Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Man Who Saved Gandhi: Part 7

Mr. Doke was a natural humorist. I shall never forget the triumphs that he achieved by his faculty for fun. I never knew a man in whom holiness and humour blended as they did in him. I have known many good men who loved to laugh; but the goodness and the laughter seemed somehow to dwell in separate compartments of their being. When they were laughing you temporarily forgot their devoutness; and when they were praying you forgot their peals of merriment. But with Mr. Doke it was quite otherwise. The ingredients, both of his humour and of his piety, were such that they blended most perfectly, and you could never tell where the one ended and the other began. And this remarkable trait was used by him for all it was worth. It happened that Mr. Doke's sojourn in New Zealand synchronized with a trying period of storm and stress in the history of our Missionary Society. It was a most grave and anxious time for all of us, and I shall never forget how, time after time, his tactful wit would save a most delicate and threatening situation. Mr. Chesterton says that the discovery of nonsense was the greatest revelation of the nineteenth century. That being so, Mr. Doke deserves to be ranked as one of our greatest discoverers, for he saw, as few men saw, the inestimable value of that magic and potent force.

I can recall occasions when we had been sitting for hours anxiously discussing a depressing and apparently impossible situation, until our patience was. exhausted, and our nerves unstrung. Out of sheer weariness and vexation we might easily have committed any sort of indiscretion. But over there in the corner sits Mr. Doke. He is taking out his pencil. In a moment or two, he has finished his work. With a few deft strokes he has, struck off an irresistibly comical cartoon, caricaturing some ridiculous phase in the trying affair, and focusing, in the drollest possible way, the humorous side of the knotty question. The cartoon was handed round, and we laughed immoderately over the product of Mr. Doke's captivating genius. A new atmosphere straightway enveloped the debate. The interruption was as refreshing as an hour's sleep or a delicious cup of tea. It was as though, a window having been opened in a stuffy room, the place had suddenly been filled with fresh and perfume-laden air. We settled down to work again with clearer brains, cheerier hearts and sweeter tempers.

This was in Committee; but he waved the same magic wand over the assembly. I remember a very painful debate that took place in those trying days. The question was as to whether or not certain letters should have been written. Some telling speeches had been made, and feeling was running very high. At length the time for voting arrived, and it looked as though the assembly would not only censure its officers, but perhaps precipitate a cleavage that many years would scarcely heal. The chairman rose to put the motion. The atmosphere was distinctly electrical and charged with tensest feeling. In the nick of time, Mr. Doke cried, “Mr. President,” and came striding down the aisle. I can see him now as he turned to address us. “Mr. President,” he said, “is it not possible that both sides are right? Is it not possible that we are each reading into these troublesome letters our own strong feeling? Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time a man had two children, a boy and a girl. In course of time, the boy became refractory and ran away from home. He was not heard of again for many years. The girl remained at her father's side and was his constant stay and comforter. Just as the old man had given up all hope of again hearing from his son, a letter arrived. But neither father nor daughter had been to school and they could not read it.”

“Let us take it down to the butcher, father!” the daughter suggested. “He can read, and he will tell us what Tom say.” To the butcher they accordingly hastened. Now, the butcher was a gruff, sour, surly old man, and they were unfortunate enough to find him in one of his nastiest moods. He tore open the letter with a grunt, withdrew it from its envelope and read: “Dear father, I'm very ill; send me some money, Yours, Tom.” “The rascal!” the old man exclaimed indignantly, “he only wants my money. He shan't have a single penny!” They turned away sorrowfully, and set off towards home. But, on the way, another thought visited the daughter. “Father,” she said, “What do you say to going to the baker? The butcher may have made a mistake. The baker can read, too; and he is a kind, Christian man. Let us go to him!” And to the baker's they went. Now the baker was a genial, gracious soul, with a voice tremulous with feeling and resonant with sympathy. He gently took the letter from its envelope and read: “Dear father, I'm very ill; send me some money, Yours, Tom” “The poor boy,” the old man cried, brushing away a tear, “how much can we send him?”

The whole assembly was in the best of good humour at once. The application was obvious. It was as though the lowering thundercloud had broken in refreshing summer rain. The air was cleared, and the flowers were exhaling their choicest fragrance in the sunshine that followed the storm. Mr. Doke's beautiful personality had cast its spell over us all. We felt that we wanted an interval in which to shake hands with each other. He made a suggestion in closing that would obviate all risk of further complications. Both sides snatched at it eagerly; and the painful episode closed with expressions of the most cordial goodwill.

He was a past master at this sort of thing. His sword, as the prophet would say, was bathed in heaven. He could rebuke in such a way that the person corrected felt as if a compliment had been paid him. I remember how, at Wellington, when he was President of the Conference, a deputation from the other churches of the city attended to convey fraternal greetings. It was at the end of a long session. I suppose we were weary and off our guard. Anyhow, we kept our seats as our visitors walked up the aisle to the rostrum. Mr. Doke was, of course, standing to receive them, shaking hands with each as they mounted the dais. “Brethren,” he then exclaimed, “every man in this standing assembly welcomes you!” We sprang to our feet feeling very much ashamed of ourselves, and profited by the reproof on every similar occasion in the days that followed.

I once accompanied him to a social function to which a young minister had brought the girl to whom he was engaged. The minister was walking about the hall chatting to his numerous friend,: his prospective bride was sitting with a group of ladies in a corner. The minister, being well-known, was quickly supplied with a cup of coffee. He was just about to lift it to his lips when Mr. Doke intervened. Taking his hand, Mr. Doke gently led him to the corner in which his lady-love was seated. “Oh, Miss Pemberton,” he exclaimed, “I'm afraid they're a little slow in serving the coffee, but Mr. Swain has managed to secure you a cup. And how are you enjoying yourself?” And so on. He did this kind of thing with such perfect ease and such natural grace that a rap on the knuckles from him felt for all the world like a caress.

F W Boreham