Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Boreham on Francis of Assisi and Dealing with Life’s Longings

Professor Herkless, in his Life of Francis d'Assisi, tells us how Francis was torn between the monastic life on the one hand and the domestic life on the other. He longed to be a monk and to dedicate himself to poverty and pilgrimage. And yet he loved a sweet and noble and gracious woman. He wrestled with his alternatives, and at length, through an agony of tears, he chose the cloak and the cowl. But still the lovely face haunted him by cloister and by shrine. And one radiant moonlit night, when the earth was wrapped in snow, the brethren of the monastery saw him rise at dead of night. He went out into the grounds and, in the silvery moonlight, fashioned out of the snow with deft artistic fingers the images of a lovely woman and a group of fair little children. He arranged them in a circle, and sat with them, and, giving rein to his fancy, tasted for one delicious hour the ecstasies of hearth and home, the joys of life and love. Then, solemnly rising, he kissed them all a tearful and final farewell, renounced such raptures for ever, and re-entered the monastery.

F W Boreham, ‘The Little Palace Beautiful’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 57-58.

Image: Francisco de Zurbaran's "St Francis of Assisi"

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…”

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Boreham on Humankind as a Recurring Decimal

I really believe that, if a visitor from Mars were suddenly to light upon this planet, none of our extraordinary antics or bewildering contrivances would astound him half as much as our infinite capacity for leaving our ghastly tragedies behind us and calmly beginning afresh. It stands out from all our other achievements as a mountain stands out from the molehills. It is the most audacious phenomenon in the solar system. Man is simply endless; you can never exhaust him; he breaks out in a fresh place and begins all over again. His endings always lead to beginnings, his dark evenings to cloudless mornings. He is like the proverbial cat with her nine lives, except that in his case the paltry numeral must be indefinitely multiplied. He is like the phoenix of mythology; you can burn him to ashes, but he will rise most gloriously from the smouldering embers and turn his face once more to the skies. He is like Drummond's monkey that would not kill; he is always startling you by his unexpected appearances and his new tricks.

Napoleon said that the worst of the English was that they never knew when they were beaten. Just at the critical moment at which, by "every law of military etiquette, they ought to have owned themselves conquered and have surrendered to their foes, they simply adopted some entirely new tactics and drove their antagonists from the field. The English may, in this respect, be sinners above all men on the face of the earth; but it is only a matter of degree.… It is nothing less than the very sign and hallmark of our humanity. To quote Nietzsche's famous phrase, ‘Man is a recurring decimal.’ He will never work out. You may divide and divide to your heart's content, but each fresh product of your arithmetic leaves you as far as ever from finality. Each figure, so far from being the end, is simply a new beginning. It starts the whole thing going again. Man is invincible, impregnable, invulnerable, indestructible. You think that you have thrown him down; but he will bounce like a ball. You fancy that you have killed and buried him; but he will rise from the dust and laugh at you.

In his Life of Milton, Mark Pattison tells us that, at the age of forty-three, blindness fell upon the poet 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! Yet so it was. Milton began life all over again in the darkness and gave us the work that has secured him deathless fame. That is Man all over. He is the most inveterate and incorrigible beginner that the universe has seen. He is a faggot of thunderbolts.

F W Boreham, ‘A Faggot of Thunderbolts’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 25-27.

Image: ‘Man is a recurring decimal.’

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Boreham on Sleep: Victor Hugo, Argyle, Ridley et al

The moral and spiritual significance of sleep can scarcely be overestimated.

I fortify myself at this point by an appeal to Victor Hugo, and Victor Hugo was a philosopher. He is describing Jean Valjean in the act of robbing the good bishop who had pitied him in his distress, and had admitted him to the hospitality of his home and the confidence of his heart. In creeping through the silent and darkened house, the culprit came to the bed on which the bishop slept. ‘A moonbeam passing through the tall window suddenly illuminated the bishop's pale face. He was sleeping peacefully, his head thrown back on the pillow in an easy attitude of repose, and his hand, which had done so many good deeds, hung out of the bed. His entire face was lit up by a vague expression of satisfaction, hope, and beatitude—it was more than a smile, and almost a radiance. He had on his forehead the inexpressible reflection of an invisible light, for the soul of a just man contemplates a mysterious heaven during sleep. A reflection of this heaven was cast over the bishop, but it was at the same time a luminous transparency, for the heaven was within him, and was conscience. Jean Valjean was standing in the shadow, with his crowbar in his hand, motionless and terrified by this luminous old man. He had never seen anything like this before, and such confidence horrified him. ‘The moral world has no greater spectacle than this, a troubled, restless conscience, which is on the point of committing a bad action, contemplating the sleep of a just man.’ The moral world, says the brilliant Frenchman, has no greater spectacle than this! No statement that I have made is half so sweeping as that!

I have quoted Victor Hugo for the sake of the philosophy of that golden sentence. The illustration in itself is inconclusive, seeing that it is taken from romance. And so, beside that scene taken from French fiction, I place an almost identical scene taken from English history.

An hour or two before the execution of the Earl of Argyle, one of the traitor lords came to the castle and asked to see his lordship. ‘He was told,’ Macaulay says, ‘that he was asleep. The visitor thought this was a subterfuge, and insisted on entering. The door of the cell was softly opened, and there lay Argyle on the bed, sleeping, in his irons, the placid sleep of infancy. The conscience of the renegade smote him. He turned away sick at heart, ran out of the castle, and took refuge in the dwelling of a lady of the family living hard by. There he flung himself on a couch, and gave himself up to an agony of remorse and shame. The woman, alarmed by his looks and groans, thought that he had been taken with some serious illness, and begged him to drink a cup of sack. “No, no,” he said, “that will do me no good.” She prayed him to tell her what had disturbed him. “I have been,” he said, “in Argyle's prison. I have seen him, within an hour of eternity, sleeping as sweetly as ever a man did I But as for me—”

I like to remember, also, that the night before Latimer and Ridley lit at Oxford that candle which has never been put out, Ridley's anxious brother offered to spend that last terrible night with them. ‘No, no, brother,’ smiled the Bishop, ‘I mean to lie down and sleep as gently as ever I did!’ And, to the amazement of the warders who kept guard, he was as good as his word, rising in the morning from his quiet slumber to greet the flames that bore his soul to the skies! Great sleepers, these!

Poor George Stephenson, when he was building the Menai Tubular Bridge, used to say that he went to bed at night with those gigantic tubes and girders, and was still staggering under them when he rose in the morning. We are too prone to that sort of thing.

We need to take lessons of Sir William Cecil, once Lord Treasurer of England, who, on throwing off his gown at night, used to say to it, ‘Lie there, Lord Treasurer!’ and forgot all the cares of State until he resumed his official garb in the morning. We are such poor sleepers because we are such poor saints.

The best things all come to Sleepy Hollow….And so I believe in Sleepy Hollow. They may laugh at its repose who laughed at the great souls who slumbered there; but I am convinced that, if I can learn its restful secret, there will enter into my life a great and wonderful enrichment.

F W Boreham, ‘Sleepy Hollow’, The Golden Milestone (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 17-21.

Image: ‘I believe in Sleepy Hollow.’

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Book: Index to F W Boreham Books

I am contacted regularly by people asking where they might find a Boreham story or quote. I don’t mind doing this but you might like to purchase your copy of the great index that Boreham lover, Allen Bumford compiled about twenty years ago.

Allen, who attended Boreham’s lunch hour services at Melbourne’s Scots’ Church and who is now in his eighties has graciously given his permission for this to be distributed. He would be the first to admit that this photocopied book is a little rough and ready but it works!

It can be sent to you as a PDF file so you can print it out and/or use the Search/Find function on your computer for the quick spotting of an essay or reference to a text or personality.

Make sure you get your copy. I couldn't do without it!

Check out further descriptive details and how you can purchase The Index to the Books of F W Boreham from Michael Dalton at AbeBooks.

Geoff Pound

Boreham on Humans as a Bundle of Contradictions

When Dr. Burroughs, Bishop of Ripon, was here in Australia, he told a story of a small boy who had been drafted in at the last moment to fill a vacant place at a fashionable dinner-party—the sort at which the menu offers a choice for nearly every course. Hardly had he settled down when a problem confronted him on which his previous experience threw no light. In a low, compelling voice, the waiter put the alternatives to him: ‘Thick or clear?’ Playing for safety, our young friend answered Both!’

What the waiter did is not related; perhaps he brought a mixture; but it really does not matter. The thing that does matter is that in saying 'Both!’ that boy described himself and every other human being. No boy is altogether thick or altogether clear; altogether kind or altogether cruel; altogether good or altogether bad. He is both! He [and all of us!] is an everlasting anachronism, an animated ambiguity, a bundle of contradictions; and he is all this for the simple reason that, first and last, and through and through, he is so essentially a boy.

F W Boreham, The Fiery Crags (London: The Epworth Press, 1928), 15-16.

Image: “he is so essentially a boy.”

This story is one of the more then 200 stories that are contained in the newly published book: F W Boreham, All the Blessings of Life: The Best Stories of F W Boreham.

Discover the places where you can buy this book at New Boreham Books. While you are there, follow the link to Abe Books and see the growing range of F W Boreham resources.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Boreham on John Whittier’s Unpretentious Epitaph

According to Quaker custom, a plain slab marks John Whittier’s resting-place, exactly similar to the stones erected to the memory of the other Whittiers near by. Of that unpretentious monument Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote:

“Lift from its quarried edge a flawless stone,
Smooth the green turf and bid the tablet rise,
And on its snow-white surface carve alone
These words—he needs none other—

F W Boreham, I Forgot To Say (London: The Epworth Press, 1939), 196.

Image: The Whittier Family Burial Plot in Haverhill, Mass., USA.

Boreham on Being Challenged

At the Melbourne Art Gallery is a painting by the late John Pettie, R.A. It is entitled Challenged, and it once adorned the walls of the Royal Academy in London.

A young aristocrat has been called from his sumptuous couch in the early morning by a challenge to a duel. There he stands, attired in his blue dressing gown, holding the momentous document in his hand. His old serving-man, who has delivered the missive to his master, is vanishing through the distant door; a sword reposes suggestively upon a chair.

But the whole artistry of the picture is concentrated in the face. It is the face of a thoughtless, shallow, self-indulgent young man-about-town suddenly startled to gravity and something like nobleness. By means of that face, the artist has skillfully portrayed the fact that life becomes smitten with sudden grandeur the moment it is challenged by stupendous issues. Life and death confront this young lord, and he becomes a new man as he realizes their stately significance. No person amounts to much until all their faculties have been challenged.

F W Boreham, A Witch’s Brewing (London: The Epworth Press, 1932), 89.

Image: John Pettie.