George [Æ] Russell: Commentary
|St. John Ervine: Was there any one on earth less like the typical Ulsterman than George Russell, who preached mysticism and better business? (Changing Winds, 1917 [play].
W. B. Yeats gives an anonymous account of AE in A Visionary, being one of the tales in The Celtic Twilight (1893): ‘Suddenly it seemed to me that he was peering about him a little eagerly. [...] Do you see anything, X—? I said. A shining, winged woman, covered by her long hair, is standing near the doorway, he answered, or some such words. Is it the influence of some living person who thinks of us, and whose thoughts appear to us in that symbolic form? I said; for I am well instructed in the ways of the visionaries and in the fashion of their speech. No, he replied; for if it were the thoughts of a person who is alive I should feel the living influence in my living body, and my heart would beat and my breath would fail. It is a spirit. It is some one who is dead or who has never lived. / I asked what he was doing, and found he was clerk in a large shop. His pleasure, however, was to wander about upon the hills, talking to half-mad and visionary  peasants, or to persuade queer and conscience-stricken persons to deliver up the keeping of their troubles into his care. Another night, when I was with him in his own lodging, more than one turned up to talk over their beliefs and disbeliefs, and sun them as it were in the subtle light of his mind. Sometimes visions come to him as he talks with them, and he is rumoured to have told divers people true matters of their past days and distant friends, and left them hushed with dread of their strange teacher, who seems scarce more than a boy, and is so much more subtle than the oldest among them.’ (The Celtic Twilight, London: Bullen 1902 [Edn.]), p.16-17.) Of the poems that Russell was then writing, Yeats wrote: ‘The poems were all endeavours to capture some high, impalpable mood in a net of obscure images. There were fine passages in all, but these were often embedded in thoughts which have evidently a special value to his mind, but are to other men the counters of an unknown coinage. [...; &c.]’ (Ibid., p.17.)
W. B. Yeats: Yeats called Padraic Colum the one victim of [George] Russells misunderstanding of life that I rage over, writing further: Russell, because a man of genius, needs more education than anybody else, and he has read little and taught those about him to read little … A luxurious dreaming, a kind of spiritual lubricity takes the place of logic and will. (Quoted in Frank Tuohy, Yeats: An Illustrated Biography, London: Macmillan 1976, p.135.)
W. B. Yeats: AE was the recipient of a letter from Yeats repudiating the poetics of his New Songs anthology in terms that delineated his own conception of the limits of sentimentality and the correct form of poetic emotion: ... some day you will become aware, as I have become, of an uncontrollable shrinking from the shadows and as I believe a mysterious command has gone out against them in the invisible world of our energies, let us have no emotions, however absurd, in which there is not an athletic joy. (Letter to Russell in 1904, in Some passages from the letters of W. B. Yeats to AE, in Dublin Magazine, n.s., XIV, July-Sept. 1939, pp.17-18; quoted in Ellmann, Yeats: The Man and the Masks, 1948, p.184. Ellmann further notes that Russell is the object of Yeatss poem, To a Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine.
Lock-out: See also AEs letter in response to Yeatss one in the Irish Worker written in defence of the strikers during the Dublin Lock-Out: I felt all my old friendship and affection surging up as I read what you said. (Cited in Frank Tuohy, Yeats, 1976, p.144).
W. B. Yeats: Yeats said of Russell, If I was autocrat of Ireland, I would give him twenty thousand a year if at the end of a year he had written two hundred lines of poetry - if he opened his [mouth] on business or tried to run any society, I would have him locked up as a dangerous to public peace. (Quoted in Mick Imlah, review of R. F. Foster, Apprentice Mage, 1996; Times Literary Supplement, 11.4.1997.)
Deirdre: Yeats comments on Russells Deirdre appear in Autobiographies (1955), p.449f.: I still hate it, and I suppose Moore is the only person who shares my opinion (contemp. letter to Lady Gregory). Note also remarks on the departure of Moore in 1911 [see under Moore, supra].
[ top ]
W. B. Yeats (General Introduction for My Work, 1937): [...] in the imagination of Pearse and his fellow soldiers the Sacrifice of the Mass had found the Red Branch in the tapestry; they went out to die calling upon Cuchulain: “Fall, Hercules, from Heaven in tempests hurled / To cleanse the beastly stable of the world In one sesne the poets of 12916 were not of what the newspapers call my school. The Gaelic League, made timid by a modern popularisation of Catholicism sprung from the aspidistra and not from the root of Jesse, dreaded intellectual daring and stuck to dictionary and grammar. Pearse and MacDonagh and others among the executed men would have done, or  attempted, in Gaelic what we did or attempted in English. (Essays and Introductions, 1961, pp.515-16.)
W. B. Yeats wrote to Dorothy Wellesley: My wife said the other night, AE was the nearest to a saint you or I will ever meet. You are a better poet but no saint. I suppose one has to choose. (Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.74.) Cf. The Choice: ‘The intellect of man is forced to choose / perfection of the life, or of the work, / And if it take the second must refuse / A heavenly mansion, raging in the dark.’ (Coll. Poems, 1950; poem of 1932.)
|Robert Lynd, A.E., in I Tremble to Think (London: Dent 1936), pp.28-35 [Chap. 4].
|A.E. (George Russell) occupied an extraordinary position in modern Ireland. He was recognized as a prophet by thousands of people, many of whom cared little for his poetry, disliked his painting, and could make nothing of the mystical philosophy that was at the heart of his prophetic genius. Apart from social and political matters, he made comparatively few converts to his opinions, but almost every one who met him became a convert, so to speak, to his greatness. Sitting at work in his upper room in Merrion Square, he was a magnet, not so much for disciples as for delighted listeners to some or the most wonderful talk ever heard in Dublin. Many of those who visited him for the first time must have thrown a perplexed glance at the walls of the room, on which he had painted his pictures of plumed spirit-forms with flames edging their backs, looking (as someone said) like Red Indians, and wondered whether the painter of such eccentric stuff could be taken seriously. But A.E had only to begin talking for the spell to begin  to work. And he talked to the most unimportant visitor as though talking were his lifes work and as though he could go on talking for ever. He was a monologuist - one of the few monologues to whom one could listen for hours without being bored.
Sitting in his chair and smoking a pipe - during the last twenty years he smoked a mixture of tobacco and dried coltsfoot leaves, a war-time invention - he was the very picture of copious benevolence as he talked. John Eglinton has described him in his early life as a tall youth, with shoulders scooped in the eagerness of perpetual talk, grey and kindly quizzical eyes twinkling behind his glasses, a mass of mouse-coloured hair, and a pugnacious mouth presently hidden behind a benevolent- looking beard; and one had much the same impression of A.E. till the end, His conversation might consist of a torrent of ideas or a succession of jocular memories, but ii was always entrancing because of its energy, its fire, its humour, and its kindliness. He had a marvellous memory, both for what be had read and for what he had experienced. He could illustrate something that he was saying by quoting verbatim a page of prose from a book about Russia, and he could remember every  comic detail about his relations with every odd character lie had ever known in Dublin, There are few traces of humour in his writings, but he had a boundless sense of fun in his talk, not least when he was talking of George Moores apostolic mission to Ireland. Towards the end of his life, he kept urging young writers to sit down and compose a comic saga, of Dublin life, based on the stories of the strange characters of the city while they were still remembered.
One of the astonishing things about A. E was that his talk was so universal in range and yet that he went about the world so little. [...]. (pp.28-30;
Note: page numbers fall on top-of-page. See full copy as attached.
[ top ]
James Joyce (1): In Ulysses, Russell is given these words, in response to Stephens theory of Shakespeare: ‘All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracled out of his shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex. Clergymens discussions of the historicity of Jesus. Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our minds into contact with the eternal wisdom, Platos world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys.’ (Bodley Head, 1965, p.236.) Stephens elaborate response to the idealist position that Russell here represents, begins with an invocation of the scholastic method: Unsheathe your dagger definitions. Horseness is the whatness of allhorse. Streams of tendency and cons they worship. God: noise in the street: very peripatetic. Space: what you damn well have to see. Through spaces smaller than red globules of mans blood they creepycrawl after Blakes buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow. Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past. (Ibid., p.238.) For discussion of this debate, see S. L. Goldberg, The Classical Temper: A Study of James Joyces Ulysses, London: Chatto & Windus 1961, pp.67-68.) [See further under Notes, infra.]
James Joyce (2): Stephen, in the Library scene of Ulysses, slightly misquotes Russells Deirdre: Flow over them with your waves and with your waters, Mananaan, Mananaan MacLir.  (See Vivian Mercier, ‘John Eglinton as Socrates: A Study of “Scylla and Charybdis” , in James Joyce: An International Perspective, ed. Suheil Bushrui & Bernard Benstock, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1982, p.72.) Mercier further writes: A.E. had written, “at the calling of the Ineffable Name the Holy Breath rises as a flame” [The Candle of Vision, 1918, rep. Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House 1974, p.133]. Joyce uses the phrases “Holy Breath” and “Name Ineffable” (U185).
Cont. (Mercier): In the “Circe” episode A.E. appears as Mananaan Mac Lir, the Celtic sea god, uttering the mysterious syllables “Hek! Wal! Ak! Lub! Mor! Ma!” (U510). Joyce found these in the chapter “Ancient Intuitions” of The Candle of Vision: A.E. claimed to have discovered intuitively that they were part of the universal primeval language of mankind. When Stephen quotes A.E.'s poetry, one wonders if Joyce has deliberately chosen two very inept lines: “What of all the will to do? /
It has vanished long ago.” (U206) (Mercier, op. cit., p.76.) Mercier notes that Hel is an error for Hek in the original (Ibid., p.81, n.9.)
|AEs Auric Head - Russell in the Library episode of Ulysses (Scylla & Charybdis) - Stephen recalls the remarks in the Library episode: A. E. has been telling some yankee interviewer. Wall, tarnation strike me! (Ulysses, Bodley Head Edn., 1960, p.236.)
— All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracled out of his shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex. Clergymens discussions of the historicity of Jesus. Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. The painting of Gustave Moreau is the painting of ideas. The deepest poetry of Shelley, the words of Hamlet bring our mind into contact with the eternal wisdom, Platos world of ideas. All the rest is the speculation of schoolboys for schoolboys. 
A. E. has been telling some yankee interviewer. Wall, tarnation strike me!
— The schoolmen were schoolboys first, Stephen said superpolitely. Aristotle was once Platos schoolboy.
— And has remained so, one should hope, John Eglinton sedately said. One can see him, a model schoolboy with his diploma under his arm.
He laughed again at the now smiling bearded face.
Formless spiritual. Father, Word and Holy Breath. Allfather, the heavenly man. Hiesos Kristos, magician of the beautiful, the Logos who suffers in us at every moment. This verily is that. I am the fire upon the altar. I am the sacrificial butter.
Dunlop, Judge, the noblest Roman of them all, A. E., Arval, the Name Ineffable, in heaven hight, K. H., their master, whose identity is no secret to adepts. Brothers of the great white lodge always watching to see if they can help. The Christ with the bridesister, moisture of light, born of an ensouled virgin, repentant sophia, departed to the plane of buddhi. The life esoteric is not for ordinary person. O. P. must work off bad karma first. Mrs Cooper Oakley once glimpsed our very illustrious sister H. P. Bs elemental.
O, fie! Out ont! Pfuiteufel! You naughtnt to look, missus, so you naughtnt when a ladys ashowing of her elemental.
Unsheathe your dagger definitions. Horseness is the whatness of allhorse. Streams of tendency of eons they worship. God: noise in the street; very peripatetic. Space: what you damn well have to see. Through spaces smaller than red globules of mans blood they creepycrawl after Blakes buttocks into eternity of which this vegetable world is but a shadow. Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past. [U, 238.]
— People do not know how dangerous lovesongs can be, the auric egg of Russell warned occultly. The movements which work revolutions in the world are born out of the dreams and visions in a peasants heart on the hillside. For them the earth is not an exploitable ground  but the living mother. The rarefied air of the academy and the arena produce the sixshilling novel, the musichall song, France produces the finest flower of corruption in Mallarmé but the desirable life is revealed only to the poor of heart, the life of Homers Phæacians.
(James Joyce, Ulysses, Bodley Head Edn. 1960, pp.238-39; see digital copy in RICORSO Library > Authors > Irish Classics > James Joyce, via index, or as attached.)
Note: The phrase born [...] in a peasants heart on the hillside are ascribed for source to A.E.s essay Nationalism and Imperialism: The national spirit is [... shy, hiding itself away in remote valles, or in haunted mountains, or deep in the quiet of hearts that do not reveal themselves. (Ideals in Ireland, p.22; here Ulysses, 9.105 [Gebler edn.] cited in Sam Slote, ed., Ulysses, 2015, Scylla & Charybdis, n.16 [Kindle edn.) Auric head refers to the spiritual aura of which Madame Blavatsky speaks.
|See also Aeolus:
— Professor Magennis was speaking to me about you, J.J. OMolloy said to Stephen. What do you think really of that hermetic crowd, the opal hush poets: A. E. [Æ] the master mystic? That Blavatsky woman started it. She was a nice old bag of tricks. A. E. has been telling some yankee interviewer that you came to him in the small hours of the morning to ask him about planes of consciousness. Magennis thinks you must have been pulling A. E.s leg. He is a man of the very highest morale, Magennis. (Ulysses, Bodley Head Edn. 1960, p.178.)
Note: Professor William Magennis, of UCD, who read the papers of the Intermediate examination at Belvedere - Joyces last before proceeding to UCD - said that his examination paper was #145;publishable#146;. (Ellmann, James Joyce, 1982 rev. edn., p.56.)
|John Eglinton [in Joyces Ulysses (1922), Library Scene]: Eglinton [born John Magee] said that Russell spoke with a decided Ulster accent (A Memoir of A.E., p.183; cited in Sam Slote, annot., Ulysses , note on U9.203 [Scylla and Charybdis]. Note: the remark may be remembered or fictional.
[ top ]
James Joyce: (3) - Words cannot measure my  contempt for AE at present. I believe he didnt write to Lady Gregory and his spiritual friends. I did well however to leave my MSS with him for I had a motive. However I shall take them back as my latest additions to Epiphany might not be to his liking. [...] So damn Russell, damn Yeats, damn Skeffington, damn Darlington, [...] damn vegetable verses, double damn vegetable philosophy (Selected Letters, 1975, p.13.)
James Joyce (4) - Limerick on Russell: There is a weird poet called Russell / Who wouldn't eat even a mussel / When chased by an oyster / He ran to a cloister / Away from the beef and the bustle. / The cloister he called the Hermetic / I found it a fine diuretic / A most energetic / And mental emetic / Heretic, prophetic, ascetic. (Poems and Shorter Writings, London: Faber & Faber 1991, p.110.)
James Connolly, The Reconquest of Ireland (1915; rep. in Labour in Ireland, 1917) - Chap. VIII: Labour and Co-operation in Ireland: The immediate difficulty if the two movements - i.e., of town and country, are not to remain strangers, with all the possibilities of developing from estrangement into hostility - will be to find a common basis of action in order that one may support and reinforce the other. Mr. George Russell, the gifted editor of The Irish Homestead, points out that the fact that the overwhelming proportion of Irish farmers employ no labour, but generally work their own farms, makes that problem not so difficult in Ireland as it would be in countries where the farmers were employers and therefore supposedly hostile to the claims of Labour. This idea, with all its implications, is worthy of careful examination. (1917 Edn., p.260.) Further: The letter to the Dublin Employers (printed in the Appendix), though it excited the wrath of all the tyrants and reactionaries in Ireland, served to win for Mr. Russell that hearing for the Co-operative position we have just outlined, which may yet make it in a double sense a historic document. (Ibid., p.262). The great genius and magnetic personality of Mr. Russell, editor of The Irish Homestead, brought to the long-neglected toilers of Dublin a new conception - viz., that the co-operative societies which had been so long and so successfully propagating themselves throughout the agricultural areas of the country, might yet be linked up with the fortunes of the industrial workers in such a manner that, each serving the others temporary needs, they could between them lay the groundwork of a new social order. (Chap. IX; p.267; and see earlier remarks under under Horace Plunkett, supra, and Note that Russells open letter To the Masters of Dublin  is printed as an appendix to Reconquest.)
Padraic Colum, ed., Anthology of Irish Verse (1922): Introduction: [T]he poet who has been his [Yeatss] comrade in the Art School in Dublin was really a mystic. This was George W. Russell, who was to publish his poem under the initials A.E. Like all mystics A.E. is content to express a single idea, and when one has entered into the mood of one of his poems one can understand the whole of his poetry and the whole of his philosophy. In his three books of verse, and in his two books of imaginations and reveries, in his book on economics, A.E. has stated his single, all-sufficing thought. Men are the strayed Heaven-Dwellers. They are involved in matter now, but in matter they are creating a new impire for the spirit. This doctrine which might form the basis for a universal religion has been put into an Irish frame by the poet. A.E., too, has been drawn to the study of the remains of Celtic civilization. He sees in Celtic mythology a fragment of the cosmology once held by the Indians, the Egyptians, the Greeks. And he alludes to the Celtic divinities as if Lugh, Angus, Mananaum, Dagda, Dana, were as well-known as Apollo, Eros, Oceanus, Zeus, Hera. / A.E.s vision is not for all the Irish writers who have come under his influence. But he has taught every one of them to look to the spiritual significance of the fact or the event he writes about. As he is one of the leaders of the Agricultural Co-oprative Movement and as he edits a co-oprative journal his influence goes far beyond the literary circles. (See full text in RICORSO Library, Critical Classics > Anglo-Irish [infra].)
James Stephens, The Charwomans Daughter (1912), incls. a [unnamed] vignette of ‘a tall man with a sweeping brown beard whose heavy overcoat looked as though it had been put on with a shovel. Further: ‘[...] ... he wore spectacles, and his eyes were blue, and always seemed as if they were going to laugh; he, also, looked into the shops as he went along, and he seemed to know everybody. Every few paces people would halt and shake his hand, but these people never spoke, because the big man with the brown beard would instantly burst into a fury of speech which had no intervals; and when there was no one with him at all he would talk to himself. On these occasions he did not see any one, and people had to jump out of his way [...]. (Quoted in Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce, Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972, p.79.)
W. P. Ryan, The Popes Green Island (1912), calls Pearse our boldest educational pioneer ; the most courageous pioneer in the realm of Irish education is a young man of 32 [Pearse] educated by the Jesuits [... &c.] (pp.291-98).
George Moore: The miles flowed under our wheels. We had come so far that it seemed as if we might go on for another hundred miles without feeling tired, and the day, too, seemed as if it could not tire and darken into night. We passed a girl driving her cows homeward. She drew her shawl over her head, and I said that I remembered having seen her long ago in Mayo, and AE answered: before the tumuli, she was. (Salve: Hail and Farewell, ed. Richard Cave, Colin Smythe, p.289; quoted in Una Kealy, diss. [in prep.], UUC 2002, p.12.)
[ top ]
Joseph Holloway: ‘The strange, misty, weird, almost uncanny something about all George W. Russells work fascinated me in an unaccountable way [...] although I felt inclined to scoff at them on first entering the room. If ever the Celtic spirit of dreaminess and longing for something that is neither of land or sea was translated onto canvas here that longing and dreaminess surely was. / The strange figures that peopled many of his canvases seemed creatures of the mists out of which they emerged with almost mysterious indefiniteness and beauty of another world - the land of imagination. But who could explain the beyond-the-world feelings and sense of restfulness that held the imagination as they gazed on those strange, mystic visions of beauty, conjured up by the poetic mind of a dreamer of the twilight kingdom inhabited by the children of the mist - the gossamer beings of the raths of Ireland.’ (Quoted in Diane Beale, ‘Time to give AE his due’, in The Irish Times, 23 Aug. 2004.)
Lord Dunsany, My Ireland (London: Jarrolds 1937), Chap. 1, A.E.: It is as though he were always looking back down the ages eastwards, in the direction from which the Irish people are said to have come. Indesd in this one mans mind I should look for evidence of that old journey as readily as in a page of history. There would come an eager look in his blue eyes and bearded face, such as one might compare to the look on the face of a child seeing jam through a window; through the dim ages he would peer thus at some old Indian philosophy, and speak of the things of  the spirit as though they were nearer to us than any material thing. (pp.15-16.) He was so Irish in his poetry and in his love of the hills and streams of Ireland, and even in his Oriental air, that we may hope that some man something like him may one of these days be found in Ireland again; but not in my time; and, even if there were, he would not to me be compensation for the loss of those eyes that seemed to peer, far from the dingy room that he made less dingy, past books upon economics, past even the Dublin mountains, to catch flashes and glimpses of what his strange spirit knew were the things that really mattered. (p.18). [Dunsany also recounts a public meeting chaired by Robin Flower at which AE claimed to have been in India by transmigration of soul, occupying the body of a villager.]
Maurice Headlam, Irish Reminiscences (1947): ‘I had met AE at the Royal Hospital - a heavily built man with a beard, and short-sighted, small, spectacled eyes. he talked  brilliantly, wrote - apart from his poems which are well known - excellent articles in the Irish Homestead, and painted queer “Blakeish pictures with which his room at the Plunkett House, and Sir Horaces home at Kilteragh, and many Dublin houses, were hung. To my untutored eye some of the pictures were delightful, some not. Possibly, if he had had more technical training or had not worked so quickly and produced so many pictures, he would have been a better artist; on the other hand, their slightness and artlessness were often their charm, which might have been spoiled by greater “art. He held open house in his suburban villa, and was good enough to let me visit him there, and at his room in Plunkett House, where he would talk endlessly, without the least self-consciousness, on every topic - on philosophy generally above my head. I had the greatest regard for him as a really honest man and his tireless devotion to Plunkett and the cause of the Irish Agriculture was above all praise. I was therefore bitterly disappointed when, before I left Ireland and after, I found him writing to American papers in a violently Sinn Fein strain. I have heard that the reality of his patriotic dreams was too much for him and that he came to die in England. (pp.52-53).
Richard Ellmann, Yeats, The Man and The Masks (1948): In Russells eyes, the dense, molecular universe faded out before that one that was magnificently free and vast, peopled by spirits not dissimilar to the sages in Puvis de Chauvannes paintings but wrapped in Corots mists. For Yeats, Russell was a godsend. Here was positive repudiation of the principles of the French school and of her father. ... John Butler Yeats disliked the friendship with Russell ... ; note also that Russells correspondence to MacLeod includes comments on Yeats [wrapped in a fary whirlwind, his mouth speaking great things ...], cited from E. A. Sharp, William Sharp [q.d.].
Francis MacManus, ed., M. J. MacManus, Adventures of an Irish Bookman (Dublin: Talbot Press 1952), The Man Who was A.E. [Chap.], pp.132-41; cites C. H. Bretherton, The Real Ireland (1925), in which a spurious tale of encounter between AE and Michael Collins is narrated; goes on to eulogise AE and his literary seances at Rathgar Ave.; quotes the trams, the high-built glittering galleons of the streets,/That float through twilight rivers from galaxies of light; discusses ; cites The Ideals of the New Rural Society, in Imaginations and Reveries (Maunsel 1915) [see infra]; cites open letter to Rudyard Kipling, in response to the jingoistic poem Ulster: I have lived all my life in Ireland, holding a different faith from that held by the majority. I know Ireland as few Irishmen know it, county by county, for I have travelled all over it for years, and Ulsterman as I am, and proud of the Ulster people, I resent the crowning of Ulster with all the virtues and the dismissal of other Irishmen as thieves and robbers. I resent the cruelty with which you, a stranger, speak of the loveable and kindly people I know [...].The best men in Ulster will not be grateful to you for libelling their countrymen in your verse. They think Ireland is the best country in the world to live in and they hate to hear Irish people spoken of as murderers and greedy scoundrels. Murderers! Why, there is more murder done in any four English shires in a year than in the whole four provinces of Ireland! Greedy? This nation never accepted a bribe, or took the equivalent or payment for an ideal .../I am a person whose whole being goes into a blaze at the thought of faith, and yet I think my Catholic countrymen more tolerant than those who hold the faith I was born in. I am a heretic judged by their standards, a heretic who has written and made public his heresies, and I have never suffered in friendship or found my heresies an obstacle in life .... /If there is a High Court of Poetry, and those in power jealous of the noble name of poet, and that none should use it save those who were truly Knights of the Holy Ghost, they would hack the golden spurs fron your heels and turn you out of the Court. (p.135.)
[ top ]
Frank OConnor, My Fathers Son (1968), regarding his speech at the graveside, in the hearing of Yeats and others: What I should say now is, “this was the man who was father to three generations of Irish poets, and there is nothing more to be said. His ensuing comments encapsulate Yeats attitude to his own funeral, and includes the remark how strange it was to speak about Russell, with all his enemies round the grave. (p.117.) Also: [...] like an old fur coat, a little bit smelly and definitely designed for someone of a nobler stature, but though it may threaten you with suffocation, it never left you feeling cold. (p.32.)
Patricia Ann McFate, ‘AEs Portraits of the Artists: A Study of The Avatars’, Éire-Ireland, 6, 4 (Winter 1971), pp.38-48; ‘In The Avatars, many ideas, images, and beliefs are drawn from AEs other writings. Conaires speeches on the Iron Age; Pauls visions, his desire to escape the city, and his paintings; the visitation of the god to Aodhs bedside; Felim Carews theory of “spiritual gravitation and his desire to look for the divine spirit in men; even Aoifes speeches are drawn from remarks to be found in The Candle of Vision, Imaginations and Reveries, and various other works. [...] However, although the characters owe some of their personal aspects or abilities to AE, they have very distinct ties with the authors friends and associates. If we begin by identifying AE as the main character, Paul, then Pauls older friend, Conaire, with whom he shares his visions of a coming heroic age is clearly a composite of Standish O’Grady, acknowledged by AE and others as the father of the Literary Revival, and AEs spiritual guide, James Pryse.’ (p.40.)
Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (Oklahoma UP 1962; Newton Abbot: David Charles 1972): ‘Irish versatility is exemplified in the activities of George William Russell […] After cycling from town to town inspecting dairies, he might return to Dublin to supervise the publication of a journal, conduct a meeting of a theosophical society, or act the host to guests spellbound by his conversation. Russell led two lives, or more, under two names, using his own name in his work as publicist and man of affairs and adopting the occult pseudonym “AE” (from  “aeon”) in his role as poet and painter of the spirit world. (pp.5-6.) [Cont.]
Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (1962, 1972) - cont.‘The sapphire and amethyst hues of AEs verse have faded, and little of his once greatly admired poetry retains vitality. He confessed to Sean OFaolain that he wrote as though he were actually “on the slopes of death, and that he was deeply gratified when it brought comfort to others. His sweetness and spirituality are apparent, and one may only regret that his visions are so intangible. Few of his lines are memorable, largely because they seem to dissolve into the insubstantiality of dream. One recalls / Our hearts were drunk with a beauty /
Our eyes could never see / and wishes that he could recall more. His meditation on “Reflections comes closer to actual experience, arising as it does from the blue surface of an Irish lake and leading to a consideration of the borrowed grandeur of man, “with mirrored majesties and powers. More specific is “An Irish Face, a study of the lines of sorrow imprinted on the features of a child: And dreaming of the sorrow on this face We grow of lordlier race. / Becoming transformed by “a deep adoring pity, we are thereby made into “what we dream upon. / We may also regret, as did AE, that so little of the lighter, human side of his nature came to be expressed in his  poems. Lady Gregory mentions his “humbugging verses which teased James Stephens, but in his volumes of poetry AEs official mood of high seriousness seldom allowed him to show the twinkle in his eye. (pp.58-59.) [cont.]
Richard Kain, Dublin in the Age of William Butler Yeats and James Joyce (1962, 1972) - cont.: ‘In As I Was Going Down Sackville Street, Gogarty describes one of his own Fridays at the time of the Civil War. Ignoring the machine-gun fire in the street, iE expostulated imperturbably, holding the attention of the stalwart military hero of the Free State, Michael Collins, who had been tracked by spies to the very doorstep. Although subject to ambush at any moment-he was murdered a few weeks later-Collins maintained big cool gallantry, even reaching for a pad to take a note. But AEs mystic speculations were beyond the Generals ken. Collins voice rang out in direct question: Your point, Mr. Russell? The mood was shattered. In his multiple roles as host, proud friend of Collins, and littérateur, Gogarty was, for the moment, almost thrown off balance. But he recovered sufficiently to let Collins depart for a place of hiding, to urge AE that the group was still avid for astral wisdom, and, at the end of the evening, to apologize to the American college girls who were among the guests, explaining that though his home was ever open to patriots and to friends, it was, above all, a house for artists and not for lecturers, readers, preachers, teachers or people with points. As an artist, AE communicated himself, not points. (p.70.) [For further extensive remarks, see Kina, op. cit., pp.71-74, et passim; see also various extracts in RICORSO, Library, Critics, infra.]
Henry Summerfield, That Myriad-Minded Man: A Biography of G. W. Russell - ‘AE’ (Gerrards Cross 1975), incls. account of AEs controversy with Fiona MacLeod who contented that the Gaels should be happy to be British, to which AE replied that there are times when hatred is a nobler feeling than friendship, when we feel, with Whitman, confidence in the revolutionary instinct contrary to all bourgeois ideas of what is fit and right […]. (pp.97-98.)
Frank Tuohy, Yeats (1976), extensive remarks on Russell under index headings [Theosophy; OLeary [attitude] towards Yeats; poetry of, theatre; George Moore]; ed. Irish Statesman; went into exile. Note, Russell is believed to be author of parody of Cathleen ni Houlihan, printed in Sinn Féin: They will be respectable for ever, / There shall be money in their pockets for ever, / They shall go to the Castle for ever, / The police shall protect them forever. (p.135); Tuohy cites the title of a poem by Yeats,To AE, who wants me to praise some of his poets, imitators of my own, later changed to, To Poet, Who Would Have Me Praise Certain Bad Poets, Imitators of His and Mine, of which the the final line was, But tell me does the wild dog praise his fleas?, later changing to this: But was there ever dog that praised his fleas? [also quoted in Ellmann, 1948, p.185]; Tuohy notes also that Yeatss opinion of Colum and James Stephens improved (p.135) and quotes Yeats on AE, the strayed angel. Further, if he sat silent for a while on Two Rock Mountains, or any spot where man was absent, the scene could change; unknown, beautiful people would move among the rocks and trees; but this vision, unlike that of Swedenborg, remained always what seemed an unexplained, external, sensuous panorama; we never derided him, or told tales to his discredit. He stood outside the sense of comedy that his friend John Eglinton called “the social cement of our civilisation. (p.31.) Further, Tuohy cites encomia and views of Russell by other Irishmen, including OCaseys: fairest and brightest humbug Ireland has (p.89.) Yeats wrote, in review essay of Song and its Fountains (My Friends Book), perpetually such hatred is in friendship how a man we have buckled to our hearts can have so little sense. (Tuohy, p.90); Yeats submitted Leda and the Swan to the Irish Statesman, but Russell refused it on the grounds that my conservative readers would misunderstand the poem (p.186).
W. B. Stanford, Ireland and the Classical Tradition (IAP 1976; 1984), notes Russells failed attempt to persuade Yeats of the superiority of intellectual to sensual beauty. 
Ernie OMalley, The Singing Flame (Dublin: Anvil 1978): George Russell, who like other intellectuals had been with the people only when their agony was recognised abroad, had said, “If between myself and Heaven I had to confess about Ireland, I would admit that I know nothing truly of its people, though I am of them [...] Why do they desire freedom? I think it is because they feel in themselves a genius which had not yet been manifested in a civilisation, as Greek, Roman, and Egyptian in the past have externialised their genius in a society with a culture, arts and sciences peculiar to themselves. Ireland, through Sinn Féin, is fighting for freedom to manifest the Irish genius. (Written in 1921; here p.286.)
Pamela Travers, The Death of AE: Irish Hero and Mystic, in Robert ODriscoll, ed., The Celtic Consciousness (Dolmen/Cannongate 1981), pp.471-82: quotes letter of April 1932, Ireland as a nation I have no further interest in [...] (p.473; for more, see under Quotations, infra.) Author styles John Eglinton Willie McGee [sic]; quotes AEs words to the doctor on learning of his own imminent death: I have had a very interesting life, I have done nearly all the things I wanted to do. I have rejoiced in the love of friends. What man could want more? ((p.479). AE had said to Charles Weekes, who had protested that by editing a small provincial newspaper he had been lost to the world: I shall go back to the stars without any flourish of trumpets. I am not going anywhere I can be seen. (p.480.) Yeats responded to a wire with another: Give my old friend my love. (p.481.) Gogarty was the last of his visitors. Con Curran also present, was AEs lawyer, said: Let us now praise famous men / And our fathers that begat them. AEs burial at Mt. Jerome was attended by Yeats, de Valera, and Michael ODonovan [Frank OConnor], who spoke at the oration: He say the lightning in the East / And he longed for the East; / He saw the lightning in the West / And he longed for the West; / But I, seeking only the lightning and its glory, / Care nothing for the quarters of the earth. (p.482.)
Gerald Dawe & Edna Longley, eds., Across the Roaring Hill: The Protestant Imagination in Modern Ireland; Essays in Honour of John Hewitt (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 1985), Introduction: [...] His most lasting legacy is that he grasped, not so much the actual roots of difference - Yeats, for all his song and dance, was less surprised by the tide of the twenties - as their malign effect on what he apprehended as a palpable spirit. He dreaded the soul of the country becoming so blackened by hate and so coarsened by conflict that life in it would not be worth living [...] At the same time, AE emphasised the healthiness of true-debate, as opposed to the drive for all-out victory: We do not derive the slightest pleasure from the society of those who hold in all matters the same opinions as we do. We suffer in such society an intolerable boredom, for our own emanations are poisonous to us as they are to plants. As editor of the Irish Statesman (1923-30) he crusaded against, in Terence Browns words, those aspects of Irish intellectual and cultural life that tended to national exclusivism, xenophobia and cultural imposition. Although, as Brown says, a lynchpin of AEs polemic - the cultural necessity of the Anglo-lrish Protestants in the new state - was not proven, he at least handed on the torch of the wedding of cultures and the [vii] mingling of races  to Sean OFaolain and the Bell. (For longer extract, including footnote references for the above quotations, see attached.)
Mark Storey, Poetry and Ireland since 1800, A Source Book (1988), reprints Literary Ideals in Ireland and Nationality and Cosmopolitanism in Literature from John Eglinton, ed., Literary Ideals in Ireland (1899), as well as Nationality and Imperialism from Lady Gregory, ed., Ideals in Ireland (1901) [not otherwise bibliographised]. Storeys Introduction refers to AEs preoccupation with the idea of the ancient Celt, which in turn led him to believe in Irelands eventual emergence as a rural civilisation. In The National Being, he defined nationality as, a state of consciousness, a mood of definite character in our intellectual being, and it is not perceived first except in profound meditation; it does not become apparent from superficial activities any more than we could, by looking at the world and the tragic history of mankind, discover that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us. AE regarded contemporary Ireland as a place where nationality is beginning to be felt, less as a political movement than as a spiritual force. Further, To reveal Ireland in clear and beautiful light, to create the Ireland in the heart, is the province of a national literature. Other arts would add to this ideal hereafter, and social life and politics must in the end be in harmony. (pp.19-20.)
[ top ]
Brian P. Murphy, Patrick Pearse and the Lost Republican Ideal (Dublin: James Duffy 1992), writes the group which argued most firmly and consistently for the ideals of Easter Week and the Republic was that associated with Count Plunkett, Cathal Brugha, Father OFlanagan, and J. J. OKelly - not the groupings which rallied around de Valera, Collins, or Griffith.
Declan Kiberd, Inventing Ireland (London: Jonathan Cape 1995), includes quotations: Empires do not permit the intense cultivation of human life ... they destroy the richness and variety of existence by the extinction of personal and unique gifts (AE, in Literary Ideals in Ireland, ed. John Eglinton, London 1899, p.11; Kiberd, p.157); [Empire destroys native culture effecting] the substitution of a culture which has value mainly for the people who created it, but is as alien to our race as the mood of the scientist is to the artist or poet. (Thoughts for A Convention, p.71; Kiberd, p.198); What was in Patrick Pearses soul when he fought in Easter Week but an imagination, and the chief imagination which inspired him was that of a hero who stood against a host ... I who knew how deep was Pearses love for the Cuchulain whom OGrady had discovered or invented, remembered Easter Week that he had been solitary against a great host in imagination with Cuchulain, long before circumstance permitted him to stand for his nation with so few companions against so great a power. (AE, The Living Torch, ed. Gibbon, pp.134-44; Kiberd, p.196-97).
Terence Brown, W. B. Yeats: A Critical Biography (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1999): He had a fluent, facile style with the brush but (much more significantly for Yeats) he painted the visions which rose up before him like emanations from some alternative reality. Russell was one of those people (William Blake
was another) who have what can only be described as the capacity for waking dreams. He truly “saw the mythological personages, angelic or fairy folk, who appeared before him as in some mysterious tableau. For Yeats, who was beginning to revolt against his fathers materialism and the realistic Rembrandt-inspired art he had turned to after his Pre-Raphaelite phase, Russell was like a messenger sent to set him on a true path. He was a godsend to a dreamy youth who was beginning to make poetry, not painting, his avocation. (p.28.)
Nicholas Allen, Free Statement: Censorship and the Irish Statesman, in Last Before America : Irish and American Writing: Essays in Honour of Michael Allen, ed. Fran Brearton & Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press 2001): The loss of administrative support for a proposed literary academy [IAL] signified  more than a lack of government imagination. A split between political and aesthetic considerations in the practice of independent statehood was, to Russell, a disaster. By robbing his voice of authority, the state left a void to be filled by the clamour of an under-educated mob. His detractors' general lack of cultivation made them amenable to subversion and the effects of political manipulation. In rhetoric reminiscent of that used against Republicans during the Civil War, and in line with his reactionary mistrust of democracy's capacity for self-regulation and reliance on popular authority, Russell asserted his position by stressing that the study of literature was a professional practice, open only to its initiates. His opponents were accordingly a group of fanatics incapable of exercising a critical spirit about literature and shouting vociferously about books whose purpose they are incapable of understanding. (A Censorship over Literature, in Irish Homstead, 7, 23, 12 Feb. 1927, p.543.) / Russells ability to use the Irish Statesman as a forum in which to criticise government policy is symbolic of the institutional influence at his command. Far from being the isolated and unread voice of intellectual opinion, the Irish Statesman was an instrument of cultivated judgement, enjoying an educated and well-connected readership. Even if there were doubts as to the devotion of the journal's readers, the list of benefactors to the Irish Statesman in 1929 is a formidable collection of Free State luminaries. Russells political orthodoxy rested on his belief that cultural institutions could influence state development. Intellectuals were guardians of the national faith and any attack made on their integrity was equally an attack on the nation. To Russell the equation was simple, if arcane: Let beauty fade [...] the nation would be corrupt or dead. (Art and National Life, Irish Statesman, 10, 12, 21 May 1928, pp.226-27; see full version under Quotations, infra.) / Russells appeal was made to a government well aware of the propaganda value of Ireland's literature to the state's international status. The institutions that Russell lists in the above passage are agencies able to popularise concepts of Irish political identity. Indeed organisations like the Abbey Theatre were important enough to the function of the Free State to receive official financial patronage. A Cumann na nGaedheal government that  included such able media manipulators as Desmond Fitzgerald could not be slow to realise the damage that a rebellion by Irish writers might cause. (pp.85-87.) [Cont.]
Nicholas Allen (Free Statement: Censorship and the Irish Statesman, 2001) - cont.: Russell felt his authority secure after the censorship controversy, the Irish Statesman having proved to be a suitable vehicle for intellectual interference with state regulation. Generally a register of Russells cultural interests, the journal was able successfully to focus political opposition in time of public dispute. Examination of the censorship controversy expposes the intimate  relations between literary authority and political power in the early Irish Free State. As editor of the Irish Statesman, Russell was at the centre of transactions between the two. Recognition of this fact redefines our understanding of him, a writer whose guileful agitation in the Irish Statesman belies his posthumous reputation for abstract ideas. It also leaves us with a final view of Ireland in the first decade of independence as subject to vigorous competition between authroities, cultural, political and religious, determined to secure their influence within the new dispensation. Russell too his place among these factions and successfully protected, for a short time at least, his literary and political investment in the state by the Irish Statemans re-negotiation of the Censorship Bill. (pp.97-98.)
Adrian Frazier, reviewing Nicholas Allen, George Russell (AE) and the New Ireland, in The Irish Times (8 Jan. 2003), Weekend, writes that Russell in Bournemouth spoke of the Anglo-Irish as ‘the most virile and intelligent people in Ireland and the rest as ‘two or three thousand pure Gaels … mostly half-wits. […] the kind of people we meet in the West, their minds a clotted mass of superstition (letter to The Irish Times). Frank OConnor, reviewing Russells paintings in 1940, concluded that the ‘light, quick, gay, and spontaneous character (with ‘just a little malice) that he loved, did not transpire at all in the works that remained: ‘Somebody in a hundred years time will wonder why we thought him a great man. Avid follower of anarchist Kropotkin in 1912; preached self-help; fellow-traveller of James Connolly from 1913; caught unawares by 1916, he offered an alternative future in The National Being; Eglinton on The Interpreters (1922): ‘it is an attempt to grapple with a problem that does not exist; calls the biography an ‘impressive debut in which the author shows he ‘has learned to make sense of AEs mind.
Roy Foster, review of Nicholas Allen, George Russell (AE) and the New Ireland, 1905-30, in Times Literary Supplement (2 May 2003): ‘[...] Posterity has been less conscious of his practical influence than of his spiritual vision, which is easier to mock: the bulky red-bearded Northern Protestant in incongruous but constant communion with ethereal sprites was dubbed by D. P. Morans sarcastic Leader The Hairy Fairy, while the Catholic Bulletin through the 1920s pursued a violent vendetta against the Pagan of Plunkett House (the headquarters of the co-operative movement). Another reason why AE was more highly valued by his contemporaries than his inheritors was perhaps due to his personal charm; he was deeply loved by a wide circle of people, and brought together in his cramped Rathgar drawing room a constantly evolving company of the young, the talented and the idealistic. Yeats called them AEs canaries, and his equivocal attitude to his old friends enthusiasms highlights the difference between them. George Yeats, always sharp for her purposes, pointed out to her husband after AEs death that he was the nearest thing to a saint they would ever meet: You are a better poet but no saint. I suppose one has to choose. This reiterated the saintly classification the Yeatses had awarded AE in their gazetteer of archetypes, A Vision; a description with which my knowledge of myself is at variance, AE wryly remarked to a friend. But the point is that by casually canonizing his oldest friend, Yeats was able to ignore his great practical gifts and real historical importance. In this, as in so many ways, the greater poet imposed his interpretation of the world on the people who came after him, at the expense of his contemporaries. / This is the process which Nicholas Allen is determined to overturn, and he does it so effectively that one wonders why it has taken so long.
Note: Foster makes reference to Allens discussion of Russells interest in Italian Fascism and remarks, ‘given Irelands particular circumstances, and the apparent successes of Mussolinis regime in the 1920s, this was not exceptional; indeeed, Giovanni Gentile became a sort of house philosopher for the Irish Statesman, which ran several articles on his educational ideas. [...] Mussolinis socialist origins and corporativist ideas were of more interest to AE than the Duces totalitarian pretensions.
[ top ]