Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Friday, March 30, 2007

Boreham Arrives in Dunedin, New Zealand

This is an excerpt from the very rare and early book by F W Boreham entitled, From England to Mosgiel. We would love to republish this and are hoping that sufficient donations might make this possible. If you can contribute to the amount needed please let me know. Geoff Pound.

Here F W Boreham records the last part of his sea voyage from England and he writes his first observations of his new province, Otago, New Zealand.

As the evening drew on we were nearing the Otago capital. And the last hour of my voyage was, I think, the most enjoyable of all. Since leaving London I have seen nothing more delightful than the beautiful harbour running up from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, lying calm and still in the quiet of that lovely summer’s evening, the harbour lights reflected in the mirror beneath, and the pale moon shimmering beautifully upon the whole scene. Like Wellington, Dunedin is very hilly, and herein lies its beauty. To ascend some of the hills, and look away over the harbour or across the heights on every side is to survey a landscape which might tempt an R.A., or inspire a poet. The city itself is beyond all doubt or dispute by far the finest in New Zealand. Princes Street is the principal thoroughfare, and consists of series of tall well built shops and offices. The Grand Hotel is probably one of the largest buildings in the city. Knox Presbyterian is also a fine sample of colonial architecture.

Mosgiel, my destination and future home is situated about ten miles south west of Dunedin on the beautiful and fertile Taieri Plain. Within easy driving distance of the sea-coast at Brighton on the one hand, and of the city on the other, it is most pleasantly and conveniently situated, whilst the hills which surround the township, contribute largely to its beauty. A more delightful spot it would be difficult to find. Mosgiel is noted for its large wool factory, which forms the chief industry of the borough, whilst a number of coal mines are dotted about on the slope of the surrounding hills.

So ends my journey from London to Mosgiel. It has occupied exactly fifty days, and the voyage has been both enjoyable and profitable (certainly from a physical aspect) not to use the too thread-bare adjectives—“amusing and instructive.”

To express an opinion on the colony on so short an acquaintance would be obviously premature. And yet, perhaps there are some things which one would naturally notice at first more than after a prolonged stay.

Familiarity is apt to breed contempt. My firm impression was that the colonists are very proud of their island home. On being introduced, the remark, “It’s a grand country you’ve come to,” is expressed almost as regularly as the usual comments on the weather. And I think their pride is a justifiable one. I was certainly charmed with what I saw of the colony in my tour from Wellington to Dunedin, and I suppose the south island is only a shadow of which the north is the substance.

My second impression, I think, was that education is at a much higher standard in the colonies than at home. It may be difficult to account for this, but the fact stands out in defiance of all dispute. I have made careful enquiries as to the correctness of this impression, and find it verified on the best authority.

The telephone is a great institution in the colony. I remarked the same at Hobart. Everybody has a happy knack, on the slightest provocation, of ringing up everybody, and everybody takes it in remarkably good part.

Photography is also a decidedly popular business and seems to have reached a high stage of perfection.

The climate is, of course, impossible to judge on so brief an experience. Suffice it to say that during the ten days that I have been here (March 11-21) the weather has been exactly like our English midsummer, and I am told that this is by no means exceptional. This, considering that December is the colonial midsummer, would seem very promising. One peculiarity, very noticeable to a stranger, is the shortness of the twilight. There is no lingering betwixt light and darkness—day and night as at home. It is light—there is a sudden overcast which is quickly deepened into darkness and it is night. This seems to be atoned for, to some extent, by the additional beauty of the southern sky. On a fine starlit night the heavens are decked in surpassing splendour, and an evening stroll through the tall groves of fir and blue gum trees, is a treat indeed.

But, as a new comer, I have no right whatever to write at greater length on a subject on which I am not qualified to express an accurate opinion. If ever long colonial experience tinges my locks with grey, and long travel in New Zealand, causes my feet to totter feebly on her coasts, I may presume again to test your patience. Till then, let me don the simple garb of a novice, and quietly and gracefully retire to hide my head in the silent regions of unassuming ignorance. Adieu!
Yours truly,
New Zealand,
March 21st, 1895.

Image: "I have seen nothing more delightful than the beautiful harbour running up from Port Chalmers to Dunedin, lying calm and still in the quiet of that lovely summer’s evening, the harbour lights reflected in the mirror beneath, and the pale moon shimmering beautifully upon the whole scene."

Boreham on White Elephants

This essay by F W Boreham comes from his book, The Other Side of the Hill:

I cannot exactly claim the reverence and attention which we all accord without stint or question to the hunter of big game. I have never shaken the dust of civilization from my feet and set off for the interior of Africa, the jungles of Bengal, the Western prairies, or the hills of Ceylon. I have, however, read all that Sir Samuel Baker, Major Stevenson-Hamilton, Mr. Stewart White, and other big-game hunters have to say; and some of the most exciting moments I have ever known have been spent in their very excellent company. It is great sport to sit in a cosy chair in a sheltered corner of a shady verandah and to experience, one by one, all the glorious thrills and indescribable sensations of the chase. You hear the distant trumpeting of the herd; you share all the hopes and fears of the hunter as he creeps nearer and nearer to his quarry; you hear the great trees bend and break as the angry monsters rush and charge; and then, with a flush of excitement that almost makes your heart stand still, you see the huge beast roll over beneath the sportsman's magnificent aim. This is as near as I have ever got—or ever expect to get—to adventure of this heroic kind. Yet I have been doing a little big-game hunting on my own account. I have been on the track of white elephants; and certainly I have no reason to complain of lack of sport. None of the herds that I have ever seen described by visitors to Africa or Ceylon can compare with those upon which I have come in the course of my recent quest.

Let me, after the approved fashion of literary sportsmen, begin by describing the creature. And here the subject becomes instantly complicated, for there are, I must explain, several varieties of the beast. There are white elephants and white elephants. In its original setting the term connoted `a gift which occasions the recipient more trouble than it is worth; a white elephant being a common gift of the Kings of Siam to a courtier they wished to ruin.' Nobody would suggest that, in this sinister form, the phenomenon is particularly conspicuous among us. At the opposite pole, it may be reasonably maintained that all the operations of the ordinary commercial world resolve themselves into a perfectly innocuous bartering and marketing of white elephants. Here is a grocer with tons of sugar in his cellar. What does he want with tons of sugar? Considered only in relation to himself, his stock is a white elephant; but he deliberately finds houseroom for that white elephant in order that he may serve his customers and enrich himself in the process. The same thought inevitably occurs to one on being shown the prodigious stores of any other tradesman. The miles of neatly folded materials on the shelves of the draper; the casks of drugs and powders in the storeroom of the chemist; the formidable array of carcases displayed by the enterprising butcher,—these represent so many reminders of the fact that the commerce of life is largely manipulated by the wholesale purchase of white elephants. But between these two interpretations of the phrase—the one as repugnant as the other is serviceable—there is another phase of the matter; and it is this aspect of the question that has brought me to my desk. It is this particular variety of white elephant that I have just been hunting.

Surprising as it may seem, I came upon a very large herd of white elephants almost under the shadow of Windsor Castle. A newspaper lying at this moment on my desk tells of a White Elephant Exchange, inaugurated under royal auspices and opened by Princess Alexander of Teck, which was the other day conducted at Windsor. The white elephants concerned consisted of various articles which the donors found in their possession but for which they had no real use. Each donor received as he entered the exchange a ticket bearing a number, which entitled him to somebody else's white elephant; and if he did not fancy the gift which fell to his lot, he returned it, and it was sold for the augmentation of the patriotic funds. It is averred that when those who desired to assist in this original form of philanthropy ransacked their homes in search of white elephants, they were astonished at the multiplicity and variety of those animals to be found among their household goods. I can easily believe it. Some time ago the residents of the city in which I dwell were invited to search their homes in a very similar quest, and to donate to patriotic purposes any goods or chattels for which they had no further use. Carts passed along the streets to convey these articles to the auction rooms. You never saw such a procession of white elephants! No menagerie since the world began could hold a candle to it. Comedy and tragedy jostled each other in the roadway. Here were the toys of little children who had passed beyond the need of all such entertainment; here was an old-fashioned mangle and a still older spinning-jenny; and here were ramshackle old bits of furniture that had long ago given place to successors of a later pattern, and had since their displacement, only littered up the house.

As I passed, in the course of my hunt, from one herd of white elephants to another, I was driven to the conclusion that our haphazard and somewhat ridiculous etiquette of gift-making has something to do with the enormous quantities of game that I discovered. There are certain occasions—weddings, birthdays, Christmas, and the like—when, according to our present social usage, decency demands that a present shall be sent. Nobody would rebel very bitterly against this engaging custom if only his mind could be entirely emancipated from the torturing apprehension that, sooner or later, the dainty gift which he is at such pains to purchase will take its place among the melancholy ranks of the white elephants. Nine times out of ten the unwritten law that renders a present mandatory forbids any sane investigation as to the desires or requirements of the prospective recipient. It is equally indelicate, if not actually impossible, to ascertain the intentions of other donors. The result is inevitable. One has to determine between the dreamily aesthetic or the severely utilitarian. He purchases, in the one case, a beautifully bound ├ędition-de-luxe, knowing that it will be rapturously admired and eternally unread; or, in the other, he fixes his choice on some eminently useful article, feeling as he does so that in all human probability half a dozen other articles almost exactly like it will be simultaneously received. And, in either instance, the danger of adding to the stock of white elephants is sufficiently grave to awaken embarrassing anticipations.

We ministers are sinners above all men on the face of the earth in this respect. We allow white elephants to multiply about us like rabbits in a district to which a gun never comes. Unless we take care, we shall be trampled to death by them. Look at our libraries—at least, look at mine! All round the room, into which I should be ashamed to show a lady, there are uncomely stacks of books that ought to find hospitality on the shelves. But the walls are crowded with shelves, and the shelves are packed with books. At least, it looks like it. But it is purely an optical illusion, and deceives everybody but myself. As a matter of fact, however, these latest arrivals, packed up so unceremoniously on the floor, are being cheated out of their rightful places on the shelves by an enormous herd of white elephants. There are books that we bought by mistake; books that we know to be valueless; books whose room is of much more value than their company. Yet, by an odd trick that books play upon us, we let them stay on the shelves whilst their superiors sprawl in undignified debasement on the floor! `I have read,' says Sir W. Robertson Nicoll, `I have read, and I find it to be true, that a man who loves books, unless he is exceptionally rich, is always more and more tormented to find room for them. They grow and grow, and the wall space does not grow, and the shelves do not grow. There is only one course possible, and it cannot be postponed for very long. The library must be weeded, and the weeding must be of a ruthless character.' This has driven me to make for myself a good resolution. I happen to have a birthday once a year. I intend for the rest of my life, whenever that auspicious date comes round, to set off after breakfast hunting white elephants. I shall go to the study first of all, and anybody who listens at the door will hear the thud, thud, thud, as the beasts fall upon the floor, and he will know that I am having good sport. And for a few days thereafter it will be reasonably safe for a lady to enter the room.

The problem is, however, capable of still larger implications. Looking round us here in Australia, it is impossible to blink the fact that the greatest problem in the development of the Commonwealth faces us just at this point. It is all very well for me to be sitting here beneath the Southern Cross calmly discussing the subject of white elephants. But what about Australia itself? Australia is a huge continent, only the southern fringe of which is at present being exploited. The remainder is to all intents and purposes a white elephant. How is it to be delivered from that obnoxious classification? The man who can satisfactorily answer that question is the statesman for whom the Empire is anxiously waiting.

And just once more. My friend Arthur Jenkinson is a good fellow. He is exceedingly popular in the office; he is always welcome at the club and in other places where men do mostly congregate. His wife thinks there is nobody like him, and his children clap their hands as they hear him come whistling up the gravel path. But that is as far as it goes. You never see him at church; he is doing no work for which the world will bless him when he is gone; and, as far as one can judge, he is laying up for himself no treasure in the world invisible. Years ago he sat spellbound at his mother's knee while she unfolded to him that sweet and gracious story with which no other story can compare; and in those days his unspoiled heart responded to its charm. The treasure of the ages was poured into his soul, but he has never made use of it. He has allowed the holy faith of his childhood to take its place among the ranks of the white elephants. It is like the family Bible on the whatnot—very precious, but never used.

F W Boreham, ‘White Elephants’, The Other Side of the Hill (London: Charles H Kelly, 1917), 198-205.

Image: Eye of a white elephant

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Boreham on Experiencing Life through Reading

The aim of educating his readers is too limited a summary of what F W Boreham was seeking to achieve in his writing. He encouraged them to expect the full benefit from the reading of a good biography, saying, “It is not merely that we are imbibing information: it is that we are brought into living contact with a brave soul.”[1]

The examination of the major themes of Boreham’s writings reveals that the experience of nature or being brought “in touch with real men and real women and real life” through history and literature or perceiving the radiance that shines from ordinary life were among the outcomes he hoped his editorials might spark.[2]

English scholar Terry Eagleton has highlighted the stress on the experiential nature of literature in Victorian England because, despite the impoverishment of social conditions, people could have “a kind of vicarious self-fulfillment” and experience life “second hand by reading.”[3] Authors who subscribed to this notion and people who gave books to others did so with a sense of the service of enriching people’s lives.

Geoff Pound

Image: The earliest photo we have of F W Boreham.

[1] F W Boreham, Boulevards of paradise (London: The Epworth Press, 1944), 58.
[2] F W Boreham, The crystal pointers (London: The Epworth Press, 1925), 7-8, 15-16.
[3] Terry Eagleton, Literary theory: An introduction, 26-27.

Boreham and the Sampling of Appetising Wares

F. W. Boreham recognised the role of entertainment[1] in his writing but he believed that merely to present a display of ‘literary acrobatics’ was an insufficient motivation for a writer.[2]

The desire to educate was another underlying aspect of Boreham’s editorials. His regular urgings to his readers to avail themselves of the educative treasures that were to be found in nature, literature and travel were indicative of a general influence that pervaded Victorian Britain. Literature was regarded as an important means by which people could appreciate different viewpoints, develop national pride and it “could serve to place in cosmic perspective the petty demands of working people for decent living conditions or greater control over their own lives.”[3]

According to John Collins’ study on English literature written in 1891, the people “need political culture, instruction, that is to say, in what pertains to their relation to the State, to their duties as citizens; and they need also to be impressed sentimentally by having the presentation in legend and history of heroic and patriotic examples brought vividly and attractively before them.”[4]

Having extended his own education at a Mechanics’ Institute in Tunbridge Wells, Frank Boreham frequently used his editorials to meet these needs, by encouraging his readers to broaden their education and commending the avenues where his life had been enriched. This motivation is well illustrated in his editorial on the author Oliver Wendell Holmes, in which Boreham entices his readers, whets their appetites and concludes that Holmes’ birthday offers us an excuse “to sample afresh his appetising wares.”[5]

Geoff Pound

Image: Popular tourist attraction in Tunbridge Wells, FWB’s home town. These are the Pantiles, a parade of colonnaded shops whose name derives from the method of manufacture of the original paving slabs.

[1] F W Boreham, Cliffs of opal (London: The Epworth Press, 1948) 101.
[2] F W Boreham, A faggot of torches (London: The Epworth Press, 1926), 7.
[3] Terry Eagleton, Literary theory: An introduction (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1983), 25.
[4] John C Collins, The study of English literature (n.p., 1891), 25.
[5] F W Boreham, Mercury, 29 August 1953.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Boreham and the Itch to Write

Instrument of Escape
Like many writers, F W Boreham was afflicted with what Juvenal called “the itch to write.”[1] Boreham humourously blamed this compulsion on his “incontinent pen”[2] or “this truant pen of mine [and] its inordinate garrulity”.[3] From his childhood days, his pen had been an instrument of escape, a means of self-expression,[4] as it provided him with “a form of self-indulgence.”[5]

Throbbing with Passion
In discussing the subject of communication, Dr Boreham was prepared to excuse a manuscript’s stylistic deficiencies and structural crudities so long as it “throbs with passion.”[6] To lose the “faith and the rapture” was for him the worst tragedy that could befall any communicator.[7] Even though he confessed to “a pride such as Lucifer can never have known”[8] when he gazed at his first editorial in print, Boreham did not suffer from what sociologist Robert Merton, called the “itch to publish.”[9] Boreham knew that it was different to write “with the knowledge that the sentences that flow from your pen will soon appear in the bravery of print and quite another to write for the sheer sake of writing.” He also testified to his joy in writing with no thought of publication or simply to improve the ability to “marshal his ideas and to present them in the most forceful and attractive way.”[10] Boreham’s passion to write was borne out of the pleasure he got out of something shared.[11] The communication passion so that he instilled his readers with a love for literature and history was an important motivation behind Boreham’s editorials. His hope was “to make people enjoy life.”[12]

Geoff Pound

Image: “this truant pen of mine…”

[1] Juvenal Satires 7.1.51. The Latin term is ‘scribendi cacoethes’.
[2] F W Boreham, The passing of John Broadbanks (London: The Epworth Press, 1936), 7.
[3] F W Boreham, The golden milestone (London: The Epworth Press, 1914), 9.
[4] F W Boreham, A witch's brewing (London: The Epworth Press, 1932), 100.
[5] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 153.
[6] F W Boreham, Ships of pearl (London: The Epworth Press, 1935), 30.
[7] F W Boreham, The other side of the hill (London: Charles H. Kelly, 1917), 244.
[8] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage, (London: The Epworth Press, 1940), 151.
[9] Robert K Merton, ‘The Matthew effect in science’, Science 159 (1968): 61.
[10] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 152-153.
[11] Boreham, The golden milestone,37.
[12] Boreham, The golden milestone, 9.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Boreham and His Public Platforms

While F W Boreham communicated through the religious media of pulpits and magazines, he was fortunate to share for many years two significant public platforms as a regular editorial writer for the Mercury and the Age. In his day the newspaper was important in informing the public, especially in these days before the emergence of radio and television. Within the papers, the role of the editorial was strategic in shaping public opinion.

Although Boreham enjoyed a considerable freedom in subject and style, his editorial role was exercised within the constraints of word limits, weekly frequency and the style of the Saturday editorial.

He had a spat with the editor of the Age in the 1940s concerning his use of overt religious language. This revealed the pressure of expectations on Boreham from the owners and managers of the newspapers and the changing religious mores of the general public. In his later years Boreham tagged a moralistic appendage on the end of his editorials—something he warned others not to do, when he was in his prime.

As an editorialist for the Mercury and the Age, Boreham communicated from two major public platforms. It is interesting to ask, “Was he seeking to express theology and teach his public audiences?” This raises questions as to his motivation for writing articles in the newspapers of his day.

Geoff Pound

Image: Article in the Age.