Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Boreham on Nature and God

Nature Mediating the Spiritual
Historian David Bebbington observes that the quintessence of English romantic verse “has been called ‘natural supernaturalism’ [or] the ability to discern spiritual significance in the everyday world”.[1] F W Boreham believed the tenet of the Romantic poets that nature was a medium for the revelation of the spiritual. However, he did not see nature as the only avenue of truth and could not agree with his mentor Mark Rutherford who claimed that the poet’s “real God is not the God of the Church, but the God of the hills, the abstraction Nature”.[2]

Nature With Personality
His earlier statement about the forests was typical of the endearing way Boreham often imbued nature with personality. He wrote on other occasions of the companionship of the mountains,[3] addressing the two sparrows on his sill as Jack and Jill[4] and the two tall poplars, Gog and Magog, keeping ceaseless vigil at his gate.[5] He interpreted this depth of relationship with nature as “real life speaking to real life”.[6]

Aloof and Detached
While Boreham often wrote of the way the seasons “enter so directly and so intimately into our lives that they seem to become part of us”, he was also conscious of the “unconcerned aloofness and distressing detachment of the seasons” and the way “they behave as though they had no spark of interest in us”.[7] Boreham also recognized nature’s distance in the sea “that holds you at arm’s length and encourages no intimacies”.[8] Similarly, other unattractive features of nature included its terror[9] and its apparent lack of sympathy for the unfit and the weak.[10]

Experience Nature
Like the Romantic poets, Boreham had little regard for religion as a body of propositional truths and continually in his nature editorials he encouraged people into an experience of nature’s wealth. Bernard Reardon’s assessment that a faith focused on nature “spoke so powerfully to the Victorian doubter” helps illumine something of the appeal of Boreham’s nature writings to people who had given up on the institutional church as an agent for truth and a place of worship.[11]

Whetting Appetite for Nature
Writing editorials with a nature theme was one of the ways Boreham sought to whet readers’ appetites for connecting with the creator. Writing at the time of his retirement, Boreham revealed, “I have learned that my quenchless longing for life is, after all, unconsciously, a secret, unutterable yearning after God; for how can you conceive of life apart from Him?”[12]

Hinting and Pointing
For most of his career, Boreham wrote about nature’s important role as educator but he suggested that its greatest contribution was that it “hinted even more”.[13] In this phrase, Boreham was alluding to nature’s disclosure of the creator, in a similar way that he saw his writings as the pointers of the Southern Cross—they “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”.[14]

Nature Story
Boreham expressed most clearly the relationship between nature and God in the story of the naturalist Richard Jeffries.[15] In Boreham’s estimation, “No man was ever more deeply enamored of life than was Richard Jefferies. He simply reveled in it ... life was his passion; it fascinated and hypnotized him”. He had been a lifelong seeker for truth in nature while being suspicious of religion. Reading the Bible a few weeks before his death gave him a vision of life that he had never explored. According to Boreham: “He recognized in Him [Jesus] the life that he so passionately loved in its most attractive and exalted form. It was like turning from the stream to the fountainhead .… He discovered that, although Nature had taught him much, she had failed to teach him the things that he most needed to know, and he reveled in this ampler vision of life that came to him at the last”.

Geoff Pound

Image: “pointers of the Southern Cross.”

[1] Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain, 81.
[2] Bernard M G Reardon, From Coleridge to Gore: A century of religious thought in Britain (London: Longman, 1971), 361.
[3] Boreham, The home of the echoes, 146.
[4] Boreham, A witch’s brewing, 140.
[5] F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the moor (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 127.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 8 June 1935.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 3 May 1947.
[8] Boreham, The last milestone, 59.
[9] Boreham, The home of the echoes, 150.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 27 May 1922.
[11] Reardon, From Coleridge to Gore, 363.
[12] Boreham, The three half moons, 125.
[13] Boreham, The three half moons, 125.
[14] Boreham, The crystal pointers, 8.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 30 October 1948.