“Lull’d in the countless chambers of the brain,
Our thoughts are linked by many a hidden chain.
Awake but one, and lo, what myriads rise!
Each stamps its image as the other flies.”
Some one has said that of all the gifts with which a beneficent Providence has endowed man the gift of memory is the noblest. Without it life would be a blank, a dreary void, an inextricable chaos, an unlettered page cast upon the vast ocean of uncertainty. Memory is the cabinet of the imagination, the treasury of reason, the registry of conscience, and the council chamber of thought. It is the only paradise we are sure of always possessing. Even our first parents could not be driven out of it. The memory of good actions is the starlight of the soul. Memory tempers prosperity by recalling past distresses, mitigates adversity by bringing up the thoughts of past joys, it controls youth and delights old age.
Memory is the golden cord binding all the natural gifts and excellences together, and though it is not wisdom in itself, still it is the primary and fundamental power without which there could be no other intellectual operations. Memory is often accused of treachery and inconstancy, when, if inquired into, the fault will be found to rest with ourselves. Although nature has wisely proportioned the strength and liberality of this gift to various intellects, yet all have it in their power to improve it by classing, by analyzing and arranging the different subjects which successively occupy their minds. By these means habits of thought and reflection are required, which will materially conduce to the invigorating of the understanding, the improvement of the mind, and the strengthening and correction of the mental powers.
A quick and retentive memory both of words and things is an invaluable treasure, and may be had by any one who will take the necessary pains. Educators sometimes in their anxiety to secure a wide range of studies fail to sufficiently impress on their scholars’ minds the value of memory. This memory is one of the most valuable gifts God has bestowed upon us, and one of the most mysterious. The more it is called upon to exercise its proper function the more it is able to do, and there seems to be no limit to its power. It is not what one has learned, but what he remembers and applies that makes him wise. Still memory should be used as the storehouse, not as a lumber-room. The mind must be trained to think as well as remember, and to remember principles and outlines rather than words and sentences.
It is an old saying that we forget nothing, as people in fever begin suddenly to talk the language of their infancy. We are stricken by memory sometimes, and old reflections rush back to us as vivid as in the time when they were our daily talk. We think of faces, and they return to us as plainly as when their presence gladdened our eyes and their accents thrilled in our ears. Many an affection that apparently came to an end, and dropped out of life one way or another, was only lying dormant. A scent, a note of music, a voice long unheard, the stirring of the Summer breeze may startle us with the sudden revival of long forgotten feelings and thoughts.
Memory can glean, but can never renew. It brings us joys faint as the perfume of the flowers, faded and dried of the Summer that is gone. Who is there whose heart is dead to the memories of his childhood days? Old times steal upon us, quietly making us young again, even amid the din of business and the whirl of household cares! The care-worn face relaxes its tension and the saddened brow clears for a time as some well-remembered scene rushes through the mind, bringing back the childhood home and the loved faces which met around the daily board.
We love to think of days that are past if they were days of happiness, and even experience a sad pleasure in recalling days of sadness. The man or woman who loves to look back upon the direction and counsel of a wise father, and faithful mother will seldom do an unworthy or unjust act. And we find the most degraded at times marveling as to what led them into sin, because the remembrance of a happy home is theirs—a home of purity, of a father’s and mother’s loving counsel and upright example.
When sorrow and trial, care and temptation, surround us how often do we gain courage and renewed strength by thinking of the past. The bankrupt loves to think that he started on a fair basis from the cradle. And the worldly woman, who seems plunged in the vortex of fashionable pleasure, stops to think that it was not always thus, that a devoted mother taught her nobler things, and an earnest father bade her live for some real object in life. Just that moment’s reflection may sow the seed which will develop into a life of charity and good works among her fellow-mortals. And that condemned criminal—who knows what memory recalls to his view? Perhaps it was a home from whence the incense of daily prayer ascended to God—where kind words enforced a cheerful obedience to wise counsels. Disturb him not; the influence is holy—’tis memory’s voice urging him to final repentance.
We love to think of the unbroken circle; the curly heads of the children, and the various dispositions that marked them; the childish employments and aspirations; the mischievous pranks and merited punishment; and the quiet hour when the mother, gathering the little ones about her, told them of the better life to come, and sought earnestly to teach them that here below we live as school children, gaining an education that shall fit us for the brighter home hereafter. But these thoughts are not altogether of joyous scenes. Change and death appeared on the scene, and strangers came to dwell in the home of our childhood.
It is strange what slight things suffice to recall the scenes of childhood. A fallen tree, a house in ruins, a pebbly bank, or the flowers by the wayside, arrest our steps, and carry the thoughts back to other days. In fancy we again visit the mossy bank by the wayside, where we so often sat for hours drinking in the beauty of the primrose with our eyes; the sheltered glen, darkly green, filled with the perfume of violets that shone in their intense blue like another sky spread upon the earth; the laughter of merry voices, are all brought back to memory by the simplest causes.
The reminiscences of youth are a trite theme, but it possesses an interest which the world can not dislodge from our breasts. If all then was not uninterrupted sunshine, yet the clouds flew rapidly by, and left no permanent shade behind them, as do those of mature years. From the covenants of friendship then we thought in after days to enjoy the benefits and treasures of love. But the forces of life have driven us asunder, and swept away all but the memory of the past. How different the contrast in thoughts and feelings then and now! Then it was the trusting confidence of childhood; now it is the doubting mind that hath tasted of the world’s insincerity. We had faith then, but we have doubts now.
The heart must, nay, it has, grown old, and is full of cares. It will relate at length the history of its sorrows, but it has few joys to communicate. Memory seldom fails When its office is to show us the tomb of our buried hopes. Joy’s recollection is no longer joy, but sorrow’s memory is a sorrow still. The memory of past favors is like a rainbow—bright, beautiful, and vivid—but it soon fades away; the memory of injuries is engraved on the heart, and remains forever. The course of none has been along so beaten a road that they remember not fondly some resting-places in their journey, some turns in their path in which lovely prospects broke in upon them, some plats of green refreshing to their weary feet.
Some one has said: “Memory is ever active, ever true; alas, if it were only as easy to forget!” Memory is a faithful steward, and holds to view many scenes over which we would fain drop the curtain of, oblivion and let the dust of forgetfulness cover them from view. What a relief could we but forget that angry word! The uncalled-for harshness and the passionate outbreak that went unrecalled so long that death intervened—O could we but erase their remembrance! But no, with a retaliative justice memory summons us to review them! Words which can never be recalled, deeds whose effect on others can never be effaced, how they come, one by one, showing us how useless our lives have been—how vain! Still, these memories are friends in disguise, for they are faithful monitors, and are experience’s ready prompters. How much is spoken which deserves no remembrance, and which does not serve as a single link in one’s existence, not calling forth one result for others’ weal, or thrilling one chord with nobler impulses!
How beautiful to distinguish the pearls in the rush of events—this torrent of scenes both sad and pleasing! The gift of memory is diversified to different people, some having a taste for history, some for literature; others delight in politics, and so on through all the different phases of existence, with its diversity of thought and feeling. Memory has been compared to a vast storehouse. How important, then, that we inure the mind to healthful actions instead of feeding it on poisons until it will produce naught but poisonous thoughts! Look at the world of literature and science. Why not delve in its mines of glittering, genuine treasures? Inasmuch as the mind derives much of its pleasures from thoughts of the past it becomes all to provide, as far as possible, for happy reminiscences. This is the reward of right living. An aged person whose thoughts revert to a life of self-denial and exertion in virtue’s ways has a source of happiness, pure and unalloyed, which is denied to him whose guiding rule of life has been selfishness.
Memory has a strange power of crowding years into moments. This is observed ofttimes when death is about to close the scene. As the sunlight breaks from the clouds and across the hills at the close of a stormy day, lighting up the distant horizon, even so does memory, when the light of life is fast disappearing in the darkness of death, break forth and illume the most distant scenes and incidents of past years. And the very clouds of sorrow which have drifted between are lighted up with a glorious light. As the soft, clear chimes of the silvery bells at the vesper hour float down on the shadowy wings of evening, even so are the thoughts of old age. They recall scenes past, their memory being all that is left now. It may be the face of a mother, the smile of a sister, a father’s kind voice, all stilled by death. Many of these thoughts are too sacred to expose to the gaze of the curious; they are their only treasures; beware of drawing back the curtain which conceals them from your view.
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