Frank William Boreham 1871-1959

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

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Boreham on The Other Side of the Hill

`But what is on the other side of the hill?'
That was the question. That is always the question. My friend and I had been spinning along in the car, the towering mountain and the shining harbour behind us, whilst each bend in the road presented us with a fresh unfolding of the ceaseless panorama of woodland, pasture, and stream. We were bound for nowhere, and so far as we could see the road led there. We were out for the pure sake of being out. All at once a sense of chilliness crept over us, and we were reminded that even the wealthiest days become bankrupt at last. Should we turn round and go home? There was only one objection. Right ahead of us lay a long range of hills. They had attracted our attention a few hours earlier as we sat under a big tree by the side of the road enjoying an al-fresco lunch. During the afternoon their massive forms had crept nearer and nearer, as the car had sped swiftly towards them. They captivated our fancy and lured us on. There was something taunting and challenging about them.
‘Shall we turn round and go home?'
‘But, what is on the other side of the hill?'
That, I say, is the question. It is the oldest question in the world and the greatest question in the world. All the pathos and the tragedy of the ages are crammed into it. It was the first question that man asked; it will be the last that he will try to answer. Wherever on this planet you find a man, you find him with eyes turned wistfully towards the distant ranges, repeating to himself again and yet again the old, old question, 'The hill! The other side of the hill! What is on the other side of the hill?'

That is how history and geography—and everything else—came to be. The first man, toiling amidst his weedy pastures, earned his bread in the sweat of his brow. But often, in the cool of the evening, he sat outside his primitive dwelling and pointed away to the hill tops that here and there broke the skyline. 'I wonder,' he said a hundred times to his companion, 'I wonder what is on the other side of the hill!' It never fell to his happy lot to sweep with delighted eye the valleys that stretched out beyond those ranges; but his sons and his grandsons conquered those tantalizing heights. They went out, north, south, east, and west; climbed one range and caught sight of another; were lured on and on—always by the old, old question; wandered beyond reach of each other; lost touch with the old home; settled here and settled there; and so your tribes, your races, your nations, and your empires came to be. It was the other side of the hill that did it.

And if it was the other side of the hill that made them, it was also the other side of the hill that made them great. For the great peoples have been the exploring peoples; and what is exploration but an attempt to discover the land that lies on the other side of the hill? Here, in Australia, exploration began with the conquest of the Blue Mountains. Settlement was confined to a narrow strip of land on the far east of the continent. And there, to the west, were the hills. And every evening, as shepherds and squatters watched the sun set over those huge, rugged peaks, they itched to discover what lay beyond the ranges. Again and again they attempted to solve the eternal secret; again and again they were baulked and defeated. Then came that never-to-be-forgotten day, a hundred years ago, when Blaxland, Lawson, and Wentworth crossed the mountains. They found that a great continent with fertile valleys, spreading plains, and rolling prairies lay on the other side of the hill. And on that memorable day the history of Australia began. It has been so everywhere. What was the opening up of America but the constant desire to discover what was on the other side of the hill? Think of that great moment—only twenty-one years after the epoch-making voyage of Columbus—when Vasco Nunez de Balboa

With eagle eye
First stared at the Pacific—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,
Silent upon a peak in Darien.

Why the 'wild surmise'? Simply because they had found an ocean without looking for it! They were not searching for the Pacific; they were simply trying to find out what was on the other side of the hill! That was all.

Yes, that was all; and yet, after all, it is a fine thing to know what is on the other side of the hill. Who can read the fiery theological controversies of days gone by without wishing that each of the angry disputants had been able to peep over the brow of the ridge? Think of the language with which Luther and Calvin assailed each other! Think even of the correspondence of Wesley and Toplady. Wesley, the greatest evangelical force that England has ever known, wrote of the author of `Rock of Ages,' `Mr. Augustus Toplady I know well; but I do not fight with chimney-sweeps. He is too dirty a writer for me to meddle with; I should only foul my fingers.' Toplady was quite capable of repaying the founder of Methodism in his own coin. Wesley, he declared, was a hatcher of blasphemies; his forehead was impervious to a blush; he had perpetrated upon the public a known, a wilful, and a palpable lie! But it is too bad of me to drag these amenities of eighteenth-century controversy from the dust that has so long covered them. Let me bury them again at once; and let us remember Wesley only as the greatest spiritual force in the making of modern England, and let us remember Toplady only as the author of our favourite hymn.

For, after all, what do these angry sentences prove? They only prove that, for a little season, neither Wesley nor Toplady were able to see what was on the other side of the hill. I never read a newspaper controversy, or listen to a heated debate, without feeling that. It is so obvious that each of the disputants is standing on his own side of the hill, shouting at his opponent over the ridge that separates them.
`The bush consists principally of wattle!' cries A., looking around him at the swaying tassels of gold.
`I tell you that the bush consists principally of gum!' replies B., as he hears the flapping of the great strips of bark on every side.
'It is wattle!' cries A.
`It is gum!' cries B.
`You're distorting the facts!' shrieks A.
`You are telling lies!' returns B. And so the quarrel goes on; both A. and B. getting hotter and angrier as it proceeds. But anybody who stands on the ridge, looking down into both valleys, can see that both are right. On A.'s side the soil and the general conditions favour the growth of the wattle, and the wattle undoubtedly predominates. Just over the hill, the eucalyptus is in its element, and, as a consequence, the blue-gum reigns without a rival there. If only A. and B. could each have taken a peep over the hilltop! If only Calvin could have seen things as they presented themselves to the eye of Luther; and if only Luther could have looked at the universe from Calvin's standpoint! If only Wesley could have taken Toplady by the arm, and they could have walked together—first to the one side of the hill and then to the other! If only all our controversialists could be convinced of the very obvious truth that a peak is the meeting-place of two separate valleys! But alas, alas; it is very difficult. So many people seem to suppose that a hilltop crowns one valley and one valley only. So few are willing to see what grows on the other side of the hill.

And yet, for the matter of that, every man knows what is on the other side of the hill. Immensity is on the other side of the hill. Infinity is on the other side of the hill. From my doorstep to the hilltop is a matter of a mile or two at the most; but who can measure in miles the land that lies on the other side of the hill? Between me and the hills lie a cluster of farms; but all the continents and oceans lie over the ranges—on the other side of the hill. Therein lies the consecration and the glory of the Church.

On a pinnacle in South America, at the very summit of a lofty range of mountains, an immense statue of Jesus was recently placed. There is a deeper significance in the incident than the sculptors themselves saw. For Christ is always on the hilltops pointing His Church to the immensities beyond. The Church has always inclined towards parochialism; she has contented herself with those few miles that lie between herself and the distant foothills. But the Master has stood ever on the sunlit summit pointing to the infinities beyond. It is the story of Kipling's `Explorer':

There's no sense in going further—it’s the edge of cultivation!
So they said, and I believed it—broke my land and sowed my
Built my barns and strung my fences on the little border station,
Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and
Till a voice, as bad as conscience, rang interminable changes,
On one everlasting whisper, day and night repeated—so:
'Something hidden! Go and find it! Go and look behind the
Something lost behind the ranges! Lost, and waiting for

'Go,' said the Master. `Go ye into all the world.' In that tremendous 'Go,' the Church has caught a glimpse of the other side of the hill, and has herself been saved from narrowness by the discovery.

Yes, immensity and infinity are on the other side of the hill. Immensity and Infinity—and Eternity. That is why the pilgrims of the ages have been struggling with bleeding feet up those precipitous slopes. They hoped that, from the summit, they might catch one satisfying glimpse of the Beyond. Sages and savages alike have gazed with awe at the hilltops, wondering what lay on the other side. No tribe or people has ever been discovered but in some tent or wigwam or kraal there dwelt some priest or fakir or medicine-man who guessed and muttered of the things on the other side of the hill. Oh, the witchery and the mystery of the other side of the hill! Oh, the lure and the fascination of the other side of the hill! There is, I say, a deeper significance in that South American statue than its constructors imagined. For Jesus stands on the hilltop. He sees what is on our side of the hill, and He sees what is on the other. And, since He knows, I need no fakir, no guesser, no medicine-man. He has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And there He stands! And so long as He commands that eminence, there is no terror for me on either side of the hill.

F W Boreham, ‘The Other Side of the Hill’, The Other Side of the Hill (London: Charles H Kelly, 1917), 39-47.

Dr Geoff Pound