Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Thou Shalt Not Steal Boreham's Sermons

In an article in 1944, J J North, the New Zealand Baptist leader, proclaimed these thoughts about the stealing of sermons and other ‘intellectual property’.

"Thou Shalt Not Steal."
That was one of the ten precepts written on granite and intended to bind in social peace the chosen people. It is the commandment that defends private property. It confronts the cattle raider, the sneak thief, the commercial thief—thieves, in short, of every breed and brood. It is very lately, indeed, that another sort of property was declared by international law to be sacred against thieves. Shakespeare has his piece about the man who steals a purse and who steals trash. He suffered himself from literary thieves who pinched his plays and told the drolleries as though their own wit had begotten them. But at long last a preacher's sermon, a poet's hymn, an author's novel argument are all alike "property." So says the law.

The Victorian writers were shamefully robbed by the Yankees. America refused to recognise literary property as property at all. When Dickens went to America with not too much money in his pockets, he found that twenty publishers had printed "Pickwick Papers," and "Boz" and the rest of his prodigious novels, and had sold hundreds of thousands of them without paying him a dollar. He invoked Sinai and called them a pack of thieves—which they were. But the law has now been tightened up, and it is international. Look at your hymnbook and see that permission was given, or secured by payment, for the publication of the best and specially of the newest hymns. Look at recent books and remark that for every long quotation from another author permission to quote has been asked for and often paid for.

Ministers have been shameless thieves. C. H. Spurgeon's penny sermons circulated by the 100,000. But local preachers and bankrupt regular preachers read them from hundreds of pulpits without a thank you. That can't be done now. Occasionally it is done.

We remember when Morrison was the last pulpit sensation that a minister of a large church gave one of his sermons verbatim. One of his elders went home, reached down the book, and was too ashamed of his minister to look up.

We have heard of Boreham being actually used by a preacher who was detected by one who was fond of our gentle friend who actually read his books. This of course is a crime. Men have been unfrocked for it. We can't expect and never get absolute originality. All people borrow from other writers. What is expected is that they shall digest what they read and treat it from their own, and not from their neighbour's standpoint.

Tell me what I knew before
But paint the prospect from thy door.

A person preaching another person’s sermon is David waddling about in Saul's armour. It never fits.

Source: J.J.North, New Zealand Baptist, May 1944, 99

Image: J. J. North. This picture is from the front cover of the New Zealand Baptist, November 1949, the time of North's retirement as editor of the Baptist.