In your editorial Saturday morning you implied that the decision on the Yale debate was a surprise to the audience. This is true, and was due, no doubt, to the fact that on the question of bimetalism, the substantial matter at issue, the Harvard argument was unquestionably the stronger. Still, I think, the reason of our defeat is perfectly clear. The Yale men held that by the first half of the question the affirmative was required to defend a certain policy on the part of Congress; this policy, said the Yale speakers, would bring disaster. The Harvard men tried to make out that the first clause of the subject meant nothing in particular, and made no attempt to answer the argument based on the Yale interpretation. The judges, it seems, accepted the Yale construction, saw that the chief negative argument was unanswered, and decided accordingly.
Now I think we can draw some lessons from our defeat. In the first place, our own interpretation of a question may be right, but it is never safe to be so sure it is right as to leave unanswered or treat as irrelevant arguments based upon a different understanding of the subject. If our men had said, "We do not accept the Yale interpretation; still we will answer our opponents on their own ground," the result might have been different.
In the second place, to come to the root of the trouble, something must be done to prevent debates from being ruined by disagreement as to the meaning of the question. Of the four Yale debates I have heard in Sanders Theatre, three have been seriously impaired by such disagreement. The most painful reflection in regard to the debate last Friday is that Harvard's admirable argument against bimetallism went all for nothing because of a squabble over the meaning of the subject. The first step is to frame subjects with the greatest possible brevity and celarness. Then it might be feasible for both sides to confer, by letter or by representatives, as to the full meaning of the question. Again, it might be well to appoint some impartial person an arbiter on definition, to whom the views of both sides might be submitted in full, and who should say once for all what the question means. After this nothing new should be admitted in the way of definition save by agreement of both sides.
There may be better suggestions than this; if so let them be made. But is not some move in this direction absolutely essential to the best interests of intercollegiate debate?
JOSEPH PARKER WARREN.