Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Boreham on Nature's Mediation

Nature as Mediator
F W Boreham recognized that one of the endearing features of nature was its ability to unify disparate parts of creation in ways that mediated peace. Beyond the steadying role of the stars in linking home with home and land with land, Boreham perceived that the night skies united the present age with other ages. Writing during the First World War, he said: “The stars unite us, at one and the same time, to the stateliest traditions of a splendid past, and to that new world which must arise, Phoenix-like, out of the lurid conflagration that we at present witness”.[1]

Celestial Links
These celestial monuments renewed hopeful memories and radiated life in a similar way to the terrestrial monuments that Boreham applauded as discussed in chapter six. In an editorial entitled, ‘The unities of the universe’, Boreham suggested that stars not only reminded but tangibly linked readers to the pioneers who endured similar struggles in early Australia. Upon his return to the pristine bush of Tasmania’s Wedge Bay, his reflection led him back further in time: “Here as it was in the beginning it is now and ever shall be world without end and it is restful to saturate oneself in the brooding silence of the primeval forest. I like to sit in this quiet cove where I picnicked two years ago and to reflect that it is today exactly as it was in the days of Caesar”.[2]

Brooding Silence
In 1901, the silence of the bush had become the context about which the Bulletin editor A G Stephens had coined the idea of “the Great Australian silence”[3]—an emerging myth that denoted colonial conquest, emptiness, unfamiliarity towards the new land and alienation from nature.[4] In contrast, imagining the perfection of Eden, Boreham was alluding to the capacity of nature’s ‘brooding silence’ to unite Australians with each other and to reconcile them with creation’s source.

Glittering Orbs
Not wanting to remain focused on some Arcadia, further consideration of the “ageless”[5] quality of the stars caused Boreham to project forward the minds of his Australian readers when saying, “Those glittering orbs unite us with the millions who will populate these Southern lands in the great days when all our dreams for Australia have splendidly come true”.[6] In a similar way to the role of history, Boreham emphasized nature’s gift of connecting people in the present age with all the ages. This linking could be achieved privately and individually but nature was also able to forge communal connections. The delight of witnessing the first swallow, thereby signaling the arrival of another summer, united Boreham with others who relished this experience. “The pleasure I get out of something shared,” he said, “I share it with all the world and all the ages”.[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: “the first swallow”

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 24 July 1915.
[2] F W Boreham, The golden milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 109.
[3] A G Stephens, ‘Voices from the basket’, Bulletin, 28 December 1901.
[4] Jane Belfrage, ‘The great Australian silence: Inside space, May 1994,
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 15 June 1940.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 8 June 1935.
[7] Boreham, The golden milestone, 34.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Boreham Blog Question

Now for something lighter:

What do Margaret Atwood (novelist), Harry Belafonte (singer), John Kenneth Galbraith (economist), Kenneth Scott Latourette (historian), David Lloyd George (British Prime Minister), Bernard Lonergan (Catholic theologian), Gustav Nossal (Australian scientist), John Ralston Saul (author-philosopher), David Suzuki (geneticist-environmentalist), Lech Walesa (Polish politician-human rights activist-Nobel Prize winner) and F W Boreham all have in common (and it is not the same birthday!)?

No right answers in the Comments section.

For the answer, scroll down below.

Geoff Pound

Image: Lech Walesa


They are all recipients of honorary doctoral degrees from McMaster University.
F W Boreham was awarded (in absentia) his doctorate in June 1928 (on the same occasion that George Truett and Boreham’s best man, NZ Baptist leader, J J North were awarded theirs. For more description regarding this award read F W Boreham, My Pilgrimage, 230-232.

For the full list of people awarded honorary doctorates from McMaster check the following web address.

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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Boreham on Nature's Contribution

There was a great interest and a rich tradition in Australian papers of articles on nature themes when Boreham wrote his many editorials on the contribution that nature made to life.[1] This post and those over the next few days consider the various roles of nature addressed in Boreham’s editorials.

Banquet of Life
In an article published as the First World War was commencing its destructive work, Boreham asserted that, “the relationship between beauty and civilization has never been defined”.[2] His frequent discussions about beauty and the role of aesthetics to the human condition[3] reveal his agreement with Fyodor Dostoevsky’s high claim that “beauty will save the world”.[4] Boreham announced, “Beauty is the banquet of life,” and was swift to declare that nature was the major sphere at which humanity might sumptuously dine.[5] He did not regard beauty as a nutritional supplement but as an indispensable element for the survival and well-being of society. On another occasion he stated, “Health and beauty go together … they are life’s inseparables”.[6]

Beauty in the Eye…
Boreham compared statements from early explorers who had written glowingly of Australia’s beauty with those who concluded that the country was ugly and uninteresting to illustrate the different views that people have about beauty. If health and beauty go together, Boreham’s health card for Australians in the mid-1920s was grim. Writing about the neglect of the local landscape by Australian artists and their preference for the English landscape, Boreham said, “Australians are blind to beauty … The Australian public is as yet unprepared to realize the beauty of the land of its adoption”.[7]

Impatience With Definitions
While he asked, “What is beauty?” Boreham had difficulty in answering the question in great detail.[8] Confessing his impatience with definitions and his preference for experiencing nature and beauty with all his senses, Boreham said, “How can I set down in words the pleasure that I find in the perfume of a violet, in the song of a thrush, or in the graceful poise of a deer”.[9]

Sight was the major avenue by which Boreham experienced nature and he often remarked on its beauty in “the restfulness of a green lawn”[10] or “the pageantry of autumn [in its] gorgeous colour scheme”.[11] His sensitivity towards beauty was heightened by the places where he had lived—Tunbridge Wells, which he said that for “sheer, downright prettiness ... stands without a rival in the wide, wide world”,[12] that New Zealand was “a land of luxurious vegetation ... broad and fertile plains ... sky-piercing summits glistening with eternal snows; a land of rushing rivers and thunderous cataracts”[13] and of Australia he wrote that “no continent can offer to the eyes of men a fauna so wealthy and so varied”.[14] As well as celebrating the predictable sources, Boreham urged people to contemplate beauty in the dullness of rocks,[15] the drabness of mud[16] and the starkness of midwinter.[17]

Geoff Pound

Image: “the pageantry of autumn.”

[1] Drew Hutton and Libby Connors, A history of the Australian environmental movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 30-31.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1926.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 21 February 1920.
[4] Fyodor Dostoevsky, The idiot (1869; reprint, New York: Everyman’s Library, 2001), 382. These words are expressed by Dostoevsky’s characters Ippolit and Aglaya Epanchin.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 6 March 1954.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 24 April 1926.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 24 April 1926.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 21 February 1920.
[9] F W Boreham, Casket of cameos (London: The Epworth Press, 1924), 285.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 17 February 1934.
[11] F W Boreham, A witch’s brewing (London: The Epworth Press, 1932), 18.
[12] F W Boreham, Loose leaves: From the journal of my voyage round the world (Mosgiel: Taieri advocate, 1902), 44.
[13] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 134.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 15 July 1933.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 27 June 1925.
[16] F W Boreham, The other side of the hill, (London: The Epworth Press, 1917), 152.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 21 June 1941.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Boreham and His Passion for Nature

Reverence for Life
Readers of F W Boreham’s books of essays, many of which bear titles drawn from the realm of nature, would not be surprised to learn that one of the major themes of his editorials and essays was ‘Reverence for nature’.[1] In the development of Boreham’s flexible cycle of editorial themes, a nature topic was often prompted by an anniversary (of an explorer, naturalist, scientist, geologist or nature poet), seasonal changes and events (including holiday periods, Arbor Day and Wattle Day), celebrations of nature (annual flower show, agricultural show) and news (of explorations or natural disasters). However, Boreham never needed an excuse to indulge his passion for writing about nature and many of his nature editorials did not seem to be related to any particular event. Aspects of nature were used in abundance by Boreham to illustrate a principle or to buttress an argument.

Young Naturalist
Recalling the early impact of nature upon him, Boreham said, “As a small boy, I found among my treasures three things that filled me with ceaseless wonder and admiration—the skin of my horse-chestnuts, the cocoons of my silkworms and the shells of the birds’ eggs that I brought home from the lane”.[2] The role of Boreham’s parents was crucial in developing this sense of wonder by introducing their son to nature books and taking him on walks around the beauty trails of Tunbridge Wells.

Shaped by Romantic Spirit
Boreham’s numerous references to nature reflect the age in which he was raised, a period that was imbued with the Romantic spirit, which gained momentum because it represented a protest movement against “the far reaching thrusts of modernization”.[3] In tracing the influence of Romanticism upon English evangelicalism in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, David Bebbington writes, “It was as though Wordsworthian pantheism had become an additional article of the evangelical creed .… The educated public was turning to Romantic sensibilities as an escape-route from the urban, industrial present and the holiness movement was part of the process”.[4] Christians like Boreham resonated with the Romantic writers who fostered an appreciation of nature, challenged the despoliation of the environment and cultivated a contemplation of the relationship between the natural and spiritual realms.

A Lifelong Enchantment
As an old man, Boreham testified to the intensification of his love of nature when saying, “The longer we live, the more [nature’s] loveliness enchants us”.[5] Boreham read widely in naturalism and natural science but the two whom he acknowledged as his special teachers were Charles Darwin (1809-1882) and Richard Jeffries (1848-1887).[6] His involvement with the Royal Society of Tasmania, which had a long and rich history in environmental preservation and political lobbying for national parks, was a further context for Boreham to learn and refine his thinking about nature.

Geoff Pound

Image: Tunbridge Wells Common

[1] Boreham’s books with titles drawn from nature include Loose leaves, Mountains in the mist, Mushrooms on the moor, The silver shadow, The uttermost star, A reel of rainbow, A handful of stars, Rubble and roseleaves, Wisps of wildfire, The crystal pointers, A tuft of comet’s hair, The fiery crags, The three half-moons, The blue flame, When the swans fly high, A late lark singing, In pastures green and The tide comes in.
[2] F W Boreham, Rubble and roseleaves (London: The Epworth Press, 1923), 19.
[3] Karl-Werner Brandt, ‘New social movements as a meta-political challenge: The social and political impact of a new historical type of protest’, Thesis eleven, no. 15, 1986, 66-7.
[4] David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain: A history from the 1930's to the 1980's (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 168.
[5] F W Boreham, When the swans fly high (London: The Epworth Press, 1931), 244.
[6] F W Boreham, The crystal pointers (London: The Epworth Press, 1925), 163. For more information on the famous naturalist Charles Robert Darwin, see Dictionary of National Biography eds. Leslie Stephen & Sidney Lee vol. V (London: Oxford University Press, 1921), 522-534. For more information on Richard Jeffries see Bloomsbury guide to English literature ed. Marion Wynne-Davies (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1989), 633-634. Sometimes the name ‘Jeffries’ is spelt as ‘Jefferies’.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Boreham and His Theology of Inclusivity

F W Boreham’s call to inclusivity through recognizing the value of children, the disabled, women and the racially oppressed was predominantly sounded through stories of audacious men and women who struggled against great odds and challenged the dehumanizing forces in society.

Later, comparing those in the foremost positions in society with those less advanced, Boreham said, “The religion that has nothing to say to the hindmost is no religion for a world like this”.[1] While Boreham called for specific social, political and educational measures, this call was a whisper compared with the voice of many of the lives he extolled. The courage of Jane Austen or the tenacity of Mahatma Gandhi did not translate into the same intensity in the writings of Boreham.

His editorials about Australian aborigines revealed an unconscious racism as he did not convey the uniqueness, the value and the potential towards them that his more general statements exhibited. For one who was a student and advocate of history, Boreham’s silence on the atrocities committed towards aborigines illustrate that like most Australians he was part of the “history of forgetting, a tradition of disremembering, an affliction of collective amnesia”.[2]

Boreham’s theological convictions about the human uniqueness and the worth of an individual took on a national dimension when he urged his readers to recognise the uniqueness of Australia. Boreham’s call to Australia to celebrate its achievements, find its voice and exploit its resources were aspects of the corporate responsibility of its citizens or, as expressed by Vance Palmer, “To discover ourselves—our character, the character of our country and the particular kind of society that has developed here”.[3] The theological foundations of these convictions were not always visible and his views also seemed to have been inspired by what Boreham had learned about national identity from the lessons of history.

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘to discover the character of our country…’

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 17 January 1948.
[2] Ken S Inglis, Observing Australia: 1959 to 1999 (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999), 155.
[3] Vance Palmer, ‘Future of Australian literature’, Age, 9 February 1935.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Boreham and His Theology of Beauty

F W Boreham’s conviction that books, art and theatre are the major avenues through which people might connect with the richness of life resonates with J R R Tolkien’ assertion that fairy-stories (and other imaginative literature) satisfy “certain primordial human desires” including the desire to “survey the depths of space and time” and the desire “to hold communion with other living things”.[1]

His contention that the arts provide a “broadening of life’s horizon”[2] is akin to the thoughts of contemporary Roman Catholic theologian Tony Kelly who, in extolling the re-creative role of art says, “It refreshes human experience, helping us to make and see things in their originality. The creativity of the artist works to clean the windows of perception, lest the vision be blurred by interior drabness, triteness, familiarity and possessiveness.”[3] Expressions of adventure and imagination were for Boreham manifestations of a divine urge and a participation in divine creativity.

Boreham’s early hesitation about attending plays and movies in the 1920s reflected not only “the neglect of beauty”[4] by the church but the more disastrous condition expressed in the damning words of the Welsh poet R S Thomas: “Protestantism—the adroit castrator of art; the bitter negation of song and dance and the heart’s innocent joy”.[5] While recognizing the danger pursuing aesthetics without reference to God, Boreham affirmed the artist’s role “to increase the world’s stock of beauty”. He sought to restore within the church and in society the essential relationship between a love of God and a love of beauty. Boreham’s thinking is captured well by Richard Harries when writing, “There is a resemblance, a relationship, between the beauty we experience in nature, in the arts, in a genuinely good person and in God; and that which tantalizes, beckons and calls us in beauty has its origin in God himself”.[6]

Geoff Pound

Image: “to increase the world’s stock of beauty”.

[1] J R R Tolkien, Tree and leaf. London: Unwin, 1964), 18. This thought is amplified by Tony Kelly, in ‘Faith seeking fantasy: Tolkien on fairy-stories’. Pacifica 15 (2002): 190-208.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 4 November 1950.
[3] Kelly, ‘Faith seeking fantasy: Tolkien on fairy-stories’, 201.
[4] Richard Harries, Art and the beauty of God (London: Mowbray, 1993), 1.
[5] R S Thomas, ‘The minister’, Collected poems 1945-1990 (London: Phoenix, 1993), 54.
[6] Harries, Art and the beauty of God, 6.