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Imprinted Memories: Wordsworth's Poetic Memoria Technica

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Grace Rexroth

on 17 September 2018

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Transcript of Imprinted Memories: Wordsworth's Poetic Memoria Technica

ed Memories: Wordsworth's Poetic
Memoria Technica

Artificial Memory
Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey, on revisiting the banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798
Ten thousand times
in the course of this tour have I regretted the
inability of my memory
to retain a more strong impression of the beautiful forms before me, and
again and again
in quitting a fortunate station have I returned to it with the most eager avidity, with the hope of bearing away a more lively picture. At this moment when many of these landscapes are floating before my mind, I feel a high [enjoyment] in reflecting that perhaps scarce a day of my life will pass [in] which I shall not derive some happiness from these images."

Letter from Wordsworth to Dorothy, written September 6-16th, 1790
Dorothy's mind: "a mansion for all lovely forms" and "a dwelling place for all sweet sounds and harmonies."
"If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief, / Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts / Of tender joy wilt though remember me, and these my exhortations.”
"Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey"
Simonides: "to aid recollection…refer a train of ideas, the archetypes of which are not objects of sense, to another train, the archetypes of which are objects of sense…the parts of the walls of a city, or a frequented road, or a picture, etc.”
"These forms of beauty have not been to me, / as is a landscape to a blind man’s eye, / but oft, in lonely rooms, and mid the din / of towns and cities, I have owed to them, / in hours of weariness, sensations sweet…feelings too of unremembered pleasure.” (lines 140-143)
Wordsworth,"Tintern Abbey"
Artificial Memory:
"Fanny, in her pity and kindheartedness, was at great pains to teach him how to learn, giving him all the helps and directions in her power, trying to
make an artificial memory for him
, and learning every word of his part herself, but without his being much the forwarder."
Jane Austen's
Mansfield Park:
Our ability to recall History demands “an exact notion of Time and Place.”
Richard Grey's
Memoria Technica
The editor notes “before the reader uses Plates II, III, IV, and V it will be advisable to take them out of the volume and paste them on stiff paper. If the white paper be cut away, it will fold up, so as accurately to represent the floor, four walls, and cieling [sic] of a room.”
John Adam's
Elements of Useful Knowledge (1793)
“In the study of history, an exact chronology is like Ariadne’s clue, which guides us through the different windings of the labyrinth; and the mind being thus conducted, the ideas we obtain from reading are more distinct, and more easily fixed in the memory.”
—Once again
Do I behold these
steep and lofty cliffs
Which on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this
dark sycamore
, and view
plots of cottage-ground
, these orchard-tufts,
Which, at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Among the woods and copses lose themselves,
Nor, with their green and simple hue, disturb
The wild green landscape. Once again I see
, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these
pastoral farms
Green to the very door; and
wreathes of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees,
With some uncertain notice, as might seem,
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some hermit's cave, where by his fire
The hermit sits alone.

“If we have at any time considered two or more things as connected, that very circumstance will establish a connection between them, so that the remembrance, or the view of the one, will make us think of the other.”
James Beattie's
Dissertations Moral and Critical: On Memory and Imagination (1783)
James Beattie's
Dissertations Moral and Critical: On Memory and Imagination
"Every one must have observed, that the thoughts of his mind are apt to follow each other in a train; and that between those whose are contiguous there is for the most part some connection, either natural or established by custom…If we think of a place which we know, in the town or country, we shall be apt at the same time, or immediately after, to remember the adjacent places, the persons who live there, and any remarkable events that may have happened in that neighborhood. On this law of our nature was founded a curious invention, frequently spoken of by the old rhetoricians, under the name of the Artificial Memory."

“Tintern Abbey,” then, is perhaps less about nature’s imprints on the poet than the poet’s im
ing of mental habits on the reader. Through the poem, memory becomes not just a series of passively received mental imprints, but an active, habitual exercise performed in print.
Joseph Priestley's
New Chart of History
, 9th Ed., 1797
Mrs. Lovechild's
Artificial Memory for Infants
, printed by Isaiah Thomas, 1789
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