Man craves the knowledge and the sympathy of the Eternal. During a lull between the charges at the second Battle of Cold Harbor, in June, 1864—the only battle that Grant said he regretted fighting—officers going through the Union ranks saw the men, sitting on the grass under the trees, or in the thickets, sewing their names on the sleeves of their coats.
Why were they doing that? It was because they expected to die in the ensuing charge, and shrank from the oblivion of a nameless grave. They wanted someone in the hills of western Pennsylvania, Vermont, New York, Wisconsin, to know how they had died and where and when, and where their bodies rested. Yes, the human heart wants to know if there is any ear to hear, or any eye to witness, its sorrows, its conflicts, and its struggles.
In all cities of the world there are to be seen stately and magnificent monuments and cenotaphs which memorialize the dead of the first World War. In front of these monuments and under these triumphal arches have been kindled ever-burning fires, to signify that the memory of the dead shall never pass from the mind of man. But there is something more wonderful and more beautiful than that—the invisible monuments, more precious by far than those of stone or marble or bronze or granite, which loving and grateful hearts have reared to the memory of the righteous dead.
Few falser words have ever been spoken than those which Mark Antony is refuted to have uttered over the body of Julius Caesar (Shakespeare):
The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft intered with their bones.
There is a sense, of course, in which evil goes on leaving its blight and shadow, even when the man who put it into operation has passed out of this world. But the inference from those words of Shakespeare, that the good which men do has a brief memory and influence compared with the evil they do, is altogether false.
The ancients fancied that there was a river called Lethe in the Elysian Fields, from whose waters the souls of the dead drank oblivion of their past life. But in the command to Dives to remember his life on earth we have the very opposite. Instead of drinking of the stream which brings oblivion of the past, Christ shows us that the souls of men must drink of the stream which makes the past live again. Son, remember!
How strange, and yet how terrible, is the vitality of sin! You may have changed, life may have changed, but your sin comes back unchanged.
What is this power
That recollects the distant past,
And makes this hour,
Unlike the last,
Pregnant with life,
Calling across the deep
To things that slumber, men that sleep?
They rise by number
And with stealthy tread,
Like a battalion's tread,
Marshal our dead.
This is the gift
Men cannot bargain with nor shift;
Which went with Dives
Down to hell,
With Lazarus up to heaven;
Which will not let us e'er forget
The sins of years,
Though washed with tears.
Whate'er it be,
Men call it "Memory."—Author unknown
John Locke once said that memory was the only paradise out of which man cannot be driven. There is a world of truth in the statement. Not only is memory a paradise out of which man cannot be driven, but, when he has been cast out of some paradise, memory is the highway that will lead him back into it.
In his gripping tale "The Haunted Man," Charles Dickens tells of a chemist who sat before the fire troubled with unhappy memories. As he sat there in dismal reverie, a phantom appeared and offered the haunted man the opportunity to have his memory destroyed. He immediately closed with the offer, and thenceforth he was a man not only without any memory but also with the dread power to strip other men of their memories. But the gift was a disappointment. So great was his misery, and so great the misery that he inflicted upon others, that he besought the phantom to restore to him his memory. The tale comes to a conclusion with the man's grateful and earnest prayer, "Lord, keep my memory green."
Vergil shows Dante two streams as they emerge from purgatory and enter the forest of the terrestrial paradise. One of these streams, Eunos, had the power to bring back remembrance of every good deed in the past. The other, Lethe, had the power to take away the remembrance of every offense, and all that was unpleasant. This fancy, borrowed from ancient mythology, is a tribute to the power of memory. What memory brings back, both pleasant and unpleasant! It is only in fancy, however, that memory can be purged of the unpleasant. No such stream as Lethe flows through human life, and it is probably for our good that it does not. There is profit and warning in what memory brings back of the unpleasant or the unworthy, as well as of the pleasant.
Be a Good Forgetter—Life is too short to remember that which prevents one from doing his best. "Forgetting the things that are behind, I press forward," said a brave old man in the first century. The successful man forgets. He knows the past is irrevocable. He is running a race. He cannot afford to look behind. His eye is on the winning post. The magnanimous man forgets. He is too big to let little things disturb him He forgets easily. If anyone does him wrong, he considers the source and keeps sweet. It is only the small man who cherishes a low revenge. Be a good forgetter. Business dictates it, and success demands it.—Lion Tales, Cumberland, Maryland
Dr. George A. Miller, conducting a study for the Office of Naval Research, discovered that the average person can remember accurately only 7 items on any list read to him Dr Miller offers this intriguing suggestion: Perhaps, since the human memory is limited to 7, this might explain why the number 7 crops up so often—the 7 wonders of the world, the 7 notes of the musical scale, the 7 seas, the 7 deadly sins, 7 ages of man.