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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, October 1909

Debating Society

page 24

Debating Society.

"You wisest Graecians, pardon me this brag.
His insolence draws folly form my lips;
But I'll endeavour deeds to match these words,
Or may I never.—"

Troilus and Cressida.

Urquent Rustice Sane

TThe work of the Society still continues to be attended with success, though the speaker of the second term has not addressed audiences quite so large as those who waited on him in the first, but he has been able easier to catch the wandering eye of the Chairman. The walls of Victoria College will now no more dam back a flood of rhetoric, but it has been left with all the windy draughts that were wont to congregate there, for the Social Hall of the new Gymnasium. Here many new voices have beard their echoes for the first time, but its fire baptism is not yet completed; for we are not able to place on record that any lady member has spoken in the new hall.

The Society began with the success of last year in the Union Tournament. In the first round Vitoria College was represented by A. Fair, W. J. McEldowney and J. Mason, and proved victorious. In the second round the Society drew a bye. In the third round J. W. Ross replaced J. Mason, but the College team met defeat in this semi-final. The Committee, in selecting the representatives of the Society, had regard to the desirability not only of winning the Union Tournament, also of giving promising speakers a wider experience; the ultimate aim of such tournaments and competitions it is considered, is to keep a certain Joynt Challenge Scroll within Victoria College, until not another inscription can be engraved upon it.

The first debate in the vacation took place on July 3rd, when Allan Macdougall, supported by J. W. Ross moved," That the Celtic element in our poetical literature is of greater value than the Teutonic." The opposers were C. H. Taylor and H. D. Skinner. Several new speakers were in evidence in this debate; H. Wild in particular, made a good initial effort, while page 25 J. Ogg showed his versatility by taking pride of place with a vigorous speech—which was not humorous. The subject evidentally had charms for the lady members, two speaking to the motion; Miss N. Coad well deserving her positing in the Judge's award. According the Judge there was but one who really understood his subject, and that might account for the hesitation of the meeting, when by only one vote—14 to 13—it decided that the Celtic element was not the greater value. Mr. J. W. Joynt, M. A., placed the first five speakere as follows:—J. Ogg, C. H. Taylor, J. W. Ross, Miss Coad and H. D. Skinner. A. Macdougall did not compete, which was a consideration of importance to those accumulating points for the Union Prize.

Considerations of time and space, or to be more precise,"Shackleton Out-Shacked "crowded out the" irregular "debate, and the opportunity given the humorous later, served but to prove, that humor, like art, cannot be forced—at least not at short notice.

On July 31st the Society met for the first time in the Social Hall of new Gymnasium building. This was the occasion of the Presidential address, and Prof. Adamson chose for his subject "Some Hints on Public Speaking" "The purpose of a college training," he said," was to teach me to think; that of Debating Society, to teach them to think on their feet."

Great importance was to be placed upon style in the delivery of a speech. This should be cultivated by studying the rhetoric devices of such men as Demosthenes, Cicero, Curran, Pitt, or Gladstone, parts of whose orations might well be committed to memory.

The Professor illustrated the various points brought forward, by reference to his own experience as a barrister, as well as to the speeches of several noted orators, and concluded with a quotation from Mark Antony:—

"I tell you that which you yourselves do know,
Show you sweet Caesar's wounds.—poor, poor, dumb muths,
And bid them speak for me."

The hour being still early compared to that at which debaters—and others—usually exhaust their founts of eloquence, the Chairman called on several members to deliver impromptu speeches on subjects set up by the audience. The proceedings were lively and amusing, but were not marked by quite the usual eagerness to catch the Chairman 's eye.

On August 14th the motion for debate was "That New Zealand should adopt a system of compulsory military training." page 26 The movers were L. Short and J. Hogben, and the opposers J. Mason and C.H. Taylor. The debate was more than usually keen and opinion was very evenly divided among the speakers, nine being in favour of the motion while nine opposed it. The arguments brought forward were, on the whole, to the point, though there seemed to be considerable difference of opinion amongst the supporters as to the exact utility of the course of training suggested. Mr A. L. Herdman, M.P., who acted as judge, placed the five best speakers in the following order:—R Girling-Butcher, J. Hogben, L. Short, M. H. Oram and C. speaking in public, and paid the Society the somewhat doubtful compliment of saying that some of its members are as good speakers as some of the country representatives in Parliament.

The eight debate of the session—the 116th meeting of the Society, to use the language of the minute book—was held on September 4th. A. D. Brodie, seconded by H. A. Wild, moved "That Wasjomgton was greater as a patriot than Garibaldi." J. M. Hogben and M. H. Oram opposed. Both patriots were duly praised, and when that gave little promise the movers and opposers fell back on some interesting technical defences. The movers endeavoured to prove an alibi—Cavour was the man. This the opposers denied, but held that Washington was not a patriot at all, within the meaning of the term. Oram endeavoured to prove his case more geometric with his own truthfulness as his major premise—which, surely required separate proof. However the audience was inclined to look with favour on this argument and to accept the sophistries of one who dealt only with "patriotism in the abstract," when it decided in favour of Garibaldi by ten votes to four. Mr C. Wilson judged the debate and placed the five best speakers in the following order:—R. Girling-Butcher, A. D. Brodie, J. M Hogben, R. Kennedy and E. S. Rutherfurd.

The last debate of the season was held on September 25th, the motion being," That the state is not justified in entering into competition with legitimate private enterprise." Mr. E. S. Rutherfurd seconded by Mr. A. J. Luke led on the supporters; Mr. R. Girling-Butcher seconded by Mr. C. A. L. Treadwell appeared to oppose. Incidentally the Government was attacked, Mill quoted and the Crown Suits Act, fully explained with decided cases and judicial dicta. Thedebate was a good one, with just a little levity to relieve solidity. Mr. Webb, who acted as judge arranged the five best speakers in the following order:—M. H. Oram, R. Girling-Butcher, E. S. Tutherfurd, G. W. Morice and A. J. luke.

page 27

The recipients of the Society's honours were: J. M. Hogben, who won the Union Prize with 17½ Points in six debates, and J. Ogg who was awarded the New Speakers' Prize. M. H. Oram was proxime accessit in the Union Prize Competition with 15 points in 6 debates.

Plunket Medal Competition.

"What is Hecuba to him or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her?"

For the fifth successive year a delighted audience listened, spell-bound to the brilliant rhetorical outbursts of our orators and to a recital of the deeds of such a catalogue of heroes as would have gladdened the heart of old Homer himself. The speeches, though some, as Dr. Newman remarked, were reminiscent of the midnight oil, were all of high order of excellence. The standard of previous years was creditably maintained and altogether the performance reflects great credit upon the work which is being done by the College Debating Society.

R. Girling-Butcher led off, taking as his subject Horatio Nelson. His manner and diction are graceful, but his voice wants volume, and there was a lack of enthusiasm in his speech which prevented him from carrying his audience with him and left a sense of vagueness and incompleteness behind.

W. J. McEldowney followed on Oliver Cromwell. After an introductory tirade, aimed apparently at the House of Lords and "that mighty, but less venerable oppressor Capitalism," McEldowney warmed to his subject and delivered a splendid speech. In enthusiasm for his hero he was second to none. He had taken a great subject and treated it in an adequate manner, showing a wide and comprehensive knowledge of the circumstances of the time and a capacity for transcending the mere facts themselves and grasping their essential significance. This was undoubtedly one of the finest speeches of the evening and well worthy of the distinction it won.

J. M. Hogben enlightened the iguorance of the audience as to the merits of somewhat unknown individual—Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Liberator of Hayti—and remonstrated in good set terms with those misguided persons who refuse to credit the negro with genius. Hogben presented perhaps the best example of enunciation—he has a fine delivery and an excellent command of language—but his effect is somewhat marred bu a tone of expostulation, as though he were expecting every statement he made to be contradicted.

Once again our old friend Napoleon was dissected for our edification, this time by J. Ogg, who excelled himself in the page 28 subtle distinction that Napoleon "was not bloodthirsty, but did not spare blood." He took the somewhat incomprehensible course of dwelling at much greater length on the weakness than on the greatness of his subject and left a feeling of doubt as to whether he rally regarded Napoleon as a hero at all, and not merely as a more than ordinarily great sinner. His speech was undoubtedly well thought out and diligently prepared, but the reputation he has acquired as a humourist stood him in bad stead and his most sublime flights of rhetoric, his most magnificient array of polysyllables, were inclined to be received with unbecoming hilarity.

M. H. Oram in his well-known dramatic style brought his hearers to the verge of tears as he described the messengers of death bearing the news of Lincoln's assassination north, south and west, over the continent of America; while J. W. Ross, in slow and measured toues and carefully chosen language, recounted the doughty deeds of the House of Gordon and the glorious martyr—hero of Khartoum. One could not help regretting that Ross was not allowed more time to give a fuller exposition of his subject.

In following Drake through the trackless forests of the New World and over the pathless waves of the Pacific, R. Kennedy gave full rein to his imagination and displayed as vein of poetic fancy that his friends had not given him credit for.

With his speech on David Livingstone, G. W. Morice carried off first honours of the evening. His dramatic narration of the death of the great explorer in the lonely wilder of Central African, was the finest effort of the competition and was listened to in absolutely breathless silence, while his appreciation of the effect of Livingstone's word in the development of Africa was a fitting conclusion to a great speech. We congratulate Morice heartily on a well-deserved success and give expression to a hope that he may appear more frequently at the ordinary debates and no longer hide his light under a bushel.

The voting resulted as follows:—
(1). G. W Morice 82
(2). W. J. McEldoeney 80
(3). M. H. Oram 52

The medal was presented to the successful contestant by the Hon. Mr. Buddo in the absence of His Excellency the Governor. The Mayor, Dr. Newman, presented some pertinent remarks in humorous guise, and Professor Adamson drew attention to the cold treatment which the brick walls of Salamanca Hill received from an apathetic public.

page 29

A successful feature the evening was the songs and glees rendered by the Glee Club during the interval.

Robert Kennedy, Hon. Sec. V.C. Debating Society.

Women Students' Debating Society.

On August 14th the Women Students' Debating Society brought its second session to an early close as owing to the stress of examination work, speakers threatened to become a minus quantity. Though the standard of debating is certainly as yet not of the highest, yet we may boast a marked improvement on last year's performances and hope that as speakers gain in confidence and learn to discard the props of manuscripts and many notes, we may yet send a goodly number of full-fledged debaters to the common platform and perhaps, even, representives to the Plunket Medal Competition. At present however, our most pressing need is a more suitable time of meeting. Our average attendance is about twenty, but as long as the hour of meeting is 6.45 on Saturday evenings, so long will it be impossible for many women students to join our ranks. Then too with a time limit of seven minutes for each speaker, it is impossible for leaders of debates to do more than give a string of unelaborated and unconfirmed facts, and thus good debating speeches are of necessity somewhat rare. More-over, for a speech of seven minutes, it seems to most, hardly worth while to spend in search for matter the time required to gain a real mastery of the subject under discussion.

At the beginning of the year the Main Society offered a prize of one guinea to be presented to the best speaker of our Society, on condition that she should have spoken in at least one of the ordinary debates to the main society. The prize this year falls to Miss E. Fell.

The subjects set down in the syllabus of the Main Society have as a rule been adhered to in our Society, but I some cases we fear these subjects have proved too technical for inexperienced debaters.

In conclusion our thanks are due to the Main Society for the Prize so generously offered by them, and also to those separate members of that Society who have form time to time acted as our judges.

Amy E. Currie, Hon. Sec. W.S.D.S.