A Mental Telephone Index

INABILITY to remember telephone numbers had long been one of my special weaknesses until lately I discovered a method for bringing these refractory data into mnemonic subjection. For the benefit of others who may be similarly afflicted, I take the liberty of laying my discovery before the Contributors’ Club.

Be it confessed at the outset that, as a professor of history, I am popularly and officially supposed to be possessed of a memory which rejoices ostrich-like in the deglutition and assimilation of miscellaneous junk-information; but that actually it is only by dint of heroic efforts and constant repetition that I have succeeded in memorizing a sufficient supply of dates and data to conceal my natural defect in this line. Owing to the lack of such an official incentive to master telephone numbers, they have hitherto, as before stated, remained outside my realm of knowledge; so that even for the numbers most used I have been forced either laboriously to thumb over the telephone book, or else to find, after the somewhat vexatious formalities of getting the connection from the exchange, that I am cut off at the very start of my message, or inquiry, with the gruff or politely-sweet rejoinder: ‘You’ve got the wrong number.’

Now that I have discovered my new system, I can always blame such mishaps on the carelessness of the telephone girl, and not on my own stupidity — a thought which is unction to my soul. Really it is very simple, when once you know how. All the manuals of mnemonics tell us (I have been obliged myself to traverse the dreary mazes of several of them) that the secret of memory lies in the association of ideas; you make the old acquisitions help you in conquering the new. What I have done, therefore, is merely to harness my laboriously-acquired knowledge of dates to the hitherto unsubjected list of necessary telephone numbers; and you can have no idea how beautifully it works.

To illustrate, I long had difficulty in remembering my own telephone number, which is 1085, and often when asked for it have been obliged to stammer, ‘Oh, — Why, — To tell the truth, I’ve forgotten it for the moment’; and then have had my questioner go off wondering what sort of creature I am. Under my new system, I am saved from this humiliation. I merely have to remember that my telephone call is the death of Gregory VII, and at once I know that it must be 1085. Similarly, when calling up the instructor who has charge of our elementary course in European history, I need only think of the defeat of the Franks by the Burgundians at Véséronce, and I have his number, 524. The professor who gives our courses in ecclesiastical history appropriately has for his telephone the number 313, the date of the edict of toleration issued by Constantine and Licinius; and the one who gives the courses in Anglo-Saxon literature has 659, which marks the recovery of independence by Wulfhere, the first Christian king of Mercia. For the head of the Latin department I think of the incorruptible Cæcilius Metellus turning the tide in the troublesome war with Jugurtha, and call 109; while the victory of Alexander at Arbela, 331, gives me the number of the professor of Greek.

Sometimes, however, there is a rather perverse contradiction between the date-association and the person whose telephone number it happens to be. Of all incongruous things, our professor of Fine Arts, who by nature and training is a living protest against dry-as-dust history, has for his call number 1297, the date of Edward I’s Confirmation of the Charters; and his assistant professor has for his, 1295, the scarcely less inappropriate date of the Model Parliament of the same king. One of the thinnest members of our faculty answers to the call 885, the date when Charles the Fat reunited the empire of Charles the Great. Matters are not quite so bad in the department of French, for there I have merely to reverse the telephone number of the head of the department (789), and I get the accession of the Capetian house in France (987); while for his associate I can add a century to his call (811) and get the quite appropriate number 911, the date of Duke Rollo’s investiture with the province of Normandy.

The list might be extended much further, but the instances which I have given will suffice to make clear the principle of procedure. Of course, if our telephone companies would only be reasonable and begin the numbering of telephones with 1500 (or better still perhaps, 1492), when things of importance really began to happen, it would make the matter of date-association much easier; but, even as it is, I find the method one of decided efficacy, and can heartily recommend its adoption to all persons who may be afflicted, like myself, with a natural incapacity for remembering numbers.