On 10 April 1867 George Russell was born.
Poet, painter, mystic, and agriculturalist, George Russell was one of the most important figures of the Celtic Revival. A friend of George Moore, WB Yeats, and Lady Gregory, he also helped published Joyce’s first fiction.
Joyce met Russell for the first time in August 1902, and Russell immediately contacted WB Yeats and Lady Gregory about his new discovery. In June or July 1904, Russell wrote to Joyce asking if he could write short stories suitable for publication in the Irish Homestead, the magazine of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society. Russell offered to pay £1 for stories of about 1800 words, and added that Joyce could use a pseudonym if he wished.
Joyce’s first short story, ‘The Sisters,’ was published in the Homestead on 13 August 1904 under the pseudonym ‘Stephen Daedalus’ – the first appearance in print of a piece of fiction by Joyce. Two more stories – ‘Eveline’ and ‘After the Race’ – also appeared in the Homestead before HF Norman, the editor, told Joyce he would not accept any more because of complaints from readers.
Despite the fact that Russell had given Joyce his first step into publishing fiction, Joyce was always rather disparaging about him. In Ulysses, Bloom sees Russell with his bicycle coming from the vegetarian restaurant on Dame Street. Russell is on his way to the National Library where he joins in the discussion about Shakespeare in the ‘Scylla & Charybdis’ episode. In that episode, Russell and the poets he influenced are referred to as the “opal hush poets” – the words ‘opal’ and ‘hush’ were favourites of Russell’s – and Stephen Dedalus thinks of the Irish Homestead as the “pigs’ paper.”
George William Russell was born in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, but his family moved to Dublin when he was eleven. He studied art at the Metropolitan Art School, where he became friends with WB Yeats. He worked for Horace Plunkett at the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society, and edited the Society’s magazine, the Irish Homestead, from 1905 to 1923. He cycled all over Ireland helping farmers to organise themselves into co-operatives.
Russell was a mystic and a member of the Second Dublin Lodge of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical Society. The Society met on Thursday evenings in rooms on Dawson Street which Joyce mocks as the “yogibogeybox.” Russell wrote extensively on matters ranging from politics, economics, and agricultural reform, to poetry and mysticism. His pseudonym, AE, was the result of a printer leaving out the last two letters of the name Russell had intended, Aeon.
In addition to his journalism, Russell also published several volumes of poetry and two novels. He died in Bournemouth in 1932 and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery in Dublin.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vols. II & III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.