Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Boreham on Getting Over Things

WE get over things. It is the most amazing faculty that we possess. War or pestilence; drought or famine; fire or flood; it does not matter. However devastating the catastrophe, however frightful the slaughter, however total the eclipse, we surmount our sorrows and find ourselves still smiling when the storm is overpast.

I remember once penetrating into the wild and desolate interior of New Zealand. From a jagged and lonely eminence I surveyed a landscape that almost frightened one. Not a house was in sight, nor a road, nor one living creature, nor any sign of civilization. I looked in every direction at what seemed to have been the work of angry Titans. Far as the eye could see, the earth around me appeared to have been a battle-field on which an army of giants had pelted each other with mountains. The whole country was broken, weird, precipitous, and grand. In every direction huge cliffs towered perpendicularly about you; bottomless abysses yawned at your feet; and every scarped pinnacle and beetling crag scowled menacingly at your littleness and scowled defiance at your approach. One wondered by what titanic forces the country had been so ruthlessly crushed and crumbled and torn to shreds. Did any startled eye witness this volcanic frolic? What a sight it must have been to have watched these towering ranges split and scattered; to have seen the placid snowclad heights shivered, like fragile vases, to fragments; to have beheld the mountains tossed about like pebbles; to have seen the valleys torn and rent and twisted; and the rivers flung back in terror to make for themselves new channels as best they could! It must have been a fearsome and wondrous spectacle to have observed the slumbering forces of the universe in such a burst of passion! Nature must have despaired of her quiet and sylvan landscape. `It is ruined,' she sobbed; `it can never be the same again!'

No, it can never be the same again. The bright colours of the kaleidoscope do not form the same mosaic a second time. But Nature has got over her grief, for all that. For see! All up these tortured and angular valleys the great evergreen bush is growing in luxurious profusion. Every slope is densely clothed with a glorious tangle of magnificent forestry. From the branches that wave triumphantly from the dizzy heights above, to those that mingle with the delicate mosses in the valley, the verdure nowhere knows a break. Even on the steep rocky faces the persistent vegetation somehow finds for itself a precarious foothold; and where the trees fear to venture the lichen atones for their absence. Up through every crack and cranny the ferns are pushing their graceful fronds. It is a marvellous recovery.

Indeed, the landscape is really better worth seeing today than in those tranquil days, centuries ago, before the Titans lost their temper, and began to splinter the summits.

F W Boreham, ‘On Getting Over Things, Mushrooms on the Moor (London: Charles H Kelly, 1915), 236-238.

Image: Mount Ruapehu, NZ (still an active volcano but vegetation rejuvenating below); “We get over things. It is the most amazing faculty that we possess.”

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boreham on My Study

Professor David Smith tells of a great lesson that he learned, as a young minister, from his old teacher and friend, the eminent Professor A. B. Bruce.

`He introduced me,' Professor Smith says, 'to my first charge; and that Sunday night, as we sat in my study, he said to me, "You will get no inspiration from your surroundings here; see that you seek it from your books."

I remembered his counsel, and I found it good. The years which I spent in that quiet parish proved very profitable. Many an evening I would come home sick of petty jealousies, and fretted by trivial narrownesses, and would get into my study; and, behold, I was in a large and wealthy place and in the fellowship of the immortals. My study was the most sacred and wonderful place on earth to me. It was my refuge and my sanctuary.'

My sanctuary, mark you! And it was probably with this reminiscence of his early ministerial days in mind that Professor Smith penned for us the following verses :

I bless You, Lord, that when my life
Is as a troubled sea,
I have, remote from its rough strife,
Harbours to shelter me.

I bless You for my home, where love
Her sweet song ever sings,
And Peace spreads, like a nesting dove,
Her gentle, brooding wings.

And for this chamber of desire,
Where my dear books abide,
My constant friends that never tire,
Teachers that never chide.

F W Boreham, ‘The Holly-Tree’, The Uttermost Star (London: The Epworth Press, 1919), 239-240.

Image: “My study was the most sacred and wonderful place on earth to me.”

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Boreham on the Mayor of Mosgiel

There is a great story in this essay on Tammas Dalgleish and a visit to a meeting of Dr. Grattan Guinness. I am posting the entire essay:

For many a long year Tammas Dalgleish was Mayor of Mosgiel, and reigned without a rival. At election after election the little old gentleman was returned unopposed. Indeed, it came to be regarded as the natural thing. Nobody quite knew why. I have a notion that it was just because Tammas was old. The other members of the Borough Council were aggressive young townsmen, the warmth of whose ardour incubated all kinds of municipal policies, and the restlessness of whose brains littered the council table with an infinite variety of schemes. The result was inevitable. As soon as Councillor MacDonald stated his policy, the council fell into two parts as though it had been cleft by a sword. Half the councillors said 'Hear, hear,' and half shook their heads sagaciously, and muttered to each other that it would never do.

And when, a few weeks later, Councillor Campbell outlined his scheme, the council was once more rent in twain. Half the councillors supported; half opposed.

The same fate befell each of the other councillors in turn. There was only one member of the council who never concocted a fresh policy or formulated a new scheme. That was Tammas Dalgleish. His abstinence in that respect gave him an immense advantage when the mayoral election came round. Councillor MacDonald would have made an excellent Mayor, and his claims upon the honour were considerable; but then, he had a scheme! His elevation to the mayoral chair would place him in a position of commanding influence; it would invest him with a casting vote and other dangerous prerogatives; and it would probably lead to the adoption of his scheme. The hostile councillors said once more that this would never do. And so it came to pass that none of the councillors, save Tammas Dalgleish, could command a majority of votes when the elections came round. Year by year, therefore, as regularly as the second Saturday in November returned, it was announced from the verandah of the council-chambers that only one nomination had been received, and that Councillor Dalgleish had been declared elected for a further term. The little old gentleman beamed, expressed his sense of the honour that had been done him, and promised that he would endeavour to prove himself worthy of the confidence of the citizens. Which meant, being interpreted, that he promised to sink peacefully into the chair for another year, never daring to think out a policy himself, or even to say Yea or Nay to any of the troublesome schemes that the younger and noisier councillors might present. It all passed off very pleasantly. There was speaking and cheering and drinking of healths. Everybody seemed perfectly satisfied with the turn things had taken. And certainly Tammas Dalgleish was.

He was an amiable little old man, not destitute of frailties. One of these was his excessive modesty. He was terribly afraid that we should forget either that he was a Scotsman, or that he was Mayor of Mosgiel. He had every reason to be proud of both these circumstances; and, as a matter of fact, there was not the slightest danger of our forgetting either; but he was obviously nervous about it. In the course of my twelve years at Mosgiel I came to know him pretty well, although only on two occasions did I have direct dealings with him. Of those two events I propose to tell the story now; and if into the first narrative there steals a suspicion of comedy, it will be seen that the, second story is sufficiently dramatic to atone for that defect in its predecessor. But to my tale.

It was in the days of the South African War. When it was announced that Lord Kitchener was conferring with the Boer leaders at Pretoria, everybody felt that peace was not far off. This conviction fastened upon the mind of old Tammas Dalgleish, and he decided to call a meeting of citizens to arrange for a worthy celebration of the glad event—when it should come. He was good enough to call at the manse and ask me to be present. I very cheerfully consented. At the meeting, over which he presided, a programme was drawn up, a committee was appointed to carry it into effect, and, at His Worship's suggestion, I was appointed convener. We soon got things into shape and only awaited the declaration of peace to have everything moving. At last the welcome signal was given. The screaming of syrens, the ringing of bells, and the booming of guns apprised all and sundry that the war in South Africa had passed into history. I hurried down to the council-chambers, found His Worship there before me, and we soon got to work. The morning was occupied with the distribution of medals to all the children of the town. The main event of the day was timed for two o'clock. All the townspeople were asked to assemble at the junction of the main streets; led by the local band, they were to sing first the Doxology and then the National Anthem; and, after that, the procession was to start.

At two o'clock, however, rain was threatening. The outlook for the procession and the subsequent events was very gloomy. When I entered the council-chamber a few minutes before the hour, I found His Worship in a state of extreme tension. He was tortured by visions of trees being planted and foundation-stones laid under torrential skies.
'Come on,' he said impatiently, as I saluted him, 'let us get the procession away at once! What's to be done?'
'Very little, your Worship,’ handing him a fresh copy of the programme. 'You have simply to ask the people to join in singing to the music of the band, first the Doxology and then the National Anthem.'

I saw at once that he was displeased. He was for waving his hand and ordering the procession to start. I held out for the programme, the whole programme, and nothing but the programme.

`Well,' he exclaimed at last, in a more conciliatory tone, 'let us split the difference. Let us drop the Doxology and sing the National Anthem!'

I pointed out that the Doxology was singularly appropriate to the occasion; that it was specially decreed at the meeting of citizens; that it was on the printed programme; and that its omission would seriously wound the sentiments of many of the citizen.

His worship lost all patience. I saw ten minutes later that he imagined the Doxology to be some ponderous kind of oratorio that might detain the procession for a good part of the afternoon. But I did not grasp his point of view until, looking daggers at me, he sprang up, rushed bareheaded on to the verandah, raised his hand to secure silence, called at the top of his voice, `The band will lead the people in singing the Doxology,' and then added, with terrific emphasis, 'One verse only.'

In the years that followed, it was quite a common occurrence, when things were getting lively in the council-chamber, for one of the councillors to suggest that they should sing together the second verse of the Doxology! And His Worship always smiled good-humouredly.

It happened, a year or two later, that Dr. Harry Grattan Guinness came to Dunedin and conducted a series of special meetings in the largest theatre there. I was unable to go into town to any of the earlier meetings, but I saw that the series was to conclude with a couple of illustrated lectures, one on South America and the other on the Congo. I promised myself at least one of these; and, on the night of the South American lecture, I set off for the city.

The lecture and the pictures far exceeded my anticipations. I was delighted, and resolved to return next evening. On my way to the station the following evening, whom should I meet but His Worship the Mayor? To this hour I cannot tell why I suggested such a thing; but before I knew what I was saying I was inviting him to accompany me! He was the last man on earth whom you would think of inviting to a missionary lecture.

`You ought to come, sir,' I was saying. 'I went last night, and did not mean to go again; but the lecture was simply splendid, and the pictures were magnificent. I am sure you would enjoy it.'

Before I realized what had happened, he had accepted my invitation, and we were walking side by side on our way to the station. I spent most of the time in the train wondering by what strange impulse I had asked His Worship to accompany me. That riddle was still unread when we reached the theatre. It was filling fast. Surveying the crowd we noticed a couple of vacant seats about half-way up the area and slipped into them.

As on the previous evening, the lecture was most interesting, and the pictures were among the best of the kind that I have ever seen. For all practical purposes we had left New Zealand miles behind, and were in the wilds of Central Africa. An occasional side-glance at my companion told me that he was as interested as I was. Then, suddenly, a change came over the spirit of our dream.

'I propose now to show you,' said the lecturer, 'the photographs of some of the men who have laid down their lives upon the Congo.'

I was afraid that this purely missionary aspect of African life would possess less interest for His Worship, and I was prepared for yawns and other indications of boredom. The coloured pictures of African scenery gave place to the portrait of a fine young fellow in the prime of early manhood. To my inexpressible astonishment His Worship almost sprang from his seat, grasped the back of the chair in front of him, and stared at the screen with strained and terrible intensity.
`It's my boy!' he cried, loudly enough to be heard some distance away. `It's my boy! It's my boy!'

I naturally supposed that he had been affected by some curious similarity of appearance. Fortunately his agitation had not been noticed from the platform, and the lecturer went on.
`This,' he said,' is a young fellow named Dalgleish who came to us as an engineer to superintend the construction of our mission steamer. . . . '

`It's my boy!' cried my companion, overcome now by uncontrollable emotion. It's my boy, my poor boy!'

Neither of us had eyes or ears for anything that followed. His Worship sat beside me, his face buried in his hands, swaying from side to side in silent agony. Every now and again he would start up, and I had the greatest difficulty in restraining him from rushing to the platform to ask more about his dead son.

Sitting there beside him, it came back to me that he had once told me of a boy who ran away from home and went to London. 'We were too angry at the time to answer his letters,' he had said, 'and so, after awhile, he gave up writing, and we lost all trace of him.'

When the great crowd melted away that night, I took His Worship to the lecturer's room, and introduced them to each other. The identity of the fallen missionary was established beyond all doubt, and Dr. Grattan Guinness arranged to come out to Mosgiel and spend the next day with the Mayor and his wife.

He did. I was not present, and I do not know what took place. But I often fancied, from little indications that I noticed afterwards, that the things that were said, and the tears that were shed, in the course of that visit were a means of grace to my friend, His Worship the Mayor.

F W Boreham, ‘His Worship the Mayor’, The Uttermost Star (London: Epworth Press, 1919), 217-225.

Image: Aerial view of Mosgiel today.