« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
miliarise his mind completely with his situation. A capacity for lyftem and for philofophical arrangement, unless it has been carefully cultivated in early life, is an acquisition which can scarcely ever be made afterwards; and, therefore, the defects which I already mentioned, as connected with early and constant habits of business, adopted from imitation, and undirected by theory; may, when once these habits are confirmed, be pronounced to be incurable.
I am also inclined to believe, both from a theoretical view of the subject, and from my own observations as far as they have reached, that if we wish to fix the particulars of our knowledge very permanently in the memory, the most effectual way of doing it, is to refer them to general principles. Ideas which are connected together merely by casual relations, present themselves with readiness to the mind, so long as we are forced by the habits of our fituation to apply them daily to use ; but when a change of circumstances leads us to vary the objects of our attention, we find our old ideas gradually to escape from the recollection : and if it should happen that they escape from it altogether, the only method of recovering them, is by renewing those studies by which they were at first acquired. The case is very different with a man whose ideas, presented to him at first by accident, have been afterwards philofophically arranged and referred to general principles. When he wishes to recollect them, some time and reflection will, frequently, be necessary to enable him to do fo; but the information which he has once completely acquired, continues, in general, to be an acquisition for life; or if, accidentally, any ar. ticle of it should be loft, it may often be recovered by a process of reasoning.
Something very fimilar to this happens in the ftudy of languages. A person who acquires a for
eign language merely by the ear, and without any knowledge of its principles, commonly speaks it, while he remains in the country where it is spoken, with more readiness and fluency, than one who has studied it grammatically ; but in the course of a few years absence, he finds himself almost as ignorant of it as before he acquired it. A language of which we once understand the principles thoroughly, it is hardly possible to lose by disuse.
A philosophical arrangement of our ides, is attended with another very important advantage. In a mind where the prevailing principles of association are founded on casual relations among the various objects of its knowledge, the thoughts must neceffarily succeed each other in a very irregular and disorderly manner ; and the occasions on which they present themselves, will be determined merely by accident. They will often occur, when they cannot be employed to any purpose ; and will remain concealed from our view, when the recollection of them might be useful. They cannot therefore be considered as under our own proper command. But in the case of a philosopher, how flow foever he may be in the recollection of his ideas, he knows always where he is to search for them, fo as to bring them all to bear on their proper object. When he wishes to avail himself of his past experience, or of his former conclusions, the occasion, itself, summons up every thought in his mind which the occasion re. quires. Or if he is called upon to exert his powers of invention, and of discovery, the materials of both are always at hand, and are presented to his view with such a degree of connection and arrangement, as may enable him to trace, with ease, their various relations. How much invention depends upon a patient and attentive examination of our ideas, in order to discover the less obvious relations which fubfift
among them, I had occafion to show, at some lengtli, in a former Chapter.
The remarks which have been now made, are sufficient to illustrate the advantages which the philofopher derives in the pursuits of science, from that fort of systematical memory which his habits of arrangement give him. It may however be doubted, whether such habits be equally favorable to a talent for agreeable conversation ; at least, for that lively, varied, and unftudied converfation, which forms the principal charm of a promiscuous fociety. The conversation which pleases generally, muft unite the recommendations of quickness, of ease, and of varie. ty: and in all these three respects, that of the philofopher is apt to be deficient. It is deficient in quickness, because his ideas are connected by relations which occur only to an attentive and collected mind. It is deficient in ease, because these relations are not the casual and obvious ones, by which ideas are associated in ordinary memories ; but the flow discoveries of patient, and often painful, exertion. As the ideas, too, which he affuciates together, are commonly of the same class, or at least are referred to the fame general principles, he is in danger of becoming tedious, by indulging himself in long and systematical discourses ; while ano her, pofseffed of the molt inferior accomplishments, by laying his mind completely open to impressions from without, and by accommodating continually the course of his own ideas, not only to the ideas which are started by his companions, but to every trifling and unexpected accident that may occur to give them a new direction, is the life and foul of every fociety into which he enters. Even the anecdotes which the philosopher has collected, however agreeable they may be in themselves, are seldom introduced by him into conversation, with that unftudied but happy propriety, which we admire in men of the world,
whose facts are not referred to general principles, but are suggested to their recollection by the familiar topics and occurrences of ordinary life. Nor is it the imputation of tediousness merely, to which the systematical thinker must submit from common observers. It is but rarely possible to explain completely, in a promiscuous fociety, all the various parts of the most simple theory; and as nothing appears weaker or more absurd than a theory which is partially stated, it frequently happens, that men of ingenuity, by attempting it, fink, in the vulgar apprehension, below the level of ordinary understand. ings. 66 Theoriarum vires” (lays Lord Bacon)“ in
apta et se mutuo sustinente, partium harmonia et " quadam in orbem demonftratione confiftunt, ide. “ oque per partes traditæ infirmæ sunt.”
Before leaving the subject of Casual Memory, it may not be improper to add, that how much foever it may disqualify for fystematical speculation, there is a species of loose and rambling composition, to which it is peculiarly favorable. With such performances, it is often pleasant to unbend the mind in solitude, when we are more in the humor for conversation, than for connected thinking. Montaigne is unquestionably at the head of this class of authors. " What, indeed, are his Essays,” (to adopt his own account of them, “but grotesque pieces of patch“ work, put together without any certain figure; or “ any order, connection, or proportion, but what is 66 accidental ?"'*
It is, however, curious, that in consequence of the predominance in his mind of this species of Memory above every other, he is forced to acknowledge his total want of that command over his ideas, which can only be founded on habits of systematical arrangement. As the passage is extremely characteriftical of the author, and affords a striking confirma
* Liv, i. chap. 27.
tion of some of the preceding observations, I shall give it in his own words. 6 Je ne me tiens
bien * en ma poffeffion et difpofition: le hazard y a plus “ de droit que moy: l'occasion, la compagnie, le “ branle même de ma voix tire plus de mon esprit,
que je n'y trouve lors que je fonde et employe à part moy. Ceci m'advient aussi, que je ne me trouve pass ou je me cherche; et me trouve plus
par rencontre, que par l'inquisition de mon juge. " ment.”+
The differences which I have now pointed out between philosophical and casual Memory, constitute the most remarkable of all the varieties which the minds of different individuals, confidered in respect of this faculty, present to our observation. But there are other varieties, of a less striking nature, the consideration of which may alfo suggest some useful reflections.
It was before remarked, that our ideas are free quently aflociated, in consequence of the associations which take place among their arbitrary figns. Indred, in the case of all our general speculations, it is difficult to see in what other way our thoughts can be associated ; for, I before endeavored to shew, that without the use of figns of one kind or another, it would be impossible for us to make classes or genera, objects of our attention.
All the signs by which our thoughts are expressed, are addrefled either to the eye or to the ear; and the impressions made on these organs, at the time when we first receive an idea, contribute to give us a firmer hold of it. Visible objects (as I observed in the Chapter on Conception) are remembered more easily than those of any of our other fenses; and hence it is, that the bulk of mankind are more aid. ed in their recollection by the impressions made on the eye, than by those made on the ear. Every
* Liv. i. chap. 10. (Du parler prompt ou tardif.)