From the papers of L.R. Reeve* this record of a remarkable educationalist, mathematician and speaker. He is unknown to Wikipedia and online research reveals very little. He contributed some photographs to the Country in Town exhibition (July 2 to July 16, 1908) at Whitechapel Art Gallery to illustrate 'Day Educational Rambles' in the education section. He appears to have received a double honours degree at London University in Anglo- Saxon and Early English (1901?.) As with many of Reeve's subjects he was a remarkable speaker...
J. W. SAMUEL, B.A.
It was during a conference at the Memorial Hall, Farringdon Street, London, that I first saw J. W. Samuel. He was delivering an address, and I recall vividly the profound impression he made upon me, for I was listening to a man who was one of the most effective speakers in London. He had every attribute required for the highest standard of oratory, and his first essential gift was a perfect delivery. His cultured accent, smoothly expressed, would certainly be my aim if I were to enter a competition in debate, and for some mysterious reason which I could not quite explain, his voice always made me think of Earl Balfour, one of England's greatest statesmen.
Additionally he was a remarkably handsome man, tallish, with a magnificent head of white wavy hair. He had a truly extensive vocabulary, which made him a most persuasive speaker who could, in a debate, demolish most of an opponent's points and, when he occasionally felt that way, would add a little sarcasm to complete his triumph.
I have forgotten the details of a benevolent fund organized during the First World War by teachers, when something like £100,000 was involved; but what I am sure about is that Samuel was chosen to speak on the radio about the fund. Previously some colleagues in the provinces were naturally anxious that a suitable speaker should be chosen for the event. After the broadcast everyone agreed that no other schoolmaster could have been more effective.
Occasionally I met some of his retired staff who reminisced about their old chief. At times he would be seen on his way to a classroom oblivious of any teacher or child and murmuring to himself. As he was not usually an absent-minded man the phenomenon puzzled them. I believe I know the answer to that one. Already a noted spell-binder and frequently called upon for a speech I am pretty sure he was engaged in a preliminary rehearsal. I must admit that at one period of my life, having to make many orations I would take a country walk and practise on the birds, cows and sheep. Samuel never in my hearing claimed to be an extempore performer, and he could never have delivered some of his magic contributions without some previous thought. For less important and shorter occasions he would probably jot down half-a-dozen leading notes and build up his speech. I have not heard whether he practised oratory in front of a mirror, although such a procedure has been known, and I am sure if certain speakers were aware of their unconscious grimaces they would have assiduously rehearsed a more pleasing manner.
He was credited also with a most unusual facility which I have never personally encountered. He would enter a classroom, see an involved multiplication sum on the blackboard, and immediately whisper the answer to an assistant. Asked how he so quickly calculated the result, he always declared he didn't know: he simply visualized the correct solution. Such a procedure is incomprehensible to me, but I have heard of people who have slept on an unsolved problem and found in the morning that they have immediately known the answer. The implication is of course that at times the subconscious takes over and is working independently of the conscious mind.
Having noted his unusual mathematical powers I turn to the question of committees. When he was president he taught us how to conduct a meeting. After his office terminated he was a perfect example of the duties of a member. When he really had nothing to say he sat mute. If someone had previously expressed an opinion with which he agreed he sat silent until the vote, then affirmed in the usual way. He believed in the economy of effort; and as his educational experience was so comprehensive, his advice was frequently sought, and freely given as concisely as possible. Occasionally he made a useful comment on certain resolutions. Once the committee decided to urge the executive of the N.U.T. at Hamilton House to inaugurate a Research Department. Samuel, the only member to mention expenditure, agreed, but stated that to run a successful department the Union must be prepared to be financially generous.
By the by, at times the old Board of Education used to borrow Samuel from the L. C.C. education department to act as an occasional inspector in the provinces. I have to digress also on one engaging trait. Samuel was very proud of the success of his old companions at Borough Road Training College. I am sure he mentioned Raymont whom I have already noted, and Dr Ballard together with three or four other men of mark, and insisted that his year witnessed a very notable batch of students. Most people, I notice, who pose and deride their college are envious men who have neglected their studies while training and have not made the grade.
To return to oratory, some of his acquaintances would declare that he was at his most gracious best when proposing a vote of thanks or making an after dinner speech. Shortly after the First World War a Dominions Evening was organized by the Southwark Teachers' Association. Two teachers from Australia, one from New Zealand and two from South Africa arrived all of whom addressed their hosts after being asked to use both barrels. A most memorable and enlightening evening was the result, and an exceptionally able speech was delivered by a South African woman graduate.
The meeting was rounded off by Samuel, at the top of his form, entertaining us with a superb vote of thanks to the visitors: which to me was the highlight of the evening m an evening which had a happy sequel, for at a subsequent function in London when the two South Africans were present I encountered them again, and the graduate declared that when she returned to Africa her outstanding memory of England would be the felicitous words of Mr J. W. Samuel, as she had never previously heard so wonderful a speaker, nor fully appreciated the magic of oratory.