It is a mistake to suppose that memory is merely a capacity to remember facts. In that respect there is the widest diversity of experience. Macaulay could recite Paradise Lost, while Rossetti was a little doubtful whether the sun went round the earth or the earth round the sun. I once met an American elocutionist who could recite ten of Shakespeare’s plays, and he showed me the wonderful system of mnemonics by which he achieved the miracle. But he was a mere recording machine—a dull fellow. The true argosy of memory is not facts, but a perfume compounded of all the sunsets we have ever seen, all the joys and friendships, pleasures and sorrows we have ever known, all the emotions we have felt, all the brave and mean things we have done, all the broken hopes we have suffered. To have lost that argosy is to be dead, no matter how healthy an appetite we retain.
A friend of mine—one of those people who talk about money with an air of familiarity that suggests that they have got an “out-crop” of the Rand reef in their back-gardens—said to me the other day that I ought to buy a fur-lined coat. There never was such a time as this for buying a fur-lined coat or a sealskin jacket, said he. What with the war, and the “sales,” and the tradesmen’s need of cash, they were simply being thrown at you. You could have them almost for the trouble of carrying them away. A trifle of fifteen or twenty pounds would buy one a coat that would be cheap at sixty guineas. And, remember, there was wear for twenty years in it. And think of the saving in doctor’s bills—for you simply can’t catch colds if you wear a fur coat. In short, not to buy a fur coat at this moment was an act of gross improvidence, a wrong to one’s family, a ... a ... And then he looked, with the cold disapproval of a connoisseur, at the coat I was wearing. And in the light of that glance I saw for the first time that it was ... yes ... certainly, it was not what it had been.
Now I am not going to pretend that I have a soul above fur-lined coats. I haven’t; I love them. And by fur coats I don’t mean those adorned with astrakhan collars, which I abominate. A man in an astrakhan coat is to me a suspicious character, a stage baron, one who is probably deep in treasons, stratagems, and spoils. The suspicion is unjust to the gentleman in the astrakhan coat, of course.