P. D. Ouspensky

Gurdjieff International Review

The Romance and Mystery
of Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum

by Claude Bragdon

In the spring of 1918 there appeared at my door a young Russian, Nicholas Bessaraboff, bearing in his hand the Russian edition of Tertium Organum. He had determined that the book must be translated into English, and since his knowledge of the language was inadequate for the task, he asked my help. To this I readily agreed and we set to work almost immediately. Our method was this: he made a word-for-word translation of the Russian text, and when I had the meaning clear in my mind I expressed it in the best and simplest English I could command.

I had had some experience as a publisher, having issued my own books and others under my own imprint, and I therefore decided to follow the same procedure with Tertium Organum, as by these means I could keep more intimately in touch with those who bought and read the book.

Meantime, we knew nothing of Ouspensky, his whereabouts, or whether he were alive or dead. We made an effort to trace him through Washington and through the Red Cross, but by reason of Russia being cut off from the rest of the world these attempts failed. Our first hint of his whereabouts came through some letters he contributed to The New Age, an English review, discovered and called to our attention by Dhan Gopal Mukerji, the Hindu dramatist. In answer to our appeal for information, A. R. Orage, the then editor of The New Age, informed us that though he knew Ouspensky, and had been in correspondence with him, he had left southern Russia for parts unknown.

It was through Spencer Kellogg, Jr., of Buffalo, that we finally obtained definite news of Ouspensky. Being in England during the summer of 1920, he dropped in at the headquarters of the Theosophical Society to enquire if they had Tertium Organum on sale. There he encountered a Russian woman who proved to be Ouspensky’s friend, and knew his address. He and his family were refugees in Constantinople; having lost everything in the Revolution, they were in need, and Ouspensky was anxious to come to England, where he had friends, and would be able to support himself by his pen.

On receipt of this news Bessaraboff wrote Ouspensky a letter, telling him the story of the translation and publication of Tertium Organum, and I sent him two copies of the book and a substantial money payment, representing accrued author’s royalties. In due course Bessaraboff received an answer, of which the following is a part:

Constantinople, 11/17/20

My Dear Nicholay Alexandrovitch:

I received your letter of September 24, together with a parcel and letter from Mr. Bragdon. First of all let me thank you and Mr. Bragdon for the excellent translation and remarkably elegant edition of my book. It is of course very pleasant for any author to see his book in such an edition, and “T. O.” is to a certain extent my weakness, although now I should change many things there. This I hope to do in the next edition. [Ouspensky made these changes in the second edition and provided an Introduction as well.]

Certainly I cannot but feel that you and Mr. Bragdon are my friends, especially because Mr. Bragdon’s book [Four-Dimensional Vistas] startled me by its nearness to “T. O.” There is only one other book in which I have also found much similarity to my own thought: this is The Science of Peace, by Bhagavan Das, with whom I made acquaintance in Benares in 1914….

Your letter confirms me in the conviction I arrived at during my trip to India, that there is in the world a small number of men united by something, although they may not themselves know it, and may not know one another yet.

P. Ouspensky

The omitted portions of the letter were devoted to a discussion of ways and means whereby he and his family might be enabled to come to England or America, an enterprise in which he asked our help.

Though we were powerless to be of assistance here, I felt so sure that it was in the pattern of his life to come actively in contact with those English-speaking people who had been spiritually awakened by his book, that I wrote him of my conviction that help would be forthcoming from some person or persons whom he had, in so different a way, himself helped. He could scarcely have received my letter when I received the following telegram from Washington:

Tertium Organum interests me passionately. Desire very much to meet you if possible. Leaving for England end of month.

—Viscountess Rothermere

I wired back that I should be glad to see and talk with her, and a few days later she arrived in Rochester.

No sooner did she get from us Ouspensky’s address than she cabled him the assurance that she would finance the journey to England, and sponsor him there. This promise was faithfully kept….

Tertium Organum sold so rapidly that I was obliged to turn it over to Mr. Knopf, under whose imprint it is now in its ninth printing. It has been the subject of spirited controversy and vivid discussion, and its function more and more reveals itself to be as stated—to tie in one bond men of the one spirit.

Copyright © 1929 Knopf
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