Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Boreham on the Value of Mess

Cleanliness Next to Godliness?
We have all been exasperated by the people who tell us with wearisome reiteration that cleanliness is next to godliness. They seem to think that their favorite aphorism was inscribed upon the Decalogue or included among the pearl-like phrases of the Sermon on the Mount. They must learn that the proposition boasts no such sublime authority. It may or may not have figured among the millions of sagacious observations that Confucius is supposed to have made, or that he intended to make, or that he would have made if it had been his good fortune to think of them. However that may be, the Bible is not responsible.

Admiration of Grime
Cleanliness, we are told, is next to godliness. It sometimes is. And sometimes, on the contrary, it is as far from godliness as Pole is from Pole. Those who fancy that the familiar quotation is to be found in the pages of Holy Writ should reflect that, so far from chanting a psalm in praise of cleanliness, the inspired writers have a good deal to say in admiration of the grimy hands of the tired toiler, the stains and smudges on the person and apparel of a healthy child, and the flurry of dust necessarily created by the busy housewife. One of the old prophets picturesquely describes the horrors of famine as a time of cleanness of teeth, whilst another formulates the striking epigram: Where no oxen are, the crib is clean.

No Ox, Crib Clean
The ox is the dynamo of an oriental farm. With his oxen the husbandman ploughs his fields, leads in his harvest, and transports his produce to market. If, through some tragic loss or devastating pestilence, the farmer is left without oxen, the cattle sheds may be a model of cleanliness—the harness and the gear all in their proper places, and the floor impeccably speckles—but look at the farm! Everything is going to rack and ruin. With no oxen, the crib is clean; but it is the cleanness of a dire and terrible catastrophe.

Deathly Orderliness
A home in which everything is in apple-pie order is not of necessity a matter for congratulation. The rooms are silent; there are no signs of childish romp and revelry. In the nursery, the toys are all in their proper places; everything is orderly and shipshape; all is spick and span. But the father and mother are heartbroken; their child is dead.

Confusing Office
When at the height of his renown, Sir Henry Hawkins, the most successful criminal advocate of all time, contrasted the bewildering confusion of his office in 1859 with the flawless tidiness of his official apartment in 1839. In 1839, when he was just starting, he took a tiny room in Elm Court. It was on the fifth floor. The papers were faultlessly arranged in the pigeonholes; a virgin sheet of white blotting paper adorned the brand-new desk; the pen nibs fairly glistened. In those days Hawkins spent most of his time in surveying the forest of chimney pots from the window and in listening at the top of the stairs in the frantic hope that one wonderful day, somebody would actually climb to the fifth floor. In his spacious rooms in 1859 there are piles of papers everywhere; messengers rush in and out; the waiting room is thronged with clients and witnesses; attorneys flit to and fro; clerks fly hither and thither; everything seems in a whirl and a flurry. But, with all its neatness, 1839 spelt worry and anxiety, whilst, with all its disorder, 1859 spelt prosperity and popularity. The upstairs office to which no client ever comes can readily be kept tidy.

Being Thankful for Mess
Let every minister be thankful that his study needs tidying; let every barrister be thankful for the confusion in his office; let every carpenter be thankful for the shavings on the floor; let every mother be thankful for the tumult in the nursery; let every farmer be thankful that the crib needs cleaning out. It all goes to show that there is something doing.

And, lifting the principle to a higher plane, let every man be thankful when his conscience cries out against him; the evil day is the day on which his conscience resolves to speak no more.

Coughing in the Cemetery
We have all heard of the old grave-digger whose terrible cough elicited the sympathy of a visitor to the cemetery. Straightening himself up, the sexton pointed with a sweeping gesture to the tombs around. `There's plenty here,' he tellingly observed, `who'd be glad of my cough!'

Catalyst for a Clean
But, although the cough is a sign of life, it must be cured or it will drag the old man down to a grave of his own. The litter in the office is suggestive of a prosperous business; but it is, at the same time, a clamant call for some tidying hand. The soiled stall is a wholesome spectacle; but it cries aloud to the farmer for water and broom. The torments of an aroused conscience are symptoms of spiritual vitality for which a wise man will give thanks on bonded knees; but they are useless and worse than useless unless they drive him, in his desperation, to the fountain open for all sin and for all uncleanness.

F W Boreham, ‘A Limited Virtue’, The Last Milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1961), 62-64.

Image: “Be thankful for the tumult in the nursery.”