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the acknowledged frugality of nature, who is known in all her works, to distribute favours, no doubt for the wisest purposes, with a most sparing hand. If, however, in the original structure of the mind, we can discover no reason why, when memory is given to us in its greatest vigour, we are not likely, at the same time, to be equally distinguished for the powers of invention, judgment, and reason, we can find sufficient excuse for the prevalent opinion of mankind on the subject, in the natural tendencies of the human mind, and the laws that influence its action. Man is with great difficulty excited to the exercise of those powers, which he does not find necessary to his well-being, or to execute the ordi. nary and important purposes of life. We have before seen, how a person possessed of sight, neglects to pay attention to all those nice perceptions of touch and hearing, which attract the most scrutinising observation of the blind. The reason of this, is, that to the first, those perceptions are useless, because their place is more than supplied by the higher power of sight. A similar rule holds in the case of all the faculties both of mind and body. Those who are possessed of unusually strong memories, find themselves so readily supplied out of the treasures of others, with all those lessons of theoretical or practical knowledge, which may serve their various purposes in life, that they are under no constraint to cultivate the talents of reason, judgment, and invention. They, on the other hand, who have a remarkably ready invention, and abundant resources within themselves, so that they are never at a loss for arguments and illustrations of the point in hand, cannot submit to the drudgery of making themselves masters of the views and conceptions of others. The reason, therefore, why these powers of reason and memory, are seldom found in their highest perfection united in the same person, is, that men are prone to exert them separately and distinctly, from each other, and in undue proportions. By this means, the one is apt to be cul
tivated to the total exclusion, or but partial exercise of the other. I do not mean to assert, indeed, that there may not in our original structure, he communicated to us one of these faculties in great vigour, while we are left entirely destitute, or but in a slight degree possessed of the other. But a great deal also, depends upon the proper culture of the mind, whether the one shall gain the pre-eminence, or all shall be alike nurtured and invigorated. Nothing can be more false than that sentiment, so frequently recurred to in society, that deep erudition, and the study of the most finished models, are calculated to repress genius, and shackle the inventive powers. Little minds only, are encumbered by the weight of learning, but to really good ones it becomes their sustentation. Science and learning, furnish the literary artificer with more copious materials, out of which to form his structures, and his skill will be displayed in the selection of his materials, and the execution of his work. Can it ever be of disadvantage to any one, to have a large stock of precious materials on hand, save to those who have not address and ingenuity enough, to apply them to practical purposes, and on this account allow them to rot and perish in their posses. sion? To the man of true genius, every scrap of information he obtains is of real service, and the largest accumulations remain entirely at his disposal. Feeble minds, have their vanity and ambition sufficiently gratified, in being able to display ostentatiously, the intellectual wealth of others, but strong ones have a higher aim, to draw new riches from their own resources.
The great art, in education, as I conceive, consists in the contemporaneous cultivation of all the powers of the mind, and that too, in a just proportion to their importance and dignity. As reason is, indisputably, the noblest prerogative of our nature, the earliest and most solicitous attention, should be devoted to its improvement, Afterwards in due order, should be cultivated the memory and imagination, which may be regarded as the hand-maids of reason. The one supplies it with the lessons of past experience and observation, and the other gives its embellishments to the structures it has reared. Under this view of the subject, the more abstract and difficult studies, should at a very early period, be mingled with the more agreeable and easy of acquisition, in the instruction of youth. As soon as it can possibly be done with advantage, let the hardier powers of the understanding be put to the test, strengthened and invigorated.
Mr. Locke informs us, that the celebrated Mr. Pascal, until the decay of his health, had impaired his memory, forgot nothing of what he had done, read, or thought, in any part of his rational age.” The declaration of Mr. Pascal was, that he forgot nothing which he chose to remember, and must, no doubt, have been intended to be taken in a very limited sense. He must have meant, that he forgot nothing of great importance, for no man could tell whether he faithfully retained every slight act, which he had performed, or every trivial idea, which had passed through his mind in reading or reflection, during such a length of time. Such a memory, as far as it is to be acquired, is worthy of our most assiduous exertions to obtain it. How useful is it, even in the ordinary transactions of life; but to the orator, the philosopher, the poet, and fine writer, it is indispensable. And, in order, to encourage us in our endeavours to improve this talent, it is worthy of remark, that, perhaps, do not possess a more cultivable faculty. Making its appearance in the child in the feeblest beginnings, there are no limits to be set to the improvement of which it is susceptible, by regular, continued, and vigorous exercise. By the help of this faculty, the orator, who, at first, made his apo pearance in a public assembly with timidity and discomposure of mind, being alarmed and agitated, lest he should fail in his attempt, to convey to others the ideas which occupied
his own mind, is enabled at a single glance, to review all the arguments he had prepared in his private reflections, and thus feel himself entire master of his subject, and able to proceed with steadiness and composure, through the various stages of its discussion. By means of this, it is that the philosopher treasures up in his mind, those maxims of science, which lead him on from investigation to investigation, and from one discovery to another; that the poet retains for the delight of mankind, those fine sentiments, sublime descriptions, and glowing images, which present themselves to him in his moments of inspiration; and that the statesman, and man of business, is enabled to summon to his aid, on the greatest emergencies, all the lessons of his former observation, to determine him to action. And when properly esti. mated, what a strange and extraordinary power is it? If we were not so familiar with its results, should we not regard it as an impossible operation of nature? To be able simply to perceive the objects around and within us, would seem sufficiently wonderful; but how is our astonishment augmented, when we reflect upon that talent, which enables us to recall what has passed months and years before, and that too, in many cases with the greatest accuracy?
It is a general remark, founded upon almost universal experience, that old persons lose their power of remembering; and what is still more singular, that in advanced life, we recollect better what passed at an early period than what has recently happened. These phenomena can be explained only by the consideration, that increasing age augments the rigidity and sluggishness of the several parts of the body, and together with the rest, no doubt, those which immediately minister to the mind in performing its acts of memory. Old persons see less clearly and distinctly, and are obliged to have recourse to the assistance of art, because the organs of vision become impaired by age, and why should not a failure in the memory be occasioned by a like decline in the organs that minister to that faculty? The same view of the matter accounts for the fact, that the old can remember more distinctly what occurs in early life than those things which happen to them at a more advanced period. Their organs being sound and vigorous in youth and manhood, every idea made a stronger impression, and was faithfully imprinted and retained; whereas in old age, the organs being weakened and impaired, every impression made upon them, is like an effect produced upon a hard and sluggish substance, it is not deep and soon wears away.
I am inclined to think, that much labour has often been wasted in the cultivation of the memory, from the mode in which that ohject has been pursued; but when rightly nurtured, the most solid benefits will result from it. Seneca informs us, that by the mere exertion of his memory, he could repeat two thousand words upon once hearing them, although they had no dependence or connection with each other. He mentions a friend of his, Portius Latro, who retained in his memory all the declamations he had ever spoken, and never found his memory fail him in a single word. He tells us also, that Cyneas, being sent by king Pyrrhus, ambassador to the Romans, had so learnt the names of his spectators in one day, that the next day he saluted the whole senate, and all the populace assembled, each by his name. Cyrus, is said to have known every soldier in his army by name; and L. Scipio all the people of Rome. Carneades could repeat whole volumes, and Dr. Wallis make long mathematical calculations, by memory alone. * These instances show to what an extent this power may be strengthened and invigorated, even by the proper and lawful means of improving it. They should stimulate every one who is ambitious of excellence to indefatigable exertions to attain so desirable an object.
See Rees' Encyclopedia, Art. Memory.