"The first volume of The New Age... cannot be so easily explained or defined. Even the most cursory glance through the pages of these 26 issues reveals an impossible diversity, one which raises as many questions as eyebrows."
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If the role of an editor’s introduction is to provide a broad synthesis or a neat summary of the material it precedes, then I must confess a certain sense of failure here at the very beginning. The first volume of The New Age, unveiled to the English public by A. R. Orage and Holbrook Jackson on May 2, 1907, cannot be so easily explained or defined. Even the most cursory glance through the pages of these 26 issues reveals an impossible diversity, one which raises as many questions as eyebrows. How, for example, can a journal that proclaims itself a “socialist review” attack the “political power of the lower middle classes” and blame them for a “steady decline in popular enlightenment?” (408). What possible sense could it make to gather together suffragists, anti-suffragists, vegetarians, army-reformers, spiritualists, Theosophists, eugenicists, and anti-vivisectionists and declare a common cause among them? Why could a review with so few contributors, such a meager staff, and a shoestring budget attract the attention of the most able and engaged readers in the nation, drawing from them not only subscriptions but unpaid articles as well? Orage and Jackson state in one of their first editorials that they will not surrender “the pages of the Review to dogmatic statements of a too hastily formulated Socialism,” but the unorthodoxy of the magazine stretches well beyond issues of parties and politics. The editors seemingly required but two things from their writers: a strongly felt dissatisfaction with what H. G. Wells called “the badly strained optimism of Edwardian England,” and a well-reasoned argument couched in a sharply written yet broadly accessible prose style.
Depending upon these two simple principles to defend “the right of intelligence to challenge and revise any existing formulation” (8), this first volume of the New Age scorns the lazy comforts of political dogmatism. True to its roots in the Leeds Art Club founded by Orage and Jackson in 1903, the journal successfully mixed the work of cultural luminaries with contributions from a motley collection of lesser known writers, thinkers, and activists. The issue of September 26, for example, includes two speeches by the French man of letters Anatole France, a translation drawn from the work of Nietzsche, and an essay by the actress Florence Farr. Treated with equal seriousness, we also find a theater review by a surgeon named Dr. L. Haden Guest and an essay attacking the pretensions of the petty bourgeoisie by a former clerk named Edwin Pugh. This inclusiveness set the journal apart from its contemporaries, opening a space for public debates which could range across most any topic. In these pages, spiritualism, German philosophy, Labour party politics, and imperial administration are all regarded with equally intense curiosity and interest. The socialist impulse which pervades the magazine resides less in the politics and economics of Marx than in a utopian impulse toward revolutionary change in all areas of life. This means neither the overthrow of governments nor the triumph of the proletariat, but the dawn of a literal new age which would shatter the gilded hypocrisy of Edwardian England and transform art, society, and even individuality in undreamed-of ways.
I have struck the themes of unorthodoxy and diversity so insistently in describing the editorial work of Orage and Jackson in this first volume, for they provide perhaps the best explanation of the journal’s early success. After all, London in 1907 seemed one of the most unlikely origins for a weekly journal dedicated to the incubation of a revolutionary new age in art, politics, and literature. With the prim reign of Victoria gently receding into a pastoral memory and the horror of the Great War all but invisible over the horizon, England found itself comfortably lodged in an era of prosperity, leisure, and security. The nation stood at the absolute pinnacle of its imperial might, with colonies, protectorates, and dominions scattered across every inhabited continent on the globe. For the first time in more than a decade the Liberal Party had taken hold of the House of Commons, commanding an overwhelming 337 seats in Parliament, and was firmly supported by the small but growing ranks of the young Labour Party. Turning aside from the increasingly activist and protectionist policies of the Conservative-Unionist coalition, the Liberal Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, preached the nineteenth-century gospel of Free Trade as a means of continuing Great Britain’s economic supremacy. Domestically, the labor unions remained in a relatively nascent period of activity, prompted both by the 1901 Taff Vale decision, which made unions liable for any damage incurred during a strike, and by a general upswing in the nation’s industrial production. The radical actions of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) which would catapult suffragism to the center of the nation’s political life had only just begun, and the movement remained a generally peaceful and orderly affair. In their very first “Outlook”, even Orage and Jackson had to admit that in a “fat year like the present” it was difficult to force the nation’s attention to matters of income tax and old age pensions—hardly the socialist call to revolution one would expect to announce the birth of a new age (1).
The early years of Liberal ascendance following the 1906 elections must not be mistaken for the triumph of an activist left over a reactionary right, for the Liberal party represented a final, almost wistful, attempt to revive the dream world of a Victorian England. Upon assuming office, Campbell-Bannerman and his ministers put an immediate stop to the limited attempts at social welfare supported by Joseph Chamberlain and they reduced the tariffs put in place to finance them. Indeed, in the first years after assuming office, the government set itself to the task of steadily undoing the past decade of Unionist rule. It returned limited self-government to the Boer Republics in South Africa, ended the practice of importing indentured Chinese labor into the colonies, and moderately reduced government expenditures. It passed two additional bills: one lowering the number of licenses granted to public houses and the other repealing the Unionist Education Act of 1902, which had provided some limited public money to be distributed to church-run schools. Both of these acts, however, were rejected by a solidly Tory House of Lords still smarting from its party’s sudden misfortunes in the lower house. Aside from the reduction of tariffs, the only substantive legislative act carried by the new government was the Trades Disputes Act which effectively reversed the Taff Vale decision and conferred on the labor unions significant legal protections against lawsuits in the case of a strike. Having satisfied the demands of the Labour members, the Liberal Party with its almost unparalleled majority contented itself with a constrained policy of reaction and retrenchment.
Free trade and education reform, however, could not resurrect the nineteenth century, and the government found itself struggling to confront an increasingly turbulent transformation of the social, political, and economic life of the nation. The famous “People’s Budget,” which created the first elements of the modern welfare state, lay only a year in the future, while the Labour Party continued to demand sweeping social and economic reform. From week to week the pages of this first volume of the New Age lay bare in exquisite detail an Edwardian world reluctant to face the maddening complexities of its modernization. The richness of these pages can only be fully grasped by plunging directly into them, and as I have already noted, even the most ambitious introduction cannot properly capture their complexity. Thus, rather then delving at length into the details of long-forgotten events, I will instead provide some sense of the journal’s organization as well as some of the more significant areas in which it intervened. Though designed to be read as a single document, this introduction is broken into four large topics:
Clicking on these headings will take you to that portion of the essay, and will thus enable those looking for specific information to locate quickly the information they need. Such divisions, however, are sadly inelegant and—perhaps a more serious charge—they tend to obscure the ways in which these issues intersected and often collided with one another. Thus, the brief discussion that follows should not be mistaken for a thorough-going historical primer; nor is it even a valiant attempt at generalization and paraphrase. Like Orage and Jackson, I leave the real work of critical synthesis and intellectual engagement in the capable hands of the readers themselves.
As one might expect of their undertaking, the editors struggled from week to week to impress some sort of regular form upon a journal which ambitiously sought to combine such sweeping diversity of opinion with the intellectual seriousness of a quarterly, the topical variety of a penny weekly, and the political immediacy of a daily paper. To this end, they divided the sixteen pages of each issue into three broadly conceived sections, dealing first with politics, then with the arts, and finally with the week’s letters to the editor. Accounting for just about half of the magazine’s pages, the political portion begins on the front page under the heading of the “The Outlook.” Containing a series of short, cleverly titled and often artfully interconnected pieces, this section provides an encapsulated critique of the week’s social, economic, and political debates. This is immediately followed by a series of longer signed and unsigned articles dealing in greater detail with topics as wide-ranging as the Belgian Congo, public education in the colonies, women’s suffrage in New Zealand, the “servant question”, the failures of the juvenile justice system, the excesses of British colonialists abroad, and even the pleasures of bird-watching. Held to no more than a single page in length by Orage’s ruthless blue pencil, these columns constitute the very lifeblood of this first number. They match a careful command of language with a serious intellectual air and a lively wit markedly different from both the ponderous tones of the London quarterlies and the triviality of Lord Northcliffe’s daily papers. Here, in what the cultural theorist Andreas Huyssen has called the “great divide” between the organs of highbrow and lowbrow culture, Orage, Jackson, and their writers sought out an audience in search of serious intellectual debate stripped of Oxonian snobbery and class pretension.
The eclectic series of essays and commentary which opens each issue is always concluded with a short, typically unsigned editorial placed under the New Age masthead at the precise center of the weekly. Just over a column in length, these pieces come closest to what a contemporary reader might expect of “an independent socialist review.” Invariably focused on a single, pressing issue, they frame a political response and issue a call to action. Even here, however, the paper’s editors refuse to insist on political orthodoxy, demanding instead the same “vigorous and sustained discussion of the higher outstanding issues of Socialism” reflected in the first half of each week’s issue (232). They accomplished this unlikely feat, in part, by concluding the political section of the journal with a feature article by a well-known writer addressing some contentious facet of socialist politics. Here we find a series of speeches by Anatole France, an acrimonious debate about the need for a Socialist Party between H. G. Wells and Cecil Chesterton, and a series of philosophical manifestoes by Orage himself. Often advertised on the front page of each number, these essays dramatically expanded the range of debate and granted the New Age an immediate credibility within socialist intellectual circles. They were not treated as final pronouncements, but as points of departure for longer exchanges which often played out over weeks and even months. Resolute in its independence, the journal asked the same of all its contributors: that they stand ready to defend their position by setting aside dogmatism to embrace the pleasure of vigorous argumentation.
Unlike the political portion of the magazine which rapidly assumed a relatively standard, albeit dialectical, format, the four to five pages dedicated to the arts tended to expand and contract as Orage and Jackson experimented with them. This section could include travel writing about Morocco, a fable about the sudden disappearance of all forms of wealth, a political satire of the capitalist system, and even a critical revaluation of Eurpides’s Medea. These occasional works, however, are anchored by regular columns on literature, drama, art, and music. Typically, the bulk of this section is made up of book reviews varying from a page to a few sentences in length. Usually unsigned, these pieces mirror the general eclecticism of the journal by surveying a wide and diverse array of works. Each week, highbrow fiction, memoirs, political tracts, sociological treatises, and volumes of light verse are cleverly dissected and evaluated. In the earliest numbers of the volume, the editors selected a “Book of the Week,” often by a well-known writer, and gave it a full-page review. As they gained confidence, however, Orage and Jackson quickly abandoned this Fleet Street convention and folded all of the reviews into a single, closely-typed collection of peices headed either by the title “Literature” or “Reviews.” Here the works of Joseph Conrad, Bernard Shaw, and Frederich Nietzsche, though still given to long and thoughtful consideration, are treated with the no less seriousness than far more obscure essays, novels, and monographs. The New Age refused to privilege any single voice or movement, helping to cultivate instead the growing diversity of Edwardian England’s intellectual landscape.
In addition to these reviews, the editors irregularly included a column first entitled “Book Notes,” then “Marginalia,” which provides a brief yet enlightening survey of the contemporary literary scene. This precursor to what would later become the famous “Books and Persons” commentary, written by Arnold Bennett, announces the release of new books, touts the publication of cheaply priced older works, and generally keeps the reader abreast of the rapidly expanding literary marketplace. This column does not appear every week, however, and Orage and Jackson often tried to provide some creative alternatives—many of which would be incorporated into later volumes. In the October 3 issue, for instance, they replace “Marginalia” with a series of quotations drawn from a study of eugenics and entitled “From Recent Books.” A week later, this gives way to “The October Magazines,” a brief summary of all of the articles of note in periodicals such as The Albany, The Contemporary Review, and even The Theosophical Review. Although the editors failed to settle on a final form for these columns in this first volume, they clearly sought to invite their readers to look beyond the internal debates of socialism toward a much larger and more complex intellectual life.
A similar impulse produced perhaps the two most constant features of the otherwise often-changing first volume: the “Drama” column usually written by L. Haden Guest, and the “Art” review penned by Arthur J. Penty. Although neither man managed to compose pieces for all twenty-six issues, they are nevertheless responsible for more signed articles than any other contributors. This unexpected regularity may have helped to stabilize the ever-changing structure of the art section of the magazine, but it also tended to tie the journal to a fairly standard aesthetic founded on the principles of Ibsen in the theater and William Morris in the art galleries. This is not to say that either of these critics lacked wit or intelligence, for Guest’s reading of a street protest as a form of modern theater stands out as one of the most creative and interesting pieces in the entire first volume. Nevertheless, this steady dependence on the same two voices from week to week stands in marked contrast to the vibrant unorthodoxy found in the rest of the journal.
The final page or two of each issue was dedicated to published selections from letters to the editors. Here Orage and Jackson willingly provided a platform for public exchange, often publishing letters not only from readers but from various columnists as well who sought to defend their positions. The result was a series of lively debates which often stretched across a number of issues as correspondents furiously exchanged letters. By drawing each issue to a close in this way the editors reaffirmed their commitment to the free exchange of ideas by embroiling vocal and committed socialists such as H. G. Wells and Cecil Chesterton in often sharp-tongued exchanges about the movement and its goals. The names casually scattered throughout these closing columns also suggest just how quickly the New Age had moved into the mainstream of Britain’s intellectual life. Sydney Webb, the co-founder of Fabian socialism, writes in to defend himself from criticism, as does the militant suffragist Christabel Pankhurst, who angrily condemns the limited democratic reforms offered by the new Prime Minister. Such luminaries were joined on these concluding pages by the secretaries of numerous political and spiritual reform societies, all of whom sought to offer their own dreams of a dawning new age.
By the time Orage and Jackson brought out the final number of the first volume in October 1907, the magazine could already be called a minor success. As they noted in the final editorial, the next volume would be expanded to twenty pages and contributions had already been solicited from “George Bernard Shaw, Arnold Bennett, G. K. Chesterton, Hamilton Fyfe, Percy Alden, M.P., [and] Granville Barker” (408). Their commitment to independence from party lines and their inclusive editorial policy had transformed the New Age into a lively public forum. Contributors explored a diverse array of topics and prose styles. Even the editors themselves experimented with changes in organization, assuring readers of at least one unexpected turn in each new issue. In later years, some of this expansive diversity would be lost, but in this first volume Orage and Jackson held tenaciously to a broad and inclusive editorial policy which actively encouraged debate and dissent.
The “Outlook Section” of the very first issue of the new edition opens not with a socialist call to arms or an attack upon the evils of capitalism, but with some suggestions toward “Planning an Empire.” For most Britons at the turn of the century, the empire represented at once the cornerstone of their global power as well as a constant source of irritation and anxiety. For the previous two centuries, the nation had enjoyed the vast wealth provided by its long reach into India, Africa, and the Americas, secure in the power of its armed forces to safeguard it against both native revolts and foreign invasion. From 1899 to 1902, however, the country’s complacency and confidence was shaken by an ill-equipped force of Dutch settlers in the breakaway South African republics of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony. The Boer War, as it came to be known, revealed glaring weaknesses in the British army, a once mighty force which finally managed to re-establish control in South Africa only after a stunning series of defeats and at a very high cost of men and equipment. Quite suddenly, England’s imperial reach seemed threatened not so much by the renegade colonies as by an army officered by often incompetent members of the aristocracy and soldiered by men whose bodies had been weakened by years of industrial labor and tenement living. A mild note of panic pervaded the country as columnists, intellectuals, and politicians sought some means of addressing this sudden and unexpected reversal.
In 1902 the government organized the Inter-Departmental Committee on Physical Deterioration, charging it to investigate the causes behind the high number of army recruits who were found physically unfit for service. After reading and lecturing on the steady decline of the national health, Robert Baden-Powell established the first Boy Scout troops in 1908, designed explicitly to train young minds and bodies for the national defense. Meanwhile, under the direction of Lord Haldane, the army was subjected to a thorough-going review and reorganization in 1907 which modernized its leadership and provided for the creation of a professional Expeditionary Force as well as a Territorial Reserve Force which could be called to duty when necessary.
Between the widespread fantasies of national decay and the desire to restructure the army, this first volume of the New Age intervenes in a number of unexpected ways. Almost every issue touches in some way on the topic of army reform, and the debates which emerge here, though now long vanished into the arcana of the Army Bill‘s legislative history, expose a striking interest among socialist thinkers in the democratization of the armed forces. Those who advocate pacifist positions, though given a voice, are consistently rebutted in articles with such surprising titles as “Socialist Imperialism,”“Socialism and the Soldier” and “The Rout of the Anti-Militarists.” In general, these pieces advocate universal military training and, in some extreme cases, compulsory military service, for, in the words of one editorial, such a “Citizen Army is . . . the only possible alternative to a Capitalist Army” (321). The Army Bill is quickly and deftly turned in these columns from a matter of professional interest into a pressing issue of class privilege. Indeed, the New Age decries Haldane’s final decision to support military instruction in state-supported schools as a “class trick,” designed to insure that only those in the exclusive public-schools will have access to such training.
The rhetoric of international brotherhood and permanent peace advocated at Socialist meetings in Nancy and Stuttgart is largely dismissed in favor of a practical focus on placing the powers of the state directly in the hands of its people. In turn of century Britain, the armed forces and the police still played a significant role forcibly maintaining public order, particularly when labor unrest threatened to erupt. Thus, when striking workers in Dublin took to the streets in August, the magazine was quick to condemn the Chief Secretary for Ireland as “Bloody Birrell” for calling out the troops to violently suppress the demonstrations (241). Though the paper’s columns only rarely advocate direct violence, they do remain sharply aware of the army’s power and its significance as an element of both revolution and oppression.
For the Liberal Party leaders and much of the general public, however, the creation of a new army was less a means of insuring the continued power of the dominant class than a reaction to the humiliation of the Boer War and the increasing aggression of the European colonial powers. Throughout 1907 Germany, France, Russia, Japan, and Britain, engaged in a global game of espionage and diplomatic maneuver as each struggled to expand and secure their vast empires. Throughout much of the nineteenth century, Britain had maintained a foreign policy based largely on a “glorious isolation” from the unstable networks of European alliances. In 1907, however, as Haldane created the force which would quickly be obliterated in the trenches of the First World War, the new Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, put the finishing touches on the series of military alliances which would draw Britain into that conflagration in a short seven years. This diplomatic process had begun with the 1904 signing of the Anglo-French Convention and reached its climax in 1907 with the Anglo-Russian Convention. These efforts created the foundation of the ill-fated Triple Entente and simultaneously secured British colonial possessions against a wide array of threats.
Few issues raised the ire of more columnists in the pages of the New Age than the conclusion of a treaty with Russia. It is heartily condemned as a “shameful agreement” upon which “it is difficult for a patriotic Englishman to speak or write” (289). This intense animosity arose from a deep suspicion of Russia’s oppressive autocracy, which E. Nesbit describes as “Jew-baiters, murderers, [and] torturers” (147). Under headlines such as “The Whitehall Cossacks,” “Russian in Trafalgar Square,” and “From the Bastille to Riga,” angry editorials denounce the attempts by police to break up a public demonstration against the treaty, inviting ominous comparisons between the Russian and British authorities. For the New Age, this treaty becomes not simply a diplomatic error, but a deep betrayal of democracy which exposes the rotting hypocrisy of the Liberal Party and its ideals.
The steady interrogation of army reform and international treaties in this first volume reflects a self-conscious awareness of Britain’s role as the center of a vast empire. Every issue addresses colonial affairs in some way, and the editors are quick to rebuke the domestic press for its biased stories and the poor quality of its international reporting. Seeking to present to the reading public a more substantive view of affairs, the New Age steadily argues for the inclusion of native voices, noting in one case that “the worst feature of the situation is that the development of Indian opinion is being kept carefully from the knowledge of England” (179). Seeking to fill this gap, the paper lays out in clear detail some of the worst excesses of imperialist violence and chauvinism. The case of Lala Lajpat Rai, an Indian reformer who was jailed and deported for publicly advocating the democratic election of local government, emerges consistently in H. V. Storey’s articles as evidence of Britain’s continuing failure to accord basic human rights to the region. Similarly, the paper holds up to its readers the ugly racism and violence implicit in the public flogging of Egyptian villagers in Denshawai who had driven off the British hunting party which had slaughtered the local livestock and accidentally killed one of the villagers. This particularly brutal incident , which occurred in June 1906, is not permitted to vanish into the past, for as late as October 1907 Orage and Jackson publish an open letter about the affair signed by many Edwardian political and intellectual leaders.
The paper insists on making imperial affairs visible to the English public by highlighting such sensational cases and including serious debate and commentary about Indian governmental reform, the administration and budgeting of the Foreign Office, and the racial tensions emerging in Canada and South-Africa between the English settlers and Chinese laborers. Beyond mere political analysis, Edward Carpenter’s remarkable literary sketches of Morocco and Gibraltar defy orientalist stereotypes and provide readers with a sympathetic history and description of the region.
Even a dedicated interest in colonial affairs, however, should not be confused with the sentiments of anti-imperialism, for throughout the New Age the empire is treated, in the words of Frank Holmes, as “just one of those things that are not amenable to logic; the Empire is here, and the British nation has no mind to relinquish any part of it” (137). Even the most radical writers for the paper do not consider anti-imperialism a serious political position, and instead address themselves to imagining the nature and structure of a socialist empire. One anonymous columnist in a piece entitled “The Anglocentric Theory” cleverly turns the tables on the traditional notion of empire by arguing that rather than adopting a “school-bully’s” attitude toward the colonies, “England must herself be loyal to the Empire, and abandon her silly claim on the Empire to be loyal to her” (148). This notion that “Anglocentrism is incompatible with Imperialism” then leads not to the dissolution of the empire, but to the notion of an expansive commonwealth in which no single nation reigns supreme. Storey’s articles on this topic take an even more radical line, arguing finally that socialism and empire form the two cornerstones of the evolving new age: “There is a cry already for men with a fresh outlook, men determined to march, men of power and vision to lead Empires to their goal—the new Imperialists, the Socialists” (292). This unexpected conjunction of socialism and imperialism finds a particularly creative expression in an article by Beatrice Hastings which asks, “Is Kipling a Socialist?” Though answering in the negative, she nevertheless affirms that “there is something fine about Kipling’s desire for a united and powerful Empire” (36). This first volume shares such sentiments, as various contributors struggle to make sense of a world in which vast empires seem at once the cause of suffering and the origin of fundamental revolution.
Although the empire remains in these pages just “one of those things” that cannot be changed, the steady interrogation of its structure sparks a remarkable debate on the nature and value of the modern nation-state. Initially provoked by the columnist R. M. who wrote that “there is astonishing little difference between the mumbo-jumbo of Australian totemism and the patriotism of the average commercial Britisher,” this issue leads the journal into a deep investigation of roots and causes of nationalism and patriotism. For a number of contributors, these loyalties are merely the remnants of a rapidly declining capitalist order, standing in the way of a new “internationalism and cosmopolitanism” (84). Such ideas would become commonplace in the wake of the Russian Revolution, and depended heavily on the disaffection of many socialists whose war-time experiences left them disillusioned with nationalist loyalties. In 1907, however, nationalism could not be so easily set aside, and a steady stream of correspondents and columnists in this first volume struggle to make sense of both the impulses behind patriotism and its usefulness within a socialist movement. These articles and letters draw upon arguments from politics, economics, history, and psychology in a fascinating attempt to define the exact origin and nature of the modern nation-state. No clear position of consensus emerges from these pieces, but taken as a whole they point to the growing tensions within the socialist movement between those seeking the international class-based revolution imagined by Karl Marx and those who argued that “the interests of the whole nation are vastly more important than the interests of a single class” (260).
In turn of the century Britain, such arguments about the weakness of the army, the administration of the empire, and the value of nationalism all turned, to some degree, upon a growing anxiety about racial identity and decline. Indeed, the concepts of nationality and race were so closely entwined with one another that it was almost impossible to separate them. Thus, Clifford can define patriotism as “a love of one’s country or race and a desire to see it foremost in any and every field of activity” without contradiction or reservation (86). This close connection between the ideas of race and nation helped generate and sustain a growing interest in eugenics among socialists who saw in its theories a scientific means of producing social revolution. Some of the journal’s most important contributors draw heavily on many elements of this theory in advancing a wide array of hopes and ideas. Florence Farr, for example, the actress whom George Bernard Shaw considered the very archetype of the new woman, renders eugenics a uniquely feminist cause by noting that since every young woman holds “the fate of the race in her choice” of husband, “girls should be asked seriously to think about the future of the race before they are too old and ugly” (119). In one of her very first pieces she wrote for the New Age, Beatrice Hastings may not quite go to such extremes, but she too integrates the languages of eugenics and feminism to decry “a people who are the degenerate outcome of an uncared-for infancy and adolescence” (132).
In addition to this defense of the importance of women to the future of the race there are more direct appeals for voluntary eugenic experiments, although these contain a uniquely socialist bent. Thus, an article entitled “Breeding a Race” proposes “to remove, on the one hand, the serpents from the cradles of the slum-dwellers, and, on the other hand, to break down the artificial barriers to free biological breeding” (245). Mingled with such pointed arguments supporting the managed breeding of a healthy race, G. B. Shaw’s “Superman”, H. G. Wells’s “Samurai”, and Nietzsche’s “beyond men” also emerge in this first volume as the utopian solutions to the threat of English racial and cultural decadence. In thus attempting to rethink the very notions of race, nation, and empire, the New Age in 1907 not only reflected Britain’s growing anxiety over its own decline, but imagined a socialist revolution quite unlike anything conceived by Marx and Engels.
Atop each issue of this first volume, the New Age loudly proclaims itself “An Independent Socialist Review,” but the term socialist would not last into the second volume. This subtle but important alteration of the masthead may have resulted, in part, from the manifest tension within the pages of the magazine between the demands of political conformity and the editorial policy of intellectual unorthodoxy. As we have already seen, Orage and Jackson managed in this first volume to gather together a heterogeneous mix of essayists and columnists, many of whom shared little else than a dislike of the Edwardian status quo. For a time, this disparate group of voices managed to hold itself together under a very loosely conceived notion of socialism, but eventually bitter debates and rivalries broke out on the pages of the magazine as Fabians, suffragists, Labour supporters, and socialists began to vie for a dominant voice.
Like a number of the other little magazines published in early twentieth-century England, the New Age began its life as a passionate advocate of women’s rights. In the early numbers, Teresa Billington-Greig, one of the first woman to be arrested in a suffragist protest, wrote a weekly column detailing the plight of women, arguing passionately for the vote, and carefully dissecting the electoral history of the nation. In one of the few signed editorials, she boldly lays the blame for women’s disenfranchisement at the feet of Liberal Victorian England, noting that the Reform Bill of 1832 “first introduced the sex-bar sinister into electoral law.” From this point forward, she argues, women not only lost the rights and privileges of citizenship, but came to be seen “by the law, and in the eyes of the mass of men, . . . as a kind of property” (24). A member of the activist Women’s Social and Political Union founded by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903, “truculent Teresa” pressed her attack upon the sexism of the Liberal Party and called upon suffragists to “marshal their forces to find modern weapons with which to overthrow the wide-awake and persistent enemy” (38). This language warfare is largely rhetorical here, but within a few years the Pankhursts and their followers would take such a revolutionary call to arms quite seriously, scuffling with police, starving themselves in prison, and engaging in acts of sometimes violent protest.
Despite the promise in the May 9 issue that Billington-Greig would become a regular monthly contributor to the journal, she soon found herself entangled in a series of debates about the priority of socialist causes over feminist ones which abruptly ended her interest in the New Age. Universal male suffrage constituted one of the core elements of the socialist agenda both in England and beyond, and Billington-Greig simply condemned this as a “short-sighted” socialism which was “indifferent, pusillanimous, and superficial, where sex-wrong has been concerned” (54). Disillusioned with a socialism which would not support the suffragist cause immediately, and unwilling to continue to defend her position from week to week, she withdrew from the magazine and charged Orage and Jackson with an incomplete “knowledge of the Suffrage movement” (73).
This charge may have been leveled too hastily, however, for the editors of the New Age opened their pages to a wide array of feminist issues, many of which did not relate directly to the suffragist agenda. The unregulated practice of employing women to work in the home for astoundingly low wages evoked a series of angry articles and proposals, including the provision of pensions for widows, the creation of a women’s trade union, and the appointment of inspectors to regulate the terms and conditions of so-called “home work.” Taking the socialist position to its rhetorical extremes, Beatrice Hastings goes so far as to demand the “nationalisation of mothers.” No less ardent in her cause than the Pankhursts or Billington-Greig, she argues that “the root principle of social growth lies in the health and happiness of women” (132). Similar examples of such radical feminism extend throughout the journal, but reach their most dramatic extremes in the various contributions of Florence Farr. Blending eugenics with arguments from pre-Freudian psychology and Nietzschean philosophy, she proves to be one of the most prolific and interesting contributors to this first volume. Some of her closely written and often surrealist articles attempt to plunge into the depths of subjectivity and the unconscious, identifying there a liberating “jester-critic” whose “sword of laughter” might “clarify our souls” by disrupting the brittle facade of civilization and repression (182-83). In “The Rights of Astaroth” she outdoes even Hastings’ radicalism by calling not just for the legalization of prostitution, but for its institutionalization as a sort of sacred office. This article prompted a steady stream of letters and generated a long debate about women and sexuality which contributed a note of scandalous notoriety to both Farr and the New Age.
To the modern reader, Farr’s most surprising contributions may be her feminist criticism of the theater. She reads the Medea of Euripides, for example, very strongly against the grain, questioning the traditional portrait of evil and insanity by imagining the travails of a woman painfully in love with “a man of such petty ambitions as Jason.” Suggesting that “one of Medea’s worst crimes in Jason’s eyes was that she had practically performed all of his heroic deeds for him,” Farr renders the play into a feminist testament to the depth of women’s suffering and the complexity of their emotional lives (409). In articles such as this, the feminism of the New Age expands well beyond the narrow limits of class-based suffrage supported byBillington-Greig, to include a broad-reaching and sometimes startling reconsideration of gender, sexuality, and desire.
As the issues of feminism and suffragism strained the “independent socialism” of the magazine, so too do did the increasingly complicated politics of the left in Britain. Since its foundation in 1880’s by Sydney and Beatrice Webb, the Fabian Society had been the leading socialist voice in England. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary in its ideals and methods, the society consisted largely of middle-class intellectuals who committed their resources to gathering data about wages, poverty, and working conditions. The group itself had been born in 1884 to foster discussion about the science of societal organization, and had evolved into a highly bureaucratic collection of committees and study groups. Based largely in London and closely tied to both the Liberal and Unionist governments, the Fabians sought to create a socialist society through the peaceful and enlightened reform of existing government institutions. At the beginning of the twentieth century, this decidedly middle-class and well-educated group numbered among it members the Pankhursts, Ramsay MacDonald, H. G. Wells, and most of the other leading socialist thinkers. Its commitment to a somewhat disengaged study of social conditions, however, prompted almost all of these figures to depart sooner or later, and the defectors included A. R. Orage and Holbook Jackson. Indeed, the first volume directed its claim to independence almost exclusively at the staid and moderate Fabian Society. Helping to open this breech, Edwin Pugh in “The Figure Habit” argues that “it has always been the dreamers, rather than the mathematicians, who have helped the world along” (103). This subtle but nevertheless quite pointed jab at the Fabian’s interest in gathering and analyzing statistics expresses the journal’s own broad interest in the power of ideas rather than the dull facts of numbers and budgets. Such ideas extend to include the possibility of a violent revolution, with M. D. Eder demanding that “socialism must be established by force” (215), and Sydney Herbert advising his readers to “impress upon the people that a day may come, nay, inevitably will come, when they will have to fight for freedom, if not with the rifle, with the deadlier weapon of the political strike” (230). The voices of “gunpowder and blood” by no means dominate the magazine as a whole, but they do serve to carve out a space for socialist voices distinctly at odds with the bureaucratic pacifism of the Webbs (261).
If intellectual socialism in the first decade of the century centered on the Fabians, political socialism was suddenly given concrete shape in the 27 seats gained by the Labour Party in the 1906 elections. As we have seen, these M.P.’s commanded some significant power, securing in the first legislative session the reversal of the Taff Vale decision and thereby returning the instrument of the strike to the trade unions. The party itself had taken form in 1900 under the guidance, though not the direct influence, of the Webbs, and quickly rose to power under the leadership of Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald (who may have written for the journal under the intitals R. M.), and Philip Snowden. Many of its leaders contributed to the New Age, and the magazine consistently supported the party as a legitimate agent of reform and even revolution. The victories of two Labour candidate—Peter Curran in Jarrow and Victor Grayson in Colne Valley—in 1907 by-elections are gleefully welcomed in the editorial pages, which correctly predict “that the Liberal party is to be ground to dust between the upper and nether millstones” of the Tories and Labour (168). For a number of contributors, however, the Labour party appears as little more than a class-based coalition of trade unionists without a real agenda. This results in perhaps one of the most extended and interesting debates in the first volume, one which draws in almost all of the major contributors and creates enough acrimony and dissension to prompt Orage and Jackson to drop the paper’s direct identification with socialism.
The question which prompted this furor is whether or not a separate and independent Socialist party should be formed to counter the perceived inaction and even conservatism of the Labour and Liberal members of parliament. The controversy begins when H. G. Wells proposes in the “The Socialist Movement and Socialist Parties” that creation of a formal party structure would rob the socialist movement of it creative strength and flexibility by imposing a rigid ideology on a still amorphous set of ideas and aspirations. In an editorial facing this article, Orage and Jackson express similar views, adhering as always to the policy that “the preservation of [a] free atmosphere of discussion is essential to the future of Socialism” (104). Wells, in particular, believes that the strength of socialism lies in its inexact definition, allowing its various elements to move freely across class and party lines.
Though politically savvy, Wells raises the ire of Cecil Chesterton whose article the following week accuses the novelist not only of holding inconsistent views, but of being a closet Fabian as well. For much of the rest of the first volume, this issue returns consistently in the letters and the editorial columns as Wells, Chesterton, and eventually S. G. Hobson—one of the few Socialist M.P.’s—battle back and forth over how best to disseminate socialist ideas. Wells, who actively plagued both Fabians and socialists with his radical ideas on marriage, child rearing, and the family, happily took up his part of the debate, but was also indirectly blamed for the loss of a by-election when the Conservative candidate regaled the voters with threats of a socialist government institutionalizing free love and taking children from their families to be raised by the state.
As these battles waged, Orage began writing an intriguing weekly column entitled “Towards Socialism” in which he outlines his own thinking about the movement and its goals. In the four installments included in this volume, he constructs a unique socialism, largely unencumbered with materialist concerns and drawn heavily from his own interests in Nietzsche and Theosophy. Economic and political considerations are almost entirely absent in these pieces, and he even goes so far as to argue that “we may have all the effects of economic Socialism without being a single sentiment the better off” (394). Generally in agreement with Wells, Orage demands of socialism a philosophical complexity and a utopian idealism capable of drawing the mind away from its day-to-day concerns with money and property. He refuses “to recite an Athanasian Creed against whomsoever should mistake Trade Unoinism, Collectivism, and Socialism” (407). Instead, he tackles highly abstract issues such as the concept of labor, the usefulness of criminal punishment, and the nature of pleasure.
More than any other, these columns define the political spirit of the New Age both in this volume and beyond and suggest why the journal went on to dissociate itself from the socialist party so ardently defended by Cecil Chesterton. Creating a party and demanding loyalty to its tenets reeked unpleasantly of the old age of Victoria and the Fabains; and Orage asked of socialism that it free the mind from the dogmas of the past and create a space for the free and vibrant exchange of ideas. As Chesterton’s own weekly feature entitled “Bombastes in Fleet Street” indicated, Socialism by the close of 1907 had indeed started to become in the minds of many Britons a cipher for the Fabianism, suffragism, or the Labour Party. Such quick and easy associations allowed it to be simply stereotyped as a political movement, and largely dismissed as the dreams of cranks and quacks. Rather than embroiling the paper in sectarian debates and risk becoming the organ of a single party, Orage and Jackson consistently placed the New Age just beyond the grasp of any single party or demagogue, and in so doing managed to preserve the independence proclaimed at the top of every subsequent issue.
Some measure of the intellectual tone of the magazine can be drawn from an article in the August 22 issue signed R. M. and deceptively titled “The Magic of Oxford.” Condemning the university as the primitive “initiation-cave of the dominant Brahmins, mandarins, headmen, medicine-men of the whole British tribe,” he imagines the formation of a new system of education which will free the nation from the “collective magic” of intellectual and social snobbery (260-61). True to their dialectical impulses, Orage and Jackson later publish a defense of the same school, but it can generally be said of the journal as a whole that it stands at a measured distance from the gothic spires of the ancient universities. The aestheticism popularized by Oxford’s Yellow Book crowd and the traditional fascination with the classical world are largely, though not entirely, ignored here, supplanted by a far more eclectic interest in the works of Nietzsche, Shaw, Stirner, and Ibsen among others. This turn away from English highbrow culture should by no means be confused with cultural populism, however, for the New Age cultivated an open hostility to the large ranks of the lower middle-class. In his columns on “The Mere Clerk,” Edwin Pugh angrily assaults the man who “is commonly an eager, willing sacrifice on the altar of that mean ambition which sees in a white collar and a black coat the consummation of gentlemanhood” (342). For Pugh, this hopeful sort of snobbery is no better than that of the men who pompously sign themselves Oxon., for in both cases serious intellectual challenges are simply put aside in favor of the proper appearance of respectability. Rather than appealing to the standards of the highbrows or condescending to the lowbrow clerks, the New Age draws instead upon evolving work in the arts, philosophy, and theology to construct and interrogate a culture fit for the dawning era.
The spirit guiding this intellectual revolution was Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher whose works dismantled many of the traditional assumptions about morality, subjectivity, and religion at the heart of Western metaphysics. At their first meeting in a Leeds bookstore in 1900, Jackson lent his copy of Also Sprach Zarathustra to Orage, a book which so fired the latter’s imagination that he would devote much of his early career to lecturing and writing about the philosopher’s work. In this first volume, however, Nietzsche’s name appears only a handful of times, and many of these references lead only to the short verse translations of his work which irregularly punctuate the closing pages of the editorial section. In 1907 his works remained virtually unknown in England, with only a few scattered and relatively expensive translations available. In October of that year, however, Beyond Good and Evil was published by T. N. Foulis, and it receives a warm reception in the magazine’s columns, prompting the reviewer to hope that “the appearance of this volume may mark a turning-point in the history of popular discussion” (395). If Nietzsche’s philosophy is only occasionally addressed directly, his ideas and his language periodically surface throughout the volume in articles on topics ranging from “free love” to economic collectivism. Florence Farr‘s sometimes hallucinatory appeal to the dynamic forces of the human will draws somewhat piecemeal on Nietzschean ideals, as do Edgar Jepson‘s periodic attacks upon Edwardian morality (310). In the book reviews, Max Stirner, the author of The Ego and His Own, is explicitly imagined as Nietzsche’s own “John the Baptist.” Karl Marx had dedicated the better part of The German Ideology to an attack on this work, and its favorable reception here suggests just how far the volume had moved from an orthodox socialism. Stirner’s troubling defense of the self, which would soon by passionately embraced by the Anglo-American editors of the Egoist, shares with Nietzsche an abiding desire to break free from the restrictive limits of bourgeois subjectivity.
The English public may have been largely unfamiliar with these great debates within German philosophy, but they did know the plays of George Bernard Shaw and the novels of H. G. Wells, both of which popularized the German philosopher’s notion of a “superman” whose arrival would mark a revolution in human consciousness. In imagining this figure, Wells drew on the orientalist fantasy of a great samurai governed by “rules to secure personal efficiency, rules to secure discipline and co-ordinate action, and rules for intellectual training” (9). These beings would constitute the core of a new sort of English aristocracy capable of creating and governing a socialist utopia. This concept, which Wells had first articulated in his 1905 A Modern Utopia, raised objections from all quarters, but its basic premise that democracy alone could not lead to a socialist state would heavily influence the cries for violent revolution which periodically surfaced in the New Age. Shaw, in particular, objected that this image of a warrior was far from adequate, and that “every Tory . . . would say that in the English gentleman we have already got our Samurai” (10). In its place, Shaw offered his own version of higher consciousness in his 1905 play Man and Superman. Largely drawn from the optimism of the Fabians, this work argues that humanity is already embarked on a steadily progressing evolutionary voyage guided by a semi-mystical life-force. The third act of the play, often performed independently under the title “Don Juan in Hell,” lays out these ideas explicitly, shifting at times into the tone of public lecture delivered from the stage. Shaw’s concept of the superman as the inevitable product of human progress quickly became familiar to England’s large theater-going public and helped cement Shaw’s fame and authority as one socialism’s leading intellectuals.
In the first volume of the New Age, a broad range of contributors engage Shaw’s sometimes troubling ideas and often challenge his faith in the inevitability of the superman. In one remarkable piece, Haden Guest writes a letter to Shaw supposedly penned by Don Juan and posted from hell which challenges the playwright’s understanding of gender and sexual desire (269). For most of this volume’s contributors, Shaw and Wells are the chief proponents of the revolutionary philosophy of the superman, leaving Nietzsche’s work to circulate quietly behind on-going debates about aristocracy, evolution, and socialism.
Though treated with the utmost seriousness, the figures of the samurai and the superman emerge in the New Age largely as the product of fiction writers, poets, and dreamers rather than hard-headed and analytical philosophers. Indeed, the translations of Nietzsche would lead anyone unfamiliar with his work to assume that he was a German Romantic poet rather than a rigorously trained philosopher. Couched in the entertaining but sometimes mystifying language of the supermen lies a direct assault upon what the paper calls the philosophy of individualism. This term cannot be precisely defined, but refers to the rather loose set of ideological assumptions about the self which underwrite the economic system of capitalism. Used in this political sense, individualism denotes the private ownership of property, the nonintervention of the state in private affairs, and the absolute priority of the rights of the person over the demands of the state. The socialist answer to this position is collectivism, which imagines a far more closely integrated relationship between the individual, his or her fellow citizens, and the state. In arguing against capitalism and its attendant ideology of individualism, the writers and essayists of the New Age work continuously to articulate a new model of human identity which does not rely exclusively upon Victorian notions of the autonomy of the self. For Frank Holmes , this leads to a complicated attempt to disentangle the idea of the dignity of the individual from its political base in the Liberal Party, while another anonymous editorialist attempts to separate economic individualism from “individualism in the sense of personality” (228).
For another set of writers, however, the resistance to individualism leads directly to an engagement with spiritualism and Theosophy. Again, Florence Farr is exemplary here, but she is by no means alone. The book reviews, in particular, take up these issues by seriously engaging works such as The Roots of Reality by Belfort Bax, Seen and Unseen by E. Katherine Bates, and Orage’s own Consciousness: Animal, Human, Superman. Once more exposing its rather tense relationship to the economic and philosophical orthodoxy of political socialism, the New Age challenges even the most fundamental assumptions about reality and identity shared by the Edwardians. The possibility of a higher metaphysical existence or of a life after the death of the physical body are treated with the same level of complexity as political debates about party structures and tariff reform.
This radical unorthodoxy which expands socialism to include elements of spiritualism, psychology, and the superman does not extend into the art columns of A. J. Penty, where traditional socialist aesthetics continued to hold sway. An architect by training, he was a follower of William Morris, the poet, painter, and designer of the nineteenth century who blended socialism with an intense interest in the decorative arts. One of the founders and chief proponents of the “Arts and Crafts Movement,” Morris despised the bland uniformity of mass-produced goods and established workshops in which items such as chairs, carpets, and wallpaper were treated with the same care as painting and sculpture. In writing for the New Age, Penty draws heavily upon these ideals, calling in the first two issues for a “restoration of beauty to life,” and later critiquing Edwardian architecture for its lack of attention to detail and craftsmanship. For Penty, this trend was not the product of twentieth-century modernity, but extended back to the Renaissance, when, he asserts, there first emerged architects who “left off doing actual work themselves on their buildings, and betook themselves to drawing offices” (231). Penty, therefore, looks wistfully back with other Victorian artists such as Edward Burne-Jones to the medieval world of artisan’s guilds in which artistic training proceeded under the careful tutelage of master craftsmen who paid attention to the finest details of construction and design.
In turn of the century England, this nostalgia for the past stood at some distance from the burgeoning modernist movements coming to life in Paris, and even the romantic themes popular in the galleries around Londonare greeted in the pages of this volume largely with disappointment. The watershed moment for painting in 1907—Picasso‘s completion of the shocking “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”—and the innovations in technique and style of which it was a part remain entirely unnoticed in these pages. The art columns direct their attentions not to France, but to the domestic galleries, surveying continuing trends in medievalism and Impressionism. Throughout this volume we have provided links to various examples of the works under consideration in an effort to reveal both the complexity of the English art world as well as the growing sense of discomfort with its conventions. In arguing that painting must be treated as one of the decorative arts, Catherine Gasquoine Hartley reflects a growing sense of disenchantment with the vast gallery-bound romanticism of the Victorian period. Writing along similar lines in “Hustling and Modern Hotel Building,” Penty notes with a sense of despair the sacrifice of all aesthetic principles to the demands of the marketplace. The explosive theories of modernism may not clearly emerge here, but we do find their forerunners in the growing concern with the genius of the individual artist, the importance of fine craftsmanship, and the limitations of the bourgeois gallery system.
Though the weekly art columns gazed back with a melancholy eye to the distant past, the drama and music reviews which usually followed them looked to the cutting edge of the performing arts, rejecting staid conventions and vigorously applauding new and innovative forms. As the first volume’s principle theater critic, L. Haden Guest contributed more articles than any other single contributor. A surgeon by training and by no means a professional reviewer, he nevertheless took his work quite seriously: venturing into the provinces to get a sense of the theater scene beyond London and even sitting through a series of French plays despite his inability to understand the language (382). Strongly influenced by the realism of Ibsen and generally unhappy with the romantic comedies which dominated the West End theaters, he dutifully and rigorously critiqued each play he saw, measuring the performances of individual actors, addressing problems with scripts and production values, and even offering suggestions for possible future improvements. Over the course of his articles no dominant aesthetic principle appears, and the closest he comes to articulating his own position is to argue that “art must be a key to unlock life, not merely a picture of some phase of life,” especially when “realism is infinitely easier to us than at any previous time” (397). Regretfully suggesting here that even the avant-garde realism of Ibsen has begun to seem formulaic, he anxiously awaits the arrival of an as-yet unimagined movement which will sweep away “the worst traditions of the English stage” (398).
For the music reviewer who signed himself X. (the alias for Herbert Hughes) as well as for Holbrook Jackson, the problem with the current state of the arts lay not in the fashionable acceptance of realism or the destruction of the romance, but in a stubborn resistance to innovation. Thanks largely to the G. B. Shaw’s popularity, Vedrenne and Barker had managed to transform the experimental “Court Theater” into a success, putting aside the typical West End fare in favor of far more innovative plays. Rather than looking on this as an unmitigated success, however, Jackson worries that this “dawn of a new era in the theatre” will collapse should “the Shaw boom fail” (356). In his music columns, X. too suspects the English public of being little more than slaves to fashion, and he condemns their outright snobbery in clinging only to the works of the acknowledged masters: “the polite Englishman . . . follow[s] the fashions set by his leaders in the continental schools, absorbing, with his inordinate love of etiquette, the externals of their art, but copying these and failing to comprehend the essential qualities of their genius” (134). This interest only in the appearance of things rather than their substance strangles creative endeavors of all sorts, for any attempt to deviate from the expected norm is met with a chilly indifference. Thus, while eagerly applauding well-performed works by the acknowledged masters, X. also demands that his readers look for genuine musical innovation both at home and abroad.
The art critics, book reviewers, and philosophers whose works fill the pages of this volume of the New Age set themselves the difficult task of placing before their readers precisely those works which conformed to neither the highbrow nor lowbrow standards of taste. As they did in the spheres of domestic and international politics, Orage and Jackson sought out unorthodox opinions, cultivating lively—even acrimonious—debates. The new age they imagined reached far beyond the realignment of governments to embrace a fundamental transformation of human culture and consciousness. The particulars of deciding between a superman and a samurai, or between Penty’s medievalism and X.’s modernism was less important than their shared desire to transform a world which seemed fundamentally corrupt and poisonously unjust. This first volume of the New Age draws from its confessed socialism less a rigid political orthodoxy than a deep commitment to well-reasoned dialectical exchange. The result, at times, may be a disorganized jumble, but such chaos is the price Orage and Jackson were willing to pay for the preservation of the journal’s independence.
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