Thursday, June 08, 2006

18 June: Boreham on Waterloo

The anniversary of "that world-earthquake, Waterloo," awakens emotions of pride and thankfulness such as no similar encounter in the whole course of the world's history is able to excite. However intensely a man may loathe all thoughts of war, and however fondly he may cherish the loftiest ideals of peace, he will feel a certain glow of subtle satisfaction as he recalls the details of the famous fight that settled the destinies of Europe on June 18, 1815. Military men delight in telling and retelling the thrilling story of that memorable Sunday because it represents to them not merely the dogged endurance and splendid audacity of brave men, but also the desperate operations of two master-minds pitted the one against the other in decisive combat.

From the dispositions of the two armies in the early hours of that June morning, to the thunderous charge of the British regiments in the gathering dusk, every order issued by either Napoleon or Wellington takes its place as a classic in the annals of tactics and of strategy.

An Epic Of History
No battle in history has been more frequently or more vividly described than has the battle of Waterloo. No scene is more familiar. The grey and misty morning after the drenching downpour of that Saturday night; the two armies, each occupying a front of about a couple of miles, facing each other from opposite slopes, with a valley a mile wide between them; Napoleon's fatal delay in opening his attack; the belated rumble of artillery at noon; the fearful onslaught of the French infantry two hours later; the dogged and unswerving determination of Wellington to maintain a stubborn defensive until his enemy had beaten himself to pieces on the immovable and impenetrable British columns; the wild delight of those impatient regiments when, amid the lengthening shadows of that midsummer evening, the Iron Duke decided on attacking his exhausted foe; the tremendous charge that converted the pride of the French army into a disorderly rabble and even decimated the Old Guard upon which Napoleon so implicitly relied; the panic stricken flight of the shattered battalions; the timely arrival of the Prussians and their pitiless chase of the dejected fugitives all through the hot June night. These things, as well as Napoleon's own lonely and ignominious return to Paris, constitute themselves an integral part of the mental imagery of every educated Briton.

The battle of Waterloo will always rank as one of the very greatest battles in the world's history, not by reason of its immensity, but because of its extraordinary decisiveness and because of its incalculable historic effect. The chroniclers, in playing that most fascinating game to which the human imagination ever lends itself, the game of What-Might-Have-Been, have vied with each other in depicting the kind of world that would have existed today if Wellington had lost the battle of Waterloo. The lurid pictures that they paint stand in striking contrast to one another, yet they all agree in declaring that the world of today would have been a very different and a very much worse world if Napoleon had vanquished the armies of Wellington on that June day. At Waterloo the Duke of Wellington not only defeated Napoleon; he destroyed him. At one fell stroke he swept the Napoleonic element out of history. He left his enemy without an army and without the means of forming one. He thus brought to a close the wars of 20 years and laid a spectre that had filled all European statesmen with unutterable dread. By that one culminating and magnificent victory, he crushed the despotism with which the world had so long been threatened and gave us the liberties which, for a century and a quarter, we have so unfeignedly enjoyed.

Exit the Big Battalions
The dramatic result of the battle has never been satisfactorily explained. Napoleon possessed the advantage of vastly superior numbers. His troops formed a compact, united and strongly welded whole while Wellington's comprised a medley of heterogeneous and incongruous elements. At noon Napoleon said that he had the British entirely at his mercy, and at 3 pm he despatched a courier to Paris to announce that victory was absolutely certain. Why, then, did the day end as it did? Can it be seriously argued that, of the two, Wellington was really the greater general? Lord Roberts confesses that the schemes of Napoleon were more comprehensive, his genius more dazzling and his imagination more vivid than Wellington's. Nothing can be more absurd than to argue, as several learned writers do, that Napoleon had passed his prime and that his brain had lost its old celerity and flexibility. He was 46, an age that in a commander in the Great War, would have seemed positively boyish.

It is perhaps nearer the mark to suggest that even the cleverest men have their good days and their off days. There are occasions on which a century is hopelessly beyond the reach of a Bradman. Nobody can strike twelve every time. The fateful day that decided the destinies of Europe found Napoleon at his feeblest and it found Wellington at the top of this form. The Emperor was never so agitated; the Duke was never so calm. Napoleon perpetrated blunder after blunder; the Duke seemed omniscient and infallible. Over and above this, too, it has to be recognised that Waterloo was the crushing rejoinder of history to the Napoleonic blasphemy to the effect that God is always on the side of the big battalions.

The people of Great Britain have learned by repeated experience that there are moral and divine forces that invariably co-operate with good men for the enthronement of justice and the overthrow of tyrants. In this sublime confidence they peruse once more the stirring records of the struggle that we commemorate today, and in this sure faith they await with tranquil hearts and with loins girt the most stupendous issues of the great days still to come.[1]

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart, Mercury on June 18, 1938. It has been abbreviated to keep it consistent in length with other editorials. The original version contains a further section on the emancipation of France.

F W Boreham

Image: Battle of Waterloo

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

17 June: Boreham on the Countess of Huntingdon

A Sublimated Democracy
It was the distinctive glory of the Countess of Huntingdon, the anniversary of whose death we mark today, that she democratised religion, not by carrying it from castles to cottages, but by an identically opposite process. Like a bee that gathers the sweetness of the wildflowers in the hedgerows and bears it to her own hive, the Countess caught the spirit of the revival that was transfiguring the lives of the lowliest in the land, and distributed it among princes and peers. Seymour, her biographer, claims that she was the greatest woman who ever lived; Macaulay declares that, if she had been a Catholic, she would have been canonised as Saint Selina.

Cardinal Newman felt that it would be very difficult to exaggerate her influence. She opened new worlds, he says, for the religious impulse. He salutes her as one who simply, unconditionally, and even joyously, sacrificed the honours and glories of this world in order to impress men with the realities of the next. She stands, as the Cardinal avers, as an example for all time. "In an evil day," he adds, "she was the representative of the rich becoming poor for Christ; of delicate women putting off their soft attire and wrapping themselves in sackcloth for the kingdom of heaven's sake." Newman confesses that he finds the whole story very stirring and very touching.

A Brilliant Star In A Dark Sky
Born in 1807 of the noble house of Shirley, Selina, at the age of nine passed through such a profound emotional and spiritual experience as enabled her to gaze upon the world with the eyes of one who stands apart. At the dawn of the 18th Century, English standards and English manners were at their lowest ebb. Amid the degradations of court and of society, Selina remained utterly unsophisticated and unspoiled, until, in the year in which she came of age, she became the bride of the Earl of Huntingdon. The earl shared to the full her lofty ideals and the marriage was an exceedingly happy one. Soon after her wedding, Selina began to display extraordinary interest in public affairs. Indeed, she became something of a suffragette. In 1838 the House of Lords unanimously resolved that, during a certain debate, no woman should be admitted to the Chamber. Selina and a number of her titled friends were up in arms in an instant. They stormed the House in a body and created such a din outside the doors that members could scarcely hear each other's voices. All efforts to remove or silence them proved futile; but, on the other hand, they could not gain admission. But what could not be effected by force was attained by guile. After a long period of pandemonium, they subsided into sudden quiet. Half an hour having passed, the Lord Chancellor assumed that the enemy had withdrawn, and ordered the doors to be opened, whereupon the women poured helter-skelter into the chamber.

A year or two later Lady Huntingdon was caught in the sweep of great revival. Her husband's sisters, Lady Betty and Lady Margaret Hastings, drew her attention to this new phenomenon. All over the country men were preaching; they were preaching without notes or manuscripts; they were preaching in fields, on village greens, and by the open roadside. Moved by curiosity, the three titled young ladies went to hear these wayside orators. They could scarcely believe their ears. These men talked of religion as if religion really mattered. They spoke with fervour, with urgency, and with persuasive entreaty. As the ladies observed the immediate effect of this amateur, but impassioned eloquence upon the crowds that gathered, and marked the salutary influence that the new movement was exerting upon the life of the nation, they felt that they had no alternative but to enlist in the forces that were effecting so wholesome and notable a change.

Life Spent For All Creeds And Classes
From that moment to the end of her long life, the Countess spent all her energy and devoted her entire income to the spread of the revival. For the preachers who resorted to the fields and the highways, she built attractive sanctuaries. She made George Whitefield her chaplain, John Fletcher the president of her college, and called John Wesley and the other flaming spirits of that stirring time to her drawing room, summoning the lordliest in the land to come and hear them. She eagerly cooperated with leaders of all denominations and welcomed to her college studious young men of all the Churches. The most dissolute grandees of the period and the most notorious scoffers in the country partook of her hospitality. Princes and peers, actors and poets, scientists and statesmen; you will scarcely find one distinguished name in the annals of the time but you will find that name also among the guests of the Countess. She took the movement that was struggling for expression in lonely lanes and at crowded street corners, and enthroned it among courts and palaces.

As long as she had money she built churches all over the country, and then sold her jewels to build more.[1] Before our great missionary societies were established, she planted missions on the West Coast of Africa, in the South Seas, and among the Red Indians of North America. She made religion so lovable that the entire nation was sweetened by her influence. The King sent for her. "I have heard so much about you," said George the Third, "that I wanted to see if, in any respect, you resembled other women. You know," he continued, with a sly twinkle in his royal eye, "my bishops are very jealous of your preachers. I tell them that they should make bishops of them; but they object that they can't make a bishop of the Countess of Huntingdon!" King George told one of his prelates that he fervently wished that he had a Countess of Huntingdon in every diocese in the kingdom. In view of its exalted source and evident sincerity, this was as eloquent a tribute as any woman could very well covet.

F W Boreham

Image: Countess of Huntingdon

[1] After some years at the Church of England in Tunbridge Wells, the Boreham family became involved with the Immanuel Church, which was one that had been established by the Countess of Huntingdon.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

16 June: Boreham on Thomas Mitchell

A Martial Explorer
This is the birthday of Sir Thomas Mitchell. A special stamp was issued to commemorate the centenary of Sir Thomas Mitchell's exploratory triumphs in Central Queensland. The name of Sir Thomas is seldom included among the Homeric names on Australia's scroll of fame; yet it is one that is well worth remembering. Among the virtues generally attributed to the typical Australian, modesty does not always find a conspicuous place; yet at some points he most certainly carries his diffidence to an extreme that transforms it into a vice. For some reason or other, the Australian is singularly reluctant to emphasise and commemorate the magnificent exploits which adorn his own history. The omission is not to his credit. If their silence is due to bashfulness, it is by no means a commendable bashfulness. Macaulay lays it down as an axiom that a people which takes no pride in the noble achievements of remote ancestors will achieve nothing worthy of being remembered by remote descendants.

All the great arterial highways of the Commonwealth, have received a solemn sanctity from the sacrificial deaths of men like Burke and Wills, and Gray and Poole and Kennedy and Baxter and Leichhardt and a score of others. These gallant spirits make up that:

". . . legion that never was listed,
That carries no colours nor crest,
But, split in a thousand detachments,
Is breaking the road for the rest."

The enterprises with which the name of Major Mitchell stands immemorially associated are numbered among those epic undertakings about which a golden haze of rich romance has gathered, and Australia can ill afford to let such priceless archives perish.

Transition From Triumphs Of War To Those Of Peace
There has been a tendency to belittle Major Mitchell's exploits because of the peculiar atmosphere in which they were enveloped. They have been dubbed "Mitchell's Marches" because the major, being a major, conducted them pretty much as he would have conducted a military campaign. "No expedition," says Mr. C. R. Long, "ever moved through the Australian bush with such blowing of bugle-calls and shouting of military commands as the Major's." He liked to be at the head of "a little army," to use his own phrase. Instead of setting out into the unknown with one or two tramping companions and camping companions, as did so many of our early pathfinders, Mitchell liked to have a well-organised, well disciplined, well-trained force under his command.

Animated from boyhood by a passionate love of oversea adventure, he was only sixteen when he first saw active service in Spain, and from then until the close of the struggle with Napoleon he was constantly engaged on the battlefields of Europe. Nor was his military instinct a mere passion for being under fire. He brought to every action the trained eye of the surveyor; he was an authority on the value or the menace of each undulation on the landscape; he was afterwards officially appointed to survey, for the purpose of the permanent records, the battlefields of the Peninsula; and several of the maps that he then made are still treasured and consulted. At the age of thirty-five—twelve years after Waterloo—he had the chance of becoming Deputy Surveyor-General of New South Wales; and, as the exploration of a new world appeared to promise more excitement than the subsiding squabbles of the old, he grasped the opportunity with avidity and resolved to carve his name on the rugged monuments of early Australia. He came; led four separate expeditions into the unchartered interior of the Continent; earned for himself the reputation of a dauntless leader, a sagacious administrator and an exact historian; and, after nearly thirty years of valuable service, laid his bones to rest in the land of his adoption.

Rivers Of A Continent The Key To Its Development
No explorer was ever more fortunate than Sir Thomas Mitchell in respect of the discovery of rivers. Somebody said that he could detect the very scent of water. It was his penetration of the lands beyond the Murray that led to his being honoured with one of the very earliest of Queen Victoria's knighthoods. He discovered the Glenelg, the Peel, the Namoi, the Gwydir, the Avoca, the Wimmera and several other rivers, and he successfully traced the course of the Darling as far as its confluence with the Murray. It was his good fortune to open up some of the richest land that Australia can boast. His whole heart was in his work. He talked excitedly to his companions of the flocks and herds with which these green slopes and well-watered plains would soon be dotted and of the multitudes of prosperous settlers who would before long make their homes in the fertile valleys that abounded on every side. The panorama of verdant landscapes, shining streams and rolling downs that constantly greeted his delighted eyes filled his soul with a wilder sense of conquest than any that he had tasted on the battlefields of Europe.

Altogether, he made a most valuable contribution to the stirring romance of pioneering; and whenever, beside Australian hearths and campfires, the stories are told of Blaxland's famous tussle with the haughty summits of the Blue Mountains, or of Hume's thrilling discovery of the Murray, or of Flinders' amazing voyages in the "Tom Thumb," or of Stuart's rapture when, after crossing the dusty heart of Australia, he suddenly beheld the shining ocean on the North and excitedly bathed his face in its waters, or of the heartbreaking experiences of Burke and Wills at Cooper's Creek, or of Capt. Sturt's privations as he stood face to face with death in his subterranean cavern at Depot Glen, there will also be told the imperishable story of Sir Thomas Mitchell's famous marches, and, whenever the tale is repeated, it will emphasise and perpetuate, the lustre of the renown of a very gallant gentleman.

F W Boreham

Image: Thomas Mitchell

Monday, June 05, 2006

15 June: Boreham on the Magna Carta

The Foundation
It is good at times to glance at the sturdy foundations on which our civilisation rests, and in celebrating today the anniversary of Magna Carta we have a theme worthy of a moment's contemplation.[1]

We have all paid an imaginary pilgrimage to that insignificant islet between Staines and Windsor on which the memorable conference between King John and his barons was held. On opposite banks of the Thames, the two parties were drawn up like hostile camps. The river divided the king and his friends from the marshy flats on which the angry barons had taken up their stations. In midstream a small island broke the force of the current; and it was upon this unpretentious mud-flat that the delegates met; it was here that the historic parchment was finally sealed and completed.

A copy of the Charter, damaged by fire and withered with age, is to be found among the jealously guarded treasures of the British Museum; and the glass case in which it reposes is curiously and admiringly inspected year by year by thousands of visitors. "It is impossible," as Green observes, "to gaze without reverence on the earliest monument of English freedom which we can see with our own eyes and touch with our own hands."

We may smile at the antiquated and obsolete phraseology of the venerable deed; we may pity the pettiness that prompted some of its minor provisions; but no serious student can trace the evolution of our national life without ascribing to this classical instrument a place of the very highest importance.

The Establishment Of Massive Principles
Yet a careful perusal of the text fills the mind of the average modern reader with the keenest disappointment. He brings to it a distorted and exaggerated conception of its contents; and, as an inevitable consequence, he is disillusioned.

In "Our Mutual Friend," Dickens tells us that Silas Wegg's fruit stall was the hardest little stall of all the sterile little stalls in London. On a grim little heap of very hard nuts, the very sight of which gave the passerby the toothache, there lay a little wooden measure which had no discernible inside, but that was understood to represent the penn'orth of nuts prescribed by Magna Carta.

The reader will, however, find in the monumental document nothing concerning the number of nuts to be sold for a penny; very little, indeed, that aims at fixing the standards of weights, measures, or values. Instead of this, he will find a wilderness of arid phraseology relating apparently to a variety of local and temporary matters then in dispute between a grasping monarch and his recalcitrant lords.

But if, instead of flinging aside the mellow parchment in disgust, the patient reader will condescend to peruse the dry-as-dust sentences a second time, he will discover that, although the ponderous and dreary clauses deal primarily with a state of things which has completely passed away, they nevertheless commit the unhappy sovereign who accepted them to vital constitutional principles of paramount importance and perennial value.

The Charter established for all time, for example, the relationship which must exist between the monarch and the law of the land. In the old days the king did pretty much as he liked; and, since he was superior to the law, it was almost literally true that the king could do no wrong. The Charter destroyed for ever this pernicious principle. Sir Frederick Pollock regards this as the greatest service that it has rendered us. Yet this is but one of its many priceless and epoch-making provisions.

The Charter On Which All Other Charters Rest
It is the glory of Magna Carta that it has led, little by little, to the erection of a system of government that is honoured as a model in every civilised land. The British Parliament is commonly described as the Mother of Parliaments. But neither the parent Parliament nor the daughter Parliaments in other lands could have attained to the degree of excellence that philosophers and historians so much admire but for the strong foundation afforded them by that imposing instrument the anniversary of whose creation we mark today.

In his "Constitutional History of England," Hallam becomes almost lyrical whenever the Charter comes under review. "From that era," he says, "a new soul was infused into the people of England. Liberties became a tangible possession. The strong man, in the sublime language of Milton, was aroused from sleep and shook his invincible locks." An ancient seer once predicted that a nation should be born in a day; and, on the day on which Magna Carta came into being, that audacious forecast was actually fulfilled. Pitt, with thankfulness and pride acclaimed the Charter as the Bible of the British Constitution.

It is not too much to say that from it all our other great charters have sprung. In it, the Atlantic Charter, with its Four Freedoms, was implicit; and it depends entirely upon ourselves as to how far we translate the shining principles that it lays down into the experiences of the new world that we are today attempting to build.

F W Boreham

Image: Magna Carta

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart Mercury on June 14, 1952.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

14 June: Boreham on Reading

A Lost Delight
At midwinter, our grandfathers and grandmothers assembled the household round the glowing fire, and, whilst the womenfolk knitted and did fancy-work, the head of the family would take a book and, to the delight of everybody in the circle, would read aloud.[1] But progress has its price. When journalism became popular, oratory suffered. Political leaders no longer attempted to sway their immediate listeners by masterpieces of rhetoric, but, turning their attention to the Press gallery, they uttered skilfully framed statements that would read well in the next day's newspapers. Similarly, the multiplication of cheap literature played havoc with the old fashioned art of sustained conversation. In his "Life of Sir George Burns," Edwin Hodder says that, whilst the eighteenth century was a century of great talkers, the nineteenth was a century of great readers. Is it possible that, in our own time, the radio, with its dramatic, musical and elocutionary entertainment, has superseded the pleasant old practice of reading aloud?

In the early days of English literature the habit was common for two reasons. Books were expensive and illiteracy was common. Great numbers of those who desired to devour the contents of a volume were unable either to purchase or to read it. The inevitable consequence was that men clubbed together for the purchase of a book and arranged for some educated person to read it to them. Sir John Herschel has told us how, at Slough, 200 years ago, the local blacksmith gathered the villagers round the fire of his forge of an evening and, perched on the anvil, read Richardson's "Pamela" aloud to them; and, when they were assured of the triumph and marriage of the virtuous heroine, they were so transported with delight that they rushed pellmell from the smithy to the church and set the belfry pealing. Even when, a century later, the works of Charles Dickens appeared—at first in monthly parts—groups of people gathered in taverns, drawing rooms kitchens, and barns to hear the latest instalment of "Bleak House" or "Oliver Twist" read aloud to them.

The Forging Of A Friendly Bond
Reading aloud has a cementing and unifying value. Those who have laughed together over the quips and drolleries of Sam Weller, and who have felt their eyes moisten as they listened together to the story of the death of Little Nell, find themselves united henceforth by common interests, and every casual reference to any episode in the romance will constitute itself an effective link between them. Nor is this all; there are subsidiary advantages. Reading aloud is good from a physiological point of view; it encourages deep breathing. It is good from an elocutionary point of view; the modulation of the voice and the natural expression of all kinds of emotions become habitual, almost mechanical. It is good from a literary point of view; it is wonderful how many books are read, and read thoroughly, for in reading aloud there is no skimming. And it is good from an educational point of view; the mind picks up new words and new ideas much more readily on hearing them or uttering them than it does on simply seeing those phrases or thoughts in cold type.

American writers are never tired of telling of the profound influence which, in the early days of Western history, this modest practice wielded. In "The Light in the Clearing"—a book which the author asks us to regard as history rather than as fiction—Irving Bacheller makes his hero bear witness to the way in which his entire career was affected by the custom of reading aloud. "The Candles were lighted in the cabin," he says, "and novelist, statesman, explorer, poet, and preacher came from the ends of the earth to pour their souls into ours. How the reading bound us to the home! Nobody wanted to go out. While Aunt Deel read, our hands were busy making lighters or splint brooms or paring or quartering or stringing the apples, or perhaps in cracking butternuts. That reading by candlelight awoke my interest in east and west and north and south and in the skies above them."

The Charms Of Frugality And Sublimity
Not the least among the attractions of the oldtime habit is its sheer inexpensiveness. The high cost of living notwithstanding, it is still possible for those of frugal mind to obtain a maximum of enjoyment for a minimum of outlay. In his journal, old John Dillman tells how, sauntering down the Strand one evening, he bought for a shilling a second-hand but well-bound copy of "Pickwick Papers." Bearing it proudly home, he read it aloud to his wife and children. Night after night, as soon as the tea things were washed up and put away, they all drew their chairs to the fire and John read a couple of chapters of Mr. Pickwick's adventures. "How we laughed and cried together!" he says. "It may be that, in the course of our lives, we have spent still happier evenings; but, if so, I cannot recall them. The book lasted us over a month." Here are eight people spending thirty or more profitable evenings in return for the expenditure of a single shilling!

In one of his most affecting poems, Bret Harte has borne witness to the softening and uplifting influence exerted on the roughest miners of the Wild West by the reading aloud round the campfires of the noblest English romances. And, pursuing this attractive line of research a little further, we come upon such scenes as Burns describes in his "Cottar's Saturday Night," the scenes from which, he says, "old Scotia's grandeur springs."

The priest-like father reads the sacred page,
How Abram was the friend of God on high;
Or Moses bade eternal warfare wage
With Amalek's ungracious progeny;
Or how the royal bard did groaning lie
Beneath the stroke of heaven's avenging ire;
Or Job's pathetic plaint and wailing cry;
Or rapt Isaiah's wild, seraphic fire;
Or other sacred seers that tune the sacred lyre.

Beyond the shadow of a doubt, the time honoured custom of reading aloud, whether on this exalted plane or on the ordinary levels of comedy and romance, has proved in times past an incalculable enrichment of domestic and national life; and, even in these days of greater pressure and multiplying counter attractions, it would be all to the good if the ancient practice could be, to some extent, recaptured.

F W Boreham

Image: Raeding Aloud

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart Mercury on February 5, 1949.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

13 June: Boreham on Thomas Arnold

Transformation of Schools
On this, his birthday, and in view of the anniversary of his early death yesterday, it is worth recalling that it was a golden day for England, and for the world at large, when Thomas Arnold, a young Oxford don, took up his residence at Rugby. The history of the public schools of England divides itself into two parts—before Arnold and after. Before Arnold, the condition of the most reputable seminaries was a public scandal. Lytton Strachey gives us a peep into the life of Eton at that day. Keane, an irascible little old man, savagely clutching a bundle of birch twigs, was in command. He relied almost exclusively upon a regimen of stark terror. "Every Sunday afteroon," Strachey says, "Keane attempted to read sermons to the whole school, and, every Sunday afternoon, the whole school shouted him down. Rats were let loose to scurry to and fro among the legs of the exploding boys; even worship became pandemonium." Monday morning, it is true, brought the headmaster his fierce hour of terrible revenge; and the blood and tears of the whipping-block gave murderous evidence of Keane's despotic authority. Education walked hand in hand with obscenity and brutality. It was at this critical juncture that Arnold appeared upon the scene; he was the very man wanted.

Arnold was only 32, but had already made his mark. Many who had known him at Winchester and Oxford regarded his appointment with disgust. "It is a crying shame," they protested, "that a man fitted to be Prime Minister should be sent to Rugby to teach a pack of schoolboys." This mental attitude is in itself evidence of the low level to which the schools had fallen in the public esteem.

Insistence On Quality Rather Than Quantity
Arnold accepted the appointment with avidity. "It is possible," he said to himself, "that, if I decline it, I may become Prime Minister; but, if I accept it, I may provide the country with a constant succession of Prime Ministers." In this high and dauntless spirit he entered upon his new duties. He made no fuss. He held that the attitude of a headmaster should be one of extreme reserve. He deliberately held himself aloof from the rank and file of the boys. He governed through his subordinates and especially through the praepostors. Never was a man more adamant. It became his duty, in the pursuance of the policy to which he had set himself, to expel a number of boys—the sons of noblemen—from the school. In the midst of the storm of resentment which his actions excited, he stood like a rock on which the towering waves are vainly breaking. "Gentlemen," he said quietly, as he addressed the assembled school, "it is not necessary that Rugby should be a school of three hundred, or one hundred, or even fifty boys; but it is necessary that it should be a school of Christian gentlemen." From that moment the boys worshipped the very ground he trod.

Dr. Mozley and Charlotte Bronte agreed in attributing Arnold's extraordinary authority to his sheer downright goodness and to his overflowing and exuberant happiness. Thanks to "Tom Brown's Schooldays," we have all capitulated to the robust, resistless charm of Arnold. With Tom Brown we have seen the illustrious dominie on the cricket ground; in the lanes round Rugby; amidst the felicities of that home of which Arnold himself said that it seemed to be too happy; in the classrooms; and in the familiar chapel that Arnold has made famous for all time. For, just as Keane's degrading domination at Eton touched its lowest level at sermon-time, so, in the oak pulpit of that beautiful sanctuary at Rugby, Arnold rose to his golden best. To his boys he seemed not only a principal but a prince; and not only a prince but a prophet; a prophet of crystalline culture and inflexible righteousness, a prophet of passionate and persuasive eloquence.

Profound Influence Of A Princely Personality
When, in 1842, the whisper ran through the country that Arnold of Rugby had suddenly died of heart failure on the eve of his 47th birthday, it did not create such a sensation as marks the death of a distinguished soldier or an eminent statesman. But, scattered over the land, there were a few hundred young men who, when they heard the news, betrayed the deepest emotion. Tom Brown, it will be remembered, was fishing in a Scottish stream when a companion, sitting on the grassy bank, read the tragic paragraph. "Tom's hand stopped half-way in his cast; his line and flies went all tangling round and round his rod; you might have knocked him down with a feather." He abandoned the holiday at once and set out for Rugby. The passage with which Thomas Hughes' celebrated classic closes—the passage that describes Tom offering the homage of his grief at the doctor's tomb in the old chapel—is one of the most affecting in our literature. And it gathers the force of its appeal from the circumstance that it is typical of so many such scenes that actually happened in that day of widespread and profound lamentation.

During his reign at Rugby, Arnold's personality pervaded everything. Old boys, for years after their departure from the school, loved to revisit it merely for the sake of once more getting into touch with the doctor. "His very presence," as one of them said, "seemed to create a new spring of health and vigour within us, and to give life an interest and an elevation which remained with us long after we had left him again. He dwelt so habitually in our thoughts as a living force and authority, that even when death had suddenly snatched him from us, the bond appeared to be still unbroken, and the sense of separation was almost lost in the still deeper sense of a life and union indestructible." Although he was so young when he died, he had the satisfaction of knowing that the monumental work to which he had tremblingly set his hand had been well and truly done. He had effected the transformation of which he had so fondly dreamed. From the Queen downwards, everybody recognised that he had served his country nobly, and to this day the whole world is the better for the work that he so excellently did.

F W Boreham

Image: Thomas Arnold

Friday, June 02, 2006

12 June: Boreham on Oliver Lodge

Learning and Life
This is the birthday of Sir Oliver Lodge. Like all men of outstanding intellectual eminence, Sir Oliver had his peculiar foibles, his personal fancies, his own pet themes, and it may be that the prominence into which he has thrown certain of his psychic theories has somewhat prejudiced his conclusions on more matter-of-fact subjects, but for all that he has proved himself to be one of our clearest, most independent and most audacious thinkers, and his name must always rank among those of the most eminent scientists of our time. As Sir Richard Threlfall said, in expressing regret of the Court of Governors at Sir Oliver's retirement from the Principalship of Birmingham University, many of his discoveries have been of really first-class importance. There is scarcely one department of human experience and adventure, that has not been immensely enriched by his patient investigations. In the science of electrolysis the most sensational advances have been made, while thanks to Sir Oliver's tireless perseverance and dauntless persistence, discoveries have been made in relation to radiography and wireless telegraphy that have simply revolutionised our systems of international communication. Sir Richard Threlfall, after claiming that he had weighed his words with meticulous care, declared that Sir Oliver Lodge stood, beyond the shadow of doubt, as one of the greatest scientific pioneers that the world had ever known. This is high praise, but it is high praise nobly earned and justly bestowed.

Wealth Of Nations
Any nation may regard itself as affluent if it possesses in its universities, academic bodies and halls of learning, open-eyed men who are prepared to toil terribly, who will sternly refuse to allow their preconceived theories to bias their observations and researches, and who, in their determination to read the riddles of the universe, will diligently follow the truth in scorn of consequence. Sir Oliver Lodge always impressed both his admirers and his critics as a man of transparent sincerity, of stainless honour, and of dogged tenacity of purpose.

Years ago, in making a presentation to Professor Masson on his retirement, Lord Rosebery employed an illustration that lends itself with singular appositeness and felicity to our present purpose. "Last night," he said, "in my house by the sea I was gazing at the waters in front of me, and in the absolute calm and impassive face of the Firth of Forth there were reflected the stars in the vault above, a blurred and faint reflection it may be, but at any rate a true and sincere portraiture, as well as the waters could give it, of the eternal lamps and lights of the firmament of the heavens. And I thought that we, in the course of human life, meet rarely, but now and then, with some human soul that seem to have caught the reflection of the eternal verities, not by striving or by seeking to improve himself so that he may earn that complexion, but by the simple and pure search for truth that caught that glow, and it remains reflected in their life." No words could better express the sentiments with which the loftiest minds of many nations review the fruitful and disinterested service of the illustrious scientist who, happily, has lived long enough to enjoy the recognition and appreciation of his grateful fellows.

Dreams And Destiny
The outstanding lesson of Sir Oliver's brilliant career is represented by the connection that he has so vividly demonstrated between the meditations of the savants on the one hand and the rough-and-tumble of everyday experience on the other. It is no secret, for example, that Sir Oliver Lodge's investigations in regard to the coagulation of smoke proved of inestimable service to the Navy in the arrangement of camouflage and smoke-screens, while, turning from war to peace, the same discoveries have assumed growing importance in their application to our great national industries. Sir Oliver has maintained, in season and out of season, that humanity must never submit tamely to discomfort, inconvenience or pain. For all such things there must be an underlying cause. It is the duty of science to discover that cause and to find the necessary machinery for its removal. Sir Oliver is not even sure that we are justified in suffering too much at the hands of the weather. The time is rapidly approaching, he assures us, when, instead of feebly submitting to any weather that happens to drift along, we shall deliberately make up our minds as to the kind we really want, shall send in our order, and shall see to it that delivery is according to instructions. "I do not see," says Sir Oliver, "why we should put up with bad weather if we do not want it. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, we must assume control of the elements. We shall soon be doing things that, a little while back, would have been thought extremely presumptuous. The future of mankind is a very long one. We have only just begun. Do not imagine that we are highly-developed creatures. We are not. We are merely at the beginning of things. Look at what has been achieved during the past century and then ask yourselves what humanity is likely to be doing 1,000,000 years hence."

Such language represents, of course, a violent reaction. There was a time, and it lasted for centuries, when science considered it beneath its dignity to concern itself with mundane and material things. It held aloof from life. It was the stern and pitiless denunciation of Lord Bacon that introduced the salutary change. Men of learning were compelled to face live issues, and, in consequence a better day was ushered in. And then, for many years, the shoe was on the other foot. Men of the world had become so accustomed to living one life, while men of the schools lived quite another that they at first resented, and resented bitterly, the lucubrations of the academicians on workaday themes. Wisdom, however, is justified of all her children. The new methods soon vindicated themselves by their results. Scientists have learned that, to justify their appointments, their researches must serve some practical and humanitarian end, and men of the world have learned in their turn that the verdicts of the schools must be treated with the respect that they so obviously deserve.

Carrying On The Torch
This being so, another question arises. When brilliant and commanding figures like Sir
Oliver Lodge grow old and leave the laboratories and lecture-halls that they have so strikingly adorned, it is of vital importance to the nation, and to the world at large, that others, no less capable, should be found to fill the vacant places. Does our national system of education afford us sufficient guarantees that the supply of such men will be equal to the demand? Is anything being done to point out to promising boys—and girls, the attractions and advantages of a scientific career? And are sufficient inducements being offered? There are, of course, and always will be, an army of youths willing to devour the prescribed text-books and to learn all that Sir Oliver Lodge, and men of his calibre have discovered.

But this is not enough. The sphere of truth, like the sphere whose dust we daily tread, is divided into two hemispheres—the known and the unknown. Of these two hemispheres, the latter is infinitely the greater. The students who are satisfied to attend lectures, to pass examinations and take diplomas are the men who are content to inhabit the first and smaller hemisphere, the hemisphere of the known. But these men, however great their numbers and how admirable their work, can never become the natural successors of men like Sir Oliver Lodge. Science, like other departments of human activity, needs its adventurers, its explorers, its audacious pioneers. If tomorrow is to be worthy of yesterday, there must be men who, learning all that there is to be learned, push restlessly out into the unknown in quest of knowledge that has never before been attained. The true successor of Sir Oliver Lodge is not the man who sets himself to acquire all the knowledge that Sir Oliver Lodge has amassed, but the man who, taking that hoard of gathered wisdom as his starting-point, sets off to find the treasure that has eluded all his predecessors. A sense of poignant regret must always mark the withdrawal from public life of a great figure in whose personality and conquests his generation has taken natural pride, but a compensating sense of satisfaction is experienced when evidence is forthcoming that young men of similar temper and equal ability are buckling on their armour.

F W Boreham

Image: Oliver Lodge

11 June: Boreham on John Constable

Sublimation of Reality
In the art criticisms of the day it is pleasant to notice an increasing tendency to exalt the work and influence of John Constable. Constable, whose birthday this is, was one of those outstanding and arresting figures whose art was native to their personalities. His genius, so far from being the result of education, training, or environment, was woven into the very warp and woof of his striking and distinctive individuality. With nothing to awaken it, and nothing to develop it, it nevertheless asserted itself in early childhood and remained the passion of his soul to the end. With beauty indigenous to his own soul, he would have discovered and unveiled a subtle charm in any surroundings, however sordid. There are a hundred mills in England far more beautiful, and standing in a much more romantic setting, than Flatford Mill which, owned by his father, Constable has made famous by his paintings. Yet people today walk round Flatford Mill and affect to see in it scintillations of elegance and comeliness that, but for Constable, nobody would ever have suspected.

The fact is that the real beauty dwelt, not in the structure of the mill, but in the mind of John Constable. In the days of his fame he would speak of the fascination that certain things held for him, things that would have made no appeal to anybody else. "The sound of water escaping from mill dams; leafless willows; old rotten planks; slimy posts and crumbling brick-work: I love such things. As long as I am able to handle a brush, I shall never cease to paint them. They have always been my delight." And anybody who takes the trouble to examine his pictures with understanding and discernment will recognise that their value consists, not in the surpassing loveliness of the objects portrayed, but in the skill with which the painter has communicated to their canvas their own infectious pride in the magnetic lure of quite ordinary scenes.

Pilgrimage From Iron To Gold
The career of Constable may be divided into two distinct periods, each lasting about twenty years. The first period was the Iron Age; the second the Golden Age. The two decade's that make up the Iron Age represent a period of the most intense application, yet of the most desolating discouragements. Although he worked early and late, young Constable found it almost impossible to earn enough money to keep body and soul together. Indeed, he would have been forced to the conclusion that he was pursuing a phantom, a chimera, a will o' the wisp, had not one or two propitious happenings fortified his conviction that there really was something in him.

On one of his darkest days a canvas from his easel attracted the notice of Benjamin West, who had succeeded Sir Joshua Reynolds as President of the Royal Academy. West urged him at any cost to persevere, and in 1802 a work by Constable graced the academy walls. Thus heartened, Constable struggled on, pouring his very soul into every picture that he painted. It was a heart-breaking ordeal, made all the more excruciating by the fact that the young artist had fallen in love with a charming girl whose guardian sternly declined to hear a word about marriage until Constable had won his spurs and established his position. At the age of 35, however, he painted "Dedham Vale," a picture that set all the critics chattering. From that hour his destiny shone clear. In 1816, he being then 40, his father died leaving him £4,000, and on the strength of this inheritance, together with the growing prosperity of his work, he was at length able to marry. And, with his marriage, the Iron Age comes to an end. During the next 20 years it seemed as if nothing could go wrong with him. The Golden Age had dawned.

The Responsibilities Of Individuality
It was the glory of Constable that he shattered, and shattered for ever, a particularly stubborn tradition. As Mr. E. V. Lucas says, "he brought the English people face to face with England—the delicious, fresh, rainy, blowy England that they could identify; the real England. Hitherto there had been landscape painters in abundance; but Constable painted something new; he painted weather!" There is a famous story to the effect that, Henry Fuseli, the historical painter, who in Constable's time, was keeper of the Academy, was seen one day engrossed in the contemplation of one of Constable's paintings. It represented an English landscape in a drizzling rain. Lost to all the world, the old man became saturated in the spirit of the picture that he was so ardently admiring, and, to the astonishment of the onlookers, he suddenly put up his umbrella.

A sturdy original, an intrepid pioneer, Constable resolutely refused to turn from his self-imposed task in order to conform to the conventions of any school, and, as a result, he will be remembered as one of the most sincere and honest workers that the realm of art has ever known. The lesson of his life shines clear. It is the duty of every painter, every writer, every politician, every man whose duty it is to write a newspaper article, address a public audience, or preach a sermon to realise that his view of God and of Man and of the Universe is essentially an individualistic view. His craftsmanship must not be based on the conventional. He sees as nobody else sees. He must therefore paint or write or speak as nobody else does. He must be himself; must see with his own eyes and pass on to his constituency the vision that he has seen in the terms that are native to his own distinctive and unique personality. He must, as Rudyard Kipling puts it, paint the thing as he sees it for the God of things as they are. And, expressing his naked and transparent soul by means of his palette, platform, or pen, he will sooner or later discover, as Constable did, that wisdom is justified of all his children.

F W Boreham

Image: John Constable's The Haywain

Thursday, June 01, 2006

10 June: Boreham on George Stevenson

The Poetry of Activity
Remembering that it was the birthday of George Stevenson, the pioneer of our mechanical transport, many people would yesterday find themselves revolving in their minds an interesting question. Are we to classify the engineer as a priest, a prophet or a poet? In his "Great Hunger," Johan Bojer maintains that the engineer is a priest—a priest in steel. He harnesses material substances to invisible powers and constitutes himself the mediator between the two. Others have argued that the engineer is essentially a prophet. It is his prerogative to foresee the world of tomorrow and to prepare highways for generations unborn. And now an eminent authority claims that the engineer is, first and foremost a poet. The dictionary defines a poet, he points out, as a maker, a composer, a creator. A carpenter is a poet in wood, a sculptor is a poet in marble, a painter is a poet in oils, a blacksmith is a poet in iron. And, following this line of thought to its logical conclusion, it becomes clear that the engineer is the poet-laureate, the poet supreme.

Viewed in this attractive light, it may be said that every touch of an engineer's fingers is an elegant phrase; every day's work is a tuneful stanza; every job that he completes is a stately epic or a noble ode. Beneath the magic of his skilful hands, his girders become gamuts, his steam-hammers sing ecstatic songs, his pistons are transformed into poesy. Some such thought must have been in the mind of Mr. Percy Mackaye when he told the world in lilting melody that the most splendid poem of the twentieth century is—the Panama Canal!

For a poet wrought in Panama
With a continent for his theme,
And he wrote with flood and fire
To forge a planet's dream;
And the derricks rang the dithyrambs
And his stanzas roared to steam.

Poetry of this practical but monumental order—the poetry of activity and achievement—is the most appealing poetry of all.

Sublimest Triumph Recorded In Deathless Song
Where did it all begin? When were the first rhymes written? When was the first music crooned? It was back in the forest primeval; back in earth's earliest dawn; back among the imperceptible twitchings and tremblings of the first sensuous and conscious things. When the first bird built its nest, when the first wild thing scooped its lair, when the first microbe shaped its filmy home, then the poetry of engineering had its birth. For, beyond the shadow of a doubt, the most amazing engineering exploit of all time has been the Creation of the Universe. In its stupendous entirety and in its microscopic detail, it is equally bewildering. Whether we examine the Milky Way through an astronomer's telescope, or an insect's wing through a naturalist's microscope, we lose ourselves in wondering admiration.

Is it any wonder that the only vehicle that has effectively conveyed to the little minds of men any inkling of the majestic drama of the Creation has been the vehicle of poetry? The imposing chapters with which the Bible opens, however interpreted, represent one of the choicest gems in the orchestral poetry of the ages. And wherever barbaric peoples, unassisted by that sublime revelation, have woven their guesses into myths and fables, they have invariably cast into poetry their fantastic imaginings. The Indians say that, when the Great Spirit had completed the framework of the Globe, the land was level and was consequently entirely hidden by water. And the Great Spirit commanded the beaver and the musquash and the otter to put the finishing touches to his work. They were the engineer's labourers. Diving to the land-level, these clever creatures brought up the mud, laid out the hills, arranged the plains, piled the mountains and soon had everything shipshape. Any man who has inspected the architecture of an eagle's nest or a beaver's castle or a bee's comb will recognise that a vast substratum of truth underlies the graceful myth.

The Engineering Of History And Of Character
Imagine Australia, as, from some grassy knoll at Botany Bay, the new continent presented itself to the eye of Capt. Cook! The vision of the nation-yet-to-be resembles nothing so much as the conception of a magnificent poem. But who is to pen that poem? Who is to extract the angel from the shapeless marble! The engineer is the one indispensability upon the horizon. He is the best judge as to the most suitable sites for ports and townships; his skill as a maker of roads and railways can alone weave the scattered sections of communal life into a corporate and united whole; he knows how to turn shallow rivers into deep harbours; he possesses the cunning to span with stately bridges the chasms and waterways that threaten to impede the lines of transit and of commerce. Damming the streams, he constructs the aqueducts and build the weirs and dig the reservoirs that provide the new settlers with the water without which they cannot live. Indeed, it is scarcely too much to say that, at this rough but romantic stage of a nation's development, the engineer does all the work that needs to be done.

It is interesting to notice that the inspired volume which begins with the engineering exploit that produced the universe, closes with the engineering exploit by which noble and unselfish lives are fashioned. Such lives, we are assured, are no more the result of chance than the Pyramids or the Parthenon are the result of chance. An engineer has been dreaming—and toiling. A beautiful life, one of these ancient writers asserts, is God's poem, God's workmanship. The tiniest minutiae have all been thought out: every detail has been carefully planned. Like the Temple, erected without beat of hammer or chink of trowel, it may seem to grow up without effort; but such an illusion is an integral part of the artistry of the engineer. From the miry quarry of a tainted humanity, heaven produces lives that make earth more fair; but it is only when we peer behind the delicacy of the workmanship, and contemplate the infinite cost at which the triumph was achieved, that we grasp the real wonder of the celestial exploit.

F W Boreham

Image: George Stevenson [FWB uses this spelling rather than the Stephenson spelling]