Get access

Advice for Improving Memory: Exercising, Strengthening, and Cultivating Natural Memory, 1860–1910


  • Alan F. Collins


The idea that human memory can be improved appears to be as ancient as the concept of memory itself. For centuries, authors have promised that using artificial mnemonical systems can improve remembering. However, in the late nineteenth century many authors of memory improvement texts emphasized the importance of enhancing natural memory as opposed to developing artificial memory systems. In doing so, they portrayed natural memory as something analogous to other body functions and parts, such as muscles, and promoted a metaphorical view of memory that did not rely wholly on the more familiar root metaphors of storage and inscription. At the same time, they stressed that natural memory could be reconciled with moral purposes, especially through notions of exercise, training, and discipline. This article explores these ideas and how they chimed with Victorian concerns about free will, the education of the young, moral imperatives around self-improvement, and the increasing interest in science and especially a science of the mind.