A. R. Orage
A Symposium of Tributes from AmericansVol. III No. 8: Part Two
December 15, 1934
Orage As Religious Man
by Allan R. Brown
In this functional sense Orage was a signal example of religious man. Jesus said, "Be ye perfect even as your father in heaven is perfect." This infinite and impossible ideal as he called it was the heart of religion for Orage. "Religion is the study and practice of perfection," he said. He never allowed subjective interests to swerve him from his devotion to this purpose, to the no small mystification and annoyance of some who could not comprehend. He thought, he wrote, he acted, not for himself, not for man, but for God. God, truth, righteousness, cosmic purpose, perfected normality,each must use the term correspondent to his own understanding. Orage said God. He defined religion as the attempt to establish an ideal and conscious relation between man and God, thus distinguishing it from its most colorable imitations in the form of morality, neighborliness or humanitarianism.
The fact that Orage never emphasized adherence to a religious "faith" is not a sign of his irreligion. It was an essential part of his religion. Buddha said that the existence of the soul, the very existence of God, were not religious questions. We find it hard to understand this seeming contradiction. We get the meaning of Socrates better: "It seems to me to be ridiculous, when I am not able to know myself, to investigate irrelevant things." This was the view of Orage: "Religion without humanity is more dangerous than humanity without religion." The gnosis of man comes before the gnosis of God. This must be so if religion is to be life instead of conformity or speculation.
Orage did not deceive himself. Even at the end of his life he confessed that he did not know the meaning and aim of existence. Who of us does know? Is it religion to accept reports? Orage could not be satisfied with reports. But he was religious because despite the lack of direct knowledge he felt in his being that there was a meaning in the universe and felt the necessity of ascertaining that meaning and cooperating with it. We must cultivate our gardens. Perhaps the admission of a lack of dogmatic knowledge, which would lead some to say that Orage was agnostic, was the very thing which made him, permitted him to be, religious man. There is a difference between a knowledge of life and the understanding which is life. It is knowledge without experience which is the chief obstacle to life, and religion is life or it is nothing. Plotinus said, "The soul when it deals with matters of knowledge, suffers a certain decline from the fulness of its being."
There were three plots in Orage's garden, himself, the persons with whom he came in contact, the society in which he lived. His attitude to all three was the same, as must needs be if he were really religious.
Readers, hearers, disciples, friends, there was no line of division. For all these Orage coveted just one thing, not knowledge even to the degree of realization, but growth in being, growth from within. He was willing to accept as a definition of spiritual evolution a formulation like Self-perception of the Self. He felt that it was not important, even if possible, to impart a realization of the meaning of such a phrase. "Unhappy is the teacher whose pupils only learn." What Orage aimed at was not verbal understanding but actualization in being. The potentiality in the student was the thing he was interested in. He was seed, but the growth had to be in the hearer. The word was creative or it was a dead and meaningless sound. To Orage religion was a part of being, not a vestment on being. He could neither for himself nor for others be satisfied with realization in the place of actualization.
His attitude toward the social problem was fundamentally religious. All his life he was working for social justice, for economic freedom, not as ends in themselves but as means. Why labor with the instrumental means, he said, if the end is of no value. As religious man he saw the value of the goal, he therefore thought it well worth while to struggle with the means. If the order of society is unjust, every person in it is warped from his normal purpose by preoccupation with either condoning or combatting the injustice. Jacob Boehme said, "A lily blossoms upon the mountains, in the valleys, on the plains, in every quarter of the earth; and they that seek shall find." To provide the opportunity for seeking, this was the source and end of Orage's interest in the social and economic problem.
Orage was wont to consider man chemically, physiologically, psychologically, and sociologically. In each of these aspects man is carrying out a purpose of which he is not aware. He is fulfilling a function that he knows not of. The religious man has become aware of this ultimate purpose. He is conscious at least that he has a function. Orage felt this ultimate meaning. He attempted to bring to consciousness a sense of that function in man which is more than animal, more than humanitarian even. In so doing he was not a religious man. He was religious man. For when man is measured religiously the unit is not the atom, nor the cell, nor the impression, nor the family, but the race. We are all one body.
Orage As Teacher
by Lawrence Morris
It was some years after that before I met A. R. Orage, one fall evening in a house in New Jersey. Still misled by my earlier failures, this time I did not realize at once that I was meeting the only teacher it has been my fortune in life to find. He had none of the marks, neither chalk on the fingers nor solemnity in the eyes. We talked, as I afterwards saw, about psychology, though without labeling it; I only knew that evening that something in me was quickened, and I did not leave the house without asking where I could meet him again.
In the next ten years I heard him lecture at one time or another on literature, philosophy, psychology, economics. Yet it was not primarily in these lectures that he revealed himself as a teacher, though he did uncover, in a way I think he never matched with the pen, the fertility, the happy discoveries, the racy speech, and above all the essential form of a mind drawing freely on its hidden resources as well as its conscious intent. I have seen him, like any artist, surprised by the emerging shape of his own thought.
But his bent as a teacher found its best expression in ways even less ticketed than those extemporaneous lectures. It flashed into genius in a rainy moment on the curb while waiting for a gap in the traffic, between the acts of a play, or over a cup of coffee. The true groves of his Academy, during the years he was in New York, were the cafeterias and Childs restaurants. There was a cafeteria in 28th street, next door to his office, where he would sit at eleven in the morning or at midnight, with black coffee and a cigarette, leaning forward over the table, to discuss any subject you had brought with you. You forgot at such moments that it was his genius that was in full play; you were only amazed to find yourself thinking and saying things you had not known were in you.
It was, so to speak, an invisible teaching, for like that of Socrates it disguised itself under many cloaks. It came perhaps as a sudden pungent question, throwing light on the relationships of a dozen distant things; sometimes it took the baffling form of an ardent defense on Orage's part of a view you were sure he could not seriously hold; and frequently it was embedded in an anecdote (always given as a true instance he had happened to encounter), which lingered in the mind like a troubling parable. I do not remember that he ever tried to dictate an opinion, but neither did he ever meet one without requiring it to show its credentials. He reminded me once of the title Coleridge had chosen for a book, Aids to Reflection, and Orage's own remarks were designed for the same use. Certainly his conception of teaching was not to fill the minds of his juniors with information, though much of it was there, but to suggest steps to them that would be of aid in the future. At the moment they were very often merely a source of inner disturbance. Many times indeed it was a year or several years after an apparently casual and topical conversation before its significance became suddenly clear. He had recognized a seed in his pupil, watered it, and then left it to the impulsion of nature to bring out the bud.
This is, I think, the only true kind of teaching. And its taste may be faintly suggested by saying that those whose education began as mine did in an association with Orage must feel themselves, oddly enough, to be self-educated.
The Ideal Editor
by Gorham Munson
A new age was the unifying conception of Orage's life. It ruled his genius for editing and made his magazines inspired as well as inspiring. He never flagged in his welcome to new writers nor rested from the search for them. And the record says that by his own test for great editorship"the great editor is measured by the number and quality of the writers he brings to birthor to ripeness"he reached the pinnacle. "I write writers," he said to a friend in New York who lamented that Orage did not write essays on the poets.
Orage's touchstone for the unknown writer was promise. Promise is potentiality. What established writers can do is known. Therefore, Orage, lured forward by a vision of a new age, naturally turned to the unknown writers who promised to utter the hitherto unsaid words in English literature that might evoke a passion for achieving the new world. He wrote his writers with a pen dipped in Possibility, and they surprised themselves by their growth. Before them he raised a standard which was simply their latent merits actualized, and since it was their undeveloped merits he had discovered, they were fired by the standard. He allowed them the greatest freedom of means for reaching their standard, and so there was enjoyment in the striving, the delight of voluntary discipline.
Orage, the editor, was the cher maitre of his staff and contributors. As instigator and guide, he presided over a school of writers, and he was cher because he was catholic and allowed freedom to develop. The classrooms used to be the office of The New Age and a table at the Café Royale; recently they were The New English Weekly office and the A. B. C. restaurant nearby.
Orage was distinguished from other editors by the confidence he placed in his readers. He assumed they were mature enough to listen to anything reasonable no matter how the clouds of prejudice had collected about the subject. He assumed they were hardy enough to follow controversies. He assumed they could stand the truth. Here was freedom of the press and in the voluminous Letters To The Editor department, freedom of speech for his readers. Genuine freedom, no fear or favor shown.
To some Orage seemed to pass through many phases. But they were phases of a single aim from which he never swerved, the aim of awakening the latent aristocracy of British and American men and women. He edited to stimulate his readers to noble action directed to a renascence of Western life.
I had thought to write about The New English Weekly in America, how it burst upon us, how it galvanized us to action for its program of a Free and Leisured Society, how it never failed each week to be memorable in our lives but a soldier on the firing line has no moments for reviewing the past. The paper always faced the future, and we would betray its spirit if we paused lost in memory of its past while the battle rages.
The future! That was to have been shared with Orage. He is dead and with him part of the future and part of ourselves unknown to us. There was an elixir in all of Orage's communications to us. There is a strange taste in the sensation of grief at his death. I do not know what it is unless it is at least a minim of disinterested emotion at the passing of human greatness mingling with the personal emotions.
The Renaissance Type
by Carl Zigrosser
He was a great editor because he was not content merely to interpret leading ideas and events, he also aimed to shape them. His knowledge and learning were prodigious in fields as diverse as literature, philosophy (both classical and oriental), religion, psychology, history, economics, and science in general. He had that rare gift of clear thinking and exact formulation and those qualities which make any talk or conversation a never ending delightthe vivid phrase, the apt quotation, the illuminating image. He had a first class mind, yet he bore his learning lightly: he used it as a background for his criticism and his teaching. His criticism of literature and affairs was unique, for it was humane, informed, impartial, and based upon the soundest and most tangible criteria. It was expressed in some of the finest prose in the English language, simple, clear, memorable, powerfulsublime commonsense that spoke to the heart as well as delighted the mind. He influenced many people by personal contact, and stimulated them to self- realization and creative activity. He was always generous of his time and his gifts (which included a profound knowledge of human nature), to all who came to him for advice and help. As a companion he was delightful: he could be subtle, witty, fanciful, entertaininga really great conversationalist.
He was one of the finest flowerings of civilization. In urbanity and understanding, in ripened wisdom and wholeness of vision, Orage was a distinguished citizen of the worldthere was nothing provincial about himyet paradoxically enough, I surmise that he really was not of this world. I use the word surmise quite intentionally, for very few persons, if any at all, ever knew the real Orage behind the many roles that he undertook to play. He was the subtle master of philosophy of "as if." He was as indifferent to renown in the future as he was careless of success in the present. At several critical phases in his life, he gave up everything and started life anew. Endowed as he was with brilliant gifts, he seldom met his match in mentality; if he was sometimes summary in his arguments it was for want of a foeman worthy of his steel. Nevertheless, on the few occasions that he met a mind which he felt was superior to his own, he was the first to admit it and to proceed to drink from the fount of wisdom like the humblest disciple. He was impersonal toward himself; the end was more important than personal scruples of pride. The key, for him, was knowledge. He wanted to know everything in the world, even the unknowable.
I remember a proverb that Orage used to quote. Whether it was his own I do not know, but in a sense it sums up his attitude toward life. "Do more and more, better and better, and think less and less of it."
Edna Kenton, Writer
It takes gambler's courage to ask constantly the perchance unanswerable of the perchance forever unanswering. Orage had that courage; there is no telling and no way of telling to how many he passed on a spark of it. I think of Jessie with inexpressible sympathy, but I think too of his children. I wish he might have lived long enough to see his kind of curiosity and his kind of courage bud in them.
Elizabeth Delza [Mrs. Gorham Munson], Dancer
His own excitement in living was infectious. He exemplified his belief that man should act on life instead of being acted upon. All his life was an effort to find the means to do so. That must be the secret of the electric charge he had in his own activities and in his influence on the activities of others. Certainly few men have existed who summed up so astonishingly in their being a concentration of mind and feeling, and gave off a corresponding intensity.
No wonder, then, that Orage should have played such an influential part with artists of all kinds. With his openness to the ideas of others and his eagerness and participation while listening (one always listened to Orage with one's most intense and alive attention, but Orage could also be the listener), he created an atmosphere in which one's ideas expanded beyond one's expectations. He had the faculty of making ideas and people mature, he could move them out of their complacencies and stir them to develop their potentialities. With directness and startling subtlety, he could strike at essentials and create an illuminating synthesis.
My conversations with Orage about the dance were as exciting as if he had been an expert, indeed more so. He seemed to intuit the subtleties involved and was imaginatively alive to all the possibilities.
I shall always see Orage, feet planted, head strong and high, eyes forward, seeing and penetrating; and in relation to life's battle, always in it and above it. Above it because he was ever drawing on resources beyond his resources.
Grace, strength, simplicity he once described as the elements of great literature in the Grand Style Simple. These, appropriately, were the characteristics of Orage, the man. He was a man in the grand style, and those of us who knew him have had a rare and memorable privilege.
Orage's sudden death brought paralysing grief. But great in our memory is the living force of his being, that picture of him and with its manifold reminders of a life rich, dynamic, joyously and dangerously alive, desperate, brave, seeking; a life dedicated "not for life's continuance, but for life's surpassing." Orage in his death, as in his life, becomes a stimulus to life.
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