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To the Editor of the CRIMSON:
There appeared in the Boston Herald Saturday morning an editorial commenting upon the performance of the Harvard Debaters in the debate with Boston College last Thursday. Some of the things the editor said were true, others were hardly accurate. I hope you will permit me to reply to that editorial in your columns.
On the part of the Harvard speakers some admissions must be made. We are more than willing to grant that the gentlemen from Boston College were superior in what the editor calls oratory. In some spots of our speeches there were painful pauses. I think I know the cause. In three years I have heard nine Harvard speakers talk in our debates with Boston College. Only two of these nine gave good speeches. All nine told me that they found the audience unresponsive, that as they went along in their speaking they discovered that their arguments were not accepted by the audience. To college speakers that is an over-powering handicap. Possibly the Boston College speakers met the same lack of response.
The editor remarks upon the significance of the audience vote. At Harvard we have found the audience vote a fair indication of the merits of the debaters. Many of our visiting teams have requested audience votes for several successive years. Personally, I believe that we deserved to lose the audience vote last Thursday evening. Whether or not we deserved to lose by so great a majority, I do not know. The editor of the Herald states that the majority was probably ten or fifteen to one. More likely it was more than twenty to one. Two years ago when we debated Boston College, the gentleman who had charge of the counting of the ballots said that the audience vote was something over three thousand for Boston College, as against eighty-eight for Harvard.
The accuracy of the editor's statement that the "young men from the Heights outgeneralled their adversaries, marshaled arguments more skilfully, were more serious and more dignified, used better diction and were far superior in oratory" depends largely upon what meanings he attaches to those terms. If by "outgeneralled their adversaries" he means that the Boston College speakers succeeded in discussing national prohibition rather than the effects and merits of the proposed repeal of the Baby Volstead Act in Massachusetts, he is correct. If by "marshalled arguments more skilfully" he means that Boston College was able to get away without giving specific, comprehensive answers to pertinent questions, asked by the Harvard speakers, he is correct. If "serious and dignified" refer to demeanor, probably he is correct. I believe that the diction of the Boston College speakers was better. Undoubtedly, they excelled in oratory. The Boston College speakers appeared to be giving memorized speeches, the Harvard speakers were speaking extemporaneously.
In his second paragraph, especially in the last sentence, the editor implies that we are guilty of "triviality, lack of seriousness, immaturity, meagre preparation, an inclination to turn a serious occasion into a holiday." If he thinks that Harvard took the debate very lightly and made meagre preparation, he must be corrected. Seven members of the Debating Council studied that question for weeks, collected a mass of original material, went to Symphony Hall determined to place the question in its more serious aspects before the audience. We felt and still feel that much more than a discussion of national prohibition was involved. It is true that we did not make the difference between national prohibition as one problem, and the repeal of the Baby Volstead Act another, stand out vividly enough. Had we done so, we might have won the debate. We do not complain of the decisions of the audience, nor of the decisions of the judges. We believe that they had good reason to vote as they did. We submit that we were prepared to discuss a vital Massachusetts problem. Boston College succeeded in talking about national prohibition, which is something quite different. Boston College deserved to win the debate. We feel that their debaters ought to have analyzed the proposition more in view of the way in which Massachusetts would be served if the act were repealed. The Boston College speakers elected not to do that, which was quite within their rights. But even though we failed to force them into a discussion of the proposition as stated, we cannot allow the editor of the Boston Herald to imply that we slighted an important question to be discussed before a large audience.
Nothing I have written here should be construed as a reflection upon any of the Boston College debaters, nor upon the gentleman who directs their activities. We have been used very decently by everyone connected with Boston College. Mr. Kenneally deserves the warmest praise for his success in getting the debate before the public. His debaters delivered their speeches very well. They succeeding in evading a discussion of what we think were very pertinent questions. We believe those questions are ananswerable. We failed to make the audience and the judges see that. So far as we failed in that, so far as our speakers failed to get and hold the sympathetic attention of the audience, we are censurable. But when the editor implies that we were indifferent to the occasion, and that we made small effort in preparation, he does us a gross injustice. Edward M. Rowe. Coach. Harvard Debating Council