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A COMPENDIUM OF PLACE MEMORY
All honor consists in doing one’s duty, and shame in neglecting it
TO HENRY NOEL, A RIGHT NOBLE MAN, VERY PRAISEWORTHY ON MANY SCORES, GREETINGS
he eternal Creator of all things, most noble friend, Who is the highest and only Good, has adorned and furnished you with such endowments of mind and body from your very youth that upstanding men cherish your friendship as a treasure, whereas knaves, like so many owls, have shunned the light of your virtues; indeed, even the envious are wont to hymn your most ample praises, as his enemies did Hercules. For a long time all have perceived you to be the man who Nature has created, free will has trained, and fortune has preserved for the designing, the doing, the completion of every noble achievement; let them hold you to be the glory of time gone by, the present’s ornament, the golden, best, and all but unique hope of the future; and finally, let them adjudge you, being steeped in belles lettres, imbued with upright habits, overflowing with lordly virtues, as at no time unfortunate. Wherefore, it should strike no man as strange that I, who for some little time now have had ample experience of the extent of your largesse, the sweetness of your affability, should place this Place Memory in your arms, and inscribe it with your name; and that I should do so all the more gladly, I have been urged by my Amyntas, whom (as Alexander did Homer) you have deigned always to cherish in your most kind embrace, to keep him with you, counting him among your delights. But pray mark the difference between and her and him: he was fired by the most ardent emotion, sadly and abjectly haunting obscure places, while Memory has placed herself in the highest of abodes alongside Reason herself; he occupied himself with the intricacies of his tunes, while she proves her usefulness by her precepts, as clear as clear can be; bent on love’s praises, he occupied his mind with lowly things, whereas by means of her rules (like steps or stairs) she mounts to the sky; born and bred in the countryside, he took pleasure in the company of a rustic lass and unschooled yokels, but she, born of divine stock, consorted with Jove himself, to give birth to the Muses; he ended his life before his appointed day, giving proof of a headstrong mind, but by lending strength to nature’s infirmity, she has imparted life everlasting to our minds, and to our good repute. And so, oh silly Amyntas, full of great folly and futility, you deserve to be banished to the ends of the earth! Oh sweetest Memory, no human faculty ought to be rated higher, none more useful, none more apt to all the fortunes of all men! She is the patroness of invention, the providence of things to come, the storehouse of all things. Hortensius made her so much his familiar, that whatever he composed he would recite to the very word with no written text; the Pythagoreans were so assiduously devoted to her that whatever they said, heard, or did by days they would recall by nights. Or is anyone so stupid and unreasonable that he does not revere, love, and venerate her? If he would regard her beauty, she is the fairest; if her worth, the most priceless; if her power, the mightiest; if her utility, the most necessary; if her pedigree, her wisdom, she is “born of heavenly seed.” If there is any such fool among us, in my eyes he seems worthy, as they say, of being stricken with a golden shoe, or to dwell in that Cimmerian darkness of which men speak And so, most distinguished Noel, in the name of the most singular kindness you have shown me, and of the candor you display towards all men, allow this Place Memory of mine to be, if not a consort of Amyntas, at least a familiar in your sight and interest; do me the favor of guarding her from the bites and stings of the ill-disposed. For I greatly fear lest, if my trifles be compared to the deep and learned Seals of The Nolano, or to Dickson’s skillful Shadow, they will bring more ill repute to their author than advantage to the reader. And if this were to happen, I must have recourse to those men of no small friendship or esteem, who have most earnestly urged that I publish these things. And I confess that in it I have used more obsolete and untaught words than Attic ears could tolerate, or than I myself might care to use, if I did not think that the whole matter should be set forth clearly and explicitly; I likewise confess that I have omitted much which would render manifest the power of memory. For here I have taken nothing more from Simonides of Chios than what seemed in some way useful for the orator. Farewell, most noble man; always number me among your supporters.
Most devoted to your high standing,
ON PLACE MEMORY
CHAPTER 1: AUTHOR’S FOREWORD; THE METHOD
ften, when I have been pondering how much ignorance of things has so long stolen over mortals thanks to negligence, I have bethought me of that ancient science of artificial mnemonics. Although I understand that many men have gained the opinion that its practice is a light and trifling thing, and that the industry of those men who have been most versed in its practise is of no great advantage to the commonwealth, nonetheless, in part inspired by zeal for its ancient and recondite power, and in part uncommonly moved by the lauds garnered by those who have been most learned in this business, I have very industriously bent all the powers of my mind to its pursuit and acquisition. But in much association with those men with whom I have consorted, men dedicated to and steeped in belles lettres, I have scarce found one or two from whom I could receive any help in cultivating my memory, or in stimulating its power. If at length I have made any headway in such a great study, either by the assistance and advice of others, or our of the exertion of my own industry, it seemed my duty to convert it to the utility of the entire commonwealth, and especially to share it with those entrusted with the care of its most important affairs. For nobody owes the same to himself, or to his friends or parents, as to that nursemaid of us all, that best of parents, the nation. And so, that I might do her a service and be more acceptable in her sight, I have decided to publish the cardinal points of Place Memory, all assembled under a number of chapter headings and set forth in due order. Nor shall I be deterred from this praiseworthy effort by my awareness of my small ability at writing of such a great matter. For I prefer to indite some rude, inchoate notes on something than to write nothing at all. Wherefore (so as not to detain you any further from the thing itself), just as in the construction of buildings reliable architects first set forth the overall design of the structure so as to satisfy the judgment of other men, by whom their art is hired, and only then apply themselves to the work and the fabric, just so I shall first sketch out summarily rationale of my proposed method, and afterward handle its single parts in their due order. And so let the method be as follows: I shall speak, first, about the nature of memory; second, about the enterprise of memorization; third, about the usefulness of the art; and lastly, about its acquisition.
CHAPTER 2: ABOUT MEMORY AND REMINISCENCE
1. Memory and reminiscence are justly numbered among those powers of the mind which we are commonly wont to call retentive.
2. But for anyone who cares to make a comparison between them, it is easy to perceive that there is no small difference between the two. So let us compare memory to a book containing much within itself, but which is not being read, and reminiscence or remembering, to the reading of a volume. For the faculty of remembering has this natural endowment, that it can retain something only by means of images, but cannot pass any judgment upon them, just as a painting can form no thought or opinion about the figures represented upon itself. By this same logic, it happens that if a man is skilled in geometry, even if he seems to be prevented from all activity by the deepest of sleep, is nevertheless rightly said to possess the memory of geometry. For, if we wish to speak accurately, nobody should be said to forget knowledge because of sleep, drunkenness, or any other similar state. And so memory, rightly understood, is the opposite of forgetfulness. But if we consider the power of recollection, it is a very different thing, for the ability to recollect is obstructed not only by sleep or drunkenness, but also by any other mental difficulty or disturbance. And yet I would affirm that memory and reminiscence share the same nature, and complement each other, just as if I were to argue that a most intelligent man’s memory is like a book full of writing, and were to compare that man’s recollection to the reading of the book. Hence nobody would hesitate to assert that memory is somehow the equivalent of a condition, and recollection of an act. But for the remainder of this exercise it must be marked that I have always taken “memory”as a certain harmony of both faculties. For the art of retention, and of recall of what has been retained, when you wish it, will be explained.
CHAPTER 3: OF NATURAL MEMORY
1. Thus memory is twofold, natural and artificial. According to Cicero, the natural is that which is innate in our minds, and born together with natural cognition. And since the subject so requires, I shall describe it in other words, as follows: natural memory is that which consists of true, accidental, or borrowed images. And lest somebody, blinded by the darkness of ignorance, or (as they say) “seeking a knot in a bulrush,” takes this in wrong part, I think it worthwhile to render the entire matter explicit and clear in all its implications.
2. And so I have memories of true images, because of those memorable things which have previously been seen or perceived by some other external sense. What is better known or older in philosophical circles than that axiom, by which it is affirmed nothing comes into the intellect, which has not previously been a content of the senses? But let others investigate to what point this is true, and under what conditions.
3. Furthermore, I have said that memory consists of accidental images because of those things which we do not apprehend by means of vision. If I wish to recall Hector slain by Achilles, this I retain in memory thanks to my reading of poets and historians, thanks to images manufactured by myself, which may happen to be true images of Hector and Achilles, but may also be false ones. From which may be gathered that each man has a faculty for inventing and imagining the image of a thing, which is similar to that of painters in rendering their representations. For as many painters there that want to use colors to paint a lifelike representation of Achilles and Hector joined together in single combat, doubtless there are just as many different pictures. Indeed we often see it happen that things represented at different times by one and the same artist have differing appearances. This very same thing occurs in our experience when we form images of things which we have never seen: as many perceptions as heads, as many opinions as men. Truly, if someone has conceived the true and genuine image of Achilles or Hector in his mind and imagination, this too is accidental. Therefore, as I think, I have scarcely been wrong in calling images of this kind accidental.
4. And finally I spoke of borrowed images, because of those things which lack true images, such as substances separate from matter, and because of many other things which lack bodies. So if we pursue these things with our thought and intellect, we borrow images from other sources. Whence that old philosopher’s dictum, every thinking being must investigate fantasies for the sake of images. And these are different in different men. Let this be an example of my assertion: in place of an image of Divinity I seize on that of a certain infinite splendor, but another man embodies the same thing in a different image, and we are both clutching at false shadows. For the true image of Divinity is entirely unknown. And so I think it sufficiently established by these things that natural memory depends on and consists of those images which I have enumerated, without the introduction of any place (in which they do not genuinely exist), and without any assistance being supplied by invention or industry. And so truly, as Pliny says, nothing is so frail in a man, experiencing the injuries and even the fears of diseases and catastrophes, as this natural memory. And so we are obliged to strengthen and support nature’s infirmity by the help of art. What is more fitting for art than to imitate and assist nature? And so let us turn to art.
CHAPTER 4: ON ARTIFICIAL MEMORY
1. Cicero taught that artificial memory is that which is confirmed by some induction and the logic of some precept. If we examine the inner meaning of this definition, we are bound to say that artificial memory consists of certain images, true, accidental, or borrowed, assisted by some superaddition of invention’s wit, whether this is achieved by Places or Concatenation, or by something of the sort, with which the thing to be remembered is not linked to a part of the thing itself. But these things will be fitly discussed in their proper place. It is meanwhile necessary to show this, that artificial memory consists of places and images. And if this precept (which is necessary to know) is grasped aright, the most difficult entry to the treasure house of this art is thrown wide open. Lest I seem to be defining an unknown by something yet more unknown. I shall demonstrate the whole by use of examples, making a beginning with rather easy ones. Suppose, then, that some one of my friends gives me these five things to remember, viz., a stone, a tree, a fish, a bird, a horse. It is first of all needful for me to think of some familiar space (unless I have one right before my eyes) in which there are five places differing amongst themselves in respect to appearance (for body cannot exist without place). I therefore select a large wall known to me, one that has give large parts dissimilar to each other. So I chance to see a door in the first part of the wall, a window in the second, an armory in the third, an iron hook in the fourth, and a deep crack in the fifth. And these symbols seem fit to the purpose for this reason, that they are distinguished by reasonably large intervals that interpose between them. And so, these things selected and clearly seen in the mind’s eye, I lay the foundation for memory, as follows: first I place the image of the stone, which I conceive in my mind, in the first position, that is to say in the wall’s door, perhaps by imagining that one stone blocks the entire door by filling it. And by the like reasoning I place the tree in the window, by imagination’s power fancying that the tree’s root has so grown from another part of the wall that we catch sight of its branches, as though they are growing toward us out of window. Thirdly, by a similar mental fiction I enclose the fish, the third in the series, in the armory, and I think of him lurking there wearing a helmet on his head. Furthermore, I sufficiently associate the bird with the iron hook if I imagine that it has so much strength in its beak that by its pecking it erodes and diminishes the iron hook on all sides. Finally I imagine the horse in the fifth place, that is to day in the crack. For by the power of imagination I tell myself that the horse’s tail is so firmly caught in the crack, that by all its struggles it is not able to free itself and break away. In this or some similar way, with the images of these things distributed in the aforementioned place by a fantasy, nothing keep him who knows these Places, when he has run his mind’s eye through them, from encountering these things in the order in which they were placed. If someone were to ask me what reason I had for imagining something great, wonderful, or ridiculous about each of these things (for instance that a single stone can obstruct a door, tree-branches can pass through a window, a fish can wear a helmet, a bird can peck away at a hook, or that a horse can be caught by the tip of its tail), in the sequel I shall convince him, where a description shall be given of what images ought to be like. For that which I have written about the five places and about there use, is to be understood to apply to many things by similar logic. Hence Cicero rightly compared these Places to wax, and images to letters. For just as a waxen tablet is first smoothed with the head of the stylus, and is equally prepared for any impression you want to make, and anything written on it can be retained until it is time to delete it from the tablet’s memory, at which time we can easily erase it, in just the same way memory is to be conceived of as, at first, regions without images, and then you can store anything you wish there, as we represent in our imagination by its images, and we keep it there until it seems time to dismiss the memory. For if we divert our mind from these representations, with no effort at all, and in just a short amount of time, they are readily extinguished. And so it comes to pass that we can enter the images of other things in these same places, now empty once more.
CHAPTER 5: ON THE DOUBLE NATURE OF PLACES
1. From the things which have now been said, I perhaps appear to have drawn the first outline of memory to the satisfaction of those gentlemen who would embrace a cloud in lieu of Juno, whose “noxious limbs are whirled about on a swift wheel,” or who would snatch at a reflection instead of meat, like Aesop’s puppy. But it is useful, nay indeed necessary, to consume many more words in explaining the difference between places and images. And so first I shall handle regions, and then representations.
So there are two kinds of place, the true and the false. We call those places true which have an existence outside of our thought, or have been manufactured by art, either as buildings or as individual parts thereof; they are either natural, like rocks, mountains, walls, meadows, rivers, forests, and countless other things of that sort, and their parts. False places are those which only exist in our thought. And so in a few words I shall try to tell what these regions are like, and how many there are that are employed by most men, using some illustrative examples for the reader’s instruction.
3. For locations and subjects some select for themselves places in some distinguished edifice, or the rooms of one or more houses, when they would perhaps want to fill up a hundred or more. And then, in each location or room they note some ever-present mark, which is different from all the rest, which are put in another place. Example: in one room there is always a sword, in another a bed, in another an abacus, in yet another a bath, and a similar scheme of differences for the rest. This method of choosing places is highly conducive to the art of memory. For if something is to be entrusted to memory, by the power of fantasy its image is easily associated with the sign of whatever place you want. One must use imagination in devising what the thing is doing to that sign, or what the sign is doing to it, or how the thing is using the sign like a tool to accomplish something, or how it has some similar reference or appearance.
4. Some men use a like logic in choosing prompts for themselves, but in each region or room they imagine five places differing from each other by signs of this kind, which they include in each one. And so these men, when they have assembled twenty rooms, have provided for themselves an abundance of a hundred places. Hence this method is extremely useful, and also easier than the former one. For who is so obtuse that he does not perceive that it is easier and more expeditious to acquire twenty regions than a hundred?
5. Other men (of whom I am one) construct a fictitious place for themselves. Hence, even if I employ first method of devising places, or the second, I am wont to construct only a moderate number. But if it is necessary to exceed this, I have other regions already constructed. It is easy to gather their shape and location from these little verses:
First let fourfold squares be set down, with two rivers intersecting each other at the right angles, counted four times over. You will be able to construct thirty-two places, with a region resulting from each area. And let an image be introduced into whichever triangle you want, something mechanical or that does something of the sort; and let an associated number mark it, the same as the number of the place, so that you might understand in what place in the sequence the thing stands. Next you must imagine that each square has a shape, consisting of a triangular wall with a skylight above, a door, and four windows on its anterior part; and you must think that adjacent places are separated from each other by level streets, so that each region has a fourfold surrounding.
6. And indeed, although this planning and acquisition of imaginary regions is difficult in the beginning, when they have stricken their roots deeper in the mind, and have become familiar and ingrained in us, nobody will doubt that they are by far the most useful. For they possess a unique advantage: partially that by the arts which they employ they have a great difference and variety among themselves, and partially that they do not shine with too great a splendor of light, or are hidden by too great an obscurity of cloudiness. We make them be what we want. And it seems to assist the business, if in the accurate delineation of such subjects we borrow the industry and art of some outstanding painter. And I could cite other means of choosing regions out of all those which I have already enumerated. For sometimes memory can be stimulated by numbers alone, laid out in alphabetical order in groups of ten, and by the kind of tables that Trithemius somewhere describes. But here my only task is to rescue the general principles of Place Memory from their old shadows and bring them forth into the light. And so at length something must be added about the rules of places.
CHAPTER 6: ON THE RULES OF PLACES
1. Whether we prefer to use true places or false ones, they are not to be selected rashly or without consideration. For a certain logic is to be observed regarding number, quality, quantity, distance, and order, and moderation is to be applied.
1. And so those who want to preserve the memory of many things by this art must observe the cultivation of many places.
2. A moderate quantity and size is to be observed. For if they are excessively large, they yield images of over-great size; if they are too small and constricted, they do not admit any images at all.
3. Let them not be too bright or dark, lest images be obscured by darkness or dazzle with their excessive splendor.
4. Let them be far removed from human company, for crowds often impede the memory.
5. Let their intervals be of a reasonable size. For just as those things we see, when they come into sight, are wont to be discerned from their neighbors by a laborious shift of the glance, so those things which we see by the power of the intellect and the force of imagination require a similar motion of the mind by which it progresses from one thought to another. Therefore this is wont to be easier or more retarded in proportion to the intervals between places.
6. But let them not be linked by excessive propinquity. For if the regions are too close, the images stored within easily merge.
7. Let an inviolable order be maintained by number. For when a number is assigned each place, it is easy to retrieve what is to be retained, by searching from the beginning, the middle, or from the end working backward. So that each place can be more quickly identified, some are of the opinion that they should be distinguished by fives. And this precept is followed by most who use the second method of selecting places described by me above.
8. Furthermore, let empty places often be mentally reviewed. For this is the foundation of this edifice, and if it fails, the whole fabric will collapse and fall.
9. And henceforth let them remain free of all modification. For otherwise old images will be confused with new ones.
CHAPTER 7: ON IMAGES
1. Now that I have sufficiently described the choice of places and their rules, next I must speak of images. So there are familiar images and their resemblances, which we commit to memory. But there are two kinds that come into memory’s custody: some are simple, such as man, horse, tree, fire, and the like; others are complex, like enunciation, narration, history, argumentation, and other things of this kind. But the simple things allow a division. Some are corporeal, like man, horse, tree, fire, air, water, earth, stone, and others of this kind; others are incorporeal, like knowledge, virtue, justice, soul, servitude, liberty, and almost an infinitude of others. Since the variety of things which we must memorize is so great, it is necessary to apply images to them in various ways.
CHAPTER 8: ON THE IMAGE OF A SIMPLE THING
1. And so corporeal things, simply apprehended, have their own images per se, and hence whenever a memo of this sort of thing must be preserved, by mental activity we place their own images in the places described above. For the best representation of a horse is a horse, and of a man a man. But to devise images for incorporeal things usefully, “this is the labor, this is the task.” But in their creation we are often helped because something is associated with them by some consideration or in some respect. Thus we signify knowledge by a book, virtue by a laurel wreath, justice by scales or a sword, servitude by fetters, liberty by a golden ring. Furthermore, a knowledge of the dialectics of places is most helpful. For since each thing that lacks a body can be related in some manner to some corporeal thing, that which is corporeal, be it sufficiently pertinent, is rightly chosen as the image of the incorporeal thing. Here I omit metaphoric reasonings, although their employment is useful, albeit rather more difficult. But if what I have already said about “analogous images” (for such antiquity called them) strikes anybody as rather abstruse, and if he were ask me how it may come to pass that, when I have placed a sword somewhere to represent justice, in searching for it I can rightly understand that the sword was placed there in lieu of justice, and not for its own sake, I confess there is something in this objection, and that this doubt cannot be cleared up save by the prompting of natural memory. And a similar reasoning applies to ambiguities. But almost nobody is so weak-minded as to forget with ease whether he has placed a dog in his memory to represent a celestial dog, a marine dog, or an earthly one.
CHAPTER 9: ON THE IMAGE OF A COMPLEX THING
1. However, the images of things which we apprehend in a complex way are scarcely composed of all their simple parts. For if this were to occur, in addition to the provision and nurturing of the infinite number of places which would be required, the inevitable mental effort would confound both itself by its own activity, and also the memory, because of the multitude of things. Therefore it must be diligently remarked that every complex thing apprehended has something associated with it, from its beginning to its end, which can impinge on natural memory by a very slight mental exertion, or that can be constituted from its parts having such an association. Let us take as an example of the first any Egyptian plague, considered per se, and of the second one the universal recounting of all the plagues. For in order construct the memory of any single one (such as that which occurred by means of frogs), we are not to select the images of all of them, such as what God, Moses, Pharaoh, or anybody else did or said during their infliction or remission. For of these things, each detail depends on the next, so that with one exertion of natural memory they can all be retained, and easily recur when one seeks to recall them. Therefore, to strengthen the memory of that particular plague, let us select something distinctive about it, such as the image of a frog, and place it in its proper region. But if I wish to fix in myself the memory of all the plagues at once, it is necessary to divide them. That is, it is necessary to select some mark that is unique and identifying for each plague, and set it in its place. Likewise, if somebody wishes to adduce many reasonings to strengthen and confirm one single argument, let individual images be assigned to each. And by the same logic we are able to take a narrative or something equally prolix in length, or complex in number, and divide it into parts, and affix suitable images to each. And likenesses of this kind greatly differ from those of simple things, which have their own images. For the images of simple things bear a similarity to those things which they represent. But the likenesses of these complex things are nothing else than certain helpful markers, which, by the power of their insinuation into our mind, prompt our memory of a second thing to be recalled in earnest. Hence it is clear that the power of natural memory is to be relied upon more in reinforcing the memory of a complex thing than of simple things. For even if in the case of the complex marker recollection results from art, natural memory nevertheless imparts power and organization to the marked thing. But the image of a simple thing indicates and points out to the memory for its inspection the whole thing, immediately and, as it were, in full sight.
CHAPTER 10: WHAT IMAGES SHOULD BE LIKE
1. But inasmuch as it is wont to happen that some images are strong and sufficient to set memory in motion, while some are weak and feeble, and can scarcely excite it, if we consider the reasons for either kind, we shall readily grasp what images we should attach to any given thing or word. For, just as the end depends on its beginning, so the outcomes of things depend on their causes. But Nature herself rightly warns us what ought to transpire in this business. For it is natural that the less a thing moves or mind, the quicker it falls out of our memory; and the more powerfully it moves it, the longer and the stronger it will remain stamped in our memory. And the things which least affect the mind are those which are small, commonplace, ordinary, and of no importance; but those which move it more vigorously are great, unheard-of, incredible, novel, rare, exceptionally shameful, conspicuous for their singular beauty, or calamitous, ridiculous, or outstanding for some other cause.
2. Wherefore in manufacturing images let us imitate Nature: when we have chosen some image, let us make it outstanding for some rare, stupendous, ridiculous reason, or something of the kind, as I have just done when I placed a helmet on the head of the fish which dwelt in the armory. And furthermore, since things which are few in number are more easily recalled than those which form a multitude, we should use few images whenever we can, and not vague or idle ones, but ones which are doing something, inasmuch as active images are wont to supply the force of many images. Here is an example of this principle: a prosecutor says that someone was poisoned by the defendant, and argues that he did so because he knew he had been made the victim’s heir in his will, and adds that there are many witnesses to this will and who have knowledge about it. If this is said by the prosecutor, when it comes time for us to recall our line of defense, in our first place we shall form an image of the whole affair. For we shall imagine the dead man lying in his sickbed, if we happen to recall his look and appearance; if we did not know the fellow, we shall imagine someone else being indisposed, and him a man of some standing, so that he might more quickly come to mind. then we shall place the accused himself, whom we want to defend, standing at the bedside, holding a cup in his right hand, the will in his left, and the man who is summoned as the doctor holding a ram’s testicles on his finger. Thus, thanks to this image, we can recall the witness who can testify to the will by the ram’s testicles, the legacy by the will, and the dead man’s poison by the cup.
CHAPTER 11: OF THE CHAIN
1. By the same logic, taught to us by Cicero, according to which we should choose images that are very lively ones, some men seem to desire to teach us another scheme of artificial memory, which they call Concatenation or the Chain. Here I provide an example of this. Suppose I wish to recall man, horse, stone, fire, pig, and tree: by imagination I plant it in my mind that a man is holding a horse’s tail in his hands, that the horse is carrying a stone in its mouth, which it bites with such violence that by its exertions a fire is kindled; furthermore that a fire scorches the bristles of a pig standing nearby; and finally that the pig is so pained by the burn that he is driven mad and knocks down a tree. But in truth every Chain of this type has the same power and efficacy as an active image. For each Chain is to be established as if it were a single image. But one cannot consent to the argument that such a Chain may be inserted into any place, like other images. Though when I say this I do not want to be understood to mean that it seems necessary to place it in some specially chosen place, but in any location at all. To be sure, I understand that there are many to whom the Chain’s utility is particularly pleasing, first, because it does not require prefabricated places, though in the other mnemonic systems the provision and maintenance of regions is requisite — and we cannot use even these at any time if they not been purged of their old images; secondly, because in the Chain we pass from one thing to the next without any intermediate, which scarcely happens when we preserve the order of places; and third, because the Chain is of infinite capacity, whereas places have a finite number. I shall not deny this argument, that the rule of the Chain is useful and occasionally beneficial to us, although it has three disadvantages, viz., a.) any thing you wish cannot be linked with ease; 2.) sometimes when things are closely linked in such a Chain, a confusion between them results, and a disruption of their order; and 3.) in a Chain, numbers are so uncertain that we cannot promptly say how many items there are which we must remember, unless we recall each one from the beginning. Wherefore that system which consists of places and images seems much easier, and also much more useful. Below I shall perhaps have cause to say to what thing each of these systems is most conducive.
CHAPTER 12: ON THE MEMORY OF WORDS
1. Inasmuch as up to this point I have discoursed sufficiently on the memory of things, it remains to prescribe something about words. The images of words, however, are derived either from the things themselves which they signify, or from other things or words, to which they have some relationship or relevance, or finally from the disposition of their syllables. The images which are selected by the first means are proper to the words’ or sayings’ significations. Let this be an example of this category: if I wish to remember the word stone, I place the image of that thing (a stone) in some place, and when I encounter the image I opportunely recall its name. But since that thing, the stone, is signified by various names, such as stone, rock, and boulder, and again, because it is designated by many other names, as in the Syriac, Hebrew, or barbarian languages, at this point it may strike somebody as questionable whether, in the midst of this babble of words all representing the same thing, he has placed this image to represent one such word, or another. And in judging such things there indeed would be a great confusion of the memory, unless the power and force of natural memory came to the rescue of artificial memory’s infirmities, as I have pointed out above in the instance of ambiguities.
2. An example of the second means of choosing images will be if, when I have to commit to memory the three words liberty, slavery, and justice, I represent liberty by a freeman, slavery by a slave, and justice by a juice made out of a number of herbs. And images of this order can be applied to significant words, and even to those which have no signification at all.
3. [N. b.: Watson’s example is modified so as to render it intelligible in English.] In the third method images are made to conform to words, by fashioning an image matching any one of their syllables in its sound, in that its first syllable is like it. If I wish to remember the nonsense word watwaboap I must use four images. So in the first place I put the image of water, in the second that of wax, in the third that of a book, and in the fourth an apple. For the first syllable of water is wat, the first element of wax is wa, that of book is bo and that of apple is ap. If I merge all these first syllables, out of their combination the word watwaboap is formed. Indeed, it is possible to form a single image out of these four, by the same logic that I described in discussing the active image.
4. But this final method of gathering images of words is perhaps too trivial to be deemed useful. For if it serves any use, it seems especially conducive to stimulating the memory.
CHAPTER 13: ON THE PRACTICE OF THE MNEMONIC ART, AND THE VARIETY OF ITS OBJECTS
1. When we must argue a thesis in the Schools that have been prepared beforehand, or deliver a harangue in public, or a speech before a judge, it is most easy to construct in advance the memory of what is to be said. For no prolixity of words or variety of words and things will impede the mind, nor any number of parts that must hang together. But when one must keep in mind the things said by one’s adversary or anybody else, a great difficulty possibly arises. For the speaker either follows the order he should, or vacillates and goes straightway from his beginning to his end, and with his method of speaking disrupted, throws into confusion the remaining parts of his speech. In the first case, it will prove easy enough to store in memory the things being said; in the latter, for the most part it will be arduous and difficult. Wherefore, when we hear somebody speaking those things in an orderly and well-organized fashion which we must subsequently recite from memory, it will befit us to mark all his connections, and sometimes also some of his words. For he who never strays beyond the limits and boundaries of good oratory produces no connection that is not useful. If, in order to drive home a single point, several arguments are adduced, it is not always necessary to multiply the memories of these. For one similar thing is linked to another, and the recalling of one leads swiftly to that of the next. Whenever some notable word is associated with the connections of an argument, which casts light on the things thus linked, its image should be etched in the memory for its own sake. And we shall pay proper heed to this business, if we carefully consider, first, the exordium which the speaker selects; and then what he narrates, and how many points his narrative contains; and finally how many and what kind of individual arguments and refutations he employs. And this same logic applies to all the other things that can be spoken. A distinction of the connect parts is always to be marked most carefully, then the other details require small effort. And that the markers or images of all connections and outstanding words be retained the firmer, if we have the chance we should occasionally recall and review them. And although a poorly ordered speech is imprinted in the memory with more difficulty, because its connections are perhaps incomplete, or its details are poorly integrated, nevertheless we must rely on the same system we use in entrusting to memory a perfect and polished oration. For the art is the same in either case, even if a chaotic and disorderly speech might seem to be incompatible with the art.
CHAPTER 14. ON THE USEFULNESS OF LOCAL MEMORY
1. Now that the art of memory has been set forth, I think it would be useful to add a bit, first, about its usefulness, and, second, about its acquisition. Therefore, artificial memory depends on natural memory as if on a foundation. Indeed, if the memory with which Nature has endowed mankind were perfect and complete in all its parts, it would surpass this artificial memory more than words can express. But inasmuch as up to now virtually no mortal has possessed it perfect and complete in all its parts, or ever will possess such a memory, it strikes me as necessary for Nature’s weak points to be fortified by the medicine of invention and art. But in the meanwhile it is also worth noting that the more one is endowed with natural memory, the quicker he gains the ability, thanks to art’s instruction, and is more worthy of honor, whereas the less any mind is empowered by Nature, the less it is able to deserve praise and glory for this cultivation of the memory> Wherefore (to speak with Cicero), memory is not to be strengthened by this exercise if there is no natural ability in one, but if such a talent lies hidden, it is to be stimulated. And when we have become perfectly adept at the power of such memory, it is useful for two reasons. First, by its means, we either stamp something on the mind, as if in indelible letters, and preserve it forever, or we store things only for a certain period, afterwards to be eliminated. By means of permanent retention we commend to perpetual memory some science taught us in an organized fashion, or something similar to a science, such as laws, statutes, and things of that kind. But that memory is called transient by which the teacher entrusts to memory his lecture, the preacher his sermon, the advocate his plea, and other men similar things, for a limited time, perhaps for two or three days. For both kinds of retention the use of places, and even of the Chain, is highly useful. But they differ between themselves, and are constrained by their own rules. For if we use places, more and more of them must be prepared, in which nothing else must be placed hereafter. But the use of the Chain is freer, because it occupies only a single region, and hence seems more powerful for the long-term retention of something. But why need I say how much advantage either mode of retention conveys? For what can be more outstanding than the knowledge of the sciences? What more praiseworthy than the recall of many laws? But I restrain myself, lest I seem to linger too long on an issue not necessary to my subject. And so that retention which is most lasting and flexible both rules out lapses and assists that method of speaking which consists of constructing your speech in advance. For many who are imperfectly instructed in this skill are wont either to dry up in the mid-course of their speeches, or fail to recall those things which they had planned on saying next. At which time it is necessary that they wax bombastic, or match the style of their oratory to other things which do not suit their subject-matter. Who does not see the shamefulness of either course? Still others rely on notes or notebooks in which they set down markers for their connections; hence the oration loses a great deal of its credibility and, with the speaker’s weakness exposed, his good repute suffers an injury. Thanks to this mnemonic teaching he will easily be immune to these disgraces, who chooses to bend all his powers to its acquisition, and to make it his own by practice. For those things which he could scarce comprehend by mere contemplation, he will, as it were, hold in his grasp by personal experience.
CHAPTER 15: ON THE ACQUISITION OF THIS ART
1. Three things are necessary to gain the mastery of any art or science: nature, art, and practice. If anybody is weak-minded by natural endowment, or under-fortified by art, or impatient of hard work, he will sooner arrive at disgust, envy, or scorn of ability than to its acquisition. And so men who lack natural memory and wit are deservedly barred from aspiring to this ability, since they haver grasp the point of any art. The lazy, idle man, even if endowed with happy wit, if he is either frightened off by the tedium involved in such a protracted effort, is overcome with a schoolboy’s despair over the difficulty of the thing, will perhaps to turn to trifles,
Or when will he ever behold the light of midnight oil burning?
2. Cicero bears witness that, although the grasp of any discipline is feeble in the absence of assiduous exercise, in the matter of memory learning achieves nothing, unless it is validated by industry, hard work, and diligence. And so he who craves to acquire this skill must energetically strive to create as many places as possible fit for the art, and must daily strive to place objects in them. Hence he who teaches publicly in the Schools can practice the use of this kind of memory in working up his lectures; the scholar in learning his lessons; the preacher in admonishing his flock; the judge and advocate in the courtroom; the governor and advisor in the council chamber. But those free of such duties, whose activity lies in elocution, must fitly exercise in as many other situations as possible. For they can first store up in memory, and on the next day ponder upon, and retain as long as possible, whatever they have done, experienced, seen with their eyes, or perceived by hearing or any other sense. And it is important that we do not imagine we have gained the mastery and knack of this art, before we are able to employ it without any effort. And indeed, I know there are several methods that are useful for its employment. But I believe that I have said enough to arouse interest in its learning. For I have touched upon the nature of memory, on its usefulness and acquisition, in the same order that I said I would at the beginning.