Friday, March 9, 2012

9 March 1847: Free Lecture on the New and Extraordinary Art of Phreno-Mnemotechny!

On this day in 1847, this exciting advertisement was read by subscribers to the Southern Banner:

The lecturer was Pliny Miles, a writer from Watertown, New York, who was known for his "remarkable talents as a school-teacher." Two years later, he would author American Mnemnotechny, or Art of Memory: Theoretical and Practical, with a Mnemotechnic Dictionary to impart his theories and systems of memory to a wider audience. 

Mr. Miles book defines his subject on page six of his book:

Memnotechny, rightly considered, comprises all those aids to the natural mind that go by the name of association, combination, and comparison. When a person wishes to remember a name that is difficult to retain in the mind, he naturally seeks some fanciful association or other, perhaps compares the name to something that sounds like it, and thus will recall it when required. This is Mnemnotechny; though it is only the commencement of the beginning.

Mr. Miles used a system of mapping letters and words to figures, and claimed that any student using his method would reduce his study time by 75%. Within the book, he listed historic events, people, facts, and provided formulas for remembering them in his system. He also devoted a chapter in his book to creating and using one's own formulas.

Pliny Miles is described in his New York Times obituary as "a striking figure--tall, thin, of nervous-sanguine temperament, wearing a beard that never scraped acquaintance with a razor; a rapid walker, keen observer, talking with wonderful volubility, always cordial, open-hearted, and everywhere welcome for his agreeable social qualities."

In 1854, he would write a travel book about Iceland, described by the New York Times as "a pleasant book of the gossipy sort." By the time of his death in 1865, he was best known for his strong advocacy for changes in the postal system, pushing for a flat price on letters by weight regardless of the distance to reach their destination. This method, still used today, was adopted by the U.S. Postal Service in 1863.

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