A. R. Orage

Gurdjieff International Review

A. R. Orage

by Louise Welch

The brilliant editor of the New Age, regarded by T. S. Eliot as London’s best literary critic of his time, abandons his journal and is next heard of cleaning stables in the farmyard of a French chateau. The magnet is a then little-known Greek named Gurdjieff, called by some a mystic and by others a magician. How could that departure from his lifework be understood by the friends of Alfred Richard Orage in 1923?

“He was a man who could be both perfectly right and wholly wrong,” said Eliot, “but when he was wrong one respected him all the more, as a man who was seeking the essential things....”

Another New Age writer, Ezra Pound, said, “Orage’s impersonality was his greatness, and the breadth of his mind was apparent in the speed with which he threw over a cumbrous lot of superstitions, and a certain number of fairly good ideas, for a new set of better ones.”

The light thrown on the mind of Orage by his friends and critics tells us more about the essential man than such details as his birth in rural Yorkshire in January 1873 and his effect on his school teachers quite early in his life. At twelve, the excellence of his mind and his sympathetic personal qualities so impressed the county squire that he helped young Alfred to go to teachers’ training college, where he swallowed, absorbed and improved upon the material he was to use for the next ten years in teaching children.

It is not surprising to learn from an old friend of Orage’s that his pupils competed for his attention rather than he for theirs. The fertilizing gift, that talent of his for calling the creative impulse in others, had its effect on people of all ages.

If temperament is destiny, there was something fated in his decision to marry, when he knew that the price he would have to pay was giving up the education at Oxford that he desired and was promised. In the end, it may have been a good thing to have lost a conventional education, for that might conceivably have fettered an intelligence so original, dynamic and inquiring, a mind that abhorred fuzzy thinking and defined reason as the sum of all functions, not the sterile, unconnected activity of the head alone. “A man,” Orage said, “can only think as deeply as he feels.”

“To see a thing in the germ, this I call intelligence,” the Irish poet, AE1, quotes Laotze, and then remarks that Orage had such intelligence. “Almost everywhere I explored in his mind,” AE says, “I found the long corridors lit.” It was probably that trait more than any other that drew the subtlest and best endowed writers of the day to the New Age, often for little or no pay. To mention a few of them, there were Sir Herbert Read, G. K. Chesterton, Storm Jameson, Arnold Bennett, Hilaire Belloc, Edwin Muir, A. J. Penty and P. L. Travers; even Bernard Shaw congratulated himself on his good judgment in contributing some five hundred pounds to help start the publication of the New Age.

In trying to understand a mind so unlike his own, yet to him sympathetic, Chesterton said that Orage, whose literary style he admired, managed somehow to avoid the awful fate of looking like a literary man. He added that Orage aimed at “doing something rather than writing something … He was in the true sense a man of action....” At the same time Chesterton regretted that English as good as Orage’s might disappear into the files of the New Age.

Certainly the true works of Orage can not be limited to the literary. His passionate interest in cleaning up the kitchen of economics began with his eloquent advocacy of Guild Socialism, a socialism not concerned merely with improving the material lot of men but one that asked for a high quality of skill in the goods produced and for conditions allowing inner development in the producers. Later, with energy and brilliant common sense, he supported the ideas of Social Credit as put forth by Major Douglas. To those who followed the thought of Orage during this period, it is now quite evident that many of the most practical and desirable solutions recommended today by economists, mirror Orage’s suggestions made in the New Age and the New English Weekly long in advance of his time.

His foresight was observable not only in economics, a field that interested and engaged him because he felt it to be the necessary ground work for a life concerned with more inclusive and essential interests—the life of art and ideas. The next powerful influence was to be the philosophy and metaphysics of the East, an influence, Orage held, that could bring a much needed renaissance of thought and feeling to the Western world. The Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata become, as his biographer, Philip Mairet says, “vital and permanent influences in his mental life.”

But his search for truth was not restricted to Eastern teachings. He refused nothing that promised enlightenment. He studied the theories of Freud and Jung, characteristically enlarging the context by comparing them with the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, the Hermeticists and Patanjali. Of the articles Orage wrote in this connection, Mairet says, “How good they are, even now!” He tells us that Orage discussed the new psychology with a number of distinguished psychiatrists and physicians who agreed with him that a psychoanalysis might be worse than useless without a psychosynthesis. They formed a group to explore this idea.

It may have been the need for this psychosynthesis that drew Orage to the lectures of P. D. Ouspensky, who had appeared in London, and finally to Ouspensky’s teacher, G. I. Gurdjieff. As one who had investigated and practiced the soundest ideas available in the world of metaphysics, Orage’s touchstone was sensitive to the truth he needed; as he said simply to his secretary, who regarded his leaving the New Age as the abandonment of all his work, “I am going to find God.”

He was seven years with Gurdjieff, much of which he spent in the United States, where he was loved and appreciated. There, as he said, he experienced what a true brotherhood might be. When he returned to England to found the New English Weekly, it was his intention to make it a vehicle for important ideas—metaphysical, psychological as well as economic—including of course those of the Gurdjieff teaching he had spent so many intensive years studying. In that last period he kept a journal, some of which was published; and three essays from it are included here, in addition to the essay “On Love,” which he wrote after he had met Gurdjieff.2 His comment that it was “freely adapted from the Tibetan” is, of course, Orage’s way of gently leading the reader to an impersonal consideration of the ideas the essay contains—quite apart from his own preference for anonymity.

“On Love” has already become something of a classic. It will no doubt find additional literary acclaim before the end of this ‘Age of Aquarius.’ It has already quietly made its way into the minds and hearts of many, in the role Orage would most have wanted—as an influence in the direction of individual inner growth.

~ • ~

1 George W. Russell. Eds.
2 These three essays as originally published in the Aryan Path, along with a fourth, are included in this issue under Orage’s name as “My Note Book.” The essay “On Love” is much anthologized and readily available. Eds.

Copyright © 1969 Traditional Studies Press
This webpage © 1999 Gurdjieff Electronic Publishing
Featured: Spring 1999 Issue, Vol. II (3)
Revision: April 1, 1999