Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, November 02, 2007

Boreham on Letters and Sorting the Mail

And, like all the subjects with which ministers deal, [my subject] naturally divides itself into three parts! There is the Pigeon-hole; there is the Waste-paper Basket; and there is the Fire! As each mail arrives, I find myself automatically sorting it out under those three heads. There are only three classes of correspondence, and each goes to its own place. The coming of the postman precipitates a miniature Day of Judgement. If a letter is very bad, it is consigned to the flames of Perdition, and I watch the smoke of its torment curl up the dark and cavernous chimney. If it is very good, it is promoted to the Paradise of a pigeon-hole, and is invested with a promise of immortality. And if it is neither very bad nor very good, it goes to the Purgatory of the paper basket, from whose abysmal depths there is, however, no gate of entrance into Paradise.

The waste-paper basket is, therefore, an intermediate state. Indeed, it is the finest emblem in the world of respectable and harmless mediocrity. It swallows up the things that are of no account. Advertisements, circulars, superfluous newspapers, formal letters of acknowledgement, and all kinds of things that will never be wanted again, and whose contents anybody may see, find their way to this waste-paper basket. The documents are not good enough for a pigeon-hole, and not bad enough for the fire. So here they go! And yet, looking at it in another way, there is something infinitely pathetic about the waste-paper basket. It is an asylum for documents whose day is done, and the close of whose careers is clouded by no sense of shame. They have no further work to do, so they need not climb up to the pigeon-holes. They hold no guilty secrets, so they need not be flung to the flames. They have finished their course modestly, honourably, and well; and their rest is the rest of the twilight.

And now the time has come to gently chide this fair correspondent of mine. With feminine enthusiasm she is deeply enamoured of the fire, and is devotedly attached to the waste-paper basket—I intend no charge of coquetry—but she treats the pigeon-hole with withering disdain. But this will not do. There are letters that must go to the pigeon-hole—her own for example. It would have seemed like sacrilege to have acknowledged the letter, crumpled it up, and flung it into the basket. I confess to a weakness for the pigeon-hole. If I catch myself wavering for a moment as between the paper basket and the pigeon-hole, I invariably give the fluttering missive the benefit of the doubt, and into the pigeon-hole it goes! I have discovered that the pigeon-hole is not only a useful but a sacred place. These little squares in front of me are like little chapels, and an atmosphere of reverence and tenderness broods over them. I have here, for example, a bundle of old letters that are very dear to me, and that grow dearer as the days go by. They are all of them from those whom I have loved long since and lost awhile. Whenever I have received a characteristic letter from a friend, a letter that seems saturated in his spirit and echoing with the merriment of his laughter, I have found it impossible to destroy it. Some day, I know, others will scan it, burn it as rubbish, and blame me for not having saved them the trouble. But then, to me, the personality of my friend is woven into the letter, and my friend is mortal. And one day my friend will join the immortals, and I shall go through these piles of letters, and carefully, reverently gather out his letters and transfer them to this sacred little bundle in the corner.

F W Boreham, ‘Spring Cleaning’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 47-50.

Image: “It goes to the Purgatory of the paper basket…”