Extrapolating Sayers

Mr. Nance,

It is said that the key exercise of the Poll-parrot (grammar) stage is Latin Grammar, and of the Pert (dialectic) stage is Formal Logic. What is the key exercise of the Poetic (rhetoric) stage?

Thank you.

In her seminal essay “The Lost Tools of Learning,” Dorothy Sayers wrote,

It is difficult to say at what age, precisely, we should pass from the first to the second part of the Trivium. Generally speaking, the answer is: so soon as the pupil shows himself disposed to pertness and interminable argument. For as, in the first part, the master faculties are Observation and Memory, so, in the second, the master faculty is the Discursive Reason. In the first, the exercise to which the rest of the material was, as it were, keyed, was the Latin grammar; in the second, the key-exercise will be Formal Logic.

Though she specifies the master faculties — the focused skills to be developed in students at that stage — and key exercises of the first two stages of the Trivium as she understands it, Sayers neglects to do the same for the third stage. Rather, she says, “It is difficult to map out any general syllabus for the study of Rhetoric.” But upon re-reading the essay, it seems that Sayers would likely argue that the master faculties of the third stage of the Trivium would be Synthesis and Expression, and the key exercise would be Formal Rhetoric. Let me briefly defend this.

Regarding synthesis she says, “The things once learned by rote will be seen in new contexts; the things once coldly analyzed can now be brought together to form a new synthesis,” and later, “Indeed, at this stage, our difficulty will be to keep ‘subjects’ apart; for Dialectic will have shown all branches of learning to be inter-related, so Rhetoric will tend to show that all knowledge is one.” She calls the Thesis “the final synthesis of the Trivium.”

She says this about expression in the last stage of the Trivium: “Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language – how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.” Of the Poetic stage she says that “it yearns to express itself.” Later she adds, “In literature, appreciation should be again allowed to take the lead over destructive criticism; and self-expression in writing can go forward, with its tools now sharpened to cut clean and observe proportion.” 

Finally, if Latin Grammar is the key exercise of the first stage, and Formal Logic the key exercise of the second, it seems clear that Formal Rhetoric would be the key exercise of the third stage — the course which teaches the tools of learning appropriate to that stage, and which models those tools for the learning of all subjects. 

We could present this information in the following chart:



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