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The Spike: or, Victoria College Review, June 1910

Debating Society

page 54

Debating Society.

"While words of learned length and thund'ring sound,
Amaz'd the gazing rustics ranged around."


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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.

New Speakers' Debates.

"You'd scarce expect one of my age,
To speak in public on the stage."

The Committee, owing to the large number of more or less experienced speakers taking part in Saturday night debates, decided to start a series of debates for new speakers, to be held at intervals on Thursday nights. These debates have proved successful, and any inexperienced speaker who suffers from "nerves" finds there a sympathetic audience that listens to his remarks without interjection. The institution of these debates was purely an experiment, but the support given to them warrants their continuance.

Women Students' Debating Society.

"Here might they learn what men were taught."—Tennyson.

The Women Students' Debating Society held its annual general meeting in the Women's Common Room on Thursday, April 22nd. The hour of meeting was altered from 6.45 p.m. on alternate Saturdays to 8 p.m. on alternate Fridays. The change seems to be popular, for the attendance is very encouraging, being about three times as great as last year's average.

After ascertaining that the Main Society had no objection to our inserting in our syllabus subjects other than page 57 debates, the Committee decided to include readings and literary discussions. In fact, only three of the subjects, non-political, set down in the syllabus of the Main Society have been adhered to.

At the only debate held, Miss Heine, seconded by Miss Hursthouse, moved that "Novel reading was beneficial to the reader." The motion was opposed by Misses Lawry and Taylor, and provided material for an animated debate. At the last meeting Miss Reeve opened an informal discussion on the true function of treatment manifested the keen interest and thought many of the speakers had given to the subject. The remaining evening was devoted to "Readings from New Zealand authors," which excited a keener interest in our literature.

Several new members have spoken this year, and on the whole, more of a debating spirit has been shown. Copious notes have not been so much in evidence, and there has been none of the "reciting" condemned by a judge of last year. Our thanks are due to Misses Myers, Isitt and Dr. Bennett, who have kindly acted as judges from time to time.

As we go to press, we hear that the debate on the motion, "That the Lords were justified in rejecting the Budget," is to be held next Saturday, 2nd July, in place of the debate set down in the Syllabus.

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