ページの画像
PDF
ePub

father, the man of superior memory, is scarcely known to fame.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

These examples all tend to establish the encouraging belief, that natural defects of memory are not so common as they are thought to be; that where they do exist, they may be remedied by proper care; and that such weakness of memory is compatible with superiority of understanding, and with the attainment of extensive literary and scientific knowledge. These principles are still further confirmed by the most accurate analysis of the human mind, which metaphysicians have yet been able to make. The excellency or defects of memory have by some writers been ascribed to difference in the natural powers of attentiono; by others`, to a difference in the strength or quickness of that faculty, by which ideas are associated in the mind. Both these causes may be still further resolved, into natural vivacity of sensation, or sensibility of pleasure and pain. Here we come precisely to the same point, at which we formerly arrived in analyzing the popular notions of genius; and here the acknowledgment must be repeated, that it is not in the power of art or education to alter the natural vivacity or dulness of sensation in the first stages of infancy or childhood. But as it has been already said with respect to genius, it may here, with more confidence, be asserted of memory, that this original natural difference is not by any means of the importance it is supposed to be. By proper cultivation of the reasoning faculties, the pupil of least natural vivacity may be so educated, as to have a better, that is, a more tenacious and a more recollective memory, than the child whose superior natural vivacity is not judiciously disciplined. It is often remarked, that those who have the quickest, háve not the most retentive memories ; in other words, that those who have the greatest facility of associating ideas, those who have the quickest feelings of pleasure and pain, have not always the strongest habits of fixed or continued attention. Their senses are alive to all external impressions; their varying sensations perpetually waken fresh trains of associated ideas, foreign to the subject to which they should direct their thoughts. It is very difficult to give such children the power of abstracting their attention from surrounding objects, and still more difficult to make them capable of that self-command, which can apply to any given subject. Whatever motives are used, whether of reward or punishment, act usually too violently, and produce effects contrary to those which are desired; they raise hopes, and fears, and thoughts, which are also foreign to the subject to which the pupil is required to apply. Another effort of the mind, and a seemingly contradictory effort, is required; the pupil must abstract his attention from the motive, which actually excites him to labour; to earn the reward, he must for a time forget his wish to obtain it. On these occasions, the natural vivacity of the child's feelings, instead of improving, distracts the memory. By proportioning the motive to the sensibility, and by leading the mind so to reason, and so to act in consequence of reasoning, as to acquire the necessary habits of abstraction, vivacious pupils may be highly cultivated ; but in ordinary education, the chances are against pupils of this description. Those who have naturally most vivacity or sensi

ACOL

llelvetius.

c Stewart.

D

bility, and consequently the greatest capability of having good memories, require therefore mental discipline, full as much as others; and, from the chances of their not being properly managed, the probability is often against their enjoying any material benefit from their natural advantages.

In every point of view, the natural advantage of being able to associate ideas quickly is of little consequence, in comparison with the advantages that result from judicious cultivation. The more closely we investigate the principle of the association of ideas, the more we shall be convinced of this truth. This doctrine of association applied to memory is not a new, but an old theory revived and extended. It is as old as the time of Aristotle, who, in speaking of recollection, observes, “ That the relations by which we are led from “ one thought to another, in tracing out or hunting after any “ particular thought, which does not immediately occur, are “ chiefly three, Resemblance, Contrariety, and Contiguity.” To these Hume has added the relation of Cause and Effect. This enumeration has been shown to be incomplete by subsequent authors, to whom the reader may refer for more accurate information.' It is sufficient here to explain the connexion between these general principles of association and the cultivation of the memory.

. The memory of different persons is governed by each of

ONIS

• Hartley, Priestley, Kames, Gerard's Essay on Genius, Campbell's Philosophy of Rhetoric, and Beattie's Dissertations Moral and Critical. The whole has been accurately recapitulated by D. Stewart.

these associating principles, or at different times by various combinations of them all. Imaginative people, poets, painters, and wits, remember by the principle of resemblance. Cause and effect is the chief associating principle in the minds of logicians, and men of philosophic pursuits. The vulgar and illiterate recollect by the casual relations of contiguity in time and place. This is of all others the least useful, and the least secure principle of memory, for it is the least under the control of the individual.

This might be illustrated in the examination of any vulgar witness in a court of justice*. The principal fact to be recollected must be separated from a heterogeneous assemblage, and this cannot be done without labour and loss of time. A memory that depends chiefly upon this principle of association cannot possibly retain much of what is useful, because it is loaded with what is superfluous; neither has it any security for what it would retain, because the connecting circumstances are casual, and if they escape, there are no means of recalling them, nor is there any surety for their reappearance.

This principle therefore, or, more properly speaking, this habit, should not be encouraged so as to make it the prevailing law of the memory. It may be useful in the common occurrences of life; but to literature or science, to reasoning or eloquence, it is pernicious.

* Wherever this asterisk is used in the text, it refers the reader to PRACTICAL EDUCATION.

The associating principle of resemblance and difference is of more use and dignity ; because on the perception of resemblances depends not only memory, but wit and imagination: and memory associated with these powers is more valuable and more agreeable, than when it exists without them. The habit of remembering by resemblances, either of words, sounds, images, or ideas, should be encouraged in the education of those who are to be poets, or musicians, or who wish to excel in wit.

• A memory depending on the connexion of cause and effect is of all others the most desirable in the cultivation of science and the acquirement of good sense. By the help of this principle the mind commands a vast range of thought; because one general idea of causation represents and summons at will a whole tribe of dependants. Thoughts, perceptions, and facts, when classed under some general principle, are not only more easily recalled to the mind, but are more manageable for all the purposes of reasoning and invention. The advantages of classification in many sciences, in botany and chemistry, for instance, exemplifies this truth. No human memory, not even that of Barretier or of the admirable Crichton, could, without the help of classification, effect what is easily accomplished with its assistance by persons of ordinary powers.

By accustoming the pupil to recollect by means of reflecting and reasoning, by teaching him to store up ideas in his mind in proper classes, the memory may be rendered sufficiently capacious, retentive, and recollective for any of the

« 前へ次へ »