Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Boreham on The Squirrel's Dream

At the Melbourne Art Gallery this afternoon my attention was captivated and monopolized by a noble painting by the late John Pettie, R.A. It is entitled Challenged, and once adorned the walls of the Royal Academy in London. A gay 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 skilfully 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 man amounts to much until all his faculties have been challenged. There must come a moment when a trumpet-blast, a pistol-shot, a bugle-call stirs all his pulses. And, this being so, life takes good care that, sooner or later, we shall each find ourselves dared by some tremendous situation. Therein lies the secret of that thirst for adventure which is the hall-mark of humanity.

I was listening last night to Dr. Adrian Carter, the principal of Clarendon House. Dear old Dr. Carter-'Magna Charta' as the boys irreverently call him! I would not miss the old gentleman's Speech Day oration for a king's ransom. His very appearance is a sight for sore eyes. He looks for all the world like a reincarnation of Mr. Pickwick. Everything about him—his chubby face, his prominent glasses, his expansive waistcoat, and even his trick of keeping his left hand, when speaking in public, under his coat—tails and flicking those coat-tails to emphasize his crucial points—intensifies the similarity to Mr. Pickwick. In his Speech Day deliverances, Dr. Carter lays down the law in such a way that every sentence seems a crystallization of the ultimate wisdom. On the theme with which he is dealing, there appears to be nothing more to be said. And yet, on the way home, you often catch yourself wondering.

This year, in his Speech Day address, the little old gentleman deplored the decay, in the rising generation, of the spirit of adventure. The world has been knocked into shape, he said, by people who scorned comfort and courted hardship. Anybody, he declared, flicking his coat-tails with special energy, anybody can follow the line of least resistance; anybody can settle down to the first job that comes; anybody can hug the coast. `I trust,' he impressively observed in conclusion, `I trust that the boys of Clarendon House will seek life's distant and more difficult tasks and thus maintain the most splendid traditions of the glorious past! 'He resumed his seat, I need scarcely say, amidst a storm of tumultuous applause.

This is excellent—as far as it goes; the only trouble is that it does not carry us very far. For, to begin with, it is evident that it is some little time since the doctor himself was a boy. He has forgotten one or two things pertaining to his boyhood. For, in point of fact, no boy needs to have revived within him the spirit of adventure. It pulses in his blood all the time. No boy could have presented to the world a less adventurous appearance than did I. I do not recall one solitary occasion on which I became involved in censure through any daring escapade such as those of which the writers of school-boy stories love to tell. To my parents and teachers my life must have appeared utterly placid, utterly tranquil, utterly commonplace. Yet, looking back, I can see that, all unsuspected, the spirit of adventure was throbbing within me. The worst crime ever laid to my charge was the crime of being absent-minded. The headmaster stigmatized me as 'an incorrigible wool-gatherer.' I distinctly remember a certain Examination Day. We had been told overnight that the Inspector was coming. We were to arrive at school next morning in our best Sunday clothes, with clean collar, brightly polished boots and finger-nails destitute of any funereal suggestion.

All went well until the Inspector tested our class in matters of geography. He asked some question about Western Canada which sent my mind hurtling off on eventful journeys of its own. All at once, the boy sitting next me, giving me a dig with his elbow that almost fractured my ribs, whispered 'Java.' I then realized to my dismay that the Inspector was looking straight at me. Taking my school-fellow's violent but well-intentioned hint, I shot up my hand and said `Java!'

`Exactly,' the great man replied with a patronizing smile,' and now perhaps you will repeat the question that I asked you!'

I was floored, for the question had completely eluded me. His previous inquiry concerning Western Canada had despatched my mind on a personally-conducted tour to the Rocky Mountains, and I was in the midst of a titanic struggle with a grizzly bear at the very moment at which he asked his further question relating to Java. Reviewing my boyhood, I can see that this sort of thing happened frequently. My unimaginative teachers obstinately insisted on asking their most ridiculous questions concerning Latin conjugations and recurring decimals at exciting moments when I was engaged in snatching a beautiful girl from the horns of an angry bull, or pursuing, single-handed, a powerful tribe of Iroquois Indians, or delivering a charming princess from a blazing palace or winning the Victoria Cross under circumstances of unprecedented gallantry.

The doctor was anxious, he said, to awaken in his boys the spirit of adventure. Has it never occurred to him, I wonder, that, in itself, the spirit of adventure is a pitifully poor thing? Two of the best books ever written—books that all the boys at Clarendon House will read before they are many days older—were written to show that, in itself, the spirit of adventure is worthless and even dangerous. It only becomes sublime when consecrated by a noble aim.

In the early pages of Hereward the Wake, Kingsley describes his hero as he first becomes conscious of his insatiable craving for adventure. Longing for a hectic and perilous career, he looks this way and that way in search of some opportunity of performing desperate and doughty deeds. He wearies of the humdrum of home. Out in the wide, wide world, beyond the borders of the too-familiar Bruneswald, he fancies that every hill and valley is swarming with dragons, giants, dwarfs, ogres, satyrs and similar weird and fantastic creatures. Where shall he go? To Brittany where, in the depths of the forest, beautiful fairies may be seen bathing in the fountains, and possibly be won and wedded by a sufficiently bold and dexterous knight? To Ireland, and marry some beautiful princess with gray eyes and raven locks and saffron smock and enormous bracelets made from the gold of her own native hills? No, he will go to the Orkneys and join Bruce and Ranald and the Vikings of the northern seas! Or he will go up the Baltic and fight the Letts upon the water and slay the bisons on the land! Or he will go South; see the magicians of Cordova and Seville; beard the Mussulman outside his mosque and perhaps bring home an Emir's daughter! Or he will go to the East, join the Varanger Guard, and, after being thrown to the lion for carrying off a fair Greek lady, will tear out the monster's tongue with his own hands and show the Orient what an Englishman is made of! At this stage, it will be observed, Hereward is seeking adventure for its own sake. The purpose of the exploit may be admirable or execrable: it does not matter. It may leave him a hero or a cut-throat: he does not care.

Happily, Hereward discovered, comparatively early in his career, that a deed can only derive its lustre from its motive and its aim. No deed, however audacious, is worth while unless it relieves the oppressed, raises the fallen, and makes the world a better place for everybody. This discovery represents the spiritual development of Kingsley's massive hero; and it is to trace this subtle evolution in Hereward's character that Kingsley wrote the book.

Pretty much the same may be said of Don Quixote. Cervantes saw to his sorrow that chivalry was running wild. The stories told by the men who were returning from the wars were inflaming the imagination of the youth of Castile to a positively dangerous degree. Hot-headed young enthusiasts were swept off their feet by an insatiable desire to cover themselves with glory. They would fight something or somebody, whether that something or somebody needed to be fought or not. Cervantes wrote his book to show that it is better to stay at home breaking stones by the roadside than to rush forth and hazard one's life in tilting at windmills.

It is not enough, therefore, to urge boys to develop the spirit of adventure. The spirit of adventure, undirected and unconsecrated, made Hereward the Wake a ruffian, made Don Quixote a clown; and has made many a boy a criminal. Dr. Carter must go one step further.

He must show that, provision having been made in the eternal scheme of things for the gratification of every legitimate appetite, provision has been made to gratify the thirst for adventure. In a quaint, fantastic and vivacious little play entitled The Squirrel's Cage, Tyrone Guthrie has demonstrated that each of us is like a squirrel shut up in a twirling prison. The very globe on which we live revolves continually. The year follows the same law: spring, summer, autumn, winter: the cycle goes round and round and round. A babe is born, a child develops, a youth matures, a man marries, a babe is born; and so the circle is again completed. Within this revolving cage it is natural that everything should tend towards monotony. All things go round and round and round!

Now, if I had been writing Tyrone Guthrie's play, I should have pointed out that, just beside the whirling cage, there is a small box-like compartment in which the squirrel sleeps. The little creature's antics in the open may be wonderfully spectacular; but, to me, his dreams in the sleeping compartment are much more enticing. Curled up there, he dreams—dreams every night the same dream—a dream of felicities that might have been. It is a dream of the vast woods, the swaying tree-tops, the arching boughs that look like bridges specially constructed to make easy a squirrel's progress from one end of the forest to the other. It is a dream of rich clusters of tawny filberts, of the greensward littered with beechnuts, of oak trees twinkling with innumerable acorns, and of a wondrous abundance of sweet forest seeds. It is a dream of a cosy little nest, lined with fur and fibre and leaves and moss, high up in the fork of the fir tree; it is a dream of the sweetest, shyest, daintiest little squirrel that ever hid coyly behind the bole of an elm tree; and of four tiny wee squirrels, scarcely to be recognized as squirrels, nosing and jostling each other in the secrecy of the quiet nest. But when he gets to this part of his dream the sleeper wakes up with a quiver and a start, stretches himself, passes out into the revolving cage, and, partly in sheer desperation, partly to throw off the memory of his dream, and partly to make himself believe that he is racing madly about the forest, he twirls his treadmill like a thing bewitched. Lookers-on laugh when they see him doing it: but he himself is not laughing. He has come back to the monotony of his treadmill after his dream of a wonderful and romantic escape.

The whole point of Tyrone Guthrie's play is that, at least once in every squirrel's life, the cage door is left open. And everything depends upon his behaviour in that critical hour. Will he dare to pass out into the world to enjoy the actual realization of his dreams. Will his adventurous visions crystallize at last into actual experience? Or will he tremble in the presence of the unknown, and, terrified, creep back into his cage once more? That hour is the hour of his challenge; the greatest epoch in his life. Such a challenge comes, at some time and in some form, to each of us. We are presented with a sensational opportunity of escape. As a rule, when that sublime opportunity comes, we shrink from the unknown, hug the familiar cage, and allow the door to shut us in again. Tyrone Guthrie's hero, Henry Wilson, had the chance, in early youth, of going out to Africa. It appealed to all the adventurous instincts that tingled through his frame. But, on second thoughts, he felt that the exploit was extremely risky; his father pointed out the assured comforts that would accrue from his succeeding to the business; and so Henry, letting the cage-door close, went off to town every morning by the 9.23 and returned by the 6.13. Round and round and round!

The Church's evangel presents people with the most sublime of all those challenges. In his Everlasting Man, Mr. Chesterton says that life is a great game of Noughts and Crosses. The Nought—the circle—represents the basic monotony of life. Like the squirrel's cage, it goes round and round and round. Oriental religions, Mr. Chesterton points out, became infected by the dreariness of this fundamental monotony. The most typical and most eloquent symbol on an Eastern temple is a serpent with its tail in its mouth—a complete circle—a round that ends where it begins—a grind, a routine, a treadmill.

But beside the Nought, Mr. Chesterton says, stands the Cross. And, to play the game rightly, you must put the Cross inside the Nought. The four extremities of the Cross will pierce the Nought at four separate points, and, by the Cross, the monotony of life will be shattered into fragments and shattered for ever.

It is a perfect parable, needing neither elaboration nor application. But, having begun with a famous painting, I will close with another. Just two hundred years ago, Stenburg at Dusseldorf painted his Gipsy Girl. As his model posed upon the dais, her black eyes wandered round the studio. They were arrested by an altar-piece painted for Father Hugo of the Church of St. Jerome—a representation of the thorn-crowned face of Jesus. When the gipsy stepped down from her platform, she begged the artist to explain the picture to her. He tried, but found it difficult; for the thought of Christ stirred no profound emotion within him. When he had finished, the girl remarked simply: 'You must love Him very much, Signor, when He has done all that for you!'

The artless words pierced the painter's soul. They filled him with shame, for, in point of fact, he did not love Christ at all. But he soon did. And, when he did, he painted another picture—a picture of the Christ he now adored. Underneath the thorn-crowned face on the new canvas he inscribed the words:

All this I did for thee;
What hast thou done for Me?

He then presented it to the public gallery at Dusseldorf. And one day Count Zinzendorf was among the visitors who stood before it. Young, rich, gay and impressionable, the picture powerfully appealed to him, whilst the question beneath it rang through his soul like a challenge. It was a challenge, and he accepted it. He went out to serve his Saviour. He became the founder of Moravian Missions. Within a few months missionaries were sent to the Esquimaux and to the people of the West Indies. In a year or two, evangelists of the Cross were despatched to all parts of the world. The Moravian Brethren became, in 1738, the means of the conversion of John Wesley, and thus the amazing revival of the eighteenth century was initiated. The Cross had shattered the indolent monotony of Zinzendorf's life. He became a new man; the Church became a new Church; the world became a new world! The soul-stirring challenge had been accepted: the great escape had been made: and, as long as the world endures, people will rejoice in the sensational developments that followed.

F W Boreham, ‘The Squirrel’s Dream’, A Witch’s Brewing (London: The Epworth Press, 1932), 89-99.

Dr Geoff Pound

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Boreham on The Supremacies of Life

Life has a wonderful way of tapering majestically to its climax. It narrows itself up towards its supremacies, like a mountain rising to its snow-capped summit in the skies. Our supreme interests assert themselves invincibly at the last. Our master passions are 'in at the death.' Let us glance at a pair of extraordinarily parallel illustrations.

Paul is awaiting his last appearance before Nero. The old apostle is caught and caged at last. He is writing his very last letter. He expects, if spared, to spend the winter in a Roman dungeon. 'Do your very best,' he says to Timothy, ‘to come to me before winter.' 'And,' he adds, 'the cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments’!

Under circumstances almost exactly similar Paul's great translator, William Tyndale, was lying in his damp cell at Vilvorde awaiting the fatal stroke which set his spirit free a few weeks later. And, as in Paul's case, winter was coming on. 'Bring me,' he writes, `a warmer cap, something to patch my leggings, a woollen shirt, and, above all, my Hebrew Bible'!

Especially the parchments!
Above all, my Hebrew Bible!

The emphasis is upon the especially and upon the above all. Paul knows how isolated he will feel in his horrid cellar, and he twice begs his young comrade to hurry to his side. He knows how cold he will be, and he pleads for his cloak. He knows how lonely will be his incarceration, and he says, 'Bring the books'! Yet he feels that, after all, these do not represent the supremacies of life. It is not on these that he is prepared to make his final stand. 'But especially the parchments'! Much as he yearns for the clasp of Timothy's hand, he is prepared, if needs be, to face the stern future alone. Much as he longs for his warm tunic to shelter his aged limbs, he is prepared, if needs be, to sit and shiver the long winter through. Gladly as he would revel in his favourite authors, he is prepared, if needs be, to sit counting the links in his chain and the stones in the wall. But the parchments! These are life's supreme, essential, indispensable requisites. These represent life's irreducible minimum. 'Especially the parchments'! `Above all, my Hebrew Bible'! These are the supremacies of life.

The hero of romance erects a pyramid upon its apex. He sets out in life with one or two friends. He soon multiplies the number. He counts them, as the years pass, by the score and by the hundred. And he dies at last in the possession of friendships which can be numbered by the thousand. It is a false note. The thing is untrue to experience. `The first true gentleman that ever breathed' found His path thronged with friends at the outset. But, as time wore on, they wore off. 'Many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him.' Twelve remained, such as they were; but even that remnant must be sifted, and of the twelve a selection had to be made. And into the chamber of death, and up to the Mount of Transfiguration, and into the Garden of Gethsemane 'Jesus taketh with Him Peter and James and John.' The pyramid is narrowing up towards its apex. And when He passes from Gethsemane to Golgotha John alone stands by the cross, and even he had wavered. `And Jesus said unto John, Son, behold thy mother.' It had tapered sharply to the unit at last. `Especially John.'

Sir William Robertson Nicoll has a story of an old Scotsman who lay a-dying. His little room was crowded with friends. Presently a number of them rose and quietly left. There remained his old wife, Jean, and the trusted companions of a long pilgrimage. As his frame became more feeble and his eye more dim one after another reverently rose, lifted the worn old latch silently, and left the room. At last the old man pressed the withered hand in which his own was clasped, and whispered faintly: 'They will a' gang: you will stay!' And at last he and she were the sole occupants of the little chamber. `Especially Jean.' Which things are an allegory. The pyramid narrows to its apex. Life contracts towards its supremacies. 'Especially the parchments'! 'I have hosts of friends,' wrote Lord Macaulay in one of his beautiful letters to his sister, 'but not more than half a dozen the news of whose death would spoil my breakfast.' And of that half-dozen he would probably at a later stage have made a selection. Friendship has its supremacies.

The same is, of course, true of our libraries. Like the apostle, we are all fond of books; but our book-shelves dwindle in intensity as they grow in extensity. As life goes on we accumulate more and more volumes, but we set more and more store on a few selected classics of the soul. The number of those favourites diminishes as the hair bleaches. We have a score; a dozen; and at length three. And if the hair gets very white, we find the three too many by two. 'Especially the parchments'!

Sir H. M. Stanley set out upon his great African exploration with quite a formidable library. One cannot march eighteen hours a day under an equatorial sun, and he gave a prudent thought to the long encampments, and armed himself with books. But books are often heavy—in a literal as well as in a literary sense. And one by one his native servants deserted him (the pyramid towering towards its apex). And, as a consequence, Stanley was compelled to leave one treasured set of volumes at this African village, and another at that, until at last he had but two books left—Shakespeare and the Bible. And we have no doubt that, had Africa been a still broader continent than it actually is, even Shakespeare would have been abandoned to gratify the curiosity of some astonished Hottentots or pigmies.

It all comes back to that pathetic entry in Lockhart's diary at Abbotsford: 'He [Sir Walter Scott] then desired to be wheeled through his rooms in the bath-chair. We moved him leisurely for an hour or more up and down the hall and the great library. "I have seen much," he kept saying, "but nothing like my ain hoose—give me one turn more!"

Next morning he desired to be drawn into the library and placed by the central window, that he might look down upon the Tweed. Here he expressed a wish that I should read to him. I asked, from what book. He said, "Need you ask? There is but one!" I chose the fourteenth chapter of St. John's Gospel.' He listened with mild devotion, and, when Lockhart had finished reading of the Father's house and the many mansions, he said, 'That is a great comfort!' The juxtaposition of phrases is arresting: `In the great library'—'there is but one book!' The pyramid stood squarely upon its solid foundation, but it towered grandly and tapered finely towards its narrow but majestic summit.

'Come,' says Paul the Aged, `for I am lonely; bring the cloak, for I am old and cold; bring the books, for my mind is hungry; but, oh, if all these fail, send the parchments!' Especially the parchments! Life's supremacies must always conquer and claim their own at the last.

F W Boreham, ‘The Supremacies of Life’, The Luggage of Life (London: Charles H Kelly, 1913), 40-45.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “Like a mountain rising to its snow-capped summit in the skies.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Boreham on The Tireless Trudge

Whilst the fire crackled cheerily between them two friends of mine discussed a knotty point. The question under debate was, briefly, this: Which is the most trying part of a long journey? One argued for the initial steps on setting out. The weary road, he said, stretches out interminably before you. Every stick and stone seems to be shouting at you to turn back and to take your ease. His friend, on the other side of the hearth, thought quite differently. He contended stoutly for the final stage of the pilgrimage. He vividly pictured the exhausted pedestrian at the end of his journey, scarcely able to drag one blistered and bleeding foot in front of the other. It is certainly rather a fine point; but, after all, it was really not worth discussing, for nothing is more absolutely clear than that they were both wrong. Which, of course, is the usual fate of controversialists.

Now the worst part of a journey is neither at its beginning nor at its close. There is a certain indescribable exhilaration arising from the making of the effort which imparts elasticity to the muscles and courage to the mind, at starting. The road seems to dare and challenge the pilgrim, and he swings off along the taunting trail with a keen relish and a buoyant stride. And, at the other end, the twinkling lights of the city that he seeks help him to forget that he is footsore and choked with the dust of the road. His blood tingles with the triumph of his achievement and the delight of nearing his goal. But there is another stage concerning which neither of my friends had a word to say. What of the intermediate stage? What of the long and lonely tramp? What of the hours through which no applauding voices from behind can encourage and no familiar fingers from before can beckon? This, surely, is the worst part of the way! There is no intellectual stimulant so intoxicating as the formation of a noble purpose, the conception of a sudden resolve, the making of a great decision. And, in the luxurious revelry of that stimulus the prodigal finds it easy to rise from the degradations of the far country and to fling himself with a will along the great Phoenician road. And at the other end! Surely the most overpowering of all human instincts and emotions is that which holds captive every nerve at the dear sight of home! No; neither the first nor the last steps of that familiar journey were very hard to take. But between the one and the other! What questionings and forebodings! What haltings and backward glances! What doubts and fears! Yes, there can be no doubt about it, both my friends were wrong.

It is the intermediate stage that tests the mettle of the person. It is the long, fatiguing trudge out of sight of both starting-point and destination that puts the heaviest strain on heart and brain. That is precisely what Isaiah meant in the best known and most quoted of all his prophecies. He promises that, on the return from Babylon to Jerusalem, `they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.' Israel is to be released at last from her long captivity. Imagine the departure from Babylon—its fond anticipations, its rapturous ecstasies, its delirious transports! Those first steps of the journey were not trying; they were more like flying. The delighted people walked with winged feet. And the last steps—with Jerusalem actually in sight, the pilgrims actually climbing the mountains that surrounded the holy and beautiful city-what rush of noble and tender emotions would expel and banish all thought of weariness! But Isaiah is thinking of the long, long tramp between-the drag across the desert, and the march all void of music. It is with this terrible test in mind that he utters his heartening promise: 'They shall walk and not faint.' They would fly, as on wings of eagles, out of Babylon at the beginning; they would run, forgetful of fatigue, into Jerusalem at the end; but they should walk and not faint. That is life's crowning comfort. The very climax of divine grace is the grace that nerves us for the least romantic stage of the journey. Farewells and welcomes, departures and arrivals, have adjusting compensations peculiar to themselves; but it is the glory of the gospel that it has something to say to the lonely traveller on the dusty track. Religion draws nearer when romance deserts. Grace holds on when the gilt wears off.

Two cases come to mind. I know a man whose whole delight was in his boy—a little fellow of six or so. Then, suddenly, like lamps blown out by a sudden gust, the lad's eyes failed him, and he was blind. The father was the recipient of scores of touchingly sympathetic letters. All sorts of people called. Kindly references were made in press and pulpit. The man had no idea until that moment that he had so many friends. All the world seethed to bepaying homage to his sorrow. That was the beginning. After many years the boy had been taught to interpret the world again by means of his remaining senses. There was nothing he could not do. He earned his own living, and his sightlessness seemed no real hindrance to him. That was the end. But the father told me that the strain of it all came between these two. There came a time when the postman brought no cheering letters. Friends uttered no heartening words. The world had transferred his boy's blindness into the realm of the normal and the commonplace. Nobody noticed. But in the home the little fellow staggered about, and his parents' hearts ached for him. What was to become of him? It was during those intervening years lying between the first crushing blow and the final relief that the real strain came. That was by far the worst stretch of the road.

I knew a woman. Without a moment's warning she was plunged into widowhood, and left to battle for her five little children and herself. There was an extraordinary outburst of affectionate sympathy on the part of all who knew her. Then came the funeral. After that the world went on its way again as though nothing had happened. That was the beginning. After the years, the battle had been well fought and well run. The children had been clothed, educated, and placed in positions of usefulness and honour. That was the end. But my widowed friend told me that she did not forget when the world forgot. Every morning her grief woke up with her. And every night it followed her to her rest. Every day, as she struggled for her little ones, the haunting question tortured her: What would become of them if sickness or death seized upon her? That was the killing time. That intermediate stretch was the worst part of the desolate way.

As it is with individuals, so it is with great causes. A crusade is launched amidst vituperation, derision, and execration. And there is enough fight in most of us to lend a certain enjoyment to the very bitterness of antagonism. And at last the self-same movement is crowned with triumph. But the real inwardness of the struggle lies midway. William Wilberforce used to say that he was less dismayed by the storm that broke upon him when first he pleaded the cause of the slave than by the `long lull' that followed when the country accepted his principles, but did nothing to hasten their realization. In America the same thing happened. The war against slavery was undertaken with a light heart. Young men sprang to the front in thousands with the refrain of 'John Brown's body' on their lips. But the real struggle was not then, nor towards the close, when victory and emancipation were in sight. But who can forget the long agony of disaster that intervened between those two? It was when the nation was trudging tearfully along that blood-marked track that the real suffering took place. The same experience repeats itself in the history of every great reform. Some one has said that every movement has its bow-wow stage, its pooh-pooh stage, and its hear-hear stage. Of those three phases the central one is infinitely the most difficult to negotiate. Between the howl of execration that greets the suggestion of a reform and the shout of applause that announces its final triumph there is a long and tiresome stretch of steep and stony road that is very hard to tread. They are God's heroes who set a stout heart to that stiff brae, and walk and not faint.

In his Autobiography Mark Rutherford tells of his fierce struggle with the drink fiend. On one never-to-be-forgotten night he resolutely put the glass from him and went to bed having drunk nothing but water! 'But,' he continues, 'the struggle was not felt just then. It came later, when the first enthusiasm of a new purpose had faded away.' And, in his Deliverance he applies the same principle in a more general way. He is telling of the stress of his life as a whole. 'Neither the first nor the last,' he says 'has been the difficult step with me,' but rather what lies between. The first is usually helped by the excitement and promise of new beginnings, and the last by the prospect of triumph. But the intermediate path is unassisted by enthusiasm, and it is here we are so likely to faint.'

I cannot close more fittingly than by setting those two striking sentences over against each other: `It is here we are so likely to faint,' says Mark Rutherford, speaking of the long and tiresome intermediate phase. 'They shall walk and not faint,' says the prophet in reference to precisely the same circumstances and conditions. Wherefore let all those who are feeling the toilsome drudgery of the long and unromantic trail pay good heed to such comfortable words.

F W Boreham, ‘The Tireless Trudge’, The Luggage of Life (London: Charles H Kelly, 1913), 70-77.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: “It is the intermediate stage that tests the mettle of the person.”