George William Russell - Æ 

George William Russell -  Æ 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
 
The Collected Works
General Editors - Henry Summerfield & Colin Smythe

Every aspect of the Irish Renaissance - literary, artistic, political, and economic - is indebted to A.E.. Although W.B.Yeats was a greater poet, J.M. Synge a greater dramatist, and Jack B. Yeats a greater painter, none of A.E.’s fellow countrymen could rival his versatility or match his spiritual stature. He is often remembered as a poet and as one of those true mystics who have sought by practical endeavours to bring some touch of the spiritual perfection they beheld into the life of this world. A.E. lived up to the ‘word of power’ he gave to the novelist L.A.G.Strong - ‘Seek on earth what you have found in heaven’. George William Russell (1867-1935) - A.E. - was seer, poet, painter, co-operator, political thinker, journalist, editor, public speaker, and the conscience of the Irish nation. His importance in the literary, political, and economic life of modern Ireland and in the intellectual life of the West has been sadly underrated. Some of his more picturesque but less substantial contemporaries have unfairly overshadowed him, and his works growing increasingly rare, are almost inaccessible to the student, scholar and general reader.

This collected edition plans to bring together selections from his writings in The Irish Homestead and The Irish Statesman and all his available writings on mystical subjects, art, literature, politics, society, and nationhood, his poetry, a new and enlarged selection of his letters, a collection of reproductions of his paintings, a revised edition of Alan Denson's bibliography, and a general index to the edition.

This edition is limited to not more than 1000 copies of each volume. It is uniformly bound in dark blue cloth - A.E.’s preferred colour - using a demi octavo page size.

 

1. CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE IRISH HOMESTEAD
Edited and selected by Henry Summerfield.
Vol. 1: 0-901072-41-9 1979 £30.00 1979
Vol. 2: 0-901072-42-7 1979 £30.00
The pair : 0-901072-96-6 1979 £60.00


2. CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE IRISH STATESMAN
Edited and selected by Henry Summerfield. 750 pages.
NOT YET PUBLISHED
0-901072-43-5,  800pp. NYP no date

A selection from the period A.E. edited The Irish Statesman 1920-30: a similar volume to the first volume in this series.


3. THE DESCENT OF THE GODS: THE MYSTICAL WRITINGS
Edited by Raghavan and Nandini Iyer.
0-901072-44-3 xii,  780 pages 1988 £45.00

This volume contains A.E.'s four major works, The Avatars (1933), The Candle of Vision (1918), The Interpreters (1922), and Song and its Fountains (1932), together with his letters and other prose contributions to Dana, Ethical Echo, The Internationalist, The Irish Theosophist, Lucifer, and Ourselves, W.Y. Evans Wentz's interview with A.E. in The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, A.E.'s first independent publication, To the Fellows of the Theosophical Society, his introduction to City Without Walls, and many other spiritual books, reviews and his hitherto unpublished story ‘The Return’.


4. WRITINGS ON LITERATURE AND
ART
Edited and introduced by Peter Kuch
45.00

978-0-901072-45-0 xxii, 474pp 2011

 

This volume includes AE's articles on John Butler Yeats the elder, Jack B.Yeats, John Hughes and Nathaniel Hone, ‘An Artist of GA.E.lic Ireland’, and the general articles, ‘The Post-Impressionists: Art and Barbarism’, ‘The Spiritual Influence of Art’, ‘Art in Ireland’, and ‘Leading Figures in Modern Irish Art’. His literary writings include his plays Deirdre, Britannia-Rule-the-Waves, and the unpublished The Hon. Enid Marjoribanks,M.P., articles including ‘The Dramatic Treatment of Legend’, ‘The Character of Heroic Literature’, ‘Literary Ideals in Ireland’, ‘Nationality and Cosmopolitanism in Literature’, ‘Art and Literature’, ‘The Censorship in Ireland’, ‘The Poet and his Psyche’, ‘The Sunset of Fantasy’, his address to the American-Irish Historical Society in 1928, reviews, and the prefaces that he wrote for books by Shan F.Bullock, Oliver St.John Gogarty, Irene Haugh, F.R.Higgins, H.A.Law, Hugh MacDiarmid, Frank O'Connor, Joseph O'Neill, Katharine Tynan, and some of his letters to The Irish Times.


5. THE POETRY
NOT YET PUBLISHED
0-901072-46-X

To be edited by Alan Denson, this contains all A.E.’s poetry between Homeward, Songs by the Way (1894) to The House of the Titans (1934), together with a representative selection from uncollected or hitherto unpublished poems, together with an introductory summary of A.E.’s poems, and indexes of titles and of first lines.


6. POLITICS, SOCIETY, AND NATIONHOOD
NOT YET PUBLISHED
Vol. 1: 0-901072-47-8   .£40.00
Vol. 2: 0-901072-48-6   .£40.00

Introduced by A. Norman Jeffares, it includes ‘The Application of Co-operation in the Congested Districts’, ‘Building a Rural Civilisation’, The Building up of a Rural Civilisation, ‘Conditions of an Irish Settlement’, Conscription for Ireland, Controversy in Ireland, Co-operation and Nationality, ‘The Co-operative Commonwealth’, ‘Co-operative Credit’, ‘The Co-operative Movement’, ‘The Crime and the Punishment’, ‘The Department and the I.A.O.S.’, The Dublin Strike, The Economics of Ireland and the Policy of the British Government, ‘How to Protect Ourselves from the Peace which Threatens Us’, ‘Ideals of the New Rural Society’, The Inner and the Outer Ireland, Ireland and the Empire at the Court of Conscience, Ireland and Tariff Reform, Ireland Past and Future, ‘Irish Anticipations’, ‘An Irish Poet on American Agriculture’, ‘Is American Dollar-bound?’, ‘Lessons of Revolution’, The National Being, ‘Nationalism and Imperialism’, ‘The New Nation’, ‘The Other Irish Question’, ‘The Philosophy of Rural Civilisation’, ‘The Rt.Hon.Horace Plunkett’, ‘A Poet to the Farmers’, ‘Roger Casement’(previously unpublished), The Rural Community, ‘The Self-Supporting Community’, ‘The Spiritual Conflict’, ‘Sun and Wu’, Thoughts for a Convention, ‘Twenty Five Years of Irish Nationality’, ‘Ulster’, ‘To Ulster in Ireland’, ‘What About Tomorrow?’.
There are also letters to newspapers, including The Times, T.L.S., and The Irishman, reviews, contributions to All-Ireland Review, prefaces to books by E.T.Craig, Sir Francis Fletcher-Vane, Alice Stopford Green, Odon Por, and Saval Zimand, together with the oral evidence that Russell gave to the Departmental Committee on Agricultural Credit in Ireland, to the Departmental Committee of Inquiry of the Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction (Ireland), to the Royal Commission on Congestion in Ireland, and to the Select Committee on Money Lending. In two volumes.


7. LETTERS FROM A.E.
NOT YET PUBLISHED
0-901072-79-6 No date as yet

Edited by Alan Denson. The first edition of this book was rather shorter than the editor's original selection. This edition contains the letters that were omitted from the first edition, together with additional letters since found by, or brought to the notice, of the editor.


8. A.E.'s PAINTINGS
NOT YET PUBLISHED
0-901072-49-4 No date as yet

A representative collection of A.E.’s paintings in colour and black and white, together with a long introduction by Marian Burleigh Motley, in which the subject-matter of many important works of the 1890s and early 1900s is elucidated by reference to theosophical writings and Celtic myths known to A.E., so that his unique contribution to the pictorial side of the Irish Literary Renaissance is made clear for the first time.


9. A BIBLIOGRAPHY OF THE WRITINGS OF A.E.
AND GENERAL INDEX TO THE EDITION
NOT YET PUBLISHED

An updated edition of Denson's 1961 bibliography, enlarged to contain the contents of each book, together with the general index.
 


 

THAT MYRIAD-MINDED MAN - A.E.
Henry Summerfield
 0-900675-69-1 xiv, 354 pages + 16 pages illustrations 1975
Presently out of print, but we are considering a reprint


YEATS AND A.E.:
‘THE ANTAGONISM THAT UNITES DEAR FRIENDS’

Peter Kuch
 0-86140-116-6 xiv, 292 pages + 16 pages illustrations 1986 £33.00



A.E. AND HIS PAINTINGS 1
(Prepared for an Oriel Gallery (Dublin) catalogue in 1989, but used only in part.)

Archbishop Gregg referred to George William Russell (1867-1935) - known to so many people as A.E. - as ‘that myriad-mind man’. It is therefore not surprising that different people remember him for various aspects of his work - as poet, mystic, playwright, evangelist for the co-operative movement, journalist, editor, critic and artist.

Russell was born in Lurgan, County Armagh, his family moving to Dublin when he was eleven. He obtained his first permanent job in 1890, working at Pym’s store in Dublin, having probably rejected for moral reasons the chance of working with his father and brother in the Phoenix Brewery.2 By the end of the century he was working full-time for Sir Horace Plunkett's Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS), first as a ‘missionary’ convincing farmers throughout Ireland of the benefits of co-operation, then as editor first of The Irish Homestead, and later of its successor, The Irish Statesman, until its demise in 1930, when he was sixty-three. 

Many of his readers knew little of this practical side, thinking of him only as the author of mystical poetry and of works in which he tried to open, as far as he was able, the door to those other realms - The Candle of Vision, Song and Its Fountains, The Avatars, The Interpreters, as well as Imaginations and Reveries, virtually all of which republished in one volume, The Descent of the Gods in 1988.3 But how many outside Dublin and those who knew him personally knew him as a painter? Admittedly, a few of his pictures were reproduced in various journals, but being in monochrome they were not memorable.4

After leaving school in 1884, George Russell went to Dublin's Metropolitan School of Art where he first met W.B.Yeats, who became his friend and later his rival - ‘the antagonism that unites dear friends’ as Russell was to put it later - he had yet to decide to use the pseudonym ‘A.E.’ (short for Æon, which he originally planned to use). There Russell did not bother to draw the model, preferring to paint imaginary compositions. As Yeats wrote years later: ‘We copied the model laboriously, he would draw without research into the natural form, and call his study ‘Saint John in the Wilderness’; but I can remember the almost scared look and the half-whisper of a student, now a successful sculptor, who said, pointing to the modelling of a shoulder, “That is too easy, a great deal too easy!” For with brush and pencil he was too coherent.’5

It was probably in mid 1884 that, in the words of Henry Summerfield's biography, Russell quite suddenly ‘began to experience waking dreams of astonishing power and vividness which seemed to be thrust into his consciousness by a mind which was not his. Images of cosmic happenings and other worlds overwhelmed him with a majesty far removed from anything of which he was aware in his own being. “I remember how pure, holy and beautiful these imaginations seemed”, A.E. wrote in later years, “how they came like crystal water sweeping aside the muddy current of my life....The visible world became like a tapestry blown and stirred by winds behind it. If it would raise but an instant I knew I would be in Paradise.”’6

A few years later came the miracle that turned him into a seer of visions, as one summer day he lay on Kilmasheogue, one of the hills just south of Dublin, when with great intensity he felt the presence of supernatural beings. Then ‘the heart of the hills was opened to me, and I knew there was no hill for those who were there, and they were unconscious of the ponderous mountains piled above the palaces of light, and the winds were sparkling and diamond clear, yet full of colour as an opal, as they glittered through the valley, and I knew the Golden Age was all about me, and it was we who had been blind to it but that it had never passed away from the world.’7

A.E.’s and Yeats’s interests in these other worlds led both to Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Movement, with A.E. later joining the Dublin group in 3 Upper Ely Place, known as The Household. Although Yeats was never so closely connected with the movement as A.E., they collaborated on and jointly signed a series of murals on the walls of The Household, which symbolised the journey of the pilgrim soul, which are still there, treasured by the present owner of the house, Dr Colm McDonnell.8
While A.E. did not continue his artistic career, he nevertheless continued to paint and draw whenever he had the time to do so. He became a ‘weekend painter’, producing with that fluency a number of canvases each week which he sold at 2-3 guineas, according to size. While he occasionally worked on portraits, usually of friends, he was principally a painter of landscapes with figures, and of wonderful beings who might be incorporated into the landscapes, or be the dominant features on the canvas, often with amazed mortals observing them. This fluency, and habit of moving from one canvas to a new one to capture a new image meant that his pictures were often left unfinished, and as a result many of them are not as good as he could have made them. Those he did complete are often outstanding.
Given A.E.’s awareness of that other world, it is small wonder that he painted so many pictures of it and its inhabitants. Even his paintings of ordinary landscapes seem to be so influenced by it that today as we look at them we often find it difficult to be certain whether the figures he has included belong to this world or another, were it not for the fact that all those otherworldly beings have colourful radiances spurting from them. Of course there is no doubt about some of the poses - the half-crouched or kneeling figures gazing with awe at come great being radiantly aflame, but others, such as those of children dancing on a shore or playing in the water, can leave us with a considerable sense of uncertainty, because of the joy and happiness that they emanate.  

A.E. has been included by some critics among the symbolist painters, grouping him with, and being influenced by Puvis de Chavannes, Osbert, Moreau and Redon, but they painted mythological or biblical figures and images from the unconscious. They have failed to appreciate that most of A.E.'s work does not fit into such categories, for he usually painted what he saw, awake, rarely reproducing dream images. When he went out to the country, these beings were entirely real to him, and as far as he was concerned he was painting their portraits, with human beings being added, probably to give an idea of scale. Thus it is generally incorrect to describe A.E. as a Symbolist - unless one refuses to accept the reality of what he was seeing, and anyone who has studied his writings would be unlikely to do that.

In the 1920s, while W.B.Yeats was a Free State Senator, he was living only two doors away from A.E.'s offices in Plunkett House, the headquarters of the IAOS. At this time, pictures of A.E. rather than by him appeared on other people's walls: the story of how he and Yeats, simultaneously deciding to visit each other had left their respective abodes - A.E. from Plunkett House at No.84, and Yeats from his home at No.82 - missed each other outside No.83, A.E. with his head down looking at the ground, Yeats with head up, observing something higher, is well-known, whether or not it is apocryphal. If it did not happen, it very well could have. And for Isa MacNie - the cartoonist ‘Mac’ - the chance was too good to miss: she immortalised it in a caricature, ‘Chin-Angles, or How the Poets Passed’, which proved so popular that she made a good number of copies to satisfy the demand of eager purchasers, in watercolour or pen and ink, according to the price paid.

In the later years of his life, when he was world-renowned as an expert on Co-operation, A.E. stated proudly that every member of the British cabinet had a picture of his on their walls. Sadly this popularity waned after his death in 1935 to such an extent that in the 1950s it is said that at an auction on the Dublin Quays, one of his pictures failed to sell at 2/6d. even with a coal-skuttle added to the lot. 
It is a source of considerable satisfaction to me that A.E.'s paintings are now more popular than they have ever been, and this must be due in no small measure to the Oriel Gallery whose exhibitions of A.E.'s work have shown to the people of Dublin and beyond what an extremely good painter A.E. could be, as a portraitist and in landscape and mystical painting. Outstanding examples come to mind: portraits of James Stephens, W.B.Yeats, and Lady Gregory, a wonderful view of Dublin from Killiney Hill that hung on its walls in the mid 1980s, swans at Coole Lake, scenes of mountain and sea shore painted when staying with the Bartons at Glendalough, the MacLysaghts at Raheen, or the Laws in Donegal, many of which include great spiritual beings and the other world. 

In this 1989 exhibition assembled by the Oriel Gallery to mark its 21st anniversary, there are examples of various types of A.E.'s work: the portrait of W.B.Yeats (one of a number drawn by A.E. in 1897), landscapes, the `descent of the gods' and the appearance of spiritual beings to amazed members of humanity - almost always young women  - whom they barely seem to be aware of, visions of sea-spirits. (Oriel's previous exhibition showed examples of other types of visionary picture: spirit beings helping a babe,9 and the man before the enthroned spirits.)10 The exhibition also includes one dedicated to Edward Martyn, showing one of A.E.'s few male observers, a bather on a sea shore looking at what appears to be a sea spirit, with a blue flame crowning her head, her long hair spreading out behind her.11 Occasionally A.E. painted some rather atypical pictures, such as that of the group in 18th century dress, and because they are so unlike his usual work they are often ignored or considered forgeries by all but the most knowledgeable. 
All in all, this exhibition displays a remarkable collection of A.E.'s paintings, which enables us to learn more of the talents of that myriad-minded man.
 
NOTES
1   Drawn largely from Henry Summerfield’s biography of A.E., That Myriad Minded Man (Gerrards Cross:
     Colin Smythe, 1975)
2    See Monk Gibbon, ‘A.E.. The Years of Mystery’, in The Dublin Magazine, XXXXI, January 1956, pp. 8-
     21.
3   Edited by Raghavan Iyer and Nandini Iyer, Collected Works of George William Russell vol.3 (Gerrards
     Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988).
4   The Christmas numbers of The Irish Homestead - The Celtic Christmas - from 1898 to 1906 contained
     examples of his work.
5   W.B.Yeats, Autobiographies (London: Macmillan, 1955), pp.240-241.
6   Henry Summerfield, That Myriad-Minded Man, p.12.
7   Ibid., p. 13.
8   Those on either side of the fireplace are reproduced in colour on the dustjacket of M.C.Flannery's Yeats
     and Magic, the Earlier Works
(Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1977).
9   See no 23 in the 1975 catalogue. Titled `The Infant Avatar' for the purposes of the exhibition, it shows
     two serpents of wisdom. For A.E.’s description of it in a letter to W.B.Yeats dated 19.4.1902, see
     A.Denson (ed.), Letters from A.E. (London, New York, Toronto: Abelard-Schuman, 1971), p. 41.
10  No.16 in the 1975 catalogue. In The Avatars (London: Macmillan, 1933) A.E. wrote: ‘immortals shining
     as that figure he had beheld in dream, but beyond his dream in majesty, each on their thrones, with calm
     faces turned to him.’ p.36 (The Descent of the Gods, p.551.)
11  Also reproduced in James White's essay, ‘A.E.'s Merrion Square Murals and Other Paintings’, in The
     Arts in Ireland
, vol.1, no.3, 1973, p.9.

01/08/2011