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The New Age, Volume 20 (November 2, 1916 to April 26, 1917): An Introduction
by Thacker, Andrew

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Though this volume of The New Age may seem relatively sparse in terms of major contributors from the world of art and culture, it is fascinating to see how three major events, two of lasting international significance, are discussed in the pages of the magazine. Of national importance was the change in British government in December 1916, when David Lloyd George, with support from a variety of other politicians, replaced Herbert Asquith as British Prime Minister. Internationally, the two major events are the American entry into the war in April 1917, and the Russian Revolution of March 1916. These latter two events, arguably, shaped international affairs throughout the twentieth century, the first because it established the idea of American intervention on the international stage, the second because it marked the emergence of a society modelled upon an alternative to capitalism.

Those at The New Age who espoused Guild Socialism between 1915 and 1918 (see Martin ch.XI) welcomed events in Russia for their image of revolutionary change in the social fabric; the “new age” of modernist art and literature now seemed to be matched by a new political age, where the old order of society could - as Russia demonstrated - be swept away at a stroke. Orage's appreciation of the idea of radical innovation can be seen in a comment in “Notes of the Week” (13: 289-92) that predates news of the revolution in Russia. Discussing the future role of trade unions in helping shape government, Orage notes the necessity of casting off tradition and embracing the new: “For what does this ability to make a clean and sudden break with the past imply but an astonishing flexibility of mind, itself the condition precedent of every prospect of revolutionary change and progress” (13: 289).

The major examples of the modernist revolution in the arts are rather scarce in volume 20 - a series by Edwin Muir and some articles upon Jacob Epstein are perhaps the most significant instances - but the changing shape of the political landscape, nationally and internationally, helped prompt The New Age contributors to consider life after the war. There are a number of articles in the magazine devoted to reimagining society after the war, especially in relation to the organisation of industry (see the “Industrial Symposium” that runs throughout the volume). Even though the magazine's finances were in a seeming state of crisis early in 1917, with the New Age Press being liquidated at a shareholder's meeting in March (19: 446), The New Age looked forward. As ever contributors to volume 20 comment not only upon the contemporary social and cultural world around them, but argued for change and progress after the shadow of war had gone.

Names to Know While Using this Volume

    Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928)
  • Prime Minster of Liberal Government from 1908-15 and then of Coalition Government from May 1915 until December 1916, when ousted by Lloyd George along with leading Conservatives. Led Liberal Party until 1926, although his feud with Lloyd George severely weakened the party. Became Earl of Oxford and Asquith in 1925.
  • Arthur James Balfour (1848-1930)
  • Conservative MP from 1874 to 1922. Became Prime Minister in 1902, but was defeated in the 1906 election. In the wartime coalitions he was First Lord of the Admiralty, 1915, and Foreign Secretary, 1916-19. He was the chief British representative at the League of Nations in 1920. Known for the “Balfour Declaration” of 1917, which declared British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine.
  • Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923)
  • Conservative MP, firstly for Glasgow in 1900; Conservative Party leader from 1911-21. Entered Asquith coalition as Colonial Secretary and became Chancellor of Exchequer in Lloyd George's coalition government (1916-1919). Briefly became Prime Minster in 1922.
  • Edward (Henry) Carson (1854-1935)
  • Knighted 1900, created a Baron 1921. Born and educated in Dublin; a Unionist MP from 1892 to 1921 (from 1918-21 in a Belfast constituency). Trained as a barrister (his most famous case was the Oscar Wilde libel case of 1895) and was made Attorney-General in Asquith's Coalition Government. Became a hero to Irish Unionists when he organised Protestant resistance to plans for Irish Home Rule, including setting up a private army (the Ulster Volunteers) in 1912. Assisted Lloyd George in the downfall of Asquith. First Lord of the Admiralty (December 1916-July 1917).
  • (Arthur) Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940)
  • Son of Joseph Chamberlain, influential politician of the late Victorian period, became Lord Mayor of Birmingham in 1915. Was director-general of National Service in 1916-17, but was dismissed by Lloyd George. Conservative MP for Birmingham 1918-29; Minister for Health 1924-9 and Chancellor of the Exchequer 1931 to 1937. Became Prime Minister in 1937 and lead a policy of appeasement of Hitler's Germany, which failed in 1939 with the outbreak of World War Two.
  • Douglas Haig (1861-1928)
  • Knighted 1909: British field-marshal. Commisioned in the cavalry, served in South Africa, 1899-1902. Worked in the War Office 1906-09. At the outbreak of war he was general commanding the First Army Corps, fighting at Mons, Ypres and Loos. Became British commander-in-chief on the Western Front in December 1915 and remained so until the close of the war. A personal friend of King George, he was distrusted by Prime Minster Lloyd George who thought he wasted lives during the war.
  • Alfred (Charles William) Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe (1865-1922)
  • British newspaper magnate. Assisted by his younger brother, Harold (later Viscount Rothermere) he built a large business in periodicals, before branching out into daily newspapers with the Evening News (1894), the Daily Mail (1896) and the Daily Mirror (1903). By 1899 the Daily Mail had twice the circulation of any other newspaper. He was also proprietor of The Observer (1905-11) and The Times (1908-22). Headed a diplomatic mission to America in 1917 and worked as director of propaganda to enemy countries on his return.
  • Paul (von Beneckendork und) von Hindenberg (1847-1934)
  • German field-marshal and President. Achieved notable early victories over the Russians at the start of the war, and was created field-marshal, commanding the whole of the Eastern Front. In August 1916 he became Chief of the Greater German General Staff and, along with his aide Ludendorff, controlled German military and civil policy from July 1917 until the end of the war. He remained in charge of the German army after the armistice. Stood for President of the German Republic in April 1925, and was re-elected in 1931.
  • David Lloyd George (1863-1945)
  • Elected as Liberal MP for Caernarvon, Wales in 1890, a constituency he served for over fifty years. Became President of the Board of Trade in 1905 and Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1908 to 1915. Responsible for the social reforms of the “People's Budget” of 1909. Became Minister of Munitions in 1915 and collaborated with the Conservatives to overthrow Asquith as PM. Became coalition PM from December 1916 to October 1922.
  • Nicholas II (1868-1918)
  • Tzar of Russia. Soon after his accession he married Alexandra of Hesse (granddaughter of Queen Victoria). Industrial unrest and poor harvests led to near revolution in 1905. From 1906 the Tzar and his family were unduly influenced by the bogus holy man, Rasputin, in particular because of the hypnotic power he exercised over the Tzar's haemophiliac heir to the throne, Alexis. In 1915 Nicholas assumed command of Russian forces during the war; forced to abdicate in March 1917, he and his family were kept under guard until they were executed in July 1918.
  • (James) Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937)
  • First Labour Party Prime Minister. Joined Independent Labour Party in 1894 and was honorary secretary of the newly formed Labour Party from 1900-12; elected MP for Leicester in 1906. Led the parliamentary Labour Party from 1911-14, but lost influence because of alleged pacifism. Headed minority Labour government in 1924 and was PM again in 1929. Formed a coalition “National Government” in 1931, which was perceived as a betrayal by other Labour members.
  • Walter Runciman (1870-1949)
  • Liberal MP (1899-1900; 1902-18; 1924-31); shipowner; president of the board of trade, 1914-16. In November 1916 he submitted a report to the government arguing that shipping losses in the war would bring Britain to collapse by the summer of 1917.
  • Bertrand Russell (1872-1970)
  • Leading British philosopher of the twentieth century, with key books on logic and the philosophy of mathematics. A prolific author on social and political affairs, he was seen as the leader of the anti-war movement and deprived of his fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge because of his pacifism. Later political work included helping found the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1956.
  • Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924)
  • Twenty-eighth President of the USA. Elected Democratic Governor of New Jersey in 1910. Became President in 1912 and observed strict neutrality in the war until 1917. Won 1916 election on the slogan, “He Kept Us Out of War”. But the increased German submarine attacks and fears of Mexico forming an alliance with Germany led him to enter the war in April 1917. In January 1918 he issued his Fourteen Points as a basis for peace and worked to found the League of Nations.

Events by Month

    • 18
    • End of the battle of the Somme (commenced July 1); estimated 420,000 British, 195,000 French and 420,000 German casualties.
    • 19
    • End of British Offensive in Salonika (Greece).
    • 25
    • Hindenberg assumes control of German navy as well as its army.
    • 29
    • US troops land in Dominican Republic (to remain until 1924).
  • December
    • 6
    • Bucharest captured by German forces; Russian and Roumanian troops retreat.
    • 7
    • Lloyd George becomes Prime Minister and forms a coalition government. He also forms the first official War Cabinet and new departments of state.
    • 9
    • First meeting of new British war cabinet.
    • 12
    • Peace offer made by Central Powers (Germany and its allies).
    • 13
    • Start of British offensive in Mesopotamia.
    • 18
    • Woodrow Wilson sends “peace note” to all states, calling for an end to war.
    • 29
    • Murder of Rasputin in Russia.
    • 30
    • Allies reject German peace offer.
  • January
    • 1
    • Douglas Haig promoted to field-marshal by the King, against the wishes of Lloyd George.
    • 31
    • Germany announces resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare (they had suspended it in Spring 1916), a major influence on US decision to enter the war.
    • 23-26
    • Labour Party Conference in Manchester calls for Nationalisation and some control of nationalised industries by organised labour itself.
  • February
    • 3
    • US breaks off diplomatic relations with Germany in protest at the sinking of American shipping by submarines.
    • 26
    • Lloyd George places French general Nivelle in charge of British armies in France.
  • March
    • 2
    • Zimmerman Telegram, suggesting a German-Mexican alliance against the US, made public. In America the Jones Act declares Peurto Rico a US territory.
    • 7
    • In Russia Tzar Nicholas II leaves Petrograd for an army HQ; start of large-scale demonstrations against Tzar.
    • 10
    • In Russia strikes commence and soldiers join with the people, despite orders from Tzar to suppress trouble.
    • 11
    • British forces enter Baghdad.
    • 15
    • Tzar abdicates in favour of his brother, Michael, who in turn resigns the next day.
  • April
    • 3
    • Lenin arrives at the Finland Station in Petrograd and hails the “new epoch” of the Russian Revolution.
    • 6
    • USA declares war on Germany.
    • 9
    • Canadians attack and capture Vimy Ridge in Battle of Arras (9-14 April).
    • 30
    • In response to shipping losses Lloyd George takes command of the Admiralty to push through a policy of shipping supplies in convoy (which had been opposed by the Admiralty) in order to safeguard food resources.
    • 31
    • As a result of the German blockade of shipping, Britain is estimated to have stores of food to last only six weeks.

The Journal

Continuing Series in Volume 20

  • “Foreign Affairs” by S. Verdad (J.M. Kennedy and Orage)

New Series of Interest in volume 20

  • “We Moderns” by Edward Moore (Edwin Muir)
  • “Letters from Ireland” by C.E. Bechhofer
  • “An Industrial Symposium”, conducted by Huntley Carter
  • “The Present Position and Power of the Press” by H Belloc.
  • “Oriental Encounters” by Marmaduke Pickthall
  • “Some Experiments in Psychological Education” by T.R.C.
  • “Reflections on the Wage System” by G.D.H. Cole
  • “Towards National Guilds” by “National Guildsmen”
  • A series of interviews with key figures, conducted by Bechhofer, starts towards the end of the volume.

Politics and the War

A number of key topics related to the war and international affairs are discussed in volume 20:

    A Visit to the Front.
  • “A Visit to the Front” is a series of articles by Ramiro de Maetzu which considers general issues such as allied aviation strength, and how the French might view the British differently after being allies in the war. This seemingly detached account (one might expect information on conditions in the trenches) is in keeping with Orage's decision not to print full accounts of the horrors of war (Martin 266).
  • The War at Sea.
  • The decision of Germany to recommence unrestricted submarine war at the end of 1916 is an event which influenced US entry into the war, but also increased fears of food shortages in Britain. “Foreign Affairs” for February 8th noted the effects of the renewal of submarine warfare, and upon the numbers of ships lost, as well as the reported 2000 Americans now stranded in Europe (15: 340). The food crisis encouraged Orage to call for the nationalisation of agriculture (18: 409-11), a point he repeats on March 29th.
  • Lloyd George's Government.
  • The New Age seems to broadly welcome the fall of Asquith's government and the appointment of Lloyd George as PM. In particular it welcomes the role of the Labour Party in organising the new national government, calling it “one of the most momentous facts in English history … the definite opening of a new era” (7: 147). Lloyd George's plans for new social re-organisation is also broadly supported, though Orage comments that the proposed nationalisation of resources such as coal, shipping, food supplies, and wealth should be carried out not only for the duration of the war, but after it (7: 147).
  • US Entry into the War.
  • The entry into the war by the US in April 1917 is prefigured in a two-part appreciation of President Woodrow Wilson by George Herron (8: 175-77; 9: 199-201) and an article entitled “Message from Americans Abroad to Americans at Home” (9: 201-3). This latter article is a call upon America to drop its policy of neutrality in the war. In the “Foreign Affairs” column of March 8 the expected entry of the US into the war is welcomed, with Northcliffe's claim in The Times that Britain needed no help in winning the war being ridiculed. Another sympathetic article towards American war involvement, again by Herron, is printed in this issue (8: 437-9). After America enters the war, Orage praises the “democratic idealism” of Woodrow Wilson (24: 553).
  • Post-War Reconstruction.
  • There is much discussion in this volume of social reform and post-war “Reconstruction”. Lloyd George had formed a Reconstruction Committee in March 1916, which was turned in July 1917, under his premiership, into a Ministry of Reconstruction. The Industrial Symposium, which ran throughout volume 20 of The New Age, and the more explicit focus given to Guild Socialism in the paper, is clearly part of this atmosphere of “Reconstruction”. The “Industrial Symposium” series ran throughout the year and asked prominent figures to answer two questions about how they envisaged the industrial situation after the war, and in particular the relations between Labour, Capital, and the State. Weariness with the war and the impact of the Russian Revolution only heightened the debate about how British society might be radically altered after hostilities ended. Bertrand Russell's Principles of Social Reconstruction (8: 187) is reviewed favourably in the volume, an interesting approval given that Orage, and many other New Age contributors, such as Hulme, disagreed strongly with Russell's pacifism during the war.
  • Irish politics.
  • In the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916 Irish politics receives a high prominence, principally in Bechhofer's series based on his travels around Ireland. Though full of stereotypes about the garrulous Irish and their habits, Bechhofer's series does try to make sense of both the Irish Nationalist case for independence, and the opposition to it, led by the Unionist Edward Carson.
  • Russian Revolution.
  • The news of the Russian revolution was welcomed by Orage, along with many other British intellectuals at the time. The translations and interest in Russian writers such as Dostoievsky and Tolstoy had created a climate of interest in the politics of Russia and the role of the “intellegentsia” in that society. In “Notes of the Week” for March 22 (21: 481-4), Orage reflects both upon the causes of the revolution and the consequences for Britain. The Revolution, he notes, even if it suffers reaction and counter-revolution, is an “act of the greatest popular heroism” (21: 481) and Orage notes that one cause, the threat of famine through food shortages, is also imminent in Britain due to the war at sea. Orage believed that radical thought would be stimulated in Britain by the news of the events in Russia and that “not only is Capitalism doomed…but that the system of National Guilds will take its place, we are confident” (21: 482).

Literature and the Arts

In common with a number of The New Age volumes during the war, volume 20 is preoccupied with political matters and the prospect of post-war reconstruction. Literature and the arts are very much in the background, with no evidence of contributors such as Ezra Pound, T.E.Hulme, or Beatrice Hastings, but there are a number of interesting pieces on cultural matters, the most sustained of which is Edwin Muir's series “We Moderns” (discussed below). There are critical articles on Thomas Hardy and Indian philosophy, an appreciation of Jack London by Upton Sinclair, and Paul Selver's satirical “More Short Cuts to Literary Success”.


One topic that runs through a number of contributions is a debate upon nationality and literature in relation to Ireland. This is clearly prompted by the aftermath of the Easter Rising and is found in the series by Bechhofer, “Letters from Ireland”, based upon his journey around Ireland in 1916. Bechhofer travels to Dublin, Belfast, Sligo, and then to the remote Achill Island, and attempts in the articles to understand the political climate of Irish nationalism, the Unionism of the North of Ireland, and the role of the Irish language and Irish writers in sustaining a form of cultural nationalism. The topic is picked up in an interesting review of Ernest A. Boyd's Ireland's Literary Renaissance, which argues that the main purpose of contemporary Irish writers was to contribute to “a national literature for Ireland” rather than to the development of English literature (10: 229). This position is criticised by R.H.C. (Orage), who appears to dislike the separatism implied by this point of view. Boyd responds in the following issue (11: 248-9) with a robust defence of how Irish writing, even that in the English language, should be regarded as a part of the “spiritual existence” of the race identified in its literature. This debate over language and nationality is a key one for understanding the context of early twentieth Irish literature and is continued in the letters column of The New Age for several more issues.

A slightly different discussion of nationality and culture is found in a fascinating article by J. Bulvar Schwartz on “English Writers and the Jews” (17: 399). Schwartz notes how Jews are often represented in English literature, from Shylock onwards, but are often represented as “bad characters.” He calls for more accurate and wide-ranging depictions of Jewish characters noting that the “unexplored field of Jewish life is vast” and that in England “the greater part of the Jewish population is composed of immigrants of whose inner life we know next to nothing” (17: 399).


In common with other volumes in this phase of The New Age there are more translations and articles on foreign literature, especially from eastern Europe: Selver's article on “Modern Polish Fiction”; a translation of the Serbo-Croat poet, Petar Preradovic; a piece on Dostoievsky and Tolstoy; and a translation of a Pushkin short story. John Francis Hope also continues to comment and review drama. In the “Pastiche” section, only two names really stand out: a short set of prose fragments by Katherine Mansfield (25: 577) and perhaps the first contribution to The New Age by Herbert Read, who has four prose poems, “Pastorals”, published in March (477).

Visual Arts

There is very little on the visual arts (there is only one visual image in the volume) until two articles on Jacob Epstein's exhibition at the Leicester Galleries, London, 1916. Epstein's work had been discussed in the pages of The New Age since 1912, with a reproduction of a sketch for his iconic modernist sculpture, “The Rock Drill”, also occurring in the pages of the magazine. The articles, by Bernard van Dieren, discuss the themes of abstraction, the depiction of sexuality in the human form, and the important debate around the use of the “primitive native art of West Africa and Easter Island” by Epstein. A number of letters are received in the following issues which reply to these articles, showing how the controversy over abstract modern art was still pertinent to readers even during wartime.

Outstanding Contributor

Edwin Muir's (1887-1959) series of critical articles, “We Moderns”, published under the pseudonym Edward Moore, is an interesting attempt to catch the cultural zeitgeist. They are marked by the influence of Nietzsche but also indicate the sense of the need for “new forms” in literature and the arts that we retrospectively term modernism. As a young man in Glasgow, Scotland, Muir worked in a variety of poorly paid clerical jobs and educated himself, in part by reading The New Age. Muir wrote to Orage for advice upon his intellectual development and, surprisingly we might think, Orage replied, recommending that he study in depth one “great mind” (Martin 277). Muir chose the philosopher Nietzsche for such a study, a figure much in vogue in early twentieth century artistic circles. Muir apparently composed the “We Moderns” series surreptitiously while working as a costing clerk (Martin 278).

The style of the pieces is that of aphorisms, following the later Nietzsche, and ranges across topics such as literary style, the nature of love, and the Decadence of Oscar Wilde. Muir nowhere spells out what he means by being “modern”, but there is an implicit awareness of the need for the writer to challenge convention and innovate in terms of literary forms. He attacks, for example, those contemporary writers that stick too closely to tradition (14: 327) and those that hold to “realism” as a doctrine (3: 63). Another example of this commitment to a style of literary modernism can be found in his critique of novels with stereotypically “happy endings”:

“How shallow are most artists!…This novelist at the end of each of his novels leaves his characters in an Utopia, from which all sorrow and trial have been banished, a condition absolutely unreal, contemptible and absurd. … Works of art should only end tragically, or enigmatically, as in “The Doll's House”, or at the gateway to a new ideal as in “An Enemy of the People.””21: 424

This praise for the plays of Henrik Ibsen was matched by another key figure in modernism, James Joyce, whose book of stories, Dubliners, many of which exhibit enigmatic or tragic endings, had been published in 1914.

Muir's articles were collected together and published as his first book in 1918, We Moderns: Enigmas and Guesses, which was praised by Orage as “the reflections of a modern mind” (Martin 278). Perhaps encouraged by such support Muir moved to London in 1919 and accepted Orage's offer to be an Assistant Editor of The New Age. Muir was later to achieve literary success with his poetry and his various critical writings and, once again, demonstrates the key role Orage and The New Age played in developing many writers in the modernist period.

Works Consulted

  • Eric Hobsbawm, Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century (London: Abacus, 1995).
  • James Joll, Europe Since 1870: An International History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983).
  • Wallace Martin, The New Age Under Orage: Chapters in English Cultural History (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967).
  • Allan Palmer, The Penguin Dictionary of Twentieth Century History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1983).
  • John Stevenson, British Society 1914-45 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984).
  • A.J.P.Taylor, English History 1914-1945 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975).
  • Peter Widdowson, The Palgrave Guide to English Literature and Its Context 1500-2000 (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2004).