A Commentary (Jan 1935)
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148 ] A Commentary The Criterion: A Literary Review, 14 (Jan 1935) 260-64 The death of A. R. Orage remains the most important event and the most fitting to commemorate in this commentary.1 For a time I thought that everything to be said had been said by the writers who contributed to the obituary number (November 15th) of The New English Weekly.2 Seldom has a more remarkable tribute appeared in a less public way; a dozen or more of the writers were men who should be able to command space in The Times for any public letter they wanted to write3 – but I cannot think that any of the writers could have written quite as they did, except to an audience whose sympathy and understanding were assured. But on re-reading the memorials, including my own, I have some second thoughts which I should like to put on record. I have not a copy of Readers and Writers,4 or a file of The New Age, to which to refer, but unless my memory is quite at fault, I think that my assertion that Orage was “the best literary critic of that time in London” requires precision.5 One kind of literary sensibility is that of the man who appears to have been waiting for that which is new and good and right in art, who is in some sort prepared for it before it arrives; to whom it appears to come as the missing piece in a puzzle almost solved. This exquisite fitness for new art was not Orage’s quality; indeed, I suspect that sometimes Orage recognized new literary art not by inspection, but rather by inference from his personal impression of the man who wrote it. I cannot recall, in Readers and Writers, any startling recognition of novelty. What I do recall is that when faced with authority or reputation and success, Orage was never distracted; and that he could penetrate quite simply and unpretentiously to the heart of the moral rottenness, or intellectual dishonesty and turpitude, of the most acclaimed authors; that he was the enemy of pretence and stupidity. And I recall a style which was as far from that of a Times leader as it was near to the essentials of good prose. I say that Orage was primarily a moralist; but to say that he was a moralist is not to say that he was a moralist instead of being a critic of literature. He was that necessary and rare person, the moralist in criticism; not the inquisitor who tries to impose (his) morals upon literature, but the critic who perceives the [ 149 A Commentary (Jan) morals of  literature, and who recognizes that intellectual dishonesty, laziness and confusion are cardinal sins in literature. Having spoken of Orage as a moralist in criticism leads me to my second point. Several of the memorial writers with whom I am more or less in sympathy, deplored (as I did myself, though less openly than some) Orage’s preoccupation with certain forms of mysticism.6 Perhaps my own attitude is suggestive of the reformed drunkard’s abhorrence of intemperance; at any rate I deprecate Orage’s mysticism as much as anyone does. Yet, while it was something that I think should be opposed if he were still alive, it is something that I think we should, in a fashion, accept now that he is dead. Without the streak of other-worldliness which was responsible for these aberrations, Orage would not have occupied the place that he occupied and still occupies. Had he been a Catholic, accepting a Christian mysticism with its reservations and safeguards, he could not have occupied that place either; for that denomination would have frightened away many who needed to be attracted and instructed in social doctrines as far as their prejudices would permit. Had he been a Catholic his mysticism would have repelled; as that of an irresponsible religious adventurer, his mysticism was merely smiled at. It may have attracted some of the young, and it did not gravely offend the mature. And it had its effect. For without this restless desire for the absolute, Orage would have done little more than half a dozen men who survive him could do; he would have been merely a reasonable persuader towards the reasonable revolution. As it is, people who advocate monetary reform are accused of being timid compromisers, of wishing to save their middle-class skins as economically as possible, and are...