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 on Noises and Sounds

What Noises Should be Muted?
It is quite conceivable that, as the movement for a quieter world develops, some differences of opinion may emerge as to the particular noises that should be suppressed. To some people the music of a band—particularly a jazz band--is intolerable; and Macaulay, who could never distinguish between one tune and another, could be quoted in their support. Things do not appeal similarly to all tastes and temperaments; one man's food is another man's poison; one man's Paradise is another man's Purgatory.

Incessant Guggles
A well-known statesman used to complain that his nightly drive home from the House of Commons was rendered hideous by the incessant guggle, guggle, guggle of the nightingales! In any outcry against noise there is usually a reference to the crowing of cocks. One is reminded of the agonies endured by Carlyle. Again and again he complains bitterly that `the cocks and hens are as large as ostriches, and scream and crow with the power of a steam whistle.' Yet, by an odd coincidence, whilst the distracted historian was suffering such torture with ill-disguised impatience, his distinguished contemporary, Thoreau, was descanting on the same theme in a very different temper.

Cock Crowing Newer Testament
To Thoreau the crowing of the cock was the bugle-blast of the universe. He called upon all men everywhere to applaud it. 'There is,' he averred, something in a cock-crow that is a Newer Testament—the Gospel according to the Moment. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world—healthiness as of a spring burst forth. The merit of this bird's strain is its freedom from all plaintiveness. The singer can easily move us to tears or to laughter; but where is he who can excite in us a pure morning joy?'

Sounds of Owners and Neighbors
Over such transports, Carlyle would only groan in uttermost mystification and disgust. Similar varieties of outlook are not uncommon; and, even when the barking of dogs comes in for consideration, we sometimes discern a marked difference between the view of the proud owner of the faithful beast on the one hand and that of his next-door neighbor on the other!

Spirituality of Sound?
There may be a moral and even a spiritual issue at stake. Did the statesman always regard the song of the nightingale as a guggle, guggle, guggle? Was there never a time at which Carlyle discerned something stimulating in the crowing of the cock?

Unmoved Heart and Stolid Eye
In one of her best poems, Mrs. Ella Wheeler Wilcox tells of a young fellow who would go into raptures over a dazzling sunset or a lovely song. But the years went by. Queen Folly held her sway. She fed his flesh and drugged his mind: he trailed his glory in the mire. In the days that followed, neither sunsets nor songs had any charm for him.

The clouds made day a gorgeous bed;
He saw the splendor of the sky
With unmoved heart and stolid eye!
He only knew the West was red!

Then suddenly, a fresh young voice
Rose, bird-like, from some hidden place;
He did not even turn his face,
It struck him simply as a noise!

Dulled to Higher Things
He saw the sunset that once filled him with ecstasy; but he saw it 'with unmoved heart and stolid eye'! He heard the song that once sounded to him like the voice of angels, and 'it struck him simply as a noise’! And, in closing her poem, Mrs. Wilcox exclaims—

O worst of punishments, that brings
A blunting of all finer sense,
A loss of feelings keen, intense,
And dulls us to the higher things.

Sounds and Sensations
This may, in some cases and in some phases of experience, account for our changed attitude towards sounds and sensations. Not always, of course; but sometimes—often enough, at any rate, to make a little heart-searching worthwhile.

F W Boreham, ‘My Scallop-Shell of Quiet’, The Passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 14-16.

Image: "the bugle-blast of the universe."