The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, June 1910
[activities of the debating society]
"While words of learned length and thund'ring sound,
Amaz'd the gazing rustics ranged around."
The present chronicler is sworn to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but this fact would compel him to disclose what he would fain conceal. The transfer of debates from the old top floor to our new concert hall seems to have had a depressing effect on speakers and audience alike. Perhaps the environment accounts for it. The four pillars stand gaunt and grim, unmoved by the most pathetic of Oram's bursts of eloquence and frown upon the occasional-alas! the very occasional-joke. Then the audience seems rari nantes in gurgite vasto. There looms beside, behind and in front, cold and cheerless expanses of floor and wall. Why does the audience always persist in getting as far away from the speaker as possible? The grey pillars threatening sentinels-the shadows, the barren walls, and the empty spaces, combine to chill the audience and freeze the springs of the imagination.
To cause even a ripple of laughter is a notable event, and a good hearty roar is practically unknown. One hesitates to launch a humorous remark. It seems "so silly."
The speaker blames the audience; the audience blames the speaker. "Much might be said on both sides." The audience is too critical (a faculty easily developed and apt to run riot), and the speaker too jejune and matter-of-fact. May both improve!
The first debate of the season was held on April 30th. and, owing to short notice, was not a "regular" debate. N. Fair, seconded by D. S. Smith, moved, "That the New Zealand University should exist for the purpose of general culture, and not for the purpose of providing a specialised training for an industrial, a commercial, or a professional career." The mover opened the debate with a speech more thoughtful than forceful, but his defect in this respect was well supplied by his seconder, who, when his knowledge ran dry, refreshed himself at the fount of Cardinal New-man's essays. W. J. McEldowney opposed the motion with great vigour, but less thought, and his seconder, C. H. Taylor, page 55 brought his customary keen criticism to bear on the speeches of his opponents, but brought little new matter into the discussion. The subsequent speakers were mostly opposed to the motion. M. Macalister contributed perhaps the most original speech, and had apparently thought out the subject for himself. T. N. Holmden certainly held the attention of the audience by his application of the Parable of the Virgins to University conditions, and by various other novel illustrations. The saving grace of humour is too little in evidence at College debates, and a light speech is always appreciated, but a little solid matter would have greatly improved this speaker. Prof. Laby, after remarking that the debate seemed like asking a starving man whether he would have "beef or mutton." placed M. H. Oram first, with L. M. Hogben and W. J. MeEldowney second, and S. Macalister fourth.
The second debate on the syllabus was postponed till the short vacation, owing to the death of the King.
The next debate was held on May 21st, when M. H. Oram made an excellent speech in moving, "That arbitration will never provide a desirable or a practical solution of international quarrels." A. Luke seconded, while G. W. Morice and R. G. Butcher established a strong case in opposition. The secretary reports "that many speakers hid their ignorance by quibbling over the meaning of the motion." Mr. C. Wilson, who judged, placed the speakers as follows:— 1, G. W. Morice; 2, M. H. Oram; 3, R. G. Butcher; 4, W. Rutherfurd; 5, M. Macalister.
On June 4th R. Kennedy, in a speech which displayed extensive knowledge of his subject, moved: "That the endeavour to maintain the balance of power has played too great a part in England's foreign policy." A. Fair seconded him with considerable vigour, and J. L. Short, in opposing the motion, handled his "friends" somewhat severely, while R. G. Butcher completed the chastisement. T. N. Holmden's speech was described as "an entertaining interlude." and a spirited protest followed. The chairman ruled that the expression was quite permissible. The judge, Mr. A. L. Herdman, M.P., placed the speakers as follows :—1, R. Kennedy; 2, A. Fair; 3, L. Short; 4, G. W. Morice; 5. R. J. Butcher; and afterwards, in the course of a pleasant and witty speech, gave some valuable hints on platform speaking.page 56
The fourth debate, "That the distribution of charity, whether by the State, or by the individual, is inimical to the best interests of the community," attracted the largest attendance of the session, and a good array of speakers, among whom were several who seldom grace the platform. J. Ogg made a vigorous speech from a purely materialistic standpoint, and was seconded by G. Berendsen. J. D. Smith opposed, and approached the subject from an entirely different point of view. R. Watson subjected the mover's arguments to a keen criticism, and made a very telling speech. Ten speakers followed, among them being the veteran V. B. Willis, whose touches of old-time humour recalled to mind the debates of former years. Mr. von Haast, whose remarks on slang the first graduate who spoke ought to take well to heart, placed the speakers in the following order:—1, G. Watson; 2, G. W. Morice; 3, R. Watson; 4, R. G. Butcher; 5. M. H. Oram.