Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, February 16, 2007

Boreham and His Protest Against Noise

Writing about Walter Raleigh’s wonderful phrase, F W Boreham says:

My scallop-shell of quiet! The phrase makes an irresistible appeal in view of the movement that I see afoot around me. Humanity is in revolt. It is arming itself against noise. The circumstance is intensely significant. The mere recognition of the fact that noise has become a species of tyranny is itself a healthy sign. For several generations humanity has been so excited over its success in mechanizing everything that it has had no time to notice the inordinate din that it was incidentally creating.

Noise Creeping Up
Yet there it is! 'Noise,' the Engineer observes, 'has crept upon us unawares with the advent of mechanical engineering. We are only vaguely conscious how great it is; only vaguely conscious that it is bad for us; or long ago we should have taken steps to stop it.'

Noise Injurious to our Health
Our doctors are telling us every day that diseases of the nervous system are alarmingly on the increase and that the distracting clamor amidst which our lives are spent has a good deal to do with it. It is of no avail to assure these excellent physicians that we are growing accustomed to the everlasting racket. Motor-cycles go snorting past our windows without our even glancing up. We sleep soundly at night with trams rumbling, horns tooting and railway engines screaming furiously around us. The doctors shake their heads: they are not satisfied. Young people warned by their elders concerning the folly of bolting their food in chunks, laugh at the idea of indigestion. But Nature will not be laughed at; she stands no nonsense; years afterwards the inevitable penalty is paid. And, in the same way, our medical authorities assure us that, in sleeping amidst a babel of noise, we are not enjoying the immunity upon which we plume ourselves. The perfect restfulness of sleep is being unconsciously ruined; there are mental starts and sensations of which we know nothing; the nerves are being imperceptibly frayed and worn down; the whole thing is as bad as bad can be.

Hopeful Signs
The most hopeful sign on the horizon is the declaration by the engineers that mechanization and noise do not of necessity go together. Noise, they say, is bad workmanship. `It is the outward token,' as one expert puts it, `of wasted energy. It can be caused only by vibration. That vibration can be set up by hammering, by shaking or by friction; and these are the three cardinal sins of mechanical engineering.' The hydraulic crane, the rubber tyre, the silencer and all such contrivances, indicate that the tide has turned. The world's best workers are finding their ideal away back on a Syrian hill.

“There was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the temple while it was in building.”

“Like some tall palm the noiseless fabric sprang.”

The noiseless fabric! There stands the supreme triumph of engineering! And it is altogether to the good that the twentieth century, turning its face wistfully towards that ancient model, is bending every effort to eliminate the crash and the scream and the roar to which we have been martyrs for so long.

Source: F W Boreham, The Passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 12-14.

Image: A book on noise in the classroom.