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The Art Of Not Forgetting
A Brief but Comprehensive Treatise Based on Loisette's Famous System of
So much has been said about Loisette's memory system, the art has been
so widely advertised, and so carefully guarded from all the profane who
do not send five or many dollars to the Professor, that a few pages,
showing how man may be his own Loisette, may be both interesting and
In the first place, the system is a good one, and well worth the labor
of mastering, and if the directions are implicitly followed there can be
no doubt that the memory will be greatly strengthened and improved, and
that the mnemonic feats otherwise impossible may be easily performed.
Loisette, however, is not an inventor, but an introducer. He stands in
the same relation to Dr. Pick that the retail dealer holds to the
manufacturer: the one produced the article, the other brings it to the
public. Even this statement is not quite fair to Loisette, for he has
brought much practical common sense to bear upon Pick's system, and, in
preparing the new art of mnemonics for the market, in many ways he has
made it his own.
If each man would reflect upon the method by which he himself remembers
things, he would find his hand upon the key of the whole mystery. For
instance, I was once trying to remember the word Blythe. There
occurred to my mind the words Bellman, Belle, and the verse:
---- the peasant upward climbing
Hears the bells of Buloss chiming.
Barcarole, Barrack, and so on, until finally the word Blythe
presented itself with a strange insistence, long after I had ceased
trying to recall it.
On another occasion, when trying to recall the name Richardson, I got
the words hay-rick, Robertson, Randallstown, and finally
wealthy, from which, naturally, I got rich and Richardson almost
in a breath.
Still another example: Trying to recall the name of an old schoolmate,
Grady, I got Brady, grave, gaseous, gastronome, gracious,
and I finally abandoned the attempt, simply saying to myself that it
began with a G, and there was an a sound after it. The next morning
when thinking of something entirely different, this name Grady came up
in my mind with as much distinctness as though someone had whispered it
in my ear. This remembering was done without any conscious effort on my
part, and was evidently the result of the exertion made the day before
when the mnemonic processes were put to work. Every reader must have had
a similar experience which he can recall, and which will fall in line
with the examples given.
It follows, then, that when we endeavor, without the aid of any system,
to recall a forgotten fact or name, our memory presents to us words of
similar sound or meaning in its journey toward the goal to which we have
started it. This goes to show that our ideas are arranged in groups in
whatever secret cavity or recess of the brain they occupy, and that the
arrangement is not an alphabetical one exactly, and not entirely by
meaning, but after some fashion partaking of both.
If you are looking for the word meadow you may reach middle before
you come to it, or Mexico, or many, words beginning with the m
sound, or containing the dow, as window, or dough, or you may get
field or farm--but you are on the right track, and if you do not
interfere with your intellectual process you will finally come to the
idea which you are seeking.
How often have you heard people say, I forget his name, it is something
like Beadle or Beagle--at any rate it begins with a B. Each and all of
these were unconscious Loisettians, and they were practicing blindly,
and without proper method or direction, the excellent system which he
teaches. The thing, then, to do--and it is the final and simple truth
which Loisette teaches--is to travel over this ground in the other
direction--to cement the fact which you wish to remember to some other
fact or word which you know will be brought out by the implied
conditions--and thus you will always be able to travel from your given
starting-point to the thing which you wish to call to mind.
It seems as though a channel were cut in our mind-stuff along which the
memory flows. How to construct an easy channel for any event or series
of events or facts which one wishes to remember, along which the mind
will ever afterward travel, is the secret of mnemonics.
Loisette, in common with all the mnemonic teachers, uses the old device
of representing numbers by letters--and as this is the first and easiest
step in the art, this seems to be the most logical place to introduce
the accepted equivalents of the Arabic numerals:
0 is always represented by s, z or c soft.
1 is always represented by t, th or d.
2 is always represented by n.
3 is always represented by m.
4 is always represented by r.
5 is always represented by l.
6 is always represented by sh, j, ch soft or g soft.
7 is always represented by g hard, k, c hard, q or final ng.
8 is always represented by f or v.
9 is always represented by p or b.
All the other letters are used simply to fill up. Double letters in a
word count only as one. In fact, the system goes by sound, not by
spelling, For instance, this or dizzy would stand for ten; catch
or gush would stand for 76, and the only difficulty is to make some
word or phrase which will contain only the significant letters in the
proper order, filled out with non-significants into some guise of
meaning or intelligibility.
You can remember the equivalents given above by noting that z is the
first letter of zero, and c of cipher, t has but one stroke, n has
two, m three; the script f is very like 8; the script p like 9; r is the
last letter of four; l is the Roman numeral for 50, which suggests 5.
The others may be retained by memorizing these nonsense lines:
Six shy Jewesses chase George.
Seven great kings came quarreling.
Suppose you wished to get some phrase or word that would express the
number 3,685, you arrange the letters this way:
3 .. 6 .. 8 .. 5
a m a sh a f a 1
e e j e v e
i i ch i i
o o g o o
u u u u
h h h h
w w w w
x x x x
y y y y
You can make out image of law, my shuffle, matchville, etc., etc.,
as far as you like to work it out.
Now, suppose you wished to memorize the fact that $1,000,000 in gold
weighs 3,685 pounds, you go about it in this way, and here is the kernel
and crux of Loisette's system: How much does $1,000,000 in gold weigh?
Scales--statue of justice.
Statue of Justice--image of law.
The process is simplicity itself. The thing you wish to recall, and that
you fear to forget, is the weight; consequently you cement your chain of
suggestion to the idea which is most prominent in your mental question.
What do you weigh with? Scales. What does the mental picture of scales
suggest? The statue of Justice, blindfolded and weighing out award and
punishment to man. Finally, what is this statue of Justice but the image
of law? And the words image of law, translated back from the
significant letters m, g soft, f and 1, give you 3--6--8--5, the number
of pounds in $1,000,000 in gold. You bind together in your mind each
separate step in the journey, the one suggests the other, and you will
find a year from now that the fact will be as fresh in your memory as it
is today. You cannot lose it. It is chained to you by an unbreakable
mnemonic tie. Mark that it is not claimed that weight will of itself
suggest scales, and scales statue of Justice, etc., but that,
having once passed your attention up and down that ladder of ideas, your
mental tendency will be to take the same route, and get to the same goal
again and again. Indeed, beginning with the weight of $1,000,000, image
of law will turn up in your mind without your consciousness of any
intermediate station on the way, after some iteration and reiteration of
the original chain.
Again, so as to fasten the process in the reader's mind even more
firmly, suppose that it were desired to fix the date of the battle of
Hastings (A. D. 1066) in the memory; 1066 may be represented by the
words the wise judge (th--1, s--0, j--6, dg--6; the others are
non-significants); a chain might be made thus:
Battle of Hastings--arbitrament of war.
Arbitrament of war--arbitration.
Judgment--the wise judge.
Make mental pictures, connect ideas, repeat words and sounds, go about
it any way you please, so that you will form a mental habit of
connecting the battle of Hastings with the idea of arbitrament of
war, and so on for the other links in the chain, and the work is done.
Loisette makes the beginning of his system unnecessarily difficult, to
say nothing of his illogical arrangement in the grammar of the art of
memory, which he makes the first of his lessons. He analyzes suggestion
All of which looks very scientific and orderly, but is really misleading
and badly named. The truth is that one idea will suggest another:
1. By likeness or opposition of meaning, as house suggests room or
door, etc.; or, white suggests black; cruel, kind, etc.
2. By likeness of sound, as harrow and barrow; Henry and
3. By mental juxtaposition, a peculiarity different in each person, and
depending upon each one's own experiences. Thus, St. Charles suggests
railway bridge to me, because I was vividly impressed by the breaking
of the Wabash bridge at that point. Stable and broken leg come near
each other in my experience, as do cow and shot-gun and licking.
Out of these three sorts of suggestion it is possible to get from anyone
fact to another in a chain certain and safe, along which the mind may be
depended upon afterwards always to follow.
The chain is, of course, by no means all. Its making and its binding
must be accompanied by a vivid, methodically directed attention, which
turns all the mental light gettable in a focus upon the subject passing
across the mind's screen. Before Loisette was thought of this was known.
In the old times in England, in order to impress upon the mind of the
rising generation the parish boundaries in the rural districts, the boys
were taken to each of the landmarks in succession, the position and
bearing of each pointed out carefully, and, in order to deepen the
impression, the young people were then and there vigorously thrashed--a
mechanical method of attracting the attention which was said never to
have failed. This system has had its supporters in many of the
old-fashioned schools, and there are men who will read these lines who
can recall, with an itching sense of vivid impression, the 144 lickings
which were said to go with the multiplication table.
In default of a thrashing, however, the student must cultivate as best
he can an intense fixity of perception upon every fact or word or date
that he wishes to make permanently his own. It is easy. It is a matter
of habit. If you will, you can photograph an idea upon your cerebral
gelatine so that neither years nor events will blot it out or overlay
it. You must be clearly and distinctly aware of the thing you are
putting into your mental treasure-house, and drastically certain of the
cord by which you have tied it to some other thing of which you are
sure. Unless it is worth your while to do this, you might as well
abandon any hope of mnemonic improvement, which will not come without
the hardest kind of hard work, although it is work that will grow
constantly easier with practice and reiteration. You need, then:
1. Methodic suggestion.
2. Methodic attention.
3. Methodic reiteration.
And this is all there is to Loisette, and a great deal it is. Two of
them will not do without the third. You do not know how many steps there
are from your hall door to your bedroom, though you have attended to and
often reiterated the journey. But if there are twenty of them, and you
have once bound the word nice, or nose, or news or hyenas, to
the fact of the stairway, you can never forget it.
The Professor makes a point, and very wisely, of the importance of
working through some established chain, so that the whole may be carried
away in the mind--not alone for the value of the facts so bound
together, but for the mental discipline so afforded.
Here, then, is the President Series, which contains the name and date
of inauguration of each President from Washington to Cleveland. The
manner in which it is to be mastered is this: Beginning at the top, try
to find in your mind some connection between each word and the one
following it. See how you can at some future time make one suggest the
next, either by suggestion of sound or sense, or by mental
juxtaposition. When you have found this dwell on it attentively for a
moment or two. Pass it backward and forward before you, and then go on
to the next step.
The chain runs thus, the names of the President being in capitals, the
date words or date phrases being inclosed in parentheses:
President Chosen for the first word as the one most apt to occur to the
mind of anyone wishing to repeat the names of the Presidents.
Dentist President and dentist.
Draw What does a dentist do?
(To give up) When something is drawn from one it is given up.
This is a date phrase meaning 1789.
WASHINGTON. Associate the quality of self-sacrifice with
Morning wash Washington and wash.
Dew Early wetness and dew.
Flower beds Dew and flowers.
(Took a bouquet) Flowers and bouquet. Date phrase (1797),
Garden Bouquet and garden.
Eden The first garden.
Adam Juxtaposition of thought.
ADAMS Suggestion by sound.
Fall Juxtaposition of thought.
Failure Fall and failure.
(Deficit) Upon failure there is usually a deficit
Date word (1801).
Debt The consequence of a deficit.
Confederate bonds Suggestion by meaning.
Jefferson Davis Juxtaposition of thought.
Now follow out the rest for yourself, taking about ten at a time, and
binding those you do last to those you have done before, each time,
before attacking the next bunch.
(too heavy a sob)
toe the line
end of dance
part of speech
part of a man
(the fine boy)
City of Cleveland
(the heavy shell)
It will be noted that some of the date words, as free will, only give
three figures of the date, 845; but it is to be supposed that if the
student knows that many figures in the date of Polk's inauguration he
can guess the other one.
The curious thing about this system will now become apparent. If the
reader has learned the series so that he can say it down from President
to Taft, he can with no effort, and without any further preparation, say
it backwards from Taft up to the commencement! There could be no better
proof that this is the natural mnemonic system. It proves itself by its
The series should be repeated backward and forward every day for a
month, and should be supplemented by a series of the reader's own
making, and by this one, which gives the numbers from 0 to 100, and
which must be chained together before they can be learned:
Items 21, 19, 20, 22 are shown as printed.
By the use of this table, which should be committed as thoroughly as the
President series, so that it can be repeated backward and forward, any
date, figure or number can be at once constructed, and bound by the
usual chain to the fact which you wish it to accompany.
When the student wishes to go farther and attack larger problems than
the simple binding of two facts together, there is little in Loisette's
system that is new, although there is much that is good. If it is a book
that is to be learned as one would prepare for an examination, each
chapter is to be considered separately. Of each an epitome is to be
written in which the writer must exercise all of his ingenuity to reduce
the matter in hand to its final skeleton of fact. This he is to commit
to memory both by the use of the chain and the old system of
interrogation. Suppose after much labor through a wide space of language
one boils a chapter or an event down to the final irreducible sediment:
Magna Charta was exacted by the barons from King John at Runnymede.
You must now turn this statement this way and that way; asking yourself
about it every possible and impossible question, gravely considering the
answers, and, if you find any part of it especially difficult to
remember, chaining it to the question which will bring it out. Thus,
What was exacted by the barons from King John at Runnymede? Magna
Charta. By whom was Magna Charta exacted from King John at Runnymede?
By the barons. From whom was, etc., etc.? King John. From what
king, etc., etc.? King John. Where was Magna Charta, etc., etc.?
And so on and so on, as long as your ingenuity can suggest questions to
ask, or points of view from which to consider the statement. Your mind
will be finally saturated with the information, and prepared to spill it
out at the first squeeze of the examiner. This, however, is not new. It
was taught in the schools hundreds of years before Loisette was born.
Old newspaper men will recall in connection with it Horace Greeley's
statement that the test of a news item was the clear and satisfactory
manner in which a report answered the interrogatories, What? When?
Where? Who? Why?
In the same way Loisette advises the learning of poetry, e. g.:
The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold.
Who came down?
How did the Assyian come down?
Like what animal did? etc.
And so on and so on, until the verses are exhausted of every scrap of
information to be had out of them by the most assiduous
Whatever the reader may think of the availability or value of this part
of the system, there are so many easily applicable tests of the worth of
much that Loisette has done, that it may be taken with the rest.
Few people, to give an easy example, can remember the value of the ratio
between the circumference and the diameter of the circle beyond four
places of decimals, or at most six--3.141592. Here is the value to 108
By a very simple application of the numerical letter values these 108
decimal places can be carried in the mind and recalled about as fast as
you can write them down. All that is to be done is to memorize these
Mother Day will buy any shawl.
My love pick up my new muff.
A Russian jeer may move a woman.
Cables enough for Utopia.
Get a cheap ham pie by my cooley.
The slave knows a bigger ape.
I rarely hop on my sick foot.
Cheer a sage in a fashion safe.
A baby fish now views my wharf.
Annually Mary Ann did kiss a jay,
A cabby found a rough savage.
Now translate each significant into its proper value and you have the
task accomplished. Mother Day, m--3, th--l, r--4, d--l, and so on.
Learn the lines one at a time by the method of interrogatories. Who
will buy any shawl? Which Mrs. Day will buy a shawl? Is Mother Day
particular about the sort of shawl she will buy? Has she bought a
shawl? etc., etc. Then cement the end of each line to the beginning of
the next one, thus, Shawl--warm garment--warmth--love--my
love, and go on as before. Stupid as the work may seem to you, you can
memorize the figures in fifteen minutes this way so that you will not
forget them in fifteen years. Similarly you can take Haydn's Dictionary
of Dates and turn fact after fact into nonsense lines like these which
you cannot lose.
And this ought to be enough to show anybody the whole art. If you look
back across the sands of time and find out that it is that ridiculous
old Thirty days hath September which comes to you when you are trying
to think of the length of October--if you can quote your old prosody,
O datur ambiguis, etc.,
with much more certainty than you can serve up your Horace; if, in fine,
jingles and alliterations, wise and otherwise, have stayed with you,
while solid and serviceable information has faded away, you may be
certain that here is the key to the enigma of memory.
You can apply it yourself in a hundred ways. If you wish to clinch in
your mind the fact that Mr. Love lives at 485 Dearborn Street, what is
more easy than to turn 485 into the word rifle and chain the ideas
together, say thus: Love--happiness--good time--
picnic--forest--wood--rangers--range--rifle range--rifle fine
weapon--costly weapon--dearly bought--Dearborn.
Or if you wish to remember Mr. Bowman's name and you notice he has a
mole on his face which is apt to attract your attention when you next
see him, cement the ideas thus:
Mole, mark, target, archer, Bowman.
Next: Memory Rhymes
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