Wednesday, 28 August 2013

On Extemporaneous Composition and Debating by the Class



In A Manual of the Art of Prose Composition: For the Use of Colleges and Schools (1867), John Mitchell Bonnell explained the value of Extemporaneous Composition;  Debating by the Class; and proposed a list of topics for debate.

This is an an extract from his book.

EXTEMPORANEOUS COMPOSITION.

§ 489. No course of instruction and discipline in the Art of Prose Composition would be complete without a portion devoted to extemporaneous composition. By this is meant the framing of thoughts on any given subject, and the proper expression of them, either without any preparation, or with the mere pre-arrangement of the plan, leaving the language to be suggested at the time of the delivery. It was a recommendation made by no less an orator than Henry Clay to young men seeking to qualify themselves as public speakers, to spend at least fifteen minutes each day in uttering, in solitude, without any premeditation, their thoughts upon a subject selected at random. This recommendation he enforced by the assertion that to such a custom, maintained for years, he himself owed, in no small degree, whatever of success he had attained as a speaker. The student who is earnestly striving to gain excellence in the use of his own languago will need no further urging to adopt such a practice. The fruits of this secret culture will not be long in making their appearance.

§ 490. As an additional method of securing the cultivation of the art of ready and correct expression, it is recommended that a pair of earnest students unite to afford mutual assistance in this exercise. Let them retire from observation, and speak by turns, in speeches of five minutes each, their thoughts on any assigned subject. It would be well for them to take some question susceptible of debate, and choosing opposite sides, discuss its merits. While one is speaking, let the other note, not merely his arguments, but his language, his method, his gestures. The arguments he will reply to in his own rejoinder; but let him reserve his criticisms on his comrade's performance for kindly mention after the exercise is over. Such private drill will admirably prepare the young performers for the more difficult arena of

DEBATING BY THE CLASS.

§ 491. If a class of youths pursuing the course prescribed by this Manual have caught the spirit appropriate to the study, they will, long before progressing thus far in the book, have perceived the propriety of turning the class into a lyceum for the discussion of questions and other literary performances. Such an expedient can not be too highly recommended. It has received the indorsement of many eminent men. Lord Mansfield, Edmund Burke, Charles James Fox, and John P. Curran, as well as the illustrious American mentioned above, all have confessed themselves greatly indebted to such associations for the skill they acquired in oratory and debate.

If, as is desirable for young men attending ordinary schools or academies, the class debate is conducted by the teacher as the presiding officer, he will of course establish such rules and arrangements as he deems best. If the debating class is a number of students in the same high-school or college, they may organize themselves into a lyceum, and adopt their own constitution and by-laws. Admirable suggestions for such an association are to be found in McElligott's American Debater, to which parties interested are referred.

§ 492. It must be borne in mind that, although in extemporaneous speaking considerable freedom is allowed, and, of beginners especially, no high degree of accuracy or elegance of style should be exacted, yet it is certainly one of the aims of extemporaneous debate to cultivate the art of speaking, not only forcibly as to logical power, but with as strict attention to all the rules of Style as the most fastidious ear would demand. Let every young speaker lay down the rule—Never to allow himself in any known violation of propriety in any respect. Let him never excuse himself for any fault pointed out to him. Let him never defend his own utterances, when usage or authority is clearly against him. Let him never cling to an embellishment that others do not relish, although they can give no reasons for it. He must aim to do in regard to style what can be done only in very few things,—offend nobody. Withal, he must never become discouraged with the inveteracy of habit, by the multiplicity of rules, by the infinity of chances for error, or by the mortification of failure.


Bonnell's list of topics for debate in class (1867) here

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