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as to be able at will to exhibit all its treasures ready for use.
This is not the prerogative of man, or perhaps of any other created being. What we mean is that mental impressions are in themselves so indelible as to be capable of reproduction, by concurring circumstances, in all their freshness and force. This is the aspect of the matter which I deem of most practical importance. It tells every young man that the whole future must take its complexion from the present, and that his state hereafter will be nothing else than his state now, carried forward uninterruptedly and interminably.
1. What light is afforded us, on this subject, by the nature of the mind itself?
By mind I here intend simply that intellectual or intelligent power in man, by which he considers, reflects, reasons, and judges. But does not this imply memory, and memory in exercise? Human life is a
? chain made up of links, thus curiously fastened together and constituting an indivisible whole. One impression runs always into another, and to live for ever is but to think for ever and remember for ever. This faculty of recollection and association seems, so far as we can determine, to be inseparable from rationality and accountability. Everything must be remembered that has had any influence in giving shape to character. Ahab will never forget his interview with the Prophet, in the garden of Naboth. Paul will always retain a vivid recollection of his visit to Damascus.
Hence it is that life, past, present, and future, is only so many portions of the same indivisible thing: That great mystery of man, which, for want of a better name, we call conscious existence, has a beginning and a progress, but it can never have a termination. Started once on its high career, it must keep on unless arrested by the fiat of its Author. The vessel once afloat can never slacken her sail, but must pass out of the river of time into the ocean of eternity. This is the law of one's mental existence. The mind advances from stage to stage, without ever breaking the thread of its being, or losing what it has gained.
But can we conceive of a perfect identity, in the midst of such changes as these, without memory? Take from man the power of recollecting what is past, and you bring him down from his high estate, and reduce him to a condition little above that of the fowls of the air, or the beasts of the field. It is his distinct, peculiar prerogative to possess self-consciousness—a knowledge of his own feelings—the faculty of retrospection. The ox, by a sort of natural instinct, may “know his owner, and the ass his master's crib;' but that kind of recollection which consists in pondering the scenes of one's earlier days, and renewing to himself the impression of by-gone events, is peculiar to man. It belongs solely to him to take cognisance of the beatings of his own heart, the impulses of his own soul, the foreshadowings of his own destiny. Without this, he could not be an intelligent, responsible, moral agent. Without it, he could not be a
It is memory that so connects life here and life hereafter, as to render it really one life. Whatever changes take place, they are merely relative and circumstantial. When the child becomes a man, he is found to have brought his early recollections with him; when the man puts on gray hairs, he retains the impressions of the years that are past; and when the same man passes into the world of spirits, he takes with him the remembrance of what occurred on earth. There is no break in his being—no sundering it into fragments. The body may change again and again, as it passes from infancy to old age, but still remain the very same body, and so it appears to be with the mind. In every alteration, there is identity of being and perpetual enlargement. One set of impressions comes in to add to the tide of another, until in eternity existence itself becomes one vast, comprehensive, overpowering memory.
A temporary oblivion, however entire, proves nothing against the general permanence of mental impressions. How often is it the case, that at some unexpected moment, and by means which no one can explain, we. recall the images of things for a long time apparently gone from us? The idea had once existed in the mind, and nothing was requisite but the moving of some invisible chord to bring it fully to life again. Nor does it militate against our theory, that the memory often becomes weakened by sickness or old age. This is
very true, but how do we know that it is the mind, in such cases, which fails, or only the organs by means of which the mind now operates ? These instances seem to be proof of the failure of the outer, and not of the inner man.
All that we know of the nature of mind leads us to conclude that what is once written on it can never be effaced. For a long season together, words and phrases and detached sentences may so disappear as to become nearly or quite illegible. But sooner or later a flood of light will be poured on those faded letters, clear as that which shone on the Jewish breastplate.
2. It is important to inquire, how well-ascertained facts bear upon the point before us ?
You have already seen that mind could not be what it is, or act as it does, were not memory one of its essential attributes. Thus much is clear. But the question arises, Is there anything in the incidents of real life which tends to confirm our reasonings in relation to this matter? And I answer, Yes, there are thousands of fully authenticated cases, which go to show that every mental impression once existing may be revived again. If loss there be, it is not a perpetual loss. Like a letter written with invisible ink, under favourable circumstances every sentence may be brought distinctly out.
Something may be learned on this subject from the phenomena of sleep. When you stand by the couch of a friend, at the hour of midnight, it seems to you
at first view as if his intellect was actually extinct. You see no motion, you hear no speech, you perceive no trace of thought. So far as consciousness of passing events, or intellectual activity is concerned, he lies like a clod, or, at most, a mere breathing lump of clay. Where is the mind, the reflection, the memory now? But let that friend be aroused, and all he ever knew is fresh before him, and thought moves on with all its previous power. This seems to solve the problem. So may the sick man, the insane man, the superannuated man, the dead man, awake to a full realization
, of whatever had
before. That the mind actually retains what it receives, and keeps what it gets, there is abundant reason to believe. It would be easy to occupy hours in citing cases, described by writers on mental and moral science, all favouring this conclusion. Something occurs to quicken recollection, and then scenes and events are called up, which had apparently all faded away. To set the machine in motion, so to speak, it is sufficient often that there should be an attack of fever, a season of nervous excitement, or a feeling of sudden danger. Now it is that all the past comes pouring down upon the present. Under such circumstances, the individual really seems to live more in a single half-hour than he had in weeks, or even months before.
As an illustration of this idea, let me refer to the sensations of a drowning man, as described by himself. From the moment exertion ceased, though the senses were all benumbed, the activity of the mind