Contemporary readers of 'The Trivium' will have the exquisite pleasure of discovering, on every page and in every paragraph, utterly new and exotic ideas that, nonetheless, are parts of a very old tradition of analysis. These readers are much like G. K. Chesterton's explorers who, disoriented in a storm, are cast, unawares, on the shore of their native England and immediately awestruck with the scenes of a supposed new world. If our cultural amnesia is yet deeper than Chesterton's simile suggests, Sister Miriam Joseph (1898-1982), our guide in this new world, is appropriately determined and skillful. Her great achievement was to present the traditional arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric in an accessible and coherent whole for modern readers. Those who know their Aristotle will recognize Sister Miriam's foundational source as that collection of writings called the Organon. Yet where Aristotle is repetitious and sometimes confusing, Sister Miriam is concise and orderly. Furthermore, the editor, Marguerite McGlinn, has turned the outline Sister Miriam prepared for her college students into straightforward, crystal clear, twenty-first century prose. Those delighted by unusual sounding words with commonplace meanings (enthymeme, copula, zero imposition, and trope) will love this book. Those fascinated by the tools of Aristotelian logic, by the distinction between modal and categorical statements, and by the inventiveness of fallacious arguments will also love this book. And those sensitive to the relation of language and thought will love it even more. The briefest passage, in which Sister Miriam distinguished among the liberal arts, the fine arts, and the utilitarian arts, captured this reader. While the fine and utilitarian arts produce values, beautiful and useful things respectively, only the liberal arts are, by nature, intransitive. For liberal artists, in practicing their art, act primarily upon themselves and in so doing perfect their faculties of mind and spirit. 'The Trivium' invites us to the practice of these arts.
An Eighth Day View:
Who sets language policy today? Who made whom the grammar doctor? Lacking the equivalent of l'Academie francaise, we English speakers must find our own way looking for guidance or vindication in source after source. McGuffey's Readers introduced nineteenth-century students to "correct" English. Strunk and White's Elements of Style and William Safire's column, "On Language," provide help on diction and syntax to contemporary writers and speakers. Sister Miriam Joseph's book, The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric, invites the reader into a deeper understanding--one that includes rules, definitions, and guidelines, but whose ultimate end is to transform the reader into a liberal artist.
A liberal artist seeks the perfection of the human faculties. The liberal artist begins with the language arts, the trivium, which is the basis of all learning because it teaches the tools for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Thinking underlies all these activities. Many readers will recognize elements of this book: parts of speech, syntax, propositions, syllogisms, enthymemes, logical fallacies, scientific method, figures of speech, rhetorical technique, and poetics. The Trivium, however, presents these elements within a philosophy of language that connects thought, expression, and reality.
"Trivium" means the crossroads where the three branches of language meet. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, students studied and mastered this integrated view of language. Regrettably, modern language teaching keeps the parts without the vision of the whole. Inspired by the possibility of helping students "acquire mastery over the tools of learning" Sister Miriam Joseph and other teachers at Saint Mary's College designed and taught a course on the trivium for all first year students. The Trivium resulted from that noble endeavor.
The liberal artist travels in good company. Sister Miriam Joseph frequently cites passages from William Shakespeare, John Milton, Plato, the Bible, Homer, and other great writers. The Paul Dry Books edition of The Trivium provides new graphics and notes to make the book accessible to today's readers. Sister Miriam Joseph told her first audience that "the function of the trivium is the training of the mind for the study of matter and spirit, which constitute the sum of reality. The fruit of education is culture, which Mathew Arnold defined as 'the knowledge of ourselves and the world.'" May this noble endeavor lead many to that end.