Saturday Evenings at Mendham, Conversations with Madame Ouspensky
Produced in 2018 by C. Smith, this is a rather odd little booklet, approximately half of it is blank. There is a preface signed Dorothy Darlington, who was a close friend of Madame Ouspensky, and met Gurdjieff when he visited Mendham in 1948. An editor’s note states that Ouspensky would discuss the ideas on Saturday evenings, and that some of these notes had been corrected by her. They are set out in five parts: talks at Mendham in 1945, 1946, and 1947; then “jottings from a notebook,” and finally “messages.” Sadly, it is a meagre harvest from many years of acquaintance.
On the first page of text comes this uncompromising insistence on the importance of aim” “Work is a definite effort directed to a definite aim. But which aim? For us development of consciousness – change from one level to another which is higher. A man is only with us if he has this aim.” This is of course the pure Gurdjieff teaching. Mr Adie had some materials from Mme O. in which what was written was “Work is a definite effort in a definite direction for a definite aim.”
Some of it is enigmatic: “Man is not given free will. But he is given free choice.” (11) In one sense, this is absurd. If one has no free will one cannot choose. But the difference can be understood as our having only a very limited free will, the ability to make a choice in a moment of presence. Perhaps from that free will can be developed. Read like that, it is very different, and related to what is later written: “A man who recognises the difference in levels can choose which influence he will be open to and accept. By being receptive to higher influences, the medium itself becomes changed” (18).
Time and again she returns to the question of aim, hence this important warning: “If people forget their own aim, then the means is taken for the end” (13). “Where aim exists, everything is judged by it. … With aim, there exists right and wrong” (17).
A significant point is this: “To be a self-creative being needs great desire. Desire includes mind, is based on the realisation of what a man needs in order to escape. Desire shows the level of origin of desire – “Who in me desires what?” – When a man feels the immense greatness of the world and his own smallness, desire to grow develops” (20).
Mme Ouspensky clearly had an extraordinary mind: “The chief characteristic of imagination is that it gives no result. … You can imagine a tree, but try to get an apple off it” (21).
I love this line: “Mr Gurdjieff is our future. We are his past (37).”
There are certain signs that Mme Ouspensky only had Gurdjieff’s system as he had developed it in his earlier years, not the fuller panoply of methods which he had developed by 1948, and he was at the height of his powers. Hence, she states that we cannot create energy, only “save energy, stop wastage” (30). We cannot create energy, only God can create, but we can attract a higher energy than is otherwise available: and exercises like the Four Ideals were devised for that purpose. Call it creation or don’t, the FIE is still a lot more than saving energy and stopping wastage. The ideas and techniques as presented here, never progress before the basic. Now the fundamentals are the most important elements, but to get beyond a certain point, more is needed. As I have suggested in my book Gurdjieff: Mysticism, Contemplation, and Exercises, Gurdjieff found this for himself, and made adjustments accordingly.
When there is decreasing progress, what happens I think, is that the person leading the group tends to blame the pupils. I suspect that something of that happened with Mme Ouspensky and explains, in part, her fierceness. These people knew that Gurdjieff had helped them change, but they did not have his presence, and in lieu of the methods he later brought, they could not stimulate this change in others: and this perhaps led to frustration.
Finally, I will venture a few comments. The booklet is not bad, but neither is it good. It is average. However, the level sinks on the last page and a half of the booklet, titled “Dorothy Darlington.” The editor gives the impression that Darlington edited The Fourth Way alone. She did not. Mr Adie told me that Mr Ouspensky himself supervised that work, and while he was alive Madame Kadloubovsky was his main aide, and after his death, Mme K. worked in tandem with Mme Ouspensky, who was already unwell. Webb says simply that The Fourth Way is Kadloubovsky’s selection from Ouspensky’s talks. It was published as “prepared under the general supervision of Sophia Ouspensky.” It sounds to me like Mr Adie’s account was correct: Mme Kadloubovsky, the perfect secretary, made the selections. In gathering that material, she was directed first by Mr and later by Mme Ouspensky; while all along there were others like Dorothy Darlington performing important and much valued work in fetching transcripts, typing and correcting.
I don’t think it right that this booklet ends with a critical, even negative note. I shall mention that issue, and then in Part Three, reproduce a letter written by Dorothy Darlington to Mr Adie. It will end this review on a positive note.
At the end of the booklet it is said of Dorothy Darlington, “In 1965, she was sent to Australia to work in tandem with George Adie (she found it impossible to work with him) … Dorothy was very poor.” This is right, but it is not the whole truth. Neither Mr nor Mrs Adie ever said a word to me about Darlington, but after their deaths I found correspondence from both the Adies and also from Darlington which established this: first, she was not sent to Australia, she decided to go, in her own words “to try it out here for a year to see the possibilities,” when the Adies had to relocate to Australia on account of his health.
Mr Adie loaned her the money to come, and when she arrived, she initially stayed with or near the Adies: his letter of 24 March 1966, written after they had purchased the Newport property (but before they had moved into it) gives the impression that she was, until then, living with them but is clear that she would not be moving to Newport. In another letter from 1966, Mr Adie wrote: “Miss Darlington will not be coming with us as she has accepted an appointment as “stand in” critic for theatre and concerts for the Sydney Herald. This necessitates her living on the spot in the city, as the coastal suburbs have no railway services or late night transport. She has therefore moved to a private hotel, close to the harbour, with interesting views of the estuary and passing ships, and with fresh breezes even on the warmest day. We saw her installed a week ago and yesterday she spent the day with us in Sydney. She finds the hotel and the location very much to her liking.”
Mr Adie also loaned her money from time to time when she particularly short of funds. He had tried to collaborate with her, but it was Mrs Adie who said it could not work out because Darlington would come to group meetings drunk, insult the Adies, and then have no memory of what she had said and done. In her letter, Mrs Adie said that if Dorothy could remember what happened, they could deal with it, but she did not remember and evidently did not believe what they told her. And that is why Dorothy could not work with either of the Adies.
As stated, I don’t like to end on a negative note. I would not have mentioned any of this but for the gratuitous defamation of Mr Adie. Here, now, to end on a positive note is the last of the surviving letters Dorothy wrote to Mr Adie, my teacher.
Dorothy Darlington 22 August 1971
Shaw Savill Line, S.S. Northern Star
307/48 Milson Road, Cremorne
My dear George,
What a delightful surprise to find a letter and “Monkey” awaiting my return here (after a few days of ‘convalescence’ with Doris Fitton)! It was a charming gesture on your part which I value very much – Most of all I am happy for this evidence that – at least and when all is said and done – the very real bond of common “parentage” is strong enough to allow this little breach in the (to me) artificial wall that has grown between us.
I am greatly enjoying Monkey which I had never read though it was much in vogue among the Faithful in the U.S. The life of the Buddha I do know, so the kindly will is appreciated without need of implementation of deed!
My best thanks to you and my love to both you and Helen always,