Puslapio vaizdai


Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Oratory, University of Wisconsin

WHEN Harvard undergraduates, according to President Faunce of Brown, translate the motto on their seal "to heaven with Yale!" the day of perfect intercollegiate comity will have arrived. To hasten this time, the universities of the "Big Eight" in the Middle West established "purity banquets" preceding their foot-ball games. These banquets, found to be as perfunctory as the preliminary hand-shake of two pugilists, were speedily abandoned. The nervous strain of players waiting for a physical clash does not fit them for comradeship the night before, while the effects of the struggle leave them still less fitted for friendly banqueting the day after. Intercollegiate comity exists to-day despite athletics rather than be ause of them. "We are tired of losing like gentlemen," cried Harvard undergraduates after losing to Yale seventeen out of nineteen boat-races.

Intercollegiate debating, another form of college rivalry, lacks many of the attractive features of athletics, but possesses in high degree the power of fostering comity. Visiting teams are given a royal welcome. During the debate itself, no welltimed argument, no shrewd rebuff of a sharp attack, is allowed by the audience to go unrecognized whether made by the home team or by the visitors. The contestants strictly avoid ill-tempered irony and sarcasm, even though the play of wit be keen and the clash of argument bitter. After a recent debate, the judges remarked first upon the unfailing courtesy of the victors, then talked over the arguments pre

sented. Moreover, it is the general custom for colleges to give a banquet in honor of their guests. Around this board the men who an hour earlier were engaged in strenuous combat now meet in the jolliest of good-fellowship. Intercollegiate friendship reigns supreme. In fact, the "Brown Daily Herald," liable to typographical errors, was entirely misleading when in bold head-lines it announced, "Another Debasing Victory over Dartmouth."

That this spirit does not lessen the ardor of battle is well illustrated by recent Harvard-Princeton-Yale debates. When Princeton chided Harvard's team, composed of three Southerners, for speaking against sectionalism, Potter of Texas, one of the Harvard debaters, made a neat retort. He regretted that the South should be the one to plead for a united nation. In 1903 the Harvard men were arguing that the Monroe Doctrine should be abandoned. Said the leader of the Yale team, "Three Harvard fledglings undertake to overthrow a time-honored doctrine of state, established nearly one hundred years ago by John Quincy Adams, a most distinguished alumnus of their own university." Sanders Theater rang with the applause of the Harvard audience, enjoying the discomfiture of their own champions. Nevertheless, the judges awarded Harvard a third consecutive victory over her dearest rival. One of the Yale men said at the banquet after the debate: "Three years ago we met you in the Philippines on the retention of the islands, and you routed us there; two years ago we met

you in Alaska on the boundary dispute, and you whipped us there; to-night we met you in South America on the Monroe Doctrine, and you defeated us there. And yet, routed, whipped, defeated, we are not vanquished. Gentlemen of Harvard, we will keep on fighting in one part of the world after another, and in some of them, I give you my earnest promise and solemn warning, Yale will be the victor." This is another sample of the Yale "sand" of which Harvard has seen and heard so much that her undergraduates call New Haven the "American Sahara." That Yale's boast was not idle was shown by the debate of the following year, covering the effects of trade-unionism in the United States, which Yale won by a unanimous decision.

College debating is, then, an intellectual sport, possessing much of the absorbing interest of foot-ball and kindred contests. Months of preparation for a struggle that itself lasts only two short hours; speculation as to the attack and the defense of the enemy; marshaling of forces to get the best combination of speakers and of arguments for effective team-work; always the anticipation of the actual clash with opponents equally well preparedall these elements debating has in common with athletic contests. Indeed, the successful athlete is not infrequently an ardent debater. It is not generally true that debating is restricted "to the socially ostracised and the physically unfit," as is said of some eastern universities. On one Bowdoin debating-squad, for instance, were the captain of the track team, the quarter-back of the foot-ball team, and the pitcher of the college nine. Another team of the same college included the best longdistance runner, the champion tennisplayer, and the editor of the college daily. An authentic case is on record at Wisconsin of a man who resigned the captaincy of the 'varsity foot-ball team in order to participate in a college debate.

Men like these love to play the game. They are stimulated for the long, uninteresting, sometimes painful period of preparation by the big contest ahead. It is this element of strife, of rough and tumble, the desire to excel a rival, to bring honor to the college, that lifts debating above routine study. College men who care little about themes on "spring" and "flow

ers" and "Alexander Hamilton" may become enthusiastically earnest in a contest with a rival institution on "reciprocity with Canada" or "the honor system." About big crises of thought or action cluster the experiences of student days. The humdrum grind of daily study frequently leaves few pleasant memories, but one never forgets the day he made the famous touch-down or the three-base hit. Neither does he lose the exuberant joy of victory at the moment when the judges proclaimed him and his colleagues winners of a forensic contest.

To see college forensics at its best, one must go to the small college, the home of virility and spirit. virility and spirit. There debating bonfires blaze, and mass-meetings yell. In little colleges the professors are not all specialists, too busy for common interests; their subjects of research are almost solely the minds and hearts of their students. Faculty and students unite in support of their debating team. One college president in his morning prayer at chapel petitioned that his team might win the debate of the evening. Opponents did not consider this good sportsmanship; they thought the odds against them were too great. Such unanimity of interest is seldom found in a large university. Unity of support for anything but foot-ball is hard to obtain in a student body of three thousand. Expedients have to be used to rouse interest in debating, as in hockey and tennis. However, at many of our universities audiences of one thousand are not uncommon. When Yale omitted an admission-fee of fifty cents, two thousand, five hundred people greeted the Harvard team in New Haven. Nebraska and Minnesota get out the band, and Illinois subsidizes her best half-back as cheer-leader, always careful, however, to cheer the opponents a little louder than friends. The effect on the judges is good.

The extent of intercollegiate debating is limited only by the number of universities and colleges. Harvard and Yale began in 1892; the universities of Michigan and Wisconsin followed in 1893. Today there is only one college of repute in the country that does not support some form of forensic contest. There are five hundred institutions of college rank having from one to four debates a year, which means approximately one thousand

[ocr errors]

debating teams of three men each. Possibly one out of a thousand of these debaters is a young woman. The universities of Washington and Oregon hold an annual debate in which only women take part, the sole league of the kind in the country. Moreover, the number participating in the sport is by no means restricted to those who constitute the teams. At the University of Michigan at least sixty men enter every competition, and one year the aspirants reached the total of one hundred and fifty-three. Every year twenty-five thousand men aspire to represent their colleges in forensics. Among the more important college leagues, which number over one hundred, are the following:

Harvard, Princeton, Yale; Cornell, Columbia, Pennsylvania; Brown, Dartmouth, Williams; Amherst, Wesleyan, Williams; Dickinson, Pennsylvania State, Swarthmore; Illinois, Indiana, Ohio; Chicago, Michigan, Northwestern; Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin; Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma; Oregon, Washington, Stanford; California, Stanford; Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas; Georgia, North Carolina, Tulane, Vanderbilt, Virginia.

Most of these leagues, it will be noted, are three-cornered, this "round-robin" form having supplanted the dual form of the early nineties. The great advantage of the triangular league is that each university prepares two teams, one on the affirmative, the other on the negative of the question. The affirmative team remains at home, and the negative invades the enemy's country. In the practice contest frequently held at home these two teams assail each other most vigorously, usually with less comity than they show the rival college. It is clear also that under this system it is to the advantage of all parties to have an evenly balanced question.

The usual method of selecting a question is indicated by the agreement between Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Each submits two questions to the others, and all vote 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, in the order of their choice. The question receiving the low total is chosen. The questions debated in the Central Circuit, composed of five universities of the Middle West, public ownership of railroads, ship sub

sidy, income tax, commission government, and the closed shop, are fairly representative of the type usually chosen. That there is, however, a desirable tendency toward contemporary college questions, like the honor system or the seven-game football schedule, is indicated by the fact that in 1907 Harvard submitted to Princeton a proposition favoring the free elective system, thinking the latter would choose the negative. Princeton, seeking to take her opponent unaware, chose to defend the elective system, thereby forcing Harvard to oppose her own pet institution. Such a situation, William Jennings Bryan, in a recent address at Harvard, sharply criticized. He condemned debating against one's convictions on the ground that it erodes moral fiber. "Conviction," said Mr. Bryan, "is an element we need more of in public life." The truth is that college men before a debate frequently have no settled convictions upon the subject of their study. Three months of preparation for a debate which has sound arguments on both sides frequently changes vague impressions into definite convictions for at least six college men.

Competition for places on debating teams is somewhat different from the preliminaries for athletic honors. Fifty candidates who for weeks have been digging out every source of material are allowed to speak on any phase of the subject they prefer. By means of one preliminary after another the judges cut the squad of candidates to twelve; the coaches then select from the survivors the men who are to make up the 'varsity debating teams. This process of elimination usually leaves six of the brightest and keenest men in college. One debating team of the University of Wisconsin contained five Phi Beta Kappa men, and the sixth had a scholastic average of eighty-seven. Often the squad is extremely cosmopolitan. Harvard's team against Princeton in 1910 was composed of three Southerners, two of whom had debated other colleges. The team Harvard sent against Yale the same year was made up of an Irishman from the West, a negro from the South, and a Jew from Kentucky. "Why," exclaimed a Back Bay girl of bluest blue, after reciting an astounding list of venerable Harvard names, "nowadays they elect as stadium orator a man by the name of Sullivan!”

The debate itself consists of twelve short addresses. Six so-called "main speeches," usually fifteen minutes in length, are first in order, the affirmative opening the debate and alternating with the negative until each debater has addressed the audience. Then follow six Then follow six rebuttal speeches of five minutes each, the negative opening the rebuttal. This arrangement, which gives the affirmative the advantage of the opening and closing speeches, is justified on the ground that the negative team, supporting the status quo, has ordinarily the easier case. Each team, therefore, has sixty minutes in which to present constructive and refutatory argu


The shrewdness with which rival teams interpret the question is shown in the following incident. In 1906, Michigan met Wisconsin on the question, "Resolved that a Federal Commission be given power to fix rates." The debate turned on the meaning of "fix rates." Wisconsin presented the Esch-Townsend Bill, which proposed to give a commission power to fix a definite freight rate in place of a rate complained of. Michigan replied: "No; in 1906 the term 'fix rates' must be interpreted not by the Esch-Townsend Bill, but by the Dolliver Bill, which is at present before congress. This bill proposes to give a commission power to substitute for a rate complained of not a definite rate, but something very different, namely, a maximum rate. Your meaning of 'fix rates' is two years old." It was held by the judges that Michigan had rightly interpreted the vital term of the proposition. Thus debating tends to lead away from intellectual pecking at the question. Knowing all about a question, the debater must choose only the essentials. A broad background of knowledge must lie underneath, though it may not appear in the speeches.

Not alone in the field of constructive thinking, but also in the field of expression, debating has great value. It teaches young men both to think accurately and to press their thought clearly and readily. President Eliot has said that the superior effectiveness of some men lies not in their larger stock of ideas, but in their greater power of expression. Forgetting this, educators too often limit their efforts to cramming facts into the heads of their students -facts, not ideas. The skilful debater,

like Franklin in the constitutional discussions, "lays his shoulder to the main points, knowing that the little points will take care of themselves." The power of narrowing a question to a few essentials is a great asset to a scholar in any field. College debating does much to develop the gift, special to superior minds, of "selecting the conclusive argument from a complex theme, and of presenting it unanswerably' -the gift said to belong to debaters like Spooner, Root, and Borah. It is not, however, skill in analysis and in the handling of evidence that is of the greatest value to a college man who later is to become a lawyer or a preacher. It is the habit of ordering the content of one's mind for the sake of other men and women. In their boyish way, college debaters endeavor by means of topic sentences, frequent summaries, and sharply marked transitions, to follow the motto which is said to hang above the editorial desk of Lyman Abbott: "I will make this so clear that my Aunt Rebecca could understand it."

Sometimes a debate is the stepping-stone to leadership. College communities are like the group of school-boys who elected as president their best pitcher, chose as secretary their best jumper, and then, with unconscious irony, selected as treasurer their best runner. "Dynamic" men are almost invariably college leaders; thus debaters are often recognized. A certain sophomore presents a typical case. During his first and second years he was continually on probation, always on the verge of expulsion. Early in his junior year he promised the debating coach in college slang "to lay himself out" in an attempt to make the team. Immediately his convivial pals missed him. For the first time in his college career he did his level best. The result was that he was chosen leader of the team, and largely by his own ability won a decision for his alma mater. Then college mates began to notice him. They elected him first a member of the student court, then president of his class, then editor of the college daily. The debate was the turning-point in his career, for he began to take pride in his accomplishment, and from a position of obscurity he rose in one year to effective leadership.

In like manner, with another college man it may be the responsibility of football captain, of glee-club leader, of college

editor, of fraternity president, or of some other extra classroom activity, that furnishes the opportunity for leadership. One distinguished jurist has affirmed that he would not exchange his joint debate for any one full year of his college course. This taste of the joys of leadership often reaches out into life. The president of a western university attended in Minneapolis a meeting of twelve of the most prominent alumni of his institution in the Twin Cities. Nine out of the thirteen, including the president, had been in their college-days members of 'varsity debating teams. These men had not become prominent citizens because they had been debaters as undergraduates; they had become leaders in active life because they made use of the same powers which in embryonic stage sustained them in their college debates. Forensics did not develop selfconfidence, perseverance, courage. merely furnished to the young men occasions to organize for successful behavior in emergencies the real power potential in them.


Debating has shortcomings, even dangers. It is easy, for example, to manufacture evidence with little likelihood of detection. However, the penalty of such dishonesty, when discovered, is most severe. In a debate in 1907, one of the speakers deliberately misquoted an authority. An unusually shrewd opponent walked over to the desk of his rival, picked up the book, and read the statement exactly as it had been quoted. Then he continued: "Honorable judges, the gentleman read the sentence as if it were punctuated with a period at this point. As a matter of fact, the punctuation is a comma." He then read the final clause, showing the real intent of the authority, which was exactly opposite to the interpretation given by his opponent. The result was disaster for the dishonest debater.

There are still more subtle forms of dishonesty. Dozens of requests pour in from colleges and high schools upon every prominent debating team, offering to buy, rent, or borrow, material. A typical letter read:

Dear Sir: We understand that your university debated the question of commission government last spring. We shall be glad


to procure a set of the speeches made, and will pay any reasonable price.

Unless such dishonesty can be prevented, it will soon bring deserved condemnation to an honorable sport. Reputable institutions are refusing either to sell or buy material.

A third form of dishonesty sometimes arises. arises. Coaches too frequently are far more responsible for the argument presented than are the debaters themselves. One debating coach had made a special study of "trade-unions" for ten years. He began in his high-school debates, followed it out in his college contests, and finally, taking charge of a college team, gave them three carefully prepared speeches to memorize. Thus his students received none of the value which comes of working up a case. They were parrots, nothing more. For this evil there are two possible remedies. Many colleges, among them Stanford, the University of California, and Swarthmore, rightly throw the burden of preparation entirely upon their debaters, doing away with all coaching, and trusting to the honor of their opponents to do likewise. Still better is reducing the time of preparation from three months to six weeks. Stanford and California pursue this method in their annual "Carnot" medal debates, which are models of the best debating in the country. The actual debating deteriorates under shorter preparation, but the exercise becomes far less academic, and more nearly like the occasions of every-day life. The debates under this system are contests not of voluminous research, but of individual constructive thinking. Above all, this plan places the men upon their own responsibility, and as far as is possible eliminates opportunities for dishonesty.

Measuring success in debating by the number of victories, several universities. stand out above all others. Harvard has won seventeen debates from Yale and lost seven. She has won nine from Princeton and lost seven. Pennsylvania won both. debates from Cornell and Columbia in 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910, the best string of consecutive victories known. The University of Missouri has an enviable record. With Kansas she has won seven and lost four; with Texas, won four and lost one; with Illinois, won three and lost one; with Colorado, won two and lost none; with

« AnkstesnisTęsti »