Page images

king a pretty long poem which he had just finished. The Englishman was present, and was in such a position that he could hear every word of the poem ; but was concealed from Voltaire's notice. After the reading of the poem was finished, Frederic observed to the author that the pro luction could not be an original one, as there was a foreign gentleman present who could recite every word of it. Voltaire listened with amazement to the stranger, as he repeated, word for word, the poem which he had been at so much pains in composing; and, giving way to a momentary freak of passion, he tore the manuscript in pieces. A statement was then made to him of the circumstances under which the Englishman became ac quainted with his poem, which had the effect to mitigate his anger, and he was very willing to do penance for the suddenness of his passion by copying down the work from a second repetition of it by the stranger, who was able to go through with it as before.

A considerable number of instances of this description are found in the recorded accounts of various individuals; but they must be considered as exceptions to the general features of the human mind, the existence of which it is difficult to explain on any known principles. They are probably original and constitutional traits; and, if such be the case, they necessarily preclude any explanation further than what is involved in the mere statement of that fact. There are, however, some diversities and peculiarities of memory, less striking, perhaps, than those just referred to, which admit a more detailed notice

tially upon

6 156. Of circumstantial memory, or that species of memory which 16

based on the relations of contiguity in time and place. There is a species of memory, more than usually obvi. ous and outward in its character, which is based essen

the relations of Contiguity in time and place. - In the explanation of this form or species of memory, it may


proper to recur a moment to the explanations on the general nature of memory which have already been given. It will be kept in mind, that our remembrances are merely conceptions modified by a perception of the relation of past time. Removing, then, the modification


[ocr errors][ocr errors]

of past time, and the remaining element of our remembrances will be conceptions merely. Our conceptions, it is obvious, cannot be called up by a mere voluntary ef. tort, because to will the existence of a conception necessarily implies the actual existence of the conception already in the mind. They arise in the mind, therefore, in obedience to the influence of some of those principles of ASSOCIATION which have already been considered. And Memory, accordingly, will assume a peculiarity of aspect corresponding to the associating principle which predominates. If it be based, for instance, on the law of Contiguity, as it will deal chiefly with mere facts, and their outward incidents and circumstances, without entering deepiy into their interior nature, it will be what may

be described, not merely as an obvious and practical, but, in particular, as a circumstantial memory. If it be based chiefly on the other principles, it may be expected to exhibit a less easy and flexible, a less minute and specific, but a more philosophical character.

That species of memory which is founded chiefly on the law of contiguity, and which is distinguished by its specificalness or circumstantiality, will be found to prevail especially among uneducated people, not merely artisans and other labouring classes, but among all those, in whatever situation of life, who have either not possessed, or possessing, have not employed, the means of intellectual culture. Every one must have recollected instances of the great readiness exhibited by these persons, in their recollection of facts, places, times, names, specific arrangements in dress and in buildings, traditions, and local incidents. In their narrations, for instance, of what has come within their knowledge, they will, in general, be found to specify the time of events; not merely an indefinite or approximated time, but the identical year, and month, and day, and hour. In their description of persons and places, and in their account of the dress and equipage of persons, and of the localities and incidents of places, they are found to be no less particular.

157. Illustrations of specific or circumstantial memory. The great masters of human nature (Shakspeare among

others) have occasionally indicated their knowledge of this species of memory. Mrs. Quickly, in reminding Falstaff of his promise of marriage, discovers her readiness of recollection in the specification of.the great variety of circumstances under which the promise was made. Her recollection in the case was not a mere general remembrance of the solitary fact, but was, in the manner of a witness in a court of justice, circumstantial.—“Thou didst swear to me on a parcel-gilt goblet, sitting in my Dolphin chamber, at the round table, by a sea-coal fire, on Wednesday in Whitsun week, when the prince broke thy head for likening him to a singing man of Windsor.” – The coachman in Cornelius Scriblerus gives an account of what he had seen in Bear Garden : “Two men fought foi a prize; one was a fair man, a sergeant in the guards; the other black, a butcher; the sergeant had red trousers, the butcher blue; they fought upon a stage about four o'clock, and the sergeant wounded the butcher in the leg.”

33 § 158. Of philosophic memory, or that species of memory which is basea

on other relations than those of contiguity. There is another species of memory, clearly distinguishable from the CIRCUMSTANTIAL memory,

which may

be described as the Philosophic. This form of memory, relying but seldom on the aids of mere Contiguity, is sustained chiefly by the relations of Resemblance, Contrast, and Cause and Effect. The circumstantial memory, which deals almost exclusively with minute particulars, and especially with those which are accessible by the outward senses, admirably answers the purpose of those persons in whom it is commonly found. But mere contiguity in time and place, which is almost the sole principle that binds together facts and events in the recollection of those whose powers are but imperfectly developed, possesses comparatively little value in the estimation of the philosopher He looks more deeply into the nature of things. Bestow ing but slight attention on what is purely outward and incidental, he detects with a discriminating eye the analogies and oppositions, the causes and consequences of events. It would seem that the celebrated Montaigne was destitute, perhaps in a more than common degree, of

that form of reminiscence which we have proposed to designate as the circumstantial memo:y. He says on a certain occasion of himself, “I am forced to call my servants by the names.of their employments, or of the countries where they were born, for I can hardly remember their proper names; and if I should live long, I question whether I should remember my own name.

." But it does not appear, notwithstanding his inability to remember names and insulated facts, especially if they related to the occurrences of common life, that he had much reason to complain of an absolute want of memory. His writings indicate his cast of mind, that he was reflective and speculative; and he expressly gives us to understand, that he was much more interested in the study of the principles of human nature than of outward objects. Accordingly, the result was such as might be expected, that his memory was rather philosophical than circumstantial, and more tenacious of general principles than of specific facts.

159. Illustrations of philosophic memory. A man whose perceptions are naturally philosophic, and whose remembrances consequently take the same turn, may not be able to make so rapid and striking advances in all branches of knowledge, as a person of a different intellectual bias. Almost every department of science presents itself to the student's notice under two forms, the practical and theoretical; its facts and its rules of proceeding on the one hand, and its principles on the other. The circumstantial memory rapidly embraces the practical part, seizing its facts and enunciating its rules with a promptness of movement and a show of power which throws the philosophic memory quite into the shade. But it is otherwise when advance into the less obvious and showy, but more fertile region of analo- , gies, classification, and principles.—On this topic Mr. Stewart has some pertinent remarks. “ A man destitute of genius," (that is to say, in this connexion, of a naturally philosophic turn of mind,] “may, with little effcrt, treasure up in his memory a number of particulars in chemistry or natural history, which he refers to no prin.

ciple, and from which he deduces 10 coi clusion; and from his facility in acquiring this stock of information, may flatter himself with the belief that he possesses a naʻural taste for these branches of knowledge. But they who are really destined to extend the boundaries of science, when they first enter on new pursuits, feel their attention distracted, and their memory overloaded with facts, among which they can trace no relation, and are sometimes apt to despair entirely of their future progress. In due time, however, their superiority appears, and arises in part from that very dissatisfaction which they at first experienced, and which does not cease to stimulate their inquiries, till they are enabled to trace, amid a chaos of apparently unconnected materials, that simplicity and beauty which always characterize the operations of nature."

Ø 160. Of that species of memory called intentional recollection

There is a species or exercise of the memory known as INTENTIONAL RECOLLECTION, the explanation of which renders it proper briefly to recur again to the nature of memory in general.—The definition of MEMORY which has een given, is, that it is the power or susceptibility of the nind, by which those conceptions are originated, which are modified by the perception of the relation of past time. This definition necessarily resolves memory, in a considerable degree at least, into Association. But it will be recollected, that our trains of associated thought are not, in the strict sense, voluntary ; that is, are not directly under the control of the will. They come and depart (we speak now exclusively of their origination) without its being possible for us to exercise anything more than an INDIRECT power over them. It foỈlows, from these facts, that our remembrances also, which may be regard

in part as merely associated trains, are not, in the strict sense, voluntary; or, in other words, it is impossible for us to remember ir consequence of merely choosing to remember. To will or to choose to remember anything, implies that the thing in question is already in the mind; and hence there is not only an impossibility resulting from the nature of the mind, but also an absurlity, in

« PreviousContinue »