Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Boreham on Eyes Wide Open

F W Boreham in his essay on Wedge Bay (his favourite holiday place) confesses his failure to truly see the treasures in the natural world and then offers this story on being open to see wonders:

The humiliations of Wedge Bay do not spare me even at this excruciating point. For, after all that I have seen, I am still oppressed by the painful conviction that most of the beauty of this charming place has really eluded me, and even eluded these sharp-eyed young foragers of mine. At every turn I am conscious of a feeling that there is a beauty lurking everywhere that I am too gross and too blind and too stupid to perceive.

And this painful sensation was intensified rather than relieved by a striking thing that I read in a book with which I invaded these leafy bowers. It struck me as a gem in its way. It occurs in the Life of Frank Buckland. The genial naturalist resolved to make a special study of snakes. So he engaged a professional viper-catcher, named White, to collect some for him. White went off to the New Forest, and in four days returned saying that he had had some capital sport. ‘We went into an empty room,’ Buckland tells us, ‘and, standing on a chair, I unloosed the top of White's bag, and shot the contents on to the floor. The slippery reptiles came tumbling out, first singly and then in pairs, and at last the main body, coiled and twisted together into a solid mass, like Medusa's chignon; and in half a minute I had them all over the floor looking as savage as vipers can look.’ Buckland and White then caught one of the biggest, held it securely, and lifted it from the ground. ‘The viper slashed his tail about, like a loose halyard in a gale of wind, and then twined his body round White's hand. I tickled his nose with a feather until he was thoroughly furious. I then got a glass slide out of the microscope and placed it in the serpent's mouth. In an instant both fangs struck down upon it. Upon taking away the glass from its jaws, I was delighted to observe two drops of perfectly clear translucent fluid resting upon it, each drop corresponding to the place where the tooth had struck. I at once placed these drops under the microscope and then saw a wondrous sight. After a second or two, on a sudden, a crystal-like fibre shot across the field of vision, and then another and another, these slender lines crossing each other at various angles, reminding me of the general appearance of an aurora borealis, or of delicate frost crystals on a window when there has been a sharp touch of frost.’

Now, if all the coruscations of the aurora are hidden in the venom of the viper, how much loveliness I must be missing as I stroll along this lonely shore, thrid the winding tracks of this solitary bush, or peer with shaded eyes from the side of the boat down into the crystalline depths of this clear, clear water! Yes, one feels himself something of an adventurer when he has spent six months of his life at Wedge Bay.

F W Boreham, ‘Wedge Bay’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 115-117.

Image: “The viper slashed his tail about, like a loose halyard in a gale of wind..”