Russell, George W(illiam) (1867–1935)
Irish poet, essayist, and mystic, who wrote under the pseudonym
‘‘AE.’’ Born April 10, 1867, at Lurgan, County Armagh,
Northern Ireland, his family moved to Dublin when he was ten,
where he was able to attend Rathmines School. He had a natural
talent for painting and attended the Metropolitan School of
Art in Dublin, where he met William Butler Yeats, who introduced
him to Theosophy. At that time, Russell earned his living
by working as a clerk and soon began contributing poems
and articles to The Irish Theosophist.
Theosophical teachings and the literature of Hindu philosophy
opened his mind to heightened consciousness of Celtic
myth and nature spirits. He painted visionary pictures of the
Irish landscape.
He felt a strange impulse to call one of his paintings ‘‘The
Birth of Aeon,’’ a Gnostic concept, and signed one of his articles
‘‘AEON.’’ A proof reader rendered this as ‘‘AE-’’ and
thereafter Russell used the initials for his poems. In 1894 he allowed
some of his poems to be published as a book, Homeward
Songs of the Way, and the response thrust him to the fore of Ireland’s
literary community. In 1913 the first edition of his collected
poems was published.
He also wrote many political articles and became organizer
for the Irish Agriculture Organization, successfully combining
his mystical visions with everyday practical tasks, in the spirit
of the ancient Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita, a work which
greatly impressed him. He edited the Irish Homestead for the
Organization from 1906 to 1923. In 1923 he became the editor
of the Irish Statesman in which he tried to steer a moderate
course for the newly founded Irish Free States. He gave expression
to his political idealism in two novels, The Interpreters
(1922) and The Avatars (1932).
His major mystical book was The Candle of Vision (1918). His
book Song and Its Fountains (1932) developed the mystical meditations
of Candle of Vision and spoke of poetry as ‘‘oracles
breathed from inner to outer being.’’ The Avatars A Futurist
Fantasy (1933) indicated his debt to Hindu philosophy. Russell
died July 17, 1935.
Sources
AE [George Russell]. The Candle of Vision. 1918. Reprint,
New Hyde Park, N.Y. University Books, 1965.
———. Homeward Songs of the Way. Portland, Maine T. B.
Mosher, 1895.
———. The Interpreters. New York Macmillian, 1922.
———. Song and Its Foundations. New York; London, Macmillian,
1932.
de Zirkoff, Boris, comp. ‘‘General Bibliography with Selected
Biographical Notes.’’ In Collected Writings. Vol XII. by H. P.
Blavatsky. Wheaton, Ill. Theosophical Publishing House,
1980.
Denson, Alan. Printed writings of George W. Russell (AE) A
Bibliography. London Northwestern University Press, 1961.
Eglinton, John. A Memoir of AE George William Russell. London
Macmillian, 1937.
Merchant, Francis. A.E. An Irish Promethean. Columbia,
S.C. Benedict College Press, 1954.