Memory: How to Develop, Train and Use It

The historical case of the unnamed Dutchman is known to all students of memory. This man is said to have been able to take up a fresh newspaper; to read it all through, including the advertisements; and then to repeat its contents, word for word, from beginning to end. On one occasion he is said to have heaped wonder upon wonder, by repeating the contents of the paper backward, beginning with the last word and ending with the first. Lyon, the English actor, is said to have duplicated this feat, using a large London paper and including the market quotations, reports of the debates in Parliament, the railroad time-tables and the advertisements. A London waiter is said to have performed a similar feat, on a wager, he memorizing and correctly repeating the contents of an eight-page paper. One of the most remarkable instances of extraordinary memory known to history is that of the child Christian Meinecken. When less than four years of age he could repeat the entire Bible; two hundred hymns; five thousand Latin words; and much ecclesiastical history, theory, dogmas, arguments; and an encyclopædic quantity of theological literature. He is said to have practically retained every word that was read to him. His case was abnormal, and he died at an early age.

John Stuart Mill is said to have acquired a fair knowledge of Greek, at the age of three years, and to have memorized Hume, Gibbon, and other historians, at the age of eight. Shortly after he mastered and memorized Herodotus, Xenophon, some of Socrates, and six of Plato’s “Dialogues.” Richard Porson is said to have memorized the entire text of Homer, Horace, Cicero, Virgil, Livy, Shakespeare, Milton, and Gibbon. He is said to have been able to memorize any ordinary novel at one careful reading; and to have several times performed the feat of memorizing the entire contents of some English monthly review. De Rossi was able to perform the feat of repeating a hundred lines from any of the four great Italian poets, provided he was given a line at random from their works–his hundred lines following immediately after the given line. Of course this feat required the memorizing of the entire works of those poets, and the ability to take up the repetition from any given point, the latter feature being as remarkable as the former. There have been cases of printers being able to repeat, word for word, books of which they had set the type. Professor Lawson was able to teach his classes on the Scriptures without referring to the book. He claimed that if the entire stock of Bibles were to be destroyed, he could restore the book entire, from his memory.

Rev. Thomas Fuller is said to have been able to walk down a long London street, reading the names of the signs on both sides; then recalling them in the order in which they had been seen, and then by reversing the order. There are many cases on record of persons who memorized the words of every known tongue of civilization, as well as a great number of dialects, languages, and tongues of savage races. Bossuet had memorized the entire Bible, and Homer, Horace and Virgil beside. Niebuhr, the historian, was once employed in a government office, the records of which were destroyed. He, thereupon, restored the entire contents of the book of records which he had written–all from his memory. Asa Gray knew the names of ten thousand plants. Milton had a vocabulary of twenty thousand words, and Shakespeare one of twenty-five thousand. Cuvier and Agassiz are said to have memorized lists of several thousand species and varieties of animals. Magliabechi, the librarian of Florence, is said to have known the location of every volume in the large library of which he was in charge; and the complete list of works along certain lines in all the other great libraries. He once claimed that he was able to repeat titles of over a half-million of books in many languages, and upon many subjects.

In nearly every walk of life are to be found persons with memories wonderfully developed along the lines of their particular occupation. Librarians possess this faculty to an unusual degree. Skilled workers in the finer lines of manufacture also manifest a wonderful memory for the tiny parts of the manufactured article, etc. Bank officers have a wonderful memory for names and faces. Some lawyers are able to recall cases quoted in the authorities, years after they have read them. Perhaps the most common, and yet the most remarkable, instances of memorizing in one’s daily work is to be found in the cases of the theatrical profession. In some cases members of stock companies must not only be able to repeat the lines of the play they are engaged in acting at the time, but also the one that they are rehearsing for the following week, and possibly the one for the second week. And in repertoire companies the actors are required to be “letter-perfect” in a dozen or more plays–surely a wonderful feat, and yet one so common that no notice is given to it.

In some of the celebrated cases, the degree of recollection manifested is undoubtedly abnormal, but in the majority of the cases it may be seen that the result has been obtained only by the use of natural methods and persistent exercise. That wonderful memories may be acquired by anyone who will devote to the task patience, time and work, is a fact generally acknowledged by all students of the subject. It is not a _gift_, but something to be won by effort and work along scientific lines.

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