George William Russell

George William Russell (10 April 1867 – 17 July 1935) who wrote with the pseudonym Æ (sometimes written AE or A.E.), was an Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, painter and Irish nationalist. He was also a writer on mysticism, and a central figure in the group of devotees of theosophy which met in Dublin for many years.

George William Russell
George William Russell - Project Gutenberg eText 19028
George William Russell
Born10 April 1867
Died17 July 1935 (aged 68)
Bournemouth, England, United Kingdom
Other namesÆ, Æon
EducationRvd. Edward Power's school, 3 Harrington Street, Dublin
Alma materMetropolitan School of Art
OccupationAuthor, poet, editor in chief, critic, painter
Known forPoetry, painting
Home townDublin

Early life

Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, (not as is sometimes. said in Portadown), second son of Thomas Russell and Mary Armstrong. His father, the son of a small farmer, became an employee of Thomas Bell and Co, a prosperous firm of linen drapers. The family relocated to Dublin, where his father had a new offer of employment, when George was eleven years old. The death of his much loved sister Mary, aged 18, was a blow from which it took him a long time to recover. He was educated at Rathmines School and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he began a lifelong, if sometimes contentious, friendship with William Butler Yeats.[1] In the 1880s, Russell lived at the Theosophical Society lodge at 3, Upper Ely Place, sharing rooms with H. M. Magee, the brother of William Kirkpatrick Magee.[2]

Russell started working as a draper's clerk, then for many years worked for the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), an agricultural co-operative society initiated by Horace Plunkett in 1894. In 1897 Plunkett needed an able organiser and W. B. Yeats suggested Russell, who became Assistant Secretary of the IAOS.


In 1898 he married Violet North; they had two surviving sons, Brian and Diarmuid, as well as a third son who died soon after birth. Frank O'Connor, who was a close friend of Russell's in his later years, remarked that his family life was something of a mystery even to those who knew him best: O'Connor noticed that he never spoke about his wife and seemed to be at odds with his sons (although O'Connor himself liked both of them).[3] While his marriage was rumoured to be unhappy, all his friends agreed that Violet's death in 1932 was a great blow to Russell.[4]


George William Russel (AE) plaque, Dublin, Ireland
Plaque on 84 Merrion Square, where Æ once worked (now 'Plunkett House')

He was an able lieutenant to Plunkett, and travelled extensively throughout Ireland as a spokesman for the IAOS; he was mainly responsible for developing the credit societies and establishing Co-operative Banks in the south and west of the country, the numbers of which increased to 234 by 1910. Russell and Plunkett made a good team, with each gaining much from the association with the other.[5] As an officer of the IAOS he could not express political opinions freely, but he made no secret of the fact that he considered himself a Nationalist. During the 1913 Dublin Lock-out he wrote an open letter to the Irish Times criticizing the attitude of the employers, then spoke on it in England and helped bring the crisis to an end.

As a pacifist, Russell could have no sympathy either with the aims of the Easter Rising or the undemocratic methods chosen to further it, but he was deeply moved by the deaths of the leading rebels, and like Yeats he celebrated their sacrifice in verse:

He was an independent delegate to the 1917–18 Irish Convention in which he opposed John Redmond's compromise on Home Rule.[6] He became involved in the anti-partition Irish Dominion League when Plunkett founded the body in 1919.


Russell was editor from 1905 to 1923 of the Irish Homestead, the journal of the IAOS. His gifts as a writer and publicist gained him a wide influence in the cause of agricultural co-operation.[1] He then became editor of The Irish Statesman, the paper of the Irish Dominion League, which merged with the Irish Homestead, from 15 September 1923 until 12 April 1930. With the demise of this newspaper he was for the first time of his adult life without a job, and there were concerns that he could find himself in a state of poverty, as he had never earned very much money from his paintings or books. At one point his son Diarmuid was reduced to selling off early drafts of his father's works to raise money, rather to the annoyance of Russell, who accused Diarmuid, with whom his relations were not good, of "raiding the wastepaper baskets".[7] Unbeknownst to him meetings and collections were organized and later that year at Plunkett House he was presented by Father T. Finlay with a cheque for £800. This enabled him to visit the United States the next year, where he was well received all over the country and his books sold in large numbers.[6]

He used the pseudonym "AE", or more properly, "Æ". This derived from an earlier Æon signifying the lifelong quest of man, subsequently abbreviated.

Writer, artist, patron

G W Russell Bathers
Bathers by Æ (1918)

His first book of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way (1894), established him in what was known as the Irish Literary Revival, where Æ met the young James Joyce in 1902 and introduced him to other Irish literary figures, including William Butler Yeats. He appears as a character in the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode of Joyce's Ulysses, where he dismisses Stephen's theories on Shakespeare. Dedalus borrows money from him and then remarks: "A.E.I.O.U." His collected poems was published in 1913, with a second edition in 1926.

His house at 17 Rathgar Avenue in Dublin became a meeting-place[8] at the time for everyone interested in the economic and artistic future of Ireland: his Sunday evenings "at home" were a notable feature of Dublin literary life.[1] Michael Collins, the effective leader of the new Government, became acquainted with Russell in the last months of his life: Oliver St. John Gogarty, a regular guest at Russell's Sundays "at home" believed that these two men, so utterly unalike in most ways, nonetheless developed a deep mutual respect.[9]

Russell's generosity and hospitality were legendary: Frank O'Connor fondly recalled "the warmth and kindness, which enfolded you like an old fur coat".[10] He was the most loyal of friends, and in the notoriously fractious Dublin literary world Russell tried to keep the peace between his endlessly quarrelling colleagues: even the abrasive Seamus O'Sullivan could be forgiven a great deal, simply because "Seamus drinks too much".[11] His interests were wide-ranging; he became a theosophist and wrote extensively on politics and economics, while continuing to paint and write poetry.[1] Æ claimed to be a clairvoyant, able to view various kinds of spiritual beings, which he illustrated in paintings and drawings.[1]

He was noted for his exceptional kindness and generosity towards younger writers: Frank O'Connor termed him "the man who was the father to three generations of Irish writers",[12] and Patrick Kavanagh called him "a great and holy man". P.L. Travers, famous as the creator of Mary Poppins, was yet another writer who gratefully recalled Russell's help and encouragement.

Last years and death

Russell, who had become increasingly unhappy in the Irish Free State (which according to Yeats he called "a country given over to the Devil"),[13] moved to England soon after his wife's death in 1932. Despite his failing health he went on a final lecture tour in the United States, but returned home utterly exhausted. He died of cancer in Bournemouth in 1935.[1] His body was brought back to Ireland and he had an impressive funeral, which was attended by Éamon de Valera and many other leading figures in Irish public life, Catholic[14] as well as Protestant. He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.


George Russell, Merrion Square 2
Bust of George William Russell in Merrion Square, Dublin
  • Homeward Songs by the Way (Dublin: Whaley 1894)
  • The Earth Breath and Other Poems (NY&London: John Lane 1896)
  • The Nuts of Knowledge (Dublin: Dun Emer Press, 1903)
  • The Divine Vision and Other Poems (London: Macmillan; NY: Macmillan 1904)
  • By Still Waters (Dublin: Dun Emer Press 1906)
  • Deirdre (Dublin: Maunsel 1907)
  • Collected Poems (London: Macmillan 1913) (2nd. edit. 1926)
  • Gods of War, with Other Poems (Dublin: priv. 1915)
  • Imaginations and Reveries (Dublin & London: Maunsel 1915)
  • Candle of Vision: Autobiography of a Mystic (London: Macmillan, 1918)
  • Voices of the Stones (London: Macmillan, 1925)
  • Midsummer Eve (NY: Crosby Gaige 1928)
  • Enchantment and Other Poems (NY: Fountain; London: Macmillan 1930);
  • Vale and Other Poems (London: Macmillan 1931)
  • Song and Its Fountains (London: Macmillan 1932)
  • The House of Titans and Other Poems (London: Macmillan 1934)
  • Selected Poems (London: Macmillan 1935).


  • The Interpreters (1922)
  • The Avatars (1933)


  • AE in the Irish Theosophist (1892–97)
  • Ideals of the New Rural Society, in: Horace Plunkett, Ellice Pilkington, George Russell (AE), The United Irishwomen - Their place, work and ideals. With a Preface by Rev. T. A. Finlay (Dublin: Maunsel 1911
  • Co-operation and Nationality: A guide for rural reformers from this to the next generation (Dublin: Maunsel 1912)
  • The National Being : Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity (Dublin: Maunsel 1916)
  • The Candle of Vision (London: Macmillan 1918)
  • Song and Its Fountains (1932)
  • The Living Torch (1937)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Boylan, Henry, A Dictionary of Irish Biography, p. 384, 3rd. edit., (1998) ISBN 0-7171-2507-6
  2. ^ David A. Ross, "Eglinton, John", in Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats: A Literary Reference to His Life (2009), pp. 461-462
  3. ^ O'Connor, Frank My Father's Son Pan Books Edition 1971 p.74
  4. ^ O'Connor p.104
  5. ^ AE and Sir Horace Plunkett J.J. Byrne (The Shaping of Modern Ireland (1960) Conor-Cruise O'Brien) pp. 152–157
  6. ^ a b Irish Times, 18 July 1935. p. 8
  7. ^ O'Connor pp.74-5
  8. ^ Described by Arnold Bax in his autobiography Farewell My Youth.
  9. ^ Gogarty, Oliver St John As I was going down Sackville Street Penguin edition 1954 pp. 183-4
  10. ^ O'Connor p.29
  11. ^ O'Connor p.77
  12. ^ O'Connor p.111
  13. ^ O'Connor p.95
  14. ^ In the 1940s and 1950s Irish Catholics did not attend Protestant funerals.


  • Allen, Nicholas: George Russel (AE) and the New Ireland 1905–30, Four Courts Press Dublin (2003) ISBN 1-85182-691-2
  • William Kirkpatrick Magee, A Memoir of AE, George William Russell (1937)

External links

1867 in Ireland

Events from the year 1867 in Ireland.

1906 in Ireland

Events from the year 1906 in Ireland.

1930 in Ireland

Events from the year 1930 in Ireland.

1931 in Ireland

Events from the year 1931 in Ireland.

Colin Smythe

Colin Smythe (born 1942) is an Irish bibliographer and literary agent. He is now also a publisher and based in Buckinghamshire, UK.

Smythe is arguably best known for publishing the first five Terry Pratchett novels and later acting as Pratchett's agent. In 1971, Smythe published Konstantin Raudive's Breakthrough, the first book in the English language on the Electronic Voice Phenomenon (EVP) and the inspiration for the film White Noise. Other authors published include George Moore, Lady Gregory, "A.E." (George William Russell) and Oliver St John Gogarty.

Duke of Bedford

Duke of Bedford (named after Bedford, England) is a title that has been created six times (for five distinct people) in the Peerage of England. The first and second creations came in 1414 in favour of Henry IV's third son, John, who later served as regent of France. He was made Earl of Kendal at the same time and was made Earl of Richmond later the same year. The titles became extinct on his death in 1435. The third creation came in 1470 in favour of George Neville, nephew of Warwick the Kingmaker. He was deprived of the title by Act of Parliament in 1478. The fourth creation came 1478 in favour of George, the third son of Edward IV. He died the following year at the age of two. The fifth creation came in 1485 in favour of Jasper Tudor, half-brother of Henry VI and uncle of Henry VII. He had already been created Earl of Pembroke in 1452. However, as he was a Lancastrian, his title was forfeited between 1461 and 1485 during the predominance of the House of York. He regained the earldom in 1485 when his nephew Henry VII came to the throne and was elevated to the dukedom the same year. He had no legitimate children and the titles became extinct on his death in 1495.

The Russell family currently holds the titles of Earl and Duke of Bedford. John Russell, a close advisor of Henry VIII and Edward VI, was granted the title of Earl of Bedford in 1551, and his descendant William, 5th Earl, was created Duke following the Glorious Revolution.

The subsidiary titles of the Duke of Bedford, all in the Peerage of England, are Marquess of Tavistock (created 1694), Earl of Bedford (1550), Baron Russell, of Cheneys (1539), Baron Russell of Thornhaugh in the County of Northampton (1603), and Baron Howland, of Streatham in the County of Surrey (1695) (and possibly the Barony of Bedford, which was merged into it in 1138, 1366 or 1414). The courtesy title of the Duke of Bedford's eldest son and heir is Marquess of Tavistock.

Every Duke from the 5th Duke onwards is descended from Charles II of England. The family seat is Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire. The private mausoleum and chapel of the Russell Family and the Dukes of Bedford is at St. Michael’s Church in Chenies, Buckinghamshire (photo). The family owns The Bedford Estate in central London.

Dun Emer Press

The Dun Emer Press (fl. 1902–1908) was an Irish private press founded in 1902 by Elizabeth Yeats and her brother William Butler Yeats, part of the Celtic Revival. It was named after the legendary Emer and evolved into the Cuala Press.

Irish Homestead

The Irish Homestead was the weekly publication of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS). It was founded in 1895 by Horace Plunkett.

Irish Statesman

The Irish Statesman was a weekly journal promoting the views of the Irish Dominion League. It ran from 27 June 1919 to June 1920, edited by Warre B. Wells and with contributions from W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, and George William Russell. The League's manifesto was first published in the journal's first issue.The title was revived in 1922, after the League was defunct, and it was merged with the Irish Homestead. George Russell was appointed editor, and he was supplied with a good staff and contributors. A major contributor was Russell's friend and confidante, Susan L. Mitchell, who died in 1926.In 1927 Máighréad Ni Annagáin and her husband, Seamus Clandillon, authors of a song collection called Londubh an Chairn, sued the Irish Statesman Publishing Company Ltd. and a reviewer, for libel. They claimed that the defendants published an article, in the course of which it was stated that in the collection, which consisted of seventy-five airs, there was no note stating the source of airs or words. They also claimed that there were allegations of slovenliness and ignorance on the part of the authors, and that they had taken up a disproportionate amount of space broadcasting their own merits and platform successes. They sought £2,000. The Irish Statesman lost the case. This ultimately led to its ceasing publishing due to financial difficulties in 1930.On the demise of the Irish Statesman, the Irish Times wrote: "Russell, and the Statesman, was often accused by the more bigoted and ultramontane sections of the population of being pagan and anti-Irish, but what they really meant was that he stood for intellectual liberty at a time when almost everyone else was clamouring for some restrictions everywhere."

Kenneth Morris (author)

Kenneth Vennor Morris (31 July 1879 – 21 April 1937), sometimes using the Welsh form of his name Cenydd Morus, was a Welsh author and theosophist. Born in South Wales, he moved to London with his family as a child, and was educated at Christ's Hospital. In 1896 he lived in Dublin for a while, where he became friends with George William Russell. From 1908 to 1930 Morris lived in California as a member of staff of the Theosophical Society headquarters at Point Loma. The last seven years of his life were spent back in his native Wales, during which time he founded seven Welsh theosophical lodges. Morris

was a friend of Talbot Mundy, and the two writers often commentated on each other's work in The Theosophical Path

magazine.In the verdict of Ursula K. Le Guin, Morris appears as one of the three master prose stylists of fantasy in the 20th century, together with E. R. Eddison and J. R. R. Tolkien.

Lord Arthur Russell

Lord Arthur John Edward Russell (13 June 1825 – 4 April 1892) was a British Liberal Party politician.

He was born in London on 13 June 1825, the second of three sons of Major-General Lord George William Russell and Elizabeth Anne Rawdon, daughter of the Hon. John Theophilus Rawdon, himself second son of the 1st Earl of Moira. His elder brother was Francis, later 9th Duke of Bedford and his younger brother was Odo, later 1st Baron Ampthill.

He was educated in Germany and from 1849 to 1854 he was private Secretary to his uncle, the Liberal Prime Minister Lord John Russell. Between 1857 and 1885, he sat as Member of Parliament (MP) for Tavistock. He only spoke rarely in the Commons, once in reply to an attack on his brother Odo.

On 25 September 1865, Russell married Laura de Peyronnet, daughter of Paul Louis Jules, Vicomte de Peyronnet. They had six children, Harold Russell, Flora Russell, the diplomat Sir Claud Russell, Caroline Russell, Major Gilbert Russell and Conrad Russell.

He was raised to the rank of a Duke's son on 25 June 1872 and was then known as Lord Arthur Russell.

He was a great clubman and belonged to Brooks's, the Athenaeum, the Cosmopolitan, Grillion's, THE CLUB, and the Metaphysical Society. He was involved in the Senate of the University of London, serving on this body from 1875 to his death.

Russell died on 4 April 1892 at 2 Audley Square, London, and was buried in Brompton Cemetery, London. There is a memorial to him in the 'Bedford Chapel' at St. Michael’s Church, Chenies.

The ideological gulf between Britain and the new German Empire was stressed by Lord Russell in 1872:

Prussia now represents all that is most antagonistic to the liberal and democratic ideas of the age; military despotism, the rule of the sword, contempt for sentimental talk, indifference to human suffering, imprisonment of independent opinion, transfer by force of unwilling populations to a hateful yoke, disregard of European opinion, total want of greatness and generosity, etc., etc."

Lord George Russell

Major-General Lord George William Russell (8 May 1790 – 16 July 1846) was a British soldier, politician and diplomat.

Merrion Square

Merrion Square (Irish: Cearnóg Mhuirfean) is a Georgian garden square on the southside of Dublin city centre.

Monk Gibbon

William Monk Gibbon (1896 – 29 November 1987) was an Irish poet and prolific author, known as "The Grand Old Man of Irish Letters". His collection of over twenty volumes of poetry, autobiography, travel and criticism are kept at Queen's University Belfast. The Monk Gibbon fonds are kept at the University Archives, Queen's University Kingston. The material consists of correspondence, drafts of his books, poems, photographs and news clippings. Correspondents include W.B. Yeats, other members of the Yeats family, George William Russell (A.E.), George Moore, John Eglinton and Padraic Colum. He also wrote many published novels, and has been characterised as "self-regarding and prickly".

Osborn Bergin

Osborn Joseph Bergin (26 November 1873 – 6 October 1950) was a scholar of the Irish language and early Irish literature, who discovered Bergin's Law.

He was born in Cork, sixth child and eldest son of Osborn Roberts Bergin and Sarah Reddin, and was educated at Queen's College Cork (now University College Cork). He then went to Germany for advanced studies in Celtic languages, working with Heinrich Zimmer at the Friedrich Wilhelm University of Berlin (now the Humboldt University of Berlin) and later with Rudolf Thurneysen at the University of Freiburg, where he wrote his dissertation on palatalization in 1906. He then returned to Ireland and taught at the School of Irish Learning and at University College Dublin.

Within one year of becoming Director of the School of Irish Studies in the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Bergin resigned both the senior professorship and his office of director. The reason for his resignation was never made public. He died in a nursing-home in Dublin at the age of 76, having never married.

Bergin, who never used the name Joseph except when signing with his initials, did not seem to have felt the need of institutional religion, and during his lifetime, he rarely attended religious services. He developed Irish nationalist sympathies and remained a firm nationalist all his life but without party affiliations. From the number of Irish-speakers living in Cork, Bergin quickly mastered the spoken Irish of West Munster. By 1897, his knowledge of spoken and literary Modern Irish was so strong that he was appointed lecturer in Celtic in Queen's College, Cork. It was during this time that he became an active member of the Gaelic League.He published extensively in the journal for Irish scholarship, Ériu. He is best known for his discovery of Bergin's Law, which states that while the normal order of a sentence in Old Irish is verb-subject-object, it is permissible for the verb, in the conjunct form, to be placed at the end of the sentence. His friend Frank O'Connor wrote humorously that while he discovered the law "he never really believed in it". He wrote poetry in Irish and made a number of well-received translations of Old Irish love poetry.

He is celebrated in Brian O'Nolan's poem Binchy and Bergin and Best, originally printed in the Cruiskeen Lawn column in the Irish Times and now included in The Best of Myles. He was noted for his feuds with George Moore and William Butler Yeats, but he enjoyed a lifelong friendship with George William Russell. Frank O'Connor, another good friend, describes Bergin's eccentricities affectionately in his memoir My Father's Son.


Rathgar (Irish: Ráth Garbh, meaning "rough ringfort"), originally a village, from 1862 part of the township Rathmines and Rathgar, in 1930 became a suburb of Dublin, Ireland. It lies about 3 kilometres south of the city centre.

Seumas O'Sullivan

Seumas or Seamus O'Sullivan, born James Sullivan Starkey, (17 July 1879 – 24 March 1958) was an Irish poet and editor of The Dublin Magazine. He was born in Dublin and spent his adult life in the suburb of Rathgar. In 1926 he married the artist Estella Solomons, sister of Bethel Solomons. Her parents were opposed to the marriage as Seumas was not Jewish.

His books include Twilight People (1905), Verses Sacred and Profane (1908), The Earth Lover (1909), Selected Lyrics (1910), Collected Poems (1912), Requiem (1917), Common Adventures (1926), The Lamplighter (1929), Personal Talk (1936), Poems (1938), Collected Poems (1940), and Dublin Poems (1946). Terence de Vere White praised him as "a true poet", and was critical of W.B Yeats for leaving him out of his anthology of Irish poets, which he thought a particularly strange decision since Yeats and O'Sullivan were friends, although they quarreled from time to time. In 1936 a version of a play by Irish playwright Teresa Deevy called The King of Spain's Daughter was included in The Dublin Magazine which was edited by Seamus O'Sullivan.

Seumas O'Sullivan and B.J. Brimmer Company were accredited within the 'Acknowledgments' of People and Music by Thomasine C. McGehee - Published via Allyn and Bacon within the Junior High School Series, ed. by James M. Glass, 1929 and 1931 respectively - for both (the frontispiece) In Mercer Street and the excerpt from Ballad of a Fiddler (page 93)

He had a great admiration for Patrick Kavanagh, and in the 1940s he was one of the very few Irish editors who was prepared to publish his poetry.

His father William Starkey (1836-1918), a physician, was also a poet and a friend of George Sigerson.

He was a friend of most of the leading literary figures in Dublin, including William Butler Yeats, James Stephens and George William Russell. O'Sullivan's "at homes" on Sunday afternoons were a leading feature of Dublin literary life, as were Russell's Sunday evenings and Yeats's Monday evenings. He was inclined to be quarrelsome, due to his heavy drinking: on one occasion he insulted James Stephens publicly at a literary dinner. Even the kind-hearted Russell admitted that "Seumas drinks too much"; Yeats' verdict was that "the trouble with Seumas is that when he's not drunk, he's sober".

Standish James O'Grady

Standish James O'Grady (Irish: Anéislis Séamus Ó Grádaigh; 18 September 1846 – 18 May 1928) was an Irish author, journalist, and historian. O'Grady was inspired by Sylvester O'Halloran and played a formative role in the Celtic Revival, publishing the tales of Irish mythology, as the History of Ireland: Heroic Period (1878), arguing that the Gaelic tradition had rival only from the tales of Homeric Greece. O'Grady was a paradox for his times, proud of his Gaelic heritage, he was also a member of the Church of Ireland, a champion of aristocratic virtues (particularly decrying bourgeois values and the uprooting cosmopolitanism of modernity) and at one point advocated a revitalised Irish people taking over the British Empire and renaming it the Anglo-Irish Empire.

O'Grady's influence crossed the divide of the Anglo-Irish and Irish-Ireland traditions in literature. His influence was explicitly stated by the Abbey Theatre set with Lady Gregory, W. B. Yeats and George William Russell attributing their interest in the Fenian Cycle of Gaelic tradition in part to him. Some of the figures associated with the political party Sinn Féin, including its founder Arthur Griffith, had positive things to say about his efforts in helping to retrieve from the past the Gaelic heroic outlook.

William Kirkpatrick Magee

William Kirkpatrick Magee (16 January 1868 – 9 May 1961), was an Irish author, editor, and librarian, who as an essayist and poet adopted the pen-name of John Eglinton. He became head librarian of the National Library of Ireland, after opposing the "cultural nationalism" of his time. From 1904 to 1905 he edited the literary journal Dana and was the biographer of George William Russell ("Æ").

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