Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Boreham on Bridge Building

In his essay, ‘The Building of Bridges’, F W Boreham writes of the human instinct to desire a bridge to traverse the chasm of distance, time or spiritual void. He concludes his essay by illustrating the cost of this engineering feat:

In his Legend of the Eagles, George d'Espartes says that the most heroic piece of self-sacrifice known to history occurred in the building of a bridge exactly a century ago.

‘It was in the depth of winter, and the French Army, pressed on all sides by the Cossacks, had to cross a river. The enemy had destroyed all the bridges, and Napoleon was almost at his wits’ end. Suddenly came the order that a bridge of some sort must be thrown across the river, and the men nearest the water, of course, were the first to carry out the almost impossible task. Several were swept away by the furious tide. Others, after a few minutes, sank through cold and exhaustion; but more came, and the work proceeded as fast as possible.

At last the bridge was completed, and the army reached the opposite bank in safety. Then followed a dramatic scene, one of the most horrible recorded in the annals of any nation. When the men who had built the bridge were called out of the water, not one moved. Clinging to the pillars, there they stood silent and motionless. It was soon found that they had been frozen to death, their arms rigidly fixed against the woodwork in the attitude of Caryatides—the Caryatid of death. Napoleon, who witnessed the awful scene, could not, in spite of his impassive temperament, restrain his tears.’

Many bridges have been built by sacrifice.

F W Boreham, ‘The Building of the Bridge’, Mountains in the Mist (London: Charles H Kelly, 1914), 117-118.

Image: A bridge collapse. In 1975 a ship crashed into the supports of this bridge that crosses the Derwent River in Hobart, Tasmania. The disaster claimed 12 lives. Note the two cars balancing precariously above the 110 foot drop.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Boreham on Frederick McCubbin’s Painting, ‘The Pioneer’

Every Australian has reverently raised his hat at some time or other to Mr. McCubbin's great picture ‘The Pioneer.’ [pictured—click to magnify] It holds a place of honour in the Melbourne Art Gallery, and copies of it have found their way into every home in the Commonwealth. I speak of it as a picture; but it is really three pictures in one frame.

The first of the set represents the pioneer on pilgrimage. There stands the wagon! The horses are turned out to forage for food among the scrub. The man himself is making a fire under a giant blue-gum. And, in the very foreground, sits the sad young wife, her chin resting heavily upon her hand, and her elbow supported by her knee. Her dark eyes are eloquent with unspeakable wistfulness, and her countenance is clouded with something very like regret. Her face is turned from her husband lest he should read the secret of her sorrow, and see that her heart is breaking. She is overwhelmed by the vastness and loneliness of these great Australian solitudes; and her soul, like a homing bird, has flown back to those sweet English fields and fond familiar faces that seem such an eternity away across the wilds and the waters. The pioneer's wife!

The centre picture—the largest of the trio—shows us the freshly built home in the depths of the bush. The little house can just be seen through a rift in the forest. In the foreground is the pioneer. He is clearing his selection, and rests for a moment on a tree that he has felled. His axe is beside him, and the chips are all about. Before him stands his wife, with a little child in her arms. The soft baby-arm lies caressingly about her shoulders.

In the third picture we can see, through the trees, a town in the distance. In the immediate foreground is the pioneer. He alone figures in all three pictures. He is kneeling this time beside a rude wooden cross. It marks the spot among the trees where he sadly laid her to rest.

The pioneer! It is by such sacrifices that these broad Australian lands of ours have been consecrated. Oh, the brave, brave women of our Australian bush! We have heard, even in Tasmania, of their losing their reason through sheer loneliness; and too often they have sunk into their graves with only a man to act as nurse and doctor and minister and grave-digger all in one…

Yes; there is a world of pathos and significance in that solitary grave in the lonely bush. And he who can catch that mystical meaning has read one of life's deepest and profoundest secrets. He is not very far from the kingdom of God!...

I used to think that the finest thing on earth was self-sacrifice. It was a great mistake. This picture of ‘The Pioneer’ reminds me that there is a form of sacrifice compared with which self-sacrifice is a very tame affair. The point is that the sacrifice of one who is dearer than life itself is manifestly a greater sacrifice than self-sacrifice. It is such a sacrifice that Mr. McCubbin has painted. It is by such sacrifice that our Australian scrub has been sanctified. It is made as sacred as a shrine, and its sands more precious than gold. We take off the shoes from off our feet, for the place whereon we stand is holy ground.

F W Boreham, ‘The Pioneer’, Mountains in the Mist (London: Charles H Kelly, 1914), 75-77, 80.

Image: ‘The Pioneer’, 1904 (For more information about this picture see this link).

Monday, October 08, 2007

Boreham on ‘The Sun Has Risen in the West!’

Yesterday there was an excerpt quoted from F W Boreham on an online Bible portions service. I received some letters containing the quote and asking me to tell them in which F W Boreham essay they might find the quote. The quote is the last paragraph of this essay. Here is the full essay. Enjoy!

Mark Twain, in one of his frolics, tells how he and his companions toiled all night up the slopes of one of the mountains of Switzerland in order to see the sunrise from the summit. That gorgeous spectacle was numbered among the wonders of the world. Arrived at the pinnacle, heated with their climb, they soon found themselves shivering in the piercing cold of that bleak and snow-capped height. They wrapped themselves up as snugly as they could, huddled together under the shelter of a huge rock, and settled down to await the glory that had brought them to so inhospitable a spot. After an unconscionable period spent in this cramped and comfortless situation, it appeared to them that, although the sun had not risen, the daylight was becoming more and more pronounced. They started up to investigate the mystery. To their horror they discovered that they had been sitting with their faces to the West; and, over the back of the boulders that had sheltered them from the cold wind, the sun was well up in the sky!

I thought this very droll when I first came across it, and laughed as lustily as anybody else. But I have today moderated my judgement. An experience has befallen me that has made me wonder whether the situation of Mark Twain and his companions was really as ludicrous as I once supposed. Does the sun never rise in the West?

When I set out this afternoon I knew that my path would take me across the hills. I promised myself that I would not hurry. I thought of a certain stately old gum tree that I know well, with a log lying temptingly beside it. I thought of the wattles all in their golden glory, of the hawthorn hedges just coming into tender leaf, and of a score of other lovely things. Why should I not pause for half an hour to drink in the full, rich fragrance of the gorse and to listen to the crickets in the grass near by? I slipped a book into my pocket. It chanced to be A Boswell of Baghdad, by Mr. E. V. Lucas. I found my blue gum tree just as I had pictured it—such friends are amazingly constant and dependable—and feasted my eyes on the panorama before me. In the course of my enjoyment, I turned over the pages of my Baghdad Boswell, just to see what it was all about, when I came, haphazard, upon this: ‘My friend,’ says Buri Taj Al-Muluk, ‘approached from the West, riding a grey horse, and I exclaimed: “Glory to the Almighty, the sun has risen in the West!”’ It was this that brought back to my mind the passage in Mark Twain at which I laughed so heartily long years ago.

'Glory to the Almighty, the sun has risen in the West!' It is a characteristically Oriental way of describing the coming of a friend at an unlikely moment, or from an unexpected direction. It reminds me of a pair of incidents-one in our own history, and one in that of France.

For the French story I must go back to the stern and pitiless days of the Great Revolution. The episode stands out on the terrible pages of that grim record like a bright star shining steadily in a stormy sky; its pathos falls upon our ears like the song of a lark amidst the noise and confusion of a great battle. Marie Antoinette, the unhappy Queen of France, had fallen into the merciless clutches of the revolutionists. They threw her into prison, heaped upon her every shameful indignity that the most debased and most barbarous imagination could conceive, and savagely gloated over the prospect of imbruing their cruel hands in her royal blood. In that dark hour her myriad friends fell away from her like autumn leaves. Fearing the wrath of the mob, those who had been most frequently at the Tuilleries became loudest in their clamour for the execution of the King and Queen. To this sinister rule there was, however, one radiant exception.

When Marie Antoinette first came to France, the Princess de Lamballe was a girl of about her own age. She had been widowed at eighteen. Her sad but beautiful face, her gentle and artless manner, her sweet and attractive disposition, won the heart of the young Queen at once; and for twenty years they were bosom friends. When the revolution broke out, however, the Princess was at a distance and in perfect safety. Without a moment's hesitation she sent word to the Queen that she was leaving for Paris. The Queen wrote back entreating her to remain in her present security. Later on, when the guillotine had done its worst for the poor Princess, the Queen's letter was found hidden in the tresses of her long, fair hair. She had fancied that there, at least, it would have been secure, after her head had fallen, from probing fingers and prying eyes. The Princess ignored the letter and hastened to Paris. Her coming was the one gleam of brightness that shone upon the poor Queen in those dark and fearful days. When the Princess de Lamballe came to Paris, Marie Antoinette's sun rose in the West! And when the Princess was torn from her and dragged to the scaffold, she felt that her sun had set for ever. The poor Queen wrote down that date as the day of her own death. Life was not worth calling life after her friend had gone out of it.

The companion picture which I promised from our own history is provided for us by Lord Morley in his Life of Cobden. It concerns, primarily, not Cobden, but Bright. We all remember how Bright's beautiful young wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, was suddenly snatched from him. Bright was inconsolable. Let him tell his own story. ‘It was in 1841,’ he says. ‘The sufferings throughout the country were fearful. I was at Leamington, and on the day when Cobden called upon me—for he happened to be there at the time on a visit to some relatives—I was in the depths of grief, I might almost say of despair; for the light and sunshine of my house had been extinguished. All that was left on earth of my young wife, except the memory of a sainted life and of a too brief happiness, was lying still and cold in the chamber above us. Mr. Cobden called upon me, and addressed me, as you might suppose, with words of condolence. After a time he looked up and said, “There are thousands of houses in England at this moment where wives, mothers, and children are dying of hunger. Now,” he said, “when the first paroxysm of your grief is past, I would advise you to come with me, and we will never rest till the Corn Law is repealed.” I accepted his invitation. I knew that the description he had given of the homes of thousands was not an exaggerated description. I felt in my conscience that there was a work which somebody must do, and therefore I accepted his invitation, and from that time we never ceased to labour hard on behalf of the resolution which we had made.’ Everybody knows how, through the seven years that followed, the reformers endured ignominy, ridicule, and persecution, but struggled on until their cause was triumphant and the world was ringing with their fame. Everybody knows that; but everybody does not know the infinite solace which that historic task administered to the breaking heart of Bright. To the end of his life he felt that the coming of Cobden was his salvation. The dawn arose out of the clouds of sunset. Glory to the Almighty, the sun has risen in the Nest!

But I do not quite see why we are confining our attention so exclusively to the matter of friendship. Surely there are other respects in which the sun sometimes rises in the western sky! John Milton would certainly have said so! In his biography of the poet, Mark Pattison tells us that, at the age of forty-three, blindness fell upon Milton like the sentence of death, and he fancied for awhile that he had reached the end of everything. His only gleam of comfort lay in the fact that he had written, during his last year of eyesight, a pamphlet on the Civil War! ‘He could not foresee,’ his biographer remarks, ‘that in less than ten years his pamphlet would be merged in the obsolete mass of civil war tracts, and only be mentioned because it had been written by the author of Paradise Lost.' The new day dawned with the coming of the darkness. Before his blindness, Milton wrote political pamphlets; only that and nothing more! In his sightlessness he developed an imagination which, for sublimity and splendour, has never been surpassed. The dawn rose out of the sunset.

And what of the surprises of life? Is it not true to the experience of all of us that our joys rush out at us from unexpected places, our treasures issue from the darkest mines, our suns rise in the West? I was spending an evening last week with my old friend Harold Coverdale, the minister at Foxton. After the children were all in bed, Mrs. Coverdale brought her crochet-work and took the chair opposite her husband; and, somehow, the conversation turned to the days of auld Lang syne. Harold made some reference to his courtship and then burst into laughter. When the storm subsided he went on to say that, in his student days, he was one afternoon leaving the college buildings when he unexpectedly met the Principal, Professor McDonald.
'Oh, Coverdale,' the Principal exclaimed, 'you are the very man I want to see. Mr. Thompson, of Northend, has been taken ill; and they want a supply for Sunday. I particularly wish you to go.'

Harold laughed again at the memory of it. Then, turning to me, he said:
'You know, I had another little scheme for that particular weekend. Bryce, Barkell, and I were going away together; and, as it was extremely unlikely that we should all three be free again, I was most unwilling to shatter the project. I suggested other names, hinted that I was myself already engaged, and at last begged that I might on this occasion be excused.
"I'm sorry," muttered the old professor, "but, as I told you, I particularly wish you to go. The fact is, I was talking to Mr. Thompson quite recently and was telling him about you. He wires specially asking that, if possible, you should be sent. I shall be glad if you will take the appointment."

'There was nothing more to be said. I went round and told Bryce and Barkell, who joined me in invoking all kinds of maledictions on the head of the old curmudgeon. With wry faces and rebellious hearts we abandoned our excursion. And on the Saturday I set out in no amiable mood to preach at Northend.' In my heart I was wishing confusion to Northend and everybody in it. And—would you believe it?—that very night, at Northend, I met her!'

He glanced fondly across the hearthrug at his wife. Delight had emerged from disappointment. The dawn had sprung out of the sunset. Glory to the Almighty, the sun has risen in the West! Our greatest gladnesses burst upon us from the most unlikely places.

That was the miracle that astounded the Magi. Nobody dreamed that new light would spring out of the West. To the West was Palestine, Galilee, Nazareth; and can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Yet it was in the West that the star appeared! 'And lo, the star which they saw when in the East went before them till it came and stood over where the young child was.' The world's new day had dawned! Glory to the Almighty, the sun has risen in the West!

The great classic conversions tell the same tale. Paul, Luther, Wesley, Bunyan; it matters not to which you go; each is the story of the sun rising in the West. A man comes to the fag-end of everything and is in uttermost despair. `Now,' says Bunyan in his Grace Abounding, 'now I grow worse; now I am farther from conversion than ever I was before. Wherefore I began to sink greatly in my soul, and began to entertain such discouragement in my heart as laid it as low as hell. If now I should have burned at the stake, I could not believe that Christ had love for me. Alas! I could neither hear Him, nor see Him, nor feel Him, nor favour any of His things; I was driven as with a tempest. Sometimes I would tell my condition to the people of God; which, when they heard, they would pity me, and would tell me of the promises; but they had as good have told me that I must reach the sun with my finger as have bidden me receive or rely upon the promises. Oh, my inward pollution! I was more loathsome in mine own eyes than a toad, and I thought I was so in God's eyes too. Sin and corruption, I said, would as naturally bubble out of my heart as water would bubble out of a fountain. I thought now, that every one had a better heart than I had; I could have changed hearts with anybody; I thought none but the devil himself could equal me for inward wickedness and pollution of mind. I fell, therefore, at the sight of my own vileness, deeply into despair; for I concluded that this condition that I was in could not stand with a state of grace. Sure, thought I, I am forsaken of God; sure, I am given up to the devil and to a reprobate mind; and thus I continued a long while, even for some years together.' Yet out of this impenetrable gloom broke the light that never was on sea or shore! Out of this stormy sunset rose the dawn that has illumined the whole world!

Some day my life's little day tall soften down to eventide. My sunset hours will come. As the soldiers say, I shall go West! And then, I know, there will arise, out of the dusk, a dawning fairer than any dawn that has yet broken upon me. Out of the last tints of sunset there shall rise a day such as I shall never have known before; a day that shall restore to me all that the other days have taken from me, a day that shall never fade into twilight. `Glory to the Almighty,' I shall cry, 'the sun has risen in the West!'

F W Boreham, ‘The Sun has Risen in the West!’, The Home of the Echoes (London: The Epworth Press, 1921), 97-107.

Image: The sun rising.