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TABLE OF CONTENTS.
HISTORY OF MNEMONICS.
The utility and value of a good memory seem to have been recognized early, as the cultivation of the memory, or the mental process by which we are able to recall something formerly present in the mind, has been practised since the earliest times. Memory is generally regarded as the sum total of mental impressions possessed by an individual, together with the power of recalling them. As this recalling is the important thing, endless “systems” have been devised from time to time to aid the memory in this respect. These artificial aids are known as “Mnemonics," and we propose to review some of the most famous of ancient and modern times.
Simonides, B.C., 470.—The Greek poet, Simonides (B.C. 470), is generally believed to have been the inventor of Mnemonics. His discovery of the art is thus related by Cicero :
"A man named Skopas, at Kranon, in Thessalia, once gave a great dinner in honor of a victorious
gladiator. Among the guests was the poet Simonides, who, during the repast, recited some verses he had composed in honor of the hero of the feast. After his recitation he was called outside, and had scarcely left the room, when the ceiling fell in, crushing Skopas and all his guests. When the relatives of the killed came to bury the remains, they found them so smashed and disfigured that they could not distinguish one body from another. It happened, however, that Simonides had observed the place which each person had occupied ; and on looking at the several places he was able to identify all the bodies. This led him to believe that nothing could assist the memory better than to retain in the mind certain fixed places, and to deposit there whatever we intend to keep in our memory, with the assistance of the imagination."
Though Simonides seems to have formed a complete artificial system on this principle, and even to have taught it, no particulars have come down to us, either about his own system, or about those of other writers among the Greeks on this subject. But the Romans have left detailed reports on Mnemonics, which undoubtedly were taken from Greek sources. Their method was to imagine a large house of which the rooms, windows, furniture, fittings, pictures, statues, etc., were each associated with certain names, events, phrases, or ideas by means of symbolical pictures, these pictures being produced by the student's imagination. To recall a particular fact it was necessary to search over this imaginary spot where the imaginary memory had deposited it. With the increase of knowledge, the
imagination was called upon to construct new houses and even whole towns.
After the downfall of Rome, Mnemonics disappeared entirely from view, remaining concealed in the recesses of the monasteries.
Roger Bacon, 1214.-The celebrated English monk, Roger Bacon (born 1214, in the county of Somerset), is one of the first who brought Mnemonics again to light. He wrote a “ Tractatus De Arte Memorativa,” which has never been printed, but still exists in MS., at Oxford.
Conrad Celtes, 1459.—The first modification of the Roman system was introduced by Conrad Celtes, a German poet of some renown, who used letters instead of places or pictures.
Petrus de Ravenna, 1491.—Among the public teachers of Mnemonics, one of the first was Petrus de Ravenna, who made his appearance at the end of the fifteenth century, and excited great enthusiasm by his public experiments. He was the disciple of the celebrated lawyer, Alexander de Imola.
He travelled all over Italy, and was everywhere enthusiastically received. His contemporaries called him Petrus a Memoria, and several princes gave him license to pass through their countries toll free. These licenses exist still. When scarcely twenty years old he recited at Padua all the Leges Codicis and, word for word, all the sermons which the magister Antonius Eremita had delivered during Lent. He once played a game of chess, and dictated at the same time two letters on stated subjects, while another person played at dice,