Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Boreham on Nature's Therapy

Nature as Therapist
A further role of nature in Boreham’s writings that developed the linkage between beauty and health was nature’s therapeutic service. The capacity of nature to cure physical ailments was extolled by Boreham. He included testimonies of famous people such as Robert Louis Stevenson who, with his poor health and frail body, felt that the return of spring “gave him a new hold upon existence, and he delighted in compelling his sickly friends to drink of the same invigorating tonic”.[1] In this 1935 editorial, Boreham said that the response of a sick body to the life and warmth of the sun was a principle of nature upon which religion itself is based in which “the frailty of humanity [is] regenerated and revitalized by living contact with the unseen”.

Immersion in Nature
In addition to physical renewal, Boreham wrote revealingly of the wholesome psychological benefits he and his family had gained from an immersion in nature when after the birth of their first two children his wife was afflicted with depression and the family, on doctor’s advice, spent some weeks recuperating at Otago’s Taieri Mouth (named in his books ‘Piripiki Gorge’).[2] Similarly, in 1916 when Boreham’s health broke down his doctor prescribed some weeks at Tasmania’s Wedge Bay.[3]

Tonic of Big Things
In one of his early essays entitled, ‘A tonic of big things’, Boreham wrote of the contribution of nature to one’s mental health: “Immensity is magnificent medicine; that is one reason ... why the doctors send us to the seaside. We forget the tiddley-winking in the contemplation of the tremendous; we lose life’s shallow worries in the vision of unplumbed depths”.[4]

Nature As Nurse
Boreham quoted poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s view of “Nature as a nurse”[5] and the “baffled and frustrated” Mark Rutherford who exclaimed, “I loved to walk until I could see the open water ... The sea was a corrective to the littleness around me”.[6] In one of the few editorials in which Boreham lifted the curtain on his own experience he wrote: “When we miss a train, or mislay a letter or find a social program spoilt by rain, it exercises a steadying effect upon the nerves to reflect that Orion and Pleiades still roll, Niagara still flows, Mt. Everest still wraps his clouds about him, daring a conqueror to tread his summit. The big things are as the big things always were”.[7]

Stellar Therapy
The experience of extreme homesickness had led Boreham to prove that “stars are an excellent medicine for homesick hearts”[8] especially during winter when spirits were often low but when “the early dusk ... provides ample opportunity to survey the stars”.[9] Adding the endorsement of novelist Mark Rutherford, Boreham recommended stellar therapy for soldiers during wartime, suggesting that as they surveyed the galaxies from wherever they were posted the glittering “comrades of the night” would unite them with their loved ones at home.[10]

Prescription for Homesickness
The large number of Boreham’s nature editorials suggests he was seeking to encourage his readers to experience nature’s therapy especially, during the worries of war.[11] However, Boreham was diagnosing a prevalent and deep-seated displacement, homesickness and alienation in the Australian psyche that the war only accentuated. He, like many of his readers, was seeking to feel at home in a country that was strange, harsh and inhospitable. Nature provided familiar reference points that could link people with the home from which they had come while helping them establish a new life in an unfamiliar country and call Australia home.

Geoff Pound

Image: “to the seaside”

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 3 September 1949.
[2] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 167; F W Boreham, The blue flame (London: The Epworth Press, 1930), 160.
[3] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 201-206.
[4] F W Boreham, The luggage of life (London: The Epworth Press, 1912), 178.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 7 June 1941; Age, 11 May 1946.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 28 May 1955.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 10 September 1949.
[8] F W Boreham, The silver shadow (London: The Epworth Press, 1918), 77.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 8 June 1935.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 24 July 1915.
[11] Boreham, The luggage of life, 184.