Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, May 25, 2007

Boreham and His Sensuous Literary Style

Continuing in a series on the hallmarks of F W Boreham’s literary style, as found especially in his newspaper editorials, is this posting.

F W Boreham attempted to engage his audience through their senses. His human-centred editorials gave ample scope for adopting vocabulary that was concrete, vivid and colorful. His descriptions of people usually resulted from contemplating their portraits in paintings and photographs. Boreham’s pen portraits were often expressed in a few telling words, such as his description of Mark Rutherford as “a ruddy, robust, almost sailor-like man.”[1]

On other occasions he was more elaborate and appeared to take imaginative license, such as in his description of John Keble:

"His fine eyes are full of playfulness, intelligence, and deep feeling. His unaffected simplicity, genuine humility, engaging innocence, and utter unworldliness are written unmistakably upon his countenance. And yet, though a twinkle haunts his eye and a smile seems to be playing perpetually about his lips, there is deep gravity in his expression and even an element of sadness. For he is still thinking about the agitated world he has left behind him."[2]

Dr Boreham’s personal descriptions usually began with obvious physical characteristics before moving to the finer aspects of a person’s countenance. His summation of the British politician and Quaker activist John Bright, whose “life was in keeping with his looks,” was an example of the way Boreham often searched for features that pointed to some underlying virtues.[3]

Frank Boreham was adept yet sometimes lavish in his descriptions of nature such as in the recollection of:

“… memories of gorgeous sunsets that transfigured sea and land, of moonlight nights when the fields sparkled with the frost and the river was like a stream of molten silver, of the russet tints of Autumn and the delicate sweetness of Spring.”[4]

Boreham often adopted the technique employed by many nineteenth-century writers in which descriptions hinted at the way nature was in sympathy with the mood of a character or a national event.

His practice of reading aloud and preaching heightened his appreciation of the aural quality of words.[5] The naturalness of Boreham’s language and the integration of his oral and written ministries were deserving of the tribute paid about the essays of Montaigne, that they were “so written as it is spoken, and such upon the paper as it is in the mouth.”[6]

Sometimes Boreham used short sentences and terse language to convey tension and drama. He was attentive to the cadence of writing and he worked to enhance the sense of beauty, harmony and unity that the sound of words produced. Occasionally it appeared that the commitment to euphony was at the expense of truth or clarity, as when he described the early years of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe as an “atmosphere in which the theology was inexorable, the drudgery illimitable, the finances infinitesimal, and the children innumerable.”[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: “russet tints of Autumn.”

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 13 March 1948.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1943.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 26 March 1949.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 15 March 1947.
[5] F W Boreham, The prodigal: Sidelights on an immortal story (London: The Epworth Press, 1941), 67.
[6] M de Montaigne, The essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, xxvi.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 15 March 1952.