Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Boreham On Letter Writing

Letters in War Zones
An article by Sabrina Tavernise from Baghdad reports on the heroism of the train drivers who carry the mail despite frequently being attacked, the postmen who bravely ride mopeds through gun battles to deliver letters in Dora and the sheer joy of receiving a hand-delivered letter. “It's something wonderful to get a letter,” said Ibrahim Ismail Zaiden, a postman in Dora. “The paper, the stamp, the envelope. It is not just a piece of paper. It is something sacred.”[1] The sacredness of letter writing and reading is also an important theme in the essays and editorials of F W Boreham.

Ministry of Letter Writing
In an age when emails are dashed off often just for pragmatic means of communication it is valuable to reflect on the ministry of letter writing. Frank Boreham had been the recipient of such a ministry. Aubrey Price, a Christian leader in London took Boreham under his wing and continued to write when the young pastor shifted to the southern hemisphere. About these Boreham wrote, “I treasure his letters still.”[2] Reference has already been made to the weekly letters Boreham received from his mother and the vigorous correspondence from his mentor, J J Doke. Influential people such as the New Zealand author Dr Rutherford Waddell and the British Baptist leader, Dr John Clifford wrote letters of encouragement to Frank Boreham early in his writing ministry.[3] In time Boreham exercised a similar ministry to young pastors and youth leaders and put much thought into it. Writing to newly ordained pastor, the Rev Payton, Boreham said: “I shall waft you a heartful of benedictions.”[4]

The Slow Process of Letters
Being a public figure it was inevitable that Boreham would receive some critical letters from his readers. In one essay he wrote about a person who saw the Hobart newspaper advertising Boreham’s Sunday sermon title and sent a letter of two words to the preacher saying, “PREACH CHRIST.”[5] F W Boreham said that his practice in this instance and in responding to other difficult letters was to follow Abraham Lincoln’s practice which was to write a letter, sign a response and then burn it![6] Frank told of one occasion when he got a letter from a crank who had pestered him for some time. Boreham wrote a stinging attack but delayed his reply. As he was going to post the letter he learned that the man had just died.”[7]

Reflective Reading
One of the benefits of a traditional letter (compared to email) is that it can easily be stored, preserved and carried for further reading. This seemed to be Boreham’s practice with special letters. He writes, “I was resting under the shadow of a notable old cypress on a seat to which I make it a practice to repair once a week or so [he is referring to his Thursday afternoon habit of visiting Melbourne’s Botanical Garden]. To this charming retreat I steal away from time to time to read, carefully at leisure, the letters of a certain kind…”[8] Boreham wrote of the enduring ministry of letters and cited the letters of the Bible and Johnson’s impassioned letter to his mother. Many times Boreham declared that the reading of a letter had been the source of inspiration for an essay or sermon.[9] The value he placed on many of the letters is evident when he writes, “Whenever I received a characteristic letter from a friend, a letter that seems saturated in his spirit and echoing with it the merriment of his laughter, I have found it impossible to destroy it.”[10] The letters of literature that have an enduring quality find their endorsement from Boreham when he said, “Many a man does his best work after he is dead.”[11]

The Artistry of Letter Writing
F W Boreham wrote creatively and quirkily about the purpose of envelopes and the role of stamps.[12] At a time when letter writing was losing its appeal, he regularly sought to raise the profile of this ministry. There are at least six editorials in which Boreham asks, Can we write letters?[13] In other articles he calls for “a revival of the high art of letter writing.”[14] In an essay he distils much of his thinking when he writes:
“There is something sacramental about letter writing… You seldom do any harm and often do a world of good by committing to paper the best that is in you…. Like
every well-written letter it is essentially a self-revelation.”[15]

The sacramental quality of letter writing and this exercise in self-expression is hinted at in Boreham’s question, “Who would dream of clicking off a love letter on a typewriter?”[16]

Geoff Pound

Image: The old Letter Box near the Boreham household in Kew, Melbourne. How many letters from FWB did this box receive?

[1] Sabrina Tavernise, ‘Neither War Nor Bombs Stay these Iraqi Couriers’, New York Times, 22 February 2006.
[2] F W Boreham, I Forgot To Say, 79.
[3] Letters from Rutherford Waddell and John Clifford are kept in the F W Boreham Collection, Whitley Colege, Melbourne.
[4] F W Boreham, Cliffs of Opal, 104.
[5] F W Boreham, Rubble of Roseleaves, 93.
[6] F W Boreham, The Fiery Crags, 221; F W Boreham, ‘The Science of Humbug’, Hobart Mercury, 30 March 1940.
[7] F W Boreham, The Crystal Pointers, 40.
[8] F W Boreham, The Three Half-Moons, 43.
[9] F W Boreham, The Silver Shadow, 241.
[10] F W Boreham, The Golden Milestone, 49.
[11] F W Boreham, ‘The Tales That Dead Men Tell’, Hobart Mercury, 10 October 1942.
[12] F W Boreham, ‘Peels and Pods’, Hobart Mercury, 4 September 1954.
[13] F W Boreham, ‘Can we write letters?’ Hobart Mercury, 3 February 1923.
[14] Boreham, Rubble of Roseleaves, 223.
[15] F W Boreham, When The Swans Fly High, 117-123.
[16] F W Boreham, ‘The Personal Touch’, Hobart Mercury, 25 July 1942.