Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Boreham the Editorialist

Editorial Record
On 3 September 1949 readers of the leading daily paper in Hobart, Tasmania, were informed of a remarkable achievement that, “for about 37 years the scholarly editorials of Dr F W Boreham—the one published on this page today is the 2000th—have been a widely read feature of the Mercury each Saturday”.[1] The article highlighted the fact that the long series of editorials by Boreham had commenced “as a stop-gap arrangement” when the then editor died and had continued following the appointment of a new editor. When F W Boreham left Hobart in 1916 for Melbourne, he undertook to send editorials until his successor was appointed. However, the anniversary article reported, that “in the absence of such an appointment the matter has rested on that basis for 33 years”.

From 1934 until 1943, Boreham added to his responsibilities when he wrote two editorials (usually Easter and Christmas) each year for the Melbourne Argus.[2] In 1936, he commenced submitting fortnightly essays to the Literary Supplement of the Age. His writing responsibilities were extended further when in 1945, at the age of seventy-four, Boreham accepted the invitation to write weekly lead editorials for the Age. These essays and editorials to Melbourne’s major daily did not represent entirely new work for Boreham was an unashamed recycler of words and stories.[3] Boreham furnished the Mercury and the Age with weekly editorials until two weeks before his death on 18 May 1959. On the way to the Royal Melbourne Hospital Boreham handed his son a bundle of editorials which supplied the papers with weekly editorials for several months following his hospitalization and death.[4]

I was inspired by F W Boreham’s role and record as a writer for newspapers. That is why I wrote a dissertation focusing on this important part of his ministry. In my thesis I examined the almost 3,000 editorials that Boreham wrote for the Mercury and the Age between 1912 and 1959. The thesis explored the content of the editorials, identified the major themes and tried to elucidate his motivation for writing. These were some of the questions that tantalized me:

Why did Boreham write? What constrained his writing vocation that commenced earlier than his preaching career and continued for several years after his retirement from the pulpit? Several times in jest, Boreham spoke of his “incontinent pen”.[5] Could he not help himself? Was he motivated by a sense of self-aggrandizement and a lust to see himself in print? Did he see himself as educator or entertainer? Did he regard writing as an essential part of his vocation and the outworking of his ordination to the Christian ministry? Was Boreham following a brief established and regulated by the editors of the newspapers or did he enjoy an unshackled literary freedom?

Relationship to Other Genre?
In writing about Boreham’s published essays, Dr Ian McLaren has concluded that “most originated as sermons to responsive congregations”.[6] Similarly, what evidence is there to reveal the starting point and stimulus for Boreham’s editorial writing? Did the regular discipline of sermon writing fuel the weekly editorials or vice-versa?

When in 1954 Boreham received the Order of the British Empire, the citation that accompanied the award read, “In recognition of his distinguished services to religion and literature as preacher and essayist”.[7] This honour suggests a tantalising connection between Boreham’s primary contributions. I have tried to illumine the relationship between the sermons and essays published in Boreham’s books and his newspaper editorials. I looked for clues concerning the methods Boreham adopted in composing material that was used in these different formats.

As Boreham wrote in the various capacities of journalist, preacher, politician, lecturer, editor, biographer, autobiographer, diarist, poet[8], hymnist[9] and letter writer in addition to essayist, it is good to attempt to distil the essential Boreham literary style and, in particular, the style he adopted in the writing of newspaper editorials.

Recognising Alexander Pope’s expectation, “How the wit brightens. How the style refines”, it is important to mark the development of Boreham’s written style.[10] Boreham often wrote as a literary critic, so what clues can we find as to what he perceived to be an excellent writing style? Who are the writers that Boreham judged to be worthy of emulation and how did they shape his literary style?

Connection with Faith?
The heart of the dissertation focuses on the interplay of faith and life in Boreham’s newspaper editorials. Recognizing that he was a Baptist preacher at the same time as an editorialist, it is intriguing to explore the extent to which Boreham’s articles offer a faith or religious perspective to the readers of the newspaper in a similar way that he did in his sermons and books. Did Boreham consider it appropriate to use his columns to preach and persuade his readers to turn to God and accept spiritual truths?

Who Was His Audience?
A distinctive aspect of Boreham’s editorial writing was the audience that he was seeking to address. His published books and his submissions to Christian magazines and papers could be seen as preaching to the converted. In contrast, however, Boreham’s contributions to the Mercury and the Age were geared to a general readership. In these editorials he had in mind the thousands of people in Tasmania and Victoria who would pick up or have delivered the paper on a Saturday morning.[11] Boreham was greatly aware of the privilege and importance of his role as leader writer and in 1949, concerning his association with the Mercury, he said he was, “Unconscionably proud of the fact that, in 37 years, no article has ever been returned to him and, as far as he knows, no article has ever been altered”.[12]

In the current climate, when there are repeated calls for theology to be worked out and heard afresh in the public sphere, Boreham’s weekly editorials for the readers of two leading Australian newspapers over forty-seven years, make them worthy of attention.

Geoff Pound

Image: A page from the Hobart Mercury.

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 3 September 1949. The newspaper editorials are not attributed but for the purposes of this study Boreham is cited as the author of the text.
[2] The Argus was launched in 1846 (eight years before the Age commenced) and it folded in 1957. At the time when Boreham wrote occasional articles for the Argus, it was one of three morning dailies in Melbourne. Boreham wrote a total of fifteen editorials for the Argus.
[3] For further information see L L Newnham, 'Recycling by Dr F W Boreham', Our yesterdays 5 (1997): 70-79.
[4] Frank R Boreham, interview by author, Templestowe, Vic., 26 July 1996. Also C Irving Benson, ‘Dr Frank W Boreham- The man and the writer’, in F W Boreham, The last milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1961), 10.
[5] F W Boreham, The passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 7.
[6] ADB, s.v. “F W Boreham.”
[7] This medal and citation is on display at the F W Boreham Mission Training Centre, Australian Baptist Missionary Society Headquarters, Auburn, Vic.
[8] Poems written for friends and family members appear in Boreham’s personal papers, F W Boreham Collection, Whitley College Library. A patriotic poem written at the British victory in Mafeking appears in T Howard Crago, The story of F W Boreham (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1961), 86-87.
[9] Crago recalls that Boreham often wrote hymns for services at Mosgiel and Hobart in Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 190. The only published hymn that Boreham wrote is the baptismal hymn, Eternal Father, whose great love, No. 288 in The Baptist hymn book, H Martin, et al, ed., (London: Psalms and Hymns Trust, 1962), 359.
[10] Alexander Pope, An essay on criticism, l. 51.
[11] Most of Boreham’s editorials were written to be printed on a Saturday morning, apart from contributions he was asked to write for special editions geared to ‘red letter’ days such as Anzac Day, Easter or Christmas.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 3 September 1949.