A Short Review of "A Course of Six Lessons on the Art of Memory"

Recently I’ve been reading a book called A Course of six Lessons on the New Art of Memory, Phrenotypics; or, Brain Printing; and mental improvement because I believed that it contained some tips that would help me construct my loci more efficiently, since I’ve always struggled with that aspect of memory techniques. Here are some of my most interesting notes and impressions on this book. There’s more to this book than what I’m writing, but I’m just providing what I think are the best aspects of the book.

Link for you to read the Book: A Course of six Lessons on the New Art of Memory, Phrenotypics; or, Brain ... - Course - Google Books

The first thing that I noticed was how similar some of the ideas expressed in the book were to Major Beniowski in his book A Handbook of Phrenotypics for Teachers and Students. The difference being is that I think that the author, J. Spurgeon, is much better at expressing the ideas that the Major wanted to get across. The second half of the book has influence from Gregor von Feinagle, but I’ll go into that later.
One thing I don’t like about the book is that the author doesn’t use enough paragraphs, but that’s a very minor nitpick in the grand scheme of things.

The book begins with explaining what Spurgeon thinks memory is. To him (and the Major), he believes that memory is the springing up of notions to the mind that are similar to some experienced past event. The whole goal of memory techniques is to have one notion follow another notion. For example, whenever you see the word hostes you should always think of the word enemies.
Spurgeon also divides notions into two categories: familiar and unfamiliar notions. A familiar notion is something you know really well, such as a book, paper, or pen. An unfamiliar notion is something you don’t really have any experience with, such as a foreign letter, an unknown plant, or numbers.

There are three types of notion connections, or “phrenotypic problems”:
-Connecting two familiar notions
-Connecting an unfamiliar and familiar notion
-Connecting two unfamiliar notions

Spurgeon suggests that you connect notions of the first problem like you would with the Linking Method. For the second problem, you want to make the unfamiliar notion familiar to you and connect it to the familiar notion. Spurgeon uses the example of memorizing foreign vocabulary to illustrate his point, and he suggests that all foreign vocabulary be memorized this way. The third problem is a bit tricky to explain, but the first example he gives of the third problem is creating a link between a Polish word and a French word by transforming them into familiar, more easily memorable images. There are other uses for this third problem, such as memorizing foreign vocabulary, but he explains this in a later portion of the book.

Even though the explanation of the phrenotypic problems is common sense to us who have been doing this for a while, it’s nice to see the lower-level aspects of memorization be explained soo succinctly. Now that I understand these lower levels, I feel like I can improve my memorization skills by focusing on training these sub-skills specifically.

Now we’re at the point of the book that first interested me in the first place, the creation of the “Phrenotypic Machine”.

This “machine” is just a method that allows you to turn any room you’re in into 50 or 500 loci (you could keep on multiplying by 10 and get even more loci, but I think that’s probably unfeasible). The basic idea of the machine is based on Gregor von Feinagle’s teachings (link here for a basic description: Phonetic System² (squared), and Feinaigle's Artificial Memory Palace), but it’s expanded to be soo much more. Spurgeon explains how to divide a room up into multiple subdivisions, and how to permanently memorize the objects within those subdivisions so that they can become effective loci.

When I first encountered this technique from Feinagle, I was skeptical and didn’t pay it much mind. Now I understand how foolish I was, and how much potential I was missing out on. This technique also made me realize that you cannot ever truly run out of loci. If you think that 500 loci per room is too little loci, then I think that you overestimate how much you can learn within a period of time.

That being said, practicing with the technique a bit, I find it hard to subdivide ceilings into more parts since many ceilings tend to be blander than walls or floors. A remedy to this, however, is practicing memorization techniques I’ve learned from different observational art sources. I just have to train myself to notice these minute differences more often instead of being confused by them.
There was once a quote I read before that said that a prison cell can easily provide you with enough loci to last you for 10 years. I truly understand how true this is after reading this book.

After finishing reading this book, I’ve noticed that there is a lot of material on “phrenotypics” that I have not yet read that was originally inspired by Major Beniowki. Hopefully, they will be as enlightening as this book was.

4 Likes