
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 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 purpofes.
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 fimilar 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 analising 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 associations 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 objects about which it is conversant; for the information which we already possess, gives us an interest in every new truth, and every new fact which have any relation to it. In most cases, our habits of inattention may be traced to a want of curiosity; and therefore such habits are to be corrected, not by endeavouring to force the attention in particular instances, but by gradually learning to place the ideas which we wish to remember, in an interesting point of view.
3. When we first enter on any new literary pursuit, we are unable to make a proper discrimination in point of utility and importance, among the ideas which are presented to us; and by attempting to grasp at every thing, we fail in making those moderate acquisitions which are suited to the limited powers of the human mind. As our information extends, our selection becomes more judicious and more confined ; and our knowledge of useful and connected truths advances rapidly, from our ceasing to distract the attention with such as are detached and insignificant.
4. Every object of our knowledge is related to a variety of others; and may be presented to the thoughts,
sometimes by one principle of association, and sometimes by another. In proportion, therefore, to the multiplication of mutual relations among our ideas, (which is the natural result of growing information, and in particular, of habits of philosophical study,) the greater will be the number of occasions on which they will recur to the recollection, and the firmer will be the root which each idea, in particular, will take in the memory
It follows, too, from this observation, that the facility of retaining a new fact, or a new idea, will depend on the number of relations which it bears to the former objects of our knowledge; and, on the other hand, that every such acquisition, so far from loading the memory, gives us a firmer hold of all that part of our previous information, with which it is in any degree connected.
It may not, perhaps, be improper to take this opportunity of observing, although the remark be not immediately connected with our present subject, that the accession made to the stock of our knowledge, by the new facts and ideas which we acquire, is not to be estimated merely by the number of these facts and ideas considered individually; but by the number of relations which they bear to one another, and to all the different particulars which were previously in the mind; for,“ new knowledge,” (as Mr. Maclaurin has well remarked *,) “ does not consist so much in our having “ access to a new object, as in comparing it with others “ already known, observing its relations to them, or
* See the Conclusion of his View of Newton's Discoveries.