1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Russell, George William

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RUSSELL, GEORGE WILLIAM (1867- ), Irish writer and painter (best known under his sobriquet of “Æ”), was born in Lurgan, co. Armagh, Ireland, April 10 1867, the second son of Thomas Elias Russell. He went to Dublin with his parents in 1874, and was educated at Rathmines school. After some years spent in an accountant's office in Dublin he joined the Irish Agricultural Organization Society in 1897 and became an organizer of agricultural societies. In 1904 he became editor of the Irish Homestead, the organ of the agricultural coöperative movement in Ireland, a position he still held in 1921. He published his first book of verse, Homeward: Songs by the Way, in 1894. His second, The Earth Breath, was published in 1897. Literary Ideals in Ireland, some essays in collaboration with W. B. Yeats, W. Larminie and John Eglinton, appeared in 1899; and Ideals in Ireland, essays in collaboration with W. B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Standish O'Grady, D. P. Moran and Lady Gregory, appeared in 1901. The Nuts of Knowledge, a book of selections of his lyrics, was hand-printed in 1903. The Divine Vision, his third book of verse, appeared in 1904; The Mask of Apollo, a book of mystical tales, appeared in the same year; New Poems (edited, 1904); a hand-printed selection of his verse By Still Waters (1906); some Irish Essays (1906). Deirdre, a play in three acts, was published in 1907. The Hero in Man, an imaginative musing on the character of the soul, appeared in 1909; The Renewal of Youth, a similar meditation, in 1911. Coöperation and Nationality and The Rural Community, two pamphlets embodying coöperative ideals, were published respectively in 1912 and 1913. Collected Poems appeared in 1913, and Gods of War and other poems, privately printed, in 1915. Imaginations and Reveries, a book of prose essays, was published in 1915; The National Being: Some Thoughts on an Irish Polity in 1917; The Candle of Vision, prose, in 1919. He was a member of the Irish Convention called in 1917, and his Thoughts for a Convention, now embodied in the 1921 edition of Imaginations and Reveries, appeared that year. As well as those mentioned, he published from time to time pamphlets on various social and political subjects.

As a poet he ranks among the mystics, in the sense that his verse is dominated by a spiritual conception of the universe. Of the two great poets brought to light by the Irish literary revival, W. B. Yeats and “Æ,” it might be said of Yeats that he coined for the world the treasure recovered by the renewed access to Gaelic sources into what was virtually a new language in poetry, and of “Æ” that he brought into Irish literature the ancient spiritual thought of the world. His gifts as a poet are reinforced by the vision of an artist, and though in verse he attained his highest expression, his paintings convey a vision of nature as intimate and delicate as in his verse.

He embodied his ideals for the coöperative movement and his thoughts for an Irish polity in The National Being. In this book coöperative ideals are used, in a fashion entirely novel, for the creation of a society which would be easily malleable to human impulse and yet stable. The foundations of his state do not begin in a legislature but in the parishes of the country, the social order taking precedence of the political order. He exhibits a general dread of the highly organized state, a dread which may be to some extent an Irish characteristic, and would make the pillars of his nation innumerable coöperative societies, each with the largest freedom for economic and social development, but federated together for enterprises which are too extensive for operation by a small community alone. He would like these communities to do many things which in other countries State departments are asked by socialists to undertake. His ideas on these matters had considerable effect upon the younger generation of Irishmen as well as upon the coöperative agricultural movement in Ireland, founded by Sir Horace Plunkett, and in which “Æ” had worked so many years. His Candle of Vision is a record of a personal psychological experience expressed in a luminous and distinguished prose. His economic writings in The Irish Homestead and elsewhere, his imaginative prose writings, his verse and his painting, exhibit a unity and harmony rare in one whose modes of expression are so diverse. This probably arises because all are inspired by a conception of God and man and Nature as one single yet multitudinous being, and out of this philosophical root comes the harmony of character maintained throughout in work in such varied spheres as painting, poetry, psychology, economics and politics. (S. L. M.)