Now the first thing we notice is that two at any rate of these "subjects"are not what we should call "subjects" at all: they are onlymethods of dealing with subjects. Grammar, indeed, is a "subject"in the sense that it does mean definitely learning a language--at thatperiod it meant learning Latin. But language itself is simply the mediumin which thought is expressed. The whole of the Trivium was, in fact, intendedto teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he beganto apply them to "subjects" at all. First, he learned a language;not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure ofa language, and hence of language itself--what it was, how it was put together,and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to definehis terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument andhow to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embracedLogic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language--how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.
At the end of his course, he was required to compose a thesis upon sometheme set by his masters or chosen by himself, and afterwards to defendhis thesis against the criticism of the faculty. By this time, he wouldhave learned--or woe betide him-- not merely to write an essay on paper,but to speak audibly and intelligibly from a platform, and to use his witsquickly when heckled. There would also be questions, cogent and shrewd,from those who had already run the gauntlet of debate.
There is a delightful passage in Leslie Paul's "The Living Hedge"which tells how a number of small boys enjoyed themselves for days arguingabout an extraordinary shower of rain which had fallen in their town--ashower so localized that it left one half of the main street wet and theother dry. Could one, they argued, properly say that it had rained thatday on or over the town or only in the town? How many drops of water wererequired to constitute rain? And so on. Argument about this led on to ahost of similar problems about rest and motion, sleep and waking, est andnon est, and the infinitesimal division of time. The whole passage is anadmirable example of the spontaneous development of the ratiocinative facultyand the natural and proper thirst of the awakening reason for the definitionof terms and exactness of statement. All events are food for such an appetite.
Once again, the contents of the syllabus at this stage may be anythingyou like. The "subjects" supply material; but they are all tobe regarded as mere grist for the mental mill to work upon. The pupilsshould be encouraged to go and forage for their own information, and soguided towards the proper use of libraries and books for reference, andshown how to tell which sources are authoritative and which are not.
A glib speaker in the Brains Trust once entertained his audience (andreduced the late Charles Williams to helpless rage by asserting that inthe Middle Ages it was a matter of faith to know how many archangels coulddance on the point of a needle. I need not say, I hope, that it never wasa "matter of faith"; it was simply a debating exercise, whoseset subject was the nature of angelic substance: were angels material,and if so, did they occupy space? The answer usually adjudged correct is,I believe, that angels are pure intelligences; not material, but limited,so that they may have location in space but not extension. An analogy mightbe drawn from human thought, which is similarly non-material and similarlylimited. Thus, if your thought is concentrated upon one thing--say, thepoint of a needle--it is located there in the sense that it is not elsewhere;but although it is "there," it occupies no space there, and thereis nothing to prevent an infinite number of different people's thoughtsbeing concentrated upon the same needle-point at the same time. The propersubject of the argument is thus seen to be the distinction between locationand extension in space; the matter on which the argument is exercised happensto be the nature of angels (although, as we have seen, it might equallywell have been something else; the practical lesson to be drawn from theargument is not to use words like "there" in a loose and unscientificway, without specifying whether you mean "located there" or "occupyingspace there."