March 23rd, 1912
FROM THE ARCHIVES:The many facets of George Russell, aka AE, poet, painter, mystic, and editor of the Irish Homestead, the journal of the agricultural co-operative movement, were brought together in this contemporary appreciation by someone with the initials GAB a century ago. –
NO MAN in Ireland has won reputation in so many different fields. We heard of him first as a poet, a mystic poet. This, indeed, is a side of him which I have always failed to appreciate. Two volumes of his mystic poetry occupy honoured places on my most honoured bookshelf; but I never take them down. I never shall, for I have no spirit for mystic poetry.
After the poetry came economics, social economics, Raiffeisen banks , to be particular. It is an odd transition, and unfortunately, I am no better able to appreciate the new “A.E.” than the old. Only, since the balance sheets of even mutual credit banks are tangible things, I can, without a venture of pure faith, confess that here “A.E.” did great work. Men who can understand balance sheets tell me that it is great work, and I believe them. I do not believe the people who say that the mystical poetry is great, because anyone who admires that kind of poetry in large quantities must have a distorted brain. Whereas a man who understand balance-sheets has a sound brain, and is worthy of credit.
After the economics came the editorship of the Irish Homestead. In no country in the world except Ireland would a mystic poet be entrusted with the editorship of a paper which ought to deal with cows, pigs, bees, potatoes, flax, and the cure of the ills to which such things are liable.
Under no editor except “A.E.” could such a paper be other than dull to anyone not actually engaged in fostering cows and bees. But, as a large circle of readers already knows, the Irish Homestead is, week after week, amazingly brilliant. It is strictly non-political in the sense that it supports none of our recognised parties; but it gives glimpses into the real meaning of political movements which compel thought, and it flashes sudden lights on things which professional politicians deliberately keep obscure. And the articles – that is to say, those of them which do not directly concern the rearing of calves and chickens – are vivid with intense vitality.
Finally, there is “A.E.” the painter. I am told that he cannot draw, and this may possibly be true. But he can produce pictures with which one can live for years without wanting to throw things at them, and very few people who can draw are able to do this. I have tried the experiment and I know. There is one hanging in a room of mine about which every visitor of superior culture assures me that it is drawn wrong. I am gradually coming to believe that it is. But this does not matter in the least. [ . . . ]“A.E.’s” imagination seems as inexhaustible in art as his brain in economics, as his soul – I suppose that part of a man is called a soul – threatened to be in mystic poetry.