Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Boreham on The Will to Grow

The Will to Grow
Approaching a new season of the year we take stock of things. Are we getting on? Are we advancing? Are we growing? And with that question of growth another query starts to life. Has anybody elaborated the laws that govern mental growth? When does such development cease? By what rules is it regulated? Why, in some cases, does the body leave the mind so far behind whilst, in others, the intellect continues to expand long after physical growth has ceased? Some years ago Sir William Osler, one of the most eminent professors of medicine that the world has ever known, was particularly fond of discussing such subjects with his students. Sir William was concerned less with the academic than with the practical aspect of the matter. He was desperately anxious that the young medicos under his charge should regard the capture of a diploma, not as the climax of mental development, but as a mere beginning.

As everybody knows, the human adds little or nothing to its stature after attaining its majority. Rich or poor, sickly or strong, men and women of all kinds, classes, colours, and conditions come to the age of twenty-one and cease to grow. But the human mind scorns such hard-and-fast regulations. After a brief period either of lightning or languid growth it may become suddenly stunted and grow no more; or it may continue to develop with steadfast and irresistible persistence until the hair is white and the back bent with age. Is it not on record that:

Cato learned Greek at eighty;

Wrote his grand oedipus, and

Bore off the prize of verse from his

When each had numbered more than four-score

And Theophrastus at four-score and

Had but begun his "Characters of

Chaucer at Woodstock, with the
At sixty wrote the "Canterbury

Goethe at Weimar, toiling to the

Completed "Faust" when eighty years were past.

And yet in contrast with all this there are those who, however long they live, never show any sign of mental progress after leaving school or university.

Send The Patriarchs Back To The Playground
The question inevitably arises: What are we to regard as normal? At what age does intellectual development usually cease? Sir William Osler would have replied that it should not cease at all. In season and out of season, he urged his students to guard against such a calamity. He advised doctors to take every opportunity of renewing their student days. General practitioners should return, as often as possible, to the university classroom and to the hospital ward. Old doctors should get into touch with young beginners fresh from college. Any opportunity of travel should be eagerly embraced. New hobbies should be taken up. No opportunity should be lost of keeping the brain fresh and keen and vigorous. Minds should grow to the very last.

In his lecture on Bassett, Osler hints that, in this respect British doctors have something to learn from their brethren across the Channel. Nothing impressed Bassett more than the incessant industry, even in old age, of the French physicians. And in all his lectures, Osler pours out the vials of his wrath upon those practitioners who, after a few years, divide their patients into about a dozen classes, applying in each case one or other of a dozen stereotyped prescriptions. Such a man has lost the rapture of his calling; he has sacrificed the joy of living; he has become the victim of ruts and routines. In a word, he has committed intellectual suicide! He has ceased to grow. And the trouble is, of course, by no means confined to the distinguished profession of which Sir William Osler was so conspicuous an ornament.

The Men Who Command The Sun To Stand Still
When is a man most in danger of allowing growth to cease? Lord Morley thought that it is in the early thirties that the average man is most tempted to surrender his birthright. In his able analysis of the character of Voltaire, Morley speaks of the thirty-third year as "that earlier climacteric when the men with vision first feel conscious of a past and reflectively mark its shadow. It is then that they either press forward eagerly with new impulse in the way of their high calling, knowing the limitations of circumstance and the hour, or else, fainting, draw back their hand from the plough, and ignobly leave to another or to none the accomplishment of the world." Lord Morley urges men at that critical climacteric not to tremble beneath this grey and ghostly light, but, taking a renewed hold upon life and thought, to make the crisis the precursor of a long, industrious day. Osler, in warning his students of the approach of such a climacteric, was discreetly silent as to the exact period at which such a crisis could be expected.

In the same connection, the professor emphasised the fact that the brilliant findings of Koch in relation to the tuberculosis bacillus, and of Lord Lister in connection with, antiseptics, were acclaimed almost exclusively by the younger men. Growth, in the physical realm, is not a matter of volition; in the intellectual realm it is. Such, tragedies as these need not have occurred and should not have occurred. In the somewhat grotesque literature of epitaphs there are few records finer than the inscription on the tomb at Mentone of John Richard Green, the historian: "He died learning." "If there is anything of interest in my story," writes Mark Pattison in his memoirs, "it is as a story of mental development. I have never ceased to grow, to develop, to discover, up to the very last. While my contemporaries, who started so far ahead of me, fixed their mental horizon before they were thirty-five, mine has been ever enlarging and expanding. Slow as the steps were, they have all been forward." The words seem to smack of a certain smug self-satisfaction; but they were written in old age; and when old age can truthfully make so proud a claim, it may be pardoned for finding the achievement an occasion for some little self-congratulation.

F W Boreham

Image: Boreham in his 80s

This article also appears on the This Day With F W Boreham site---(18 August entry)

Boreham On Attuning Oneself To The Team

Dovetailing Personality
Boreham often pleaded to his readers and hearers to aspire to full individual expression. Such a tendency could easily result in self-centredness, however, a balancing strand in the development of this theme by Boreham was the importance of attuning oneself to the crowd. Recalling his painful experience of controversy, Boreham wrote an editorial about the “dovetailing of personality” in which he said that “our ability to get along comfortably with one another” was one of the greatest sources of personal happiness and the condition that made for the well-being of society.[1]

In Step
Variously he pictured this art of life as “keeping in step with other people”, matching the mood of companions in domino style and “discovering and stressing points of affinity”. Boreham wrote other editorials on this theme, dealing with the nature and importance of friendship[2] and the way that war demonstrated that loyalty to a higher goal was the ingredient that developed a quality of comradeship transcending differences of religion, class and race.[3]

One of a Team
According to Boreham, the attuning of one’s personality to others was essential for achieving both “personal enjoyment and the greater good”. Putting this theme into its widest perspective he wrote: “We are living in a world in which each individual must recognize that he is an instrument in a vast orchestra, a member of a colossal team. Every man is an integral part of a Universe that includes God and Man, time and eternity, and only so far as he can try to attune his personality to everyone and everything in that superb scheme can he hope to attain to happiness himself or to radiate it to those around him”.[4]

Geoff Pound

Image: Each person “is an instrument in a vast orchestra.”

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 19 May 1951.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 20 February 1943.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 18 January 1919.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 10 December 1921.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Boreham on Being Yourself

Boreham asserted the need for each person to value and grow in our sense of our uniqueness.

He said, “He sees as nobody else sees. He must therefore paint or preach or pray or write as nobody else does. He must be himself: must see with his own eyes and utter that vision in the terms of his own personality”.[1] It is likely that this theme had been impressed on Boreham by F B Meyer who championed this thought, and, in turn, had learned from D L Moody that “to do good work in the world he must be himself, not becoming a mere copy of somebody else”.[2]

In calling his readers to become themselves, Boreham was aware of the pressure of expectations saying, “The truth is that man, like a fly in a cobweb, has become entangled in a perfect network of artificialities and affectations. He is continually victimized by custom, habit and precedent. He is a child of fashion. He feels that he must do as everybody does.”[3] Boreham was short on explaining ways that people might overcome the power of conventions, choosing rather to tell inspirational stories of people who had overcome timidity in the quest to become themselves.

Becoming oneself, according to Boreham, involved three main things. First, it involved “seeing through [one’s] own eyes”.[4] In pleading for the development of the individual view, Boreham contended that “most of us do our seeing through other men’s eyes”. Judging paintings by the critics and books by their reviewers, people become like fish that “have lived in the dark so long that they have lost their sight”.[5]

The second component of becoming oneself was to form one’s own opinions. In the practice of seeing with one’s own eyes, Boreham defended his readers against any charge of egotism and encouraged his readers to form their own opinions reckoning that “the most vital opinion a man ever forms is the opinion of himself”.[6] He bolstered the faith of his readers in their unique opinions with the encouragement that each person’s “view of God, Man and of the universe is essentially an individualistic view, he sees as nobody else sees”.[7]

The final step in becoming oneself was that a person seeing through their own eyes and developing their own views “must therefore express himself with the technique of his craft”.[8] Boreham sought to instill within his readers the understanding that because a person’s expression was unique it was, therefore, vital, and even a duty, that it be expressed as only that person can do.[9]

Many of the biographical editorials that Boreham wrote were stories that gave flesh to this truth of a person giving their individuality full expression. He commended Walt Whitman,[10] Thomas Hardy[11] and Hendrik Ibsen[12] for being “outstanding originals”, he lauded Thomas De Quincy whose “every phrase bore originality”[13] and he attributed the popularity of the art of John Constable to the way he “insisted on seeing every object through his own eyes and in depicting it as he himself saw it”.[14]

Boreham also developed the implications of this theme vocationally, as he wrote editorials about the novelist,[15] the biographer,[16] the artist,[17] the botanist,[18] the scientist,[19] the inventor[20] and the explorer.[21] In all these areas Boreham challenged those who thought that the chances of a return to the golden age in their particular sphere were poor by expressing a confidence that if people trusted and exercised their individual talents, then the world would witness an advance on all that has come before.

Always urging people to seize fresh, brighter possibilities for the common good Boreham wrote: “There is a thrill in feeling that the dizziest pinnacles have yet to be climbed; the sweetest songs have yet to be sung; the stateliest poems have yet to be penned; the finest books have yet to be written, the most heroic exploits have yet to be achieved. The peaks still beckon, the top-most crags are calling, a golden age has yet to be ushered in.”[22]

Geoff Pound

Image: Blind Cave Fish--"like fish that have lived in the dark so long that they have lost their sight"...

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 9 September 1950.
[2] W Fullerton, F B Meyer: A biography, 32.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 24 April 1920.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 20 April 1940.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 21 January 1922.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 24 July 1937.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 9 September 1950.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 9 September 1950.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 9 September 1950.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 2 July 1938.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 5 June 1920.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 23 May 1936.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 9 July 1921.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 6 March 1937.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 27 March 1926.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 9 December 1933.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 3 July 1920.
[18] Boreham, Mercury, 29 June 1940.
[19] Boreham, Mercury, 10 January 1948.
[20] Boreham, Mercury, 19 November 1921.
[21] Boreham, Mercury, 1 September 1951.
[22] Boreham, Mercury, 1 September 1951.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Boreham on Lifelong Learning

Full Expression
Boreham once wrote, “The most solemn trust committed to each of us is his personality—the self—the ego—call it what you will. It is the thing that makes me me, a creation quite unique, having no duplicate in all of God’s eternities. And the supreme thing that we each have to do in the theatre of life is to give that individuality its full and natural expression”.[1]

Lifelong Task
Boreham understood that coming to a full expression of one’s individuality was a lifelong task. He had taken adult educational courses through the Tunbridge Wells Mechanics’ Institute[2] that, along with the establishment of friendly societies, represented a response to Enlightenment values and were designed to satisfy many with the “desire to improve themselves and so to push forward the advance of civilization”.[3] In his formative years in London, mentors such as F B Meyer were renowned for their commitment to ongoing learning.[4]

Hares and Tortoises
Boreham frequently invoked Sir William Osler’s injunction to “keep on learning”[5] and, in modernising Aesop’s fable of the hare and the tortoise, he warned readers of brilliant yet tragic ‘hares’ such as Pitt, Macaulay, Dickens[6] and Sheridan.[7] Boreham urged people who had stopped developing or had been distracted to “get running again” by telling stories, as of the novelist, Henry Fielding, whose “laurels only came later, not during his life”,[8] the poet John Dryden who “only really developed after he was fifty”[9] and the historian John Richard Green (another person “who fell under the spell of Gibbon”) whose life was summed up in the three words inscribed on his gravestone at Mentone—“he died learning”.[10]

Every Stage of Life
A further development of the theme of ‘lifelong learning’ was Boreham’s regular reflections on the different stages of life: childhood,[11] youth[12] and the “autumnal stage of life”.[13] At the age of fifty, without disclosing his own age, Boreham began to write editorials on significant points in a person’s life—‘Life at fifty’, the age of entry to “the gates of a new world” where people should be encouraged to do their best work,[14] the age of sixty which signalled the “years of harvest, years of fruitage, the best years of all”[15] and seventy, when “the average man only begins to feel himself master of his chosen task”.[16] Repeatedly throughout these articles Boreham was asking the question, “When is a man at his best?”[17]

Geoff Pound

Image: F B Meyer, a early influence on FWB

[1] F W Boreham, When the swans fly high, (London: The Epworth Press), 131.
[2] T Howard Crago, The story of F W Boreham (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1961), 23. D J Palmer says that these institutes were founded in 1823 to give working men an understanding of the scientific principles underlying their new mechanical trades, but from the beginning the appetite for useful knowledge, and for self-improvement, took other forms as well, such as the teaching of English studies. By 1850 there were 500 institutes in England. In D J Palmer, The rise of English studies (London: Oxford University Press, 1965), 31-32.
[3] D Bebbington, Patterns in history: A Christian perspective on historical thought, 84.
[4] W Y Fullerton, F B Meyer: A biography (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1929), 10.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 10 May 1919.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 19 July 1947.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 17 March 1934.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 27 November 1920.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 31 July 1926.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 10 May 1919.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 1 January 1921.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 21 November 1942.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 29 April 1950.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 5 March 1921.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 29 April 1950.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 8 January 1944.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 11 February 1939.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Boreham on the Worth of the Individual

F W Boreham saw that an essential ingredient of growing in self-recognition was coming to a truthful assessment of one’s worth. Perhaps it was his recollection of “the greatest sensation that I have ever known” that underscored the importance of this lifelong theme of Boreham’s ministry when, at the age of sixteen, he arrived in London and under the shadow of St Paul’s found himself “shivering in the thick of the crowd at [his] own utter loneliness”.[1] Later he wrote about the law by which “the entity of the tree is lost in the immensity of the forest” and the challenge of how one makes “the individual tree conscious of its importance as an integral unit in the forest”.[2]

Usually on the occasion of a national census, Boreham would remind his readers that the government’s “national stocktaking” was a “terrific leveller” yet “superficial” for “the strength of a nation is in the intrinsic worth of each citizen”.[3] While politicians were exultant in 1950 over the record-breaking news that the population of Australia had exceeded 8 million people, Boreham conceded that there was some value in a census but said “of individuality the statistician ... knows nothing” and that reporting on the growth of numbers “tends to undermine the sense of individual responsibility”.[4]

Boreham repeatedly ridiculed the counting of heads, recalling the story of Gideon to expose “the futility of numbers”[5] and emphasising the limitations of a census in being unable to classify “a nation’s greatest asset [which] is in the fibre and quality of its manhood”.[6] Scoffing yet again at Australia’s national “tape measure”, Boreham asserted his convictions about the “essential immeasurability of Man”, the “refusal of humanity to be pigeon-holed” and the truth that “things are not to be judged by the noise they make or the space they occupy”.[7]

Moving into poetic mode, Boreham conveyed to his readers a sense of their individual worth and their centrality in the cosmic scope of things when writing:

"If he regards himself as being about six feet high, he will be content to live a six-foot life and to go down at last to a six-foot grave. But if he thinks of himself as striding through immensities, with solar systems revolving around his ankles and his head in eternity, he instinctively feels it would be an unthinkable desecration of the boundless potentiality of his wondrous being to degrade them by harnessing them to unworthy or ignoble ends."[8]

Geoff Pound

[1] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 58-59.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 22 May 1943.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 2 April 1921.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 12 August 1950.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 12 August 1950.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 28 June 1947.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 15 October 1938.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 4 June 1949.

Boreham on the Value of Mirrors

Life in a Looking Glass
It was on or about July 2, 1835, that it flashed on the mind of Baron Justus Liebig that, if one side of a sheet of glass were coated with an ammoniacal solution of nitrate of silver, the other side would fling back the image presented to it instead of allowing it to pass through.

Nature, as any astronomer will testify, achieves many of its most lustrous triumphs by cunning processes of reflection. Anybody who has admired the indescribable beauty of a night on which sea and shore are bathed in silver, knows how much we owe to an orb whose effulgence is purely a reflected splendour. Nor can anyone journey up the Derwent to New Norfolk under favourable atmospheric conditions without being entranced by the exquisite loveliness of the reflections on either side of the river. Like the graceful bird on St. Mary's Lake that Wordsworth described as "floating double, swan and shadow," every object is presented in colourful duplicate. Such pleasing effects are among Nature's masterpieces.

One of the most thrilling episodes in Sir Hall Caine's "Scapegoat" is the scene in which Naomi, the blind girl, who has recently recovered her sight, sees her own fair image in the water. Her father tries to explain the phenomenon; but it is not easy. "There was something ghostly in this thing that was herself and yet not herself." But when at last she had overcome her terror, the vision fascinated her. She could scarcely tear herself away from the beauteous apparition. If John Milton is to be believed—and he assumes the air of an eyewitness—something of the kind occurred in the Garden of Eden. Eve, to her rapturous delight, came upon a tranquil lake in whose crystalline waters she was able, while seated on the grassy bank, to admire her own comely reflection. She herself tells the story:

As I bent down to look, first opposite
A shape within the watery gleam
Bending to look on me: I started back,
It started back; but,
pleased, I soon returned.
Pleased it returned as soon with answering
Of sympathy and love.

From that time to this, looking glasses have been fairly popular contrivances.

We Get From Life What We Give
The reason is obvious. In his "Fair as the Morn," Temple Bailey tells of a quaint old Swedish inn, on the wall of which the landlord had inscribed the legend: "You will find here excellent meat, excellent bread, and excellent wine—provided you bring it with you!" The words represent the law of the looking glass. Bring beauty to it, and it will present you with a picture of loveliness; bring ugliness and you will find ugliness confronting you. Life is like that. Mr. A. C. Benson tells of a holiday that he spent in a tiny English village as the guest of the local schoolmaster. In walking about the little place with his genial host, Mr. Benson was impressed by the delightful manners of all the children that they chanced to meet. On making inquiries, Mr. Benson was told that, when the dominie first settled in the district, the behaviour of the young people was appalling. Realising that scolding would be useless, the new master was careful to treat all the inhabitants, young and old, with the most charming politeness; and the conduct that Mr. Benson so much admired was simply the reflection of the schoolmaster's old-world courtesies.

In his "La Sagesse et la Destinee," Maeterlinck declares that nothing befalls us that is not of the nature of ourselves. "Go where you will, none but yourself shall you meet on the highway of fate. If Judas go forth tonight, it is towards Judas that his steps will tend, nor will chance for betrayal be lacking; but let Socrates open his door and he shall find Socrates asleep on the threshhold before him and there will be occasion for Wisdom." And Emerson argues that, if we meet no gods, it is because we harbour none; if there is grandeur in a man, he adds, that man will find grandeur in porters and in sweeps.

Literature Holds Its Mirror To Life
The ideal friend, by his unaffected sincerity, delights us and rebukes us. But they rebuke us as the mirrors do. Bret Harte has told us how the proprietor of Tuttle's store spruced up the rough miners of Roaring Camp. He said not a word; but he hung looking glasses round the store. And when the men, lounging round the place, caught sight of their reflections, they resolved to pay some attention to their personal appearance. Books exercise the same subtle and valuable ministry. By his story of the ewe lamb, Nathan held a mirror to the face of David, and brought that monarch to his knees. Shakespeare has told us how Hamlet did the same thing, by means of the travelling players, for King Claudius. Our best novelists and dramatists invariably render us this service. It is good for a man, lounging with his novel beside a cheerful fire, to see his own little hypocrisies reflected in the hypocrisies of Uriah Heep; to see his own petty selfishness in the selfishness of Mr. Dombey; to see his own vacillations and inconsistencies exaggerated but reflected in the oddities of Mr. Micawber; and to see the possibilities of his own retrieval and redemption in the noble self-sacrifice of Sydney Carton.

No man has come in sight of the sublime possibilities that life holds for him until he has looked straight into his own eyes and peered down into the abysmal depths of his inner being. It is at this crucial point that the idyll of the Prodigal Son becomes so startlingly significant and revealing. When the fortunes of the Wanderer had fallen to their lowest ebb, and starvation seemed inevitable, he suddenly came to himself. At that magic touchstone, the real tragedy stands exposed. His alienation was an alienation from himself. He had neglected himself, forgotten himself, lost himself. Then, like one who abruptly confronts his own image in a mirror, he was for the first time introduced to his real self. The statement that he immediately arose and returned to his father represents the natural corollary and felicitous climax of that self-revealing process.

F W Boreham

This editorial also appears on the This Day With F W Boreham blog site at:

Monday, August 28, 2006

Boreham and Life in all its Fulness

‘Realising full expression’ was a major theme in F W Boreham’s writings and it was shaped by his understanding of the Bible and the social climate of Victorian England. Dickens in his novels preached a doctrine of self-improvement and Macaulay in his History of England charts the social, moral and intellectual progress of the nation.

Here is an example of Boreham sounding this theme of becoming in his New Year editorial of 1921:

“Each individual life is a sublime experiment. Each personality on the planet is a novelty; it is absolutely unique; nothing like it has ever appeared before. The highest attainment in life lies in making the best of ourselves .… Australia ... is in the plastic stage of its history .… Many problems have to be solved and much work done. The nation needs the buoyant enthusiasm of her young citizens and the ripe wisdom of those more experienced.[1]

While Boreham was often liberal in his use of superlatives, he underlined the importance of this theme by stating, “The highest attainment in life lies in making the best of ourselves.” In a staccato style and with an ecstatic mood, Boreham presented this major theme pointing to its two related foci—the importance of each individual reaching their potential and the essential need for the nation to become all that it is meant to be.

You are a ‘sublime experiment’. You are a ‘novelty’. Nothing like you has ever appeared before. So let’s make the best of ourselves and help our world to become all that it was created to be.

Geoff Pound

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 1 January 1921.