Soapbox Speakers

News for Speakers’ Corner, Sunday 11th February

In News for Speakers' Corner on February 12, 2018 at 11:27 am

It’s Darwin Day today, Steve informs me.

“Farewell Australia! You are a rising child. And doubtless some day will reign a great princess in the South; but you are too great and ambitious for affection, yet not old enough to respect. I leave your shores without sorrow or regret.”
Charles Darwin , 1836 .

1. Happy birthday Arthur!  You don’t turn 95 every day.

2. Good news! Steve Maxwell has written another article for his “Passing Parade” series. It is about the intellectual hobos who invaded Chicago every Spring by freight train. The hobos  would form a Speakers’ Corner called ‘The Bughouse Square’, and months later they would jump back onto the freight trains and leave. Steve draws upon a Saul Bellows article to give us an idea of what some of those speakers were like in the 1930’s. Steve’s article is at the end of this post.

Steve Maxwell’s thirty-six episodes of “Passing Parade“and his book “The History of Soapbox Oratory“, plus his umpteen years of being a learned speaker, mean that Steve is the world authority on soapbox speaking. Steve knows more about soapbox speaking and Speakers’ Corners throughout the world than any other person, alive or dead. (Especially dead. They don’t know much at all.) Sydney’s Speakers’ Corner, and Sydney itself, are lucky to have Steve.

The information Steve has painstakingly collected will be appreciated by historians long after we are all gone.Thank you, Steve!

Here is another lookalike someone has sent us.

 

3. Mr Bashful pointed out that within his cloud of grasshoppers sit quality speakers. We have:
– Mark the Grinner, who is articulate, entertaining and earnest.
– Peter the Younger, who would make an exceptional speaker because his esoteric views are wide-ranging, original and carefully considered. He might get a smaller audience, but that audience would be loyal, motivated and intellectual. You wouldn’t get banality from Peter the Younger.
– Uncle Pete is an excellent speaker. Peter calls it how he sees it, and does so with insight, a sharp tongue, and with wit.
– Helmut’s popularity is soaring now that he is diversifying his topics and taking questions from his groundlings. Helmut is still a first class speaker with a savant-like knowledge and with something to say.

Mr B says that if all four men were to join old farts Mirko, Steve, Ray and Mr B, we would then have eight old farts and an exceptional Speakers’ Corner. We would have a Speakers’ Corner fit for the twenty-first century: one that’s free of bigotry and pretence. The trouble is, getting all eight speakers to persist with speaking to only a handful of people each, long enough for crowds to finally come, is asking too much. It’s a Catch 22 situation.

And what if we had youth? Where is Scott? Will Tommy return?

And what if we had women speakers? Wouldn’t that be refreshing!! We might even learn something.

The Queen, speaking in the Domain in 2012. Unfortunately she only lasted three meetings. She said she had other commitments.

4. Mark the Grinner stood on the Ladder of Knowledge and was scathing of the Fair Work Commission that recently outlawed a train drivers’ strike. He said the Commission looks after employer interests more than it does the interests of the employees. He added that we need a Fair Wage Commission instead.

Interestingly, there was a train driver in the audience who quietly told this scribe that he believed they were overpaid! They received $110,000 per annum, which was more than the job was worth.

Mark the Grinner had a man at the back muttering, “The guy’s mad”.

5. Mirko gave photosynthesis a rest today and instead talked about smartphones. Peter the Younger suggested that Mirko’s “smartphone” might need its lithium level checked.

From the Postsecret website:

6. If a person witnesses an animal being slaughtered or the gore of someone crushed, they may be traumatised. Yet, if someone witnesses slaughter or gore regularly (for example, they work in an abattoir or an intensive care unit) they can become innured to such sights and won’t suffer trauma or PTSD. In the same way, is it possible that our youth are too protected, and lack the opportunity to become innured against hardships such as bullying? As a result, they are anxious?

There was agreement and disagreement. Someone pointed out that paramedics do suffer PTSD. And Jacquie intrigued us all by telling us that at the age of four she was allowed to climb a tall tree. How many four-year olds would be allowed to do that today?

4 year-old Jacquie is hard to see at the top of this baobab.

7. Mr B had no intention of speaking about Barnaby Joyce’s affair. He figured it was none of his business. But his grasshoppers took control, pointing out that we should be talking about Barnaby’s affair, because of his hypocrisy.
(1) Barnaby opposed the free provision of Gardasil, a vaccine that would prevent the spread of the human pappiloma virus. According to Jenna Price’s article in the SMH, Barnaby was concerned about the voters’ fear of potential promiscuity!
(2) In the recent by-election, Barnaby allowed the media to take photographs of him with his family. So, he is quite happy to have his private matters in the media when it suits him.
(3) Barnaby took a “moral stand” about people’s sexuality when he opposed gay marriage.

8. Other subjects discussed:
– Mr B has never voted; he just votes ‘informal’. He says voting only supports the status quo, and he doesn’t want that on his conscience. Is he right?

– We learned from Uncle Pete why faeces smell.

– Up until only a few years ago, why did intelligent people on battleships and cruise ships think nothing of throwing their rubbish into the sea? Peter the Younger had the answer.

– We discussed the quote: “Every snowflake in an avalanche pleads not guilty.”

– Five months ago, Mr B wrote to the Customer Enquiries section of the NSW Police Force. He wanted to know how he could prepare to best help the police with their procedures if he were to die. He is still waiting for a reply.

– Do people like learning? Or do they like the consequent acquisition of knowledge, and that makes the unpleasant process of learning worthwhile?

– Helmut also talked about learning, and then spoke about the expanding universe and why it must be finite.

– Helmut talked about what will happen to the sun when it gets old. It will expand, he says.

9. Steve Maxwell’s Passing Parade.

Saul Bellow (1915-2005) is described as the man who breathed life into the American novel. He was determined to write at an early age and went on to win the 1976 Nobel Prize for literature. In his youth he studied anthropology and sociology at the Northwest University of Chicago. In winter he would study in the Newberry library’s reading room.

As the cruel winter lifted, hoboes from all over the USA would arrive in Chicago by railway freight cars. They survived on casual work and charity. Among them were soapbox orators. They would set up a speakers’ corner in Washington Square, opposite Newberry Library. This area became known as Bughouse Square.

Saul Bellow described the visitors as a collection of self-made intellectual bums or literary hoboes, who seemed vaguely anarchistic.

Saul wrote a short article, “A Sermon By Doctor Pep” which was published only once by Partisan Review, in 1949. It was Saul’s description of Bughouse Square. The article was probably written before 1939, when Saul Bellow was in his early 20’s.

I have a copy of the article, and I wrote to Saul in 1999. He kindly replied, saying that he had indeed written the article. It was, as he said, “not a piece of fiction. I don’t know what the devil it is!” This was the reason he never republished the work.

The article is written in the first person, as an imaginary monologist soapbox speaker. Saul incorporated all the possible political and religious ideas discussed by the speakers in the Square – not an easy project if you are trying to re-create the atmosphere of Speaker’s Corner on paper.

The article is available on the net, but you have to get your head around the way  Saul Bellow wrote that piece. In the article, Dr Julius Widig is in fact Dr. Ben L. Reitman, an American anarchist and physician to the poor. Dr Reitman was a popular soapbox speaker who married fellow anarchist Emma Goldman.

The monologist often makes references to health, because there were many medical showmen at the time; some were genuine, but most were quacks.

There are also a lot of Biblical references. Both Saul Bellow and Dr.  Reitman were from Jewish backgrounds and Americans understood Bible references.

And, the monologist cited Single-Tax speakers, who were advocates of Henry George’s economic ideas.

Other speakers also spoke in Bughouse Square, with their own ideas on politics and current affairs.

As the hot summer abated and the first chills of Autumn blew across Chicago, the hoboes once again would ‘jump the rattler’ to head south for the winter.

Saul told me, “Bughouse square died when the hobo intellectuals disappeared from the scene just before the outbreak of the World War II.”

References:
https://www.raptisrarebooks.com/product/partisan-review-may-1949-bellow-story-a-sermon-by-doctor-pep-saul-bellow-signed-1949/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Bellow
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bughouse_Square_Debates
Christy, Marian. “Bellow’s Pleasure in Imaginary States.” Boston Globe 15 Nov. 1989: 81-82.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Reitman
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_George

Steve Maxwell

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