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Memories of Orage, Gurdjieff, & Ouspensky

Alfred Richard Orage, 1873–1934

3,252 words

Editor’s Note:

The following is from Anthony M. Ludovici, Confessions of an Anti-Feminist: The Autobiography of Anthony M. Ludovici, ed. John V. Day, ch. 4, “My Education, Part II.” (The opening sentence comes from ch. 3, “My Education, Part I.”) The book remains unpublished, but we hope to raise funds to finally bring it into print.

[Oscar William Levy] was . . . responsible for finding me my first publishers, Foulis and Constable, and for introducing me to the New Age circle, whose leader, A.R. Orage, soon appointed me art critic of his famous weekly. . . .

Conflicts with Orage

. . . [O]ne of the bitterest jars I ever had was that which I suffered whilst writing for The New Age. I was of course well aware of the existence of factions in the group around A. R. Orage, but it never once occurred to me that my chief himself would ever be capable of siding with any of them against me, one of his own contributors. Yet this is what actually came to pass. But to make the whole incident clear, I must first explain how I innocently provided my enemies with the opportunity of injuring me. Above all, I must in brief outline describe my relationship to Orage.

The letters Orage wrote to me from time to time, many of which may still be found among my papers, in which he makes clear the price he set by some of my contributions, suffice to testify to our cordial relations. This did not, however, mean that we were unaware of funda­mental differences of opinion on many matters. For instance, I feel sure that I disappointed Orage by showing insufficient interest in C. H. Douglas’s monetary-reform doctrines. Nor did I ever doubt that my pronounced leanings to the Right in politics made it difficult for me to see eye to eye with him on matters of social reform. I never could believe, as many Fabians, including above all Shaw, maintained, that poverty was the major cause of both social discontent and crime. This, a favorite tenet of Marx, always struck me as shallow and heretical. The very fact that both adult and juvenile delinquency has increased rather than diminished under the benevolent institutions of the welfare state has surely confirmed rather than invalidated my point of view. I was therefore never one of the devoted and intimate coterie that used to foregather round Orage’s table in the tea-shop opposite Cursitor Street, where policies and programs were hatched. I went there but rarely—certainly not often enough to please our editor—although, of course, he never so much as hinted that my aloofness offended him.

Foremost among the reasons preventing me from wholly sympa­thizing with his views was my dislike of his boundless catholicity. He seemed to me to throw his editorial net too wide and to be almost dissolute in the diversity and even the incompatibility of the doctrines and policies to which he granted the hospitality of his columns. Nor is it unlikely that I must often have voiced this objection to men who were in a position to repeat it to him. Yet I doubt whether any impartial judge could, after examining the various issues of the New Age, help concurring with this criticism. I respected his intellect, but, just as he doubtless deplored my ‘narrow-mindedness,’ so I regretted his sprawl­ing sympathies.

Gurdjieff and Ouspensky

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, 1866–1949

Much later on a serious clash occurred over the Ouspensky–Gurdjieff teaching, for I was quite unable to accept his belief in its indispen­sability for life mastery, and, strange as it may seem, it was his fanati­cal faith in these two men that marked not only the end of the New Age period but also, as I half-suspected at the time, sowed the seeds of his own premature death. Because, if he had not joined Ouspensky in France at a time of life when the rigorous disciplines Gurdjieff imposed on his disciples constituted a grave danger, it is unlikely that he would have died when and how he did.

I can vividly recall the urgent summons he sent to me in the first days of March 1922. I was to come to see him in Cursitor Street imme­diately as he had something of the utmost importance to tell me. This must have been on Wednesday, March the 1st. He said: ‘Ludovici, drop everything you happen to be doing and join us in the Ouspensky group! You will find it abundantly worth while to give all your time to the study of the way of life Ouspensky undertakes to teach us’—or words to that effect. I pointed out that it would be extremely difficult for me to do what he proposed. I was a married man and had not the means to abandon my work. Although I was prepared to attend Ouspensky’s lectures, for I was always anxious to learn, and felt sure Orage was too intelligent and well-informed to be hoaxed by a charlatan, I made it clear that I could not possibly enroll myself as one of Gurdjieff’s whole-time chelas [An Anglo-Indian term for a disciple or novice—JVD].

As early as 3rd March 1922 I accordingly went to hear Ouspensky, who was addressing a small and select circle in a private house either in Kensington or Chelsea. I confess I understood very little of what he said and often failed to appreciate the relevance of many of his illustra­tions. But I could not help admiring his technique as a lecturer. The way he handled his audience and dealt with the ubiquitous and benighted interrupters, who at all such gatherings betray their inatten­tion and stupidity by the futility of their questions, seemed to me, who had so often suffered at the hands of such people, exceedingly impres­sive. Anybody who by his, or particularly by her, misunderstandings revealed that further attendance on their part would be quite useless was unmercifully snubbed and humiliated, and if such a person pro­tested, as one or two outraged listeners, unused to such rough handling, sometimes did, he or she was invited to withdraw altogether. Indeed, the very first time I heard Ouspensky lecture a female listener was thus summarily fired. This I found most exhilarating.

On 7th March I attended a second lecture and on that occasion actu­ally saw Gurdjieff, who, opulently attired in a magnificent astrakhan overcoat, made his way straight to the front row of the audience and sat down immediately opposite me. (I should explain that presumably, as a friend of Orage and recommended by him, I had been allowed a seat on the platform.)

I cannot say I was favorably impressed by either the person or manner of Ouspensky’s master and guru. Rightly or wrongly, I felt repelled rather than attracted. His air of truculent self-complacency, his unfortunate resemblance to one’s image of the typical impresario, and the palpable obviousness, not to say shallowness, of some of his remarks on bodily control and economy of effort destroyed all hope of any rapport between us from the start.

When I now read accounts of him, and see the eminence and achievements of some of the men who took his teaching seriously (Dr. Kenneth Walker, for instance), I appreciate that a sweeping dismissal of him would probably be unjust. But such pronounced initial feelings of antipathy as he inspired in me are difficult to overcome, and as I had meanwhile come to the conclusion that there was no chance of my being able to devote enough time to the teaching in order to benefit from it I decided to inform Ouspensky and Orage that, to my profound regret, I could not possibly undertake to join them.

Orage was greatly shocked and, like many another whose advice has been rejected, he most probably felt slighted. But I have never for one moment regretted this resolute act of defection. I never pretended to be a dedicated chela, or to lead either Ouspensky or Orage to suspect that I was withdrawing from their group because I thought little of the teaching. Indeed, had I done anything of the sort I should have been insincere, because I never professed a proper understanding of Gurd­jieff’s aims or how he expected to achieve them. Only long afterwards, when I was in a position to judge some of the unmistakable results of the Gurdjieff regime, did I feel entitled knowledgeably to question its value.

Thus, when after his spell at Fontainebleau and the frantic agitation raised by his friends to rescue him from the labours of the life there, and when after the conclusion of his activities in America, he at last returned to London and started the New English Weekly, I was among those who were invited to meet him and to learn about his future plans. As I was quite ready to forgive the injury he had done me, the full story of which I shall relate in a moment, I decided to go and thus had the opportunity of observing the marked changes that had come over his appearance since I had last seen him. The deterioration in his physical condition seemed to me conspicuous and I felt I had every reason to congratulate myself on having escaped the rigors of Gurdjieff’s train­ing camp.

Peter Demianovich Ouspensky, 1878–1947

What made me all the more confident of the justice of this conclusion was the fact that meanwhile—i.e., during the years of Orage’s absence from England—I also had undergone a thorough course of physical rehabilitation, or rather normalization, which had not only greatly improved my condition but had also supplied me with valuable criteria for knowledgeably assessing the physical status of my fellow-men. Instead of my judgments in this sphere being, as they had been in the past, chiefly guesswork and matters of opinion, I was now equipped to give at least valid reasons for classing a fellow-being as either able or unable to maintain his sound condition if he enjoyed such a blessing, or to improve his condition if it was faulty. This was not an assessment in the medical sense, which of course I was quite unquali­fied to attempt, but rather an estimate of a man’s chances of keeping sound if soundness and health were already present. And I owed the knowledge for such judgments to the thorough schooling in the correct use of the body which I had undergone at F. M. Alexander’s teaching center in Westminster. Indeed, I may truthfully claim that this course of training in conscious control proved to be the principal turning-point in my life and, above all, in my education. Nor do I believe that anyone who has had the good fortune to leave Alexander’s hands fully condi­tioned, as I ultimately became, to apply his methods in every kind of bodily activity, throughout every day of the year, would charge me with exaggeration or overstatement in making the claim I have made about his teaching. From the year 1925, when I first became his pupil, to the present day, I have not ceased to rejoice in the good fortune which led me to him. It resulted in my being as it were ‘born again’ and, what is more, enriched me with an armory of new standards by means of which, henceforth, I could with substantial authority assess the psychophysical condition of my fellows, together with their chances of preserving any health they happened to enjoy.

Now, it was when I was thus equipped that I renewed my acquaint­ance with Orage, and I confess that I was genuinely shocked by the changes I noted in his appearance. These changes were probably also observed by others, but are unlikely to have been given the significance which I felt justified in giving them. For one thing, I could not help noticing how conspicuously he had begun to stoop and how rounded his back had become, and, remembering Alexander’s shrewd adage that ‘it is the stoop that brings on the infirmities of old age, and not vice versa,’ I naturally felt alarmed at his appearance. His bodily coordina­tion also struck me as in every respect what Alexander called ‘villain­ous,’ and I did not need more to convince me that, no matter what its other merits may have been, Gurdjieff’s regimen could hardly have included conscious control, in Alexander’s sense, as one of its disci­plines. When, therefore, not long after the inauguration of The New English Weekly, Orage was reported to have died suddenly of a heart attack, I was not in the least surprised. His death at the comparatively early age of sixty-one occurred, I believe, on the night of 3rd–4th November 1934, when by a strange coincidence he and I both made our first BBC broadcast, and it was on returning home in the evening of the 3rd that he retired to bed, never to rise again.

But I am anticipating and must resume the thread of my account of some of the reasons why he had probably long felt secretly hostile to many of my views. For, although this hostility was never openly ex­pressed, it had, as I have attempted to show, several possible roots, and is in any case the most charitable way of accounting for the act of gross disloyalty which constituted the gravamen of my charge against his character.

To explain the circumstances under which this breach of loyalty occurred, I must as briefly as possible describe at least one aspect of the aesthetic theory my studies and meditation had at last enabled me to reach. As an intransigent Nietzschean, I classified artists into three orders: (1) The major artists who were the legislators or the establishers of a culture’s values; (2) The minor artists—poets, musicians, painters, sculptors and architects—who performed their works under the influ­ence of the values established in their culture; and (3) the inferior artists—skilled craftsmen, decorators, designers, moulders etc., who likewise, under the influence of the values dominating their culture, carried out their various skills. This was more or less carefully explained in my introduction to The Letters of a Post-Impressionist (London, 1912, pp. v–xlvii).

Now, it was in accordance with this purely taxonomic distinction that in a New Age article on Epstein’s sculpture I spoke of the sculptor as a ‘minor artist,’ meaning, of course, that he belonged to the order next to the artist-legislators.[1] I had not the slightest intention of thereby implying that vis-à-vis of his fellow-sculptors Epstein occupied an infe­rior rank. All I meant was, as the reader can now at once appreciate, that in the hierarchy of artists he was one of those who came next to the artist-legislators. It was perhaps imprudent to use the term without a full explanation of the special meaning I gave it, and I do not for a moment suppose that either Epstein or his champion, T. E. Hulme, were aware of this special meaning, and the grossly abusive and gratuitously offensive attack on me which Hulme proceeded to write for the New Age had therefore at least the excuse of ignorance.[2] The vituperation in Hulme’s article was absurdly exaggerated and spiteful, for, after all, even if I had meant to disparage Epstein’s sculpture, as many others were doing, I was perfectly entitled to express my independent opinion about it. But in his impatient zeal to defend Epstein against a supposed denigrator, and doubtless too in his human, all-too-human, eagerness to find a good opportunity to hurt a fellow-creature, Hulme could always plead that he knew nothing about my hierarchy of artists and had consequently misunderstood my remarks.

But Orage knew better. When Hulme submitted his insolent article to him, therefore, not loyalty alone, or even ordinary friendliness, but his knowledge of the customary thoughtfulness of my aesthetic judgments should have made him hesitate before publishing such an unjust diatribe against one of his most constant contributors. Despite his natu­ral editorial eagerness to have some sensational matter for the next issue of his journal, and in view of his knowledge of my art theories, he should have felt it his duty to protect a faithful colleague and friend from the gratuitous public insult Hulme’s article was intended to administer. Although he might quite properly have allowed the publi­cation of a temperate protest, it was surely incumbent upon him to refrain from flinging a friend to an angry mob. The fact that he did not refrain, but published Hulme’s article exactly as it had been written, thus constituted an act of treachery which, as far as I was able to judge, could only have been due to a long history of differences between us which had estranged us more than I suspected at the time. But one circumstance casts doubt upon this interpretation of his behavior, which is that, although nothing quite as monstrous as the Epstein–Hulme episode ever came to my notice, I was aware of many facts which pointed to a streak of disloyalty and of the typical Anglo-Saxon incapacity for solidarity in Orage’s character. It is significant, more­over, that I cannot recall any instance of his having allowed an attack, let alone one as scurrilous as he had sanctioned against me, to be made against anyone higher up in the ladder of fame and power than I was at the time of Hulme’s onslaught.

I duly replied to the abusive article and explained in what sense I had used the term ‘minor.’ But I took no other steps to counter Hulme’s extravagant effort to humiliate me. I never met or knew the man and assumed that, in view of the obvious exorbitance of his language and sentiments, the reading public would not take him too seriously. I must say, however, that when later on Epstein published his book, Let There be Sculpture,[3] and reproduced verbatim the whole of Hulme’s attack on me, just as if I had never offered any explanation of the misunder­standing, I was genuinely astonished. Nor did the discovery of this further act of deliberate spite tend to enhance my opinion either of the sculptor himself or of the race to which he belonged. I was strongly advised to take no legal steps to redress my legitimate grievance. The issues were so likely to be misunderstood by both judge and jury that I should probably only have incurred further victimization had I at­tempted to appeal to the law. I cannot truthfully say, however, that I was altogether displeased when, early in World War I, I heard that Hulme had been blown to pieces somewhere on the Western Front, and, like Norman Douglas’s Italian bookseller, G. Orioli, when he heard of his business enemy Warburton’s mortal paralytic stroke, I liked to think that there was a connection between Hulme’s tragic demise and the perfectly unprovoked abuse he had leveled at me.[4]

As for Orage, who was the principal culprit in the whole affair, the fact that I ultimately forgave him is shown by my having actually become a constant contributor to The New English Weekly, the journal which succeeded The New Age, and by the letters which passed between us after his return to England.[5]

Notes

1. ‘The Carfax, the Suffolk Street, and the Twenty-One galleries,’ New Age 14.7, pp. 213–15.—JVD.

2. T. E. Hulme, ‘Mr. Epstein and the critics,’ New Age 14.8, pp. 251–3.—DJD.

3. London, 1940.

4. For Orioli’s account of the annoyance Warburton had caused him, of his satisfaction over his rival’s sudden death, and of his hope that there was some connection between it and the injury Warburton had done him, see G. Orioli, The Adventures of a Bookseller, 1938, Chapters 15 and 16.

5. Many of these letters will be found among my papers.

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