Eastbourne Memories - A Victorian Perspective

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Chap. XII.]                  Spelling Bees.                               153
under the presidency of a chairman, with a secretary at his side who possessed (or ought to have been chosen because he possessed) a clear good voice. It was his duty to call out certain words, the more puzzling the better, which the performers were required to spell letter "by letter in turn. The performer who made the fewest mistakes in the hour during which the trial of their brains took place, was adjudged to be the prize-winner, or prize-winners in the order of success. How many prizes were awarded, and what they were to be, depended on the financial position of the promoters as made possible by the number and amount of the entrance fees, etc. I must say that I should like to see " Spelling Bees " revived, for they constitute a much more healthy competition than most of those flaunted in the cheap newspapers of the present day.
The following account of a " Bee " held on January 27, 1876 is abridged from the Eastbourne Chronicle :—
"The'Spelling Bee'of the Mutual Improvement Society, held on Thursday' Jan. 27, at the Assembly-room, brought one of the most densely-packed rooms which have ever been seen in East-Bourne—so great was the press, in fact, that scores had to be turned away, and to meet the disappointment thus felt it was at once decided to ' hive another swarm ' on an early occasion. The candidates numbered 60, and included a good proportion of ladies, though the fair sex had all been weeded out before the competitors were reduced to the five who won the prizes. Mr. F. W. H. Cavendish occupied the chair. The candidates were taken in three rounds of twenty, so that the audience might have a better opportunity of identifying the ' spellers.' The Rev. H. R. Whelpton acted as interrogator, assisted by Mr. J. Easter ; and Mr. E. Crake and Mr. W. Esam officiated as referees—the new edition of Webster's Dictionary doing duty as the standard of correctness. Eight words proved sufficient to dress the first score of competitors down to five, 'yield' and 'hypochondriac' doing sweeping execution. Of the second twenty, one stumbled at the first word ' wain,' and the remainder were ruled out by the interrogator for spelling by-law with an ' e,' when Webster gave it without. The referees were appealed to, and in consequence of the word being so frequently spelt ' bye-law,' they decided to allow it as correct.—The Chairman observed that with alJ due deference to Mr. Webster he thought he was wrong (laughter). Thre2 fell at the word 'amanuensis.' ' Eligibility' displaced one lady, while 'feoffee' eliminated from the list no fewer than five competitors, all ladies. Befoie the words ' apophthegm,' 'privilege,' 'systematically,' and 'adventitious,' the competitors vgot small by degrees and beautifully less,' till they were reduced to the number of five. The third twenty next made their appearance, and were first tried with ' lettuce,' which, as might have been expected, proved quite harmless. A chemist's son, above all others, fell a victim to ' laudanum,' while three competitors stumbled at ' apocrypha,' and three ladies and two gentlemen at ' oecumenical.' ' Subpoena ' summoned one lady to the ranks of those who had failed, and ' Deuteronomy ' settled the fate of three other candidates. When five only remained, these were joined by the other ten successful competitors, and then commenced the deciding contest. Three or four hard words were correctly spelled, after which five competitors were ruled out for omitting the ' p ' in 'comptroller,' but these were re-instated on an appeal being made to referees, the word being spelled both ways in the dictionary. 'Periwinkle' proved fatal to two, and 'synecdoche' swept away no less than six, including the last two ladies left. Ultimately the number was reduced to five, and the contest for "places' thereupon ensued. 'Orrery' left three in the vanguard and these were successively assaulted by the words ' unparalleled,' ' oolite,' ' menagerie,'
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