Text: Edgar Allan Poe, “Notices of New Works,” Southern Literary Messenger, Vol. XIV, no. 7, May 1845, 14:326-328


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[page 326:]

Notices of New Works.

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A DICTIONARY OF GREEK AND ROMAN ANTIQUITIES. Edited by William Smith, Ph D. and illustrated by numerous Engravings on wood. Third American Edition, Carefully Revised, and containing numerous Additional Articles relative to the Botany, Mineralogy, and Zoology of the Ancients. By Charles Anthon, LL. D., Professor of the Greek and Latin Languages in Columbia College, New-York, etc. New-York: Harper & Brothers.

Before the issue of this most important book, there were innumerable points of antiquarian investigation, (in respect very particularly to Greece and Rome,) concerning which information could be obtained only by dint of patient research among a large number of costly and practically inaccessible works. Mr. Smith’s object, therefore, was to examine the original sources, with such aid as could be derived from the best modern writers, and bring up the entire subject of Greek and Roman Antiquity to the present time to the present condition of philological learning. As the book was intended not merely for schools, but for universities and mature students, who might wish to extend research beyond the limits of any mere encyclopedic volume, the author gave numerous references to the sources of information, throughout, as well as to all commentatory works.

The alphabetical form has been very properly preferred to the systematic; and thus a complete account of each subject is given under one head — the whole embracing a full account of the Private and Public Life of the Greeks and Romans. The articles are, of course, the work of various hands — full reference to the writers, individually, [column 2:] the student of the Charlottesville University will recognize, with pleasure, Mr. George Long, at one time Professor of Ancient Languages in that institution, and unquestionably one of the best scholars and most philosophical teachers of his time. He has contributed, among other things, a series of articles on Roman Law-an exceedingly difficult subject admirably handled. The idea of the Dictionary originated, indeed, with Mr. Long.

Many of the Illustrations have been taken from originals in the British Museum — others from the Museo Borbonico, Museo Capitolino, Millin’s Peintures de Vases Antiques, Tischbein’s and D’Hancarville’s engravings from Sir William Hamilton’s Vases, and so forth.

The American edition, (of which we are now speaking,) has been prepared by Professor Charles Anthon, a gentleman who, in point of discrimination, accuracy and erudition, has few, (if any,) equals, and no superior in the classical world. The Dictionary, as put forth by him, is very far superior to the English work. He has improved the arrangement of matter very materially, and added numerous excellent papers on the Botany, Mineralogy, and Zoology of the Ancients. He has also appended an Index Raisonne, classifying every thing; so that, retaining the form of a Dictionary, the book may still be made to answer all the purposes of a College text-book. It is scarcely necessary to mention that, by this truly comprehensive work, the meagre compilations of Potter and Adams, are completely overshadowed. The existence of the volume now before us, renders these imperfect treatises, indeed, considerably worse than useless. Information obtained from them, (even if correct,) will have the air of error from its simple incompleteness — an incompleteness to be appreciated only by reference to the more voluminous book. The mechanical execution of the Dictionary is every thing that could be desired.

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PHRENO-MNEMOTECHNY; OR THE ART OF MEMORY. The Series of Lectures explanatory of the Principles of the System, delivered in New York and Philadelphia, in the beginning of 1844, by Francis Fauvel-Gouraud, D. E. S., of the University of France. Now first published without Alterations or Omissions, and with Considerable Additions in the Practical Applications of the System. New York and London: Wiley and Putnam.

This is a large octavo of some 700 pages, and beyond doubt, one of the most important and altogether extraordinary works which have been published within the last fifty years. The readers of the “Messenger” are probably well acquainted, by report, with M. Fauvel-Gouraud; and it is not impossible that some of them are inclined to entertain of his book no very exalted opinion. To these we say, M. Gouraud is himself a very peculiar man; his idiosyncrasies are marked. beyond those of any person we have yet met. And of men such as these, we must be wary how we adopt prejudices — for they radiate prejudices wherever they go The world always receives with distrust any thing which gives it a startling impulse — any thing which jostles its old conservative equanimity; and there is but little difference in the amount of the distrust, whether the jostling throw our minds probably into the right path, or obviously into the wrong. Now, not only is the proposition of M. Gouraud a startling one, from the immense importance of its consequences; but the mode in which he advances it, is startling from its extreme comprehensiveness — a comprehensiveness such as thoroughly exhausts the subject, and such as is never ventured on except by a Frenchman. And not only is he startling in his thesis, and in his mode of treating it, but, personally, he startles all who listen to him comprehendingly, with the, deep enthusiasm by which he is inspired — an enthusiasm [page 327:] which impels him to say things and to do things, (for the sake of getting the world by the ear,) from which ordinary men would shrink, but which this very enthusiasm induces him to regard, (and very properly, we think,) as a duty.

It will be understood at once, that M. Gouraud is of the class of men who accomplish great results by means of the very quality which excites prejudice, in the majority of mankind, during the accomplishment of these results. It is quite unnecessary to complain of the prejudice — it is inevitable; on the other hand, we should not permit ourselves to estimate it at more than its value, nor to mistake it for what it is not.

The book now published is made up of the previous Lectures of the author, with considerable additions, but no modifications. It bears about it, therefore, all the freshness of a viva voce disquisition, and independently of its proper merit as an exposition of the thesis, Mnemotechny, is singularly instructive as a storehouse of facts, and exceedingly entertaining from its anecdotary and gossiping spirit. Whatever opinion may be entertained of the theory as such, or of its availability, we feel sure that no one qualified to decide upon this remarkable production will fail to be astonished at the amount of erudition it manifests — at the patient industry by which this erudition is made available to the purposes of the treatise, or at the dexterity with which so much seemingly discordant material is wrought into a well-proportioned whole. For our own part, we do not hesitate to say that M. Gouraud has very thoroughly made out his case. His enthusiasm, and more especially the practical effect of his own system on his own intellect, while engaged so continuously in these investigations, have necessarily led him to overrate the facility with which his Art of Memory may be introduced, and even, perhaps, the extent to which its positive application may be made a matter of ordinary use, but that his principles are soundly based we distinctly perceive, — their full development must be trusted to Time.

M. Gouraud’s definition of Natural Memory runs thus: “By Natural Memory I understand the faculty of retaining the impression of any event or facts, or series of events and facts, without the assistance of systematic associations, which must be distinguished from natural associations, a concomitant feature of natural memory, properly so called.”

His definition of Artificial Memory is this: “By Artificial Memory we understand, simply the power of recollecting facts and events, by means of conditional associations, which must first be called for, in order, by their assistance, to get at the facts associated with them.”

The manner in which this definition is illustrated, will, to the philosophical, speak more effectually in favor of the accomplished author, than any random observations of our own.

“From this then,” he says, referring to a well-known anecdote told of Simonides, “ we see the origin attributed to mnemonics by the ancients. It was upon this principle, it is said, that Simonides founded the first regular system for aiding the memory, of which history makes mention. . . . But as we do not now-a-days appeal to mythological fables for the causes and explanations of facts pertaining to the understanding, but only to Logic and to Philosophy, if we interrogate either of them on this subject, they will answer nearly thus: — ‘Men in all ages of the world, probably, and especially in a state of civilization. have ever taken notice, as it happens to ourselves every day, that upon seeing, even at a great distance, the dwelling of a person of their acquaintance, this dwelling called to their mind immediately the person who occupied it, his family, his manners, his affairs, arid the relations which they sustained towards him. The view of a temple could not present itself to their eyes without causing them to think of the God to [column 2:] whom it was erected, or the idol who occupied the shrine of its sanctuary. A tree of familiar foliage could not present itself to their view without recalling to their minds the palatable and delicious fruit which it produced in its proper season. The sight of the sea had undoubtedly more than once carried the thoughts to the mournful picture of a storm — then the vessel beaten by the violence of the tempest; and, finally, the shipwreck amid whose horrors some dear friend had become the prey of the fathomless abyss. Hence, the thoughts were often, undoubtedly, carried back, by the affiliation of successive ideas, to other remembrances more or less associated with the objects before them; nor were they often stopped in their course, until the view of new objects suddenly awakened other and more vivid recollections.’ . . . . These facts, continually reproducing themselves to the observation, served soon to attract the attention of the first thinkers which the human species produced. And these argued, probably, after this sort: — ‘If it is constantly the case, that every time we see an object, to which is attached some souvenir, that object immediately recalls to our mind the souvenir so attached; it ought then naturally to follow, that if we should connect conditionally isolated souvenirs, or even a series of souvenirs, to a series of given objects, then while looking upon those objects, or even thinking of them, those souvenirs which have been so connected with them must present themselves naturally to our mind; perhaps even irresistibly, at least under certain circumstances.’ And the first practical essay which was first made upon this theory so logical and so simple, was, incontestibly, the origin of the Mnemonic Art.”

Proceeding from this point, M. Gouraud continues the history of Mnemotechny, giving detailed accounts of the schemes of Grey and Feinagle, with a catalogue of all authors who have written on the subject; and then with the heading, Egomet, commences a narrative and explanation of his own system, the vast superiority of which to all others is, to our minds at least, decidedly manifest. Yet of the system of Feinagle it was no less a man than that king of logicians, Lalande, who thus expressed himself:

“I have witnessed the extraordinary effects produced on the memory by the method of M. de Feinagle, and nothing appears to me more deserving of the serious attention of any man of learning.”

And, nevertheless, we have among us a set of “paragraphists,” who, without knowing what M. Gouraud proposes — without taking the trouble to enquire — make no scruple of indulging in boisterous expressions of contempt, not only for his peculiar system, but for the Art, generally, to which the wise Simonides devoted a life, and which has occupied the serious attention of such intellects as those of Herodotus, Cicero, Pliny, Quintilian, Aristotle, Addison, Hume, Priestly, Bacon and Locke!

M. Gouraud himself, or rather M. Gouraud’s memory, is the sole reply which should be brought to bear upon such opponents. To reason they turn a deaf ear; but facts, at least, are to them intelligible. The mnemonic feats of M. Gouraud are not miracles, only because miracles are not. Take a specific fact, for which we are prepared to vouch. The lecturer distributes among his audience fifty slips of paper, on which one hundred different persons write whatever they please, however absurd or inconsistent, scraps of verse, rows of figures, arbitrary arrangements of letters, or any thing supposed difficult to be remembered. He reads each slip twice, and returning all to the audience, repeats, in any order, and without the omission or misplacement of a syllable, every thing that has been written: — and this feat, incredible as it seems, is really trifling in comparison with many others which he not only readily performs, but readily instructs others to perform. It is by no means too much to say that the powers [page 328:] of memory, as aided by his system, are absolutely illimitable. We earnestly advise our readers to procure M. Gouraud’s extraordinary work and decide in the premises for themselves.

 


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Notes:

Other reviews in this issue are attributed to Benjamin Blake Minor.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1845] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Criticism - Frances Sargent Osgood (May 1845)