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Gurdjieff and Orage
Brothers in Elysium
By Paul Beekman Taylor
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 2001 Paul Beekman Taylor
All rights reserved.
The Mystic of Fleet Street
"New Age No Wage"
He who attempts to penetrate into the Rose Garden of the Philosophers without the key resembles a man who would walk without feet.
It is easily assumed by historians that Orage led a perilously divided life trying to reconcile urgent interests in esoteric lore with a journalistic career whose main thrust was to have art serve economic and political reform. I will argue in the pages that follow that there was no essential conflict between these interests in Orage's mind and, ultimately, in his varied activities. Orage sensed and promoted a collaboration between these two vectors of his energy in the service of the world in general, and England and America (as he called the United States) in particular. From the moment he began his career as an editor in London, he strove to bring art, economy, and esotericism into a public harmony. To these, eventually, he joined the private pleasure of family. Everything he did in his life up to the moment he left England in October 1922 for Paris and Gurdjieff, prepared him for this consolidation of energies. It is to demonstrate that point that I present the following review of Orage's London career.
The cultural atmosphere of the London to which Orage went from Leeds in 1906 is known blandly by cultural historians as "Edwardian." Although the vibrancy of the metropolis in the early days of the century belies the typical portrait of the post-Victorian monarchs, Edward VII and George V, like their reigns, their age was one of crucial shifts in artistic, social, and political change. Decadence, pre-Raphaelite aesthetics, art for art's sake, and naturalism were giving way to the impressionism, imagism and vorticism that underlie what critics now call modernism, the prevailing artistic thrust in entre-guerre Europe. This was an age in which American writers, profiting from a healthy growth of native impulses, brought fresh perspectives back across the Big Pond to republican France and Italy, and to their formerly alienated English cousins. Among the Americans already abroad before Orage set up editorial shop in London were William Dean Howells and Mabel Dodge who branched out from New York and Paris to Italy, Gertrude Stein and Natalie Barney, who flourished in France, and Mark Twain, James Whistler, Stephen Crane, Harold Frederic, and Henry James, whose talents enriched English soil. In the next wave came Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Courtenay Lemon (Djuna Barnes' ex-husband), and John Gould Fletcher. Orage played literary and philosophical guide to them all. It was Pound, in 1913, who introduced Frost to Orage, beginning an acquaintance that lasted through Orage's New York years. Not every American literary aspirant found Orage receptive. Raymond Chandler, later to become America's best-known crime writer, was working for the Daily Express in London when he asked Orage to consider a couple of short pieces. Orage thought they showed talent, but didn't fit The New Age format.
Orage's literary activities in London with The New Age did not include, but rather steered toward, the two grand projects that would occupy his life after World War I—Major Douglas's Social Credit and Gurdjieff's Harmonious Development. Socialism of one kind or another had been noticeably in the air since the middle of the 19th-century. In Orage's cultural milieu, the social reform conceptions of Morris and Ruskin were lively topics of discussion. The Fabian Society, named after the Roman warrior-statesman Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, was formed in 1884 to promote social reform by peaceful means, rather than through the violence of revolution that Marx had predicted. Five years after its founding on 15 February 1889, Oscar Wilde, who had been attracted to Fabian Socialism by George Bernard Shaw, wrote a review of Edward Carpenter's Chants of Labour, in which he quipped: "To make men socialists is nothing, but to make socialism human is a great thing."
Orage, whose Fabian sympathies had prompted his founding of the Leeds Art Club, collaborated with Arthur J. Penty to establish a Fabian Arts Society in London. Furthermore, he made it his mission later in The New Age to present a program of humane social egalitarianism in the service of economic and political reform. In Leeds, between 1896 and 1902, Orage wrote some seventy-five items for the weekly Labour Leader. Although almost all were reviews of the literary scene in Britain and the United States, there was a generous sprinkling of articles on social and philosophical questions, and one poem of his own, "Hide and Seek." From 1902 until 1907, he was a regular contributor to the Theosophical Review (some thirty-five articles).
In the name of egalitarian justice, Orage, very soon after his arrival in London, took up the suffragette cause with Beatrice Hastings. He wrote "Women Leading On" for the Theosophical Review in January 1907, the same issue in which he reviewed "The Gospel of Gnosis." This was followed, in the next issue, by "In defense of Agnosticism." These three articles incited letters criticizing Orage's stance on gender and religion. Two months later, Orage drew considerable public attention, if not scorn, for being the only male arrested along with some seventy-five women who stormed the House of Commons in the spring of 1907 under the wondering gazes of Lloyd George and Herbert Gladstone. He was duly sentenced to fourteen days in jail.
Early in his life, Orage read Ruskin as a sensible man committed to badly needed reforms, rather than as the poetic visionary others saw in him. The fin-du-siècle medievalism of William Morris and the innovative forms of art nouveau attracted Orage toward Penty's project to restore the medieval guild system. With S. G. Hobson (1868–1940), Orage reshaped Guild Socialism out of principles of Ruskin and Morris to center attention on medieval "localism"—the interlocking interests of all those engaged in a single industry. Such a structure for economic exchange would repeal, they hoped, the invidious effects of modern industrialism. Between 1907 and 1913, in his regular The New Age column, "Unedited Opinions," Orage wrote several articles on Socialism, economics, and trade unionism, which Orage called "the egg liberty laid in capitalism to destroy the wage system." In his private life, he initiated exchanges with leading reformers of his day, such as the American Upton Sinclair, and H. G. Wells. At this time, Orage and other far sighted social critics like Wells were recognized as imaginative activists challenging old-guard Fabians, one of whom was Orage's sponsor, Shaw. Articles in The New Age throughout 1910 and 1911 indeed suggested that a New Age was, in fact, at hand.
Seven months after the first issue of The New Age was published, Jackson surrendered sole proprietorship of the journal to Orage, partly because Orage refused to take in advertising and partly because Shaw refused to put up more money and to contribute copy gratis. Not only did Shaw feel that Orage's drift away from Fabianism left The New Age politically powerless, but Orage had written a study of Shaw to which Mrs. Shaw took exception. Orage withdrew it from publication. Finally, in 1913, Shaw and Sidney Webbs founded The New Statesman to take up the cause they felt Orage had deserted.
Although he never made any money from sales, Orage worked tirelessly to encourage new talent and stir up new social and critical issues. He introduced Katherine Mansfield to his public in 1910; Hilaire Belloc and Gilbert Keith Chesterton were early contributors. Llewelyn Powys, brother of John Cowper Powys, got his first encouragement from Orage in 1914. Orage opened his journal to almost any writer who was motivated by the good and the just. Pound, who joined Orage in 1911, observed that he demanded from his writers only "an ideograph of the good." He also looked for the new, and Orage's own articles in 1918 and 1919 on Jung and Freud were among the first on psychoanalysis to appear in the British press. He had, himself, written on Nietzsche in 1908, and, in 1909, on women's suffrage. In 1912, he voiced a "New View of Women." To justify the eclectic mix of art with economic and political commentary in the pages of The New Age, Orage wrote in 1912: "The literature and art of today are the parallels of the economic situation of today."
More than two thirds of Orage's articles were on literary subjects, many of which were collected and published as The Art of Reading in 1930. He was one of the few critics to take particular interest in the development of American literature and language. As early as 1916, he had reviewed H[enry] L[ewis] Mencken's critical writing on English literature, and The Little Review solicited a review of Henry James. His good reading command of French gave him critical access to French literature as well, and in 1916, he wrote about "Stendhal on Love." He was among the first to recognize in print the talent of the Bulgarian-born Armenian novelist Michael Arlen [Dikran Kouyouomdjian], who became a good friend. All in all, critics agreed that The New Age was, for its day, the most brilliant journal that has ever been written in English.
In "National Guilds," written in December 1913, Orage exposed the imbalance in British labor between goods and services and its effect on national policy. "A commodity is something that has exchange value," he wrote; "labour is priceless, and therefore, its value cannot be expressed.... Economic power precedes political power." Orage's appreciation of Ruskin's convictions about the cultural responsibility of art allowed him to depreciate current romantic claims for the autonomy of literature. He advised John Gould Fletcher, for example, to abandon the Romantics and read Walt Whitman. In The New Age, in 1915 he made the oft-quoted statement that "art includes utility, but it also transcends utility." As one critic observes: "Orage used Ruskin in his eclectic program to anesthetize socialist attempts at reform."
In effect, Orage's economics had their origin in his early reading in Plato, but they were shaped by his reading of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), whose Essay on Some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy (1844) discussed the influence of consumption on production and the relation between wages and profit. Even closer to Orage's eventual interests was Mill's Principles of Political Economy (1848), which attacked a policy of distribution of goods and monies that condemned the laboring class to penury. Like Mill, Orage developed an economic theory that involved broad humanitarian interests. Ezra Pound, writing out of Orage's thoughts near the end of the war, explained: "Fundamentally I do not care 'politically,' I care for civilization, and I do not care who collects the taxes, or who polices the thoroughfares. Humanity is a collection of individuals, not a whole divided into segments or units. The only things that matter are the things which make individual life more interesting." Of course, for Orage, art in general and literature in particular were the primary things making life interesting, but social survival came first. He identified his own interests with the predicament of the working class and the causes of poverty. "A starving man needs food, not instruction," he wrote in 1912. A year later, in his popular column "Readers and Writers," he proclaimed that "literature affects life for better or worse."
Under Orage, The New Age probed with intense urgency the relation of socialism to art and philosophy. Orage considered political and economic problems inseparable from the problems of culture as a whole. On 10 October 1912, he wrote: "If I were asked upon what I rely for the renaissance of England, I should say a miracle, but it does not follow that because we cannot define the cause of miracles, miracles are not therefore to be understood. They can be understood easily enough if they are regarded as works of art instead of works of logic.... We can both divine what it will be and prepare for its coming." His first biographer remarks that Orage, above all else, sought "to cooperate with the purposes of life, to enlist in that noble service, the help of serious students of the new contemplative and imaginative order." In 1914, Orage was known throughout London's cultural circles as a man of the highest imaginative order and taste. The gifted Augustus John cried out, when his project for Ormande Terrace was being debated, "We ought to have Orage as dictator." Looking back to that time forty years later, Pound considered Orage a quintessential Englishman: "Wonder was the ANY english or if Orage (with a French spelling) was the ONLY englander cent pure." For John Cowper Powys, who preferred American openness to English snobbery, Orage restored faith in his origins. "When I beguiled Mr. Orage to come to tea with me in our ramshackle alley," he wrote, "all my fancies about English snobbishness seemed to melt away. This subtle critic struck me as one who might have been wearing a friar's cord under his discreet dress."
It is deceptively easy to say from all this that Orage was committed to the elevation of the public weal, as Pound recalled vividly after his death:
Orage wrote into a public that had been blindfolded by generations of books produced under the heel of the profit system, fouled by the mentality of decades oppressed by university and educational systems warped by the profit system, by a bureaucracy of education, the bureaucrat being a man who avoids "dangerous" knowledge, who can almost indefinitely refrain from taking, officially, cognisance of anything whatsodamnever that is likely to disturb his immediate comfort or expose him to the least convenience or ridicule.... There were, and are, arrears of learning for the public to make up, and against this siltage Orage battled until his last heart gripe. It was the sea of stupidities, not a clear sea, it was the bog, the mud storm, the quicksand of obfuscation.
Orage's commitment to human relations was more than a public editorial principle. He manifested it in all of his personal relations. Most of the testimonies about his personal relations come from those he advanced in their careers as their reader and editor. John Gould Fletcher recalled that, as a critic, Orage was "neither contemptuous nor condescending." Pound praised Orage as "that necessary and rare person, the moralist in criticism: not the inquisitor who tries to impose [his] morals upon literature, but the critic who perceives the moral of literature." As a recent observer remarks: "Orage sought to collapse the aesthetic realm—not by undermining its claims for value—but by expanding it not only beyond the writing of literary genres but also beyond writing itself. This was the ultimate goal of Orage's journalism." Though Orage habitually denigrated journalism as a form of art, he raised his own to the level of a literary genre comparable to its 18th century status. Perhaps Pound was thinking of a basic value of The New when he said, in a letter to Scofield Thayer, the editor of Dial, in November, 1920: "A magazine is important in proportion to amount of good stuff it prints which wd. not be printed (or even written), if the magazine did not exist."
Few profited more from Orage's "humanity" than Pound. Although The New Age was known to it contributors affectionately and less affectionately as "No Wage" (because Orage, instead of paying fees, promised not to censor contributions), Orage involved himself personally in the welfare of his associates. Pound includes in his draft for Canto CXI a glance at Orage's compassione, which identified "the extent to which Orage's humanitarianism must have stood for Pound as the antithesis to [Wyndham] Lewis's scorn for 'the herd.'" Pound recalled, in a letter dated 25 October 1919 to John Quinn, that "Orage, of course, willing to do anything he can for me." "Anything" consisted, for some years, in their collaboration of four guineas a month as a sort of salary—not much, but Pound managed to live on it. He wrote from Rapallo to John Drummond on 30 May 1934: "Orage's 4 guineas a month ... was the SINEWS, by gob the sinooz." He went on to say that: "he did more to feed me than anyone else in England, and I wish anyone who esteems my existence would pay back whatever they feel is due to its stalvarrdt sustainer." More significantly, Orage protected Pound from a hostile British public who resented the American's attacks on British cultural tastes. With the exception of The New Age, the English press was closed to Pound, but Orage remained loyal to Pound's talent, and to his editorial conscience. "Orage tried to steer him [Pound] to literary subjects," notes Leon Surette, "but Pound clung stubbornly to his platform for vituperation."
Excerpted from Gurdjieff and Orage by Paul Beekman Taylor. Copyright © 2001 Paul Beekman Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
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Table of Contents
Chapter One. 1873–1922: The Mystic of Fleet Street
Chapter Two. 1922–1923: Orage's Tale of Two Cities
Chapter Three. 1924: New York City: The Land Made Abundant
Chapter Four. 1924: Jessie Dwight at Château Gurdjieff
Chapter Five. 1924–1926: The Book of Life
Chapter Six. 1927–1929: No Axe but Truth to Grind
Chapter Seven. 1930–1931: Orage's Agony with Gurdjieff
Chapter Eight. 1932–1934: Between Beasts and God
Chapter Nine. Orage's Legacy: Journalism, Occultism, and Economy
Chapter Ten. Gurdjieff and Orage on Being, Knowing, and Loving
Epilogue: Mentors and Stewards
About the Author