JF Ptak Science Books Post 2330
I was very excited to bump into this article, " reversals of Memory" in an 1880 issue of Nature magazine.1 Henslow2 (1835-1925) was an accomplished botanist, cleric, and Darwin correspondent who for years was a lecturer in botany at St. Bartholemew's Hospital amongst much else in his long and accomplished career. In the middle of it all he wrote this note in Nature which attracted my attention, though I think mostly for scifi aspects of the title, though the content is interesting, tending a little towards the brand new ideas of synesthesia. (Actually Francis Galton wrote about people who could "see" their process of mental arithmetic in their minds while calculating--this is seen as one of the earliest published efforts in synesthesia. I wrote about this article--which appeared in January of 1880 in the same publication--here about 3,000 posts ago.) It refers to a painter who painted J.M.W. Turner's The Fighting Temeraire (completed 1839) from memory, but who had very curiously reversed the positions of what sounded like all of the elements of the painting. I've reproduced the article below and included the Turner:
This may well be more symbolic about the reversed memory here, with the Turner and all. Turner was at the forefront of the pre-Impressionists, or so it seems to me, what with so much of his work headed into symbolist and suggestive territory, impressionistically, as with the detail we see of the setting sun:
Perhaps it really can be seen as a reversal of memory...that is, the Impressionists come along soon afterwards and begin to paint things that are suggestive of hard elements, this after many centuries of human endeavor to perfect a true representation of the world around them. Suddenly, by the half or 3/4s of the 19th century, there is a movement away from this, of losing and replacing detail with something that suggested it. And by the time Kandinsky roles around in 1911, painting with no factual representational elements in them at all, it seems that the memory business of modern painting has been completely changed, or challenged. So, the Turner may be very appropriate in this case after all...
Reversals by Memory "I SHOULD much like to know if it be a common thing for people to reverse the positions of objects in the memory. An artist, on returning from the National Gallery, painted the Temeraire from memory. Taking his picture to compare it with Turner's, he found to his surprise that he had reversed the positions of the ship, tug, sun, &c. His daughter tells me that if she wants to refer to a passage in a book she as often looks for it on a left-hand page, while it is on a right-hand page, or vice versa. Another lady, on looking at a wood-engraving made from a sketch which she had seen some time previously, asked if the engraver had not reversed everything? These are the only cases known to me. Is the following universally true? — Let some one write with a blunt instrument the letter P on your forehead, or anywhere on the front half of the head from ear to ear, and the P must be written backwards for you to "see" it correctly. But if it be written anywhere at the back of the head, it must be written correctly both for you and the writer to read it. The change takes place abruptly in a line over each ear."
--text of the Henslow from the Victorian Review, vol 5, "Outposts of the Most Advanced Physics", p 667, by H. Mortimer Franklyn, editor.
1. HENSLOW, George. "Reversals of Memory" in Nature, July 15, 1880, short note on page 241.
2. [Henslow: "Clergyman, teacher, and botanist. BA, Cambridge (Christ’s College), 1858. Curate of Steyning, 1859–61; of St John’s Wood Chapel, 1868–70; of St James’s Marylebone, 1870–87. Headmaster at Hampton Lucy Grammar School, Warwick, 1861–4; at the Grammar School, Store Street, London, 1865–72. Lecturer in botany at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, 1866–80."--Darwin Correspondence Project. Remembered as "the Cambridge mentor" of Charles Darwin