Memory is a precious gift, whose value is especially felt when it, for whatever reason, can no longer be taken for granted. Advancing age is one such reason. As Ben Jonson dryly states, of all the powers of the mind, memory is the first of our faculties, that Age invades. Its power wanes over the years: Whatsoever I pawnd with it, while I was young, and a boy, it offers me readily, and without stops: but what I trust to it now, or have done of later years, it layes up more negligently, and often times loses.
This sobering thought is noted in Timber, or Discoveries, the commonplace book Jonson kept until his death so as to collect, record and recollect the insights he thought valuable, as they have flowed out of his daily readings (so the subtitle has it), and wanted to save for future reference. In this way, a commonplace book is both an aid and a repository of memory: it supports our faculty when age or other reasons fail it and keeps a personal treasure house of precious thoughts for further use. The practice was widespread in early modern England and beyond, Francis Bacon even praised it as a good prerequisite to science: there can hardly be anything more useful even for the old and popular sciences, than a sound help for the memory; that is a good and learned Digest of Common Places. Memory, thus, is the basis for all advancement of learning and a matrix of literature. Its prominence throughout the field of early modern writing is now established once again in Andrew Hiscocks recent study.