The Gurdjieff Legacy Foundation Archives
Maurice Nicoll (1884–1953)
Henry Maurice Dunlop Nicoll, born in Kelso, Scotland, spent his childhood and early youth in Hampstead near London. He grew up in the midst of the social, political and literary scene of his father's career, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland and later the founder-editor of the British Weekly.1 First a student of science at Cambridge, Nicoll received his medical degree from St. Bartholomew's Hospital. From there he travelled to Vienna, Berlin and Switzerland, studying with Carl Gustav Jung. He was a pioneer in psychological medicine and became a Harley Street consultant in 1914 just before the war broke out. After Medical Service in the Army during the First World War in Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, he returned to England to continue his practice and wrote Dream Psychology, one of the first books on Jungian analysis of dreams.2 A poet, guitarist and writer, he wrote short stories for the Strand Magazine under the pen name of Martin Swayne and co-authored with his sister Constance one of London's longest running stage comedies, Lord Richard in the Pantry. Also a painter, he illustrated his own book, In Mesopotamia, published in 1917 under his pen name.3 Dr. Nicoll married Catherine Champion Jones in 1920, and spent part of his honeymoon with Carl and Emma Jung. A year later Jung became godfather to Nicoll's daughter, Jane.4 Nicoll died near London on August 30, 1953.
In the early 1900s Nicoll attended A. R. Orage's Psycho-Syntheses Group. He met P. D. Uspenski in 1921 and attended a number of his talks. He then attended Mr. Gurdjieff's lecture in London. A year later, in 1922, he gave up his practice to become a pupil of Mr. Gurdjieff, moving to France with his wife, Catherine, and their baby daughter. The family spent a year at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man at the Prieuré in Fontainebleau.5 In autumn 1923 both he and his wife understood that the Institute was to close. It was suggested that he accompany Orage to teach the Work in America, but Nicoll refused and left for England, resuming his Harley Street practice, never to meet Gurdjieff again.6 After recovering from serious illness, he resumed attending Uspenski's weekly meetings for seven years.7 He realized the experience at the Institute had brought him to a new understanding of the Work, the ideas finally becoming "alive."8
At the suggestion of Uspenski, Nicoll started his own groups in 1931 and taught for the rest of his life, supported by his wife.9 Weekly talks were held and were recorded by his secretary, Beryl Pogson, later published in a six-volume series called Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky. The first volume was published in 1948 with some urgency after Nicoll confided to his pupils that his health was deteriorating and probably he had not long to live. He survived to see the other five volumes published, the last dated August 1953. His groups counted over 100 members, and in 1936 the Movements were introduced in his groups. He, a chorister as a schoolboy, recollected what he could of Gurdjieff's music and Jessmin Howarth and Rosemary Nott taught the Movements. His books The New Man and Living Time (written 23 years earlier when publication of Work ideas was still banned) were published in 1950 and 1952, respectively.10 After Uspenski's death many of his pupils went to Dr. Nicoll's meetings. 11
While teaching the ideas of the Fourth Way, Nicoll maintained his interest in Christian teachings, Neo-Platonism and dream interpretation. He remained independent of Gurdjieff, and never returned to him, not seeking him out when he heard that Gurdjieff was alive and well in Paris after the War.12 Eventually, many of his pupils became part of the Gurdjieff Society in London.
Nicoll contributed to the Work by writing the following books: Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, his talks recorded and collected by his secretary and pupils;
The New Man: An Interpretation of some Parables and Miracles of Christ; Living Time and the Integration of the Life; The Mark; Simple Explanations of Work Ideas, published from Beryl Pogson's papers. Also published were Notes Taken at Meetings in 1934 and Selections from Meetings in 1953, based mainly on papers in volume 5 of the Commentaries.
Several books have been written about Maurice Nicoll, including Maurice Nicoll: A Portrait by Beryl Pogson; Portrait of a Vertical Man: An Appreciation of Dr. Maurice Nicoll by Samuel Copley; The Work Life: Based on the Teachings of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and Maurice Nicoll, by Beryl Pogson; Informal Work Talks and Teaching by Lewis Creed from unpublished material of Maurice Nicoll. His life and work is discussed in The Harmonious Circle: The Lives and Work of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and Other Followers by James Webb; A Point in the Work: A Continuation of the Teaching of the Work of G.I. Gurdjieff, P.D. Ouspensky and Maurice Nicoll; A Few Recollections of Dr. Nicoll and of Amwell 1949–1953 by Diana Pettavel; Unforgotten Fragments by Beryl Pogson and Others; Centenary Fragments by Beryl Pogson. "Combining Good and Truth, Now: An Homage to Dr. Maurice Nicoll" by Bob Hunter, published by Gurdjieff International Review.
Dr. Nicoll said, "A man is his understanding. If you wish to see what a man is, and not what he is like, look at the level of his understanding."13 Thus, he explained, a man's development is through his thoughts, feelings and actions, in short, his understanding.
All teachings, he said, speak of Man's supreme aim, that of transformation: "Our first birth is from the world of cells by evolution into that of Man. To be re-born or born again means to evolve up to a higher psychology, a higher possible level of understanding."14
During a lecture to his pupils in 1941, he explained that the Fourth Way is a way in life and must not be identified with a place, in this case the farm in Birdlip where his students gathered. "The work is not a place, the work is not a thing that you can touch or handle, the Work is not in France or England or America, or in any place in the world. The work is in your hearts and in your own understanding, and wherever a man has to go, the work can always go with him, if he maintains the right attitude towards it."15
Nicoll would say to his students that the Teaching should become alive and practised, not only thought about: "You must understand that mechanical Man does not observe himself and you may have a mechanical man who even knows the Work formatorily and regards himself as rather a professor of the whole subject and yet he has never practised a single iota of it."16
The importance of talking and inner talking was widely spoken about by Nicoll: "It is necessary to observe inner talking and from where it is coming from. Wrong inner talking is the breeding-ground not only of many future unpleasant states but also of wrong outer talking. You know that there is in the Work what is called the practice of inner silence."17
In a meeting in 1943 he said, "The Work means work—hard work—on yourself. Remember that this Work is for those who really wish to work and change themselves. It is not for those who wish to change the world."18
At a talk in 1952, Nicoll spoke about False Personality and Essence. Essence, he explained, can only grow through truth. "The False Personality is served by lawyers of a low class who always say that you are right and the other person is wrong. But if you have an interior self-observation and that is sincere, you know that you are wrong and the whole thing is your fault." This "inner confession" as he calls it, by acknowledging the lie in ourselves is, he says, "one of the most blessed experiences that you can have in this Work."19
The idea of Recurrence, which is largely dealt with in Nicoll's talks, is not part of Gurdjieff's System and he always made it clear that this idea came from Uspenski.20 A conversation between him and Uspenski regarding recurrence is quoted in P. D. Ouspensky: Pioneer of the Fourth Way by Bob Hunter. 21
1. Beryl Pogson, Maurice Nicoll, A Portrait (New York: Fourth Way Books, 1987), 2.
2. Maurice Nicoll, The New Man: An Interpretation of Some Parables and Miracles of Christ (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Eureka Editions, 1999), 1.
3. Ibid., 2.
4. William McGuire, "Firm Affinities: Jung's Relations with Britain and the United States," Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing, http://www.pep-web.org/document.php?id=joap.040.0301a&type=hitlist&num=6&query=zone1%2Cparagraphs%7Czone2%2Cparagraphs%7Cauthor%2C%22Mcguire%2C+W.%22#hit1
5. Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky (York Beach, ME: Red Wheel/Weiser, 1996), Foreword to Vol. I.
6. William Patrick Patterson, The Struggle of the Magicians (Fairfax, CA: Arete Communications, 1998), 95.
7. Bob Hunter, P.D. Ouspensky: Pioneer of the Fourth Way (Utrecht, The Netherlands: Eureka Editions, 2002), 145.
8. Pogson, 93.
9. Hunter, 166.
10. Bob Hunter, "Combining Good and Truth, Now: An Homage to Dr. Maurice Nicoll," Gurdjieff International Review, vol. III (Spring 2000), http://www.gurdjieff.org/hunter1.htm
11. Hunter, P.D. Ouspensky: Pioneer of the Fourth Way, 180, 239.
13. Nicoll, The New Man, 6, 7.
14. Ibid., 10.
15. Nicoll, Psychological Commentaries on the Teaching of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, Vol. I, 15.
16. Ibid., Vol. IV, 1317.
17. Ibid., Vol. I, 215.
18. Ibid., 254.
19. Ibid., Vol. IV, 1378.
20. Hunter, "Combining Good and Truth, Now."
21. Hunter, P.D. Ouspensky: Pioneer of the Fourth Way, 9, 10.