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HARVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY

All 1 1914
CHARLES ELLIOTT PERKINS

MEMORIAL COLLECTION

756

I-62

IMPROVEMENT ERA.

VOL. III.

MAY, 1900.

No. 7.

CAN WE FORGET?

BY DR. JAMES E. TALMAGE, OF THE UNIVERSITY OF UTAH.

Who of us has not blamed at times our treacherous memories, which seem to hide what it is most desirable to see at a critical moment? Who has not yearned for the power to make the past present when desired? Yet many, and I believe all at times, are thankful for oblivion which casts its sable pall over much that we are glad to have forgotten.

It is said that a philosopher once exclaimed, “Oh, that the gods would grant me the power to forget!" Ah! how often do memories of the past arise, like ghosts at the feast, to harass and torment! The consciousness of opportunities neglected, of misdeeds committed; the knowledge of unholy thoughts, of cruel words, of sinful acts, how they invade our hours of otherwise pleasant repose, our seasons of enjoyment, and even our sacred periods of prayer! Gladly would we blot out from memory's book the record of many an occurrence in mind or fact, the recollection of which pricks and burns. The contemplative mind is thankful for the boon of present forgetfulness, and would not welcome the power of infinite remembrance.

Yet I take it, that when we declaim at memory for its fickleness and treachery, when we deplore our inability to recall a serviceable fact at the moment of need, we misplace our blame. It is not the memory, but the recollection that is at fault. Memory is the library of the mind, wherein are stored thoughts, facts, incidents, that have entered into life's experience, laid away like books upon the shelves. Not a volume is lost, not a leaf is consumed. Unclassified they may lie in the disorder of habitual carelessness, dust-covered, and often eaten into by the moths of time, because we account them, and therefore neglect them, as of earth earthy; yet they are not destroyed, the pages are still legible. Recollection is the librarian, whose duty it is to place the volumes in position, the pages in order; and who, when roused from the lethargy into which he so often falls, can bring them forth as required, brushing the dust from their edges, and spreading the pages clear and plain for inspection.

Seek rather to cultivate the efficiency of recollection than that of memory; the latter is less amenable to control, it operates in spite of us like the involuntary muscles of the body; the former may be trained to our service.

Think you it is possible to forget absolutely—to blot out from memory’s catalogue a single instance so that it may never be recalled? No! that power has not been given unto man. The human mind is like the palimpsest of the ancients, one impression thereon may be superseded by another but not destroyed. Have you ever thought of the marvels of the palimpsest? Let me explain.

In olden times when paper in the cheapness and plentitude of modern days was unknown, when books were written laboriously by hand, letter by letter, each volume was a treasure procurable by the riches of the wealthy alone. The skins of animals converted into parchment formed the fabric which received the penwritten characters-far more costly, and proportionately more durable, than the paper of the present day which is read in haste or wholly slighted and thrown aside. On such parchment pages were inscribed with care and labor the thoughts of those who wrote. Sometimes it happened that the fabric of the book was of more material value than the inscription-may not the same be

said of many a current volume, cheap as is the paper of this age? But in times gone by, parchment once used was not to be discarded even though the record on it was of little worth. The art of the alchemist was invoked to obliterate one inscription that space might be found for another.

Thus the record of theological lore was blotted out to give space for the historian's essay; and this in turn was cleared away that place might be found for the poet's song of chivalry and love; and this, having served its time and purpose, suffered the fate of chemic obliteration that the legends and arguments of the scientist's theory might be inscribed, and this in turn was superceded by a modern romance.

But let it not be supposed that these records of the past perished beyond hope. Modern chemistry has arisen, more potent than the alchemy from whose ashes it sprang, and by its subtle processes each impression has been brought out in its order to be read in the day of the fullness of times. By a treatment not understood outside the laboratory, the scientist's theory, the historical disserta tion, the poet's rhapsody, and the thesis of the ancient theologian, each has been renewed, and thus words of writers long since mingled with the dust are read and understood.

Such a palimpsest is the mind of man; the comparison is not original, but I borrow it to present to you for what it is worth. A newer impression may blot out for a time the earlier inscription on memory's page, as this in turn may give place to a still more recent record, but sooner or later, by the mystic processes of Nature's laboratory, each record will be renewed in its order, and by it the writer will be judged.

Every tissue of our bodily organisms is endowed with the power of memory. The hand that has been taught to pilfer will not easily forget its unholy cunning, and, if the monitorial mind be off its guard, would reach out and clutch though it were within reach of the pearls that ornament the gates of the Heavenly City. Every act, whether it be relatively important or insignificant, leaves stamped upon the organs concerned in its perpetration a tendency toward a repetition. Neither body nor spirit will forget its training; not even the grave can rob it of its education.

The body that has been accustomed to dissipation and vice

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