November 04, 2005

Arithmetical Poetry

One of the first teacher guides for teaching arithmetic was The Tutor's Guide by Charles Vyse, circa 1775. Although I have not (yet) seen a copy myself I have found the following extracts from it. Apparently Vyse felt that an effective way to teach arithmetic is to present worded problems via the medium of smutty and tongue-in-cheek verse.



When first the marriage-knot was tied
Between my wife and me,
My age to her’s we found agreed
As three times three to three;
But when ten years, and half ten years,
We man and wife had been,
Her age came up as near to mine
As eight is to sixteen.
Now, tell me, I pray,
What were our ages on the wedding day?
[Not original.]


Once as I walked upon the banks of the Rye
I, in the Meads, three beauteous nymphs did spy,
Saying “Well met, we’ve business to impart
Which we cannot decide without your Art:
Our Grannum’s dead, and left a Legacy,
Which is to be divided amongst three:
In Pounds it is two hundred twenty-nine,
Also a good mark, being sterling coin.”
Then spake the eldest of the lovely three,
“I’ll tell you how it must divided be;
Likewise our names I unto you will tell,
Mine is Moll, the others Anne and Nell.
As oft as I five and five-ninths do take,
Anne takes four and three-sevenths her Part to make:
As oft Anne four and one-ninth does tell,
Three and two-three must be took up by Nell.


A castle wall there was, whose height was found
To be an hundred feet from th’ Top to th’ ground:
Against the wall a ladder stood upright,
Of the same length the castle was in height.
A waggish youth did the ladder slide;
(The bottom of it) ten feet from the side;
Now I would know how far the top did fall,
By pulling out the ladder from the wall.

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