Alfred Richard Orage (1873-1934)
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’.
In the meantime Orage developed his talent for public speaking in the open air as well as at meetings with Socialists and Theosophists; he also was active as a member of the Society for Psychical Research. Throughout his activities in these varied fields, and with the Nietzscheans, Platonists and Fabians, his heart of fire was tempered with a brain of ice which prevented his being caught up in the sentimentality which so often surrounds such groups; he taught with a critical mind that questioned everything.
At the age of thirty he gave up school-teaching and went to London. He became a journalist, and for the first year made hardly enough to exist on. Holbrook Jackson had also gone to London, forsaking the lace trade for journalism. Hearing that ‘The New Age’ was for sale Jackson and Orage decided to acquire it, and induced a number of people, Bernard Shaw among them, to put up the necessary money. They soon discovered that a ‘views-paper’, a paper of ideas, can never pay its way. Jackson left to become a successful publisher and a noted bibliophile, while Orage remained to become, according to his contemporaries, the most brilliant editor that England had had for a hundred years. Almost everyone of note in the world of arts and letters – among them, Chesterton, Arnold Bennett, Belloc, Shaw and Wells – wrote for the paper, and most of them for nothing. In its columns friends were criticized impartially as were foes. It was also a school of literature with Orage as a sort of elder brother critic, which produced more than forty young writers who made their name. What many felt is expressed in a letter to him from Katherine Mansfield. She said:
“I want to thank you for all you let me learn from you. I am still very low down in the school. But you taught me to write, you taught me to think; you showed me what was to be done and what not to do…But let me thank you Orage. Thank you for everything…
Yours in admiration and gratitude,
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  and again for a three week visit in March of that year .
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, for him very difficult, was to raise money for a fund 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 of Orage’s tasks 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.
Towards the end of his seventh year in America he decided that the time had come for him to go back into life and assimilate what he had learned from Gurdjieff. He afterwards said that in many ways this period in America had been one of the most satisfying of his life. From his teachers exacting discipline and the congenial work with the groups in New York there emerged a bigger, humbler, more understanding, and more youthful man. He returned to England for good in 1931, and in April of 1932 brought out the first number of ‘The New English Weekly’. According to T. S. Elliot, Orage at this time was the best leader writer and the best literary critic in London. He was also the most penetrating writer on economics. The paper became a centre of gravity for those who were studying the causes of the disastrous breakdown of the financial system. It seemed that the paper had appeared in the midst of this economic chaos for a specific purpose. Orage’s office in Cursitor Street was the scene of constant talks and meetings. Toward the end of the paper’s third year this purpose appeared to have been accomplished. During all this time Orage had neither taught Gurdjieff’s ideas nor talked much about them, except to those of us who had been with him at the Prieurie; and he never again saw Ouspensky. But now he began to make fresh plans. D. Mitrinovic, who was interested in Gurdjieff’s ideas, was bringing out a new magazine, and Orage had arranged to be coeditor with him. Orage also intended to introduce some of Gurdjieff’s ideas into the pages of the ‘New English Weekly’, and to take up work with him again.
C. S. Nott remembers talks at this time with Orage :
“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.”
 Orage, Alfred R., 1954. Essays and Aphorisms, Biographical note by C.S. Nott, London: Janus Press.
 Moore, James, 1991. Gurdjieff – The Anatomy of a Myth, Dorset: Element.
 de Hartmann, Thomas and Olga, 1922. Our Life with Mr. Gurdjieff , London: Arkana/Penguin.
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.