New York: 1941
Judging both present conditions and future prospects in England as quite impossible for his work, Ouspensky prepared to emigrate. He announced his intention abruptly at his last wartime meeting in England, held at Lyne on 25 January 1941: in practical terms his senior cadre were tasked to keep Lyne going, and for their inner work to ‘stop thoughts’ (they might also, Ouspensky believed, derive some benefit from reading Monks of Athos by Dawkins). Asked if he would begin groups in America, Ouspensky unexpectedly responded that he could not foresee conditions in a continent which he had visited ‘only in previous incarnations’. Six days later, on 31 January 1941, he sailed from Liverpool for New York on the S.S. Georgic, leaving behind him virtually all his disconcerted pupils.
Ouspensky’s six years in America were notable chiefly for the calamitous decay in his health, hopes, and integrity. He arrived in New York in March 1941 approximately on his sixty-third birthday, accompanied by a recent adherent the bravura writer Rodney Collin-Smith. Mme Ouspensky and her family had preceded him. Ouspensky’s welcome was assured by his many influential contacts: a reception was given him at Miss Scott’s apartment; a New York studio was found for him on 79th Street; and Marie Seton (independently in America) was engaged as his private secretary.
In attracting new pupils, Ouspensky could capitalise on his stature as author of Tertium Organum and New Model. He had nevertheless to take account of entrenched Oragean followers (including Mr and Mrs Nott, Muriel Draper, Jessmin Howarth, William Welch and Willem A. Nyland). At an early exploratory meeting with twenty of the Orage group in Muriel Draper’s house on Madison Avenue. Ouspensky showed more resolution than tact: he insisted Beelzebub not be discussed; that ‘Gurdjieff was wrong’; and that he would leave for California if the group succeeded in extricating Gurdjieff to New York. Generally the group was unimpressed, judging Ouspensky to be over-intellectual, pretentious, and lacking in real authority. Only a minority, encouraged by C. S. Nott, accepted Ouspensky provisionally and faute de mieux; from these Ouspensky scrupulously refused money, insisting it be sent to Gurdjieff in Paris.
Portrait by Carl Van Vechten: © The Carl Van Vechten Trust)
Reproduced by kind permission of the Trust
Helped by his wayward step-grandson Lonya, who gave public readings of the well-rehearsed Warwick Gardens lectures, Ouspensky gradually formed around his Oragean nucleus a new circle, whose first recorded meeting at 79th Street was on 10 June 1941. Within a month however he had further alienated the old core by his assertion – evoking painful memories – that Orage had forgotten much and invented much. Ouspensky’s own presentation of the System, even in his early years in America, proved flat and stale. Not only were his energies depleted by age, drink, and the debilitating East Coast climate, but he had lost all personal conviction. Of the forty-five people whom he gathered initially, only six remained at the end of 1941.