Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, May 12, 2006

Boreham on Facing a Crisis

Most of the editorials F W Boreham selected for his book (posted on the web site 'This Day With F W Boreham') are studies of a person. In preparing the post for 20 May I note that Boreham has written a different and interesting reflection on facing a crisis, the different types of crises and it concludes with a biblical reference (rare in his newspaper editorials).

I thought it would be good to post his study on this blog site also. Here it is:

What Is A Crisis
Seeing that they cannot form a trades union, or go on strike, words get worked to death. The word "crisis" is a case in point. We should almost fancy that the world had come to an abrupt end if, on opening the paper some morning, we discovered that no "crisis" had developed during the night. In view of the flippancy with which we employ this threadbare phrase, it is worth a little examination. What is a crisis? The dictionary defines it as the point of time at which an affair must either terminate or suffer a material change: a turning point, a conjuncture. That being so, a crisis may take either of three forms.

There is the Crisis of the Summit—the crisis represented by reaching a point higher than which one cannot go and from which one is compelled to descend.

There is the Crisis of the Valley—the crisis represented by reaching a point lower than which one cannot go and from which one can only ascend.

And there is the Crisis of the Cape—the crisis represented by reaching a point from which one neither ascends nor descends, yet beyond which life assumes an entirely different aspect.

Take, for example, the Crisis of the Summit. A man reaches the zenith of his powers, the climax of his fame, the height of his ambition; and what then? He cannot remain there; he must give way to other climbers and begin the painful descent; and they alone have learned life's lessons truly who, at that stage, face the downward slope with brave hearts and with smiling faces. When we reflect that, in the nature of things, comparatively few men attain that peak of pride, we realise that it is a great thing to have been permitted to plant our feet upon that sunlit height. In the life of Sir Edward Clarke, the eminent Solicitor-General, stress is laid upon a certain June day in 1870. Sir Edward was then at the height of his immense popularity; he was earning a fabulous income; he was in excellent health; and, in his home, he enjoyed an unruffled felicity. In that June day he arranged a domestic excursion and it passed off as happily as he could desire. A week later, his mother's health collapsed: shortly afterwards he had to consult a specialist concerning his wife: and, as the years passed on, the dazzling sunshine yielded to grey skies. To the end of his days, Sir Edward thought of himself as confronting, on that beautiful June day, the Crisis of the Summit.

Art Illumines A Basic Principle Of Life
Perhaps the best illustration of the Crisis of the Valley is the famous picture entitled "The Crisis," by Sir Frank Dicksee, president of the Royal Academy. Those who are familiar with that masterpiece never tire of gazing into the haggard face of the anxious husband as he sits by the bedside of his unconscious wife. As she lies there, propped up with pillows, her thin worn hands outstretched on the white sheet, her wan, pinched face is turned away from him. We are impressed by the contrast between the pitiless indifference of her unconsciousness and the strained intensity with which all his soul is focused upon her. Life is trembling in the balance: the catching of a breath may end it. A single flutter of the tired heart may decide the fearful issue. One finds oneself pausing before the painting as though in hope that, even whilst one waits, the sickness will take a more favourable turn and the agonising suspense be relieved. Both husband and wife are negotiating the Crisis of the Valley. Her crisis is physical: his is emotional: but, with both of them, things have reached their lowest ebb.

Mark Rutherford has a fascinating essay on situations of this kind. His chosen example is a scene from "The Old Curiosity Shop," the scene in which Little Nell so suddenly and dramatically meets once more her old friend, the schoolmaster. The whole story takes a new and happier turn from that point. Mark Rutherford shows that, in the lives of Ulysses and Frederick the Great, there were similar episodes; but he likes the Dickens story best. "For," he says, "Ulysses and Frederick were great heroes, whilst Little Nell was but a tender girl."

The Long Lane That Has At Last A Turning
For the supreme illustration of the Crisis of the Cape we instinctively turn to the life of Huxley. "There is," Huxley declares," a Cape Horn in everyone's life. Those who have voyaged to the Homeland by way of Cape Horn will never forget their sudden emergence into sunnier seas after the wearisome monotony of the endless cold." As applied to himself, Huxley's parable is easy of interpretation. When visiting these southern lands as assistant surgeon on the Rattlesnake, Huxley fell in love with Miss Henrietta Heathorn, of Sydney. But never did the course of true love run less smoothly. He won fame in England, but it brought him no money. Many years passed with all the oceans of the world rolling between the two lovers. And when, at long last he was able to send for her, the doctors reported that she had not six months to live. "Six months or no," exclaimed Huxley, "she is going to be my wife!" They were married: and, from that hour, it seemed as if nothing could go wrong with them. Huxley often looked back upon that tedious struggle and likened it to the passage Home by way of the Cape. Every life, he maintained, has just such experiences.

Most people will discover, as they hold life in retrospect, that it took its colour and character from some crucial point represented by Summit or Valley or Cape. A word charged with such poignant significance should not be lightly used. It has, indeed, been sublimated by being employed as the vehicle of sublime revelation.

"For a crisis am I come into the world," exclaims the central figure of the New Testament story. He obviously means that the man who confronts Him has reached a Summit, a Valley or a Cape. The inescapable fact is that he who comes face to face with life's loftier issues may thenceforth become a better or a worse man; but he can never be quite the same again.

F W Boreham

Image: Frank Dicksee's painting, The Crisis, 1891.

This article also appears on the This Day With F W Boreham web site at: