Memory is one of the most neglected factors in modern education. In previous generations children had to memorize poetry, irregular verbs, and important historical dates, and such is still the case in many European schools. Perhaps the neglect of memory is in part due to the modern contempt of anything that implies effort, discipline and application. But the penalties are terrific as businessmen go madly searching for typists who can spell.
God has blessed some people with remarkable powers of retention. It is said that Themistocles pknew by heart the names of twenty thousand citizens of Athens. History records that Cyrus knew the name of every soldier in his army. On the other hand, Aristotle held that people who have such vivid memoriees for details never have good judgment. This may be because images pile up with such rapidity as to destroy the relation between abstract ideas which are essential for judgment.
Lord Bacon and Coleridge both held that nothing that is impressed on the memory ever leaves it. This is evident in persons who in old age are brought before the scenes of their childhood, and immediately names, places and incidents come out from their storehouse of memory and the past is lived again. As old palimpsests bear the original writing under dust or new messages, so the memory retains all that we have seen and heard, said and done. Today is but the product of all our yesterdays, and our present is but the harvest of the past. The fragments of our memory are very much like islands for the moment unconnected. But it may be that they are continuous, as the solid earth itself is continuous if one did but drain off the water from the seas.
Hidden in this retentive power of memory may also be the basis of what will be our final judgment, for what is memory but an infallible autobiography? As at the end of the day the businessman takes out of the cash register a record of all the debits and the credits, so at the end of life the memory offers the basis of how we shall be judged. As Coleridge put it: "And this perchance is the dread book of judgment, in whose mysterious hieroglyphics every idle word is recorded. Yes, in the very nature of a living spirit, it may be more possible that Heaven and earth should pass away than that a single act, a single thought, should be loosened from that living chain of causes, to all those links, conscious or unconscious, the free will, our own absolute self, is coextensive and co-present."
Memory is the source of unhappiness to many people today; hence their attempts to stifle it with alchohol and drugs. What is the explanation for the vast amount of sleeping tablets sold to the American public? It has been pointed out that enough are sold to put every person in the United States to sleep twenty-two nights a year, or to put nine million to sleep three hundred and sixty-five nights a year. Undoubtedly, some of this is medically necessary for the easing of pain, but more likely most of the pills are taken in an effort to "forget" or "get away from it all." The memory has the peculiar trick of never asking our permission for anything it shoots up into consciousness; sometimes the more displeasing the ideas are, and the harder we try to forget them, the quicker and the more often they flash before our eyes. It is a psychological fact that the more the mind fears a thing, the more that fearful thing comes like a ghost out of the past to torture it. What we hate and dread we remember best, and nothing that we present to our mind can blot it out. No wonder Macbeth in desperation asked his physician: "Canst thou not...pluck from the memory a rooted sorrow; raze out the written troubles of the brain...which weigh upon the heart?" (Macbeth, Act V, Scene iii, LIne 40).
What is driving people to sleeping tablets is to some extent driving them to psychoanalytical couches - they are in flight from what is distasteful and what cannot be blotted out - and most often it is unrequited guilt. We point out these sad facts to remind those who are full of fears and anxieties that there is another remedy besides sleeping tablets, and that is consciously confronting our guilt and asking the pardon of God. Another way is to live right, so we won't have to try to forget.