23 June 2007

Dr. Trelawney unmasked-- Aleister Crowley and Dr. Philip Oyler

Philip Oyler. SCARLYN. E. S. Fowler, Eastbourne (1911)

Current Selling Prices
$100-$120 /£60-£80

A small thin 28 page book of poems. The poems are of a pantheistic, Theosophical bent and are by a young man who went on to live a long life as an educationalist, Utopian, 'New Lifer' , country writer and 'Prophet of the Soil.' He was also an inspiration for the mystic and mage Dr Trelawney - a recurrent character in Anthony Powell's roman fleuve 'A Dance to the Music of Time' . Tim D'Arch Smith, in the revised edition of his excellent work 'The Books of the Beast' has a chapter on Dr. Trelawney ('thaumaturge and seer') where he draws parallels with Aleister Crowley and Powell's fictional creation. At that point Powell, much amused, wrote to Tim D'Arch Smith and said that Crowley was indeed an inspiration but he also used a certain Dr. Oyler. He notes in his journal for 4/8/88 that Oyler was-
''...an earlier avatar...who used to lead his mob of children in Grecian costume in runs across Grayshott Common, when we lived at Stonedene just before the First War. I have come across references to Oyler occasionally (I foolishly did not note them down.) He was just as described in 'The Kindly Ones' with a touch of Crowley added...'
Until I found that Dr.Oyler was also known as Philip Oyler (1880-1973) I could find little on him. But as Philip Oyler he is reasonably well known especially as a country writer - his 1950 book on farm life in the Dordogne 'The Generous Earth' is regarded as a minor classic and came out in Penguin in 1961. He seems to have inspired the earlier incarnation of Dr. Trelawney. The later Dr T is a darker figure, owing much more to Crowley - at one point in 'Music of Time' he is hounded by the 'Sunday papers' after a devotee had fallen to her death at a temple Trelawney had set up in remote North Wales '...there was talk of nameless rites, drugs, disagreeable forms of discipline...'

Oyler wrote an earlier work before the slim volume of verse 'Scarlyn' that is rarer (but not, as yet, valuable) - 'Invitation to the Woods' published by Henry J Drane in 1910. At 175 pages it is probably not verse but may be a 'back to nature' polemic. Drane is a fascinating publisher of odd books, many of which are now very thin on the ground - they published Edward Heron-Allen and Edgar Saltus among others. Oyler contributed to various theosophical and New Age / New Life magazines at this time including 'The Path' and 'The Adyar Bulletin.'

In 1912 he wrote an article on 'Education from a Universal Standpoint' for 'Freewoman.' He then seems to have founded a (progressive) school at Headley Down in Hampshire known as 'the Morshin School.' From here he published 'non cranky' books on diet and well-being such as ' Simple Rules of Health'. For some reason this is still mentioned on the net as '3d. net. Post free from the author, Morshin School, Headley, Hants' as if you could still send (or Paypal) 3d (about 6 cents) to him. He was instrumental in bringing Rutland Boughton's music festival to Glastonbury from Letchworth. This flourished from 1914 to 1926.

Oyler nexts turns up in the 1940s near Sarlat in the Dordogne where he buys a farm and discovers a vanished pastoral world and becomes something of an advocate for the soil, for an acre of land for every countryman and other Utopian ideas. His books 'The Generous Earth and 'Son of the Generous Earth' are about his experiences there. He was a neighbour of Delius whom he saw often and his last recorded writing is a piece on the great composer published in 1972. He is mentioned, even in 2007, in holiday brochures and estate agents sites about this still wonderful area. He is unknown to the DNB and Wikipedia.

VALUE? This little book of poems, 'Scarlyn', which started me on this quest, is very hard to find but, sadly, not easy to sell. A dealer would probably hold out for at least £40 because there are seldom any copies for sale and it is likely to be the only one on the net. 'Scarlyn' appears to be a sort of beautiful seer wandering with his love 'deep set in thought,/...in the elfin autumn woods...' The book is illustrated with drawings of trees and windswept landscape by R. Wheatcroft and dedicated to 'My Mother-- who does not know me.' A sample of the verse - possibly the kind of thing he would have addressed to his followers on the downs:
'Walk circumspectly. Day is wrapped about
With night, and all we know is still no more
Than all we say is all of that we feel.
The past is Now, Now is eternity.
Our soul-life is in it, and when we live it
We are in it too. What the past aspired
To be, we are...'

Step aside Eckhart Tolle. Lastly one wonders whether Oyler, like Crowley and Dr T, had some sort of mystical greeting:- with the Great Beast it was, of course, 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law' to which the only response was 'Love is the Law, Love under Will.' Trelawney's was 'The Essence of the All is the Godhead of the True' to which the correct response was the splendid 'The Vision of Visions heals the Blindness of Sight.' Trelawney's pronouncement on death, later echoed by Scorpio Murtlock his sinister latterday follower / reincarnation in the hippie era, has the Oyler touch - 'There is no Death in nature, only transition, blending, synthesis, mutation...'


Anonymous said...

I would like to use the lines you quote from "Scarlyn" in some lectures? Hope that is allright. As you say they echo the great Tolle. Mike

Bookride said...

Please feel free! It is not quite out of copyright but shorts bursts of quotation are fine I know...

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful-- a synthesis of fresh knowledge about this traveller in space and time. Katya

Viola said...

Found this in the Delius Society journal (Eric is Eric Fenby, close friend of Delius)

Her name was Soldanella Oyler and he talked about her for almost an hour. Soldanella was the daughter of Philip Oyler and the Swedish painter Elsa Giöbel, a friend of Carl Larsson. Eric was a Catholic and the Oyler family were Swedenborgians. Philip Oyler ran an estate outside Grez-sur- Loing on behalf of its millionaire owner Theo Pitcairn, who was also a friend of Delius. Eric told me that he and Soldanella got engaged on the bridge at Grez, but it was kept a secret. One of the reasons was that Soldanella’s mother was ill and they did not wish to upset her. Soldanella was expected to take care

of the family in the event of her mother’s death – something she eventually had to do until 1972.
After Delius’s death Eric went to Sweden to visit Soldanella’s family in Nora. IhaveaphototakenbySoldanellaofEricsittinginaboatonaSwedish lake with a stylish hat. In Sweden too he met Soldanella’s uncle, who had been a friend of August Strindberg and had published the latter’s Blue Book, a work influenced by Swedenborg. Soldanella told me that Eric had had serious discussions with Albert Björk, her uncle, about converting to the ‘New Church’ (based on Swedenborg’s interpretation of the Bible) if he were to marry Soldanella. But Eric said to me that he found the prospect unbearable of having to stay and take care of Soldanella’s mother and then constantly being visited by the Björks, who always needed lots of attention. In a letter from Eric to Soldanella that I was given after her passing, he wrote to her from Grez on the day after Delius died saying that he really longed for her and was bitter that she hadn’t replied to his marriage proposal. At our lunch he told me they were still in contact, exchanging Christmas cards among other things...
Back in Sweden, I had an unexpected phone call. It was from Soldanella Oyler. Eric had written her a letter. She spoke with an English accent, and a very old-fashioned one at that. One of Soldanella’s ancestors had been a friend of Beethoven and Haydn; his name was Pehr Frigel, and to my astonishment, he had been born in Kalmar, the town where I myself was born. Frigel had reorganized the Royal Swedish Academy of Music for King Gustaf III in the late 1700s. Soldanella and I, from that day on, talked a couple of times every week, sometimes for hours. Later she became the godmother of my youngest daughter. Often when we talked about her time in Grez, she said: “It’s like a dream I just dreamt.” We talked many times about her teas with Delius, walks with Jelka, of whom she was very fond, and a horrible performance of Delius’s music in his house, and how often she heard him shouting: “Carry me away!”(a call that was particularly embarassing when he grew bored with new guests).
Soldanella and my family saw each other quite often. She lived about six hours’drive away from us.The first time my wife and I went to see her we were amazed – it was like entering another world and time. Some of her furniture was from the sixteenth century and the house was full of paintings by her mother. Philip Oyler couldn’t stand his wife’s painting and burned some of them in their garden. They divorced in the late 1930s. Soldanella was a close friend of August Strindberg’s last fiancée, Fanny Falkner (Strindberg and she had become engaged about a year before his death).