Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Boreham on Looking at the Ordinary

Become an Explorer
F W Boreham offered a corrective to blindness or fragmented vision when saying, “To see life steadily and to see it whole, a man must become an explorer, determined to discover and to chart these spacious continents of human experience that have heretofore eluded him”.[1] He understood that the setting of one’s focus on the spacious continent of ordinary or ‘real’ life was the starting point for the sharpening of human vision.

Boreham called representatives of all spheres to a new consideration of ordinary things. In 1913, he detected that politicians and educationalists were grappling with the detachment of learning from life and he added his voice to the call for a return to “establishing some vital relationship between the teaching of the schools and the throbbing actualities of real life”.[2]

Literary Litmus Test
In the field of literature, Boreham declared, “The books we like best are the books that portray life as we ourselves have seen it”.[3] Judging that others shared this same delight, especially in autobiography and biography,[4] he pleaded that “we badly need a few biographies with bad endings”.[5] Boreham supported John Galsworthy’s litmus test for truthful character depiction in the question, “Do men and women in real life talk and dress and behave like this?” [6]Boreham added: “Literature, so far as his work was concerned, should be a mirror to the face of life. His men and women should be the sort of men and women whom one meets in banks and shops and restaurants and picture-shows and railway trains—ordinary but interesting, commonplace but lovable”.[7]

Philosophy of Life
Boreham’s pleaded for connecting historical study to life and this call was extended to other disciplines including the subject of philosophy. In 1954, in an editorial in which Boreham traced ‘The evolution of thought’, he wrote approvingly that philosophy showed signs of turning away from “nebulous theories, abstract propositions, mystifying hypotheses, and occult disquisitions” towards a better and more intelligible condition. In so doing, he observed: “Philosophy’s most monumental discovery, as Maeterlinck[8] pointed out, was the discovery that its primary and particular concern is with life itself. There is nothing in the archives of the past from which philosophy may not learn, nothing in the life of the present that philosophy can afford to ignore; and nothing in the sensational developments of the boundless future into which philosophy, with infinite profit both to itself and humanity, cannot pour its priceless hoard”.[9]

Life is the Theatre
Boreham’s claim, that ordinary life was the raw material upon which all academic research must draw, was restated in reference to philosophy: “Life is the stuff from which the philosopher must weave his magic web. Life is the subject of his investigation; life is the field of his activity; life is the theatre of his service”.[10]

Charm of Reality
Boreham saw himself as voicing the desires of ordinary people for ordinary things when saying, “The vital principle in window-dressing is the principle that the articles displayed in the window shall adequately and enticingly represent the goods in stock”.[11] Throughout his career Boreham perceived a gradual adjustment of the public vision and expressed his delight in claiming that “the outstanding discovery of the twentieth century is the discovery of the charm of reality”.[12]

Geoff Pound

Image: Window Dressing

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 11 December 1954.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 25 October 1913.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 18 February 1933.
[5] F W Boreham, Wisps of wildfire (London: The Epworth Press, 1924), 183.
[6] Boreham, Wisps of wildfire, 183.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 14 August 1948.
[8] Maurice Maeterlinck (1862-1949) was a Belgian playwright, poet, storywriter and essayist who lived most of his life in France and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1911. More information about Maeterlinck can be found in Something about the author Vol. 66 ed Donna Olendorf (Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1991), 154-160.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 9 January 1954.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 9 January 1954.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 2 January 1932.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.