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Fourth Way Perspectives

Thornton Wilder Remembers Gurdjieff

Gurdjieff sits on the terrace of the café Henri IV drinking coffee and cognac and working on a translation of the First Series when the writer Thornton Wilder is introduced to him. Gurdjieff grunts and motions him to sit down and have a coffee and cognac. Asking Wilder a number of questions, he laughs inordinately at every reply.

Wilder is not put off. He sees in Gurdjieff's face someone who is "at once sly and jovial, arrogant and clownish." He looked, says Wilder, "like a very intelligent Armenian rug-dealer."

Gurdjieff orders more coffee and cognac and tells Wilder:

"In the world, everybody idiot. Twenty-one kinds of idiot: simple idiot, ambitious idiot, compassionate idiot, objective idiot, subjective idiot—everybody one kind of idiot."

Wilder tells him he thinks he is a subjective idiot.

"Non," answers Gurdjieff, laughing uproariously. "Il ne faut pas aller trop vite. Il faut chercher.—Mais vous êtes idiot type vingt: vous êtes idiot sans espoir!" (No. One mustn't go too fast. One must search.—But you are idiot type twenty: you are idiot without hope.)

Wilder is not offended and Gurdjieff asks him to come to dinner at the Prieuré. Says Wilder: "I had begun to like him, and his eyes rested on me affectionately."

Gurdjieff holds his glass toward Wilder and says—barely able to speak for laughter: "I idiot, too. Everybody idiot. I idiot vingt-et-un. I"—Gurdjieff holds his forefinger emphatically pointed skyward—"I the unique idiot." And he breaks into convulsions of laughter.

At the Prieuré, Gurdjieff greets him with what Wilder describes as "buffoon joviality" and introduces him to an American lady.

"Smell him and see if he have money," Gurdjieff tells her, sniffing at Wilder. "Yes, I smell him. I think he have money."

Wilder sees this as "brilliant" for he suspects Gurdjieff of pressing people for money.

There are some twenty-five people at dinner, all served at one vast table. Before each place is a bottle of cognac. The principal dish is a sheep brought in on a large platter, its head still on, and lying in a bed of cooked fruits.

Gurdjieff is noisy, jovial and clowning, and constantly toasting Wilder with cognac. The other guests are muted, meditative, and withdrawn.

"Gurdjieff and I," says Wilder, "were the only happy people at the table."

After dinner Gurdjieff offers to let him read the First Series, telling him that when it is published it will cost five thousand dollars.

"I give you five thousand dollars," Gurdjieff says.