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his health had impaired his mind, he forgot nothing of what he had done, read, or thought, in any part of his rational age :"-A statement, to which making every allowance for the usual exaggerations of testimony) I do not know that any thing exactly parallel can be produced in the history of any other individual equally distinguished by all the highest gists of the understanding. *
The learned Menage, whom Bayle calls the Varro of the seventeenth century, deserves also to be mentioned here, on account of the extraordinary strength and extent of his memory; but still more on account of the singular degree in which he appears to have recovered that faculty after it had been greatly impaired and almost destroyed, by the infirmities of old age. Few physiological facts relating to the mind are so well attested as this, Menage having himself commemorated his own very interesting history in Latin verses, not inferior to any of his juvenile productions; and, making due abatements for some slight poetical licenses, the circumstances which he records cannot have differed widely from the truth.
“ Musarum veneranda parens, quam Jupiter ipse,
Ille pater Divûm, magno dilexit amore,
A poem of thanks to the same goddess, written when he was upwards of seventy-seven years of age, begins thus:
“Musarum veneranda parens ; quam Jupiter ipse,
Ipse pater Divům, tenero dilexit amore;
Ingenii per te nobis renovata juventa est.”+ Another instance of the same sort of memory, though in a very inferior man, occurred in France, about a hundred years ago, in the Abbé de Longuerue, whose erudition (to borrow an expression
When Locke wrote this passage, he seems not to have been aware that the report rested on the indisputable authority of Pascal's most intimate friend, the justly celebrated Nicole. “Valuit Pascalius, quidem, memoriâ ad prodigium usque, sed ea rerum potius quam verborum, ut nihil unquam semel ratione comprehensum sibi excidisse non jactanter diceret."-See the Elogium D. Blasii Pascalii, à D. Nicole, prefixed to the edition of Pascal's works, printed at the Hague, 1779. i Bayle's Dictionary, Art. Menage.
which D'Alembert applies to it) was not only prodigious, but terrible.* His extraordinary powers displayed themselves even in his childhood, to such a degree, that Louis XIV., when passing through Charleville, stopped to see him as a curiosity. Greek and even Hebrew (we are told) were as familiar to him as his native tongue; and on questions of literature Paris consulted him as an oracle. His mind was so well furnished, not only with historical facts, but with the minutiæ of chronology and topography, that, upon hearing a person remark in conversation, that it would be a difficult task to write a good historical description of France, he asserted that he could do it from memory, without consulting any books. All he asked was to have some good maps of France laid before him. These recalled to him the history of each province, of all the fiefs of the crown, of each city, and even of each distinguished nobleman's seat in the kingdom. He wrote his folio History in a year, which, notwithstanding some very gross errors, is allowed to be correct, not only in its general outlines, but in by far the greater part of its trifling details.
With respect to this extraordinary person, Miss Edgeworth quotes from the Marquis d'Argenson an anecdote, of which some use may, I think, be made by those who are employed in the education of children. When the Marquis asked him how he managed to arrange and retain in his head every thing that entered it, he answered, by observing in general terms, “That the elements of every science must be learned whilst we are very young; not only the first principles of every language, but the A, B, C, of every kind of knowledge. This,” he adds, " is not difficult in youth, especially as it is not necessary to penetrate far. Simple notions are suflicient; when these are once acquired every thing we read afterwards finds its proper place.”'*
* “ Tous ceux qui ont fréquenté l'Abbé de Longuerue, parlent avec étonnement de son érudition prodigieuse et presque effrayante : il avoit tout lu, et une mémoire immense lui avoit tout fait retenir. Aussi étoit-il non-seulement l'effroi des demisavans, qu'il forçoit à se taire devant lui, mais le fléau des savans même, qui ne l'étoit pas assez pour être modestes.”—Eloge d'Alary, Oeuvres de d'Alembert, Tome Onzième.
| This circumstance deserves attention, as it shows what reliance he placed on visible objects and local associations, as adminicles to his powers of recollection. He availed himself, in fact, of the same general principle which suggested the topical memory of the ancient rhetoricians; and of which the efficacy is abun. dantly confirmed by our own daily experience. Whoever has paid any attention to the education of young persons must be satisfied that the only effectual expedie ent for fixing historical knowledge in their minds, is to unite the studies of history and of geography together, by accustoming them to refer every occurrence to the spot where it took place, and to follow with the eye, upon an accurate map, every change of scene in the narrative. The greater part of artificial devices which have been thought of for the same purpose are mere trick and quackery. They may perhaps be occasionally subservient to an ostentatious display, but, on the whole, they can scarcely fail to do more harm than good to the understanding:
# The judgment and taste of this once admired scholar may be inferred from some of his opinions and maxims. D'Alembert mentions, as a specimen, an assertion he was accustomed to make with respect to the English ; that they had never done any good since they renounced the study of Greek and Latin for geometry and physics. Among other singularities, too, of a similar description, he preferred two antiquarian books upon Homer to Homer himself; because (as he said) they contained all that was useful in the poet, without laying the reader under the necessity of toiling through his long and circumstantial stories, “ Avec ces deux livres, on a tout ce qu'il y a d’utile dans ce počte sans avoir à essuyer tous ses
An odd volume of Racine is said to have been the only French book in his library at the time of his death.
contes A DORMIR DEBOUT.
This remark appears to me to be equally just and important; and I am disposed to lay the greater stress upon it, as, in the person to whom it is ascribed, it must be considered merely as an experimental result drawn from the history of his own mind, and not as an inference from any theoretical principles concerning the nature and laws of memory. It contains, I suspect, the great secret of that species of education which is commonly given to people of very high rank : to whom a power of plausible and imposing discourse is too frequently conceived to be an object of greater value than the possession of just and enlightened opinions. In the edu. cation, however, of all without exception, it is susceptible, under proper management, of the most important practical application, not only in facilitating the future acquisition of ornamental knowledge, but in laying an early foundation for that most valuable sort of memory which spontaneously and insensibly classifies, (or, as the Abbé de Longuerue expressed it, puts in its proper place) every particular fact at the moment when it is first presented to the mind. This plan, indeed, seems manifestly to be pointed out to us by nature herself, inasinuch as she has rendered the impressions of early youth incomparably more permanent than those of our more advanced years; and by doing so has furnished the means, to a skilful instructor, of extending the advantages of that precious season over the whole of life.
From these details (and it would be very easy to add to their numbert) it sufficiently appears, that extraordinary powers of memory do not always indicate a corresponding measure of intellectual capacity in general. At the same time, I can by no means subscribe to the prevailing opinion, that extraordinary powers of memory are incompatible either with judgment or with genius. On the contrary, I can scarcely recollect (as I have elsewhere observed) any one person very eminently distinguished by the latter qualities, who has not also possessed a more than common share of the former. And, indeed, if we only consider for a moment how intimately this faculty is connected with every species of mental improvement, it must appear perfectly manifest, that, however numerous the instances may be in which great powers of memory are united with a deficiency in other intellectual endowments, it is nevertheless an unquestionable truth, that a vigorous and retentive memory may be fairly ranked among the most important of the qualities which enter into the composition, either of an inventive genius, or of a comprehensive understanding. In the case, 100, of some individuals of the most powerful and splendid talents, the same preternatural strength of memory has been exemplified which in most instances, is considered, and perhaps not altogether without reason, as symptomatical of a weak and superficial judgment. Of this I have already produced some remarkable proofs in the course of the foregoing observations; and, as I consider the subject as peculiarly interesting from its connexion with the study of intellectual character, I shall take this opportunity to add (although somewhat out of place) one or two other examples in farther confirmation of the same conclusion. The first I have to mention is taken from Isaac Casaubon's preface to the Opuscula of Joseph Scaliger.
* Practical Education, by Maria Edgeworth, and by Richard Lovell Edgeworth, Esq. p. 601, 4to. Edit. 1798.
"Quantum in infantiâ præsumptum est torporis, adolescentiæ acquiritur. Non ergo perdamus primum statim tempus; atque eo minus, quod initia literarum solâ memoriâ constant; quæ non modo jam est in parvis sed tum etiam tenacissima est."- Quinctilian, Lib. i. Cap. i.
† A case of this sort, which has lately come to my knowledge, appears to me so very far to exceed any thing of the same kind recorded either in ancient or modern history, that I once intended to have made it the subject of a separate appendix to this chapter. As the pamphlet, however, from which all my information was derived, is, I presume, still to be met with, and as I am unwilling to add to the size of a volume already too large, I shall delay for the present enriching my work with this interesting article.
The case to which I allude is that of the late Reverend Thomas Threlkeld, minister of a dissenting congregation at Rochdale, whose powers of memory seem to have greatly surpassed all that is related of the Abbé de Longuerue. The first notice I received of this person was in a letter from my late amiable and learned friend, Dr. Edward Percival of Bath, the worthy son of that eminent physician and excellent man, Dr. Percival of Manchester. The letter was accompanied by a sermon on occasion of Mr. Threlkeld's death, with an appendix, containing an account of his life and character, and particularly of his powers of memory, by Thomas Barnes, D. D. Manchester, 1806.
“Nihil est quod discere quisquam vellet quod ille (Scaliger) docere non posset : Nihil legerat (quid autem ille non legerat ?) quod non statim meminisset ; nihil tam obscurum aut abolitum in ullo vetere scriptore Græco, Latino, vel Hebræo, de quo interrogatus non statim responderet. Historias omnium populorum, omnium ætatum, successiones imperiorum, res ecclesiæ veteris, in numerato habebat : animalium, plantarum, metallorum, omniumque rerum naturalium, proprietates, differentias, et appellationes quà veteres, quà recentes tenebat accurate. Locorum situs, provinciarum fines et varias pro temporibus illarum divisiones ad unguem callebat; nullam disciplinarum, scientiarumve graviorum reliquerat intactam; linguas tam multas tam exacte sciebat, ut, vel si hoc unum per totum vitæ spatium egisset, digna res miraculo potuerit videri.” As this preface of Casaubon's forms a dedicatory epistle to the illustrious President de Thou, (who knew Scaliger well, it is to be presumed that every fact and expression would be scrupulously weighed by the writer.
The following passage from an author of unquestionable genius, Ben Jonson, is valuable, both as it attests the surprising extent of his memory in the earlier part of his life, and contains some judicious remarks on the effects produced upon it by habits of indolence.
"I myself could in my youth, have repeated ail that ever I had made, and so continued till I was past forty. Since it is much decayed in me. Yet I can repeat whole books that I have read, and poems of some selected friends which I have liked to charge my memory with. It was wont to be faithful to me, but, sunken with age now and sloth (which weakens the strongest abilities), it may perform somewhat, but cannot promise much. By exercise it is to be made better and serviceable. Whatsoever I pawned with it while I was young and a boy, it offers me readily and without stops: but what I trust to it now, or have done of late years, it lays up more negligently, and oftentimes loses ; so that I receive mine own (though frequently called for) as if it were new or borrowed. Nor do I always find presently from it what I do seek, but while I am doing another thing that I labored for will come; and what I sought with trouble will offer itself when I am quiet. Now, in some men I have found it happy as nature, who, whatsoever they read or pen, they can say without book presently, as if they did then write in the mind. And it is more a wonder in such as have a swift style, for their memories are commonly slowest : such as torture their writings, and go into counsel for every word, must needs fix somewhat, and make it their own at last, though but through their own vexation.”
It is justly observed by Miss Edgeworth, that such prodigies of memory are not now to be looked for, as we have reason to believe were not uncommon in Europe a very few centuries ago. "The art of printing, by multiplying copies of books, so as to put them within the reach of all classes of the people, has lowered the value of those extraordinary powers which some of the learned were then accustomed to display with so much ostentation. At the revival of literature in Europe, a man who had read a few manuscripts, and could repeat them, was not merely a wonder, but a treasure ; he could travel from place to place, and live by his learning; and had far more encouragement to engrave the words of others on his memory than to exercise his own powers of judgment and invention."* In later times, the case is greatly altered. A reference in a common-place book to a particular page relieves the memory entirely of its burden; a good index supersedes the labor of years ; or (as Pope has very happily expressed the same idea,)
“ Though index-learning turns no student pale,
It holds the eel of science by the tail.” The facts which have been already mentioned sufficiently account for the common opinion, that the original differences among men in their capacities of memory are incomparably greater than in the case of any other faculty. Nay, I must consess they seem to show that this opinion is not altogether without foundation. At the same
Edgeworth's Practical Education.