Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Frank and Stella Boreham's Valentine Story

In his autobiography, My Pilgrimage, Frank Boreham tells his Valentine story:

In my time the [seminary] students were boarded out in groups of six or eight. The system may not be ideal, yet it has its advantages. It developed personal intimacy, loyal comradeship and, in many cases, laid the foundations of lifelong friendships.

Moreover, it developed in each man the delicate art of harmonizing his own tastes and temperament with those of the men whose room and whose table he daily shared. And it excited a healthy rivalry between the different houses. If a man excelled in classes, in debate, in university examinations or in public life, the glory of his achievement shed a lustre on the house to which he belonged.

For some reason that I have never quite fathomed, the student-pastorates attached to the College were divided among the different houses, and, within the house, were passed on from one student to another in order of seniority. Our house at Durand Gardens, Stockwell, was responsible for two of these student-pastorates-Forest Row in Sussex and Theydon Bois in Essex. Long before I had set foot in either of those charming English villages I seemed to know them thoroughly. And I knew the people who lived in them -at least by name.

For, on Monday evenings, having returned from our various preaching appointments, we pulled ourselves together for another week's work. And, in the process, we naturally compared notes as to our week-end experiences. And as, in the discharge of his duties as student-pastor, one of the men had, of necessity, been to Forest Row and another to Theydon Bois, we all became familiar with the outstanding phenomena of those two places.

The student-pastorate of Forest Row never came my way. I often spent a Sunday there, mainly because it was near to Tunbridge Wells; and, during the College vacations, when I returned to my own home, it was easy for me to slip over to Forest Row to conduct the Sunday services. It was here that I stayed with Old Bessie, the minister's widow, of whom I have written in This is the Day! and other stories.

But the student-pastorate at Theydon Bois, upon which I entered after completing my first year of College life, always interested me. In the course of that Monday evening gossip concerning our week-end adventures, we discussed everything under the sun: the scenery that had charmed us, the homes that had entertained us, the congregations to which we had ministered, and—so human were we!—the young ladies whose acquaintance we had made.

I noticed, from the first, that the conversation invariably took this romantic turn as soon as Theydon Bois came into the picture. I gathered that the student pastor was usually lodged in a home that was adorned by a most attractive garden of girls. All the men in the house, with the exception of myself, had taken the Theydon Bois engagement at some time or other and were therefore in a position to discuss appreciatively the members of this delightful family. I alone was out in the cold, and I confess that their encomiums piqued my curiosity.

At long last, however, my turn came. The student pastor was asked by the authorities to preach elsewhere, and the Theydon Bois appointment automatically devolved upon me as being next in order of seniority. I went: I liked the picturesque little village nestling in the heart of the forest: I liked the chapel perched on the edge of the green: I liked the kindness and cordiality of the people: and, quite frankly, I liked the girls. The only fly in the ointment was that one of the girls was missing. 'What a pity,' some member of the household would remark every now and again, `what a pity that Stella is not here!' Stella, I gathered, both from her sisters and from my fellow-students, possessed attractions peculiarly her own.

A few weeks later, on August 2, 1893, I went to Theydon Bois, not as a mere stop-gap, but to assume the student-pastorate. Stella was there; but, as I was on that occasion entertained at another home, I only met her at the church. The following week, however, I was the guest of her parents. Stella was at the home on my arrival on the Saturday evening. I learned that, after tea, she was walking over to Epping to do some shopping. I saw no sign of any escort: and so, unwilling that she should undertake so lengthy a trudge in solitude, I gallantly craved permission to accompany her. And thus my troubles began. We met with no misadventure on the outward journey. But, walking home through the forest in the moonlight, a vexatious wind sprang up. She chanced to be wearing a very becoming broad-brimmed hat that, buffeted by these untimely gusts, refused to keep its place. It blew from her head again and again. At last I suggested that she should allow me to tie it on with my handkerchief. She demurely submitted, and, as she stood there with the silver moon shining full upon her face, I thought the new arrangement of her millinery even more bewitching than the old. I was thankful that she could not read the daring thought that swept into my mind as, tying the 'kerchief beneath her chin, I looked into her upturned eyes: she would have adjudged her new minister totally unworthy of the nice things that her sisters had said about him. Anyhow, the delicious temptation was successfully resisted and the rapturous moment passed. We saved the hat; but, as we eventually discovered, we lost our hearts. And, since we have neither of us regretted that heavy loss, it seems to follow that the hat must have been a particularly valuable one.

When, on the Monday evening, the conclave of students met in the big general study at the College house to talk over our Sabbatic experiences, I was careful, when my turn came, to raise quite a number of thorny theological questions arising out of my own sermons and out of those of the other men. I was prepared to dilate at great length on the unseasonable weather, on the choice of hymn-tunes, on railway connexions and on autumn tints. On one theme, and on theme only, had I no syllable to say.

In 1894 Mr. Thomas Spurgeon was called from New Zealand to succeed his father in the Tabernacle pastorate. In common with all the other students, I marked this development with deep interest and attended the various services held in connexion with the new minister's induction. I little dreamed, however, that the return of Mr. Thomas Spurgeon from the Antipodes would have the effect of banishing me to the ends of the earth.

On Wednesday, November 14, of that year, however, a strange thing happened. After the morning classes, the entire College assembled, in accordance with the customary routine, for the sermon and its criticism. At the close of this session we sprang to our feet as usual whilst the professors retired, and then gathered up our books and papers preparatory to returning to our various houses. It chanced that my next neighbour on the desk-room benches was F. W. Jarry, who has since won universal admiration by his magnificent lifework in India. Even then his whole heart was set on missionary enterprise and he made no secret of his enthusiasm. On this particular day, instead of rushing out of the hall on the heels of the tutors, Jarry quietly turned and faced me.
`Where,' he inquired, `are you going to settle when you leave?'
Since I had expected to remain in College for at least another year—possibly two—the question took my breath away. As a rule, a man only hears of a possible pastorate a few weeks before he is invited to it. I had scarcely given the matter a thought.
`Suppose,' Jarry persisted, `suppose that the whole wide world were open to you, and you were free to settle in any part of it, where would you go?'
`I would go to New Zealand!' I replied on the instant. I was astonished at my own temerity, for the matter had never exercised my mind. But, regarding the conversation as a purely casual and irresponsible affair, I blurted out my reply with that assumption of confidence that is characteristic of young people generally and of students in particular.
`New Zealand!' echoed Jarry, as startled as I was. `And why New Zealand of all places?'
`Well,' I answered, `I should love to be a missionary in China or Africa; but there's no chance of that. The China Inland Mission has already turned me down, and no other Society would look at me. That door is closed. Seeing, then, that missionary work is not for me, I should like to go where ministers are few and far between, where men are urgently needed, where one would have ample scope and could lay foundations of his own instead of building on foundations laid by others. I imagine that New Zealand would provide just such a field!'
`It probably would,' Jarry replied thoughtfully. `We must pray about it!' And away we went.
The next day, on reaching College, I received a message to the effect that, at the close of the sermon-class, Professor Marchant wished to see me in his room.

`Before leaving New Zealand,' the Professor began, `Mr. Thomas Spurgeon was commissioned by the church at Mosgiel—a church that has never yet had a minister—to send out a suitable man. He has invited the tutors to introduce him to the student whom we should select for the appointment and our unanimous choice has fallen upon you. Will you go? If you are prepared to consider it, Mr. Spurgeon would like to see you as soon as possible.'
I sought out Jarry. `You knew all about this when you asked that question yesterday!' I exclaimed, accusingly.
`My dear fellow!' he replied, `I give you my word of honour that I never heard of it until this moment, and I assure you that I never breathed to a soul the confidence you gave me. It certainly looks as if you are being guided!'

I wrote to my father and mother that afternoon. My mother replied by return of post. `If you go to New Zealand,' she said, `I shall never see you again. I am afraid we could never consent to it!' After posting that letter, however, she remembered her vow at Prebendary Webb-Peploe's meeting eight years earlier. She therefore sat down and wrote a second letter.

`I am sorry I wrote as I did,' she said. `We have talked it over and now feel differently. If you decide to go to New Zealand, it will be a terrible wrench. But it may be God's will for you, and, if so, we shall have nothing to say but a fervent God bless you!'

During the next few days everything seemed to be pointing me to New Zealand. Until that critical fourteenth of November, I had scarcely given New Zealand a thought. Of its history, geography and climatic conditions I knew next to nothing. But now! New Zealand shouted at me from all the hoardings; it figured prominently in all the newspapers: it was the theme of every conversation; I met New Zealand everywhere. Everybody seemed to have brothers there or cousins there, or friends who had just been there or relatives who were just going there. The world appeared to be divided into two hemispheres—New Zealand and The Rest—and, of the two, the former seemed to be by far the more important.

As against all this, however, there was one factor that occasioned me a hurricane of concern. I had fallen in love, although, so far as I knew, I had betrayed my secret to nobody, least of all to the young lady herself. How, until I had brought this vital matter to a satisfactory issue, could I dream of leaving England?

The situation was extremely complicated. On the one hand, she was only just seventeen; she was only fifteen on the night of our fateful struggle with the ill-behaved hat. And, on the other hand, I knew nothing at all of the conditions that would await me on the other side of the world. New Zealand was in its infancy; within living memory it had been a wilderness of virgin bush. Would it be fair to say a single word that would commit a girl of such tender years to a life in such a land? I decided that such a course would be unpardonable.

Yet every hour made my duty more crystal clear. I therefore informed Mr. Spurgeon and the tutors that I was willing to go. On December 3, 1894, at Mr. Spurgeon's request, I delivered a farewell address at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, and, on January 24, 1895, I sailed on the Tainui from the Royal Albert Docks. On my way to the ship, Mr. Spurgeon gave me a Birthday Book which I still treasure. I handed it round for signatures and among those who autographed it was my college-companion, Jarry, whose unexpected question had first pointed the finger of destiny. Unlike the others, he added a text to his signature—the text in which Paul claims that he has preached the gospel in places in which he was building on no other man's foundation.

And so I left the dear Homeland. My father and mother came to see me off. So did my brothers and sisters, my college companions and many of the people to whom I had ministered at Theydon Bois. And of course, with her father, my Stella was there. Did she understand? Did she guess? To this day I am not sure. The only hint that I allowed myself to give her—perhaps a broad one—was in the actual moment of leave-taking. With the other young ladies who had come to the ship, I probably shook hands. But, in her case, I deliberately and of malice aforethought yielded to the alluring temptation to which I so nearly succumbed on the night on which I wrestled with her hat.

(To Be Continued)

Source: F W Boreham, My Pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 104-112.

Image: Stella Cottee