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CHAP. 24. (24.)—MEMORY.

It would be far from easy to pronounce what person has been the most remarkable for the excellence of his memory, that blessing so essential for the enjoyment of life, there having been so many who have been celebrated for it. King Cyrus knew all the soldiers of his army by name:1 L. Scipio the names of all the Roman people. Cineas, the ambassador of king Pyrrhus, knew by name all the members of the senate and the equestrian order, the day after his arrival at Rome. Mithridates,2 who was king of twenty-two nations, administered their laws in as many languages, and could harangue each of them, without employing an interpreter. There was in Greece a man named Charmidas, who, when a person asked him for any book in a library, could repeat it by heart, just as though he were reading. Memory, in fine, has been made an art; which was first invented by the lyric poet, Simonides,3 and perfected by Metrodorus of Scepsis, so as to enable persons to repeat word for word exactly what they have heard.4 Nothing whatever, in man, is of so frail a nature as the memory; for it is affected by disease, by injuries, and even by fright; being sometimes partially lost, and at other times entirely so. A man, who received a blow from a stone, forgot the names of the letters only;5 while, on the other hand, another person, who fell from a very high roof, could not so much as recollect his mother, or his relations and neighbours. Another person, in consequence of some disease, forgot his own servants even; and Messala Corvinus, the orator, lost all recollection of his own name. And so it is, that very often the memory appears to attempt, as it were, to make its escape from us, even while the body is at rest and in perfect health. When sleep, too, comes over us, it is cut off altogether; so much so, that the mind, in its vacancy, is at a loss to know where we are.6

1 This statement is also made by Val. Maximus, B. viii. c. 7. Xenophon, Cyropædia, B. v., speaks of the retentive memory of Cyrus, but considerably qualifies the account here given: he says that Cyrus knew the names of all his commanders or prefects, and of all those to whom he had occasion to give particular orders.—B.

2 This account is similar to that given by Val. Maximus, B. viii. c. 7, and by Aulus Gellius, B. xvii. c. 7. We have a learned dissertation by Ajasson, in which he discusses the possibility of one individual understanding so great a number of languages, as well as the question, whether it is possible that so great a number of languages were spoken by the subjects of Mithridates. His conclusions greatly tend to prove both these points; Lemaire, vol. iii. p. 295.—B.

3 This invention is referred to by Cicero, De Nat. Deor., B. ii. c. 86. Cicero also speaks of the remarkable powers of memory possessed by Charmidas and Metrodorus, De Oratore, B. ii. c. 88, and Tusc. Quæst. B. i. e. 24.—B.

4 Ajasson gives an account of some of the principal writers in what has been termed the science of Mnemonics, or artificial memory: he particularly commends the lectures of Aimé of Paris on the subject; Lemaire, vol. iii. p. 310, et seq.—B.

5 This circumstance is related by Val. Maximus, B. i. e. 8.—B.

6 This is not always the case. In dreams we often recollect past events and localities; we know in what part of the world we are, and even remember the substance of former dreams, and the fact that we have dreamt of a similar subject before.

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