Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Boreham and Not Going Off the Boil

Ever been told after you have given a speech or an address, “I have heard you tell that story or give that talk before!” The criticism implies that people are not getting their money’s worth, or you, the speaker are being lazy. Furthermore, stories seem to be remembered more than the structure of a talk.

I have found great liberation in the encouragement expressed (many times!) by F W Boreham to repeat material, in order that hearers really get the message. The only rider he gave was this: “It’s alright to preach a sermon a second time, so long as it is born again!”

It is interesting to note that F W Boreham’s retirement from local church ministry in 1928 marked the increase of his extensive recycling of editorials and sermons and, in the case of the former, the practice of long-term (up to a year) stockpiling.

It is not the view of everyone (and I have been criticised for saying this in a public address—‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed’ and all that)—these two practices produced staleness and further detachment from the context. Even when editorials were recast, there were few signs of fresh insights, up-to-date illustrations or new applications.

Dr Boreham had succumbed unknowingly to a touch of the condition to which George Orwell courageously confessed, when he said, “I see that it is invariably where I lacked a political purpose that I wrote lifeless books and was betrayed into purple passages, sentences without meaning, decorative adjectives and humbug generally.”[1]

The moral of the story? Stay involved with people and life. Otherwise, like F W Boreham, you’ll start to go off the boil.

Geoff Pound

Image: “so long as it is born again!”

[1] George Orwell, ‘Why I write’, George Orwell: Essays (London: Penguin Classics, 2000), 7.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Photographs of F W Boreham

If you would like to view a gallery of photographs of F W Boreham and his family, click on this web site link:

Gallery of F W Boreham Photographs.

Geoff Pound

Image: F W Boreham, circa 1911.

How Publishing Success Blunted Boreham’s Prophetic Edge

During the Armadale years (1916-1928), the growing national and international success of F W Boreham’s publications that derived from his sermons and editorials was a crucial factor that greatly affected the subject and style of his newspaper editorials. The need to satisfy the demands of his publisher and his large international readership diminished the local content of his editorials and their connectedness with a particular time.

In 1924, Boreham revealed his awareness of this disconnection and justified his commitment to “a certain detachment,” saying this was a mark of “classical poetry.”[1] His publishing demands and the desire that his writing did not “embalm the spirit of a particular period” were understandable but resulted in a major detachment from the time and place of his readers. This move limited the freshness and directness of his editorial conversation and weakened the prophetic element in his writings.

Geoff Pound

Image: The Armadale Church, Melbourne.

[1] Boreham, Mercury, 5 April 1924.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Impact of Preaching on Boreham’s Editorials.

It is interesting to note the impact of F W Boreham’s preaching ministry on the subject and style of his weekly editorials in the Hobart Mercury newspaper. This influential link became most evident at Boreham’s unexpected decision which, as he said, “vitally affected my subsequent life and ministry”,[1] when he announced to his Hobart congregation in 1911 that he would commence a preaching series on ‘Texts that made history.’ These sermons adopted a biographical approach to preaching in which Boreham told the stories of famous people and provided a regular opportunity for hero-worship. There was an overwhelmingly positive response to this series that went for 125 nights (repeated again in Armadale) and the record sales of their publication resulted in an increase in Boreham’s historical and biographical editorials in the Mercury.

In contrast to Frank Boreham’s first editorial, in which he connected an historical insight with a current issue, the only link between most biographical editorials and the contemporary matters was usually the date of the editorial’s appearance on the anniversary of the article’s subject. Boreham’s keeping of an almanac increasingly perpetuated an ‘On this day in history’ style, which reduced his subject selection and weakened his commitment to grapple with current issues.

Geoff Pound

Image: The interior of the Hobart Tabernacle, where Texts that Made History was first preached/

[1] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage, 194-197.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Boreham and a Lesson on Involvement

When F W Boreham wrote his first impromptu leader for the Otago Daily Times during the Boer War, he addressed a subject of national importance, giving both an historic perspective and a timely word to his readers who were wrestling with the vital issues of war, empire, voluntarism, service and sacrifice.[1] He acknowledged later his good fortune in the timing of the national call-up for war, which “exactly synchronized with my excitement over Gibbon.”[2] Boreham’s first editorial was representative of American playright Arthur Miller’s later assessment, when he said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.”[3]

It is instructive that F W Boreham’s editorials contributed most to the local and national conversation when he was deeply involved in religious and political leadership in Otago, New Zealand, and in Hobart, Australia. These early editorials possessed immediacy, vigor and conviction because they tackled current issues of local and national importance and because he engaged with other writers and commentators. Boreham’s editorials for the Mercury on war themes clearly exemplified an editor naming and reflecting on the issues in the hearts and minds of his readers.

The breakdown of his health in 1916 and his move to Melbourne signaled a major shift in Boreham’s editorial career, marked by a noticeable silence on war themes and an increase in editorials of escape and inspiration. Writing editorials from the mainland over the next forty-three years inevitably resulted in a growing detachment from local issues in Hobart.

Geoff Pound

Image: Wedge Bay, a place of holidays and recuperation after his break down in health. Photo taken by FWB, circa 1911.

[1] F W Boreham, Otago Daily Times, 15 June 1900.
[2] Boreham, My pilgrimage, 150-151.
[3] Arthur Miller, Observer, 26 November 1961.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Donald Barnhouse Writes to F W Boreham

Donald Grey Barnhouse, for many years pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was the founder of the Evangelical Foundation that later became Evangelical Ministries, parent organization of The Bible Study Hour radio program. Dr. Barnhouse was speaker on The Bible Study Hour and editor of Eternity magazine. He was renowned as a Bible expositor and teacher and was recognized as one of American's great preachers and conference speakers.

This letter to F W Boreham from Barnhouse appeared in 1941 in the magazine he edited called Revelation.


An Open Letter to a Beloved Writer


Something tells me that you are a man who has not been scolded many times during your long life. But I have something to scold you for. You have written a book which kept me up till after two o'clock in the morning.

It came about this way. I was holding special meetings down in Florida and a friend of long standing handed me a book, and as he did so he had a glint in his eye. I have learned to be careful when men have a glint in their eye as they hand me a book. Generally I am in for a loss of sleep. The book was your recent autobiography.'

I took it back to the hotel and set it gingerly on my bureau. I had preached twice that day, and had put in some eight hours in reading and writing. I was going to get a good night's sleep. So I firmly got ready for bed. And then I thought it would do no harm to pick the book up and glance at it to see what I was going to have to read the next day. I sat down in an easy chair, and when I came to, I had finished the book and I was a bit muscle-bound because I had remained in the same position for so long. A man should be scolded for writing a book like that.

I will admit that there is one page I would have left out. Please give orders to your publishers to omit your adventure with the python. You say it left you in a perspiration for weeks. Have a little pity on your readers. You teach them to love you from the moment you tell of your great head start in life in being able to have wonder and amazement on the day of your birth when the rest of us didn't even have our eyes open. And then when we are all tangled up with you and your rich ministry you take us out into the Australian bush and prod a sleeping python!

There are many pleasant duties associated with the work of being an Editor. I remember when I picked up one of your books for the first time. I was in China, a guest in a missionary home. The hostess had placed several books in the guest room. If I am alone in any room in the world I inevitably gravitate to any book that is there. That is the first time you ever took me with your seductions. You will remember that I sat down and wrote you a letter. I asked you for contributions for REVELATION and told you what we could pay for their publication-never what they were worth. I didn't know whether you were Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, Presbyterian or Plymouth Brother. All I knew was—well, I can tell it best by an illustration. Mrs. Barnhouse and I have developed, as any couple does over the course of the years, a private vocabulary that may or may not convey much thought to those who hear it. We saw at a World's Fair a pitchman who was selling shots in his game. If you paid your dime you were given a large mallet which you swung over your head like an axe and which you landed with all your force on a block which caused an iron ring to fly up a rod towards a bell. The pitchman would send it up and ring the bell with ease, then take your dime and smile while you tried to ring the bell. Mrs. Barnhouse and I were talking about a certain person whom we had recently met and she said, "If you know what I mean, she rings my bell!" So in our family, new acquaintances either ring our bell or they do not ring our bell.

You swung your mallet in Australia and rang my bell in China. That was good hitting, and I wrote you that first letter. I didn't know whether you were young or old, British or aborigine—we get strange ideas about far off places!—but I kept hearing the resonance of my bell after it had been struck, and so I wrote you.

Two or three months passed, and I reached Southern India. There was your gracious letter and the first packet of manuscripts. Since that time I, and the readers of REVELATION, have read everything you have written for us with the greatest of interest. I suppose that a hundred people have come to me after meetings in various parts of the country to thank me for publishing your messages on the Prodigal Son. Sometimes it is a little disconcerting to preach my own sermon and to have someone in the audience rush up and thank me for having published yours.

I wish that I had been able to have more of an editorial correspondence with you. I blushed when I came to the pages that told of your relationships with your London publisher, and how he had never changed a line in what you wrote, and I remembered how I had had the temerity to ask you to re-end something. But even as I read, I knew you would have forgiven me, even if you had not known that I was twenty-five years your junior.

Every part of your book enchanted me (except the python). Your home, your childhood, your meeting with Charles Dickens. Your romance, courtship and marriage. But you know, sir, when you slipped in that little story about her criticism of your portrait of Robert Moffatt, you gave away a good deal of the credit for your life and ministry. I have long since learned that behind every good man there is generally a good woman—or two or three—and I could see that a girl who could speak so tartly to a possible suitor had, in the language of our American young people, ‘what it takes.’ I want you to introduce us to Mrs. Boreham when we get to Heaven.

Your call to New Zealand, and the gracious tokens of God's guiding along all the way from London to Mosgiel, your ordination (which, by the way, took place almost on the day of my birth), your twelve years at Mosgiel, all fascinated me. Many of us feel that we know some of those people almost as well as we know some of our own congregation, because you have so revealed God's workings in their lives in some of your books.

I liked your story of how you proposed to Elsie Hammond for Seth Draper. A minister can get real sermon illustrations from such things. Poor bashful Seth, dropping his red nasturtium in the path only to see Elsie kicking it. And then you found it pressed in her Bible, taxed her with returning to retrieve it, and found her covered with blushes. And then you married them and watched over them and their growing family. I am going to tell that incident some time to illustrate the story of the son who said to his father, "I go not," but, nevertheless, he went. All this is the stuff of which life is made.

That is what kept me up so late at night reading your book. This is life. It is the story of your life but it is everyone else's life tied into yours. And it makes splendid reading.

There is no use going on and on. Your move to Australia, your growing, world-wide ministry, are all enchanting to a brother minister. But there is one more thing I want to say. I wish that every minister could read your paragraph on writing. I mean the following: "in my own case I can claim no credit for having spent so much of my life at my desk. It has been a form of self-indulgence. But, knowing what I now know, I should still write even if I loathed the sight of a pen. For I have discovered in the course of my pilgrimage that the exercise of writing helps a man to marshal his ideas and to present them in the most forceful and attractive way. The preacher who finds the use of the pen irksome and even detestable will display real heroism in chaining himself to his desk; but, depend upon it, he will reap his reward in due time. For sooner or later—sooner rather than later—he will discover with delight that the laborious hours devoted to such slavery have done much to make him a skilful and effective speaker and a good minister of Jesus Christ."

That is all very true, Dr. Boreham, and if you can write such a good paragraph to help young ministers to get down to work, can you write another one to prevent them from rushing out to print everything they write!

But you—we want you to print it all. There is one thing in your book that I do not think is true, though I am glad the falsehood was told to you. It was when you were thirty-six that your friend, Mr. J. T. Soundy, told you that you would have few fresh ideas after you were forty. You set to work feverishly and began to pour out work at your highest capacity for production. You produced so much more than you could print that you packed the rest away in boxes, and you tell us that when you went away on vacations, for fear that the house might burn down you wrapped your precious manuscripts in water-tight coverings and buried them in the garden.

Now, Dr. Boreham, some of us are sure that your ideas are still fresh; even if you have passed three-score years and ten this Spring (Autumn in Australia!). We want some of those Australian autumn ideas. They will fit well into our spring time. And if you feel that you can not write more, will you please take the boat over to Tasmania where you were living at the time you buried your surplus manuscripts in the garden, get a good spade and go over that garden to be sure that the very last package is brought to light. We need them.

And thank you, dear Dr. Boreham, for letting us read you--Dr. Boreham—“whose name is on all our lips, whose books are on all our shelves and whose illustrations are in all our sermons."

And I am hoping that this letter to you, when ministers read it over my shoulder, will sell many copies of your books.
Yours faithfully,

The Editor

Source: Donald Barnhouse, ‘The Editor Writes a Contributor’, Revelation, June 1941, 315-316.

Thanks to Jeff Cranston for sending me this article.

Image: Donald Barnhouse

Boreham and Earnest Prayer

I get a request about once a week saying, “Can you tell me where I can find this quote or story by F W Boreham?”

The request that I got this morning did me good to read it again. You might like a copy with the chapter and verse:

Dr F W Boreham is telling how the Methodist church in Melbourne prayed for John King during the ill-fated Burke & Wills expedition:

“During all those long and trying months that followed, the prayers of that congregation ascended like incense in private and in public to the Throne of the Heavenly Grace. King's sister was always there. How they prayed! And the more persistent the tales of disaster became, the more earnestly these people gathered together for prayer. The most circumstantial stories of the utter extinction of the exploratory party never daunted them. Until the worst was confirmed, they clung desperately to their faith. Night and day they called upon God to spare the youth who had gone to hazard his life in the wilderness."

F W Boreham, 'A Chip of History' The Other Side of the Hill, London: Charles H Kelly, 1917 (First edition), 146-147.

Image: John King, the sole survivor of the Burke and Wills expedition.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Boreham and the Magic of Words

F W Boreham regarded his work as a “revelry” and viewed his different roles as a “sacrament.”[1] One sacramental dimension of his role as an essayist and editorialist was related to his high view of words. Boreham was enchanted with the mystery and magic of words on paper and he expressed his amazement that a literary classic differs from an inferior book only in its juxtaposition of the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet that are available to all writers.[2]

Boreham’s belief in the power of words was confidently expressed in his view, “Through the agency of words … darkness is being continually dispelled and new worlds called into being. By means of some sublime word—startling, piercing, convincing, alluring—a new man is made and the new man ushers in a new age. Were it not for those words—words of pity and grace and life everlasting—the world would still be without form and void and darkness would be upon the face of the deep.”[3]

As an agent of words, Boreham undertook his role with humility and reverence, writing as if to one reader but with the consciousness that he was shaping an age.[4]

Another important aspect of the sacramental element in Boreham’s editorial writing was hinted at by T H Crago, his biographer, who said, “He had never written an article for the sake of writing an article. Unless a topic could convey a message, it never tempted his pen.”[5] While Boreham variously confessed to his egotistical urges in his “insatiable penchant for scribbling” and his “literary aspirations”,[6] the editorial writing was an outworking of a divine calling to Christian ministry that necessitated the proclamation of a message, although conveyed in different ways from his work as a preacher and essayist.

Geoff Pound

Image: “the same twenty-six letters of the alphabet that are available to all writers.”

[1] F W Boreham, The golden milestone, i.
[2] F W Boreham, Mountains in the mist (London: The Epworth Press, 1914), 186.
[3] F W Boreham, A faggot of torches, 7.
[4] F W Boreham, The crystal pointers, 112. This reference has more information on Boreham’s view of tailoring oral and written communication to ‘a congregation of one’.
[5] T H Crago, The story of F. W. Boreham (London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1961).Crago, 248.
[6] F W Boreham, My pilgrimage, 150, 151.