A. R. Orage

Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934)

a. r. orage
A. R. Orage

Alfred Richard Orage was born in 1873 in North Yorkshire in the village of Dacre, near Harrogate. In 1874 his family moved to his father’s native home in Huntingdonshire. Here Orage went to the village school, and would have gone to work at the age of twelve had not the local squire, impressed with his intelligence and charm, made it possible for him to continue his studies, and eventually to go to a teachers’ training college. At the age of 21, Orage obtained a post at the Leeds Board School, and for the next ten years taught children of various ages.

This, he claimed, was an excellent preparation for his later teaching of adults. In the true sense an educator, he was able to draw people out and get them to formulate their thoughts and feelings. He had, in a high degree, the rare quality of emotional understanding, together with a gaiety and a sense of humour. Not long after coming to Leeds he met a kindred spirit in Holbrook Jackson, and the two young men formed groups to study the philosophers, and, later, they started the Leeds Arts Club, which soon became a ‘sensational success’.

For fourteen years Orage continued to edit ‘The New Age’. His reputation as a literary critic and writer on current affairs in almost every field of human effort was at its height when an inner discontent began increasingly to manifest itself. With all his searching he had not been able to find an answer to the question which never allowed him to sleep in peace – the question of the meaning and aim of existence. The possibility of finding an answer, however, was nearer than he supposed. P. D. Ouspensky, whom he had been in touch with for some time, arrived in London in the autumn of 1921 and spoke with him about the teachings of G. I. Gurdjieff. Orage, with Rowland Kenny, organized a study group for Ouspensky which first met at the studio of Lady Rothermere in Circus Road, N.W. After some months of work Gurdjieff himself visited the group in London early in February 1922 [2] and again for a three week visit in March of that year [3].

His talks convinced Orage that he had found the teacher he was looking for, a teacher who had, as well as a system of ideas, a practical method for inner development. This realization led him to make a complete break with his old life. In October 1922, to the bewilderment of many, he sold “The New Age”, gave up his brilliant life in London – and Ouspensky’s groups – and went to live at the Gurdjieff Institute at the Chateau du Prieurie in Fontainebleau.

A year later, in December 1923, he went to New York as Gurdjieff’s representative – the latter arriving a week later with his pupils to give a number of demonstrations of sacred dances and movements of the East. Before Gurdjieff returned to France he asked Orage to settle in New York and teach his ideas. Thus began a new life for Orage, and for seven years, apart from visits to the Prieure, he remained in America working for Gurdjieff.

One of his accepted tasks was to enable Gurdjieff to write his book ‘All and Everything: An Objectively Impartial Criticism of the Life of Man; or, Beelzebub’s Tales to his Grandson.’ For some twenty years the greater part of the contribution to this fund came from the American groups. Another task was to put the book into readable English. Although he worked for several years on the book he did not live to finish the revision.

C. S. Nott remembers talks at this time with Orage [1]:

“We were discussing these matters at the end of 1934 whilst walking up Chancery Lane on the way home – it was the end of October 1934. Then the talk came round to our life at Fontainebleau and our friends in New York. Suddenly he turned to me and said, ‘You know, I thank God every day of my life that I met Gurdjieff’. A week later he was dead”.

Gurdjieff once said:

“I loved Orage as brother. There was indeed in him, together with the inevitable human faults and weaknesses – the denying part – such a composition of the positive qualities that all sorts and conditions of men could not help but love and respect him”.

His body lies in Old Hampstead Churchyard. On the stone is the enneagram carved by his friend Eric Gill, with Krishna’s words to Arjuna:

“You grieve for those who should not be grieved for. The wise grieve neither for the living nor the dead. Never at any time was I not, nor thou, nor these princes of men. Nor shall we cease to be hereafter. The unreal has no being. The real never ceases to be.”

References

[1] Orage, Alfred R., 1954. Essays and Aphorisms, Biographical note by C.S. Nott, London: Janus Press.

[2] Moore, James, 1991. Gurdjieff – The Anatomy of a Myth, Dorset: Element.

[3] de Hartmann, Thomas and Olga, 1922. Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff , London: Arkana/Penguin.

Acknowledgments

Access to written material has been kindly provided by the staff of the Brotherton Special Collections Library at the University of Leeds.

Every effort has been made to obtain permissions from holders of copyright material. However, if any copyright owner has been omitted, the author of this web site would be grateful for any additional copyright information, and undertakes to rectify any omissions.

Explicit permission to quote from the works of A. R. Orage has been kindly provided by Mrs. Anne Orage.

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