Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Boreham and His Emotive Literary Style

This is a further article in a series that examines F W Boreham’s literary style that is most apparent in his newspaper editorials.

F W Boreham pitched his editorials at the emotional level of his readers. He highlighted the emotional transformation of his subjects that prompted a significant career, as when John Richard Green’s discovery of Edward Gibbon evoked “transports of excitement” and led him into a writing vocation.[1]

Boreham also described the impact of his subjects on the people of their time and context, as when he pictured the entry of the British politician William Cobbett into public life, by saying, “He plunged into the placidities of English life like a bull charging into a china shop.”[2] The quality of a character was often determined by the strength of the connection they forged with their contemporaries, as when the author Oliver Wendell Holmes “contrives to bind his reader to himself with hoops of steel”[3] or the philosopher Goethe was “destined to enchain half of Europe.”[4]

Frank Boreham wrote about the emotional effect in the original context, in the hope that his editorial might elicit a similar response within his own readers. The “magnetic”[5] or “electric”[6] personality of his subject and their ability to “wield magic,”[7] “mesmerise”[8] or “bewitch,”[9] are examples of the high-voltage vocabulary with which Boreham charged his editorials. He was also not averse to disclosing the impact of a subject on himself, as when he admitted, “Our nerves tingle in response to [Easter’s] stirring message.”[10]

Geoff Pound

Image: “He plunged into the placidities of English life like a bull charging into a china shop.”

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 6 March 1948.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 17 June 1950.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 29 August 1953.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 27 August 1949.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 7 July 1934.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 17 June 1950.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 21 May 1932.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 30 April 1949.
[9] Boreham, Mercury, 6 March 1948.
[10] Boreham, Mercury, 5 April 1947.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Boreham and His Sensuous Literary Style

Continuing in a series on the hallmarks of F W Boreham’s literary style, as found especially in his newspaper editorials, is this posting.

F W Boreham attempted to engage his audience through their senses. His human-centred editorials gave ample scope for adopting vocabulary that was concrete, vivid and colorful. His descriptions of people usually resulted from contemplating their portraits in paintings and photographs. Boreham’s pen portraits were often expressed in a few telling words, such as his description of Mark Rutherford as “a ruddy, robust, almost sailor-like man.”[1]

On other occasions he was more elaborate and appeared to take imaginative license, such as in his description of John Keble:

"His fine eyes are full of playfulness, intelligence, and deep feeling. His unaffected simplicity, genuine humility, engaging innocence, and utter unworldliness are written unmistakably upon his countenance. And yet, though a twinkle haunts his eye and a smile seems to be playing perpetually about his lips, there is deep gravity in his expression and even an element of sadness. For he is still thinking about the agitated world he has left behind him."[2]

Dr Boreham’s personal descriptions usually began with obvious physical characteristics before moving to the finer aspects of a person’s countenance. His summation of the British politician and Quaker activist John Bright, whose “life was in keeping with his looks,” was an example of the way Boreham often searched for features that pointed to some underlying virtues.[3]

Frank Boreham was adept yet sometimes lavish in his descriptions of nature such as in the recollection of:

“… memories of gorgeous sunsets that transfigured sea and land, of moonlight nights when the fields sparkled with the frost and the river was like a stream of molten silver, of the russet tints of Autumn and the delicate sweetness of Spring.”[4]

Boreham often adopted the technique employed by many nineteenth-century writers in which descriptions hinted at the way nature was in sympathy with the mood of a character or a national event.

His practice of reading aloud and preaching heightened his appreciation of the aural quality of words.[5] The naturalness of Boreham’s language and the integration of his oral and written ministries were deserving of the tribute paid about the essays of Montaigne, that they were “so written as it is spoken, and such upon the paper as it is in the mouth.”[6]

Sometimes Boreham used short sentences and terse language to convey tension and drama. He was attentive to the cadence of writing and he worked to enhance the sense of beauty, harmony and unity that the sound of words produced. Occasionally it appeared that the commitment to euphony was at the expense of truth or clarity, as when he described the early years of the author Harriet Beecher Stowe as an “atmosphere in which the theology was inexorable, the drudgery illimitable, the finances infinitesimal, and the children innumerable.”[7]

Geoff Pound

Image: “russet tints of Autumn.”

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 13 March 1948.
[2] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1943.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 26 March 1949.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 15 March 1947.
[5] F W Boreham, The prodigal: Sidelights on an immortal story (London: The Epworth Press, 1941), 67.
[6] M de Montaigne, The essayes of Michael Lord of Montaigne, xxvi.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 15 March 1952.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Boreham on the Uses of Adversity

Gog and Magog are the two tall poplar trees that keep ceaseless vigil by my gate. But between them there is all the difference in the world; you cannot glance at the twins without seeing that Gog is incalculably the sturdier.

And in the trunk of Magog there is a huge cavity into which a child could creep, but Gog is as sound as a bell. It is odd that two trees of the same age, growing together under precisely identical conditions, should have turned out so differently. There must be a reason for it. Is there? There is!

The fact is, Gog gets all the wind. All the time, you can see that it is Gog that is doing the fighting. The fearful onslaught breaks first on him; and the force of the attack is broken by the time it reaches Magog. It may be that Gog is very fond of Magog, and, pitying his frailty, seeks to shelter him. But if so, it is a mistaken kindness. It is just because Gog has had to bear the brunt of so many attacks that he has sent down his roots so deeply and has become so magnificently strong. It is because Magog has always been protected and sheltered that he is so feeble, and cuts so sorry a figure beside his stouter brother.

It is not half a bad thing to be living in a world that has some fight in it. It is a good thing for a person to be buffeted and knocked about. I fancy that Gog and Magog could say some specially comforting things to parents.

A great meeting, attended by five thousand people, was recently held in London to deal with the White Slave question. The Rev. J. Ernest Rattenbury of the West London Mission, declared, ‘it is the girls who come from the sheltered homes who stand in the greatest peril’.

F W Boreham, Mushrooms on the Moor, pp 127-35.

Image: ‘Two Poplars on a Road through the Hills’, by Vincent van Gogh.

Boreham Literary Style: Unobtrusive yet Present

This posting is a continuation of several articles which seek to identify and describe the Boreham literary style.

When F W Boreham said of J M Barrie’s writing that “there is a sense in which he never speaks of himself: there is a sense in which he puts himself into every word that he utters,”[1] he offered a clue into his own relationship with his readers. Boreham was content with the anonymity of the unattributed editorial and he prized the authorial restraint that refrained from including personal references. His commitment to self-effacement was intended to enhance the readability that comes, according to Orwell, when “good prose is like a windowpane.”[2]

Frank Boreham rejected Anton Chekhov’s advice to writers to be “as objective as a chemist” and to “abandon the subjective line,” because it was his aim to allow his personality and his enthusiasm for the subject to ooze through his words.[3] His subjectivity was most noticeable in his language of commendation, when he referred to a character’s “exemplary courage,”[4] “scrupulous exactitude”[5] or “resistless charm.”[6] Boreham cultivated a friendly position of parity with his readers rather than an omniscient, patronizing and intrusive stance.

Geoff Pound

Image: Frank Boreham Collage.

[1] F W Boreham, Mercury, 9 May 1942.
[2] George Orwell, ‘Why I write’, 7.
[3] Letter to M V Kiselev, 14 January 1887, Anton Chekhov: Letters on the short story, ed. L S Friedland (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1924), 275.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1943.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 30 April 1949.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 17 March 1951.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Hallmarks of the Boreham Literary Style

What would you say were the hallmarks of F W Boreham’s writing? How would you describe his signature style?

In the next few postings I will seek to describe Boreham’s characteristic style and show how effective this style was for his newspaper editorials as he expressed theology in appropriate ways for a public audience.

Invitational Style
Frank Boreham’s journalistic training and his experience as a preacher sharpened his consciousness of his editorial readership. The brief period of open-air preaching on Clapham Common and his early practice of observing successful politicians and barristers developed a writing style that aimed to grab and hold the reader’s attention.

This invitational style was also evident in Boreham’s predictable editorial structure. He tantalized the reader with a surprising title, presented a startling introduction to keep people reading, continued the article in a narrative style with stories to build drama and intrigue and concluded with a call for the reader’s response.

Dr Boreham developed his subjects and described his characters in lifelike ways to hold his reader’s interest and build a rapport. His diction had a “tang of originality” and was simple, clear and intended to be universally intelligible.[1] Depending on the word limit, Boreham added illustrations and commendations from different spheres of life to strengthen his argument and persuade his readers to make their verdict.

The desire to capture the reader’s attention and stir the reader to respond sometimes led to Boreham making global claims such as, “No man did more …”,[2] or, “No name shines with a richer luster …”,[3] and, “No other book …”[4]

Related to this was his frequent use of superlatives, as in “the most charming…”[5] or “the most idyllic …”[6] and “the most striking ...”[7] While each editorial was a unit in itself, Boreham’s long-term readers may have tired of his use of hyperbole and questioned his judgment. His overstatements were often borne of exuberance for his subject but they also created doubts about his critical capacities.

In an editorial in which he mentioned that Charles Dickens was “the victim of a constant tendency to gross exaggeration”, Boreham said of his literary mentor, “He immensely enjoyed everybody in his books; and, as an inevitable consequence, everybody else has enjoyed everybody in those books ever since.”[8]

Geoff Pound

Image: “His early practice of observing successful politicians.” PM Gladstone was one politician F W Boreham observed in his London days.

[1] Harold Bloom, The western canon: The books and schools of the ages (London: Papermac, 1995), 6.
[2] F W Boreham, Mercury, 30 June 1951.
[3] Boreham, Mercury, 24 November 1951.
[4] Boreham, Mercury, 17 March 1951.
[5] Boreham, Mercury, 13 March 1948.
[6] Boreham, Mercury, 13 March 1948.
[7] Boreham, Mercury, 11 September 1943.
[8] Boreham, Mercury, 17 March 1951.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Boreham and His Theological Approach

While he was usually logical, F W Boreham did not depend upon highly reasoned argumentation and the constraints of editorial space certainly limited this practice. Like theologian Ronald Thiemann, Boreham was less concerned that theology provide overarching theories and detailed answers and more intent on reflecting on the ‘intersections’ and ‘joints’ where public issues and Christian convictions meet.[1]

While conceding the imposition of word space, Frank Boreham’s suggestive style meant that his theology was strong on casting a vision but weak on critical analysis and teasing out life implications. In addition, his optimistic spirit often led him to ignore complexities and gloss over the ambiguities at the delicate points where theological reflection and life issues meet.

Geoff Pound

Image: The modern masthead from the Hobart Mercury.

[1] Ronald Thiemann, Constructing a public theology: The church in a pluralistic culture (Louisville: Westminster/ John Knox Press, 1991), 21-22, 24.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Boreham on Shutting the Door

“Years ago,” a friend told me once, “I used to take all my troubles to bed with me. I would lie there in the darkness with closed eyes, fretting and worrying all the time. I tossed and turned from one side of the bed to the other, as wide awake as at broad noon. As life went on, the habit grew upon me until it threatened to undermine my health. Then, one night, things reached a crisis. I could not sleep, so I rose from my bed and sat at the open window. The garden below and the fields were flooded in silvery moonlight. Not a breath of wind was stirring; the intense stillness was positively uncanny. The perfect tranquility mocked the surging tumult of my brain. How quiet the room seemed! And I had entered it—for what? My behavior seemed absurd in the extreme. Nature had wrapped around me her infinite calm; and here I was allowing all the worries of the world to fever my brain and break upon my rest! Why had I locked the office door so carefully if I wished all the ledgers and day books and order-forms to follow me home? Why had I closed the bedroom door so carefully if I wished all the cares of life to follow me in? I knelt down there at the window sill, with the delicious air of the still night caressing my face, and I then and there asked God to forgive me. And since then, when I've shut a door, I've shut a door!'

F. W.Boreham, The Silver Shadow, pp110-11.

Image: “when I've shut a door, I've shut a door!”

Boreham and His Theology of Nature

F W Boreham’s theology of nature gave his theology a significant breadth. While he made statements about the human yearning for nature and the contributions that nature makes to the human condition, there was evidence that Boreham was concerned for ecology, regardless of the benefits for human society.

His call for the protection of animal and plant species and the conservation of natural resources sometimes had utilitarian and nationalistic elements, but his protests over exploitation and his pleas for just policies and the wise stewardship of earth’s resources arose from sincere theological convictions. These editorials were often prompted by events and conversations in Boreham’s local context and represented an important contribution to contemporary issues of public concern.

Dr. Boreham’s call to commune with nature sprang from his contention that nature pointed to the divine creator as “the heavens are telling the glory of God.”[1] This communion involved for Boreham a sacramental understanding of nature in which, in the words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

"Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…"[2]

The editorials in which Boreham wrote of experiencing God through nature or ‘touching God’ through the soil, may seem to reflect paganism or pantheism but Tony Kelly’s definition of ‘panentheism’ as, “all things existing in God, as their source, ground and goal”, helpfully describes Boreham’s understanding.[3]

His nature articles provided him with the opportunity to write of the relationships between nature, God, religion, truth and science in ways that stressed their unity, harmony and a “cosmology of wholeness.”[4]

Geoff Pound

Image: “But only he who sees, takes off his shoes…[5]

[1] Ps. 19:1.
[2] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh 7. 1. 821-826.
[3] Tony Kelly, An expanding theology: Faith in a world of connections (Newtown, NSW: E J Dwyer, 1993), 41.
[4] Kelly, An expanding theology, 40.
[5] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh 7. 1. 821-826.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

F W Boreham and William Shakespeare

F W Boreham writes about his first attempts to memorise some lines from Shakespeare and the way the speech stayed with him:

“The first Shakespearian recitation that I ever learned was Cardinal Wolsey's address to Cromwell, his secretary. It seemed to me then, and seems to me still, the most pathetic and impressive passage in our literature. Because of the interest I displayed in the passage, my parents took me on pilgrimage and showed me the oak-tree beneath which, after his fall, the great cardinal sat and brooded on his terrible misfortunes....”

F W Boreham, A Witch’s Brewing, 31.

I am unclear about the location of the oak tree where Boreham went on pilgrimage (in the palace? The Globe?) but I think this is the speech that Frank Boreham refers to:

The Famous History of the Life of King Henry VIII, Act III, Scene 2.

WOLSEY: Cromwell, I did not think to shed a tear
In all my miseries; but thou hast forc'd me,
Out of thy honest truth, to play the woman.
Let's dry our eyes; and thus far hear me, Cromwell,
And when I am forgotten, as I shall be,
And sleep in dull cold marble, where no mention
Of me more must be heard of, say I taught thee—
Say Wolsey, that once trod the ways of glory,
And sounded all the depths and shoals of honour,
Found thee a way, out of his wreck, to rise in—
A sure and safe one, though thy master miss'd it.
Mark but my fall and that that ruin'd me.
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition:
By that sin fell the angels. How can man then,
The image of his Maker, hope to win by it?
Love thyself last; cherish those hearts that hate thee;
Corruption wins not more than honesty.
Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace
To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not;
Let all the ends thou aim'st at be thy country's,
Thy God's, and truth's; then, if thou fall'st, O Cromwell,
Thou fall'st a blessed martyr!
Serve the King, and—prithee lead me in.
There take an inventory of all I have
To the last penny; 'tis the King's. My robe,
And my integrity to heaven, is all
I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell!
Had I but serv'd my God with half the zeal
I serv'd my King, he would not in mine age
Have left me naked to mine enemies.

Geoff Pound

Image: Picture of Cardinal Wolsey from a book whose title is drawn from the last line of his speech.