The events of Æ’s early years are somewhat obscure. He was born George William Russell into the Northern Irish Protestant family of Thomas Elias Russell and Mary Anne (Armstrong) Russell. When he was eleven, his family moved to Dublin, and Æ was educated at the Rathmines School. From 1880 to 1900, he attended the Dublin School of Art for a few months each year, where he met Yeats, a fellow student. Their long friendship was a troubled one, since Yeats felt that Æ never fulfilled his artistic potential.
Æ’s first employment may have been as a clerk in a Guinness brewery, a job he soon quit. Painting was Æ’s natural activity, but this was sacrificed because his family could not afford such luxuries, and he turned to literature. From 1890 to 1897, he worked in a warehouse twelve hours a day; in the evenings, he served as librarian of the Dublin Lodge of the Theosophical Society, where he lived. In the midst of all this, he still found time to publish his first two volumes of poetry, Homeward and The Earth Breath, and Other Poems.
The most important event in Æ’s life occurred in 1887 when he discovered Theosophy. He had been a mystic from childhood, and becoming an ardent adherent, he utilized the principles of Theosophy. It was only after the death of Madame Blavatsky, the founder of the Theosophical Society, that he severed his official connection with Theosophy.
The mystic Æ later evolved into a philosopher and a political sage respected on both sides of the Atlantic. For his entire adult life, he was active in the cooperative agricultural movement of Sir Horace Plunkett’s Irish Agricultural Organization Society and in the Home Rule movement.
Having achieved a certain security through his...
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