Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Boreham's Writing During His Retirement: 1928-59

Retired From Obligations
At his retirement in 1928 Boreham absolved himself from the obligation of preparing new material, and, while he wrote some new sermons and editorials, the last thirty-one years saw Boreham drawing largely upon the great fund of manuscripts he had produced in his working life.[1] In 1929, the first year of his retirement, thirty-four percent of Boreham’s editorials were new but by 1939 only seventeen percent of his manuscripts were being submitted to his readers for the first time. J T Soundy’s words to his minister that “you’ll have very few fresh ideas after you’re forty” proved prophetic if not entirely accurate.[2] Writing his autobiography at sixty-nine years of age, Boreham confessed that the diminution of his creative powers came when he was “well past fifty” thus requiring a more regular requisition of manuscripts written in his “livelier years”.[3] His literary output was great until the early 1950s only because of the wealth of the manuscripts from which he was able to draw.

Arrested Progress
Throughout these last thirty years of his life Boreham’s editorials revealed a paucity of fresh ideas and a repetition of old examples and illustrations. He was criticised for constantly referring to old books and appearing to ignore the new ones being written.[4] Boreham had repeatedly warned his readers about the peril of settling down, citing Pitt, Macaulay and Chesterton as examples of significant people who in their latter years displayed “no evidence of mental growth”.[5] When in 1957 he recycled an editorial for the third time under the title ‘Arrested progress’, it appeared that Boreham had unknowingly succumbed to that same danger.[6]

Editorial Stockpiling
A practical matter that affected Boreham’s subject matter was his tendency to stockpile material. He commenced this practice in 1903 when preparing for a six-month trip to England during which he continued his literary commitments with the Otago Daily Times. In the 1920s, F W Boreham made three long overseas trips and prior to the first in 1924 he despatched a year’s supply of editorials to the Mercury. The other reason for stockpiling material was J T Soundy’s comment in 1907 about a person becoming creatively sterile around the age of forty. These words stung Boreham into action for he said, “I began to write as if my very life depended on the number of manuscripts I produced .… I despatched, week by week, the articles needed for that week’s use, and the balance I packed away in boxes .… In spite of my regular output these superfluous screeds accumulated amazingly until there were hundreds of them!”[7] While the stockpiling of editorials enabled Boreham to maintain his literary commitments for a long time this practice meant he increasingly developed an essay style rather than writing editorials that were closely related to time and place.

Writing During WWII
Boreham’s emotional strain and “shattered nerves” in 1916, brought on by stress and anxiety about the war, resulted in him rarely addressing war issues again in his editorials.[8] The articles that did address wartime subjects were mainly recycled editorials.[9] Evidence of “nerves so severely shattered” appeared again during Boreham’s demanding overseas tour in 1928.[10]

In 1942, during the Second World War, Boreham showed further signs of personal stress in editorials on the ‘Art of worrying wisely’[11] and his references to “nature’s shock absorbers in times of stress”.[12] Continuing this theme two months later he wrote, “Never, since this world began, have so many people sought some sort of sanctuary from the pressure of life as at this moment”.[13] A year later he wrote, “Never since the world began have so many people groped frantically for a sane and satisfying philosophy in relation to life’s losses as today .… What is a man to say to himself in the hour of his desolation?”[14] While Boreham’s silence was understandable in view of his emotional frailty and the horrors of war, it was not acceptable in terms of his responsibility as a theologian. Had Boreham been able to voice the questions, the loss, the disempowerment and the desolation of war, he might have better helped the many of whom he spoke who were seeking ‘a sane and satisfying philosophy in relation to life’s losses’ and he might have also found more solace and meaning for himself.

Wounded Editor
While the 1950s were for many Australians a time of growth and hope, but for Boreham this was a despondent time in which he was coping with the death of his daughter, the conclusion of his preaching ministry and the ill health of his wife and himself. Boreham’s mental state affected his editorial writing. The only topical matters he addressed in this decade were the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II,[15] the scaling of Mount Everest (‘Everest conquered a gift to the Queen’),[16] the visit to Hobart of the Queen and Duke[17] and Princess Anne’s love of puppets.[18]

Important news in the Mercury that did not rate a mention in Boreham’s editorials included the installation of the automatic telephone exchange,[19] the emergence of the atomic bomb and the protest movements (which received extensive coverage in the Mercury and the Age in 1954),[20] the federal elections,[21] John Landy’s record running of the mile (28 June 1954),[22] the Korean War,[23] the Empire Games,[24] the waterfront strike[25] and the Olympic Games in Australia, an event which dominated Australian newspapers in November 1956.[26] These examples lead to the impression that Boreham was getting increasingly out of touch.

An inordinate number of Boreham’s editorials in 1955 were written in the minor key in which he spoke about worry,[27] growing old,[28] the need for sanctuary,[29] the loss of children,[30] the pressure of life,[31] healing,[32] death[33] and heaven.[34] It was obvious that Boreham was projecting many of his personal burdens into his writing.

The books that Boreham constantly referred to in his columns were mainly those written prior to or during the Victorian era. It was not that Boreham was living ‘off the overflow’ for he continued to read voraciously, but these were mainly what his biographer called ‘classical novels’. In 1947, he read a vast number of classical novels he had not read before including many by Joseph Conrad. Crago writes, “He had turned to some of the modern novelists, such as Lloyd Douglas—but found little that appealed to him. This was unfortunate, for a remark was now occasionally heard that Boreham’s literary articles were obviously the work of an ageing author, quoting the writers of a past generation little read by the present”.[35]

There are references in his editorials in this later period to events, means of transport and objects that were peculiar to an earlier period. While there is no record of negative responses from his editorial readers such references caused some of Boreham’s published writings to become dated and evoked warnings by homiletical historian Warren Wiersbe to potential readers of Boreham books that they “may consider him sentimental; others may feel he is a relic of a vanished era”.[36]

Geoff Pound

Image: Fellows Street, the street of Boreham’s retirement home in Kew, Melbourne

[1] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 102.
[2] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 198.
[3] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 199.
[4] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 239.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 14 March 1925.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 16 November 1957.
[7] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 199.
[8] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 164-165.
[9] In 1939 Boreham wrote one article with a war theme, Mercury, 23 December 1939; in 1940 there were five articles; two in 1941, none in 1942 (with only three brief references); two in 1943; none in 1944; one oblique reference in 1945.
[10] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 211-213.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 15 August 1942.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 22 August 1942.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 31 October 1942.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 28 August 1943.
[15] Mercury, 30 May 1953.
[16] Mercury, 3 June 1953.
[17] Mercury, 20 February 1954.
[18] Mercury, 13 August 1955.
[19] Mercury, 5 December 1953.
[20] This dominated the news in 1954 and received special coverage in the Mercury, 5 December 1953.
[21] Mercury, 29 May 1954.
[22] Mercury, 28 June 1954.
[23] Mercury, 24 July 1954.
[24] Mercury, 7 August 1954.
[25] Mercury, 6 November 1954.
[26] Mercury, 22 November to 6 December 1956.
[27] Boreham, Mercury, 9 July 1955.
[28] Boreham, Mercury, 3 December 1955.
[29] Boreham, Mercury, 12 March 1955.
[30] Boreham, Mercury, 2 July 1955.
[31] Boreham, Mercury, 21 May 1955; 28 May 1955.
[32] Boreham, Mercury, 19 February 1955; 21 May 1955.
[33] Boreham, Mercury, 1 January 1955.
[34] Boreham, Mercury, 26 February 1955.
[35] Crago, The story of F W Boreham, 241.
[36] Warren W Wiersbe, Moody Monthly, October 1974, 83-87.