General Introduction to The New Age 1907-1922

by Robert Scholes

General Introduction to The New Age 1907-1922 by Scholes, Robert

For fifteen years, from 1907 to 1922, a man named Alfred Richard Orage edited a magazine devoted to politics, literature and the arts, called The New Age. Some years after he resigned from editorship of that journal Orage began editing another one, the New English Weekly, continuing until his death in 1934. In November of that year the New English Weekly published a memorial issue of tributes to its late editor. We begin, then, with a group of quotations culled from that issue—Volume VI, Number 5, November 15, 1934:

On the “young generation” of 1912 [Orage] had, I suppose, more influence than any other single person and it was an unmitigatedly good influence, working for an intellectual integrity and honesty. I wish he had not died. (Storm Jameson 110)

Many people will remember Orage as the tireless and wholly disinterested evangelist of monetary reform; many will remember him as the best leader-writer in London—on Wednesday mornings I always read through the first part of the New English Weekly before attending to any other work. A smaller number will remember him, as R. H. C. of the New Age, as the best literary critic of that time in London. Some will remember him as the benevolent editor who encouraged merit and (what is still rarer) tolerated genius. He was something more than the sum of these. . . . What was great about him was not his intelligence, fine as that was, but his honesty and his selflessness. (T. S. Eliot 100)

Personally [Orage] was the pleasantest of good company; for his complete freedom from that splenetic quarrelsomeness and cliquishness which is the curse of our journalism was as delightful as it was extraordinary. It, with his flair for really pungent talent, was the secret of the survival of his papers under almost impossible conditions. (G. B. Shaw 100)

He was a charming companion, an enchanting talker, whether witty or serious or both, and a constant friend. But behind all these there was something formidable in his nature which one could not help feeling and which came, I think from that incorruptible adherence to reason which was in him an objective passion, if one may speak of such a thing. He was more like one of those noble public figures of the ancient world whom he admired so much than a man of our own time. It will be long before we see any one like him again. (Edwin Muir 119)

There was no “art nonsense” about Orage, nothing puritan or prudish, nothing precious or eccentric—above all, nothing of the “crank.” He was therefore the best possible person to promote an idea, a thing which all its enemies said was cranky. And, behind his urbanity, and supporting it—behind his great intelligence, and maintaining it, was a rich humanity—his hatred of cruelty, his loathing of the downright indecency of the existing commercial world. (Eric Gill 116)

Why is English as good as that stacked away in the files of the old New Age; and why will it probably never appear in any anthology of English prose? (G. K. Chesterton 99)

Chesterton’s question was rhetorical but we shall use it for our own purposes. The writing in The New Age—by Orage himself and by his associates—defies the anthologist because it is too copious, too rich, and requires its own context for appreciation. No anthology could do the job properly. It is our hope, however, that, in this digital edition, we shall be making this writing accessible to a new generation of students of modern culture. In this edition there will be introductions to the thirty individual volumes; there will be notes and hypertextual links for those who wish to use them; there will be indexes and lists of contributors—and the whole journal will be searchable by keywords and phrases. In addition to this, the reader will see every page as it looked originally, and be able to magnify those pages for easier reading. All this apparatus is explained in greater technical detail elsewhere among the pages of the Modernist Journals Project. Our task here is somewhat different. It is to discuss the journal itself and the editor who was responsible for it.

The journal is important for us now because of the famous writers who wrote for it, the important social, political, and artistic issues that were debated in it, and the quality of writing produced week in and week out by the editor himself and other writers whose names and fame are presently buried in its pages—and often hidden under various pseudonyms. Above all, it is important to us now because here we find the stir, the buzz, the intellectual energy of an exciting period in our cultural history, and can read it as contemporaries read it then. To read it now is, in a certain way, to envy those original readers, for we live in a time when the phrase “intellectual journalism” sounds like an oxymoron. For the readers of The New Age, however, that phrase was simply a description of what they expected and received—every week. We shall take these matters up in greater detail later on. For the moment, however, we must turn to the man whose editorial skill made all this happen: Alfred Richard Orage. As the quotations above attest, he was no ordinary editor. But who was he, and where did he come from?

He was born in Yorkshire, where his father died when he was one year old, “having dissipated his patrimony” (Mairet 1). His mother, left penniless, brought her four children home to her own mother in Fenstanton, Huntingdonshire, where the two women worked to bring in enough money to support the family. In Sunday School the young Orage caught the attention of his teacher, Howard Coote, who was the local squire’s son. Given the run of Coote’s library and further help from this worthy man, the young Orage “was rescued from his class destiny as a plough-boy and sent to Culham training college in Oxfordshire” (Steele 25).From there he got his first teaching job at an elementary school in his native Yorkshire. He was then twenty years old. At some point during these early years as a teacher, Orage copied a quotation from Kipling into a notebook: “Any fool can write but it takes a god-given genius to be an editor” (42). Already, it would seem, he had an idea of a vocation beyond teaching. But he tried many other things as well. He joined the Independent Labour Party and then a Theosophical group, becoming, in both of these domains, a formidable orator, who could hold a large audience and speak on an extraordinary range of subjects. But he finally did indeed become—and has come down to us as—an editor. You have already seen some testimonials about his ability in this vocation. Ultimately, to test the justness of these tributes, you must browse and read to see for yourself. If you leap directly to the text of the journal to do so, you have our blessing. If you stay with us for a while longer, we shall try to reward your patience by explaining briefly just what it was that made Orage and his journal different and important.

The very name of the journal echoes strangely as we turn the corner into the next millennium. “New Age” means something rather different now—but not, perhaps, as different as one might think. There was a persistent strain of spiritualism within modernism, which surfaced occasionally in such books by major modernists as Yeats’s A Vision and Kandinsky’s On the Spiritual in Art. Many modernists repudiated or wished to suppress this strain, as did T. E. Hulme, in his critique of Kandinsky in the pages of The New Age in 1913. If spiritualism is understood as a belief that the soul outlasts the body and that the souls of the dead may communicate with the living, then spiritualism, under various guises, plays a significant role in the greatest texts of modern literature. We can find it in the comic and sentimental epiphanies of the dead in the brothel chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses, for example, as well as in the posthumous appearance of Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. It is the epiphany of Mrs. Ramsay, you will remember, that enables Lily Briscoe to complete her painting and think, in that novel’s closing words, “Yes. . . . I have had my vision” (Woolf, 1927, 310)—a statement that refers both to the formal vision of the artist and to the sighting of a necessary ghost. Spiritualism was part of the culture of The New Age, as well, and may be detected early, in the essays contributed by Florence Farr to Volume 1, and late, in those of “M. M. Cosmoi” (actually Dmitri Mitronović with some help from Orage) in Volumes 27-29. On the other hand, this spiritual or Theosophical aspect was never the dominant note struck by the journal, which was as critical and hard-headed as one could wish—as was quite appropriate for a magazine with its deepest roots in the dour north of England.

The “New Series,” as it was called when it started over in 1907, was in certain important respects the restaging, on a grander scale, of a cultural enterprise first begun in the city of Leeds in Yorkshire; for it was there, in a second hand book store in 1900, that two young men searching for modern literary works encountered each other for the first time. Holbrook Jackson told the story in a prefatory letter in his book on G. B. Shaw (1907)—the story of how he met Alfred Richard Orage and began a long conversation that resulted in his lending Orage a copy of Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra and Orage lending Jackson the Bhagavad Gita.This friendship took public form via the Leeds Art Club, which they founded in 1903. The club invited the leading literary figures of the day to speak in Leeds—and they came, and spoke: Yeats, Chesterton, Shaw,Belloc, Edward Carpenter, Wyndham Lewis and many others.

The connection with G. B. Shaw was especially important. In 1906 both Orage and Jackson moved to London, where, with the help of H. G. Wells, Eric Gill, and William Rothenstein, they founded the Fabian Arts Group as an alternative to orthodox Fabian Socialism. Admiring the energy of these two young men, and trusting Holbrook Jackson, Bernard Shaw (never an easy touch for money) put up five hundred pounds to help them buy a Christian Socialist journal called The New Age that had been founded in 1894. A friend and patron of Orage from Leeds, the Theosophist banker Lewis Alexander Wallace, put up the other five hundred required to buy the magazine from Orage’s old comrade from the Independent Labour Party days, Joseph Clayton. The New Series started in May of 1907, as a journal determined to present a socialist perspective on politics, art, and literature. Over the years Wallace continued to help Orage balance his budget. This might have been another one of those magazines that came and went so quickly during this period, except for two things: the constant, unobtrusive financial help of Wallace, and the qualities Orage brought to the editorship. Jackson left after the first year to become very well known as a man of letters and especially as a writer on books and book-collecting. He also founded and edited a monthly called To-day, which ran from 1917 until 1922. But Orage stayed and made The New Age into a journal of real consequence.

No list of the writers who appeared in the magazine—though we will provide some later on—and no summary of the contents—though we will attempt this, too—can do justice to the quality of the journal. This is so because the quality lay in the writing, week in and week out, whether on politics or the arts—and this was the work of Orage. Katherine Mansfield, whose first stories appeared here, said, in a letter to Orage, “you taught me to write, you taught me to think; you showed me what there was to be done and what not to do” (Martin 58). Paul Selver has provided us with a more detailed account of Orage as editor. When Arnold Bennett (who had been writing regularly on literature for The New Age under the name of Jacob Tonson) left the journal, Orage himself took over part of this chore as R. H. C., but he also looked for others to share it. He gave Selver—a school teacher who had been translating Eastern European poetry and writing short pieces for a column called “Pastiche”—a chance to try his hand at the literary column. Selver’s first effort came back “scored with emendations. The accompanying note from Orage let me down lightly, but I could not doubt that he was disappointed in me as a writer of prose” (Selver 51).

A graduate of London University with an honors degree in English, Selver thought he could write:

Having succeeded in leaping through these academic hoops without mishap, I took it for granted that I could write English prose. Style? Yes, I had heard talk of it, but I imagined that if I did not break the more essential rules of English grammar, my prose style would take care of itself. No wonder that I had made such a ghastly hash of my first attempt to share with Orage the gap left by the departure of Jacob Tonson.

Slowly, I improved. Little by little I grasped how and why the standards of Orage differed from the “essays” which I had penned as an undergraduate. . . . (Selver 51-52)

As an editor, Orage was a developer of young talent. He was also a person of extraordinary charm, who could persuade writers whose talents were developed and had already been recognized to write for his magazine—and to do so with little or no payment. He sometimes said himself that the journal should be called the “No Wage.” How did he do it? Let us listen to Selver again:

Most of those who knew Orage and have recorded their impressions of him agree that he cast a spell on his hearers. Often enough, too often in fact, famous men are credited with qualities to which they have but the flimsiest of claims. But I can avouch that whenever Orage made his appearance, wizardry came into action. The Orage magic was no mere legend. (Selver 15)

Anthony Ludovici had just come from a year of acting as the private secretary of Auguste Rodin when he met Orage. Here is the way he remembered that meeting:

It must have been twenty-six years ago last month that I first met Orage. It was about the time I was preparing to deliver my lectures on Nietzsche at University College. We sat together in a tea-shop close to Gower Street and discussed Plato, particularly the Gorgias, with reference to Nietzsche’s Will to Power.I was struck then, as I have never ceased to be struck every time I met Orage, by the intense intellectuality that radiated from every part of his being, particularly, of course, his eyes. A curious disparity between the latter, whether in their pigmentation or form, only served to enhance the uncanny expression of resolve and penetrating wizardry which always suffused his face when he was speaking. (New English Weekly, 15 Nov., 1934)

And here is how a woman recorded in her autobiography her experience of hearing Orage speak at a public meeting in Yorkshire when she was just seventeen years old. He was lecturing for the Independent Labour Party on Shelley’s Prometheus Unbound.

I listened spellbound as he read the rhythmical verses… but I was fascinated by the lecturer. He was about twenty-six at the time, nine years older than I was; tall and slender with a head noble as an Arab horse, which with his thick dark lock of hair falling in moments of eloquence over his head, he rather resembled. One of his dark eyes was spotted with gold, and that side of his face showed a dark golden stain where in his youth acid had been flung at him. His mouth was full and mobile, his manner of speech was golden also. (unpublished autobiography of Millie Price, quoted in Steele 32)

The golden stain was probably, as Holbrook Jackson said, a birthmark, but the young Millie Price found a more romantic explanation for it. There was an erotic quality to Orage’s charm, but it was not merely erotic, nor did it work only on young women. Even Holbrook Jackson, his friend for many years, continued to find Orage spellbinding:

His eyes were hazel, lively and challenging, and in moments of excitement they seemed to emit a red glint. It was a feline face and there was something catlike about his movements. He walked as if he were going to pounce on something, just as his mind pounced on an idea or an opponent. . . . He had an aura, and impressed so much by his presence that you forgot details, even the vague birthmark which broke into his complexion like an irregular sunburn, and seemed to become deeper when he was bored or out of humour. (Steele 47)

With this aura of “wizardry,” which some attributed to his striking good looks, some to his musical and well-modulated voice, some to his strangely mis-matched eyes, Orage might have done many things. In his last years he did indeed became a kind of New Age preacher, a leading disciple of the Twenties guru, Gurdjieff, at whose farm near Fontainebleu Katherine Mansfield died; as well as, before and after that, a serious advocate for the monetary reform advocated by Major C. H. Douglas under the rubric of “Social Credit.” But for the crucial fifteen years of the emergence of European modernism in literature and the arts, the talents of Orage went into the other New Age—the journal in which the rise of modernism in England may be followed with an exceptional richness of contextual detail. In its first few years the journal’s most famous contributors were the major Edwardian writers—G. K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, G. B. Shaw, Arnold Bennett, and H. G. Wells—who, of course, thought of themselves as “modern.” The first issues of the New Series also featured the eloquent prose of Teresa Billington-Greig (“truculent Teresa,” as she was called by the Yellow press in 1906), who was the first Suffragist to be sent to Holloway Prison—composing there some of the articles that Orage published in 1907 (McPhee 8-10). Volume One was also a vehicle for literary and cultural criticism by Florence Farr—who was “more quoted than any other contributor” (Johnson 149), according to Orage. Farr had played “New Woman” roles in works by Ibsen and Shaw, but she was a better critic than an actress. She was also active in Theosophical circles—a friend of Yeats as well as Shaw, and a follower of Madame Blavatsky.

Nietzscheans, Theosophists, Suffragists and anti-Suffragists, Fabian Socialists and anti-Fabians—a motley crew for the launching of a new socialist journal. And the captain himself might be called a motley thinker—though he credited G. B. Shaw with putting socialism into the jester’s motley garb. Here is the way Orage described his own version of socialism as it developed in the 1890s:

[Socialism was then] a cult, with affiliations now quite disowned—with theosophy, arts and crafts, vegetarianism, the ‘simple life,’ and almost, we might say, with the musical glasses. Morris had shed a medieval light over it with his stained glass News From Nowhere. Edward Carpenter had put it into sandals, Cunninghame Graham had mounted it upon an Arab steed to which he was always saying a romantic farewell. Keir Hardie had clothed it in a cloth cap and red tie. And Bernard Shaw, on behalf of the Fabian Society, had hung it with innumerable jingling epigrammatic bells—and cap. My brand of socialism was, therefore, a blend or, let us say, an anthology of all those, to which from my personal predilections and experience I added a good practical knowledge of the working classes, a professional interest in economics which led me to master Marx’s Das Kapital and an idealism fed at the source—namely Plato. (Mairet 40)

This is not, as Eric Gill observed, the thinking of a crank. Orage is too aware of the crankiness of his heritage—and too amused by it—to succumb to it himself. Nevertheless, to this intellectual mixture he added Nietzsche after 1900—as if something were needed to make it headier. The result was a man no one could quite fathom. Shaw called him a “mystery man.” Gerald Cumberland, who had known him “years ago, when he was still in Leeds, teaching the young idea how to shoot,” thought that he had often talked “divine nonsense” to admiring audiences there. But Cumberland admired The New Age. In his reminiscences, written while he was serving in Greece and Serbia during the first World War, he had this to say about the magazine:

Its literary, artistic and musical criticism is the sanest, the bravest and the most brilliant that can be read in England. It reverences neither power nor reputation; it is subtle and unsparing; and, if it is sometimes cruel, it is cruel with a purpose. All sleek money-makers in Art have reason to fear Orage, for his rapier wit may at any moment glance and slide between their ribs and release the hot air that is at once the inspiration and the material of all their works. (Cumberland 131)

Cumberland was not among those whose work appeared in the magazine, but it was not for want of trying. It was because “I never could induce Orage to print a single thing I wrote for him” (104). He knew the chances of getting paid were not good, and he was a professional man of letters, but he kept trying because he wanted to join the “brilliant band” of writers on the magazine, and because he felt that the journal had an almost sinister and certainly “disturbing” power—which he wished to share:

There are in London two or three men, not known to the general public, whose influence on modern thought is most profound and most disturbing. Of these men A. R. Orage the editor of The New Age is quite the most distinguished. What circulation his paper enjoys I do not know; it cannot be large; probably it is not more than two or three thousand; perhaps it is not even so much as that. But the men and women who read it are the men and women who count—people who welcome daring and original thought, who hold important positions in the civic, social political and artistic worlds, and who eagerly disseminate the seeds of thought they pick up from the study of The New Age. Tens of thousands of people have been influenced by this paper who have never even heard its name. It does not educate the masses directly: it reaches them through the medium of its few but exceedingly able readers.(Cumberland 130)

At the time when Cumberland was writing, he was probably not far off in his estimate of sales, which Orage had put at 4,500 copies per week with 30% returns in August of 1913 (NA Vol. 13, p. 458). But in its earliest years circulation had risen dramatically, reaching 16,000 in September of 1908 and 22,000 by the end of November of that year (NA Vol. 4, p. 81).That was undoubtedly the highest circulation achieved by the magazine in its fifteen-year life. Moreover, even when circulation was markedly lower, we should assume that many copies reached more than one reader. But who were these people? Who read The New Age? John Carswell has offered a very convincing answer:

The new battalions of teachers required by the Education Act had to be sought in the schools of villages and slums, for the possessing classes were neither numerous enough nor willing to see their children take up teaching on weekdays. The process was at work all over England, with immense social consequences for it had created, in three decades, a large and unprecedented social category. . . . Between [1870 and 1900] the force of teachers had built up from 14,000 to over 100,000, three quarters of whom were women. Here was the rank and file of the movement for women’s rights, and a public for progressive journalism on a scale never known before. The teacher training programme not only gave Orage his first career; it gave him the audience for his second.(Carswell 16)

There was, then, a new class of readers in England when The New Age began its New Series in 1907, and many of these people learned to look to Orage’s magazine for information and cultural enrichment. If these were the rank and file of the magazine’s readership, let us not forget that it was also read by the leading literary and political figures of the day, who often contributed to the letters column. For more than a decade these readers were not disappointed. But what, exactly, were they getting? The answer must be, no single thing but a fascinating mixture of many things—for The New Age had no policy, either in politics or the arts, except a concern for improving the human condition and a belief that art and literature—especially in their modern forms—had a role to play in achieving this. Above all, Orage believed that socialism, like capitalism, was limited by its materialism. He felt that modern literature, philosophy, and the arts might contribute to social progress by affecting the human spirit directly. He was not alone among the modernists in believing this.

As the notion of what was “modern” changed, so did the leading writers for The New Age. But this was not merely a following of fashion. It was the product of a search for truth—or, failing that, for the best ideas available. Orage wanted to be right more than he wanted to be popular. This is why, in the pages of the journal, he encouraged various versions of modernism to engage one another in a kind of Socratic dialectic—but a dialectic without the authoritative figure of Plato’s Socrates to utter the last word (last words not being good for a weekly magazine that wants readers to buy the next issue). It was here, in any case, that T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound first hammered out the doctrines behind Imagism and Vorticism, and, though these movements were short lived, they had a powerful effect on later British art and literature. There was more to New Age modernism than this, however, as we may see in a revealing moment in 1913, when the journal’s art critic, Anthony Ludovici, reported on a show of William Blake’s work at the Tate Gallery. Knowing little of Blake, he went expecting something muddy and mystical, but that was not what he found:

Now, I had not been long in the Gallery before I came to the conclusion that Blake was anything but an obscurantist à la Maeterlinck. Behind all these wonderful pictures—for there are marvels of beauty there—I saw not only a noble, honest effort to be clear and precise concerning deep things, I noticed a stupendous struggle on the part of a great mind to surpass even ordinary clarity and ordinary precision, and to be meticulous almost to a fault in order not to allow of misconceptions or vague emotions. . . . But I hope to return to Blake another time. Meanwhile, to those who are interested in studying an eighteenth-century English precursor of Friedrich Nietzsche let me recommend The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and to those who wish to feast their eyes on some rare beauty, let me recommend this wonderful show at the Tate Gallery. (NA Vol. 14, pp. 89-90)

What is especially interesting about Ludovici’s response to Blake is not just that it is unusual for its time in its enthusiasm for this artist and poet (and unusual for The New Age, in which enthusiasm was not the norm), but that it uses the modernist language of Pound, Hulme, and Eliot. That is, this praise of clarity and precision, this condemnation of vague emotions, is the language of Eliot’s “objective correlative” itself, or, more precisely, it is the language that was being developed by T. E. Hulme and Ezra Pound, that Eliot appropriated for his own purposes. Only, in this case that language is being used to describe a poet and painter whom Eliot considered the quintessence of provincialism and, of course, romanticism. But The New Age was itself a provincial and romantic undertaking. Its writers came from the provinces of England, from the colonies, and from Eastern and Southern Europe. And many of them had connections to Theosophy or to Nietzsche—or both.

Yet, surprising as it may seem, this quixotic gathering of Theosophists and Nietzscheans, who loved clarity and believed in truthfulness, produced a magazine that was extremely influential and remains important for historical reasons—and for its treatment of questions that still concern us. The modernism of The New Age was not built upon a rejection of romanticism but on a re-examination of it, as in Ludovici’s writing on Blake. Nor was it built on a rejection of realism, but on a reconsideration of it. For it was in these pages that Walter Sickert defended a certain strain of social realism in visual art, and Katherine Mansfield began her career as a follower of Chekhov. The modernism of The New Age was not opposed to realism but to “anecdotalism” in visual art. Nor was it opposed to realism in fiction and drama, but to sermonizing and the mindless accumulation of data. The modernism that was developed in the pages of this magazine can be related to the Vorticism of Pound and Lewis, to the classicism of Hulme and Eliot, and to the “significant form” of Roger Fry and Clive Bell. But it was not identical with any of these positions, nor did it produce any manifestoes, though it published a translation of Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto, for the sake of argument.

We are all aware of Virginia Woolf’s hyperbolic assertion that “on or about December 1910 human character changed” (Woolf, 1988, 421), making the Edwardians obsolete and leaving the new Georgian writers to find their own way in a new world of disorder. The reality, as Woolf well understood, was more complicated. She was making a rhetorical point, and, above all, defending her own practice and that of other Bloomsbury artists and writers. But if we are really to understand modernism we need the complications as well as the powerful simplifications. This is why we should read The New Age. For The New Age was not Bloomsbury, nor was it a creature of the great traditional universities and public schools. Most of the men and women who made it what it was, if they had been to college or university, had studied at the University of London, at the provincial universities, or, like Orage himself, at teacher-training colleges, and they had some of the brash uncouth qualities of the autodidact or the provincial about them, even at their most sophisticated. They admired great writers—and great politicians, too—but well “this side idolatry.” They talked back—and wrote back—to greatness. Still, they appreciated it wherever they found it, which was often in Berlin or Vienna or Prague, rather than Oxford, Cambridge, or Bloomsbury. They were always “on the left,” but it was a turbulent, volatile left, in which anarchism and authoritarianism rubbed shoulders, and politics mixed with art more deeply than in other places.

From its beginnings, The New Age never limited its pages to writers of a single persuasion. As C. H. Norman wrote when Orage died, “He expected his contributors to be competent, honest, and accurate: but, beyond that, he did not care what they wrote” (New English Weekly VI:5, 120). The title of the magazine indicates the conviction with which it championed the idea of political change, but the paper’s editorial openness brought so many theoretical and political positions to its pages that it is hard today to decide its overall political valence. Indeed, as John Carswell observed, “With hindsight, one can trace in The New Age lines of thought which led to almost every operative doctrine of the thirties and forties, including the most horrific” (Carswell 147). The broad and varied interests Orage encouraged can be grasped by glancing at the contents of a typical volume. Volume 15, which ran from May to October of 1914, considered such topics as censorship and civilization; Freud on dreams and the human mind; Fabianism, trade-unionism, and guild socialism in England; female suffrage and the contested social role of women; mysticism and the popularity of Bergson; colonial affairs such as Irish home rule and India’s loyalty to Britain; political developments and social conditions in countries around the world, including Albania, Egypt, Galicia, Italy, Japan, Panama, Russia, Syria, and Turkey; Shakespearean theater, modern playwriting, and the vitality of English art; the causes of the war and issues arising from it, such as nationalism and internationalism, patriotism and recruitment in England, Germany’s imperial ambitions, and Nietzsche’s alleged role in inciting Germans to war.

Though it had dropped the word “Socialist” from its masthead by the start of Volume 2, the new New Age was supposed, like its predecessor, to be a socialist periodical. But its allegiance to the Fabians was never firm, and it shifted to Guild Socialism, and finally became a vehicle for the economic theories of Major C. H. Douglas, whose views on “Social Credit” had such a decisive and disastrous effect on Ezra Pound—and, to some extent, on Orage himself. But it had been a strangely Nietzschean kind of socialism from the beginning. Orage himself wrote a book on Nietzsche and edited a collection of his aphorisms, but he also surrounded himself on the magazine with translators and commentators on Nietzsche, including Oscar Levy, who was currently the general editor of the first edition in English of Nietzsche’s collected works, as well as J. M. Kennedy and Anthony Ludovici, who translated and edited volumes for Levy’s edition. A commitment to social justice, combined with admiration of Nietzsche and an openness to the mystical—this does not seem like the ideal formula for a weekly journal of politics, literature, and the arts. But it worked, beyond all reason, and it worked because Orage, who embodied all those attitudes and ideas himself, was tolerant of almost any position, providing it was well expressed.

Orage’s editorial method was always a double effort. He developed a stable of writers whose work appeared in virtually every issue, often unsigned or under various pseudonyms, and he sought out and got contributions from writers with special knowledge, ability, or standing—especially young writers on the rise. As the names of the great Edwardians appeared less frequently, new names took their places: Katherine Mansfield, Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, Richard Aldington, Edwin Muir, Herbert Read, and the man who became “Michael Arlen” among them. But the journal depended on that core surrounding the editor. The core shifted, too, but the most persistent figures were A. E. Randall, J. M. Kennedy, and Beatrice Hastings. These are writers whose best work appeared in the journal—and scarcely anywhere else. They have been largely lost to later readers, but will now be available to them again through this digital edition. Above all, Beatrice Hastings, always lively, often brilliant, deserves rediscovery. Her work appeared over so many different names that its quantity and quality have never been appreciated. In particular, her war-time letters, written from Paris, while she was living there with Amadeo Modigliani during his crucial period of transition from sculptor to painter, are worthy of serious attention. These letters, appearing under the by-line “Alice Morning,” reported on daily life in Paris—and Montparnasse in particular—during the first years of the war.

Other writers among the regulars were Carl Eric Bechhofer (later “Bechhofer Roberts” and “Ephesian”), C. H. Norman, Anthony Ludovici, Ashley Dukes, and Marmaduke Pickthall. These writers promoted controversy about political and aesthetic issues, and they engaged in it, often arguing with one another in letters written under various pseudonyms. Pickthall, translator of the Qur’an into English, who became a Muslim himself in 1917 (Clark 38-39), wrote sympathetically about Turkey in The New Age during the period in which T. E. Lawrence was fighting the Turks in Arabia. But when Lawrence thought of two people to whom he might ask for advice about the manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Orage was one of them. (G. B. Shaw was the other, and his encouragement was all Lawrence needed, as it turned out.) Orage’s high tolerance for unpopular opinion did not please everyone, as an experience of Herbert Read’s will demonstrate. Read did not become a regular writer until the last years of Orage’s editorship, but he, like many other ambitious young writers, had been a reader for years—probably since he had joined the Leeds Arts Club himself in 1912 at the age of nineteen. During World War I, his habit of reading a journal that allowed all shades of opinion to be expressed almost got him in trouble:

[Read] accidentally left a copy of Orage’s New Age behind in the officers’ club. A junior subaltern discovered it and thumbed it for a minute or two. Slowly the colour deepened in his florid face. He turned suddenly to address the room and, holding the paper up as though it were unclean, he shouted in a loud voice: “Who brought this bloody rag into the mess?” The hostile question did not bring Read to his feet. He sank deeper into his chair, as his opponent pitched the magazine into a waste-paper basket. For the future, Read confined his mess reading to the Tattler, perusing the New Age in his tent or cubicle. (King 39)

People read weekly magazines a century ago for the same reasons that motivate them now—to find out what is going on and to gather material for conversations. If a magazine does not create a buzz of conversation, it is dead, as Tina Brown would be the first to tell you. The New Age created that kind of buzz and sustained it for most of its fifteen years under Orage. We need access to it now, if we hope to understand what early modernism was like in England, what people were reading and talking about, and how politics and the arts were interacting. The reality of the past is inaccessible to us, but its textual reality, which is all we have, is there, waiting for us, in the pages of a journal such as this one. To read The New Age is to get closer to the way things were, the way people actually thought and felt, during those years that were so productive of cultural texts and events to which we keep returning, seeking to find out, perhaps, what modernism was, what it meant and how it functioned. We may never achieve this goal, of course, but study of the pages of The New Age will always reward us, because the pleasures of thought and feeling are there—thanks to the devoted efforts of Alfred Richard Orage, who, as Eliot observed, encouraged merit and even tolerated genius.

Works Cited

  • Carswell, John. Lives and Letters: A. R. Orage, Katherine Mansfield, Beatrice Hastings, John Middleton Murray, S. S. Koteliansky, 1906-1957. New York: New Directions, 1978.
  • Clark, Peter. Marmaduke Pickthall: British Muslim. London: Quartet, 1986.
  • Cumberland, Gerald. Set Down in Malice. New York: Brentano’s, 1919.
  • Jackson, Holbrook. Bernard Shaw. London: Grant Richards, 1907.
  • Johnson, Josephine. Florence Farr: Bernard Shaw’s “New Woman”. Totowa: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975.
  • King, James. The Last Modern: A Life of Herbert Read. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990.
  • Mairet, Philip. A. R. Orage: A Memoir by Philip Mairet. New Hyde Park: University Books, 1966.
  • Martin, Wallace. The New Age Under Orage: Chapters in English Cultural History. Manchester: Manchester UP, 1967.
  • McPhee, Carol and Ann Fitzgerald. The Non-Violent Militant: Selected Writings of Teresa Billington-Greig. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987.
  • New English Weekly: A. R. Orage Memorial Number. Volume VI, Number 5, November 15, 1934. London: Bonner & Co. Ltd.
  • Orage, A. R., ed. The New Age. London: 1907-1922.
  • Selver, Paul. Orage and the New Age Circle. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1959.
  • Steele, Tom. Alfred Orage and the Leeds Art Club 1893-1923. Aldershot: Scolar Press, 1990.
  • Woolf, Virginia. “Character in Fiction” (also known as “Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown,” which was the title of both a short earlier version and a later edition with minor revisions, published by the Hogarth Press), included in The Essays of Virginia Woolf , Volume 3, 1919-1924. Andrew McNeillie ed. New York: HBJ, 1988.
  • —. To the Lighthouse. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1927.
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