Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Boreham's Editorial Purposes

Motivation and Purpose
This posting seeks to identify the aims that Boreham possessed in writing editorials. What motivated his editorial writing and what was he trying to do?

Delivering Literary Delight
In reflecting on the genre of the essay, literary critic Robert Aswan says: “An essay is a thing of the imagination. If there is information in an essay, it is by-the-by, and if there is an opinion in it, you need not trust it for the long run. A genuine essay has no educative, polemical, or sociopolitical use; it is the movement of a free mind at play”.[1]

Boreham’s acknowledgment of playful delight in the writing and reading of literature is captured well in one of his Mercury articles: “He reads the books as he eats strawberries; not to attempt the creation of a record but for the sheer enjoyment of the thing”.[2] The examination of Boreham’s writing style has revealed the personal pleasure he experienced from the appearance and the sound of words in an editorial. While Boreham’s editorials bore evidence of a ruminative, playful imagination, Aswan’s summation is insufficient to describe Boreham’s editorial goals. His editorials neither lacked a purpose not conveyed a free mind at play. Boreham agreed with Crago’s statement that “he had never written an article for the sake of writing an article. Unless a topic could convey a message it never tempted his pen”.[3]

Editorials to Enlarge and Enrich
Boreham’s aim that his writing might both inform and provide relief and consolation is summed up when he expressed the function of drama “to broaden life’s horizon, to tint it with bright colours and to provide busy people pressed by many cares with an escape from the swords and the common place”.[4] His fondness for editorials that introduced literary figures arose from his contention that “all through the ages, ignorance has blocked the path of progress” but “books, more than anything else, have tended to dispel that ignorance”.[5] Writing in his restrained style, one detects an autobiographical confession and yearning that readers might connect fully with life in all times and places when he stated, “By means of books we escape, live in all lands, sail over all seas and become the citizens of the ages. Enlargement and enrichment must come to the mind of the man who reads Gibbon’s Decline and fall”.[6]

Awakening to the Treasures of History
In the editorials that developed historical themes, Boreham was seeking to awaken his readers to an appreciation of history. His editorials that captured the history of Australia and the British Empire were written in the hope that readers could grow to appreciate their ‘citizenship of the ages’. Boreham believed that telling of the beginnings and the significant chapters in the Australian story would develop social cohesion, national identity and patriotism. The concentration on biographical editorials sprang from Boreham’s view that readers would receive stimulation and inspiration from heroes, not simply by imbibing the ideas of his subjects but by being infused by their philosophy for “we come into personal touch with themselves and bear the impress of their magnetic personalities for ever afterwards”.[7]

Holding a Literary Mirror
Moreover, Boreham believed that readers and congregations “resent the didactic tone, the hortatory attitude” yet “yield instinctively to the suggestive and persuasive touch ... that leads them to answer their own questions, and talks, rather than orates”.[8] Rather than ‘preaching at’ his readers, Boreham’s editorial style was better understood as holding up a mirror to life. Explaining this with examples, Boreham wrote, “By his story of the ewe lamb, Nathan held a mirror to the face of David and brought that monarch to his knees. Shakespeare told us how Hamlet did the same thing by means of the travelling players, for King Claudius”.[9] Recognising that “the Divine voice, wherever and whenever heard, is invariably marked by softness, calmness and restraint ... [and] the most convincing and compelling exhibitions of super human power come to men not in the earthquake nor in the fire, but in a still small voice”, Boreham communicated in undertones.[10] He described this understated style as “poking the fire”[11] and on another occasion he likened his writings to the stars acting as pointers to the Southern Cross saying, “The papers that I have written possess no value or importance of their own; but they point to things that no man can afford to miss: that is their only glory”.[12]

Editorial Writing as Storytelling
Whether Boreham was seeking to inculcate some value or urge readers towards some commitment, he invariably adopted the storytelling method. Stories, Boreham believed, were more likely to hook and hold the attention of readers if they were about life. Of good novels Boreham wrote, “We love them for the sake of the life that is in them”.[13] He maintained that “the best illustrations of conversion are to be found, not in theology, nor even in religious biography, but in fiction”.[14] In a word directed to preachers but containing insight into Boreham’s view of the most effective style he wrote:

"I would, if I could only muster up the courage, say a word to preachers before laying down my pen. Is there any better way of preaching than by storytelling? Indeed, is there any other way of preaching? As soon as the terminology of the pulpit becomes technical and abstract, the tired mind declines to follow; only so long as a picture is being painted or a story told will the hearer maintain an eager pursuit. And, after all, has not the preacher been called to the service of the Most Sublime Story-teller of all the ages?"[15]

This statement is another expression of Boreham’s advocacy for pictures and stories and his abhorrence of technical, abstract thought which he believed was unhelpful for ordinary people seeking to understand ideas. While this assessment may have come from Boreham’s own experience, other writers who promulgated this view included the influential Thomas Macaulay who said, “Logicians may reason about abstractions. But the great mass of men must have images…. Doctrines … must generally be embodied before they can create a strong public feeling”.[16]

Geoff Pound

Image: High Street, the main street of Armadale, Melbourne. A stone's throw from the Armadale Baptist Church. Photo taken through car window at 30 mph!

[1] Robert Aswan, ‘Introduction’, The best American essays ed. Cynthia Ozick (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1998), xv.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 21 March 1942.
[3] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 248.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 4 November 1950.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 31 August 1940.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 31 August 1940.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 31 August 1940.
[8] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 167.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 23 July 1949.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 19 February 1949.
[11] F W Boreham, Rubble and roseleaves (London: The Epworth Press, 1923), 118.
[12] Boreham, The crystal pointers, 8.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 13 August 1955.
[14] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 180.
[15] F W Boreham, The ivory spires (London: The Epworth Press, 1925), 113.
[16] Thomas B Macaulay, “Milton,” in Critical and historical essays by Lord Macaulay (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1874), 10-11.