Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Boreham on Beauty in the Unexpected

Romance of Monotony
In the tradition of Joseph Turner and William Blake, F W Boreham wrote many editorials on the ordinary experience of discovering beauty and truth in the unexpected. As Turner in his painting ‘Rain, steam and speed’ portrayed beauty in a train rushing through rain, Boreham perceived fascination in prosaic sources, which included “the romance of monotony”,[1] “the romance of the bank”[2] and “the evolution of pockets”.[3] Such themes were mined for truth but the unexpected and unlikely topics were also designed to arrest attention and add to Boreham’s ‘surprise power’. Other titles which caught the interest of readers and reviewers included the editorials ‘Wet paint’,[4] ‘Second wind’,[5] ‘The fly in the ointment’,[6] ‘If’,[7] ‘Black sheep’[8] and ‘Keep off the grass’.[9] Additional stylistic devices included the use of graphic statements as in his definition of tea as “liquid prophecy”[10] or his description of an acorn as “a pocket edition of a forest”.[11]

Appreciator of Small Things
At times, Dr. Boreham’s treatment of ordinary things seemed unexpected because the subjects were quaint or even trivial. In the tradition of the early French essayist Michel de Montaigne,[12] who wrote about ‘Sleeping’, ‘Thumbs’ and ‘Smells and Odours’, Boreham addressed seemingly unimportant subjects such as ‘Left-handedness’,[13] ‘Hats’,[14] ‘The man in the moon’,[15] ‘Smoke’,[16] ‘Scarecrows’,[17] ‘Babies’,[18] ‘Boots and shoes’[19] and ‘Sugar and spice’.[20] This feature of Boreham’s editorial writing saturated his life and wider work. His contemporary, J J North, identified this characteristic when describing Boreham: “From the beginning of his career he has been a tremendous appreciator of small things. He was never guilty of despising them. He came from London to Mosgiel. Mosgiel was, if we may be forgiven the pun, saved from the moss by a solitary woollen mill. Otherwise it belonged to the cow and the plough and to the pleasant murmur of the bees”.[21]

In an assessment of the early part of his career, North described the Boreham trademark of presenting surprising and peculiar topics: “It was something to hear a man fresh from London town who would preach on the inner meaning of test matches and hitting your middle wicket, who, as the Boer war came on, could give a series on David’s valiant men who slew bears in pits on snowy days”.[22]

Trivial but Treasures
Frank Boreham was aware that others sometimes found his subjects preposterous yet upon reviewing his life he found justification for his style when declaring: “The things that most readily rush to mind are things that, at first blush, seem ridiculously trivial ... and yet the fact that the mind insists on treasuring such trifles, letting slip many incidents of greater apparent importance, may indicate that memory has a more just standard of values than we sometimes fancy”.[23]

Geoff Pound

Image: Hitting your middle wicket.

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 24 November 1917.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 30 September 1922.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 20 August 1921.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 2 April 1938.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 31 May 1936.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 5 December 1931.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 2 June 1923.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 2 August 1924.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 28 April 1945.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 31 October 1936.
[11] F W Boreham, The crystal pointers (London: The Epworth Press, 1925), 217.
[12] Michel de Montaigne, The essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, trans. John Florio (London: George Routledge & Sons, Ltd., 1891), 134-135, 352, 156-157.
[13] F W Boreham, The silver shadow (London: The Epworth Press, 1919), 255.
[14] Boreham, Mercury, 31 October 1931.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 31 July 1954.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 4 November 1939.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 29 May 1920.
[18] Boreham, Mercury, 30 April 1955.
[19] Boreham, Mercury, 10 July 1954.
[20] Boreham, Mercury, 13 March 1954.
[21] J J North, Australian Baptist, 16 February 1926.
[22] J J North, New Zealand Baptist, April 1943.
[23] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 11-12.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Boreham on the Romance of the Everyday

Profundity in Postage Stamps
In December 1926, F W Boreham commenced an editorial with the question, “What can be more common-place than a postage stamp?”[1] This was typical of the style of many Boreham editorials in which he wrote about an object or issue that was common-place and, building on the familiar, urged readers to consider something more profound. Such articles included the titles, ‘The art of holiday making’,[2] ‘Going back to school’,[3] ‘Harvest time’,[4] ‘Fireside fellowship’,[5] ‘Drinking tea’,[6] ‘The weather’,[7] ‘Letter writing’[8] and ‘What’s in a name?’[9]

So Wealthy a Romance
In writing about the ordinary and the everyday, an enduring theme of F W Boreham was the notion of ‘romance’. He wrote that in everyday objects and even in the “life of the ordinary man there is a nugget of romance”.[10] In this statement, Boreham was inferring that romance was an element that gave special value to something or someone that might otherwise have been overlooked. Continuing with this imagery, he wrote variously of “discovering so wealthy a romance in the unfolding of Spring”,[11] the capacity of a crisis to “impart ... romance”[12] and a writer who “went on investing reality with romance”.[13]

Pregnant but Concealed
Boreham wrote that the romance of the everyday was a quality that was usually not immediately apparent. This idea was consistent with the notions in which the truth enclosed within nature’s “peels and pods”, Dickens’ “philosophy of envelopes” and Carlyle’s “concept of clothing”, provided variations on the idea of keeping the romance temporarily concealed.[14] Boreham inferred that there was a human responsibility to mine for truths in order to procure ‘a nugget of romance’. In another editorial, Boreham alluded to brown paper and string being “pregnant with romance”,[15] thus hinting at the way romance, while hidden within the ordinary, had a life within that was moving towards visibility.

Irresistible Fascination
Boreham believed people had an “irresistible fascination for all tales of romance”[16] and a longing to see “fresh phases of ... romance”,[17] yet he recognised that this sense had to be “awakened” and continually discovered.[18] While Boreham wrote about some things in which romance was widely anticipated, as in “the romance of the throne”[19] or the “romance of places unexplored”,[20] he sought to cultivate a pursuit of romance in objects where it was least expected. In this regard, Boreham wrote editorials on such unlikely topics as “the romance of a recluse”,[21] “the romance of a dictionary”[22] and “the romance of obscurity”.[23]

Halo of Surprise
The editorials that addressed the romance of everyday things exemplified ways that Boreham encouraged a way of looking through an object. In writing about the everyday experience of work, he admitted his inability to express his vision adequately when speaking of the “indefinable atmosphere of romance”.[24] It seemed for Boreham that the awareness of romance evoked an experience of wonder and mystery and was triggered by something that was seen. This thought arose from his frequent use of visual images in which he wrote of “an atmosphere of romance”, “a gleam of romance”[25] or casting “a halo of romance”.[26] Contemporary author, Annie Dillard, noted the emotional factor in such an experience when “although it comes to those who wait for it, it is always, even to the most practised and adept, a gift and a total surprise”.[27]

Illuminated by Radiance
In the foreword to one of his books, Boreham described how, walking along one day and noticing the beautiful effect of the glance of the sun on some rugged rocks, he arrived at the title of his latest book, The fiery crags. In explaining the purpose of the essays, he said, “I have simply attempted to communicate to these pages a few impressions gathered in restful moments when life’s commonplaces were illumined by the radiance that sometimes streams upon this world from worlds above”.[28] In this revealing title and commentary that conveyed another visual image illustrating romance in the everyday, Boreham alluded to further significant convictions.

While it has been noted that the discovery of romance must be worked at like a miner or pursued intentionally like an explorer, Boreham’s experience of momentarily seeing the fiery crags highlighted the elusive nature of romance which cannot be manufactured but may flash in the eyes of those with the patience to see. His mood for welcoming such an elusive experience was reflective rather than rational, contemplative more than cerebral. In this foreword to his book of religious essays, Boreham hinted at the spirituality of the experience and its divine source.

Geoff Pound

Image: Parable of the Postage Stamp

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 11 December 1926.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 9 January 1915.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 15 January 1916.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 18 December 1928.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 22 June 1957.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 6 December 1930.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 6 March 1926.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 24 September 1927.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 1 September 1917.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 9 December 1933.
[11] Boreham, Mercury, 29 December 1945.
[12] Boreham, Age, 26 February 1949.
[13] Boreham, Mercury, 20 August 1927.
[14] Boreham, Age, 4 September 1954.
[15] Boreham, Mercury, 22 December 1956.
[16] Boreham, Mercury, 29 December 1945.
[17] Boreham, Mercury, 4 March 1944.
[18] Boreham, Mercury, 26 May 1956.
[19] Boreham, Mercury, 18 April 1925.
[20] Boreham, Mercury, 4 February 1939.
[21] Boreham, Mercury, 12 July 1952.
[22] Boreham, Mercury, 15 May 1932.
[23] Boreham, Mercury, 9 December 1933.
[24] Boreham, Age, 26 February 1949.
[25] Boreham, Age, 29 March 1941.
[26] Boreham, Age, 3 January 1953.
[27] Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (New York: Perennial Classics, 1985), 35.
[28] F W Boreham, The fiery crags, 7-8.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Boreham on Telescopic Sight

New Kind of Looking
In what appeared to be a contra-dictory idea to the call to look at the ordinary or real life, F W Boreham advanced his thoughts on a new kind of looking. He illustrated this approach by picturing the way one uses a telescope—by looking through it rather than at it.

He said: “There are two ways of seeing every thing .… You may see it sacerdotally—seeing, that is to say, the thing itself, but seeing nothing through it or beyond it. Or you may see it sacramentally—scarcely seeing the thing itself, but seeing a world of wonder as you look through it. You never see a thing by looking at it; you only see a thing by looking through it”.[1]

Looking Through
Boreham then applied the telescopic manner of looking to other spheres. Rather than looking at nature, Boreham suggested that viewers miss the best that nature offers if they do not see through nature. Turning the readers’ attention to the Biblical revelation, Boreham said that “unless a man has looked through its phraseology, and caught the vision that it was designed to reveal, he has, in spite of everything, read the wondrous passages in vain”.[2]

Pointing to a Greater Vista
Boreham also related the principle of the telescope to the church in stating that it fulfils its mission, not by attracting attention to itself, but by pointing towards a greater vista. He concluded by affirming, “Life’s richest revelations come, not by looking at things, but by looking through them”.[3]

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘looking through a telescope.’

[1] F W Boreham, The tide comes in (London: The Epworth Press, 1958), 63.
[2] Boreham, The tide comes in, 65.
[3] Boreham, The tide comes in, 65.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Boreham on Uncluttering the Vision

In F W Boreham’s articles on William Blake he revealed that simplicity was an important strand in Boreham’s own thinking as it relates to seeing the value of ordinary things. He appeared to be echoing Henry D Thoreau’s chorus, “Simplify, simplify”,[1] and his frequent announcement of this theme was one of the indications of Boreham’s drift towards Quakerism.[2] He wrote of the despotic nature of possessions in which “the luxuries of one day become the indispensabilities of the next”, resulting in a blunting of one’s vision toward the greatest luxuries, which he contended were the least expensive.[3]

Leave Luxuries Behind
In conquering the “tyranny of disguise”, Boreham invited his readers to experience “the luxury of renouncing luxuries”, asking, “Is it not intensely significant that when we wholeheartedly abandon ourselves to the real pleasures of life, we leave our so-called luxuries behind us?” [4]These thoughts reveal the motivation for his abandonment of clutter indicated in such things as his determination not to drive a car, use a typewriter, install a telephone or watch television.

Benefits in the Turmoil
In Boreham’s judgement, one of the positive benefits of the international wars and the Depression was the way they brought an enforced renunciation of pleasure and a simplification of life. Writing about this revision of values, Boreham said: “In days like these, in which many of the ordinary commodities of life are rationed, and in which we are asked, for the sake of the starving millions of Europe, to curb our appetites and to impose upon ourselves a voluntary austerity, we learn with astonishment how many things we can do without”.[5]

Time for Overhaul
In a variety of editorials on this physical and mental overhaul, Boreham observed that the days of rationing and deprivation had resulted in people discovering “the inestimable value of a few simple and basic delights that are ordinarily overlooked”,[6] and the recognition that:

“Whatever losses we sustain, nothing can deprive us of the brightness of the daylight, the fragrance of gardens, the grace of velvety lawns, the glow of sunset, the love of good women, the laughter of little children, the loyalty of friendship, the companionship of books, the strains of stirring music, the beauty of noble paintings—the things that have represented the satisfactions of humanity since our little race began”.[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘the grace of velvety lawns’.

[1] Henry D Thoreau, Walden, ed. J Lyndon Shanley (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), 91.
[2] Rufus M Jones, The faith and practice of the Quakers (London: Methuen & Co Ltd, 1927), 90.
[3] F W Boreham, Mercury, 2 March 1957.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 2 March 1957.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 28 February 1917; Mercury, 7 September 1929; Mercury, 15 November 1941.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 23 October 1943; Age, 6 April 1946.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 17 May 1952.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Boreham on Looking at the Ordinary

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

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

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

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

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

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

Geoff Pound

Image: Window Dressing

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

Monday, November 27, 2006

Boreham on Blindness

Acknowledging Blindness
In an article entitled ‘The blind spot’, F W Boreham lamented that “the things we see are as nothing compared with the things that we miss”.[1] In writing about the prevalent blindness to reality in ordinary things, Boreham chastised certain individuals who, in “luxuriating among the cowslips” failed to appreciate the beauty under their noses.[2] He also criticised those who declined “to recognise that the mud of life is jingling with jewels”.[3] In alerting readers to the human condition, Boreham was quick to admit his own blindness for, in 1928, the year when he first had occasion to wear glasses, he wrote, “I am sadly aware of a dimness of sight that no oculist can relieve”.[4]

Aversion to Artificiality
Boreham perceived that a symptom of the prevailing blindness in society was the growing popularity of artificial things. His aversion to the artificial (also a theme of Richard Jeffries)[5] was focused on shows about which he said, “very few things look their best when on exhibition”.[6] However, it was the artificiality of life portrayed by the cinema that received Boreham’s harshest criticism. Describing an evening at the cinema, sometime prior to 1915, he observed that the audience was full of admiration for the film’s lifelikeness but in Boreham’s assessment it was “a very stilted, flickery kind of affair”. Reflecting later, Boreham said, “The next day I saw the real thing .… It is a mad world truly! We go into ecstasies over the scene in the cinema; the scene as God paints it only makes us yawn”.[7]

Peril of Familiarity
An aspect of human vision that Boreham believed could be corrected was the blindness that came through familiarity. While he said of his holiday location at Wedge Bay, “The local inhabitants have never awakened to the charms of the beauty-spots around them”, he also confessed, “I saw more of London and formed a more just appreciation of its grandeurs during a brief visit to the Homeland from New Zealand than during all the years of my residence in the world’s metropolis”.[8] Boreham’s editorials on this theme aimed at recovering what the art critic, John Ruskin, described as the “innocence of the eye”.[9] In his writings, Boreham sought to take his readers back to a place or an occurrence with which they were familiar and describe it with a reality and in a way that enabled them to feel that they were seeing it for the first time.

Geoff Pound

Image: ‘A flickery kind of affair…’

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 7 February 1928.
[2] F W Boreham, The other side of the hill (London: The Epworth Press, 1917), 130.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 6 July 1947.
[4] F W Boreham, The fiery crags (London: The Epworth Press, 1928), 251.
[5] Richard Jeffries, Field and hedgerow (London: Longmans, Green, & Co., 1892), 148.
[6] F W Boreham, Mountains in the mist (London: The Epworth Press, 1914), 141.
[7] F W Boreham, The golden milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1915), 94.
[8] Boreham, The golden milestone, 109.
[9] John Ruskin, The genius of John Ruskin: Selections from his writings, ed. John D Rosenberg (George Allen & Unwin Ltd, 1963), 12.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Boreham and a New Way of Looking

New Way of Looking
We have been looking at F W Boreham’s call for the sphere of ordinary life to become a primary focus for his reader’s study and we have considered this theme in reference to selected representatives who inspired him: Dickens, Turner, Blake and Jesus.

Attention is now directed to insights and illustrations from Boreham’s editorials that develop this theme and reflect on how his readers might develop their vision for the ordinary. What were the simple, common, everyday things and events that Boreham addressed? How did he advocate that they be seen and studied and why?

See For Yourself
In one of his many editorials on the theme of seeing, F W Boreham claimed in 1930 that “millions of people have gone through life seeing a blur” and he concluded by saying “the art of life lies in every man seeing clearly for himself”.[1] Boreham’s convictions about ‘seeing’ are reminiscent of the French theologian and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who, in 1938, writing at great length on the importance of ‘seeing’, concluded:

“We might say that the whole of life lies in that verb. That, doubtless, is why the history of the living world can be summarized as the elaboration of ever more perfect eyes within a cosmos in which there is always more to be seen .… If to see is really to become more, if vision is really fuller being, then we should look closely at man in order to increase our capacity to live”.[2]

While both writers elaborated on this theme in different ways and in dissimilar literary styles, they were united in their passion to convince their readers of developing one’s vision. F W Boreham claimed that the realisation of one’s full expression would come by ceasing to see through other peoples’ spectacles and looking through one’s own eyes.

Geoff Pound

Image: Eyes to See

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 11 January 1930.
[2] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The phenomenon of man (London: Collins, 1938-40), 31-32.