Chapter 9

Constitutive or Collective Instances Icon

26 These are a species or lesser form of the required nature.

The real forms (which are always convertible with the given nature) lie at some depth, and are not easily discovered, the necessity of the case and the infirmity of the human understanding require that the particular forms, which collect certain groups of instances (but by no means all) into some common notion, should not be neglected, but most diligently observed.

For whatever unites nature, even imperfectly, opens the way to the discovery of the form. The instances, therefore, which are serviceable in this respect are of no mean power, but endowed with some degree of prerogative.

Here, nevertheless, great care must be taken that, after the discovery of several of these particular forms, and the establishing of certain partitions or divisions of the required nature derived from them, the human understanding do not at once rest satisfied, without preparing for the investigation of the great or leading form, and taking it for granted that nature is compound and divided from its very root, despise and reject any further union as a point of superfluous refinement, and tending to mere abstraction.

For instance, let the required nature be memory, or that[170] which excites and assists memory. The constitutive instances are order or distribution, which manifestly assists memory: topics or commonplaces in artificial memory, which may be either places in their literal sense, as a gate, a corner, a window, and the like, or familiar persons and marks, or anything else (provided it be arranged in a determinate order), as animals, plants, and words, letters, characters, historical persons, and the like, of which, however, some are more convenient than others.

All these commonplaces materially assist memory, and raise it far above its natural strength. Verse, too, is recollected and learned more easily than prose. From this group of three instances—order, the commonplaces of artificial memory, and verses—is constituted one species of aid for the memory,[116] which may be well termed a separation from infinity. For when a man strives to recollect or recall anything to memory, without a preconceived notion or perception of the object of his search, he inquires about, and labors, and turns from point to point, as if involved in infinity. But if he have any preconceived notion, this infinity is separated off, and the range of his memory is brought within closer limits.

In the 3 instances given above, the preconceived notion is clear and determined.

In the first, it must be something that agrees with order.

In the second, an image which has some relation or agreement with the fixed commonplaces.

In the third, words which fall into a verse: and thus infinity is divided off.

Other instances will offer another species, namely, that whatever brings the intellect into contact with[171] something that strikes the sense (the principal point of artificial memory), assists the memory.

Others again offer another species, namely, whatever excites an impression by any powerful passion, as fear, shame, wonder, delight, assists the memory. Other instances will afford another species: thus those impressions remain most fixed in the memory which are taken from the mind when clear and least occupied by preceding or succeeding notions, such as the things we learn in childhood, or imagine before sleep, and the first time of any circumstance happening.

Other instances afford the following species: namely, that a multitude of circumstances or handles assist the memory, such as writing in paragraphs, reading aloud, or recitation.

Lastly, other instances afford still another species: thus the things we anticipate, and which rouse our attention, are more easily remembered than transient events; as if you read any work 20 times over, you will not learn it by heart so readily as if you were to read it but ten times, trying each time to repeat it, and when your memory fails you looking into the book.

There are, therefore, six lesser forms, as it were, of things which assist the memory:

  1. The separation of infinity
  2. The connection of the mind with the senses
  3. The impression in strong passion
  4. The impression on the mind when pure
  5. The multitude of handles
  6. Anticipation

As an example, let the required nature be taste or the power of tasting.

The following instances are constitutive:

  1. Those who do not smell, but are deprived by nature of that sense, do not perceive or distinguish rancid or putrid food by their taste, nor garlic from roses, and the like.
  2. Those whose nostrils are obstructed by accident (such as a cold) do not distinguish any putrid or[172] rancid matter from anything sprinkled with rose-water.
  3. If those who suffer from a cold blow their noses violently at the very moment in which they have anything fetid or perfumed in their mouth, or on their palate, they instantly have a clear perception of the fetor or perfume.

These instances afford and constitute this division of taste. It is in part nothing else than an internal smelling, passing and descending through the upper passages of the nostrils to the mouth and palate.

But, on the other hand, those whose power of smelling is deficient or obstructed, perceive what is salt, sweet, pungent, acid, rough, and bitter, and the like, as well as any one else: so that the taste is clearly something compounded of the internal smelling, and an exquisite species of touch which we will not here discuss.

As another example, let the required nature be the communication of quality, without intermixture of substance.

The instance of light will afford or constitute one species of communication, heat and the magnet another. For the communication of light is momentary and immediately arrested upon the removal of the original light. But heat, and the magnetic force, when once transmitted to or excited in another body, remain fixed for a considerable time after the removal of the source.

The prerogative of constitutive instances is considerable, for they materially assist the definitions (especially in detail) and the divisions or partitions of natures, concerning which Plato has well said, “He who can properly define and divide is to be considered a god.”[117]

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