« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
principles and opinions come to be loft, in the infinite multiplicity and discordancy of our acquired ideas.
By confining our ambition to pursue the truth with modesty and candor, and learning to value our acquisitions only as far as they contribute to make us wiser and happier, we may perhaps be obliged to facrifice the temporary admiration of the common dispensers of literary fame; but we may rest assured, that it is in this way only we can hope to make real progress in knowledge, or to enrich the world with useful inventions.
“ It requires courage, indeed,” (as Helvetius has remarked,)“ to remain ignorant of those useless sub"jects which are generally valued;” but it is a courage necessary to men who either love the truth, or who aspire to establish a permanent reputation.
Coætinuation of the same Subject.--Of Artificial Memory.
BY an Artificial Memory is meant, a method of connecting in the mind, things difficult to be remembered, with things easily remembered; so as to enable it to retain, and to recollect the former by means of the latter. For this purpose, various contrivances have been proposed, but I think the foregoing definition applies to all of them.
Some forts of artificial memory are intended to affift the natural powers of the human mind on par. ticular occasions, which require a more than ordinary effort of recollection ; for example, to assist a public speaker to recollect the arrangement of a long discourse. Others have been devised with a view to enable us to extend the circle of our acquired knowledge, and to give us a more ready command of all the various particulars of our information,
The topical Memory, so much celebrated among the ancient rhetoricians, comes under the former description.
I already remarked, the effect of fenfible objects in recalling to the mind the ideas with which it happened to be occupied, at the time when these objects were formerly perceived. In travelling along a road the fight of the more remarkable scenes we meet with, frequently puts us in mind of the subjects we were thinking or talking of when we lait saw them. Such facts, which are perfectly familiar even to the vulgar, might very naturally suggest the possibility of assisting the memory, by establishing a connection between the ideas we wish to remember, and certain fensible objects, which have been found from experience to make a permanent impression on the mind.* I have been told of a young woman, in a vety
low rank in life, who contrived a method of committing to memory the sermons which she was accustomed to hear, by fixing her attention during the different heads of the discourse, on different compartments of the roof of the church ; in such a manner, as that, when the afterwards saw the roof, or recollected the order in which its compartments were disposed, she recollected the method which the preacher had observed in treating his subject. This contrivance was perfectly analogous to the topicai memory of the ancients; an art which, whatever
the opinion we entertain of its use, is certainly entitled, in a high degree, to the praise of ingenuity.
Suppose that I were to fix in my memory the different apartments in some very large building, and that I had accustomed myself to think of these apartments always in the same invariable order. Sup. pose farther, that, in preparing myself for a public discourse, in which I had occasion to treat of a great variety of particulars, I was anxious to fix in my memory the order I proposed to observe in the communication of my ideas. It is evident, that by a proper division of my subject into heads, and by connecting each head with a particular apartment, (which I could easily do, by conceiving myself to be fitting in the apartment while I was studying the part of my discourse I meant to connect witá it, the habitual order in which these apartments occurred to my thoughts, would present to me, in their proper arrangement, and without any effort on my part, the ideas of which I was to treat. It is also obvious, that a very little practice would enable me to avail myself of this contrivance, without any embarraflment or distraction of my attention.*
*“ Cum in loca aliqua post tempus reversi sumus, non ipsa ag. “ noscimus tantum, sed etiam, quæ in his fecerimus, reminiscimur, personæque subeunt, nonunquam
quoque cogitationes in 66 mentem revertuntur. Nata est igitur, ut in plerisque, ars ab exsperimento."
QUINCT. Inst. Orat. lib. xi. cap. 2,
As to the utility of this art, it appears to me to depend entirely on the particular object which we suppose the speaker to have in view ; whether, as was too often the case with the ancient rhetoricians, to bewilder a judge, and to silence an adversary; or fairly and candidly to lead an audience to the truth. On the former supposition, nothing can possibly give an orator a greater superiority, than the possession of a secret, which, while it enables him to express himself with facility and the appearance of method, puts it in his power, at the same time, to dispose his arguments and his facts, in whatever order he judges to be the most proper to mislead the judgment, and to perplex the memory, of those whom he addreffes. And such, it is manifeft, is the effect, not only of the topical memory of the ancients, but of all other contrivances which aid the recollection, upon any principle different from the natural and logical arrangement of our ideas.
* In so far as it was the object of this species of artificial memory to assist on orator in recollecting the plan and arrangement of his discourse, the accounts of it which are given by the ancient rhetoricians are abundantly satisfactory. It appears, however, that its use was more extensive; and that it was so contrived, as to facilitate the recollection of a premeditated composition. In what manner this was done, it is not easy to conjecture from the imperfect explanations of the art, which have been transmitted to modern times. The reader may consult CICERO de Orat. lib. ii. 87, 88. Rhetor. ad Herennium, lib. ii. cap. 16. et seq.-QUINCTEL. Joost. Grat. lib. xi. cap. 2.
To those on the other hand, who speak with a view to convince or to inform others, it is of consequence that the topics which they mean to illustrate, should be arranged in an order equally favorable to their own recollection and to that of their hearers. For this purpose, nothing is effectual, but that method which is suggested by the order of their own investigations ; a method which leads the mind from one idea tu another, either by means of obvious and striking associations, or by those relations which connect the different steps of a clear and accurate process of reasoning. It is thus only that the attention of an audience can be completely and inceffant. ly engaged, and that the substance of a long discourse can be remembered without effort. And it is thus only that a speaker, after a mature consideration of his subject, can possess a juft confidence in his own powers of recollection, in ftating all the different premises which lead to the conclusion he wishes to establish.
In modern times, such contrivances have been ve. ry little, if at all, made use of by public speakers; but various ingenious attempts have been made, to assist the memory, in acquiring and retaining those branches of knowledge which it has been supposed necessary for a scholar to carry always about with him ; and which, at the same time, from the num
ber of particular details which they involve, are not calculated, of themselves, to make a very lafting impreflion on the mind. Of this fort is the Memoria Technica of Mr. Grey, in which a great deal of hiftorical, chronological and geographical bowledge is comprised in a set of verses, which the student is supposed to make as familiar to himself as school-boys do the rules of grammar. These verses are, in
general, a mere assemblage of proper names, disposed in a rude fort of measure ; some flight alterations being occasionally made on the final fyllabies of the words, so as to be significant (according to certain principles laid down in the beginning of the work) of important dates, or of other particulars which it appeared to the author useful to associate with the
I have heard very opposite opinions with respect to the utility of this ingenious system. The prevail. ing opinion is, I believe, against it; although it has been mentioned in terms of high approbation by some writers of eminence. Dr. Priestley, whose judgment, in matters of this fort, is certainly entitled to respect, has said, that " it is a method fo ea.
sily learned, and which may be of so much use in “ recollecting dates, when other methods are not at “ hand, that he thinks all persons of a liberal educa« tion inexcusable, who will not take the small de
gree of pains that is neceffary to make themselves “ matters of it; or who think any thing mean, or
unworthy of their notice, which is so useful and " convenient:"* In judging of the utility of this, or of any
other contrivance of the fame kind, to a particular person, a great deal muft depend on the fpecies of memory which he has received from nature, or has acquired in the course of his early education. Some men, as I already remarked,) especially among those who
* Lectures on History, p. 157.