Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, March 04, 2007

An Interview with F. W.Boreham

This article is the result of an interview by J. S. A. Worboys with F. W. Boreham in 1923. It was first published in London’s Sunday at Home Magazine.

We are privileged to print in most numbers of THE SUNDAY AT HOME an article by F. W. Boreham. Mr. Boreham is one of the most brilliant of living essayists, and his work, as we know, has been of great help and stimulus to many of our readers. Collected in due course into volumes, these articles are ministering to ever - widening circles of admiring and grateful readers. Mr. Boreham, though English-born, left these shores twenty-eight years ago, and has lived throughout that period in New Zealand, Tasmania, and Australia, and his personality, except through his articles and books, is not familiar to us on this side. On these grounds we are confident that the article which follows will be welcomed by our readers. Ed.

NO sooner had we touched the latch of the garden-gate of Wroxton Lodge than the front door opened, and, hastening down the garden path, smiling welcome and right good-will, came my friend and former "chief" the Rev. F. W. Boreham.

It was characteristic—that welcome! To all his friends Mr. Boreham is a friend, full-hearted, unconventional, self-forgetful, the soul of friendship and courtesy. Popularity and fame have not made him one inch taller than he is! (True sign of a big man.) He may have traveled far ahead of his friends on the road of achievement, but he walks with them side by side on the road of friendship.

About ten years ago it was my privilege to be associated with Mr. Boreham in Tasmania as assistant minister. I was then not much more than a boy, quite inexperienced, a 'prentice hand at every part of a minister’s work. Now I suppose there is nothing which shows up more quickly and surely the weakness or strength of a man's character than his dealings with his subordinate. Well, from the first, Mr. Boreham treated me as a colleague and friend, and never once was I made to feel the "assistant" part of the relationship in the odious sense of that word.

I have by me a gift-copy of The Luggage of Life, which is inscribed as follows: "To my colleague and friend ... as a slight memento of a year's happy comradeship." "Colleague and friend"—that was how he treated his assistant and understudy! “A year’s happy comradeship”—that was what he made our relationship to be. I went to his home again the other day, after nine years' absence, and found him unchanged—a man with a genius for friendship, one of God's, own gentlemen.

As Mr. Boreham came down the garden walk, I caught sight of the inevitable button-hole of flowers. Morning, noon or night, weekdays or Sundays, at home or at church, reading, writing or preaching, it matters not when or where you see him Mr. Borcham always wears a button-hole! There seems to be but one exception—when he goes to a photographic studio. That exception is a mystery and an offence that his friends find it impossible to explain and difficult to forgive, If, for no other reason than that they invariably show the button-hole, I prefer snapshots of Mr.Boreham to the most finished studio portraits.

After tea we retreated to the study. It was there that I acquainted Mr. Boreham with the fact that the editor of THE SUNDAY AT HOME had commissioned me to interview him with a view to this article.

“I don't envy you your job!" was Mr. Boreham's laughing reply. "You won’t have much to write about! I wish you had a better subject."

The interviewer, however, did not feel in the slightest degree in need of sympathy on that score. The wealth of material is his only embarrassment.

"Well, there are the bare facts!" Mr. Boreham, at last convinced that I was in earnest, handed me a biographical portrait of himself, printed in an English paper some years ago. "The bare facts!" They were very bare. It only proved that a man is infinitely bigger and more interesting than his biography. But still, the bare facts, however bare, are facts, and make at any rate a sort of frame in which to put the living picture of the man.

“The bare facts" are that Mr. Boreham was born at Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England—the eldest son of a large family. His parents were both devout members of the Church of England (as indeed they still are) and Mr. Boreham cherishes the memory of the days when, as a boy, the family pew at church used to be filled every Sunday. He still possesses the Prayer Book he used to use in those early days. In season and out of season he speaks with gratitude of his father and mother: it was to them that his first book was dedicated.

From Tunbridge Wells, Mr. Boreham went up to London to launch out, as he then thought, upon a commercial career. But while in London he became associated as a lay-helper with the London City Mission, and, responding to the call to the ministry, was admitted to the Pastor’s College in 1892 as a student for the Baptist ministry. Mr. Boreham cherishes the conviction that he was perhaps the very last student whose admission to the college was decided by the college founder himself, the late C. H. Spurgeon.

In 1894, on the recommendation of the Rev. Thomas Spurgeon, Mr. Boreham left England to take the oversight of the church at Mosgiel, New Zealand. His pastorate at Mosgiel extended over twelve years and was in every way eminently successful. Mr. Boreham himself is never tired of acknowledging the debt that he owes to Mosgiel. In all his books there are stories of Mosgiel things and Mosgiel people.

"The little place," he says in one of them," must always be to me a riot of memory. I have sometimes wondered whether, during the twelve years that I spent there, I missed any strange experience that might conceivably have come my way. In looking back across the past at that first pastorate of mine, it really seems to me that, from being summoned to attend a shuddering felon on the gallows to being commissioned by a bashful lover with the responsibility of proposing to a blushing maid on his behalf, I tasted every pain and pleasure, sounded every deep and shallow, of the ministerial life."

In the quiet manse among the farms Mr. Boreham made his first literary ventures. He conducted a weekly column in the local paper and another in the city paper a few miles away. In 1896 [it was 1899-1906] he became editor of the denominational journal; and many of the essay's that are now appearing in his books were first drafted in those secluded days. He was Mosgiel’s first minister and they were his first people. "I spent twelve happy years among these simple but sturdy souls," he says, "learning at their hands to be a minister of the Everlasting Gospel." In 1902 he was called to the chair of the New Zealand Baptist Union, and in 1903, with his wife and children, visited Great Britain.

From New Zealand, Mr. Boreham went to Tasmania to become the minister of the Hobart Baptist Church, the leading Baptist church in the island. As secretary of the Free Church Council for Hobart and President for the whole of Tasmania, Mr. Boreham served a great ministry beyond the limits of his own denomination, of which also he became President in 1910.

It was while at Hobart that Mr. Boreham began to publish those volumes of essays which have made his name so widely known not only through the Commonwealth, but, also in England and America. Up to the present there are eleven volumes in the series: The Luggage of Life, Mountains in the Mist, The Golden Milestone, Mushrooms on the Moor, Faces in the Fire, The Other Side of the Hill, The Silver Shadow, The Uttermost Star, A Reel of Rainbow, The Home of the Echoes, and Shadows on the Wall. Two other volumes by Mr. Boreham, A Bunch of Everlastings, and A Handful of Stars are of a distinct character, dealing with great Bible texts in a unique way.

With the later ones of these volumes we come across Bass Strait from Tasmania to Melbourne, where, for the past six years Mr. Boreham has been the minister of the Armadale Baptist Church.

So much then for the bare facts. It is time we got nearer to the man himself. But first a peep into his home! In his home Mr. Boreham is singularly happy. He won his wife in his student days and she—a lassie in her teens—voyaged alone from her village home in Epping Forest to the remote solitudes of New Zealand to be the mistress of the newly-erected Mosgiel manse. She loves to talk of Grannie, Wullie, Peggy, and all the other Mosgiel folk with whom her husband has familiarised his readers. The people at Mosgiel, Hobart and Armadale have all been very fond of her. The latest published report of the Armadale Church says that "the prestige of the manse has been faithfully preserved by Mrs. Boreham, who always has a smile for young and old, and is ever ready to do with her might what her hands find to do." It is easy to see at a glance that to Mr. Boreham himself her comradeship is one of life’s choicest joys. They have five children—four girls and a boy.

Everybody who knows anything at all about Mr. Boreham knows that he is not only an author, but a bookman. His own books disclose the fact quite plainly. In his essays the whole realm of literature is put under tribute. There is scarcely a corner of the field of books left ungleaned. It was natural then, that our conversation should turn to the subject of books and reading. “To buy and read at least one book a week” has been Mr. Boreham’s unbroken rule for many years. If he reads a borrowed book, which he rarely does, he immediately adds a copy of it to his library. The reason, I believe, is mainly utilitarian. Every book is read, not only for pleasure, but also with an eye open for illustrations and ideas. These are noted in the margin and carefully indexed for future use.

In a confidential manner Mr. Boreham showed me a pile of notes representing suggestions and material for several hundreds of articles and addresses waiting only to be written up! In addition to these unwritten articles, I was also shown finished essays ready for the press at the rate of one a week for at least two years.

“I still keep on writing,” explained Mr. Boreham, “at the rate of one essay a week: but nothing I am writing now will go into print in any form for at least two years. You see I keep a long way ahead of myself. There is no imperative need, of course, to keep at it so regularly, but it is all in the line of my work, and I get a lot of fun out of it. It also gives me ample time to revise and polish the manuscripts before they are published."

A question as to his plans for the future in the way of book publication led to a further surprising revelation of Mr. Boreham’s amazing fertility and productiveness. He opened another drawer and produced the finished and revised manuscripts of new volumes to he published at the rate of one a year for the next six years.

It must not he supposed, however, that these are written off at great speed, with machine-like ease. The subject and scheme of every essay are carefully thought out, and not a line is written until, after long brooding over the theme, expression comes inevitably and spontaneously as a tiring joyful process. But even then there is nothing quick or easy about it. "The essay, throughout, as a literary form is the product of careful, artistic, workmanship. Illustrations are selected; phrases coined and polished; words—especially adjectives—chosen with all insight and discrimination which makes them pictorial; time and care taken to give just the right turn to an expression, and to let the light shine upon the truth at just the right angle to reveal its beauty. Every essay is read many times—once, at least, aloud, before it is permitted to leave the author’s hands. In all these things we see genius taking pains.

But with all their polish and finish these essays are true essays—“expressions of personal emotion.” They are intensely personal documents, and alive. They are a revelation of the writer’s own character and spirit. His chivalry, his love of fun, his joie de vivre, his instinct for the centre of things which never forsakes him even at the circumference, his spirituality and sympathy, his personal loyalty to Jesus Christ, his passion for souls—these things in the writer's rich, many-sided personality are manifest in every page of the author's works.

It must also be remembered that nearly all these articles are also addresses, and were written with a congregation in view. They are not the mere literary exercises, literary hobby or literary "side-line" of a Christian minister. They are on the main line of his work. Prepared with the pulpit in view as well as the press, conceived and executed with a direct view to ministering to the full human and spiritual needs of a present day congregation, they give voice to the soul of a preacher and pastor, speak the words of a Gospel, and find their way surely to the conscience and the heart.

"How did you come to adopt your own particular style of essay?” was a- question which seemed to surprise Mr. Boreham, and one which he seemed to consider a rather extraordinary question to ask.

When he was quite satisfied as to what exactly I wanted to know, he answered: “Well, how does anyone come to write in his own particular way? I sat down to write and this is how the words came. It was my way; it fitted my thought; I enjoyed it; my readers seemed to approve of it, and so I kept on writing in that way. That is all there is to be said."

In the course of our conversation I ventured to ask, "Is it as a writer or preacher, an author or rninister, that you find the greater joy?” Without any hesitation Mr. Boreham answered, “As a preacher and minister. Of course," he added, "it is like asking a man which of his two children he loves best. I glory in my pulpit—the greatest moments of my life have been spent there—but I am scarcely less fond of my pen. I do not like to choose between them. I want to be a preacher and a scribbler to the end of the chapter."

Mr. Boreham, as I have mentioned, is the minister of the Armadale Baptist Church, one of the leading Baptist Churches in Australia. The fact of crowded congregations, drawn from all parts of the city, testify to his popularity and power as a preacher. For many years Mr. Boreham has made a practice of preaching alternating series of Sunday evening addresses during the winter months. These are always of a most striking and original character. Take for example the current series. The first is called "A Parcel of Personalities" and the second "A Casket of Cameos." The “Parcel of Personalities” contains addresses to a new-born babe, a youth just entering life, a bride and a bride-groom, a young father and a young mother, a man in the thick of things, a master and a man, a mistress and a maid, a grandfather and a grandmother. The “Casket of Cameos" is a series of biographical studies dealing with the faith of a pioneer (David Brainerd), a noblewoman (Countess of Huntingdon), a statesman (John Bright), a reformer (Lord Shaftesbury), a nun (sister Teresa), a Puritan (John Hampden), an evangelist (George Whitefield), and a merchant (George Moore.).

On Sunday mornings Mr. Boreham takes more strictly Biblical themes, but handles them in his own unique way. Some recent courses have been "The Romance of the Infant Church" (studies in the Acts of the Apostles), "The Making of a Prophet" (story of Elijah), and "The Ancient Mandate and the Modern Man" (the Ten Commandments up-to-date).

A consideration of these subjects alone gives an insight into Mr. Boreham’s popular appeal as a preacher. All the qualities that charm us in the essays are brought into the pulpit, intensified and enriched by the living presence of the preacher. In his hand; the Bible becomes a living, human, modern document, with a Divine message eternally significant and up-to-date. Throughout all his messages there is the "blood-streak" of life and experience; the truth of Christ and Scripture is shown alive in authentic illustrations drawn from real life, and the preacher himself manifestly believes what he says, feels it, knows it, lives in it.

J. S. A.Worboys, ‘F. W. Boreham: An Interview and an Appreciation,’ Sunday at Home, 111-114.

Image: Photo of first page and photo of this article.

Grateful thanks to Jeff Cranston for making this article available and Lynn Swanson for doing the scanning.