Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, March 03, 2006

The Man Who Saved Gandhi: Part 4

Nothing contributed more to the happiness and enrichment of our lives at Mosgiel than his visits to our manse. I was ten years his junior. Whilst never making me feel that he was presuming upon his seniority, he always impressed me as being intensely anxious that I should acquire, without the toil of patient and laborious search, the intellectual and spiritual wealth that he had gathered in the course of those extra years of pilgrimage. Seated on the broad and sunlit veranda of my Mosgiel manse, he would pour the golden treasure of his mind and heart into my hungry ear. All that he had learned about the choice of books, about systems of study, about the conduct of public worship, about the art of preaching, and about the best method of pastoral visitation, he endeavoured, in its entirety, to impart to me.

He was particularly anxious about my library and the use I made of its contents. In the absence of a college education, he owed everything to the books that he had privately purchased and devoured. “Read, my dear man,” he exclaimed, one day, springing to his feet in his excitement and pacing the veranda in his characteristic way, “Read; and read systematically; and keep on reading; never give up!”

“But give me a start,” I pleaded, “be definite; what shall I read first?” He walked the whole length of the veranda and back without replying. Then, approaching me with eyes that positively burned, he cried with tremendous emphasis: “Begin with Gibbon! Read Gibbon through and through! Don't drop it because the first volume seems dry! Keep right on, and you'll soon have no time for bed and no inclination to sleep even if you go there!”

I bought Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire the very next day. I would give a king's ransom‑always assuming that I possess such a thing‑to recapture the wild excitement of that magnificent adventure. It was my first serious incursion into the world of books. In my boyhood and youth I had read hundreds of books; books, for the most part, about pirates, Red Indians and grizzly bears, followed by a shelf or two of love stories and other romances of a sentimental kind. But what was this to the glory of Gibbon? I have the volumes still; and if, one of these days, I have either to sell them or starve, I tremble to think that I may by that time have fallen so low as to consent to their sacrifice. None of the tales of smuggler caves, or escapes in the jungle, or fights with sheiks and cannibals had ever fired my fancy as Gibbon did. Every chapter seemed to be a more gorgeous painting and a more spacious canvas than the one that preceded it. My imagination was so captivated by the swaying hordes of Goths and Huns, Vandals and Saracens that I started in my sleep as this imposing and variegated pageant of martial movement swept majestically through my dreams. My unfortunate and long-suffering little congregation was dumbfounded by the discovery that, whether the text were taken from Psalm or Gospel or Epistle, it could only be effectively expounded by copious references to the Avars, the Sabians, the Moguls and the Lombards, and could only he successfully illustrated by romantic stories about the hermits, the caliphs, the crusaders and the monks. Roman emperors stalked majestically through every prayer meeting address. Mosgiel was as astonished as ancient Gaul had been at finding itself suddenly invaded by the Roman legions! Poor little congregation! They did not suspect that their young minister had burst upon a new planet and that his brain was all in a whirl at the splendour of the discoveries that he was daily making!
For me, this intensive study of Gibbon, under Mr. Doke's supervision, led to a sequel that has coloured all my days. For, before I had finished the final volume, I found myself late one night in the office of Mr. (afterwards Sir) George Fenwick, the editor of the Otago Daily Times. I discovered that Mr. Fenwick was toying with the idea of inviting me to write leading articles on special subjects, for his paper. “Tomorrow's leader has yet to be written,” he remarked; “if you had to write it, what would you say?”

It chanced that, at that moment, all the young men in New Zealand were struggling to join the contingents that were being dispatched to South Africa. This historic development exactly synchronised with my excitement over Gibbon. “If I were writing to-morrow's leader,” I replied, with confidence, “I should establish a contrast between the patriotic eagerness of these young men to serve in South Africa and the shameful reluctance of young Romans to defend the Empire in the days of its decline and fall.” “That sounds promising,” Mr. Fenwick replied; suppose you sit down and write it!”

Next morning, in the big kitchen of the Mosgiel manse, a young minister and his wife gazed upon the leading article in that day's paper with a pride such as Lucifer can never have known. Thus Gibbon‑my first purchase under Mr. Doke's scheme‑paid for himself, as most of my books have done. For, from that hour, at Mr. Fenwick's invitation, I wrote leading articles for the Otago Daily Times on all kinds of historical scientific and literary themes. And, after leaving New Zealand I found ample scope for similar service on other daily papers. I have written more than two thousand leading articles in all.[1] Many of these have become the germs from which the essays published in my books have subsequently developed. When Mr. Fenwick received his knighthood, he assured me, in acknowledging my sincere felicitations, that he had often smiled over the recollection of our chat in his office on that bitter winter's night in the long, long ago.

F W Boreham

[1] Boreham wrote this book in 1948 so by the time his editorial writing finished (1959) he had written more than 3,000 editorials,GP.