Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Boreham Encounters Captain Roald Amundsen

I have just been over the Fram. Captain Amundsen, with his lieutenants, Messrs. Hassel and Wisting—both of whom accompanied their chief to the Pole—were as courteous and attentive as mortals could possibly be. They showed us all that there was to be seen, told us all that there was to be told, and assisted us in snapping everything that tempted our cameras. Nothing could have been more beautiful than the grace and modesty with which they were receiving, in the form of a perfect stream of congratulatory cablegrams, the plaudits of the world. It was good to walk the decks of the sturdy little vessel that holds the extraordinary record of having penetrated to the farthest north with Nansen and to the farthest south with Amundsen. We raise our hats to the heroic achievements of these hardy Norsemen. What memories rush to mind! What tales of dauntless courage and dogged endurance !

Our thoughts quit all their ordinary grooves and plunge into fresh realms. We seem to leave the solar system far behind us, and to invade a new universe as we lean against these beaten bulwarks and give ourselves to retrospection. And here, at least, there are no more worlds to conquer. Here, at any rate, progress has reached finality. There are no more poles! None! It is so very rarely that we can cry Ne plus ultra! that we must enjoy the sensation when we can. Peary and Amundsen hold a distinct monopoly. They are entitled to make the most of it.

The magnificent achievement of Captain Amundsen has set us all thinking of Arctic and Antarctic exploits. We have been transported in fancy to those lofty and jagged ranges of mountainous ice that have been the despair of adventurers since exploration began. We have shivered in imagination as we have caught glimpses of innumerable ice-floes and of stretching plains of frozen snow. Of Captain Amundsen's success in the south we know only the bare fact. His book, with graphic detail and description, is a treat with which the future tantalizes us.

But Amundsen has reminded us of Peary, and we have picked up the Commander's book once more. He tells a great tale. It is good to see that the world cannot withhold its sounding applause from the man who knows exactly where he wants to go and who never dreams of resting till he gets there. Peary's book is a classic of excellent leadership.

Nansen told us long ago that the obstacles that intervened between civilization and the Pole, terrific as they were, were too frail for the dogged and indomitable determination of Peary. That prediction has been magnificently vindicated. Commander Peary has taught us that the really successful person is the person who knows how to keep on failing. Failure is life's high art. He who knows how to fail well will sweep everything before him. Peary kept on failing till the silver crept into his hair; and then, when well over fifty years of age, on stepping-stones of his dead self, he climbed to higher things. Through what Disraeli would have called ‘the hell of failure,’ he entered the heaven of his triumph.

It is ever so. The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the persistent take it by storm. The conqueror is, as Wellington said, the man who never knows when he is beaten. The dust of defeat stings the face of the victor at every step of his onward march. 'The arms of the Republic,' writes Gibbon, 'often defeated in battle, were always successful in war.' ‘As for Gad,’ exclaimed the dying Jacob, ‘a troop shall overcome him, but he shall overcome at the last.’

The Cross is the last word in the grim record of the world's most ghastly failures; it is at the same time the emblem of a victory which shall shame our most radiant dreams. Those whose ears have never heard a paean, and whose brows have never felt the laurel, should ponder well this great romance of Arctic exploration.

When God writes ‘Success’ on any person’s life He often begins to spell it with an ‘f’.

F W Boreham, ‘The Conquest of the Poles’, The Luggage of Life (London: Charles H Kelly, 1912), 224-227.

Image: Captain Amundsen on the Fram.