George William Russell

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Not to be confused with George William Erskine Russell (1853–1919).
"A. E." redirects here. For other uses, see AE.
George William Russell
George William Russell - Project Gutenberg eText 19028.jpg
George William Russell
Born (1867-04-10)10 April 1867
Lurgan, County Armagh, Ireland
Died 17 July 1935(1935-07-17) (aged 68)
Bournemouth, England, United Kingdom
Nationality Irish
Other names Æ, Æon
Citizenship United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Irish Free State
Education Rvd. Edward Power's school, 3 Harrington Street, Dublin
Alma mater Metropolitan School of Art
Occupation Author, poet, editor in chief, critic, painter
Known for Poetry, painting
Home town Dublin

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, artistic painter and Irish nationalist. He was also a mysticism writer, and a personage of a group of devotees of theosophy in Dublin for many years.


Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh. His family relocated to Dublin when he was eleven years old. He was educated at Rathmines School and the Metropolitan School of Art, where he began a lifelong friendship with William Butler Yeats.[1] He started working as a draper's clerk, then worked many years 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.


Plaque on 84 Merrion Square, where Æ once worked (now 'Plunkett House')

He was an able lieutenant and travelled extensively throughout Ireland as a spokesman for the society, 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.[2] 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. He was an independent delegate to the 1917–18 Irish Convention in which he opposed John Redmond's compromise on Home Rule.[3] 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 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. 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.[3]

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[edit]

Bathers by Æ

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. 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[4] at the time for everyone interested in the economic and artistic future of Ireland.[1] 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", and Patrick Kavanagh called him "a great and holy man".

He moved to England after his wife's death in 1932 and died of cancer in Bournemouth in 1935.[1] He is buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin.


  • Voices of the Stones (Macmillan 1925)
  • 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 (Dub, priv. 1915)
  • Imaginations and Reveries (Dub&London: Maunsel 1915)
  • Autobiography of a Mystic (Gerrards Cross, 1975), 175pp.;
  • Midsummer Eve (NY: Crosby Gaige 1928)
  • Enchantment and Other Poems (NY: Fountain; London: Macmillan 1930);
  • Vale and Other Poems (London: Macmillan 1931)
  • Songs 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)
  • The National Being : Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity (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. ^ AE and Sir Horace Plunkett J.J. Byrne (The Shaping of Modern Ireland (1960) Conor-Cruise O'Brien) pp. 152–157
  3. ^ a b Irish Times, 18 July 1935. p. 8
  4. ^ Described by Arnold Bax in his autobiography Farewell My Youth.


  • Allan, Nicholas: George Russel (AE) and the New Ireland 1905–30, Four Courts Press Dublin (2003) ISBN 1-85182-691-2

External links[edit]