MEMORY is that faculty of mind by which we retain the knowledge of previous thoughts, impressions, or events, and by which such knowledge is recalled after it has once dropped from consciousness. An act of memory involves several particulars. There is, first of all, the fact of retention. When any impression has once been made in the sensitive nerve center, when the mind has once been the recipient of any facts from without, or has had experience of any thought, or feeling, or volition, such inward experiences, though vanished from consciousness, are not obliterated they are retained. No fact that has ever come into the mind, no concept that has ever originated in the mind, in short, not a single item of mental experience can ever be annihilated, though it may never return to consciousness, any more than the mind itself can be annihilated. Once in mind always in mind; there is, therefore, no art of forgetting, however poor our memory may be.
A second presupposed fact is that of recall, or reproduction. Retention alone is not memory; there must be a recall or return of past experiences, of vanished precepts and concepts, into consciousness. Retention may be called the passive side, and recall the active side, of memory. Besides these, there are some other general facts involved in an act of memory. For instance, there is present the element of personal recognition. Not simply is there a revival of some image or copy of an original experience, but the image is an image of my own past experience, and not that of another person. The fact recalled must be thought of as my past experience. Then, too, the image must return just as it was experienced, not modified in any way by imagination, neither added to nor diminished; and it must stand in its proper time and space relations. Such are the general facts involved in memory.
Physiological Basis of Memory. What was said in the chapters on Habit and Association should be here recalled, for the facts there developed constitute the foundation of our present inquiry. “The machinery of recall is the same as the machinery of association, and the machinery of association, as we know, is nothing but the elementary law of habit in the nerve-centers” (James).
Attention has been called to the property of plasticity in nervous substance, by virtue of which an impression made upon a nerve or nerve-center leaves in the nerve substance a permanent effect as nervous disposition. We have seen also that this property of plasticity lies at the bottom of that acquired skill which results in learning things, so that without conscious choice or effort we perform such acts as seeing, hearing, talking, walking, singing, piano-playing, writing, etc. The principle, which underlies and conditions these acts and makes it possible to advance in any art, here comes into view as that’ on which memory depends.
“The physical basis of memory, as retentive, is laid in the habit, or acquired tendency, of the elements of the nervous system. This tendency has respect both to the individual elements and to the association of groups of these elements. Each element, speaking figuratively, may be considered as a minute area intersected by an indefinite number of curves of different directions and order. Thus a molecular commotion in any such area may run out into the system along any one of innumerable curves.
Retentiveness. The physiological theory of memory assumes that memory depends upon a persistent disposition, or tendency of movement created in the brain. There are numerous other theories, but as a physiological basis, the one just stated has the advantage, and we hesitate not to give it our preference. This of course does not mean that we commit ourselves to that materialistic style of thought which sees in memory nothing but the physical property of plasticity in the brain substance; memory ultimately is a faculty of the soul and not merely a property of matter. We mean that memory as a faculty of the soul depends upon brain disposition as a means of its operation in the material body. By virtue of the intimate connection between the soul and the body, the soul in its spiritual activities adapts itself to bodily conditions. It is these bodily conditions that experimental psychology has to do with. What the activities of pure spirit are in themselves is a problem of metaphysics and does not belong here. What the soul is in itself and in its pure modes of activity psychology, at least in its present stage, cannot determine. What such terms as “brain disposition,” “pathway of discharge,”etc., may mean in respect to the essence of the soul we do not know; we use these terms as a basis for the explanation of psycho-physienomena, such as make up the stream of consciousness and properly come within the scope of our investigation.
Memory being conditioned on brain-paths and brain disposition, its excellence in a given individual depends, partly on the number and partly on the persistence of these paths. The persistence of the paths is a physiological property of brain tissue, while their number is due to the range of experience. The native degree of persistence differs very greatly in different individuals and also in different stages and conditions of the same individual. Some men’s minds are like wax which yields readily to the seal and retains indefinitely the images stamped upon it no impressions, however disconnected one from the other, are wiped out, but retain their outline sharp and distinct. Others are like jelly, which vibrates to every touch, but retains no permanent mark. Minds of the latter class recall their past experiences with great difficulty, while those of the former class remember names, dates, figures, anecdotes, gossip, poetry, quotations, notes, and all sorts of miscellaneous facts with the utmost ease.
The activity of memory is greatest in childhood, when the brain substance has the highest degree of plasticity. This is also the period when the great bulk of the materials for subsequent mental development is stored away in the memory to be brought out and elaborated into a connected thought system. In the first three to five years the child, in addition to the use of all its organs and faculties, learns to know numberless things, together with their various qualities, and to arrange them into groups and series. Jean Paul has said, “Man learns more in the first three years of childhood than in the three years of college life.” We might say that a child learns more in the first ten years of its existence than in all the remaining years of a long lifetime. Childhood is the period when the mechanical phase of memory predominates, when everything that offers itself is accepted without asking much about the “how” or the “why.” The activity of memory reaches its maximum at about the age of twelve, after which it gradually declines. “With the close of childhood, in the twelfth year, the orbis pious of the man’s world of observation, except certain additions reserved for a later age, is closed and laid down in memory; the grammar and vocabulary of the mother tongue are learned, the child is at home in its environment. Colors, tones, names, numbers, persons, things all are written upon the tablets of the memory.”
Then comes the period of equilibrium, when we can do no more than hold our own. In the age of manhood memory is stationary. The gathering time is past, the period for the free application in independent judgments and conclusions of what was formerly gathered is at hand. In middle age one learns a new language only with great difficulty, retains names and numbers only with much labor. At this time the old memory paths fade out about as rapidly as new ones are made in the brain. The decline of memory in this period is connected with the decreasing sensitiveness of the nervous substance, so that in part the long past. impressions of childhood even now make themselves felt with greater vividness than the newly gained perceptions of this period.
“In old age the activity of memory shows a rapid decline. The old is forgotten, the new is not retained. Only the most important events, only the concepts most frequently in consciousness emerge like islands out of the universal flood of forgetfulness. It is also true that the very aged man remembers the events of his childhood more vividly than those which lie only a year or two behind him” (Lindner). The brain paths are so transient that “in the course of a few minutes of conversation the same question is asked and its answer forgotten a half dozen times.” The plasticity of the old man’s brain substance is nearly spent, analogous to the wood fibre of a dry stick of timber.
Facility of Recall. The readiness with which past experiences are recalled depends, other things equal, upon the number of paths made in the brain by a wide range of experience or by manifold associations.
This idea is illustrated by the following figure,adapted from James:Let n be some past event which it is desired to recall; a, b, c, d . o some facts associated with it, and m some present thought or fact which may become the occasion or cue for the recall of n.Let A, B, C, D, M, N … O’ be the nerve-centers corresponding respectively to a, b, c, d, m, n … o facts. Then AN, BN, CN, DN, MN, ON, are so many brain paths leading to the centre N; so also ABN, ABCN, AB CDN, etc., in the various ways of grouping,according as any given present fact is directly connected with the event to be recalled, or indirectly associated with it.
Now, the more there are of such brain-paths as AN, BN, etc., bearing in upon the center N, and the greater the number of facts associated directly or indirectly with the fact n, which is to be revived, the promter and surer on the whole will be the recall of n; the greater the number of things by which one is reminded of the fact to be recalled, the more avenues of approach to it one will possess and the greater facility he will have of recalling his past experiences.
In the words of Prof. James, “The more other facts a given fact is associated with in the mind, the better possession of it our memory retains. Each of its associates becomes a hook to which it hangs, a means by which to fish it up, when sunk beneath the surface. Together they form a network of attachments by which it is woven into the entire tissue of our thought. The secret of a good memory is thus the secret of forming diverse and multiple associations with every fact we care to retain. But this forming of associations with a fact, what is it but thinking about the fact as much as possible? Briefly, then, of two men with the same outward experiences and the same amount of mere native tenacity, the one who thinks over his experiences most, and weaves them into systematic relations with each other, will be the one with the best memory.”
We see from all this the need of a coherent concept system. Facts and thoughts should stand associated in the mind according to their inner logical relations, and not in a fantastic manner. Whether we have a good memory or not depends very much upon the manner in which we learn the things we wish to remember, and not altogether upon native endowment. The facts and concepts which make up our soul life should, therefore, stand in a logically coherent system. Every new thing we learn should take its proper place in our growing concept mass, bound by natural bonds to the facts already in. In a system, every fact is connected with every other fact by some definite thought relation. Hence every fact so posited in the mind is easily recalled by the combined suggestive power of all the other facts in the system.
Effects of Pathologic Conditions. That the theory above unfolded is in the main correct, receives additional confirmation from certain pathologic conditions of the body. The effects of disease and of the destruction of parts of the brain, upon the memory are such as to suggest, if not conclusively prove, the physiological basis of memory. In cases of injury to the head, persons are known to have forgotten their own names, their native language, everything they ever knew. A certain Mr. Tenent having fallen into a comatose state, and later on into apparent death, on recovering, found that he had lost all knowledge of his past life, and was obliged to commence again the study of the alphabet. After some time his former knowledge suddenly returned to him, as if some physical impediment which obstructed the flow of thought, had been just then removed.
The case of Mezzofanti (Giuseppo Gaspardoborn at Bologna, 1774; Professor of Arabic in the University of Bologna, 1797; librarian to the Vatican, Rome, 1833; made a cardinal, 1838; died, 1849) is in point here. He had an extraordinary memory; before the close of his university career he had mastered the Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Coptic, Spanish, French, German, and Swedish languages. He could speak fluently in thirty languages, and was acquainted in various degrees with seventy-two! When he was installed as cardinal he received congratulations from fifty-three members of the Propaganda, to which he responded, each in his own tongue. A brief attack of fever had the effect to blot out completely his knowledge of the seventy-two languages with which he was acquainted. His memory was entirely suspended; he had lost apparently all his vast stores of knowledge. By and by, upon recovery from the diseased condition of his brain, his memory was restored. The case does not illustrate a “blotting out” of impressions which needed to be imprinted anew on the substance of the brain, but only a temporary obstruction to the use of that which was really in possession.
Sometimes disease has the reverse effect it brings back to mind what has long since been forgotten. Coleridge cites the case of a German servant girl, who in sickness was heard repeating passages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew, of whose meaning she had not the least idea. The mystery was solved when it was ascertained that she had formerly been in the home of a learned Rabbi, who was in the habit of repeating aloud, as he walked in his study, favorite quotations from the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Hebrew Bible. Dr. Rush mentions the case of an Italian who died in New York; in the beginning of his sickness, he spoke English; in the middle period, French; but on the day of his death, nothing but Italian. A Lutheran clergyman of Philadelphia told Dr. Rush that it was not uncommon for the Germans and Swedes of his congregation, when near death, to speak and pray and repeat portions of the catechism in their native tongues, which some of them had probably not used for fifty years and which they had completely forgotten.
Dr. Abercrombie, a distinguished physician of Edinburgh, in a treatise entitled “Inquiries Concerning the Intellectual Powers of Man and the Investigation of Truth,” reports the following very remarkable case: “A girl aged seven years, an orphan of the lowest rank, residing in the house of a farmer, by whom she was employed in tending cattle, was accustomed to sleep in an apartment separated by a very thin partition from one which was frequently occupied by an itinerant fiddler. This person was a musician of considerable skill, and often spent a part of the night in performing pieces of a refined description; but his performance was not taken notice of by this child except as a disagreeable noise. After a residence of six months in this family she fell into bad health, and was removed into the house of a benevolent lady, where on her recovery after a protracted illness, she was employed as a servant.
Some years after, she came to reside with this lady. The most beautiful music was often heard in the house during the night, which excited no small interest and wonder in the family; and many a working hour was spent in endeavors to discover the invisible minstrel. At length the sound was traced to the sleeping room of the girl, who was found fast asleep, but uttering from her lips a sound exactly resembling the sweetest tones of a small violin. On further observation it was found that, after being about two hours in bed, she became restless and began to mutter to herself; she then uttered sounds precisely resembling the tuning of a violin, and at length, after some prelude, dashed off into elaborate pieces of mu-sic, which she performed in a clear and accurate manner, and with a sound exactly resembling the most delicate modulations of that instrument. During the performance she sometimes stopped, made the sound of retuning her instrument, and then began exactly where she had left off in the most correct manner.
These paroxysms occurred at irregular intervals, varying from one to fourteen or even twenty nights; and they were generally followed by a degree of fever, and pains over various parts of her body.
After a year or two, her music was not confined to the imitation of the violin, but was often exchanged for that of a piano of a very old description, which she was accustomed to hear in the house where she now lived; and she then also began to sing, imitating exactly the voices of several ladies of the family. In another year from this time she began to talk a great deal in her sleep, in which she seemed to fancy herself instructing a young companion. She has been known to conjugate correctly Latin verbs which she had probably heard in the school room of the family; and she was once heard to speak several sentences very correctly in French, ,at the same time stating that she heard them from a foreign gentleman whom she had met accidentally in a shop. Being questioned on this subject when awake, she remembered having seen the gentleman but could not repeat a word of what he said. During the whole period of this remarkable affection, which seems to have gone on for ten or eleven years, she was, when awake, a dull, awkward girl, very slow in receiving any kind of instruction,though much care was bestowed upon her; and, in point of intellect, she was much inferior to the other servants of the family. In particular she showed no kind of turn for music. About the age of twenty-one she became immoral in her conduct, and was dismissed from the family. It is believed that she afterward became insane.
What significance have these facts to the psychologist? They strongly suggest the physiological basis of memory. They show that changes in the bodily state are accompanied by corresponding changes in the condition of memory. In the words of another, “The adult brain is a system of vastly intricate and interrelated molecular mechanism. It has been during its entire history, in the process of vital organization of these intricate interrelations. The particular brain-processes concerned in each act of reproduction all fall under the laws which control the general biological process of perpetual organization.
The mental phenomena are a series of related ‘circuits of consciousness,’ overlapping and fading into each other. The brain processes are a succession’ of related nerve commotions in centres contiguous and distant, also overlapping and fading into each other. “Personal Element in Memory. When we have referred the phenomena of retention and recall to a physiological basis, and perhaps have succeeded in giving a reasonably satisfactory explanation, there is still something in the nature of memory which cannot be explained on this hypothesis. There is an “unexplored remainder,” which escapes the physical tests of the biologist; there is the personal element, the conscious recognition of facts and events as my own experiences, which is the grand peculiarity, the profound mystery, of memory, an element grounded in spiritual being, an affair of mind, a characteristic of personality.
The teachings concerning organic memory are doubtless true so far as the organism is concerned, i. e., considering the brain as an instrument of mind in the function of memory; but behind the instrument is the user of the instrument. In the user of the instrument, in the agent conditioning the agency stands the personal element, the conscious recognition implied in every act of memory, the truly distinctive part of memory; and this is spiritual, personal.
The remembered past must be attributed to some ego, some mind, some personality. There is no memory image, that does not involve the conscious recognition of that particular image, as representative of its own past, by the same mind. Conscious recognition, as truly as retention and recall, belongs to memory as a psychical fact. But conscious recognition as a psychical fact implies a conscious ego, a personal self, a spiritual power, a soul in freedom. “We cannot even conceive of the nature of the physiological process which would serve as an ‘explanation’ in any sense of the word but for this characteristic of recognition, this self appropriation as belonging to the past of the same ego, or mind, which enters into all conscious memory. All that any physiological process could possibly explain, in case we knew its nature most completely, would be why I remember one thing rather than another granted the inexplicable power of the mind to remember at all (i. e., to recognize consciously the present state as representative of its own past). This power is a spiritual activity wholly sui generis, and incapable of being conceived of as flowing out of any physical condition or mode of energy whatever.”
Varieties and Wonders of Memory. There are many varieties of memory, and writers on the subject record many examples of its extraordinary develop . ment. Some are characterized by a remarkable power to remember names. Themistocles could call by name all the citizens of Athens, when that city numbered over 20,000 inhabitants. Cyrus according to Pliny knew the name of every soldier in his vast army. Dr. Stewart mentions the case of a young Corsican at Padua, who could repeat, without hesitation, 36,000 names in the order in which he heard them, and then reverse the order and proceed backward to the first.
Pontius Latro could repeat verbatim every speech he had ever heard in the Roman senate.
Some memories are remarkable for their power of holding figures and using them in performing difficult mathematical operations. Dr. Wallis of Oxford, one night in bed, proposed to himself a number of fifty-three places, and found its square root to twentyseven places, and, without writing anything down, dictated the result twenty days afterward. It was not unusual for him to perform mathematical operations in the dark, e. g., extracting roots to forty decimal places.
The distinguished Euler, blind from early life, had always in his memory a table of the first six powers of all numbers, from one to one hundred. On one occasion two of his pupils, calculating a converging series on reaching the seventeenth term found their results differing by one unit at the fiftieth figure and in order to decide which was correct, Euler went over the whole in his head, and his decision was found. afterward to be correct.
Then there are those who possess extraordinary power to retain and recall dates, facts, things, incidents, etc. Pascal, the distinguished French author, never forgot anything he had read or heard or seen. Perhaps the most remarkable case is that of Magliabechi, librarian to the Duke of Tuscany. He could inform any one who consulted him not only who had treated directly of any particular subject, but also who had indirectly touched upon it in treating of other subjects, to the number of perhaps one hundred different authors, giving with the greatest exactness the name of the author, name of the book, the words, often the page, where they were to be found.
To test his memory, a gentleman of Florence lent him once a manuscript which he had prepared for the press, and, some time afterwards, went to him with a sorrowful face and pretended to have lost his manuscript by accident. The poor author seemed inconsolable, and begged Magliabechi to recollect of it what he could, and write it down for him. He assured the unfortunate man that he would do so, and setting about it, wrote out the entire manuscript without missing a word!
He had also a wonderful local memory. He knew where every book in the great library stood.One day the Grand Duke sent for him to inquire if he could procure a book which was very scarce. “No, sir,” answered Magliabechi, “it is impossible; there is but one in the world; that is in the Grand Seignior’s library at Constantinople, and is the seventh book, on the seventh shelf, on the right hand as you go in.”
Some men have an extraordinary musical memory. The example of young Mozart writing out in full the Miserere of Allegri is well known. The Miserere is a part of the service used in the Pope’s chapel in Rome, sacredly guarded and kept with great care in the archives of the chapel. Any singer found tampering with this Miserere of Allegri, or giving a note of it to an outsider, would be visited by excommunication. Only three copies of this service have ever been sent out. One was for Emperor Leopold, another to the King of Portugal, and the third to the celebrated musician, Padre Martini.
But there was one copy that was made without the Pope’s orders, and not by a member of the choir’ either.
When Mozart was taken to Rome in his youth, by his father, he went to the service at St. Peter’s and heard the service in all its impressiveness. Mozart, senior, could hardly arouse the lad from his fascination with the music, when the time came to leave the cathedral. That night after they had retired and the father slept, the boy stealthily arose and by the bright light of the Italian moon, wrote out the whole of that sacredly guarded Miserere. The Pope’s locks, bars and excommunications gave no safety against a memory like Mozart’s.
Another instance is mentioned of this master’s power of memory. He had promised to write a piano and violin sonata for Mad. Schlick, the great violinist. Instead of attending to his promise, he went to work on other things, and postponed the sonata until a few days before the concert, when the new work was to be played. Mozart then composed the sonata in B flat major, and had the entire work ready in his mind, but still delayed the odious task of writing it down. A day before the concert the lady was terrified, having not yet received the manuscript from the composer. She at once sent a servant to remind him of his duty, whereupon Mozart hastily wrote out the violin part and sent it to the lady. In the concert, however, he played his own part from memory, having never played it before.
There are musicians who remember as many as twenty, thirty, and even forty operas, each of which would fill an evening. The blind flutist Dullon knew 125 concertos by heart and distinguished each by a certain number.
Charles Wesley could play the whole of Handel’s numerous choruses from memory. Samuel Wesley has given many remarkable instances of a similarly retentive memory; one of the most remarkable may be mentioned. In his early days he composed an oratorio consisting of a score of upward of three hundred closely written manuscript pages. It was afterwards performed at one of the Birmingham festivals. Returning to London the composer was robbed of his portmanteau, which contained this work, and he never again heard of its contents. Nearly twenty-five years afterward, at the soli-citation of a friend, he commenced to write it out afresh, which he did with the greatest facility, stating that he saw the score in his mind’s eye as accurately and distinctly as if it lay before him.
Cultivation of Memory. That there are great initial differences among individual memories in respect to facility of recall is a matter of common observation. Some are naturally gifted with a fine memory while others must struggle all their life time to retain what they have gained. As Locke has said, “In some persons the mind retains the characters drawn on it like marble, in others like freestone, and in others little better than sand.” But whether a memory be good or faulty, it is capable of cultivation to an indefinite degree. A man never knows his possibilities until he tries. No one, however poor his memory may be, needs to despair, for by proper training the poorest of memories may be indefinitely improved. Prof. Norton H. Townshend of the Ohio Agricultural College, at the age of five years received an injury from a fall by which his memory was almost destroyed. What he had learned before had to be acquired again. A lesson carefully prepared was forgotten before recitation time. When sent on an errand he had to return to ask what he had been sent for. Driven almost to despair by such experiences, he set about a systematic course of memory training, and in process of time succeeded so well that he surpassed all his companions in power of memory. Thurlow Weed, the famous journalist, relates that his memory was like a sieve. He set about improving his memory, and at length attained a power as remarkable as was his previous weakness. His method was the simple but effective one of recalling every night what he had done during the day.
As to the best means and methods of memory training there is great diversity of opinion. Numerous books have been written on the art of improving the memory, and, various schemes have been devised for that purpose; but many of them are based on partial or erroneous views of the true principles of memory, and are, therefore, of little or no real value, tending rather to distort than to improve and strengthen the memory. Every true method must be based on an intimate knowledge of the nature of memory, and the principles on which it acts.
When we remember that all progress in knowledge, in fact, our whole psychic life, depends on memory, we can understand how important its proper cultivation is. Dr. Hering says: “It seems that we owe to memory almost all that we have or are; that our ideas or conceptions are its work, and that our every perception, thought and movement is derived from this source. Memory collects the countless phenomena of our existence into a single whole … . Our consciousness would be broken up into as many fragments as we have lived seconds but for the binding and unifying force of memory.”
According to Prof. Bain, “memory is the faculty that most of all concerns us in the work of education …. All improvement in the art of teaching depends on the attention that we give to the various circumstances that facilitate acquirement or lessen the number of repetitions for a given effect.”
The following suggestions will be found helpful in memory culture: First, Proper Physical Conditions. If memory has a physiological basis, and if the facts stated in the paragraph on pathologic conditions have any significance, it follows that a sound physical state is the first condition of a good memory. Whatever affects the general health must also affect the memory. Indigestion, a torpid liver, headache, weariness of body, a vitiated atmosphere, insufficient nourishment, etc.,all affect the condition of the brain and in a degree also the memory.
There must be a sufficient supply of good healthy blood, and its free circulation must not be impeded. All mind action and brain action is connected with the flow of blood. When there is intense brain action a powerful current of blood is sent into that organ to supply fresh material and carry off the wornout cells. The “balancing experiment” shows this. The human body is very delicately balanced in a horizontal position, while the mind is in a state of indifferent activity. If now in this condition of perfect equipoise the subject’s mind is suddenly excited, the head end of the body is found to go down, showing that an increased quantity of blood has been brought into the brain. The same thing is shown also in other ways. The phenomena of paleness in the face by fainting, of blushing, of cold feet while studying hard, etc., are indirect proofs of the varying blood distribution according to the degree of mental activity.
That these physical conditions indirectly affect the memory is reasonably certain. A man with a naturally fine memory was taken sick, and, on recovering, he suffered for nearly a year from feeble heart action. During this time he complained of not being able to remember scarcely anything. As soon as his heart action became normal he regained his usual vigor of memory. Isaac Taylor says, “that this organic mental faculty of memory, as at present possessed even by the most highly favored individuals, is susceptible of much enhancement and extension, merely by an improvement of the corporeal constitution.” A normal exercise of the memory supposes an active circulation and blood rich in the materials necessary for integration and disintegration” (Th. Ribot). “Disturbances to the memory may arise from too feeble circulation through the brain as well as from over excitement or congestion of the blood there” (Sir H. Holland).
When the body is fresh and vigorous, plentifully supplied with healthy arterial blood, impressions are easily made, and are usually lasting. But when the body is exhausted by fatigue, or suffers from want of nourishment or impoverishment of blood, the impressions will be slight and made with difficulty. Bodily vigor is thus the foundation of a good memory. It is true that some persons of feeble body have possessed powerful memories; but a person in health always remembers better than when weakened by disease.
Therefore, pay attention to the laws of hygiene. Keep the health of the body at the high water mark. Take sufficient exercise and exercise of such a kind as will call into action every muscle and every nerve of the whole body. It is a mistake to sit in your room a whole day long trying to memorize a piece of music, till you become weary and nervous. Go out sometimes and engage in some kind of physical exercise, it does not matter much what it is, until the blood is made to course through every vein and artery and capillary, and the flush of new life comes into your cheeks. Then, after a few moments of rest, resume your task and you will accomplish far more than you could possibly do by the painful process of continuous poring; and, what is still better, you will train your memory in the right way, so that you will retain far more easily what you learn. Avoid all kinds of dissipation, and the use of stimulants to brace up a depleted nervous system. Every advantage gained by resorting to such practices is only temporary and at the expense of the delicate nervous tissue. In the end the effect is to lower the bodily tone and weaken the memory.
Secondly, Clear Perception. Whether a given idea or fact will be easily recalled depends largely upon the way the fact is learned. If the perception is indistinct and the mental image vague, it will soon fade from memory. Indistinctness of mental image, haziness of perception, lies at the root of many a bad memory. Learn to see and hear things sharply and accurately. That which is treasured up and recalled in memory is the impression made upon the mind itself by the sensation of idea, and unless this is clear and distinct that which is recalled will be imperfect. Therefore, we must attend carefully to the formation of the original impression. “When the impression that is formed in the mind is clear, distinct, and vivid, it will be readily reproduced with much of its original character and force; but when, on the other hand, it is indistinct, hazy, ill-formed, it will be recalled with difficulty, and only in a very imperfect manner.”* Anyone can easily verify these statements by his own experience. That which we have observed most sharply, we recall most easily. Objects distinctly be-held are longest retained in the mind and most readily recalled.
Cultivate the visualizing habit, i. e., make every concept stand out with the distinctness and completeness of a sharply formed image. When you memorize a piece of music, make the notes and bars and lines stand forth like a picture in the mind; then also the auditory image of the sounds should be as sharp as that which appears to the eye. Photograph, as it were, on the retina measure after measure, page after page with such distinctness and accuracy that afterwards you can repeat their contents note for note and word for word, just as if you were reading them from the printed page. This in turn will form a brain habit of remembering things pictorially, and hence more exactly and with greater interest. “The best workmen,” says Sir Francis Galton, “are those who visualize the whole of what they propose to do be-fore they take a tool in their hands.” The remark is applicable also to the musician; he should have a clear image of the notes before attempting to play or sing them.
In the same connection it should be observed that the first impression of an object made on the mind is of special importance in respect to memory. Novelty generally awakens interest, and when an object is perceived under the excitement of heightened interest, it usually makes a lasting impression. If curiosity is strongly excited about a thing it becomes readily fixed in the memory. “As a rule the mind looks upon a thing with more interest, and its curiosity is more excited concerning it on its first appearance than on any subsequent occasion. Hence, the first occasion of an impression reaching the mind is always the most favorable for fixing it in the memory. Each subsequent recurrence of it renders it more familiar to the mind, which is therefore less curious about it; and, besides, the repeated appearance of the same impression under different circumstances tends. to diminish the clearness and distinctness of the original.” Mr. Galton observes “that the first image most people have acquired of any scene is apt to hold its place tenaciously in spite of subsequent need of correction …. If they see an object equally often in many positions, the memories combine and confuse one another, forming a composite blur which they cannot dissect into its components. They are less able to visualize the features of intimate friends than those of persons of whom they have caught only a single glance.”
Thirdly, Rational Association. In the chapter on Association this principle was fully explained. It remains here simply to point out its application to the memory and to memory training. When things are rationally associated in one’s concept mass, that is, according to their inner thought relations, such as those of cause and effect, instrument and use, means and end, etc., they are more easily retained and re-called than when not so associated. If we reflect on the fundamental facts of association we shall see the reason for this. Each new mental acquisition should be linked by some logical thought relation to old facts already in the mind. Order and classification of facts to be remembered are necessary. “Nothing,” says Prof. Blackie, “helps the mind so much as order and classification. Classes are always few, individuals many; to know the class well is to know what is most essential in the character of the individual, and what burdens the memory least to retain.”
Hence, the need of a concept-system in regard to everything we learn and wish to retain. Facts thrown together into the mind in a state of isolation and confusion are hard to recall; besides, the habit of doing so weakens the power of memory. The wise man brings things into his mind in their right relations; he insists upon order and classification in his ‘knowledge; facts are grouped according to their genera and species, and nothing lies loose in his mind.
In the following example quoted by Prof. Gordy, from “Tate’s Philosophy of Education,” notice the effect on memory of grouping ideas according to their natural relations: “Betty,” said a farmer’s wife to her servant, “you must go to town for some things. You have such a bad memory that you always forget something, but see if you can remember them all this time.” “I’m very sorry, ma’am,” said Betty, `that I’ve such a bad memory, but it’s not my fault; I wish I had a better one.” “Now mind,” said her mistress, “listen carefully to what I tell you. I want suet and currants for the pudding.” “Yes, ma’am, suet and currants.” “Then I want leeks and barley for the broth, don’t forget them.” “No, ma’am, leeks and barley; I shan’t forget.” “Then I want a shoulder of mutton, a pound of tea, a pound of coffee, and six pounds of sugar. And as you go by the dressmaker’s, tell her she must bring out calico for the lining, some black thread and a piece of narrow tape.” “Yes, ma’am,” says Betty, preparing to depart. “Oh, at the grocer’s get a jar of black currant jam,” adds the mistress. The farmer who has been quietly listening to this conversation, calls Betty back when she has started, and asks her what she is going to do in the town. “Well, sir, I’m going to get tea, sugar, a shoulder of mutton, coffee, coffee let me see, there’s something else.” “That won’t do,” said the farmer; “you must arrange the things as the parson does his sermon, under heads, or you won’t remember them. Now, you have three things to think of breakfast, dinner and dressmaker.” “Yes, sir.” “What are you going to get for breakfast?” “Tea and coffee and sugar and jam,” says Betty. “Where do you get these things?” “At the grocer’s.” “Very well. Now, what will be the things put on the table at dinner?” “There’ll be broth, meat and pudding.” “Now, what have you to get for each of these?” “For the broth I have to get leeks and barley, for the meat I have to get a shoulder of mutton, and for the pudding I must get suet and currants.” “Very good. Where will you get these things?” “I must get the leeks at the gardener’s, the mutton and suet at the butcher’s, and the barley and the currants at the grocer’s.” “But you had something else to get at the grocer’s.” “Yes, sir, the things for breakfast tea, coffee, sugar and jam.” “Very well. Then at the grocer’s you have four things to get for breakfast and two for dinner. When you go to the grocer’s think of one part of his counter as your breakfast table and another part as your dinner table, and go over the things wanted for breakfast and the things wanted for dinner. Then you will remember the four things for breakfast and the two for dinner. Then you will have two other places to go for the dinner. What are they?” “The gardener’s for leeks, and the butcher’s for meat and suet. “Very well: That is three of the places. What is the fourth?” “The dressmaker’s to tell her to bring out calico. thread and tape for the dress.” “Now,” said the master, “I think you can tell me everything you are going for.” “Yes”, said Betty, “I’m going to the grocer’s, the butcher’s, and the gardener’s. At the grocer’s I’m going to get tea, coffee, sugar, and jam for breakfast, and barley and currants for dinner. But then I shall not have all the things for dinner, so I must go to the butcher’s for a shoulder of mutton and suet, and for leeks to the gardener’s. Then I must call at the dressmaker’s to tell her to bring lining, tape and thread for the dress.” Off goes Betty and does everything she has to do. “Never tell us again,” said her master, “that you can’t help having a bad memory.”
Cramming, that is, preparing a lesson by committing `points’ to memory simply for the sake of reciting them brilliantly, is a bad mode of study, and weakens the memory. Habits of continuous, persistent application should be enforced, whereby the mind grows in a normal way. The lesson must be studied for the purpose of gaining general mental strength, and then also the memory will be strengthened in the same proportion. Nothing is better as a means for improving the memory than general intelligence and systematic study. If the memory is to be retentive, there must be given it something to do; it grows ,strong by exercise, just as the muscles of the athlete grow by persistent use. Fill the mental storehouse with facts of knowledge, not crammed into the mind, but thoroughly studied.
It is vain to rely on artificial methods, such as are usually set forth under systems of mnemonics; after all, there is only one way, and that is hard study, thorough, earnest study. One lesson thoroughly and perfectly understood, one etude mastered in all the points of its contents, will do you more good than ten lessons or ten etudes superficially gone over or mechanically crammed into the mind. Without careful study there is no mental growth, no progress in unfolding the potentialities of the soul. Other things may be seized on by might, or purchased by money; but knowledge is to be gained only by study.
“Learning by heart” is not memory training; it tends to a mechanical habit of committing words, not ideas, to memory. As Locke says, “Learning by heart, I know not what it serves for but to misspend the time and pains of pupils, and give them a disgust and aversion to their books.” Pope in the “Dunciad” thus satirizes this practice: “Since man from beast by words is known, Words are man’s province, words we teach alone.”
In a similar strain Shakespeare makes two of his characters say: “What do you read, my lord?” “Words, words, words!”
Hamlet, Act II,Committing simply words and notes without at the same time associating with them the ideas they stand for, has little disciplinary value and certainly is time lost and energy spent in vain. Gain ideas, gain knowledge of the piece you are memorizing and of the composer. Study, really study, the masters, and observe with what a sweep of thought they range over the field of their subject. That kind of mental exercise agrees with the nature of the mind and strengthens the memory. “Never be satisfied with the surface of things; probe them to the bottom, and let nothing go till you understand it as thoroughly as your powers will enable you. If you are working on a classic composition, while you are learning the outward form of it as it appears to the eye and ear, learn also the secret thought, the informing soul, that speaks through the outward form.” It may be a slow and, perhaps, at first a tedious process, but it yields excellent results. Good memory is good knowing. The great thing in memory training is to give the memory plenty of logically associated ideas to hold. “Memory exercised is memory trained.”
Fourthly, Close Attention. Attention is necessary for the cultivation of memory. Perhaps the defects of memory, of which most persons complain, are due more to the want of attention than to any other cause. It is a matter of universal experience that what we attend to we remember, but what we do not attend to we readily forget. By attention (attendo, to stretch towards) is meant that attitude or state of mind by which its energy is voluntarily fixed upon some one particular object or act or idea, to the exclusion for the time being of all other things. As the etymology of the word suggests, an act of attention implies an active exertion of energy, a concentration of thought, an application of will; it therefore signifies that the soul is wide awake when it is in a state of attention.
“Memory is very much influenced by attention or a full and distinct perception of the fact or object, with a view of its being remembered.”Dr. Abercrombie.
“It is a matter of common remark that the permanence of the impression, which anything leaves on the memory, is proportioned to the degree of attention which was originally given to it.”D. Stewart.
“The experiences most permanently impressed upon consciousness are those upon which the greatest amount of attention has been fixed. “D. G. Thompson.
“An act of attention, that is, an act of concentration, seems thus necessary to every exertion of consciousness, as a certain contraction of the pupil is requisite to every exertion of vision … Attention, then, is to consciousness what the contraction of the pupil is to sight, or to the eye of the mind what the microscope or telescope is to the bodily eye… It constitutes the better half of all intellectual power.” Sir William Hamilton.
“The force wherewith anything strikes the mind is generally in proportion to the degree of attention bestowed upon it. The great art of memory is attention … Inattentive people have always bad memories.”Dr. J. Beattie.
From the nature of the case, the mind can attend to but one thing at a time. According to Bain, a plurality of stimulations of the nerves may coexist, but they can affect consciousness only by turns, or one at a time.
“It is established by experience,” says M. Jouffroy, “that we cannot give our attention to two different objects at the same time.” Sir William Hamilton states this principle in the form of a law, namely, `that the intension of our knowledge is in the inverse ratio of its extension-i.e., that the greater the number of objects to which our consciousness is simultaneously extended, the smaller is the intensity with which it is able to consider each, and consequently the less vivid and distinct will be the information it obtains of the several objects … When our interest in any particular object is excited, and when we wish to obtain all the knowledge concerning it in our power; it behooves us to limit our consideration of that object to the exclusion of others.”There is a great variety of cases in which the mind apparently exerts different acts of attention at one and the same time; but knowing the incalculable rapidity of the thought processes, it is obvious that all such cases may be explained without supposing those acts. to be coexistent. For example, in a concert of music a good bar can attend to the different parts separately, or can attend to them all at once, and feel the full effect of the harmony. In this case, however, the mind does not attend to several things at the same time; but it constantly transfers its attention from one part of the music to another, and its operations are so rapid as to give us no perception of any interval of time between its separate acts. Strong objections have, indeed, been urged against this doctrine; but we think a close examination of all the facts in the case will result in an affirmative decision.
The power of attention, the power of fixing the mind upon a particular object till it has been thoroughly mastered, more than anything else distinguishes the man of genius from others. Indeed, genius has been defined as “the power of concentrating and prolonging the attention upon any given subject.” Sir Isaac Newton, in describing his method of study, said : “I keep the subject continually before me, and wait till the first dawning opens slowly by little and little into a clear light;” and, when complimented on his great discoveries, he modestly replied, “that if he had made any improvements in the sciences, it was owing more to patient attention than to any other talent” On the other hand, the want of power to hold attention upon any one thing for any length of time is a mark of a weak mind. “Imbeciles and idiots”, says Esquirol, “are destitute of the faculty of attention.” According to an authority, “one of the most constant and characteristic symptoms of coming insanity is a debilitated power of attention … The growing deficiency of attention points to a coming imbecility, and especially to an impending attack of softening of the brain.”
The bearing of all this upon the memory is apparent. He who would have a powerful memory must be able to concentrate his attention. Says Joseph Cook, “Attention is the mother of memory, and interest is the mother of attention.” The evil of reading or playing mechanically or automatically is immediately inferred. When you read a book or play a piece of music you must not allow the mind to fall into a passive state, for that will weaken the memory. Persons who never summon their will power to aid them in tracing out the thought contained in the composition in hand, are sure to forget the next moment what they learned the moment before. But this is not all; the worst of it is that the memory is thereby abused, in-capacitated for better use.
fifthly, Constant Repetition. As the ground of this principle has already been fully explained in connection with the formation of habits we need not here farther elaborate it. The fact is that simple repetition of art act causes that act to be more easily recalled than one not so repeated. It is a law of our system by which actions at first requiring much attention and effort are after frequent repetition performed much more easily, or even without conscious effort. This is exemplified in various acts of daily life, such as reading and writing, but in a most remarkable degree in music. At first the notes must be carefully scanned one by one as they stand upon the staff, and the keys on the instrument must be hunted out, and the placing of the fingers must be watched, all of which is a slow and painfully conscious process; but with frequent repetition of the same acts in the same way facility is gained, and by and by the most rapid movements are performed with the minimum of attention and effort.
Dr. Carpenter says: “The aptitude which is acquired by practice for the performance of certain actions that were at first accompanied with difficulty, seems to result as much from a structural change which the continual repetition of them occasions in the muscles, as in the habit which the nervous system acquired of exciting movement.” And Th. Ribot adds, “After each action a muscle is better prepared for action, more disposed to a repetition of the same work, and readier to reproduce a given organic process.” Thus, what was at first accomplished with difficulty, by and by becomes second nature, so that no effort is required to perform it. The effect of practice shows that the more frequently the same fibres are thrown into action, the easier does their action become.
Thus, strength of memory and of mind comes by practice, just as strength of muscle is developed by constant use. Milo, the Greek athlete, could carry the ox on his shoulders, because earlier he carried, the calf day after day. He developed his extraordinary physical strength by repeated daily exercise; so must strength of memory be cultivated, namely, by patiently and persistently doing the same thing over and over again. Nor should this be a blind repetition, a mere task exercise, a treadmill performance. In proportion as it is done with thought and intelligence, it can be made interesting and invigorating. If we bring into our daily exercises a laudable ambition and resolute will to make the very best use of our time and opportunities, it affords us real satisfaction to find that with each day’s routine of practice we are gaining in strength and facility and are better prepared for the next step. By infusing interest into our work we shall be able more and more to beguile our moments of toil, the drudgery of our tasks, into pleasant occupation and invigorating exercises. This leads to the mention of,Sixthly, The Principle of Interest. If interest can be brought to the aid of memory, the battle is half won. Boys, who apparently can remember nothing pertaining to their studies, are able to recall with the utmost ease and with perfect accuracy every move in a game of base ball or a game of checkers, because they are intensely interested in the game.
As a matter of experience, we know that whatever we are deeply interested in we easily remember. When the learner becomes interested in his music work he has little trouble to remember what he has learned. Looking at things from the standpoint of results ofttimes has the effect to arouse interest in things to which otherwise we are indifferent. Thus, when students discover that the study of psychology is a great ad-vantage to them in the pursuit of their music studies, they become interested in the subject.
The philosophy of illustrations in spoken and written discourse rests, in large part, on this principle of interest. We know what effect a happy illustration has to fix a given fact or statement in the memory. By the use of illustrations we link abstract ideas with concrete things. What we can see, hear, or touch, is more interesting than what we try to hold in abstract thought. On the same principle depends the use of figures of speech, pictures, maps, charts, object lessons, etc. Teaching by parables and fables is another example of the same kind. Who can forget the truth taught by the parable of the sower, the good shepherd, the prodigal son? As long as the world stands men will remember the beautiful parables, the masterly word pictures of our Saviour. So likewise the familiar fables, such as those of the wolf and the lamb, the fox and the sour grapes, the lion and the ass, cling to our memory, when many other things fade almost as soon as learned.
Here also is to be noted the use of stories in teaching children. Story telling is a great and useful art. He who knows how to do this well is a good teacher of children and youth. He who can lodge a great truth in the mind of childhood by means of a good story, invests that truth with a permanent interest and fastens it in the memory of the child never to be forgotten.
Nora Archibald Smith has written a delightful chapter on the importance of the story in child education, which we wish to recommend to all students and teachers. She says: “As you follow the dusky track of the twilight as it tiptoes round the world, in land after land, you and the twilight together will steal upon a little circle of children gathered about the knees of a story teller… Earth is circled with this vast company of story tellers, nightly surrounded by their little ones, black, and white, and red, and brown, and yellow; their eager, upturned faces and eloquent voices all uttering the same plea, `Tell us a story! Oh, tell us a story!’
What is the secret of the charm which story telling has for the child? Is it not first, perhaps, the fact that it interprets life wonderful, mysterious, fascinating life to him, and places in his hand a sort of telescope, through which he eagerly peers into the world across the threshold of his nursery? Is it not, again, that it addresses the imagination his dominant power, his delight, his way of escape, that he may be able to bear the dullness, the denseness, the want of comprehension, of the grown up world?” Now-It is a matter for congratulation that in recent days the use of stories has been introduced into music teaching. This principle is happily illustrated in an exceedingly bright and beautiful publication recently issued by Miss Nettie Delphine Ellsworth with the title “Little Journeys in Melody Land.” It is a step in the right direction, and is one of the fruits of mind study as applied to music. It is to be hoped that others will be stimulated to use their talents in the interests of childhood and music in the same direction. Another similar fruit of the study of Psychology in recent times is the introduction of the Kindergarten method into the musical instruction of children. We see in all this how the principle of interest is gaining ground in learning and teaching music.
The Pedagogical Value of Memorizing Music. In recent times it has become the custom of many music teachers to require their pupils to memorize most or all of the lessons they recite. Also at concerts and recitals it is customary to play without notes. This practice has important pedagogical bearings, and from the standpoint of psychology has many things to be said in its favor. Too much stress cannot be laid on the fact that memorizing leads to a closer study of the best music, a more thorough comprehension of it, and a more intelligent appreciation of what it contains.
Then, too, this practice has an important influence on technique, in that “it leads to ascertaining more and more perfectly the precise points of difficulty which hinder the easy performance of a given passage.” Difficulties are often overcome by memorizing the passage in which they occur; in all cases they are very much diminished. When the mind knows clearly and certainly where it desires to carry the musical thought, the fingers manage to perform their part. We have before pointed out the necessity of having thought behind the fingers in order that the fingers may do their work to the best advantage, and here now this doctrine finds both its application and illustration. We know how important technique is in playing. But the best technique is that which springs from clear musical thought, from a mind well stored with accurate knowledge and a heart overflowing with tender emotion. In order to make use of thought and feeling in the act of playing it is much better if the music has been memorized so that all of the attention may be fixed on the contents of the piece.
In the way of correct musical perception and the formation of a right musical style much could be said in favor of memorizing. “A Bach fugue cannot possibly be well played without memorizing until after the pupil has acquired a great deal of experience in this class of music; and even then the performance of any fugue will be greatly improved by memorizing. It will not be necessary to do much criticism, if the piece is studied by a fairly competent pupil; merely memorizing and the influence of the music itself will transform the playing and render it definite and effective. Such style forming pieces as the Chopin Etudes must also be memorized, if we want their full effect. Pleasing pieces at all stages of the progress are memorized for the convenience of having them handy when one wants to play them; and for the additional reason that this is part of the process of completely learning them.”
Without this thorough acquaintance with a piece of classic music involved in the act of memorizing it, the pupil is apt to have a poor perception of its beauties, and his style of execution will be correspondingly deficient. How, for instance, would an actor get along in the impersonation of Hamlet or Othello if he did not memorize his part? Before he can take the first step towards a good style of acting he must have a keen perception of what the piece contains in all its relations, and this is possible only by having the whole of it before his mind at once. There is no other way of getting into the `merits’ of the drama than by thoroughly memorizing it and then studying each detail as he sees the piece in its entirety before his mind. Before this is done it is not possible for him to shut out of mind every other object, every other idea, a condition so necessary for the highest degree of dramatic power. The tragedian who can so throw himself into his character or subject as to be oblivious of everything but that, is the one that is most natural and therefore moves the audience most powerfully. It is said of Mrs. Siddons that she was wont to throw herself into the character of the person she was representing to such a degree that she would lose sight of her own personality, would become so completely engrossed in the part she was playing, as to be, for the time, rather than act, the character assumed. The same principle holds in the performance of a great piece of music, and the same reason for memorizing applies. A true style of, rendition cannot be otherwise formed.
Closely connected with this is another advantage of memorizing music, namely, liberty of performance. Listen to the words of Dr. Mertz: “Not only does it enable him to afford pleasure to willing listeners at any time or place, but by playing or singing without the aid of notes, he is free, and is thereby enabled to perform with more liberty and sentiment. The close musical reader is fettered, a good share of his mental activity is expended upon reading the notes, upon observing expression marks, while, if he were free from his bondage, he could throw his whole soul into the performance. The musician who sings or plays from memory is a secondhand improviser, he forgets self, he lives in the music and not in the notes or in his surroundings. This is the reason why musicians prefer to play from memory, and it is the lack of this faculty that keeps so many respectable players from soaring aloft on the wings of their imaginations. The musician who plays from memory is as the bird that flies unfettered; the musician, however, who is tied to his notes, is as a bird that is tied to a string.”
A few general hints may here be given. All rules and practical hints as to musical memorizing must be based on a knowledge of the human mind. He who would use the mind, whether his own or that of his pupil, must know the mind. We have seen that the maximum of memory development is reached at the age of about twelve to fourteen years. The memory of youth is far more vigorous than that of more advanced years. It follows that during this period the memory should receive special attention. The best time of the day for memory work is in the morning, because then the mind is free and the brain substance yields more readily to impressions. There is sound practical wisdom in the German adage: