Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

Frank William Boreham 1871-1959
A photo F W Boreham took of himself in 1911

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Boreham On Cultivating Absent-Mindedness

The worst crime ever laid to F W Boreham’s charge was the crime of being absent-minded. He distinctly remembered a certain examination day. The visiting inspector tested his class in matters of geography. He asked some question about Western Canada which sent his mind hurtling off on eventful journeys of its own.

All at once the boy sitting next to him gave him a dig with his elbow that almost fractured his ribs and whispered, "Java." Boreham then realised the inspector was looking right at him so he shot up his hand and said, "Java!"

"Exactly,” said the teacher with a patronizing smile. "And now perhaps you will repeat the question that I asked you!" Boreham was floored for his previous question about Canada had dispatched his mind on a personally conducted tour to the Rocky Mountains and he was in the midst of a titanic struggle with a grizzly bear at the very moment when he was being asked about Java.

This happened all the time. His unimaginative teachers insisted on asking their most ridiculous questions concerning Latin declensions and recurring decimals at exciting moments when he was snatching a beautiful girl from the horns of an angry bull, or just when he was pursuing single-handedly a powerful tribe of Iroquois Indians or delivering a charming princess from a blazing palace or winning the Victoria Cross under circumstances of unprecedented gallantry.

What some negatively call absent-mindedness could be interpreted as the very thing that cultivates a fertile imagination. Boreham changed mental gears in many ways‑through sleep, watching cricket, sitting in an armchair chair or going for a walk.

In the preface to one of his books he gives an example of the deliberate cultivation of absent-mindedness: “I have finished the book but not got a title: we must go out this afternoon and get one! We set out for the park...and saw something unusual….The swans were flying high above our heads....although we have visited this idyllic spot once or twice a week for many years, we had never before seen seagulls here...Why?...” So his new book received its title on a walk‑When the Swans Fly High.