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The Spike or Victoria College Review June 1914

The Plunket Medal Competition, 1913

The Plunket Medal Competition, 1913.

The Plunket Medal Competition for Oratory was held in the Concert Chamber of the Town Hall on Saturday, 4th October, 1913, at 8 p.m.

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The judges this year were the Rt. Hon. Sir Joseph Ward, Messrs. C. B. Morison, K.C., and C. E. Statham, M.P.

The competitors spoke as follows:—

Mr. F. E. McKenzie, B.A., on "The Duke of Marlborough." Mr. McKenzie was a speaker unaccustomed to platform oratory, and it is not surprising to note that he was exceedingly unhappy in the matter of gesture, vocal delivery, and stage craft generally. He opened in strenuous tones, and with some gestures strongly reminiscent of the bayonet exorcises. Except in the matter of gesture, his speech greatly improved as he proceeded. Mr. McKenzie did not seem to realise that a speaker may impress an audience by restraint, dignity, a sense of something held in reserve, even more than he can by the adoption of the "big bow-wow" style. We can't, for the life of us, understand why Mr. McKenzie should apply to the Duke of Marlborough, Shelley's fine lines on Keats.

In clear contrast with Mr. McKenzie, Miss M. L. Nicholls spoke on "Joan of Arc" with a fine delicacy, pathos and restraint. Her enunciation and pronunciation were excellent; her gestures, few but most apt and happy, and her stage presence as appealing as the wicked hour of midnight. We are unwilling to criticize Miss Nicholls's speech at all adversely, but we do wonder that Miss Nicholls did not attempt to analyse the character of Joan of Arc. We shrewdly suspect that she did not want to alarm the muddleheads who still flourish in our midst.

Mr. C. A. L. Treadwell, in his speech on "Joseph Chamberlain," opened quietly but confidently. He was, in fact, a thought too confident, and became at times almost dictatorial. His use of the "pause" was very effective, and he shared with Miss Nicholls the honour of being the most cultured speaker of the evening. His speech was, in our opinion, a decided improvement on his previous ones. He was forceful and free throughout, and his gestures, though too few, were admirable. We must suppose, in charity, that the judges had good reasons for not placing Mr. Treadwell a very close second to Mis Nicholls, but frankly confess we are unable to perceive one.

Mr. Meldrum spoke on "Dean Swift." In point of matter this was one of the best speeches of the evening, but in point of manner it was execrable. Mr. Meldrum gave a very fair and impartial estimate of Swift's character and works. His voice, unhappily, was unequal to the demands made upon it, and his reckless use of the upper register soon reduced it to a condition page 54 of huskiness, that became more and more irritating as his speech proceeded. His gestures were spasmodic, jerky, and mechanical as the action of a railway engine. His speech was largely arranged in the form of a series of climaxes, which tended to become monotonous, and brought him at times dangerously near to bathos.

Mr. A. B. Sievwright spoke on 'William Pitt, the Great Commoner." Mr. Sievwright and Mr. McKenzie had many faults in common. No restraint, no half lights, misuse of the voice, and a gross extravagance of gesture. But while Mr. McKenzie's gestures reminded one of the bayonet exercises, Mr. Sievwright's gesticulations made one think he had been studying the action of the sails of a windmill. Mr. Sievwright's matter did not impress us, and his pronunciation was wicked. We didn't in the least like wuld and wurrld (world), orrl (all). retaliated, hez (has), inarrt (inert), corrud (cord), brot, gloreeous, etc, etc.

It was quite a pleasant change to hear Mr. McConnell's light tenor after the booming basses. Mr. McConnell spoke on "Florence Nightingale." He had the Irishman's usual appeal and natural eloquence and ease on the platform, and touches of naivety throughout his speech were not unwelcome. The chief defect in the speech was a certain lack of force and life.

Mr. O. Borer had chosen as his subject "Lord Lister." We fear that Mr. Borer will never achieve fame as a public speaker. He lacks the first requisite. He has not the faintest, remotest, least suspicion of a sense of humour. We quite sympathise with Mr. Borer's wish to shed light upon the little known life of Lord Lister, but why he should have given us the harrowing details of Lord Lister's laboratory experiments, we don't know. It wasn't kind, and it very nearly caused Professor Picken to suffer from apoplexy. Mr. Borer's gestures were incongruous and grotesque, and at one stage nearly endangered the life of people in the front row.

Mr. Rogers, the last speaker, treated "The Life of Gladstone." His gestures were stilted, he does not know what modulation is, and his pronunciation left much to be desired, e.g., "essit" (asset), "edggercated." His speech generally was colourless and unconvincing—a perfectly orthodox piece of recitation.

The judges, after consultation, placed Miss Nicholls, first; Mr. Sievwright, second; Mr. McConnell, third; and Mr. Treadwell, fourth. We quite agree with the award as to the first and third places.