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Where, however, such habits of inattention have unfortunately been contracted, we ought not to despair of them as perfectly incurable. The attention, indeed, as I formerly remarked, can seldom be forced in particular instances ; but we may gradually learn to place the objects we wish to attend to, in lights more interesting than those in which we have been accuftomed to view them. Much may be expected from a change of scene, and a change of pursuits; but above all, much may be expected from foreign travel, The objects which we meet with excite our surprise by their novelty; and in this manner we not only gradually acquire the power of observing and examining them with attention, but, from the effects of contrast, the curiosity comes to be roused with respect to the corresponding objects in our own country, which, from our early familiarity with them, we had formerly been accustomed to overlook. In this respect the effects of foreign travel, in directing the attention to familiar objects and occurrences, is somewhat analogous to that which the study of a dead or of a foreign language produces, in leading the curiosity to examine the grammatical structure of our own.
Considerable advantage may also be derived, in overcoming the habits of inattention, which we may have contracted to particular subjects, from studying the systems, true or false, which philosophers have proposed for explaining or for arranging the facts connected with them. By means of these systems, not only is the curiosity circumscribed and directed, instead of being allowed to wander at random, but, in consequence of our being enabled to connect facts with general
principles, it becomes interested in the examination of those particulars which would otherwise have escaped our notice.
of the Connexion between Memory and philosophical Genius.
ed with a very tenacious memory. So far, how. ever, as my own observation has reached, I can scarce. ly recollect one person who possesses the former of these qualities, without a more than ordinary share of the latter.
On a superficial view of the subject, indeed, the common opinion has some appearance of truth; for, we are naturally led, in consequence of the topics about which conversation is usually employed, to estimate the extent of memory, by the impression which trivial occurrences make upon it; and these in general escape the recollection of a man of ability, not because he is unable to retain them, but because he does not attend to them.
It is probable, likewise, that accidental associations, founded on contiguity in time and place, may make but a flight impression on his mind. But it does not therefore follow, that his stock of facts is small. They are connected together in his memory by prin. ciples of association, different from those which prevail in ordinary minds; and they are on that very account the more useful: for as the associations are founded upon real connexions among the ideas, (although they
may be less conducive to the fluency, and perhaps to the wit of conversation,) they are of incomparably greater use in suggesting facts which are to serve as a foundation for reasoning or for invention.
It frequently happens too, that a man of genius, in consequence of a peculiarly strong attachment to a par. ticular subject, may first feel a want of inclination, and may afterwards acquire a want of capacity of attending to common occurrences. But it is probable that the whole stock of ideas in his mind, is not inferior to that of other men ; and that however unprofitably he may have directed his curiosity, the ignorance which he discovers on ordinary subjects does not arise from a want of memory, but from a peculiarity in the selection which he has made of the objects of his study.
Montaigne * frequently complains in his writings, of his want of memory; and he indeed gives many very extraordinary instances of his ignorance on some of the most ordinary topics of information. But it is obvious to any person who reads his works with attention, that this ignorance did not proceed from an original defect of memory, but from the singular and whimsical direction which his curiosity had taken at an early period of life. “I can do nothing,” says he, “ with“ out my memorandum book; and so great is my dif“ ficulty in remembering proper names, that I am « forced to call my domestic servants by their offices. " I am ignorant of the greater part of our coins in “ use ; of the difference of one grain from another, “ both in the earth and in the granary ; what use leaven “ is of in making bread, and why wine must stand « some time in the vat before it ferments.” Yet the same author appears evidently, from his writings, to have had his memory stored with an infinite variety of apothegms, and of historical passages, which had struck his imagination; and to have been familiarly acquainted, not only with the names, but with the absurd and exploded opinions of the antient philosophers ; with the ideas of Plato, the atoms of Epicurus, the plenum and vacuum of Leucippus and Democritus, the water of Thales, the numbers of Pythagoras, the infinite of Parmenides, and the unity of Mulæus. In complaining too of his want of presence of mind, he indirectly acknowledges a degree of memory, which, if it had been judiciously employed, would have been more than sufficient for the acquisition of all those common branches of knowledge in which he appears to have been deficient. " When I have an oration to " speak,” says he,“ of any considerable length, I am “ reduced to the miserable necessity of getting it, word " for word, by heart.”
* Il n'est homme à qui il fiese si mal de se mesler de parler de me. moire. Car je n'en recognoy quafi trace en moy ; et ne pense qu'il y en ait au monde une autre si marveilleuse en defaillance.
Efais de MONTAIGNE, liv i. ch. 9.
The strange and apparently inconsistent combination of knowledge and ignorance which the writings of Montaigne exbibit, led Malebranche (who seems to have formed too low an opinion both of his genius and character) to tax him with affectation; and even to call in question the credibility of some of his assertions. But no one who is well acquainted with this most amusing author, can reasonably fufpect his veracity; and, in the present instance, I can give him com. plete credit, not only from my genoral opinion of his
sincerity, sincerity, but from having observed, in the course of my own experience, more than one example of the same fort of combination; not indeed carried to such a length as Montaigne describes, but bearing a striking resemblance to it.
The observations which have already been made, account, in part, for the origin of the common opinion, that genius and memory are feldom united in great degrees in the same person ; and at the same time shew, that some of the facts on which that opinion is founded, do not justify such a conclusion. Besides these, however, there are other circumstances, which at first view, seem rather to indicate an inconsistency between extensive memory and original genius.
The species of memory which excites the greatest degree of admiration in the ordinary intercourse of society, is a memory for detached and insulated facts ; and it is certain that those men who are possessed of it, are very seldom distinguished by the higher gifts of the mind. Such a species of memory is unfavourable to philosophical arrangement; because it in part supplies the place of arrangement. One great use of philofophy, as I already shewed, is to give us an extensive command of particular truths, by furnishing us with general principles, under which a number of such truths is comprehended. A person in whose mind casual associations of time and place make a lasting impression, has not the same inducements to philosophize, with others who connect facts together, chiefly by the relations of
cause and effect, or of premises and conclufion. I have I heard it observed, that those men who have risen to the greatest eminence in the profession of law, have been