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Reference group
New Age circle (act. 1907–1922) was a group of writers associated with The New Age, ‘an independent socialist review of politics, literature and art’ edited by Alfred Orage from 1907 to 1922. As a young man Orage became an elementary school teacher in Leeds, where he helped set up the Leeds Arts Club, but in 1907 he moved to London to edit the New Age with Holbrook Jackson (1874–1948), who had left clerical employment in Liverpool to take up journalism. They intended the paper to be a place where the most important cultural and political questions of the day could be debated free from the dictates of party politics. A weekly review, the New Age received its initial funding from Lewis Wallace (the banker and theosophist) and George Bernard Shaw. Although often characterized as belonging to the amorphous left of politics, the periodical included a diverse range of contributors from all parts of the political spectrum. The circulation was small, averaging about 3000 a week over a fifteen-year period, but under Orage (who in 1909 became sole editor) it acted as a meeting place for many of the most celebrated writers and intellectuals of early twentieth-century Britain.

Orage's informal editorial meetings in the cafés and restaurants around Fleet Street were attended in the early years by Clifford Sharp, later editor of the New Statesman, the political journalist Cecil Chesterton, the guild socialist S. G. Hobson, M. D. Eder, a psychoanalyst and Zionist, the staff journalists John MacFarland Kennedy (1885/6–1918) and A. E. Randall, and Orage's lover, Beatrice Hastings [see Haigh, Emily Alice]. Later gatherings were joined by such critics and writers as F. S. Flint, Stephen Reynolds, Ashley Dukes, Michael Arlen, Herbert Read, and Katherine Mansfield [see Murry, Kathleen]; poets like J. C. Squire and Ezra Pound; artists such as Walter Sickert and Augustus John; and prominent foreign writers and journalists including the Spanish writer Ramiro de Maeztu (1875–1936). Throughout Orage's editorship, however, the circle extended to numerous other occasional contributors both celebrated and obscure.

The first few years of the New Age saw contributions from the grandees of Edwardian letters, notably G. B. Shaw, H. G. Wells, Arnold Bennett, Hilaire Belloc, and G. K. Chesterton. It was in these pages that Shaw characterized the last two as the ‘Chesterbelloc’ in a debate over Fabian collectivism. Belloc and the Chesterton brothers' nascent ideas of the importance of the wide distribution of private property (later known as distributism) were then further developed in their own magazine, Eye-Witness, edited by Belloc from 1911 to 1912 and then, as New Witness, by Cecil Chesterton from 1912 to 1916. While the New Age never held a strict political line, it became associated in the years just before the war with developing ideas of guild socialism. The architect A. J. Penty wrote numerous articles on the advantages of medieval labour organization. S. G. Hobson further developed these ideas with Orage and laid the intellectual basis for the movement which G. D. H. Cole later made famous. For Orage particularly, such theories stressed the moral and cultural transformation of socialism which Fabian collectivism ignored. After the First World War the New Age became one of the major publicists of C. H. Douglas's theory of social credit.

Much of the day-to-day writing for the New Age, however, was done by less well-known writers, such as Beatrice Hastings, J. M. Kennedy, and A. E. Randall. Beatrice Hastings wrote much of the literary criticism of the paper as well as contributing poems, letters, and miscellaneous articles under a variety of pseudonyms on everything from socialism to the suffragettes. Increased personal and professional difficulties with Orage led her to record her bitterness in a privately published memoir after the war. Little is known about Kennedy, possibly because, at least according to Beatrice Hastings, Orage had reason to destroy Kennedy's private papers after the latter's death in 1918. Originally from Ulster, Kennedy was also a regular at the Daily Telegraph, which he used to propagate a type of Nietzschean conservatism, illustrating above all the political heterogeneity of the New Age circle. He also developed ideas of classicism in politics and literature contemporaneously with T. E. Hulme. A. E. Randall is if anything an even more obscure figure than Kennedy. A description of him as a self-taught writer who had bulging eyes and talked with a feverish intensity (Selver, 17) is confirmed by the reminiscences of Philippe Mairet (Mairet, 62). He later became a reviewer for The Spectator and died towards the end of the 1920s. It has been estimated that Orage, Randall, and Kennedy wrote at least half of all the contributions to the New Age in the years just before the First World War.

Partly through the efforts of Orage and Kennedy, the New Age became an important conduit of ‘advanced’ continental ideas into Britain. Nietzsche in particular was a constant source of discussion, and some of the more extreme political interpretations of his ideas were advanced by Oscar Levy (1867–1946), the German–Jewish physician who settled in London and edited the first complete English edition of Nietzsche's Collected Works (1909–13), and Anthony Ludovici, a fellow Nietzschean enthusiast and previously private secretary of the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Henri Bergson was publicized, particularly by T. E. Hulme. Other seminal thinkers, like Benedetto Croce and Georges Sorel, were also introduced to many English readers through the pages of the New Age. Ramiro de Maeztu, later the founding member of Acción Española, was a major contributor to the journal during the First World War. The emerging science of psychoanalysis, too, was discussed, particularly by M. D. Eder. Orage's earlier interest in theosophy and mysticism was also represented by such contributors as the physician and spiritualist Florence Farr and the discussion of works like the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita. After the First World War Orage's interest in spiritualism persisted and he became a disciple of the Russian mystic G. Ivanovitch Gurdjieff, who was introduced to him by the Russian journalist P. D. Ouspensky.

It is the cultural and literary activities of the New Age circle, however, which have been its most important legacy for many critics. The newspaper is one of the birthplaces of literary modernism. Ezra Pound published articles on literary criticism; T. E. Hulme's association with the journal helped him develop ideas of ‘classicism’ in literature and politics which later influenced T. S. Eliot; Wyndham Lewis debated in its pages before the publication of Blast; Marinetti explained the principles of futurism to English readers; Katherine Mansfield used it to publish some of her early work. It is characteristic of the New Age, however, that equal space was given to the critics of these ideas. Hulme debated with Ludovici over modern art and Orage described Blast not so much as ‘unintelligible’ but as ‘not worth understanding’ (New Age, 9 July 1914, 229). A similar difference of viewpoint emerged over many of the biggest political issues of the day. Although Orage, Kennedy, and the majority of the regular writers for the New Age were resolutely against women's suffrage, for example, plenty of space in the letters pages was given over to those who were in favour.

While characterized occasionally by the parochialism and in-fighting of any review, the New Age under Orage's editorship was a forum where the political and artistic developments of the early twentieth century could be discussed and where the talent of some of its most original and important writers could be nurtured.

Tom Villis

Sources  

B. Hastings, The old New Age: Orage and others (1936) · R. Kenney, Westering: an autobiography (1939) · P. Mairet, A. R. Orage: a memoir (1936) · W. Martin, The New Age under Orage: chapters in English cultural history (1967) · D. Milburn, The Deutschlandbild of A. R. Orage and the New Age circle (1996) · P. Selver, Orage and the New Age circle: reminiscences and reflections (1959) · G. Taylor, Orage and the New Age (2000) · T. Villis, Reaction and the avant-garde: the revolt against liberal democracy in early twentieth-century Britain (2005) · L. Welch, Orage with Gurdjieff in America (Boston, 1982)