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Review of Maurice Nicoll′s Commentaries

By Sam Copley

It appeared in the quarterly magazine "Light" in 1952

It is good news that Dr. Maurice Nicoll′s "Commentaries" have been republished in paperback and will be more readily available than in recent years. These volumes were born of necessity: originally a series of papers written in the early days of the war when members of the Nicoll Groups were widely dispersed in the forces and elsewhere and travelling was difficult. Dr. Nicoll had moved from London to Birdlip and provided a refuge for some of the wives and children attached to the Group as well as a meeting place for those on leave who could find petrol coupons and otherwise to overcome the difficulties of travel. The pages were widely distributed so that, where possible, distant members could meet to discuss them and keep a common line of work alive amongst themselves. The contents were based upon the meetings held at Birdlip and the Work conducted by Dr. Nicoll amongst the people immediately around him. This probably accounts for the liveliness and immediacy that makes the "Commentaries" unique amongst books written by others than Gurdjieff and Ouspensky themselves, about their teaching. It should be remembered Ouspensky′s "In Search of the Miraculous" and Gurdjieff′s "All and Everything" were not published in England until 1949 and 1950 respectivily, whereas all the wartime "Commentaries" had been privately published in 1949.
Maurice Nicoll wrote from the experience of the day with a kind of alchemy that could transmute the base metal of humdrum life into gold of a different quality of experience without necessarily changing external circumstances; a change of inner attitude. It seems that Nicoll had assimilated the essence of Gurdjieff′s method into his being. The papers continued after the war when groups reassembled at Amwell House and some pupils had been delegated to conduct sub-groups in other places. Once again they provided a common line of work.
Knowing the conditions in which these papers were written, readers may be willing to accept repetition where it occurs. Dr. Nicoll wrote from a definite place in space and time and a definite place in his psychology on each occasion.
For some time we were obliged to read the short "Introduction to the Commentaries" (Vol.1, p.15) before proceeding to another commentary. The writer was anxious that his commentary should not be confused with The Work itself. The formulations, diagrams and cosmology were to remain inviolate and not subject to ornamentation or change at the whim of a sub-group leader. Nevertheless the commentary insists that one object of the Work is to make people think for themselves from the ideas.
Truth is truth and there is no copyright when a man sees it for himself and it becomes a part of his being. He will remain ever grateful to the guide who led him to the truth. But henceforth it is his own. In such a way Dr. Nicoll assimilated the truth and goodness of the Work, as the Gurdjieff teaching is usually called, and he became a transmitter for the benefit of others who had ears to hear what he was saying. Very many people remain inexpressibly thankful for his existence. Perhaps the paperback "Commentaries" will expand their number, particularly among the younger generation who, in many ways, seem more open to receive than their elders.

Nicoll′s remark on Goodness and Truth

If you connect yourself by your own inner perception with the truths of the Work and by doing them realize their good, you will receive the two foods necessary for the development of Essence. Just as the physical body requires literal food and drink for its nourishment, so does the psychological body require the two psychological foods of good and truth, which the Work can supply.

(Maurice Nicoll - Pyschological Commentaries, vol.5 page 1621)