The Spike: or, Victoria College Review September 1921
Plunket Medal Contest
Plunket Medal Contest.
The Fifteenth Annual Contest for the Plunket Medal was held in the Town Hall on Friday, the 19th August. The audience was, as usual, sufficiently large to cause one to wonder whether they came for edification or amusement—or solely because the show is free. The undergraduates present were refreshingly restrained in their efforts to amuse themselves; even the "Dominion" leader-writer would be unable to find cause of complaint unless it were the some-what feeble nature of the praiseworthy effort to revive the old-time concerted witticisms between numbers and at other appropriate times.
Owing to a somewhat unfortunate choice of subject on the part of two of the histrionic aspirants, the list of starters was belatedly reduced to six. Incidentally, the two non-starters are to be commended for the sporting way in which they agreed to pull out at the last minute, thereby saving the Debating Society and the College from being again brought within the focus of the hostile search light of an already agitated public opinion.
After Chairman S.A.Wiren had manoeuvred the Vice-Royalties into frontline position, and had revealed the dark secret of the origin and history of the contest, be broke the news that Mr. Haigh, who was to have spoken on Parnell, was, by reason of Indisposition, unable to take part. Thereby the list was reduced to five, for which, praise be to Allah!
Mr. A. M. Cousins spoke first, his hero being Sir George Grey. It was soon apparent that Cousins is a greatly-improved speaker since his last attempt at the Medal. His manner was earnest and sincere, his matter for the most part good. There was, however, too much trivial detail in his opening, and at times an injudicious choice of words. "Kawau" (pow-wow, bow-wow), for example, is a word which mars the sound of any speech. It is also a mistaken idea of oratory to clip one's words, even if in twelve minutes one gains thereby an extra twenty words. "Proime Minister' should have taken a few marks off this speaker, who was ultimately placed third.
Mr. N. J. Lewis handicapped himself by taking the fatal Napoleon Bonaparte as his subject. Practically every speaker on Napoleon in past contests has raised the visibility of the audience, and Lewis didn't fail to do so. Possessed of an easy, confident manner, a voice in need of strengthening by proper training, and a far too monotonous delivery, this speaker unburdened himself of ultraflamboyant matter. An audience doesn't take seriously a speaker who deals only in superlatives, and whose system of emphasis appears to be to raise the voice on every third (or was it fifth?) word. There were signs of better results later, however.
The next speaker, Mr. A. S. Tonkin, proved to be the winner of the Medal, He started on his subject, Rienzi, with an over-long catalogue of Romans, which rather bored the audience. The real merit of Tonkin's manner and matter, however, is proved by the fact that he soon regained the attention of his audience and held it to the end. He painted a vivid picture of the man and the times page 10 in which he lived. His choice of words was admirable and his matter scholarly. His manner of delivery would be improved by a less speed coupled with more modulation and a little gesture.
Mr. W. A. Sheat won second place with his handling Mazzini. His matter was excellent, and had he been less strained and tense in his manner, more confidential with his audience, and more careful at times with his pronunciation, the Medal would have been his. Nervousness and haste are probably the causes of his faults, but it is hard to forgive "jooty," "gorrrilla, "witch was," etc. . . . . . . His peroration at the end was good.
Mr. J. W. G. Davidson was not up to his best form in dealing with' William Morris There was too much philosophical discourse on art and beauty, the latter word being worked to death; too much quotation, also, for a twelve-minutes' speech. Davidson did not seem to warm up to his work.
While the judges (Mr. Justice Chapman, Colonel Mitchell, and Mr. T. R. Cresswell) retired to appear to discuss their obvious verdict, Mr. Rishworth sang two songs in spite of the chairman, and Mr. Evans gave a suspiciously-realistic simulation of intoxication.
Mr. Justice Chapman then, on behalf of the judged announced their award and delivered the usual criticism of the recitative nature of the speeches Nobody however, has yet suggested how this is to be obviated. It appears to us that the real Fault does not lie in memorising the speeches, but in that the speakers have not the art of concealing the fact that the speeches are memorised.
His Exellency Lord Jellicoe then the Medal to the winner, Mr. Tonkin, and after a futile effort by the students to sing "just one stave more," the audience stretched its weary limbs sufficiently to depart.