Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Boreham the Editor

F W Boreham was the sixth editor of the New Zealand Baptist and he served from 1899 until he left for Australia in 1906.[1]

New Zealand Baptists were proud of their newspaper. Writing at the time of the NZ Baptist Union’s Jubilee, Dr. J. J. North said:

“No Church has been more consistently served by its denominational organ than has ours. The New Zealand Baptist is the oldest religious paper in this country, with the possible exception of the Catholic Tablet. Every other Church has seen its paper rise and fall and rise again. Ours has kept steadily on.”[2]

Editorial Rating
F.W. Boreham’s contemporaries judged that he maintained and increased the high standard of this publication. Stanley Jenkin said:

“When the century was yet very young, F. W. Boreham, with his journalistic flair and his wealth of literary illustration began to make the "Baptist" conspicuous.[3]

J. J.North wrote of the contribution that the editorial role made to Boreham’s career when he said, “That very brilliant journalist, F. W. Boreham, then of Mosgiel, succeeded to the chair in 1899, and carried his duties with entire success till 1906. He began to find himself as a writer by writing leaders for the New Zealand Baptist.”

“He had a new and novel touch. We remember how he shocked some sober brows by making test cricket a subject for a "leader." "Ipecacuanha" was another. As "Wrox" he wrote the cleverest description of Conference that we have ever had. Some entirely important articles written for the paper by ministers and laymen during his and Dewdney's reigns have their value still.”

“In 1906 F. W. B. went to Australia, to our lasting loss, and the editorial pen was entrusted to H. H. Driver.”

Boreham’s Self-Evaluation
It is interesting to note that in retrospect F. W. Boreham did not think he did a very good job as an editor. He shares his reflections in this published essay (1916) entitled, ‘The Editor.’

THE EDITOR by F. W. Boreham

I APPROACH my present theme with considerable diffidence, for reasons obvious and for reasons obscure. For one thing, I was for some years an editor myself, and I cannot satisfy myself that the experiment was even a moderate success. Everything went splendidly, so far as I was concerned, as long as I wrote everything myself; but I was terribly pestered by other people. They worried me year in and year oat, morning noon, and night. They would insist on sending me manuscripts that I had neither the grace to accept nor the courage to decline. They wrote the most learned treatises, the most pathetic stories, and the most affecting little sonnets. The latter, they explained, were for Poet's Corner. They actually deluged me with letters, intended for publication, dealing with all sorts of subjects in which I took not the slightest glimmer of interest. They sometimes even presumed, in some carping or captious way, to criticize or review things that I had myself written-as though such things were open to question! At other times they wrote to applaud the sentiments I had expressed—as though I needed their corroboration! They were an awful nuisance. The stupid thing was only a monthly, and how they imagined that there would be any room for their contributions, by the time I had been a whole month writing, passes my comprehension. Then came the awakening, and it was a rude one. I suddenly realized that I was a fraud, a delusion, and a snare. I was not an editor at all. I was simply masquerading, playing a great game of bluff and make-believe. As a matter of fact, I was nothing more than an objectionably garrulous contributor who had gained possession of the editor's sanctum, usurped the editor's authority, and commandeered the editor's chair. I felt so ashamed of myself that I precipitately fled, and, although I have several times since been invited to assume editorial responsibilities, I have shown my profound respect for journalism by politely but firmly declining. It does not at all follow that, because a man can make a few bricks, he can therefore build a mansion. A chemist may be very clever at making up prescriptions, but that does not prove his ability to prescribe.

During the years to which I have referred, that paper really had no editor. An editor would have done three things. He would have written a few wise words himself. He would have pitilessly repressed my unconscionable volubility. And he would have given the public the benefit of some of those carefully prepared contributions which I, with savage satisfaction, hurled into the waste-paper basket. It would have been a good thing for the paper if the editorials had been so few and so brief that people could have been reasonably expected to read them. They would then have attached to them the gravity and authority that such contributions should normally carry. And it would have been good for the world in general, and for me in particular, if liberal quantities of my manuscript had been substitutionally sacrificed in redemption of some of those rolls of paper, whose destruction I now deplore, which I consigned to limbo with so light a heart. Since then I have had a fairly wide experience of editors, and the years have increased my respect. `O Lord,' an up-country suppliant once exclaimed at the week-night prayer-meeting, 'O Lord, the more I sees of other people the more I likes myself!' I do not quite share the good man's feeling, at any rate so far as editors are concerned. The more I have seen of the ways of other editors the less am I pleased with the memory of my own attempt. The way in which these other editors have treated my own manuscript makes me blush for very shame as I remember my editorial intolerance of such packages. Very occasionally an editor has found it necessary to delete some portion of my contribution, and, nine times out of ten, I have admired the perspicacity which detected the excrescence and strengthened the whole by removing the part. I say nine times out of ten; but I hint at the tenth case in no spirit of resentment or bitterness. I am young yet, and the years may easily teach me that, even in the instances that still seem doubtful to me, I am under a deep and lasting obligation to the editorial surgery.

The editor is the emblem of all those potent, elusive, invisible forces that control our human destinies. We are clearly living in an edited world. We may not always agree with the editor; it would be passing strange if we did. We may see lots of things admitted that we, had we been editor, would have vigorously excluded. The venom of the cobra, the cruelty of the wolf, the anguish of a sickly babe, and the flaunting shame of the street corner; had I been editor I should have ruthlessly suppressed all these contributions. But my earlier experience of editorship haunts my memory to warn me. I was too fond of rejecting things in those days. I was too much attached to the waste-paper basket. And I have been sorry for it ever since. And perhaps when I have lived a few eons longer, and have had experience of more worlds than one, I shall feel ashamed of my present inclination to doubt the editor's wisdom. Knowing as little as I know, I should certainly have rejected these contributions with scorn and impatience. The fangs of the viper, the teeth of the crocodile, and all things hideous and hateful, I should have intolerantly excluded. And, some ages later, with the experience of a few millenniums and the knowledge of many worlds to guide me, I should have lamented my folly, even as I now deplore my old editorial exclusiveness.

And, on the other hand, we sometimes catch a glimpse of the editor's waste-paper basket, and the revelation is an astounding one. The waste of the world is terrific. And among these rejected manuscripts I see some most exquisitely beautiful things. The other day, not far from here, a snake bit a little girl and killed her. Now here was a curious freak of editorship! On the editor's table there lay two manuscripts. There was the snake—a loathsome, scaly brute, with wicked little eyes and venomous fangs, a thing that made your flesh creep to look at it. And there was the little girl, a sweet little thing with curly hair and soft blue eyes, a thing that you could not see without loving. Had I been there, I should have tried to kill the snake and save the child. That is to say, I should have accepted the child-manuscript, and rejected the snake-manuscript.

But the editor does exactly the opposite. The snake-manuscript is accepted; the horrid thing glides through the bush at this moment as a recognized part of the scheme of the universe. The child-manuscript is rejected; it is thrown away; have we not seen it, like a crumpled poem, in the editor's waste-paper basket? How differently I should have acted had I been editor! And then, when I afterwards reviewed my editorship, as I today review that other editorship of mine, I should have seen that I was wrong. And that reflection makes me very thankful that I am not the editor. We shall yet come to see, in spite of all present appearances to the contrary, that the editor adopted the kindest, wisest, best course with each of the manuscripts presented. We shall see

That nothing walks with aimless feet;
That not one life shall be destroyed,
Or cast as rubbish to the void,
When God hath made the pile complete;

That not a worm is cloven in vain;
That not a moth with vain desire
Is shrivelled in a fruitless fire,
Or but subserves another's gain.

Everybody feels at liberty to criticize the Editor; but, depend upon it, when all the information is before us that is before Him, we shall see that our paltry judgement was very blind. And we shall recognize with profound admiration that we have been living in a most skilfully edited world. For, after all, that is the point. The Editor knows so much more than I do. He has eyes and ears in the ends of the earth. His sanctum seems so remote from everything, and yet it is an observatory from which He beholds all the drama of the world's great throbbing life.

When I was a boy I was very fond of a contrivance that was called a camera-obscura. I usually found it among the attractions of a seaside town. You paid a penny, entered a room, and sat down beside a round white table. The operator followed, and closed the door. The place was then in total darkness; you could not see your hand before you. It seemed incredible that in this black, hole one could get a clearer view of all that was happening in the neighbourhood than was possible out in the sunlight. Yet, as soon as the lens above you was opened, the whole scene appeared like a moving coloured photograph on the white table. The waves breaking on the beach; the people strolling on the promenade; everything was faithfully depicted there. Not a dog could wag his tail but there, in the darkness, you saw him do it. An observer who watched you enter, and saw the door close after you, could be certain that now, for awhile, you were cut off from everything. And yet, as a fact, you only went into the darkness that you might see the whole scene in the more perfect perspective. What is this but the editor's sanctum? He enters it and, to all appearances, he leaves the world behind him as he does so. But it is a mere illusion. He enters it that he may see the whole world more clearly from its quiet seclusion.

In the same way, when I look round upon the world, and see the things that are allowed to happen, the Editor seems fearfully aloof. He seems to have gone into His heaven and closed the door behind Him. `Clouds and darkness are round about Him,' says the psalmist. And if clouds and darkness are round about Him, is it any wonder that His vision is obscure? If clouds and darkness are round about Him, is it any wonder that He acts so strangely? If clouds and darkness are round about Him, is it any wonder that He rejects the child-manuscript and accepts the snake-manuscript? And yet, and yet; what if the darkness that envelops Him be the darkness of the camera-obscura? The psalmist declares that it is just because clouds and darkness are round about Him that righteousness and judgement are the habitation of His throne. It is a darkness that obscures Him from me without in the slightest degree concealing me from Him.

So there the editor sits in his seclusion. Nobody is so unobtrusive. You may read your paper, day after day, year in and year out, without even discovering the editor's name. You would not recognize him if you met him on the street. He may be young or old, tall or short, stout or slim, dark or fair, shabby or genteel-you have no idea. There is something strangely mysterious about the elusive individuality of that potent personage who every day draws so near to you, and yet of whom you know so little.

One of these days I shall be invited to preach a special sermon to editors, and, in view of so dazzling an opportunity, I have already selected my text. I shall speak of that Ideal Servant of Humanity of whom the prophet tells. `He shall not scream, nor be loud, nor advertise Himself,' Isaiah says, `but He shall never break a bruised reed nor quench a smouldering wick.' That would make a great theme for a sermon to editors. "There He is, so mysterious and yet so mighty; so remote and yet so omniscient, so invisible and yet so eloquent; so slow to obtrude Himself and yet so swift to discern any flickering spark of genius in others. He shall not advertise Himself nor quench a single smouldering wick.

There are two great moments in the history of a manuscript. The first is the moment of its preparation; the second is the moment of its appearance. And in between the two comes the editor's censorship and revision. I said just now that I had noticed that editorial emendations are almost invariably distinct improvements. The article as it appears is better than the article as it left my hands. Now let me think. I spoke a moment ago of the child-manuscript and the snake-manuscript; but what about myself? Am not I too a manuscript, and shall I not also fall into the Editor's hands? What about all the blots, and the smudges, and the erasures, and the alterations? Will they all be seen when I appear, when I appear? The Editor sees to that. The Editor will take care that none of the smudges on this poor manuscript shall be seen when I appear. 'For we know,' says one of the Editor's most intimate friends, 'we know that when we appear we shall be like Him—without spot or wrinkle or any such thing!' It is a great thing to know that, before I appear, I shall undergo the Editor's revision.

Charlie was very excited. His father was a sailor. The ship was homeward bound, and dad would soon be home. Thinking so intently and exclusively of his father's coming, Charlie determined to carve out a ship of his own. He took a block of wood, and set to work. But the wood was hard, and the knife was blunt, and Charlie's fingers were very small.
`Dad may be here when you wake up in the morning, Charlie!' his mother said to him one night.

That night Charlie took his ship and his knife to bed with him. When his father came at midnight, Charlie was fast asleep, the blistered hand on the counterpane not far from the knife and the ship. The father took the ship, and, with his own strong hand, and his own sharp knife, it was soon a trim and shapely vessel. Charlie awoke with the lark next morning, and, proudly seizing his ship, he ran to greet his father; and it is difficult to say which of the two was the more proud of it. It is an infinite comfort to know that, however blotted and blurred this poor manuscript may be when I lay down my pen at night, the Editor will see to it that I have nothing to be ashamed of when I appear in the morning.

F.W. Boreham, ‘The Editor,’ Faces in the Fire (London: The Epworth Press, 1916), 57-67.

[1] The editors of the New Zealand Baptist who preceded F. W. Boreham were: Rev. W. C. Spencer (1881-82); Rev. C. Bright (1883,-84); Rev. A. North (1883-87); Rev. L. Shackleford (1887-89); Rev. A. Dewdney (1889-99) in L. A. North, ‘We Editorial Succession,’ New Zealand Baptist, August 1966, 201.
[2] J. J. North, ‘The New Zealand Baptist: Jubilee Retrospect,’ New Zealand Baptist, October 1932, 304-305.
[3] Stanley Jenkin, ‘A Bit from the Heart of a Friend and Fellow-Worker,’ New Zealand Baptist, January 1949, 3.

Image: One editor under pressure and still looking for a story.