Saturday, September 29, 2012

Joshua King Ingalls, "Memory and Compensation" (1853)


MEMORY AND COMPENSATION.

BY J. K. INGALLS.

How simple and how mysterious, how pleasing yet how awful, is this attribute of mind! A distinctive trait in man, its incipient manifestations are seen in all animate and even inanimate forms. In all nature it would seem, indeed, that man was the only thing which does not remember and conform to the great laws of being. The attachments and antipathies, the attractions and repulsions, are, from age to age, and from period to period, transmitted through all forms and kingdoms.
The alkali and acid, though separated for centuries, forget not that they are one, and when brought together immediately mingle and unite in definite proportions. The germ that quickens in the moisture, light, and genial heat of spring, forgets not the peculiar structure of the plant upon which the seed ripened; and, although drawing nourishment from the same soil with a thousand varieties of plants and weeds, it grows true to its distinctive nature. The young bird goes about the building of its nest with the same confidence as the old. It fears instinctively the creatures and birds of prey, and even the sportsman, which experience taught the parent to look upon as dangerous foes.
This faculty is more individualized in man, and yet there are impressions transmitted from generation to generation. The susceptibility to be impressed with a certain order of ideas is very apparent, and, combined with youthful training, has been the great support of tradition; for to a mind harmoniously developed and rounded, with a general susceptibility to truth, the utmost care and perseverance of early culture will fail to give a bias toward partial and unphilosophical dogmas, which have no other basis than legends and traditions. All traditions are not taught, but inherited, as with many physical diseases and mental proclivities.
Enough has been said to show the universality of the great law of remembrance, which secures to man all that he is, and all that he hopes to be. Is it not, indeed, the record of all life and progress? and is it not the interpreter of those mighty changes which the Divine Mind has effected in all nature? For what is man? Nothing but what may be remembered of him, by himself or others. Blot out this, and you blot out the man. He is good or bad, great or insignificant, wise or foolish, according as it is registered on his memory; a servile victim of oppression, or a heartless tyrant, a freeman or a slave, as his individual or hereditary recollections determine. I think it was the Helots of Sparta who had succeeded in vindicating their freedom in many severe battles, when their masters, as a last resort, after all hopes of subjugating them by ordinary warfare had failed, marched against them merely with the lash; upon sight of which, the emblem of their degradation, they immediately threw down their arms and submitted again to bondage. Thus the noble steed is reduced to obedience to the caprice of a mere child, and the patient ox to bear the weighty load. It is thus that the serfs and slaves of all lands are held in subjection. It is thus that gold has such pernicious sway over the inhabitants of this and all lands. Nothing higher, by which it is possible to rule man, seems to be in the memory of the race now; even monarchs who lord it over men with a high hand and imperious tone, bow here.
But it was as a subject of individual interest that I wished to treat this matter, especially as it relates to the compensation of personal action. The person who is free in mind, whose treasures of knowledge and past associations tend to elevate and give action and scope to the mental powers, feels that he has been taught nothing. His faculties are merely unfolded; for though circumstances have had their influence, and the action of mind on mind has awakened thought and stimulated the mental activities, yet each truth has not been impressed, per force, but embraced as an old and familiar friend. And friend and familiar it is. It and the soul are one, separated as they may have been by restrictive authority and arbitrary forms.
That is the spirit's portion, which it can apprehend. The treasures of the soul are its hoarded memories, so that man is and Enough has been said to show the universality of the great law of remembrance, which secures to man all that he is, and all that he hopes to be. Is it not, indeed, the record of all life and progress? and is it not the interpreter of those mighty changes which the Divine Mind has effected in all nature? For what is man? Nothing but what may be remembered of him, by himself or others. Blot out this, and you blot out the man. He is good or bad, great or insignificant, wise or foolish, according as it is registered on his memory; a servile victim of oppression, or a heartless tyrant, a freeman or a slave, as his individual or hereditary recollections determine. I think it was the Helots of Sparta who had succeeded in vindicating their freedom in many severe battles, when their masters, as a last resort, after all hopes of subjugating them by ordinary warfare had failed, marched against them merely with the lash; upon sight of which, the emblem of their degradation, they immediately threw down their arms and submitted again to bondage. Thus the noble steed is reduced to obedience to the caprice of a mere child, and the patient ox to bear the weighty load. It is thus that the serfs and slaves of all lands are held in subjection. It is thus that gold has such pernicious sway over the inhabitants of this and all lands. Nothing higher, by which it is possible to rule man, seems to be in the memory of the race now; even monarchs who lord it over men with a high hand and imperious tone, bow here. But it was as a subject of individual interest that I wished to treat this matter, especially as it relates to the compensation of personal action. The person who is free in mind, whose treasures of knowledge and past associations tend to elevate and give action and scope to the mental powers, feels that he has been taught nothing. His faculties are merely unfolded; for though circumstances have had their influence, and the action of mind on mind has awakened thought and stimulated the mental activities, yet each truth has not been impressed, per force, but embraced as an old and familiar friend. And friend and familiar it is. It and the soul are one, separated as they may have been by restrictive authority and arbitrary forms. That is the spirit's portion, which it can apprehend. The treasures of the soul are its hoarded memories, so that man is and possesses that to-day which he remembers of yesterday. The miser's gold even would give little satisfaction could he not remember the mode of acquiring it. The good man might not be good to-day, had he not the recollection of integrity yesterday maintained. And the vilest criminal would feel no remorse did not the memory of his crime haunt him like a specter. Much has been said and written on the subject of "God's righteous Government," the method by which every good could be rewarded and every crime punished; every work be brought into judgment, with every secret thing, good or evil. And lest He might omit some trivial act of goodness or of unrighteousness, a great book has been devised for him to keep an account of debt and credit with every mortal. But nothing could prove a reward or punishment to any one who did not recognize through memory the specific act as its own. You can cruelly inflict pain, or benevolently confer favors, but in either case the appropriateness depends on the memory of the individuals themselves, who recognize some action or negligence to which it corresponds.
The memory, then, is the basis of God's moral government, the book whose records are ever open before him. You may lash and torture the victim and call it punishment, yet if there is no recollection on his part of any act, if he has not the ability to associate the infliction with any deed to which it corresponds, it is not even punishment in the most material conception, much less does it bear any moral relation to the act whatever. The idea of compensation, a term always to be preferred to rewards and punishments when referred to the moral laws, has heretofore been grossly material. It is difficult now for many to conceive how man can suffer unless there is corporeal suffering, how he can enjoy a reward which has no association with something to eat or drink, or with silver or gold. The promises and .threatenings contained in the Old Testament, so called, are couched in terms conveying the most sensuous conceptions. Undoubtedly many of those terms are sometimes used figuratively, but the use which those same writers make of the most external occurrences of history, stamps the whole with a materiality unquestionable; nor had many of the writers of the New Testament freedom from the same narrow conceptions.
The whole method by which action is compensated through the memory, can not be presented in these limits. The field of thought itself is somewhat new, and is as extensive as the range of human thought and duty. Illustration and suggestion may serve us better than any course of dogmatism or argumentation. In our external condition, the result of action may not always correspond with what we remember of obedience or disregard of acknowledged natural laws, because the external memory often fails to retain the more internal impression, and besides, we are all more or less ignorant of the very principles we desire to serve. The rule, that we retain a memory of our actions, good or evil, can only have a general application, while the natural and inevitable results of all action must transpire always and everywhere. Compensation, in this wider sense, rests in the very nature of man's being and relations. He is reacted upon in every deed by the whole universe, whether he is aware of it or not. If he violate the laws of health, enervation and disease will be the result, whether he traces the cause in the effect, or blindly charges his God with the visitation. If he violate the social laws, antagonism, oppression, destitution, disorganization, and every wretchedness will follow, whether he understands the laws and does it purposely, or ignorantly refers it all to the inscrutible and inexorable order of Providence. So he who violates a moral principle will receive the recompense that is meet, in the derangement and degradation of his moral being, whether the acts are consciously wrong or otherwise.
Yet, in another light, we hold no person culpable who does not act in opposition to his own consciousness. Indeed, this is the measure of each one's responsibility. This rule, however, will not bear an exclusive application without destroying all idea of responsibility; for no individual ever acted in defiance of a clear moral consciousness. We do not act fully up to our highest conceptions of right; but we never act radically wrong, unless there is a corresponding obliquity of vision. The best fall, it may be, as far below their ideal as the worst. Undoubtedly, however, there is such a thing as "inversion of the natural order," wherein men do not grow better and better, but "wax worse and worse;" but only, we may hope, for a time. In such cases, moreover, as they depart from the law of life within, their sense of right and duty also diminishes. Whoever, then, subjects the higher nature to a lower, loses so much strength. When he would exert his power for some good, he finds that it is gone. The very propensity he has served grows stronger, until its demands become irksome and inconvenient. The habit was easily formed; can it be as easily broken? Will not the memory of having yielded formerly, indispose him, as it did the Helots, for longer conflict? On the other hand, let him meet the trial or temptation he has once conquered, and what strength does the recollection of his former triumph impart, as the results of the first conflicts between this nation and Mexico gave a prestige to all subsequent encounters.
In the very conditions of being is the recompense of action, and he who looks outside of this to find the indications of Heaven's righteous rule, will subject himself to constant selfdeception. The whole catalogue of external judgments spoken of in the Bible are simply superstitions. If an individual heedlessly loses his balance on the brink of a precipice, a fall and broken limbs are a necessary result of a disregard of the prime laws of nature. If a people huddle together, from whatever cause, in closely-packed houses, streets, and alleys, and neglect the laws of cleanliness and health, cholera, plagues, and fevers, are judgments sent of God for the violation; or, rather, these results are immutably connected' with such action. If the actions are distinctively moral or religions, results of a corresponding character as infallibly follow; but to suppose that physical suffering, or catastrophe, is induced, or can be mitigated, by religious rites and ceremonies, is to confound all classification of laws, and assume that man's spiritual nature is destitute of determinate regulating forces. Any system of ethics or religion which teaches other ideas of retribution, than those involved in the very elements of each organized physical, moral, and intellectual being, is unworthy the reverence of a philosophic mind.
Another idea, equally superficial, represents sin as a work of the flesh entirely, and its consequences limited by the duration of external life. To both it is a sufficient answer, that all retribution is involved in the elements of the nature sinned against, and that the conditions of being remain unchanged. Suppose the cessation of physical powers and faculties at death; does it, therefore, follow that the spirit, at the moment of separation, will recover from all the degradation it has suffered in bondage to the flesh, and its future progress be unretarded by its memories of former servility? But this conception about the body being the seat of all error and wrong, is most unphilosophical; having no better foundation, that I am aware of, than some obscure passages of Paul, who represented the law of the mind and the law of the body as antagonistic to each other. What, after all, is the body, but the mere external clothing of the mind? What are the propensities against which we exclaim, but manifestations of love? What is the obstinacy so often detrimental to progress, but the determinating or will-power? What is man's very skepticism, but a phase of wisdom? These three attributes, Love, Will, and Wisdom, constitute the elements of the spirit, here and hereafter. It is the intelligent spirit which sins in any moral sense. It is the spirit which suffers all the results of error.
We speak of some as having good memories or poor memories, but only with relative truth. The spirit bears upon it, impressed in living characters, its whole past history. We may not be able to call them up to sensuous recollection, but they are there, and all we are, as spiritual identities, depends upon their existence. What the man is, may as certainly be determined by one enabled to read his memory, as the progressive growth of a plant or tree may be determined by the convolutions disclosed on any section of the trunk; and what has occurred to every human soul is indelibly written on its inmost nature. We have it in our power to treasure a burden of active living harmonies, which shall vibrate through eternity, or a discord, deforming to the soul, and unfitting it for communion with higher spheres of truth and life.
Though we are not now able to read our own memories fully, and to profit by the experience, yet a time arrives in the development of the spirit, when its memories are revived, or, rather, a degree of self-comprehension is attained; for memory is only this: when the past of our individual and of the collective life is seen with startling vividness. Although it might seem that the nearer we were in point of time to any event, the more clear our memories should be—in a general light the very reverse of this is true. The history of the race is better known to-day than ever before. Questions of antiquity are more correctly viewed now, than by the cotemporaries of the events' which gave them rise. By his clearer insight, man can go farther back in the earth's history than all ancient records, and read in the handwriting of God, upon the face of plain and mountain, the memories of the very globe.
And as the spirit shall continue to unfold, the past shall become more and more plain. The aberrations of its individual life and of the life of the race shall be explained; and though much that is now deplored as wrong, shall wear a softened expression; much that is passed slightly over now, will assume an importance unconceived before. Instances are frequent, in which minds singularly elevated are enabled to read, as in a book, the occurrences of ages—in a word, attain a spiritual selfcomprehension which discloses the relation of all things and events to the individual soul, the records of time upon their own spirits. Thus must it be with the full developed spirit, when it shall leave this sphere for one of light and wisdom; its enjoyments and its progress depending on its accumulated fund of heavenly treasures, its habitudes of action, thought, and affection. Let each reflect for himself concerning the memories being treasured up for that higher Life.

Source: The Shekinah, vol. 2 (1853): 229-235. 

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