Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Boreham on Dreaming of Fairylands

The scene is laid in the villainous old prison at Marseilles. In one of its most loathsome and repulsive dungeons lay two men. For one of them, Monsieur Rigaud, a sumptuous meal had been provided. The other, John Baptist Cavalletto, had a hard, black crust. ‘Rigaud soon dispatched his delicate viands,’ Dickens tells us, ‘and proceeded to suck his fingers as clean as he could. Then he paused in his drink to contemplate his fellow prisoner.
“How do you find the bread?”
“A little dry, but I have my old sauce here,” returned John, holding up his knife.
“How sauce?”
“I can cut my bread so—like a melon. Or so—like an omelette. Or so—like a fried fish. Or so—like a Lyons sausage,” said John, demonstrating the various cuts on the bread he held, and soberly chewing what he had in his mouth.

Now, I am not sure whether this should be called magic. It certainly is a kind of magic. The happy prisoner waves his hand over his crust and cries “Presto!” and straightway it is transformed into melon, omelette, fried fish, or sausage at his will.

I am not writing an article on criminology or prison management, but certainly the passage I have quoted from Little Dorrit could be made the text for such a screed. It is a wicked waste of public money to support a man in a jail, when, by some wondrous witchery within him, he can transform his prison into a palace, and convert his frugal fare into fried fish.

A very wonderful witchery this. By means of it Charles Lamb turned all the streets of London into pavements of pure gold. “I know,” the gentle Elia says, “an alchemy that turns her mud into that precious metal. I know!”

Alchemy, witchery, magic—what is it? Yes, it is magic, I feel sure; the most magical of all magic—what Richard Jefferies felicitously called ‘wood magic.’

We remember the two boys, the pond a few yards across, and the raft made out of a packing-case. Suddenly, by this wild and wondrous magic that transforms a dry crust into fried fish and sausage, the pond becomes the ‘New Sea,’ and they are explorers and adventurers.

“Let us go round it. We have never been quite round it,” said Bevis. “So we will,” said Mark, “but we shall not be back to dinner.”
“As if travellers ever thought of dinner! Of course we shall take our provisions with us.”
“Let's go and get our spears,” said Mark.
“Oh, yes; and the compass and the maps; wait a minute. We ought to have a medicine chest; the savages will worry us for medicine and very likely we shall have dreadful fevers.”
“Yes, and we must keep a diary,” said Mark, and when we go to sleep, who shall watch first, you or!?”
“Oh, we'll light a fire,” said Bevis, “that will frighten the lions; they will glare at us, but they can't stand fire. You hit them on the head with a burning stick.”
Now, here we have a dirty puddle and a dusty packing-case suddenly transformed, by what the genial naturalist calls 'wood magic,' into an uncharted sea with desert islands, savage tribes, and ferocious beasts. It is clearly the same species of alchemy by which our poor prisoner at Marseilles turned his dry crust into fried fish and sausage. And I confess that, of the two, I scarcely know which to admire the more. For if some superficial critic remonstrates with me, and points out that with Bevis and Mark the whole thing was a furious frolic, whilst with the French prisoner it was a fine philosophy, I am bound to answer that it is by just such furious frolics that we have won the world.

It is true that Bevis and Mark were only having a game; but it is also true that your Columbuses and Cooks, your Tasmans and Dampiers, your Raleighs and Drakes, were all playing exactly the same game. It was because their fancy built up strange continents across the unsailed seas that they set out in search of the fairylands of which they dreamed. The triumphs of scientific discovery all follow the sane law. When you have mastered the magic by which the crust became a fish, and by which the packing-case became a stately ship in full sail, you at once understand Newton's flight of fancy from a falling apple to a falling moon.

F W Boreham, ‘The Dainties in the Dungeon’, Mountains in the Mist (London: Charles H Kelly, 1914), 120-123.

Image: “Bevis and Mark were only having a game….”