Waldo David Frank (essay date 1926)
SOURCE: Frank, Waldo David. “Mystery in a Sack Suit.” In Time Exposures By Searchlight, pp. 151-56. New York: Boni and Liveright, Inc., 1926.
[In the following excerpt from a book of portraits about cultural figures from the 1920's, Frank presents a colorful image of Orage, a man who “despises the world so well that he is at peace with it.”]
With a bird's-eye view of our City, you will have noticed for the past two years growing numbers of little knots of people scattered about town in comfortable places—very intent, largely silent. Closer, you observed that these groups consisted of editors, wives of Wall Street, professors, novelists, shingled girls, restless business men, artistic youths. Here were true intellectuals who despise Greenwich Village. Here were socially elect who looked down on Park Avenue as a gilded slum. Here indeed were men and women dry and fresh, smart and solemn, rich or merely famous—perpendicular extremes of our extremely perpendicular New York. And now if you looked still closer, you saw that they were listening with passionate concern to a man they call Orage (pronounce it precisely like the French for storm): and that Orage was most intempestuously sitting in an upholstered armchair, smoking a cigarette and cavalierly smiling.
He seems a proverbial schoolboy, slightly damaged by the years, yet on the whole intact—as he sits enwreathed in all those seeking brains and eager eyes. He has a hard body in a tight drab suit. He has hair like a cap drawn close upon his skull. The finger tips are yellow with tobacco. The face is gray with thought. And its prominent part is the nose. The nose is the pinnacle of Orage. Intense brow, willful jaw, keen eyes, ironic mouth—they all converge upon this proboscidean symbol of pertinence and search.
Who is he? and what is he telling the good men and ladies, that they should hearken to him—leaders though they are—with humble rapture? He is propounding a simple, matter-of-fact psychologic method. A method too simple, really, to be written down either by him or by me. So what that Method is, you'll have to find out for yourself. What it does—or claims to do—is nothing less than the whole and utter overturning of everything you live by. All your standards—ethical, religious. All your darlings—historical, artistic. From Æschylus to Bertie Russell, he sweeps them off the table. From Pentateuch to Theosophy, he shows them up. All the world's religions are wrong. All the good intentions are bad. All the truths are lies. All self-improvement is vain. With a most humane smile, Orage blights the claims of humaneness. With valedictory sentiment, wipes sentiment off the slate. With logic swift as a machine, he discredits logic. With courteous manner, drops spiritual bombs into the laps of ladies who adore him.
Oh, ho! you say. Another fanatic? Yes—a most cool and balanced one. Another mystifier? Yes—one whose logical gifts gained him, long years ago, the name of the most dangerous debater in all England. He may be a poisoner of traditional wells; but what sweet venom he drips. He may be a revolutionist; but can you gainsay his classical, scholarly words? Perhaps this is a sect. But if the men and women whom he draws are themselves leaders of men and women?
In London they tried to keep pace with Alfred Richard Orage, and they failed. He came to that Metropolis in 1903, from the hinterlands of Birmingham and Yorkshire. He was thirty, then, and already versed in the mysteries of Socialism, Occultism, Nietzscheanism. He had written books on such timid little subjects as The Dionysian Spirit of the Age, Consciousness: Animal, Human, Superman, An Alphabet of Economics. Now he started a magazine with a name similarly modest (The New Age) and proceeded to midwife, prune, or otherwise direct a good measure of the respectable—and some of the infamous—literary...
(The entire section is 1639 words.)