by Stephen Leacock
House of Lords, Jan. 25, 1920.–The House of Lords commenced to-day in Committee the consideration of Clause No. 52,000 of the Education Bill, dealing with the teaching of Geometry in the schools.
The Leader of the Government in presenting the clause urged upon their Lordships the need of conciliation. The Bill, he said, had now been before their Lordships for sixteen years. The Government had made every concession. They had accepted all the amendments of their Lordships on the opposite side in regard to the original provisions of the Bill. They had consented also to insert in the Bill a detailed programme of studies of which the present clause, enunciating the fifth proposition of Euclid, was a part. He would therefore ask their Lordships to accept the clause drafted as follows:
“The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are equal, and if the equal sides of the triangle are produced, the exterior angles will also be equal.”
He would hasten to add that the Government had no intention of producing the sides. Contingencies might arise to render such a course necessary, but in that case their Lordships would receive an early intimation of the fact.
The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke against the clause. He considered it, in its present form, too secular. He should wish to amend the clause so as to make it read:
“The angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are, in every Christian community, equal, and if the sides be produced by a member of a Christian congregation, the exterior angles will be equal.”
He was aware, he continued, that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are extremely equal, but he must remind the Government that the Church had been aware of this for several years past. He was willing also to admit that the opposite sides and ends of a parallelogram are equal, but he thought that such admission should be coupled with a distinct recognition of the existence of a Supreme Being.
The Leader of the Government accepted His Grace’s amendment with pleasure. He considered it the brightest amendment His Grace had made that week. The Government, he said, was aware of the intimate relation in which His Grace stood to the bottom end of a parallelogram and was prepared to respect it.
Lord Halifax rose to offer a further amendment. He thought the present case was one in which the “four-fifths” clause ought to apply: he should wish it stated that the angles are equal for two days every week, except in the case of schools where four-fifths of the parents are conscientiously opposed to the use of the isosceles triangle.
The Leader of the Government thought the amendment a singularly pleasing one. He accepted it and would like it understood that the words isosceles triangle were not meant in any offensive sense.
Lord Rosebery spoke at some length. He considered the clause unfair to Scotland, where the high state of morality rendered education unnecessary. Unless an amendment in this sense was accepted, it might be necessary to reconsider the Act of Union of 1707.
The Leader of the Government said that Lord Rosebery’s amendment was the best he had heard yet. The Government accepted it at once. They were willing to make every concession. They would, if need be, reconsider the Norman Conquest.
The Duke of Devonshire took exception to the part of the clause relating to the production of the sides. He did not think the country was prepared for it. It was unfair to the producer. He would like the clause altered to read, “if the sides be produced in the home market.”
The Leader of the Government accepted with pleasure His Grace’s amendment. He considered it quite sensible. He would now, as it was near the hour of rising, present the clause in its revised form. He hoped, however, that their Lordships would find time to think out some further amendments for the evening sitting.
The clause was then read.
His Grace of Canterbury then moved that the House, in all humility, adjourn for dinner.