Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk:
New Zealand Poet, “Polish King,” & “Good European”
Part 1 of 3
“The course of my life is an indictment of the whole
dishonest racket which calls itself democracy.”
—Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk
Count Geoffrey Wladislas Vaile Potocki de Montalk (1903–1997) was one of the generation of the Golden Age of New Zealand Culture. The band of New Zealand literati included Potocki’s friend and fellow poet Rex Fairburn, Curnow, R. A. K. Mason, D’arcy Cresswell, et al. As one would expect, most of those who were politically inclined during this inter-war period turned to Marxism. However,
like Ezra Pound, Rex Fairburn rejected Marxism in favor of Social Credit, and again like Pound even considered Fascism, albeit briefly.
Potocki however turned unequivocally to the Right. Among bohemian eccentrics, he was surely the most noticeable in the London literary milieu in which he spent a significant amount of his life.
Potocki emerged from a New Zealand that was very much a British cultural outpost. However, Depression era New Zealand afforded the country the opportunity to forge a sense of national and cultural identity that was something other than an imitation of Britain, while striving for its own level of excellence. Such was not to be the case, and what developed instead was a parochial form of Americanization, and consumer culture, particularly as the post World II period saw the eclipse of British authority in favor of US commercial banality.
Potocki, Fairburn, and even the Marxists such as Mason, were acutely aware of their responsibility of forging a “new civilization” in the antipodes, and some, such as Potocki in particular, self-exiled to Britain and elsewhere in the hope of a more fruitful cultural environment.
Potocki had left New Zealand in disgust at the cultural climate and persuaded Fairburn to join him in London, since New
Zealand prevented them from doing what they were born here for, “to make and to mould a New Zealand civilization,” as Potocki stated it.
However, in Britain, neither Fairburn nor Potocki were impressed with bohemian society and the Bloomsbury intellectuals who were riddled with homosexuality, for which both Potocki and Fairburn had an abiding dislike, although Potocki dressed and conducted himself as an eccentric bohemian par excellence.
Potocki was born in Remuera, Auckland, New Zealand, on October 6, 1903. Potocki’s description of his birth, related to Greig Fleming in 1993, consists mainly of astrological correspondences, showing his lifelong mystical inclination. Potocki also speaks from the start about his own “heathenism,” a problematic preference for the claimant to the Throne of Poland and Hungary, mentioning elsewhere that he “hated and despised Christian morality.”
Potocki, ever flamboyant, was not inclined to modesty, describing his countenance from childhood as one of great nobility as to have appeared “fabulous in comparison to the low level of New Zealand in that regard,” one that indicated a person destined for intelligence and talent.
A Renaissance Man out of his time (a “Man against Time”?), Potocki spoke and wrote French, Provençal, Latin, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Italian, German, and Sanskrit, and in the last years of his life was learning Maori (he considered the Maori to be superior to the common run of New Zealanders).
Known for his outspokenly pro-fascist and pro-Nazi sentiments—an outspokenness not dampened by the war and life in wartime England—Potocki was, however, more than anything a traditionalist and a royalist, a neo-aristocrat who in some respects can be compared to another mystic, Julius Evola. Potocki was profoundly conscious of his identity and his lineage, and New Zealand–which prides itself on being the egalitarian society par excellence–can do nothing but repel such an individual. Potocki was to reminisce of his native land: “Life in New Zealand is a wonderful training for a future King—a superb lesson in ‘How a nation ought not to be governed.’”
His very dress was that of another era, with flowing cloak, large beret, flowing hair, and sandals, as his daily attire in London, and the appearance of a large-bearded, robed magus in his later years, including those back in New Zealand, a style that during and immediately after the war was also supplemented by a self-designed “uniform” in the manner of the Polish army.
Potocki’s claim to Polish royal linage was legitimate enough, despite being dismissed as an “embarrassment” by his New Zealand family. Count Joseph Wladislas Edmond Potocki de Montalk dispensed with his title and reduced his name down to de Montalk upon migrating to New Zealand from France in 1868, as befits a land without noble tradition other than that of the Maori. The Potocki family is of ancient royal lineage, of very distinguished pedigree, and is prominent in the history of Poland, being one of the oldest of the nation.
Geoffrey began writing poetry at eight, and decided from then that he was to be a poet.
Having lost his mother at an early age, and with a step-mother who was unsympathetic, the life of Geoffrey and his brother became hard, including frequent starvation when his father, an architect, had financial difficulties.
The family moved to Nelson, in the South Island, in 1917. Geoffrey did well at High School, winning a prize for excellence in English, French, Latin, and history, and was highly regarded by the headmaster as having a very personable character. Moving to Wellington in 1918, Geoffrey continued to excel at school. In 1919, at only 16, he became a teacher and privately studied Greek at Victoria University College. In 1921 he returned to Auckland with the aim of studying law and entered the employ of a law firm as a clerk.
By 1923 Potocki had entered the literary milieu, and had met R. A. K. Mason. Despite being a newcomer, a literary group formed around him, and the feeling formed that they were a “poetic aristocracy” which would revitalize English poetry. Potocki still had faith that New Zealand, as a colony, had not been infected by the decadence of the “old world.” He published his first collection of poems as a four-page leaflet.
Potocki then dropped law and entered a seminary to study for the Anglican priesthood, not because he felt he had a divine calling but because he was attracted to the ritual and liturgy. This did not leave him in his later years, as he would attend Evensong at the Anglican Cathedral in Wellington for the same reason as he had done in his youth at the Christchurch Cathedral, despite his continued adherence to paganism.
It was in seminary that he learned about missionary printing in the 19th century, and this prompted his own lifelong interest in self-publishing limited editions of his works on antiquated presses.
Potocki was briefly married in 1924. Perhaps predictably, he could not settle to family responsibilities. He tried to work as a milk vendor, although he could not compel himself to demand the money owed him by poor families, nor did he have an interest in money-making per se, surely itself a sign of innate aristocracy. He returned to Christchurch with his family and re-entered law for a short time, but continued with his real passion, poetry.
In 1926 Potocki received a letter from Rex Fairburn, who had briefly known him at primary school, and a life-long friendship ensued, with Potocki assuming the role of mentor as the more worldly-wise of the two.
At Easter 1927 Potocki published his first collection of poems, Wild Oats, which he dedicated to Fairburn.
Not surprisingly given the communistic character of much of the literary milieu, Fairburn was flirting with communism as the means by which the artist could become economically independent to pursue his profession. However, he was not by temperament a rationalist or a materialist and was also drawn to a spirit of aristocratic feeling that did not settle easily with socialism.
Others of the artistic and literary callings who turned to the Right around the same time, such as Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, and Wyndham Lewis, did so for similar reasons, fearing that a cult of the proletariat or of mass, undifferentiated humanity, as much democratic in spirit as communistic, would result in the drowning of all real individual excellence.
Fairburn asked his royalist friend de Montalk to read Oscar Wilde’s The Soul of Man Under Socialism, to show Geoffrey that the aristocratic spirit and the creative genius could be accommodated under socialism.
However, when Fairburn met A. R. Orage, editor of the New English Weekly, in 1931, he discovered that such freedom for creativity could not only be maintained but also enhanced by the economics of Social Credit (Orage’s magazine was from 1932 discussing new social and political ideas, with a focus of Maj. C. H. Douglas’ proposals). Fairburn had in 1930 already read and been heavily influenced by Spengler’s Decline of the West, so his rejection of Marxism was a logical development.
Fairburn was avid in promoting Social Credit and opposing usury, whereas Potocki’s perspective must be discerned from more meager sources. For example in his pamphlet on New Zealand race relations written in 1987, Potocki stated: “But as far as I am concerned the present financial system busy plundering and misgoverning the world is in its higher reaches a criminal anti-human conspiracy.”
Stephanie de Montalk writes of the significance of Geoffrey and his contemporaries of this period:
Although Wild Oats collected the writings of youth and, in keeping with a young man’s follies, contained moments of extravagance and grandeur, it was nonetheless one of the starting points in the development of New Zealand’s poetic identity. It placed Potocki among the generation of writers who would lay the basis of New Zealand literature as it developed in the 1930s.
This was the Golden Age of New Zealand culture, and one of which Fairburn, Potocki, Mason, Curnow, and others of the time wanted to see flourish. However, unlike what might be called the New Zealandist commitments of the rest, including Marxists such as R. A. K. Mason, and above all Potocki’s protégé Fairburn, Geoffrey was not foremost a New Zealander but a royalist and a traditionalist.
While Fairburn et al., achieved wide recognition in New Zealand, Potocki departed, and only returned much later in life, having kept the commitment he had written to Fairburn when Wild Oats appeared, that his first collection was a “test” which, if it failed to gain a good response in New Zealand, would prove that the country was not fit for Potocki and he would have done with the place. Potocki got mixed reviews, partly because of the bias against someone who was “in the process of dissolving his marriage.” Fairburn too had had enough of New Zealand, and Potocki wrote to him that poets are treated badly here, in “this land of white savages and All Blacks” while “they are feted, laurelled and crowned in Merrie England.” In October 1927 he left for England.
By 1931 Potocki was earning sufficient money to devote himself to writing, and was being published regularly back home in the Auckland and Christchurch newspapers as a feature writer. It was his imprisonment in 1932 on “obscenity” charges in relation to poetry that was to embitter him toward England, together with his actions during World War II, that were to block his path to the type of success achieved by Fairburn, Mason, and others.
By 1930, however, his poetic vision was already showing aristocratic and elitist traits. That year Surprising Songs was published, in which Potocki condemns in the foreword “Christianity and democracy,” against which he “raises the banner of the aristocratic gods, and their sons, the kings and the poets.” He describes New Zealand as “Hell” from which he had fled as soon as he could. In both mystical and traditionalist tenor Potocki states that poetry is the expression of the “great spirit, the outrider of the hordes of men, the king proclaiming his kingdom, the avatar bearing in his own being s light against the darkness.”
This and other volumes were favorably, even enthusiastically, reviewed from Europe to New Zealand.
Fairburn now arrived from New Zealand, as disheartened by the low cultural level as Potocki, and seeing the hope of establishing a “native literature” as unlikely. However, to Potocki’s disappointment, Fairburn, the quintessential New Zealander, was more interested in pub-crawls than in cathedrals.
English Literati & Prisons
At this time, Potocki was learning more of his lineage and began a tentative claim to Poland’s Throne, the main obstacle as he saw it being that he was not a Catholic. The claim was strengthened several years later when in Poland he found that the Potockis had married into the Piast family, which had reigned over Poland until the mid 17th century.
Potocki, by now a rather well established poet, embarked on a controversial publication that was to end his acceptance among mainstream publishers. A collection of poems, including translations from Rabelais and Verlaine, and some explicit verses in an account of some sexual misadventures by Rex Fairburn, entitled Here Lies John Penis, was intended only for distribution among friends, and was to be printed by Potocki himself on his small press.
Potocki’s efforts to get the type set by de Lozey resulted in the MS being taken to the police, Potocki’s room was raided and he was arrested, along with fellow New Zealand expatriate Douglas Glass. Both were remanded in custody in Brixton Prison. At trial Sir Ernest Wild warned three women jurors that “this was a very filthy case indeed,” two of whom excused themselves from service.
Potocki’s refusal to swear on the Bible caused some consternation in Court, and there was the question as to whether a pagan’s oath would be acceptable.  The oath he swore in Court was to Apollo, raising his right arm “in the Roman salute,” “like Julius Caesar or Benito Mussolini,” he was to later recount.
The verdict was “guilty.” Justice Wild having made it very clear how the vote should proceed, he had not even allowed the jury leave to deliberate. Potocki was sentenced to six months in Wormwood Scrubs.
The case was widely reported and commented upon, generally with sympathy for de Montalk. Among those who tried to help financially were W. B. Yeats, J. B. Priestly, H. G. Wells, T. S. Eliot, Bertrand Russell, Rebecca West, Aldous Huxley, and Augustus John. Leonard and Virginia Woolf organized a campaign for Potocki, and questions were asked in the House of Commons for the case to be reviewed. In the end, actual support from his well-wishers turned out to be meager. The Appeal heard in March 1932 was rejected.
Potocki was to relate much later to his cousin and biographer Stephanie that he believed his predicament, which ended his success as a recognized poet, had been the result of Douglas Glass having muttered unfavorable remarks about Jews in front of de Lozey when they had taken the proofs to the publisher for typesetting. Potocki had not known de Lozey was Jewish and did not understand Glass’s references at the time. Potocki was informed after trial by the publisher Knott that de Lozey had taken exception to Glass’s comments, and wanted him arrested, which could not be done other than by also having de Montalk arrested. Potocki opined that it was really Glass that the police had been after, because he was a petty thief and a swindler. 
The judicial experiences in Britain left Potocki embittered towards the justice system and the British class system. An antagonism towards Jews also emerged at that time.
Some, such as the Woolfs, assumed that Potocki would go “Left,” like the common rut of Bloomsbury. But it is evident from his general character and outlook that de Montalk was, like his contemporaries Pound, Eliot, Yeats, Roy Campbell, etc., innately and irredeemably of the “Right,” his royalist sympathies being manifest at an early age and well prior to his escapades with the British Establishment.
In a chapter called “Quack, Quack” in his Social Climbers in Bloomsbury, Potocki was to record his one meeting with the Woolfs in which Virginia sought agreement on her belief that her husband’s race was much more civilized than the English and had been since ancient times. Potocki replied that, to be frank, he did not at all agree.
After his release from prison, Potocki assumed the style he was to retain throughout his life: medieval robes and a crimson cloak, styled after the garb of Richard II, with sandals, a velvet beret adorned with the Polish royal eagle and the Potocki coat of arms, and waist length hair that had first allowed to grow out while in jail.
He set off for Poland in 1933, where he was welcomed by the literati and obtained employment as a translator of Polish poetry and prose into English. He was greeted with celebrity status by the press, which recognized his royal pedigree—despite the ill-informed denigration it had received from the Court in England—and remarked upon his aristocratic character and bearing.
Stephanie de Montalk hypothesizes that his “Anti-Semitism” might have galvanized in Poland, having been seeded by experiences in England. However, at that time there was little need to visit Poland to draw conclusions about Jews based on their conspicuous roles in communism and the “Left” in general. That was how Jews were widely perceived among well-informed and high-born quarters since the time of the 1917 Revolution.
 Stephanie de Montalk, Unquiet World: The Life of Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk (Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press, 2001), 19. Hereafter S. de Montalk.
 Ibid., 84.
 K. R. Bolton, Thinkers of the Right (Luton: Luton Publications, 2003), 144–45.
 Ibid., 144.
 Ibid., 86.
 Ibid., 146. Fairburn wrote to Communist poet R. A. K. Mason in 1932 that if a future Labour Government did not enact Social Credit economic policy he would start a Fascist movement.
 Ibid., 142.
 Grei Fleming, ed., Aristo: Confessions of Count Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk (Christchurch, New Zealand: Leifmotif Press, 1993), 15.
 Ibid., 30.
 Ibid., 27.
 Savitri Devi, The Lightning and the Sun (Calcutta: Savitri Devi Mukherji, 1958), Ch. III: “Men in time, above time and against Time.” Potocki’s post-war friend, the avid Hitlerite Savitri Devi, formulated a cyclic paradigm of the outstanding historical individual, which was inspired by Hinduism.
 S. de Montalk, 63.
 Ibid., , 20.
 It is of passing interest that a few years ago, under the Clark Labour Government, New Zealand dispensed with the British orders of merit in favor of typically bland New Zealand orders; a decision that was reversed under the present National Government.
 S. de Montalk, 46–47.
 Ibid., 62.
 Ibid., 68.
 Ibid., 79.
 Ibid., 83.
 Ibid., 86.
 Denys Trussell, Fairburn (Auckland: Auckland University Press, 1984), 48.
 Stephanie de Montalk, 91.
 K. R. Bolton, Thinkers of the Right.
 Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism (1891). As one might expect, the form of “socialism” advocated by Wilde is quite different from that pursued under any type of Marxism. Wilde believed that socialism, or the common ownership of property and co-operation instead of competition, would free all from economic servitude and daily drudgery, and allow the creative to pursue their creativity. The “socialism” of Wilde would enhance rather than eliminate “Individualism,” and it should not be based on the State holding economic power, as it now has political power, otherwise “Industrial Tyrannies” would result, which would be worse than the present system. Wilde saw property ownership as a “burden” and a “bore” that intruded upon one’s pursuit of creativity, while lack of ownership under the present system conversely resulted in destitution. “The true perfection of man lies, not in what man has, but in what man is. . . . With the abolition of private property, then, we shall have true, beautiful, healthy Individualism. Nobody will waste his life in accumulating things, and the symbols for things. One will live. To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” http://wilde.thefreelibrary.com/Soul-of-Man-under-Socialism
 Denys Trussell, 49.
 Ibid., 109.
 Ibid., 115.
 Ibid., 110.
 G. P. de Montalk, Kahore, Kahore! (Hamilton, New Zealand: The Mélissa Press, 1988). Kahore is Maori broadly meaning “no,” or “of no benefit to us,” and the like, which de Montalk states as the subheading of the pamphlet was “what the chieftains said when the pakehas wanted to buy Remuera.”
 S. de Montalk, 93–94.
 Ibid., 94.
 Ibid., 106.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 120–21.
 Ibid., 131.
 Ibid., 135.
 Ibid., 146.
 Ibid., 147.
 Ibid., 160.
 Ibid., 158.
 Ibid., 163–64.
 “I was subjected to such a boycott as is unheard of in the annals of world literature. The whole thing had a most unfortunate effect on my life. It extinguished my career as a poet.” Geoffrey de Montalk, 158.
 Ibid., 177.
 Ibid., 195.
 Geoffrey Potocki de Montalk, “Social Climbers of Bloomsbury,” Right Review, London, 1939.
 S. de Montalk, 207.
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