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MEMORY.

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

THERE seems to be among many college graduates and students a disposition, fostered, no doubt, by the character of our most popular studies, to consider as rather unworthy our notice anything so simple and rudimental as the faculty of memory. We give a great deal of time, and wisely, to the languages, as a means of cultivating our analytical powers, and to mathematics and philosophy, to strengthen our reasoning faculties; but while so much of our attention is devoted to those pure sciences whose good results are to be sought for in the mind itself, and not in the subject-matter studied, we seem to lose our ability to retain those facts which we have once possessed, and which are of intrinsic importance.

It is a mortifying fact, but one whose truth can hardly be questioned, that, as a rule, college students have remarkably poor memories. Let any upper-class man try to recall some of the studies of his preparatory course, or even of his Freshman year, which have not been brought into requisition by his subsequent work; let him question a majority of his classmates on the same points, and any doubts he may have as to forget-fulness among students will, I think, be removed. The fact is brought before us in a peculiarly vivid manner, with which we are all more or less familiar, by the requests of our successors for assistance in various electives, after an interval of a year or two. The embarrassment into which such an appeal often puts us, to say nothing of our pitiful attempts at concealing our ignorance, is a matter of too personal experience to need allusion to.

Of the reasons for this alarming weakness of memory, one may perhaps be found in the contempt which so many feel for the simple exercise of the retentive faculty, in comparison with the higher training to be got from the mental gymnastics of philosophy. While men are not apt to depreciate the value of their own possessions, so also they do not strive to gain that which they hold in little estimation. The old belief that a good memory was incompatible with a sound judgment has long since been exploded as contrary, not only to common sense, but to a large number of actual examples. The depreciation of memory is, then, largely a prejudice, and in so far unreasonable. Then the habit, so common, of putting on paper every fact we wish to remember, instead of impressing it upon our minds, has a weakening effect on the memory. Notes are useful, and even indispensable (at times), but their use may be carried to excess.

Another reason of our shortness of memory is, without doubt, the practice of cramming for examinations. An impression made on the brain during the hours between midnight and morning is not likely to be of the most permanent character. The utmost ambition of some men seems to be to retain their information on any subject till twelve o'clock on the day of an annual; then, as if the pent-up knowledge was too strong for the brain that contained it, it hastens to dissipate itself and relieve the unaccustomed pressure. It is safe to say that not one tenth of what we cram for an examination ever remains by us to be of any subsequent use.

We will now look at some of the consequences of this feebleness of our retentive powers. The disadvantages resulting from forgetfulness of studies are far from being the only ones. How often have we been baffled in trying to recall the incidents or the characters of a book which we have once read! What has been our mortification at ransacking our minds to no purpose for historical facts with which we were once perfectly familiar, and of which it is even a positive disgrace to be ignorant! A "Dictionary of Familiar Quotations" is no substitute for words which we wish to recall on the spur of the moment, and for which memory alone should serve us.

The ill effects of a poor memory are likely to be felt more in our future course than they ever have been yet. Whatever may be a man's occupation, a good memory cannot help being of importance to him. A lawyer will find it very desirable, if not absolutely indispensable, to remember, at once and without continual reference to the books, those cases and decisions to which he wishes to refer. Of course, a good memory cannot take the place of forcible and clear argumentative powers, but it can be made a powerful auxiliary to them, and most of our eminent lawyers are noted for their powers of recollection. The desirability of this faculty is, indeed, so evident, that it hardly requires illustration from the cases of physicians, preachers, and literary men. I cannot forbear, however, a passing allusion to the case of Sir Walter Scott, whose wonderful and almost unbounded memory, more than any other quality, was the foundation of his fame and success as an historical novelist.

The importance of the quality we have been speaking of being admitted, one or two suggestions as to its acquisition may, in closing, be appropriate. It is tolerably well established that the memory can be cultivated. With the methods of doing this, as described in the books, we are all sufficiently familiar, whatever doubts we may have in our own minds as to some of the astonishing results so gravely chronicled by observers more credulous than credible. Still, it is natural to suppose that the faculty of memory, like any other, can be developed by exercise.

If, then, we substitute-mental for written notes, particularly as to the heads of arguments and other matters of the kind; if we pay special attention to whatever memorizing occurs in any of our work, particularly with a view to retaining the matter permanently, by rehearsing it at intervals of a few weeks; if in general we recall and fix in our minds what is tending to slip away, so as to remember more, even though learning less; and finally, if we remember that what is slowest learned is slowest forgotten, and so give more attention to every-day work and less to cramming, we shall find our retentive powers developing to our own satisfaction and advantage.

C. F. W.

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