George Russell (AE)

Other names: 


George William Russell

Date of birth: 
10 Apr 1867
City of birth: 
Lurgan, Ulster
Country of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 
Northern Ireland
Date of death: 
17 Jul 1935

A chance reading of the Upanishads in the mid 1880s, and a friendship with Charles Johnston from 1885, led Russell to a study of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Russell was drawn into Theosophical circles through Johnston and W. B. Yeats. In 1885, he met Mohini Chatterjee in Dublin and was greatly impressed by him. This acquaintance encouraged Russell to pursue his study of Indian philosophy and literature further. In 1890, Russell gave up Art School, formally joined the Theosophical Society and dedicated the next seven years to pursuing 'the path of mysticism'. Russell spent a lot of time in meditation and became interested in yoga. Hindu and Buddhist philosophy became an influence on his poetry and artistic works, although he was also inspired by visions and his 'natural mysticism'.

Russell was known for his thorough knowledge of the Bhagavad Gita and this led to interactions with South Asian visitors to the UK, as did his friendship with Yeats. When Purohit Swami arrived in the UK in 1930, he came bearing a letter of introduction to Russell written by E. E. Speight. In Yeats's introduction to the translation of The Ten Principal Upanishads by Yeats and Purohit Swami (1937), he drew attention to the influence of Russell on him. Yeats told how Russell had been quoting the Upanishads for the 'last forty years'. Russell also had connections with Rabindranath Tagore and Ranjee G. Shahani. Shahani remarks in a letter to Tagore in 1934 that AE had often spoken of Tagore to him. In 1931, Russell was invited to meet Mahatma Gandhi in London, whose theory of non-violence had been advocated by Russell in The Interpreters, but was unable to meet him as his wife fell ill.

Published works: 

Works include (in chronological order): 

The Earth Breath and Other Poems (1897)

The Divine Vision and Other Poems (1904)

Imaginations and Reveries (1915)

The Candle of Vision (1918)

The Interpreters (1922)

Song and its Fountains (1932)

The Living Torch (1937)

Secondary works: 

Kuch, Peter R., ‘Russell, George William (1867–1935)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, 2004)[]

Kuch, Peter, Yeats and A.E. 'The antagonism that unites dear friends' (Gerards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1986)

Lennon, Joseph, Irish Orientalism (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2004)

Summerfield, Henry, That Myriad-Minded Man: A Biography of George William Russell "AE" 1867-1935 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1975)

Archive source: 

Correspondence files in Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington

Papers, Armagh County Museum, Northern Ireland

Papers, National Library of Ireland, Dublin

Some Correspondence Files, Manuscript Collection, British Library, St Pancras