From charlesreid1


  • Dates are difficult to acquire but valuable - like cattle-pens of a ranch
  • why pictures? story: memorizing lecture
    • 11 items, initialing brief divisions of the lecture
    • had them by heart, but can't remember their order
    • chained to your notes. writing items on fingernails.
    • then pictures. pictures that could immediately be thrown away, because the pictures were so memorable
    • have remembered for 20 years

Examples from Twain

Twain gives 3 example images from his lecture story above, but then goes into a much more detailed example involving a more difficult bit of memorization.

Rulers of England, from the Conqueror On Down

The idea is to see the reigns of each ruler with your eyes.

At Twain's house, there was a long fence that he marked out each English monarch at a location on the fence, with their reigns proportional to their distance along the fence - all 817 years represented by 817 feet.

Once Twain and his children were familiar with the sections of the fence, theyadded French reigns down to the Hundred Years' War, and added American history and English history, English and foreign poets, statesmen, artists, heroes, battles, plagues, cataclysms, revolutions.

Washington's birth belongs to George II's pegs

His death belongs to George III's

Geoge II got the Lisbon earthquate

George III got the Declaration of Independence

Goethe, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Savonarola, Joan of Arc, the French Revolution, the Edict of Nantes, Clive, Wellington, Waterloo, Plassey, Patay, Cowpens, Saratoga, Battle of the Boyne, invention of the logarithm, microscopes, steam engines, telegraph - everything was placed into the pegs of those English rulers

The Picture System

Twain gives some specific examples of how to draw pictures and hang them on the walls, if you don't happen to have 817 feet of fence laying around somewhere.

Twain starts by giving a few simple sketches for each of the monarchs. For example, here is William the Conqueror:


Twain explains the reason for the imagery - the whale because William I was anomalous, huge, the biggest fish in England's history.

Twain goes through examples for every single English monarch. Each monarch gets different colored squares (color is a way of visually distinguishing the monarchs, and possibly even encoding information). The number of squares is proportional to their rule. There will be 817 pieces of paper in total. These can be hung on the wall in zig-zag shapes, maximizing space utilization, or hung in a long line throughout the entire house.

Next is William II, similarly drawn to help represent and remember aspects of William II's character (smaller and more sickly, harpooned, wrong direction, etc.)



Suppose you want to represent the entire 953 years of English history (as of 2019) since William the Conqueror.

Suppose each picture is 2 inches wide.

That's 1,906 inches in width - that's about 160 feet (without considering spacing between pictures, which would probably add another dozen feet or so).

Let's pick some round numbers for amount of wall space. Say we have a rectangular wall space that's 20 feet by 8 feet. That gives you 160 square feet, so each square foot could be marked off with a slot for one of the rulers, in a snakes-and-ladders type wall filling:


Other Examples

Twain gives a particularly useful example, since the monarchs of England stretch back far enough that it creates what Twain calls a "cattle pen" in which to fit everything.

Other interesting examples of things that could be visualized this way:

  • civil war battles (number of deaths proportional to number of cards, or 2 dimensional timeline - horizontal is time, vertical is deaths) (orthogonal pictures for orthogonal dimensions)
  • statistics (maybe even with D3-like tiling visualizations)