Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Boreham Inspired by Jesus the Storyteller

Down to Earth Storyteller
While writers and artists such as Charles Dickens, Joseph Turner and William Blake were influential in encouraging F W Boreham in his vision for ordinary and everyday things, a major impetus for this sprang from Jesus, the teacher from Nazareth.

Cultivator of Vision
In his Bevan Lectures to preachers at Adelaide’s Parkin College in 1931, Boreham revealed his belief that in any sphere in which people excel, the cultivation of vision was one of three essential arts. Taking the ministry of Jesus as his supreme model and showing the inextricable link between subject and style, the lecturer said:

"He saw things as nobody else saw them. Take, for example, His view of the mob, the crowd, the rabble. Nobody else ever noticed in the pushing, jostling, struggling multitude anything particularly charming. But He did. He looked upon the Eastern crowd; it ravished His eyes: and straightway He likened it to a flock of shepherdless sheep and to a field of golden corn. To the average man, the mob is the most prosaic of all prosaic things. But, in His vision, it became a pastoral idyll: the mob became white sheep on a green and graceful hillside. It became an agricultural idyll: the mob became a field of standing corn, flecked with crimson poppies, over which the clouds were scudding. And, since, in fields and flocks, an Eastern told His wealth, the mob became transformed into a commercial idyll. In the rabble He saw fields and flocks—His fields and His flocks—and it was to Him a stately vision of His own abiding affluence."[1]

In this excerpt from Boreham’s first lecture, ‘The preacher’s vision’, the stimulus of his theme and the source of his passion for the prosaic are evident. It suggests that Boreham saw through the biblical lens and, letting his imagination soar, added colourful details such as golden corn, crimson poppies and scudding clouds to enable his hearers to picture the truth.

Teller of Parables
This statement illustrated Boreham’s use of the parabolic method in which he took an everyday scene and reflected upon it until he arrived at a significant truth. Rather than squeezing one image until exhausting truth, Boreham demonstrated in this lecture his propensity to gather several images, view their various facets like a jeweller and then paint with words the detail of what he saw in order to build a compelling case for the value of an ordinary crowd.

Geoff Pound

Image: "Scudding clouds" in the Middle Eastern sky, Fujairah, UAE.

[1] Australian Christian world, 26 June 1931.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Blake's Influence on F W Boreham

Vision for the Ordinary
We have contended that one of the secrets to F W Boreham’s success as a writer and speaker was that he spoke about ordinary things and made them glow.

This is the fourth article in a series which looks at exponents of the ordinary who used various media to get across their message. This posting looks at the influence of William Blake on F W Boreham.

Glorying in the Commonplace
F W Boreham honoured William Blake “as one of the purest poets, one of the most eminent painters and one of the most cunning engravers of all time ... [who] deserves to be esteemed as the peak and pinnacle of the rennaissance in our literature”.[1] Like Dickens and Turner, the endearing gift according to Boreham, was the way Blake so quickly “saw the glory of common things”,[2] and his ability in which, even when looking at the drabness and squalor of London, he “saw the best shining through the worst”.[3] Boreham, with the perspective of history, hailed Blake as a seer, a prophet and a philosopher.[4] According to Boreham, Blake displayed “the most perfect blend of simplicity with sublimity” which was found in literary records. Of Blake, he said: “To him every common object was transfused with radiant splendour; every crust of bread was sacramental; every cup of cold water that he lifted to his lips was, to him, the Holy Grail. He hardly wrote a line that a little child could fail to understand; yet his crystal clear conceptions are shot through with a gorgeous imagery that for beauty has been unsurpassed”.[5]

Simplicity Without Clutter
Boreham attributed Blake’s simple style to the simplicity of his life when saying, “He was a simple soul. He mingled with simple folk, cultivated simple ways, developed simple tastes, and expressed himself in a simple phraseology”.[6] Boreham deduced that Blake’s simplicity led to a depth of vision and he inferred that the embracing of an uncluttered lifestyle was conducive to the cultivation of pure vision.

Writing amidst the depression of the 1930s, Boreham asked, “Is it too much to hope that it is because our own generation is turning with renewed relish to life’s simpler and sweeter delights that it is discovering a new charm in the minstrelsy of this clear, pure singer of two hundred years ago?”[7]

Life Responding to Life
It has been noted that Boreham attributed the immediate, positive response towards Charles Dickens and Joseph Turner to the fact that their artistry reflected ordinary life and that they gloried in the common things. Accordingly, one would anticipate that Boreham would be swift to find further vindication for artists of the ordinary in the response to the output of William Blake. However, the poet was not lauded in his day, nor was his greatness recognised. Boreham lamented the poor response by Blake’s generation but did not perceive his inconsistency when recording that Blake’s artistry did not illustrate the principle of life responding to life. While Blake’s contemporaries viewed him as an enigma, Boreham commented in 1931, “It is pleasant to notice the growing disposition of our own generation to atone for the neglect and disdain of his unappreciative contemporaries”.[8]

Geoff Pound

Image: I took this photo last week of Blake’s gravestone in the Bunhill Fields cemetery in central London. The photograph is dark because the sky was dark when I took it at 3.30pm!!

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 26 November 1949.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 17 October 1931.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 28 November 1942.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 17 October 1931.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 26 November 1949.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 28 November 1942.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 17 October 1931.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 17 October 1931.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

How Turner inspired F W Boreham

Vision for the Ordinary
We look today at Joseph Turner who, through his art, inspired F W Boreham to write about ordinary, everyday scenes and experiences.

Painting Things as they are
In an editorial entitled, ‘Things as they are’, Boreham stated that the landscape painter, Joseph Turner (1775-1851), “did for art what Dickens did for literature. He threw a lustre about the mediocre and the ordinary”.[1] Not only did Turner insist on painting things as they appeared but he exhibited a fascination in looking for beauty in the most unexpected places.

Always attentive to human response, Boreham said, “As if by magic, many eyes were opened. People recognised that there is a wealth of comeliness lurking in sordid and mundane objects that had hitherto appeared to them so utterly prosaic and almost disgustingly commonplace”.[2] Boreham contended that when people respond to art that has a “fidelity to reality”,[3] as in Turner’s paintings, it leads them to a new way of looking at their world. Writing of this service of art to people, Boreham continued: “By means of such paintings art provides windows through which any man may gaze into infinity. Art renders us her most valuable service when she teaches us to see marble where, until then, we had only seen mud .… From that moment the world becomes transfigured. Having discovered loveliness in one commonplace setting, we look for it in every setting”.[4]

Hungry Eyes
In his editorials about Turner, Boreham referred to the domino effect in which the viewing of beautiful paintings sets one looking for loveliness in the world that, in turn, makes “the eye become hungry with expectancy”.[5] Boreham wrote that a further consequence of this process was the cultivation of an eye for beauty.

Richard Jeffries hinted at the potential to train the eye when saying, “If a man carries a sense of beauty in his eye, he will find beauty in things as they really are”.[6] Urging this development of vision in his readers, Boreham said, “The eye becomes a realm of fascination. And, since we are living in a world in which we see pretty much what we have eyes to see, we henceforth find scintillations of beauty breaking from every crack and cranny”.[7]

Furthermore, Boreham believed a person could only claim to have an eye for beauty in ordinary things, when: “In donning his hat and coat on a day of fog and slush and drizzle, he beholds, in the outlook framed by his own doorway, a picture that, portrayed upon canvas, would constitute itself a masterpiece …. The man who cannot find Fairyland beside his own doorstep will never find the fairies anywhere”.[8]

Geoff Pound

Image: Joseph Turner's Frosty Morning set in Yorkshire.

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 13 February 1932.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 13 February 1932.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 13 February 1932.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 12 September 1931; Age, 14 September 1946.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Boreham and His Debt to Dickens

Boreham and Dickens
In an earlier posting we have discussed the similarities between Charles Dickens and F W Boreham—those things which may have urged Boreham to lean on Dickens for inspiration. To recapitulate, they were both reporters, they both learned shorthand to help their journalistic writings, they both had stints at editing newspapers, their popularity grew through their stories that were first printed in newspapers and later were compiled into many books, they both liked to visit the scenes they were describing and they had retentive (photographic?) memories.

There is one other significant area for comparison and this focuses on the theme of this series of postings—their vision for ordinary people and things and their ability to capture the colour and the detail of everyday life in words and pictures. This is one of the big secrets behind their popularity and success as communicators in their age.

Artist in Real Life
We have already seen how the English novelist Charles Dickens shaped Boreham’s literary style but let us focus specifically now on how Boreham understood Dickens’ views and descriptions of the ordinary. The reason why Boreham praised Dickens as “an artist in real life” was because of the novelist’s commitment to study and know ordinary life. In Boreham’s words, “he saw humanity in every garb and from every conceivable angle. The panorama fascinated his hungry mind”.[2] Characteristic of the Dickensian style was the telling of stories about common things and common people. Quoting Compton-Rickett’s tribute to Dickens, Boreham wrote, “He is great because, though dealing continually with little worries, little hardships, and little pleasures, he made the dullest of lives in the drabbest of streets as enchanting as a fairy tale”.[3]

Love is Notoriously Blind
A compelling stylistic feature for Boreham was Dickens’ “unswerving fidelity to truth” yet, through “the melting pot of his vigorous mentality”, Boreham recognised that Dickens expressed his own rendition rather than presenting an accurate reflection of what he saw. However, in Boreham’s reckoning, these two features could coexist without contradiction, for when noting Chaucer’s transparent honesty, yet conceding validity in the public criticism of Chaucer’s depiction of an idealised England, he said: “Love is notoriously blind. When a lover describes his lady, everybody knows that, though he may be the soul of veracity, he is not telling the whole truth. He has no eyes for the faults and foibles that seem so conspicuous in the sight of others. So was it with Chaucer, and, on the whole, we like him all the better for it”.[4]

Ringing with Reality
Despite questions as to Dickens' faithfulness in articulating his vision, it was his descriptions of ordinary people, everyday moods, typical scenes in recognisable places such as the kitchen, the club or the street that delighted his readers. Writing about everyday human experience led Boreham to say of Dickens that “his pages carry conviction; they ring with reality”.[5] The familiarity of his creations produced an affinity rather than contempt.

In contrast to Shakespeare and Milton, whose devotees took time to appreciate their worth, Boreham said that Dickens experienced an immediate response of appreciation that vindicated his passion for writing about the commonplace. Boreham explained Dickens’ secret as “life answers to life, as, in another connotation, love answers to love”.[6]

Geoff Pound

Image: Charles Dickens

[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 9 June 1951.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 2 September 1933.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 12 June 1920.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 9 June 1951.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Boreham's Vision of the Ordinary

Secret to His Success
What made F W Boreham such a popular writer with book sales passing the one million mark?

We have examined in previous articles Boreham's easy, simple, clear, literary style and his attention, as a wordsmith, to finding the right word for the right place.

But one of his big secrets was the way he wrote about ordinary, everyday things about which every reader had experience and from this rich sphere he extracted valuable truths that made those same readers say: "Yeah! That is so right! Why didn't I think of that?"

The Significant Arena for Reflection
Melbourne churchman Irving Benson once referred to Boreham's essays entitled ‘Strawberries and cream’ and ‘Dominoes’ as representative of the many ordinary things that F W Boreham used to commence an editorial and gather a host of associated ideas.[1] Benson then quoted Emma Herman’s description of Boreham’s process and presentation as being “reminiscent of the great Dutch manner of painting, which, by the magic play of light and shade, can make a peasant’s kitchen romantic as a fairy palace”.[2]

It has been noted in previous blog postings that F W Boreham reveled in nature and delved into history to find many of his writing themes. In these next few postings we shall explore the way Dr Boreham found the ordinary, the commonplace and the everyday to provide a wealth of truth and inspiration. As Benson and Herman hinted, this theme in Boreham’s writings was as much about style as it was about subject.

Exponents of the Ordinary
F W Boreham discovered from several important authors and teachers the importance of writing about ordinary, everyday objects and experiences.

He lauded Daniel Defoe for championing the prosaic,[3] Samuel Richardson, whose extraordinary success with Pamela and Clarissa “proved that love is human rather than aristocratic”,[4] Walter Scott and his “reverence for reality”,[5] John Constable who “insisted on painting people and things as they actually did look”[6] and Geoffrey Chaucer whose secret lay in his ability “to transfer to his broad canvas nothing but what he actually saw”.[7]

In the next few postings I want to give a more extensive examination of the thoughts of F W Boreham as they related to three people who looked at the ordinariness of life and expressed its reality in their respective medium: Charles Dickens the novelist, Joseph Turner the painter and William Blake the poet.

What sort of a speech or sermon would you be able to construct from the game of dominoes, draughts, chess or some other popular game? It is not enough to talk about some popular game- one must also do the deeper reflection and application.

If you want to know what F W Boreham made of the game of dominoes you can read about it if you have the book: F W Boreham, ‘Dominoes’, The Silver Shadow (London: The Epworth Press, 1918), 11-21. Place a comment at the bottom of this article if you'd like me to post it. It is one of the essays that might qualify for inclusion in the forthcoming book, The Best Essays of F W Boreham.

By the way Michael and I still need financial help to get this and other books by F W Boreham published. Give a gift this Thanksgiving. Check The Best Stories of F W Boreham web site to discover how you might do this.

Geoff Pound

(To be continued.)

Image: Dominoes

[1] C I Benson, ‘Dr Frank W Boreham—The man and the writer’, The last milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1961), 9-10.
[2] Benson, ‘Dr Frank W Boreham—The man and the writer’, 12.
[3] F W Boreham, Mercury, 23 February 1924.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 3 July 1948.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 11 April 1925.
[6] F W Boreham, I forgot to say (London: The Epworth Press, 1939), 126.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 2 September 1933.