Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Boreham the Song Writer

F W Boreham was a pastor, preacher, essayist, editorialist, biographer, poet, photo-grapher and also a song writer.

Sometime F W Boreham wrote the following lines intended to be sung at services of baptism. They were published in The Baptist Hymn Book (green edition). Note the Trinitarian structure of this hymn:

Eternal Father, whose great love
Encircles us where’er we rove—
By peak or plain, by sea or shore,
By crowded street or lonely moor—
Enfold within Thy sleepless care
Those who this day their faith declare.

Eternal Saviour, whose rich grace
Did anguish, dark and drear, embrace;
Whose sweet compassions never fail;
Whose intercessions must prevail;
Uphold, we pray Thee, gracious Lord,
Those who this day obey Thy word.

Eternal Spirit, whose still voice
Hath prompted every gracious choice;
Who taught our souls to loathe our sin,
And at the Cross new life begin;
Preserve and lead for Jesus’ sake,
Those who this day the world forsake.

It is sung to the tune Melita, made famous as The Navy Hymn ('Eternal Father Strong to Save').

If you want to listen to the tune check it out on the following address:

Geoff Pound

Image: Obviously reading one of F W Boreham's books!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Boreham and the Last Tour

In 1935 Boreham received an invitation from Epworth Press to tour Britain and undertake a further preaching tour.

They left from Port Melbourne in March 1936. It was on this trip that Boreham addressed the large gathering of pastors in Edinburgh, when he was introduced as “the man whose name is on all our lips, whose books are on all our shelves, and whose illustrations are in all our sermons.”

In September of that year they boarded the Orontes at Tilbury and from the deck and through their tears, Frank and Stella took their last look at England and sailed for home.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Orontes.

Boreham the Freelancer

In 1924 (while at the Armadale church in Melbourne) Frank and Stella returned to England on board the Majola.

At the commencement of their retirement in 1928 they went on a preaching tour of England aand North America, this time traveling on the Mooltan.

On this visit they returned to Tunbridge wells and this was the last time they saw Boreham’s parents.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Mooltan

Boreham Back Across the Tasman

When F W Boreham was in Mosgiel he became involved in local politics, primarily in the cause of the Temperance Movement.

Soon after he arrived in Australia he returned to NZ for a month to conclude his part of the campaigning.

He went on board the Maheno, which in WWI became a hospital ship and years later went aground on Fraser Island (the second of the ships Boreham traveled on that sank!)

Geoff Pound

Image: The hospital ship, the Maheno.

Boreham to Australia

The Boreham’s returned from their visit to England via South Africa and got back into their work at Mosgiel with renewed vigour.

In 1906 Frank was called to the city pulpit of the Hobart Baptist Tabernacle. They left from Bluff (near Invercargill) on the Waikare.

When the ship berthed the church officers all came on board and were surprised that their new pastor was able to greet them all by name.

Interestingly, the Waikare struck a rock in the waters of Fiordland, NZ, in 1909. All 226 passengers were saved.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Waikare, too near the rocks on Dusky Sound.

Boreham and Visiting Home

After being busy as a pastor and adding two children to the Boreham family (Ivy and Wroxie), the Mosgiel Church did two wonderful things: They passed a motion of appreciation to their pastor and they gave him six months leave on full salary.

In 1903 the family took a train to Wellington and commenced their journey ‘home’ on the ship, the Tongariro.

Having come to NZ via South Africa they decided to return by the Cape Horn.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Tongariro.

Boreham and the Urge to Merge

For six weeks Frank Boreham was aboard the Tainui. It went to New Zealand via South Africa. By the time he got to Capetown he had felt the geographical distance between him and Stella and he sent to her father a letter telling him that he would like to marry his daughter.

FWB got to Wellington, NZ on 11 March 1895 and went by another boat to Christchurch and then by train to Dunedin.

On 24 March 1896 Boreham’s bride arrived in Wellington on the Ruapehu and the two were reunited and married a few days later (13 April) in a home in Kaiapoi, Christchurch.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Ruapehu

Boreham to the Uttermost Parts...

Thomas Spurgeon returned from his tour of New Zealand with a ‘shopping list’ from churches that were wanting pastors from Spurgeon’s College. On 15 November 1894 Frank Boreham was called into Professor Marchant’s office to be told that the College staff had considered a request for the Mosgiel Church in Otago, NZ and would Boreham go? A conversation was arranged that evening when a glowing picture was painted by Spurgeon of the opportunities of ministry in NZ. FWB had only done two years of a four year course. I wonder if a reduced course was a motivating factor?

Letters flowed between Frank and his parents. His mother had vowed to God after her son’s train accident that if God spared her son she would dedicate him to God’s service wherever that might lead him. She and Francis, her husband, gave their blessing.

The new Sunday at Boreham’s student pastorate, Theydon Bois, his call to Mosgiel was announced. At a Monday night service at Spurgeon’s Tabernacle where hundreds of people were gathered, Thomas Spurgeon introduced the pastor-designate of the Mosgiel Church and FWB gave an address outlining his personal testimony.

Interestingly, Boreham concluded his talk with the oft-quoted statement: “And it is my hope that in the course of my ministry I shall hold three pastorates, and then be free to travel in many lands preaching the everlasting Gospel among all denominations.” This hope was fulfilled so accurately.

On 13 January FWB was farewelled at Theydon Bois. On 24 January 1895 he and his family took the train to the Royal Albert Docks. Thomas Spurgeon was among the well wishers. So was his girlfriend, Stella, to whom he rather publicly planted a kiss upon her lips.

F W Boreham went on board the Royal Mail steamer, the Tainui and set sail for New Zealand.

Geoff Pound

Source: T Howard Crago, The Story of F W Boreham, 55-59.

Image: The Tainui.

Boreham and that Locomotive

At the age of fourteen—on December 5, 1884—Frank Boreham came home with the news that the office of the High Brooms Brick Company was wanting the services of a boy.

After a sleepless night Frank and his father walked from their Tunbridge Wells home for the interview, the boy got the job and he started right away.

It was an office job but whenever a train pulled out of the siding, Frank had to hurry down to check the number of trucks of bricks as they left the works.

All went well for a year. Then came that fateful Saturday morning. Frank went to the siding and began recording his entries in his book. Where the siding joined the main line, the points were operated by a pair of levers at the side of the track. Here the guard was standing, hands on lever, ready to throw the points as the train shunted off the siding.

But the junior clerk’s absent-mindedness, for which he had become so notorious at school, had not yet left him, for although he had long known of the danger, he stood directly in front of the second lever hard by the track.

As the engine slowly drew across the points, the movement of the rails flung the lever behind Frank’s back suddenly forward, hurling him under the grinding wheels of the locomotive. The wonder was not that he was so badly smashed, but that he was lifted out alive.

He was hospitalised and his right leg (just below the knee) was amputated. Septicaemia set in as well as other complications. Upon his departure from hospital months later Frank Boreham had to get about on crutches. Later he had a number of artificial legs made for him and he walked with a limp. His son, Frank, said that growing up as a boy and teenager he never knew his father had an artificial leg for it had never stopped his father from being such a great walker. In Boreham’s diaries in the 1950s there are entries about the pain in his legs (due to the primitive surgery in 1885) which caused many sleepless nights.

F W Boreham did not return to the Brick Company but as he had learned Pitman’s Shorthand in hospital he had a short career working as a journalist for the local Advertiser and the Kent and Sussex Courier.

Geoff Pound

Sources: T Howard Crago, The Story of F W Boreham, 24-25; F W Boreham's Unpublished Diaries.

Image: An 1885 locomotive

Boreham on Measuring Progress

Heirs of the Ages
F W Boreham encouraged his readers to recognize that they were “heirs of all the ages” by alerting them to the valuable perspectives that come through acquiring a historical consciousness, particularly a sense of human progress.[1] He illustrated this by setting the difficulties of the economic depression in their historical context saying that “most of the ordeals and distresses that we have experienced in recent years are growing pains”.[2] Similarly, when writing of the troubled times of the Second World War he drew upon the examples of history to observe that “in every realm, progress and pain are inseparable”.[3] To some of his readers Boreham’s interpretation of the reality of human evil may have appeared simplistic and glib. While recognizing the horrors of war, Boreham made little effort to voice the questions readers may have been pondering about the problem of evil, the suffering of the innocent and whether humankind was making progress in the moral realm.

Spur to Progress
In 1925, when Australian readers were bombarded with the political slogan, ‘Keep your eye on 1950’, Boreham alluded to the important role of history by advising people to “glance back to the world in 1900”.[4] His contention was that in thinking back twenty-five years to the time when there were “no aeroplanes and no picture-shows” people might be inspired to consider that new inventions or amazing feats, such as the conquest of Mount Everest, might be achievable.

Take the Long View
Boreham believed that acquiring an historical perspective in regard to inventions would encourage people to consider that “the rate of progress is accelerating with the years”.[5] However, in 1921, when reconstruction after the First World War appeared to be too slow for many and when Boreham perceived that “pessimism is uniformly and invariably popular”, he encouraged his readers to take “the long view” through the lens of history to see that civilization “is a story of steady progress” and “the progress even of a nation is only visible to those who will exercise infinite patience and take long, long views”.[6]

Apply the Tape Measure
While Boreham did not write explicit editorials on the subject of progress, he viewed its significant measures to include growth in character and virtues, the possession of national pride, the honoring of a nation’s leaders and servants and the increase of learning. Progress in these spheres would bear fruit in the economic, educational and religious richness of a nation. Levin elaborated further on this concept or ‘law’ when saying, “Progress meant an increase in political and intellectual liberty, a movement toward … ‘humanity,’ a movement away from artificiality or formality toward simplicity, away from torpor and disease toward vigor and health”.[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: 'apply the tape measure...'

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 3 January 1948.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 9 March 1935.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 24 August 1946.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 7 February 1925.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 19 November 1921.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 26 November 1921.
[7] Levin, History as romantic art: Bancroft, Motley, and Parkman, 43.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Boreham Books Borne Again

Birth of Boreham Books
When F W Boreham’s writing took off internationally he received practical help from others. Although Hodder & Stoughton sent him a rejection slip, Boreham was undaunted and his bundle of essays to C H Kelly, Publishing received a more promising response.

C H Kelly (later to become Epworth Press) said they would publish the proposed volume of essays, on a royalty basis, if FWB himself would place an advance order for 300 copies at half price. “But what would a man do with 300 copies of your own book?” wrote T Howard Crago (Boreham’s biographer). The idea was unthinkable!

Try With A Little Help From My Friends
That night, as Boreham was about to drop his negative reply into the letter box he ran into Robert Morris, a well known bookseller in Hobart. He mentioned to him the contents of the letter in his hand. Mr. Morris saved the situation—and Boreham’s literary future. He would be glad, he said, to take the 300 copies at half price, and was sure that he could arrange with Robertson’s of Melbourne, to take at least 1,000 copies at that figure. So the letter was never posted and four months later The Luggage of Life was being unloaded on hundreds of eager readers and being praised throughout the religious world.

Boreham Revival
Michael Dalton and I are looking at reprinting some of F W Boreham’s books and publishing The Best Stories of F W Boreham. Just as FWB received help from Mr. Morris to launch his career we are asking for financial help to kick start a new edition of Boreham books to reach a new generation of readers.

We are looking for sponsorship for two publishing projects: Lover of Life (formerly The Man Who Saved Gandhi) which deals with the important story of how he was mentored by J J Doke and The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

I have recently reread all of Boreham’s books (a Boreham book marathon) and have scanned scores of stories prior to making a final selection. This book will contain the best stories Boreham told and be attractive for new readers and prove we are sure to be a great resource for teachers and preachers.

Gentle Prod
Take this as a gentle prod. If you can make a financial donation follow this link to the F W Boreham on Mentoring site for further information and details about sending your gift.

Geoff Pound

Image: 'A gentle prod'

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Boreham on the Value of History

Developing a Consciousness of History
While F W Boreham challenged historians to write in a more appealing manner, he also addressed the reluctance of readers to develop a historical consciousness. Since 1888 when Henry Lawson complained about the abysmal historical knowledge of children and the failure of the education system, Australian patriots and historians have regularly deplored the neglect of the nation’s history.[1]

Addressing this neglect sometimes meant for Boreham dispelling the common notion “to let bygones be bygones”,[2] but what disturbed him most was Edward Gibbon’s indictment of the Athenians whose decline was apparent in their “indifference to antiquity”.[3] Boreham judged that “to such a depth of degradation Australians have not fallen”;[4] however, the disinterest of most Australians towards history puzzled Boreham in respect of both the Australian personality and the quality of the Australian heritage. With characteristic tact, Boreham explained, “Among the virtues generally attributed to the typical Australian, modesty does not always find a conspicuous place”.[5] Why was it that Australians were, therefore, bashful or diffident about their past? He continued, “For some reason or other, the Australian is singularly reluctant to emphasize and commemorate the magnificent exploits which adorn his history”.

Boreham was not a lone voice on this theme. After their marathon trek across Australia, Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen expressed in 1912 their disgust over the lack of recognition for the early explorers, saying, “Australia cannot be congratulated in the way in which she has treated their memory”.[6] Historian Geoffrey Serle offered an insight into Australian attitudes towards heroes when saying, “No outstanding twentieth-century Australian leader … has retained full acknowledgement as a great man. Australians are not given to praising famous men or making legendary heroes of many, other than bushrangers and sportsmen”.[7]

Give Them The Facts
In another editorial on the same theme Boreham concluded that Australians “are guilty of want of thought rather than want of heart” and in order to escape this judgment “they will have to pay a little more attention to, and take a little more pride in, those glowing records that illumine the initial pages of Australian history”.[8] In an article commemorating the centenary of the exploits of Hamilton Hume, Boreham reiterated his view that the problem lay in a lack of information. He said, “Australians may have their faults; but if they are placed in possession of the facts, they never fail in appreciation of the splendid intrepidity and dauntlessness of those brave men who blazed the first trails across the continent”.[9]

Tide Turning
In the last two decades of the twentieth century commentators have observed the growing appreciation of history and the increasing role of historians in Australian public life.[10] Bruce Wilson offered examples to illustrate how this shift in attitude has been taking shape:

"The past two decades have seen an unprecedented interested in our national history …. Books on every conceivable aspect of Australian life, culture and the natural environment have poured from the presses. The Australian film industry has resurrected our past as well as itself. Nostalgia has recreated ‘living history’ at old Sydney Town, Sovereign Hill, Timbertown and elsewhere …. Women have begun to stake their claim to a place in the new national myth, rediscovering legendary figures like Caroline Chisholm and Miles Franklin."[11]

National History Needed
Boreham would have been heartened to see a new era of national myth-making emerge but Wilson’s comments suggest that the early Australian reluctance towards history that Boreham identified may not only be attributed to a lack of information but also to a lack of information about Australian history. Boreham was realistic about the task of awakening Australians to their past but his knowledge of history encouraged him—particularly the example of Sir Walter Scott who, when faced with the Scottish national spirit needing to be revived, “convinced himself that the torpid and lethargic Present needed to be brought in contact with a splendid and stately Past”.[12]

Reminding People of their Past
Boreham viewed his editorial responsibility as reminding Australians of their past and thus increasing their pride about their national heritage. His recognition that this task had importance for the future was revealed in his frequent reference to Macaulay’s axiom that “a people who takes no pride in the noble achievements of its ancestors will never achieve anything worthy to be remembered by its remote descendants”.[13] He elaborated on this thought when, in an editorial marking the achievements of the South Australian explorer John Billiatt[14] he asserted, “The more people know of the struggles and conquests of the past the more will they be willing to sacrifice and suffer in order that their spacious land may enjoy a destiny worthy of her monumental traditions”.[15]

Remembering our Debts
Boreham regularly addressed this theme in editorials commemorating those who had died in war and in writing of “the incalculable debt” that the living owed to its ancestors.[16] He said that “our solemn obligation to remember” is incumbent upon readers because “in the memory of survivors the dead live on”.[17] Enlarging on this thought, he said that by being remembered, such people, “fulfil their destiny” or “complete their life work”, an idea he attributed to Paul of Tarsus who “averred that his life work consisted in ‘filling up that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ’”.[18]

Freedom From Apron Strings
While keen to extol the value of acquiring a knowledge of history, Boreham did concede some negative aspects. On Australia Day in 1951, he said that Australia’s challenge in creating a distinctly indigenous literature was “not because of aesthetic deficiency or intellectual poverty, but because of the extreme difficulty of shaking herself free of the monumental traditions that she had inherited”.[19] This observation, however, did not prevent Boreham from stating in the same article that Australia should recall at every opportunity that “the best life of the younger nations—America and Australia—is rooted in the spiritual pulsation that swept the Motherland”. In another article on developing a unique Australian style of music, Boreham alluded to the same limitation but said that Australia, compared with other countries, “is less hampered and trammelled by antique traditions”.[20]

Geoff Pound

Image: Henry Lawson

[1] Henry Lawson, ‘A neglected history’, Henry Lawson: Collected verse, ed. Colin Roderick, vol. 2, Autobiographical and other writings 1887-1922 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1972), 6-8.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 22 June 1946.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 14 June 1919.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 10 October 1925.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 13 June 1936.
[6] B Spencer and F J Gillen, Across Australia vol. 1 (London: MacMillan & Co., 1912), 29-30.
[7] Geoffrey Serle, John Monash: A biography (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1982), 529. In writing about Simpson and his donkey in the Anzac legend, Les Carlyon adds a further insight to this theme when he said, “Australia likes quirky heroes”. Les Carlyon, Gallipoli (Sydney: Macmillan, 2001), 267.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 10 October 1925.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 13 January 1923.
[10] Graeme Davison writes, “History is often in the headlines. Never before, perhaps, have historians occupied as prominent a place in Australian public life”. Davison, The use and misuse of Australian history, 1.
[11] Bruce Wilson, Can God survive in Australia? (Sutherland: Albatross, 1983), 108.
[12] Boreham, Mercury, 9 February 1946; Age, 16 December 1950.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 11 October 1924.
[14] John W Billiatt was one of ten men led by the famous explorer, John McDouall Stuart, who were part of the team that successfully completed the ‘South Australian Great North Exploring Expedition’. The team left Adelaide during October 1861, and, crossing the entire continent, reached the Indian Ocean on 21 January 1862. Details of Billiatt’s life including his birth date are scanty; however, he was the last surviving member of Stuart’s successful party and he died in England in 1919. More information can be found at
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 16 August 1919.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 27 January 1951.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 6 November 1948.
[18] Col. 1:24.
[19] Boreham, Mercury, 27 January 1951.
[20] Boreham, Mercury, 6 July 1935.

Boreham on Writing History

No More Sterile Histories
Many of Boreham’s editorials reflected the Romantic historians’ commitment to literary technique. Like Macaulay, Boreham condemned the sterile work of the philosophical historians.[1] He often said that the paucity of good historical writing was because so many writers were “at their wits end for a subject [and were] driven to history because history is ready made”.[2]

Furthermore, he reckoned that the character of the historian’s task had been underrated and reduced to the mere recital of events.[3] “History,” he continued, “for the most part is wooden, stilted, lifeless, unconvincing. It is dignified but dull”. He launched his criticisms upon historians who wrote too abstractly and failed to pitch their ideas towards the average reader. In so doing, he noted: “The average historian takes us too seriously. He proceeds on the somewhat embarrassing assumption that we are all very learned, very erudite, very scholarly. He adopts the classical accents of the academy and the forum. He talks ponderously and philosophically. He misunderstands us. In reality, we are mere children”. [4]

Reflection of Real Life
Boreham’s criticism of most historians and his demanding standards arose from his conviction of the importance of the historian’s task. He believed that “history is the reflection of real life, and we have a right to demand that it shall be lifelike”.[5] Again, adopting the reflective imagery, Boreham said, “Life, whether past or present, is a most intriguing affair, and all that we ask is that the historian shall enable us to see it clearly in the crystal mirror of his story”.[6]

Colorful and Picturesque
Boreham’s many references to his editorial writing as a ‘sketch’, ‘portrait’ or an ‘idyll’ were more than metaphorical. According to Levin, “the romantic historian considered himself a painter” and Boreham saw himself in this tradition.[7] Always attentive to the impact of writing on its readership, Boreham added, “Nothing appeals to men like the pictureque. We are inveterate sightseers. We love to see things .… Did they wear red breeches or grey?”[8] In writing about pleasing historical style Boreham indulged his fondness for the attention-grabbing power of stories, colourful imagery that enabled readers to see the history and the ‘passion for trifles’, agreeing with the literary historian, Arthur Compton-Rickett, that “no detail is unworthy of mention”.[9] In the tradition of the romantic historian, Boreham “compared history to drama almost as often as [he] compared it to painting”.[10]

Vivid and Accurate
Boreham was aware that the historian must not yield to the temptation to “make his pages a wearisome recital of uninteresting and unimportant events” nor to the opposite temptation “to make his chronicle readable by spicing it up”. In order to achieve historical writing that is truthful yet interesting, Boreham outlined the following essential gifts: “The historian needs the vivid imagination of the novelist; he needs the mathematical accuracy of the scientist; he needs the penetrating insight of the philosopher; and he needs the musical temper and graceful diction of the poet. He needs all these in combination, and he needs them all at every turn”.[11]

Skipping Over the Dry and Dusty?
One wonders how often facts were ignored to enhance the drama of the story and how many historical themes Boreham shelved, like William Prescott (another person switched on to writing history by reading Gibbon) who only chose subjects that could be made “novel, elegant, useful and very entertaining”[12] and George Bancroft who “combined all the elements necessary in his History to make it the most popular literary and scholarly embodiment of the optimistic, democratic faith of nineteenth century America”.[13]

History Forging Connections
Boreham showed little evidence of a critical approach to history which “interrogates and condemns” the past or studies the past to evaluate the significant aspects of the lives of people who lived in a former age.[14] He understood history’s primary use in the way it connects peoples with forgotten ages and inspires them with their spirit.

Geoff Pound

Image: Victorian State Library in Melbourne, where F W Boreham read and researched many of his historical essays.

[1]Thomas Macaulay, The works of Lord Macaulay ed. Lady Macaulay, vol. 5 (London: Longmans, Green & Co, 1866), 152-56.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 20 November 1920.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 26 February 1938; Age, 4 January 1947; Age, 1 October 1949.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 20 November 1920.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 1 October 1949.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 26 February 1938.
[7] Levin, History as romantic art: Bancroft, Motley, and Parkman, 12.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 20 November 1920.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 26 February 1938. Arthur Compton-Rickett (1869-1937) is best remembered for his History of English literature from earliest times to 1916 (London: Nelson, 1964) and Lost chords: Some emotions without morals (London: A D Innes & Co., 1895).
[10] Levin, History as romantic art: Bancroft, Motley, and Parkman, 19.
[11] Boreham, Age, 4 January 1947.
[12] William H Prescott, Notebooks IV, Prescott Papers (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society), 80-81.
[13] David B van Tassel, ‘George Bancroft 1800-1891’, in Encyclopedia of American biography 2nd ed., eds. John A Garraty and Jerome L Sternstein, vol. 1 (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 1996), 59.
[14] Graeme Davison, The use and misuse of Australian history (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 2000), 14.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Boreham's Passion for History

Pouring the Past Into the Present
While F W Boreham had a profound reverence for life in the world of nature, his editorials reveal that he also had an intense fascination for the historical study of human nature. His conversion to history took place at Mosgiel in 1900 when, through the reading of Gibbon’s Decline and fall of the Roman Empire, Boreham was hooked on history. Boreham’s voracious appetite for history and his views about historical method and style were nurtured by his reading of other historians besides Gibbon, including Britisher Thomas Macaulay and the American, Eurocentric historians George Bancroft[1] and William Hickling Prescott.[2] Boreham contended that “the art of life consists in compelling the past to pour its enrichment into the present in such a way as to ensure a still more roseate future”.[3]

Childhood Influences
While the Gibbon experience was significant Boreham’s regard for history was being shaped much earlier. Childhood influences upon Boreham background included the industrial expansion, the development of the rail, the discoveries in science and the burgeoning imperialism all of which contributed to Britain’s sense of advancement. These were examples of human progress, a conviction that was foundational to Boreham’s understanding of the role and value of history. Shaping his views about the upward march of history was the ‘Christian optimism’ fostered by the church and a theological education that typically presented history “as a straight line of God’s purpose running from creation through his chosen people to the present. History was moving forward”.[4] One cannot underestimate the significance of Boreham’s ‘conversion’ to historical study for in tracing the development of evangelicalism (Boreham’s early tradition) Bernard Reardon said, “Of religion as a historical and cultural phenomenon, to be studied as such, it [evangelicalism], needless to say, had no conception. Even the history of Christianity as a major phase in the education of the human race did not interest it”.[5]

Inevitably, Boreham’s understanding of history was shaped by several popular writers. With Gibbon and Macaulay providing a historical framework for the notion of human progress (intellectually and morally), Spencer and Darwin presenting their social theories about the evolving life of humanity and Dickens “who preached in many of his novels a doctrine of improvement” there was a rising optimism that characterized the mood of Victorian England.[6] These writers interpreted and heightened the temper of the times in which Boreham’s views about history were being formed.

Whilst Boreham’s view on history may not be universally accepted by professional historians today, David Levin’s History as romantic art, in which he focuses on the histories of George Bancroft, William Prescott, John Motley and Francis Parkman, is useful for helping to understand the historical tradition that Boreham sought to emulate. Levin portrays “the historian as romantic man of letters”, as one who is attentive to literary style and artistry, exhibiting the romantic preference for ‘heart over head’ and a discerner of national progress.[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: F W Boreham: 'hooked on history'.

[1]George Bancroft (1800-1891) was a historian, politician, author of the 10-volume History of the United States and US minister to Great Britain (1846-1849). More information about Bancroft may be found in the DAB ed. Allen Johnson vol. 1 (London: Humphrey Milford-Oxford University Press, 1935), 564-570.
[2] William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) was a historian known for his works on Mexico, Peru and Spanish rulers. More information about Prescott can be found in the DAB ed. Dumas Malone vol. 15 (London: Humphrey Milford-Oxford University Press, 1935), 196-200.
[3] F W Boreham, Mercury, 22 June 1946; Age, 6 January 1951.
[4] David W Bebbington, Patterns in history: A Christian perspective on historical thought (Leicester: Apollos, 1979), 49-50.
[5] Bernard M G Reardon, From Coleridge to Gore: A century of religious thought in Britain (London: Longman, 1971), 30.
[6] Bebbington, Patterns in history, 83.
[7] David Levin, History as romantic art: Bancroft, Motley, and Parkman (Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1959), 3-22.