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work, have I recollected the advice of Bergman to Morveau.* “ In reforming the nomenclature of “ chemistry, spare no word which is improper. • They who understand the subject already, will sufes fer no inconvenience ; and they to whom the sub
ject is new, will comprehend it with the greater “ facility." But it belongs to such authors alone, as have extended the boundaries of science by their own discoveries, to introduce innovations in language with any hopes of fuccefs.
General Observations on Memory.
AMONG the various powers of the understand. ing there is none which has been so attentively ex. amined by philofophers, or concerning which so many important facts and obfervations have been collected, as the faculty of Memory. This is partly to be ascribed to its nature, which renders it easily dif. tinguishable from all the other principles of our con ftitution, even by thofe who have not been accus. tomed to metaphysical investigations, and partly to
*" Lesavant Professeur d'Upsal, M. Bergman, écrivoit " à M. de Morveau dans les derniers temps de sa vie, ne “ faites graces à aucune denomination impropre. Ceux
qui savent déja entendront toujours; ceux qui ne savent pas encore entendront plutôt.” Methode de Nomenclat. Chèmique, par MM. MORVEAU, LAVOISIER, &c.
its immediate subferviency,'not only to the pursuits of science, but to the ordinary business of life; in consequence of wbich, many of its most curious laws had been observed, long before any analysis was attempted of the other powers of the mind; and have for many ages, formed a part of the common maxims which are to be found in every treatise of education. Some important remarks on the subject, may, in particular, be collected from the writings of the ancient rhetoricians.
The word Memory is not employed uniformly in the faine precise sense ; but it always expresses fome modification of that faculty, which enables us to treasure up, and preserve for future use, the knowledge we acquire ; a faculty which is obviously the great foundation of all intellectual improvement, and without which, no advantage could he derived from the most enlarged experience. This faculty implies two things : a capacity of retaining knowledge ; and a power of recalling it to our thoughts when we have occafion to apply it to use. The word Memory is sometimes employed to express the capa. city, and sometimes the power. When we speak of a retentive memory, we use it in the former sense ; when, of a ready memory, in the latter.
The various particulars which compose our stock of knowledge are, from time to time, recalled to our thoughts, in one of two ways; fometimes they re. cur to us spontaneoufly, or at least, without any interference on our part; in other cases, they are recalled, in consequence of an effort of our will
. For the former operation of the mind, we have no appropriated name in our language, distinct from Memory. The latter, roo, is often called by the fame name, but is more properly distinguished by the word Recollection.
There are, I believe, fome other acceptations besides these, in which the word Memory has been oc.
casionally employed; but as its ambiguities are not of Luch a nature as to mislead us in our present inquiries, I shall not dwell any longer on the illustration of diftinctions, which to the greater part of readers might appear uninteresting and minute. One diftinction only, relative to this subject, occurs to me, as deferving particular attention.
The operations of Memory relate either to things and their relations, or to events. In the former cale, thoughts which have been previously in the mind, may recur to us, without suggesting the idea of the past, or of
any modification of time whatever ; as when I repeat over a poem which I have got by heart or when I think of the features of an absent friend. In this last instance, indeed, philosophers distinguish the act of the mind by the name of Conception ; but in ordinary discourse, and frequently even in philosophical writing, it is considered as an exertion of Memory. In these and similar cases, it is obvious that the operations of this faculty do not necesfarily involve the idea of the past.
The cafe is different with respect to the memory of events. When I think of these, I not only recal to the mind the former objects of its thoughts, but I refer the event to a particular point of time ; fo that of every such act of memory, the idea of the paft is a necessary concomitant.
I have been led to take notice of this distinction, in order to obviate an objection which fome of the phenomen of Memory leem to present, against a doctrine which I formerly stated, when treating of the powers of Conception and Imagination.
It is evident, that when I think of an event, in which any object of sense was concerned, my recollection of the event must necessarily involve an act of Conception.' Thus, when I think of a dramatic representation which I have recently feen, my recollection of what I saw, neceflarily involves a concep
tion of the different actors by whom it was perform. ed. But every act of recollection which relates to events, is accompanied with a belief of their past ex. istence. How then-are we to reconcile this conclu. fion with the doctrine formerly maintained concerning Conception, according to which every exertion of that power is accompanied with a belief, that its object exists before us at the present moment ?
The only way that occurs to me of removing this difficulty, is by supposing, that the remembrance of a past event, is not a simple act of the mind : but that the mind first forms a conception of the event, and then judges froin circumstances, of the period of time to which it is to be referred : a fuppofition which is by no means'a gratuitous one, invented to answer a particular purpose ; but which, as far as I am able to judge, is agreeable to fact : for if we have the power, as will not be disputed, of conceiving a past event without any reference to time, it follows, that there is nothing in the ideas or notions which memory presents to us, which is necessarily accompanied with a belief of past existence, in a way analogous to that in which our perceptions are accompanied with a belief of the prefent existence of their objects ; and therefore, that the reference of the event to the particular period at which it happened, is a judgment founded on concomitant circumftan.
So long as we are occupied with the conception of any particular object connected with the e. vent, we believe the present existence of the object; but this belief, which in most cases, is only monientary, is instantly corrected by habits of judging acquired by experience; and as foon as the mind is disengaged from fuch a belief, it is left at liberty to refer the event to the period at which it actually happened. Nor will the apparent instantáneousness of such judgments be confidered as an unsurmounta. ble objection to the doctrine now advanced, by
those who have reflected on the perception of diftance obtained by sight, which, although it seems to be as immediate as any perception of touch, has been shewn by philosophers to be the result of a judgment founded on experience and observation. The reference we make of past events to the particular points of time at which they took place, will
, I am inclined to think, the more we consider the subject, be found the more strikingly analogous to the estimates of distance we learn to form by the eye.
Although, however, I am, myself, fatisfied with the conclusion to which the foregoing reasonings lead, I am far from expecting that the case will be the same with all my readers. Some of their objections, which I can easily anticipate, might, I believe, be ob. viated by a little farther discussion ; but as the question is merely a matter of curiosity, and has no neceffary connection with the observations I am to make in this Chapter, I shall not prosecute the subject at present. The opinion, indeed, we form concerning ir, has no reference to any of the doctrines maintained in this work, excepting to a particular fpeculation concerning the belief accompanying con. ception, which I ventured to state, in treating of that subject, and which, as it appears to be extremely doubtful to fome whose opinions I respect, I proposed with a degree of diffidence suitable to the difa ficulty of such an enquiry. The remaining observations which I am to make on the power of memory, whatever opinion may be formed of their importance, will furnish but little room for a diversity of judgment concerning their truth. In considering this
part of our constitution, one of the most obvious and striking questions that occurs, is, what the circumstances are which determine the memory to retain some things in preference to oth, ers ? Among the subjects which successively occupy our thoughts, by far the greater number vanish,