In our previous issue, we focused on the lives of writers, featuring as we did reminiscences, interviews, and memoirs. For this issue I’d like to do something different. While we have featured occasional pieces of fiction in previous issues, including “Saved by a Ghost” by Bram Stoker in Issue 6 and “The Boys’ Room” by Dorothy Macardle in Issue 9, I’ve decided this time around to turn over the entire issue to fiction.
Consider this issue a special anthology issue, and an eclectic one at that. There is little to tie these pieces together, save for the fact each author grew from the soil of the same island at the edge of Europe, which is to say they are all Irish by birth. Perhaps, instead, to state the obvious, one might find that each story reflects more so its author than any affinity with one another — and yet they are here between these covers. I hope most, if not all, of these stories will be new to you.
Rosa Mulholand’s “A Priest’s Story” is certainly informed by her own Catholic beliefs, the supernatural elements driven by faith more than fear. Similarly, “The Story of a Star” is a fable that could only have flowed from the pen of the mystical poet and painter A.E.
Robert Cromie is best known for his novel The Crack of Doom (1895), which contains what is thought to be the first description of an atomic explosion in fiction. Published here is his supernatural short story “Squire Grimshaw’s Ghost” — decidedly more gothic than the scientific fiction for which he is now remembered.
Herbert Moore Pim’s “The Madman” is indeed a mad bit of writing from his singular collection Unknown Immortals of the Northern City of Success (1917). Whether the madman in question is based on a real person known to Pim is anyone’s guess. Beatrice Grimshaw’s “Cabin No. 9” is a ghost story set on the high seas, full of the adventure and incident one expects from Grimshaw. Unfortunately it is also marred by her racism, but I hope you will enjoy the tale nevertheless. Cheiro’s “A Bargain Made with a Ghost” purports to be based on true events — insofar as any tale told by Cheiro can be trusted as true. But the story is ably told and certainly entertaining.
Dorothy Macardle’s “The Shuttered Room” was originally broadcast on Radio Eireann on 13 September 1957. It was the sixth and last talk by Macardle in her Days and Places series. The other pieces in the series are reminiscences of her travels and experiences in post-war Europe and her sole trip to America. Though the “The Shuttered Room” was the story’s original title, on the manuscript this is crossed out, and a new title given: “A World of Dream”. This new title is then crossed out with “stet” written beside the original. This is the first time “The Shuttered Room” has appeared in print.
Finally we have Conall Cearnach’s “The Fiend That Walks Behind” from his sole (and slim) volume The Fatal Move and Other Stories (1924); a mixed bag as a collection, this tale of revenge from beyond the grave is perhaps the best of the lot.
And there you have it: I hope an entertaining crop of stories that will keep you amused for an evening. If you enjoy this all – fiction issue, maybe we’ll do another sometime?
Occasionally I like to write about how a Swan River book can come together. Back in 2015, I wrote a short piece on how we assembled our edition of Lafcadio Hearn’s Insect Literature, a beautiful book that is now unfortunately out of print. (Though you can still read about how we put it together!)
This time I’d like to write a little about Selected Poems by A.E. (George William Russell, 1867-1935), which we published in April 2017 to coincide with the bicentenary of the great poet’s birth.
A few years prior to the sesquicentenary, I realised there was no proper edition of A.E.’s work in print. Sure, a few cheap print-on-demand volumes of his mystical writings are floating about, but let’s face it, the content of those sort of things can be dodgy at the best of times, often going unedited and rarely even proofed or decently typeset. Caveat emptor. And given that A.E.’s work is no longer fashionable in the Irish literary world, I knew that a new edition done right would be up to Swan River.
I can remember the precise moment I decided to reprint A.E.’s work. My house isn’t too far from Mount Jerome Cemetery, in south Dublin, where A.E. was laid to rest on 17 July 1935. As I was stooped down to remove clumps of moss and other debris from the chipped stone atop his grave, the thought entered my mind: in 2017 I would reprint something by Ireland’s foremost mystical poet. But what? Would I create my own selection? Ask a contemporary poet to complete such a task? Or maybe I would reissue a prose work, such as his thin short story collection The Mask of Apollo (1905). I did not ponder this question for long. A definitive answer arrived a few weeks later.
Over the years I have amassed quite the collection of first editions of A.E.’s work. Shortly after that visit to his resting place I found a first edition copy of Selected Poems, originally published in autumn 1935, just a few months after its author died. This particular copy of Selected Poems still had its original dust jacket, on which were inscribed the words: “If I should be remembered, I would like it to be for the verses in this book. They are my choice out of the poetry I have written.” It would appear A.E. himself had given me the answer. I decided then and there to honour the will stated so clearly before me.
The painting of A.E. on the cover of Selected Poems is by the husband of Constance Markiewicz: Count Casimir Dunin Markiewicz (1874-1932). The original is held by the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin, and just so happened to be on display at the time I was working on this project. So I wandered up one weekend to have a look. After I had seen the painting, it struck me that perhaps we could re-interpret the 1935 jacket, reproducing Count Markiewicz’s painting, but of course this time in colour. The gallery kindly obliged, and so the project began to take shape.
Next I asked Meggan Kehrli, Swan River’s long-time designer, to lift the typeface of the title, author’s name, and inscription from the cover of the first edition jacket. We did this trick for both Insect Literature and Longsword, and it works pretty well. Although most readers won’t necessarily notice this subtle design choice, I like knowing it’s there. Of course you can compare the two covers above to see both their similarities and differences.
On the title page we reprinted the “Sword of Knowledge”. This emblem, a downward-pointing winged sword designed by the poet, is emblazoned on the free front end papers of Cuala Press’s multiple A.E. volumes. The keen-eyed will notice that it is also carved into the lower right-hand corner of the poet’s tombstone. It only seemed appropriate to include it on our title page as well.
Finally there was the question of the printed paper case — that’s the image that’s printed onto the boards underneath the dust jacket. It’s become a feature of all Swan River books that this image is different from that on the jacket cover, allowing readers to discover something beneath the jacket of each of our books. Given that A.E. also produced a wealth of beautiful paintings depicting his visionary experiences, I started the search to find the perfect picture.
Again, I didn’t have to search too long before I found what I was looking for at the National Gallery of Ireland. There they had one of A.E.’s paintings given the rather uninspired posthumous title “A Landscape with a Couple, and a Spirit with a Lute”. Of course the painting depicts exactly that — but for the purposes of our project it spoke of so much more. It was perfect. The golden figure, with its radiant headdress and lute, appearing before an awestruck pair, seems to me the very embodiment of Song, an extension of the mysticism A.E. also sought to express in his writing.
Just as A.E.’s poetry and prose were glimpses behind the veil, so too did I want a scintillating image beneath our purposefully staid dust jacket — so that each reader here too could glimpse behind the veil, turning the cover into a sort of interactive metaphor. In the photo at the left you can see the book with the jacket both on and off.
Needless to say, Selected Poems by A.E. is a book that I’m quite proud of, and I hope you like it too.
After that visit to Mount Jerome, the book just sort of came together. The elements I required materialised as I needed them, and the finished volume was published on 10 April 2017 — just in time for the poet’s 150th birthday. This project was, for me, an exceedingly special one. I would like to think that A.E. himself would be proud of this book.
If you’d like to read more about A.E., including who he was and why he is an important contributor to Irish literature, I wrote another piece about him that you can read here.
The end of the 2017 is upon us and I’d like to take a moment to look back at the books we’ve published over these past twelve months. While I’ve always defined Swan River as an Irish press, this year all of our books were either by Irish authors or have a strong Irish connection.
The publication date of our first book was pre-determined: the Selected Poems of A.E. (George William Russell). Last April was the 150th birth anniversary of Ireland’s under-appreciated mystical poet. And as no other edition of his books were properly in print, I knew it fell upon us to do something to mark the occasion.
The genesis of this book dates a few years back. I was casting around for an A.E. project to mark the sesquicentennial year, and for a brief time considered assembling a collection of my own favourites. That’s when I acquired a first edition of Selected Poems, the dust jacket of which bore a request from the poet himself: “If I should be remembered I would like it to be for the verses in this book.” So that’s exactly what I did. On the boards is reproduced a painting by A.E., and rounding out the book is an excellent afterword by Ambassador Dan Mulhall. If you’re interested in learning more about A.E., we’ve a few past blog posts for you to check out.
Our next book was a real pleasure to work on. Following on from the success of Mervyn Wall’s beloved cult classics, TheUnfortunate Fursey and The Return of Fursey, I wanted to bring back into print his equally delightful short story collection A Flutter of Wings, which hadn’t been available for over forty years. To this new edition we added Wall’s nightmarish bureaucratic drama, AlarmAmong the Clerks, which had been out of print for an alarming seventy years.I hope people will like this book as much as the Furseys.
What makes this edition even more special are the illustrations by Clare Brennan. In addition to being an excellent artist and designer, Clare has the distinction of being Mervyn Wall’s granddaughter. If you like Clare’s illustrations for A Flutter of Wings, you’ll be delighted to know prints are available to buy from her website. And of course, with an introduction by Val Mulkerns, this book has become one of my favourites of the year.
In November we were happy to publish a new collection by Bram Stoker: Old Hoggen and Other Adventures. It’s not every day a new collection of short stories by Stoker gets published, which is what makes this book extra special. It brings together for the first time a number of adventure tales that have been rediscovered in recent years. You can read more about how the “lost” volume of stories was assembled, and its relationship to Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories, in the Preface. Old Hoggen also provided a joyful opportunity to work with Stoker scholar John Edgar Browning, who has been leading the charge in all things Bram in recent years. The striking cover is by long-time Swan River conspirator Jason Zerrillo, who I’m sure we’ll see more from in the new year.
The final book of the year was The Scarlet Soul: Stories for Dorian Gray, an anthology edited by Mark Valentine and including ten new stories of art, obsession, love, lust, and sorcery by Reggie Oliver, Caitriona Lally, Lynda E. Rucker, John Howard, D. P. Watt, Rosanne Rabinowitz, Avalon Brantley, Timothy J. Jarvis, John Gale, and Derek John. In addition to this fine volume of tales, which I hope you will enjoy, this book is the first time I’ve worked with artist John Coulthart, who designed the front cover and boards.
Turning now to our journal, The Green Book, which has now entered the double digits! Issue nine focused on Irish women writers, with included, among other pieces, two essays by Elizabeth Bowen, an article on Rosa Mulholland by the late Richard Dalby, and an uncollected story by Dorothy Macardle called “The Boys’ Room”. Issue nine was one of the strongest issues we’ve had to date.
Issue ten, published in the autumn, was devoted to the fantasist Lord Dunsany, and comprised of writings about him by his contemporary Irish peers. With pieces by W.B. Yeats, Francis Ledwidge, Forrest Reid, Elizabeth Bowen, Katharine Tynan, and others, my intention was to remind readers that Dunsany once held a firm position in early-twentieth century Irish literature. I hope people read this issue from cover to cover as it illuminates Dunany over the course of his entire career.
While not a book publication, another project that came to fruition this year was the Irish Writers of the Fantastic poster that I designed with Jason Zerrillo a couple years back. The poster showcases twelve writers, spanning three centuries, each of whom made significant contributions to Irish literature.
While the poster was designed in late 2015, it wasn’t until this October that Alison Lyons of Dublin City Libraries and Dublin UNESCO City of Literature agreed to produce copies of the poster to distribute for free around Dublin, coinciding with the Bram Stoker Festival. Copies of the poster are still available, and I urge everyone (especially if you’re a teacher or librarian!) to pick up a copy. Absolutely free! For those living abroad, there are other ways of procuring a copy.
This post wouldn’t be complete without thanking Meggan Kehrli, Ken Mackenzie, Maurice Healy, and Jim Rockhill for all the work they’ve done this year. For those who don’t know, these are the folks who make Swan River books look so good. Meggan handles all of our design, Ken takes care of the typesetting, while Jim looks after proofreading. Maurice only recently joined us this year, and has proven invaluable. On a sadder note, most will have heard by now that Richard Dalby passed away earlier this year. Richard acted informally as an advisor, as he did for many small presses, and the void that he leaves behind will be sorely missed.
So there you have it! That’s what we got up to this year, and I hope you found something to enjoy. There’s plenty to look forward to next year as well. We recently announced our forthcoming deluxe edition of William Hope Hodgson’s The House on the Borderland, which will be out for April 2018. I’ve spared no expense with this one, which will bear a cover and interior illustrations by John Coulthart, accompanied by a newly commissioned soundtrack by Jon Mueller. Not stopping there, Alan Moore contributed a new introduction, while Iain Sinclair is looking after the afterword. Everyone who participated in this project has a passion for Hodgson’s cosmic masterwork. As an added bonus, the book will be fully signed by all contributors.
And perhaps the biggest new for next year is the return of the Dublin Ghost Story Festival. I’m very excited that the guest of honour will be Joyce Carol Oates, with an opening night performance by Reggie Oliver. Even if next year’s festival is only half as fun as last year’s, we’ll be in for a huge treat. The event is already half sold-out, so if you’d like to attend, please don’t delay! We’ll be announcing further guests in the coming weeks. You’ll not be disappointed!
So that’s everything for now. Thank you again to everyone who contributed to the press this year, be it through buying books, supportive emails, or even coming out to see us at festivals and conventions. I’m looking forward to new books and hearing from everyone in the new year.
“Ce qu’on aime le mieux dans Yeats, ce sont ses vers. Mais le chef-d’œuvre d’A.E., qui est un grand artiste, c’est encore lui-même.” – Simone Téry
The poet, painter, political philosopher, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935)—better known as “A.E.”—was no stranger to divine visions and secret wisdom. Often he oracled out of his shadow these revelations to friends and fellow writers: how he bore witness to a “dazzling processions of figures, most ancient, ancient places and peoples, and landscapes lovely as the lost Eden”; or how in his youth the “rock and clay were made transparent so that I saw lovelier and lordlier beings than I had known before and was made partner in memory of mighty things, happenings in ages long sunken behind me”. Even Russell’s pen-name—“A.E.”, an esoteric sigil imbued with cosmic mystery as much as it is a nom de plume—came to him in a moment of transcendental significance.
In his Memoir of A.E. (1937), John Eglinton—pen-name of William Kirkpatrick Magee, who worked for the National Library of Ireland from 1904-1921—recounts the origin of A.E.’s pseudonym:
He began to paint his visions, and had been attempting an ambitious series of pictures on the history of man, in one of which he “tried to imagine the apparition in the Divine Mind of the idea of the Heavenly Man”, when, as he lay awake considering what legend he should write under the picture, something whispered to him “call it the Birth of Aeon”. Next day the entire myth “incarnated in me as I walked along the roads near Armagh”.
A.E. continues his story of self-genesis in his chapter on “Imagination” in The Candle of Vision (1918), describing the effects of this epiphany:
The word “Aeon” thrilled me, for it seemed to evoke by association of ideas, moods and memories most ancient, out of some ancestral life where they lay hidden; and I think it was the following day that, still meditative and clinging to the word as a lover clings to the name of the beloved, a myth incarnated in me.
That day an awareness embedded itself in the fervent mind of the adolescent. Not long after, Russell experienced another event that would transform the young man from Lurgan into Ireland’s visionary poet of the Celtic Revival:
I returned to Dublin after a fortnight and it was a day or two after that I went into the Library at Leinster House and asked for an art journal. I stood by a table while the attendant searched for the volume. There was a book lying open there. My eye rested on it. It was a dictionary of religions, I think, for the first word my eye cause was “Aeon” and it was explained as a word used by the Gnostics to designate the first created beings. I trembled through my body.
Unfortunately neither Eglinton’s account, nor A.E.’s are given dates. However, that Russell initially requested an art journal is not surprising. From October 1883 until the summer of 1885, he was enrolled at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art in Kildare Street; and from 1885 until 1887, he attended evening sessions affiliated to the Royal Hibernian Academy. The building that housed the Metropolitan School of Art, now non-extant, at the time stood across the road from the library. The National Library of Ireland currently (and appropriately) houses a substantial archive of A.E.’s manuscripts, letters, and artworks—all accessible to the public. Go see A.E.’s papers if you have the opportunity.
At the time of A.E.’s now mythic revelation, the National Library was located in Leinster House, presently occupied by the Houses of the Oireachtas. In September 1890, the collection was relocated to the north wing of Leinster House, an extension added to the central structure in the late-nineteenth century, where it remains to this day. This is where I found myself one afternoon doing research for Swan River Press’s anniversary edition of A.E.’s Selected Poems.
While the old catalogue remains available—tall, tattered books with pleasantly loose hinges lining the shelves just inside the reading room—the modern catalogue can be accessed online or via the computer terminals adjacent their analogue ancestors. That afternoon I had a revelation of my own. It seemed a reasonable assumption that not only would A.E.’s “dictionary of religion” still be in the library’s collection, but I should also be able to call it up from the stacks.
I conducted a search for book titles containing the words “dictionary of religion” published between the years 1780 and 1890. Among the results I found two possibilities.
The first was A Classical Dictionary of Hindu Mythology and Religion (Trübner, 1879) by John Dowson. Given A.E.’s life-long reverence for the Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads, Theosophy, and the eastern religions, this book seemed a sound likelihood, and so I put in a request to see it. There is, however, no entry for “Æon” to be found in this volume.
The other option was the aptly titled Dictionary of Religion (Cassell, 1887) edited by the Rev. William Benham, B.D., F.S.A., Canon of Canterbury; and Rev. J.H. Blunt (the latter editor indicated only in the preface and by an emendation lightly pencilled in on the title page). This book is described in the library’s catalogue as “An Encyclopaedia of Christian and other Religious Doctrines, Denominations, Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Terms, History, Biography, etc. etc.” I scribbled the call number (203 b1) onto the slip and waited for the book to arrive. I took a desk in the reading room and switched on the green-shaded Emeralite lamp.
What the porter brought out was a thick octavo, cleanly bound in black leather with gold lettering on the spine. I thumbed through the leaves until I reached page sixteen. The first bolded-black word that my eye rested on was at the very top of the page. I trembled through my body:
Æon.—An “eternal being”; the name given to the “emanations” from the Supreme Being in the Gnostic system.
Could this be not only the book that Russell chanced upon, but even the actual copy? The entry for “Æon” was there, the definition similar to what he later recalled, and it was published in the late-1880s while Russell was still an art student—this all seemed to fit my theory. But what other information could I find?
The National Library’s copy of The Dictionary of Religion bears three purple stamps, two of which are topped by a royal crown. The first bears the date “26 AUG 87”, an accession stamp indicating the library acquired the volume on 26 August 1887. The preface by Benham is dated March 1887, and so the book was probably published during late spring or early summer of that year.
The second stamp, also under a crown, reads “BOUND 22 APR 92”; while in the downward horseshoe design of the third stamp is printed “BOUND 25 JUN. 1900”. A duty librarian confirmed that these latter two stamps indicate the book was twice rebound.
I left the library that afternoon pleased that I had found and held in my hands a unique volume, one that rested inconspicuously in the stacks of the National Library for well over a century. A book which I hoped might be removed from the general collection and re-catalogued with the A.E. manuscripts in special collections. A book that seemed to me most definitely a literary relic. Alas, this elation would last only until I got home to my own library, and from these otherwise faithful volumes a single uncertainty emerged . . .
A.E.’s own recollection in The Candle of Vision wasn’t published until 1918, but that evening I found a reference to a more contemporary account of the burgeoning artist’s chance discovery in a letter to fellow esoteric explorer Carrie Rea:
I was thinking of what would be the sound for the most primeval thought I could think and the word “aön” passed into my head. I was afterwards surprised at finding out that the Gnostics of the Christian Era called the first created being “Æons” and that the Indian word for the commencement of all things is Aom.
This extract is from a letter dated December 1886, and appears as a footnote on page fourteen in Henry Summerfield’s highly-recommended biography of A.E., That Myriad Minded Man (1975). If the date on this letter is correct, then it predates the publication of Benham’s Dictionary of Religion by some five or six months. Although A.E. does not mention a “dictionary of religion” in this extract, or even the arcane happenstance in the National Library, he does imply that he was already familiar with the definition of the word “Æon”.
What to make of this?
My wholly unsubstantiated intuition tells me that A.E. did in fact consult Benham’s Dictionary of Religion, and that later recollections were an intentional conflation of events for the purpose of self-mythologising—something of which his kindred soul W.B. Yeats was also guilty. It is also perhaps significant that A.E. became acquainted with Yeats in mid-1884 while attending the Metropolitan School of Art. The two became deeply imbued with esoteric thinking—cf. Summerfield, “The two young men would discuss such subjects as the nature of the cosmic sounds that stimulated the growth of mushrooms.” Such an embellishment of one’s own origin of character, as detailed by A.E., must have seemed natural and indeed even appealing.
But as evidenced in the letter to Rea, A.E. must have come across the word “Æon” much earlier than he would lead us to believe thirty years later in The Candle of Vision. His happening upon Benham’s Dictionary of Religion in the National Library, while still possibly by chance, might nevertheless have led to an intentional, if idle, looking-up of “Æon” while waiting for that art journal.
I hasten to add, if I am correct, that this does not dismiss in any way the epiphany or inspired choice to focus on “Æon” as his true name. After all, Æon seems to have been embedded in his psyche much earlier, and should not diminish A.E.’s National Library experience in any way.
So perhaps the recounting in The Candle of Vision was a conscious attempt at streamlining or telescoping a personal mythology? I have not yet been able to locate the original manuscript of the Rea letter—but I wouldn’t mind verifying the date and reading the rest of it just to be sure.
Curiously this letter to Rea is not included in Letters from A.E. (1961) edited by the meticulous scholar Alan Denson. The earliest missive collected in Denson’s book signed as “AE” (instead of “Geo. W. Russell”) was written to Helena Blavatsky, co-founder of the Theosophical Society, which A.E. later formally joined. Though dated 6 November 1888, it appeared in the December 1888 issue of Lucifer, the society’s monthly journal edited by Blavatsky, and is generally considered the first time Russell used his new identity in print.
A second letter to Blavatsky signed “A.E.”, apparently written in December 1888, appeared in the January 1889 issue. But Summerfield notes that it wasn’t until February 1893, following his admission to the Theosophical Society’s Esoteric Section, that Russell started using his pen-name regularly, perhaps then recognising fully the power and significance of his two chosen letters.
Although Russell initially preferred the diphthong—“Æ”—typesetters persistently divided the letters—“A.E.” Ultimately Russell accepted this easier transcription. He both signed himself with the letters separated, and published the majority of his books using the latter rendering.
Russell’s first volume of poetry, Homeward, Songs by the Way, appeared in 1894 under the name A.E. So too did his second collection of verse, The Earth Breath (1897), his social commentary The Dublin Strike (1913), his political volume The National Being (1916), and so on. A.E. continued to use this sacred identity, his “true face”, not only to sign his poetry, but also his paintings, books, political pamphlets, letters to newspaper editors and friends alike, etc. etc. Whatever may or may not have occurred in the National Library in the 1880s, one thing is for certain: George William Russell had become A.E.
By 1925, the prescient French journalist Simone Téry observed:
Have you doubts regarding Providence, the origin of the universe and its end? Go see A.E.—Are you seeking information on Gaelic literature, the Celtic soul, Irish history? Go see A.E.—Are you interested in painting? Go see A.E.—Do you want to know the exports of eggs . . . or how best to cultivate bees? Go see A.E.—Do you find society badly run, and want to better it? Run to A.E.’s . . . You doubt yourself? Find life insipid? A.E. will give you confidence, will comfort you.—Do you need a friend? A.E. is always there. (L’Île des bardes, trans. R.M. Kain)
But by the close of the twentieth century, A.E. had been reduced in popular memory to little more than a footnote in Ulysses. In episode nine, “Scylla and Charybdis”, Joyce refers to Russell as “A.E.I.O.U.”, a playful allusion to the bearded sage of Dublin as much as to Joyce’s debt to A.E. for publishing his first stories in The Irish Homestead, stories which were later collected in Dubliners.
Yet despite all this, the name A.E. is still imbued with a certain magic, a presence that gathers around it the like-minded, drawing with a natural magnetism, ears straining to hear old traces of the new songs of Ireland. And just as they did during his lifetime, readers, historians, writers, mystics, activists, poets, students, journalists, organisers, politicians, artists, and the open-minded are still discovering kinship in A.E. and his works.
As for me, I still have one lingering question: Did I find the right book in the National Library? I have further theories, and you’re more than welcome to ask me about them some day. But if you’re looking for an answer now . . . Go see A.E.
This article originally appeared on the Irish Times website on 10 April 2017.
Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Selected Poems, in celebration of A.E.’s 150th birth anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.
If you’d like to read more about A.E., please see our previous post here.
You might also be interested in A.E.’s short essay, “The Making of Poetry”, which you can read here.
And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured A.E. and his work.
The following article by Fred Henderson was first published in the Eastern Daily Press (Norwich) on 19 July 1935, just two days after A.E.’s death. We reprint it here on the cusp of A.E.’s 150th birth anniversary.
Most of the papers to-day, in announcing the death of the famous Irish poet, George Russell—better known to the lovers of beauty in literature all the world over as “A.E.”—make some appraisement of his work, and most of them might easily convey to the reader an impression which is quite inaccurate. It is probably not intended, but when we are told that “fairyland was Russell’s spiritual home, and in his edition of collected poems there is reflected a spirit of calm, perfect in its serenity,” the ordinary reader might very easily take “fairyland” to indicate the ineffectual dreamer in literature. And nothing could be further from the truth about Russell than that. Of the calm serenity of his outlook on the future of humanity there is no question. I have never met any man more serenely confident about the assured triumph of beauty in human life and human associations, or less perturbed by all the evidence to the contrary which our present squalors and the ugliness of a world spending its resources on providing itself with teeth and claws for its barbarian quarrels presents to us. But his serenity was not the vague hope of a poetic dreamer. It was based on a profound philosophy and knowledge of the deeper things stirring in the world’s life “under the measureless grossness and the slag.” Russell was a practical man, if ever there was one; practical as only the man with a great vision and purpose can be. His work with Horace Plunkett in the building up of the co-operative movement in Irish agriculture should be sufficient evidence of that.
I had the great privilege recently of spending a fortnight in seclusion with him on his return home from America. I missed him by only a few days at Washington where he had been visiting the Agricultural Department of the Federal Government and studying the projects which were being worked out there under the Roosevelt administration; and I had no idea when I went on board the Aurania homeward bound that he was returning by the same boat. But we came across one another before we got out of New York Harbour, and my remembrance of the rest of the voyage is mainly a remembrance of George Russell. It was a voyage of incessant storm, thirteen days out from New York before we landed in London. There were few passengers on board; and for the three most violent days of storm we had the deck pretty much to ourselves, watching the magnificence of the great seas, and talking together over the whole range of human interests and world affairs. The charm of the man; his soft musical Irish voice; his genius for discerning the tidal movements in human affairs under the foam and uproar of the surface—I treasure the remembrance of those days, and more than ever now that one knows that it was the last period of spiritual expansion in the setting of the elemental natural movement of the wild sea and sky which he loved that life was to give him. I wonder whether if now he knows the word which we spend an hour trying to discover one afternoon when a great sunburst, with a hundred shafts of light moving with the movement of the scattering clouds, turned the welter of the mountainous seas into a wild glory, and we flung line after attempted line at one another in the effort to picture it and express its movement, and found it inexpressible.
I am happy in having not only the memory of that fortnight of a great companionship, but a tangible evidence of Russell’s infinite variety in pursuit of the beauty which he loved. On the morning of our landing at London he brought me a copy of one of his books. “Let me,” he said, “inscribe it in my own way as a remembrance of the time we’ve had together”; and thereupon sat down in a deck chair, took a box of coloured crayons from his pocket, and in about ten minutes sketched in on the title page a drawing of a piece of mountainous sea coast, “The coast at my home in Donegal.” His last piece of work, I imagine, as an artist in colours as well as in words.
It was easy to understand, on such an intimacy with him, the deep and almost devotional affection in which people of all parties in Ireland regarded George Russell. It was not only what he wrote or what he painted, nor even what he did in the active movements of Irish life; the man himself was an inspiration.
Swan River Press’s deluxe hardback edition of Selected Poems, in celebration of A.E.’s 150th birth anniversary, is now available on our website www.swanriverpress.ie.
If you’d like to read more about A.E., please see our previous post here.
You might also be interested in A.E.’s short essay, “The Making of Poetry”, which you can read here.
And don’t forget to check out our journal The Green Book (Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature), past issues of which have featured A.E. and his work.
So far The Green Book has been avoiding Mr. Bram Stoker. Not out of dislike or animosity, but for a journal that hopes to illuminate the lesser seen corners of Irish fantastic literature, I felt it was okay to let Stoker—our most prominent spokesman—wait patiently in the wings for the first few issues and allow others the spotlight for just a moment. But now that we’re six numbers in, it’s time to give Mr. Stoker his due and allow him to take centre stage. And so we pull back the red velvet curtains on this issue in grand style.
It’s not every day one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But there it was, on page three of an equally forgotten daily newspaper. It appeared quite unexpectedly in the far right-hand column. There’s nothing quite like that rush of excitement one feels when making such a discovery in the otherwise subdued and dimly-lit microfilm room of the National Library. The thrill of reading that recognisable prose, filled with masculinity, adventurous seafaring, nefarious murder, teetotalling, a clever fiancée, and a ghost. Did I not mention it’s a ghost story too? It is, and also the second (known) story Stoker had ever published. No, it’s not every day that one discovers a forgotten story by Bram Stoker. But they’re out there, just waiting to be uncovered. And we’re happy to be able to share this one, which has lain dormant for nearly 150 years, with you.
We’re equally fortunate to have in this issue an introduction from David J. Skal giving some background and context to Stoker’s lost tale. As some of you may already know, Skal’s new biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, will be out next year; certainly an event keenly anticipated by many. At the end of this issue, John Edgar Browning, himself no stranger to unearthing forgotten writings by Stoker, interviews Skal about Dracula, Stoker, and his forthcoming book.
So what’s in between this Stoker sandwich? Glad you asked. We’ve got an excellent essay on Lafcadio Hearn’s Irish influences from John Moran (to coincide with the Hearn exhibition running this autumn at the Little Museum of Dublin), a short reminiscence of the Great War by Lord Dunsany, a piece by Martin Hayes on the fraught relationship between Yeats and Crowley (hey, we’ve got to mark the Great Poet’s sesquicentenary somehow, right?), and finally an essay on the oddly overlooked mystic, visionary, poet, artist, pacifist, and statesman George William Russell (AE)—rightly described by Archbishop Gregg as “that myriad-minded man”—who I hope you will find as interesting as I do. In addition to all this, we have our usual crop of reviews, from which I hope you’ll find something to discover.
Finally, before I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Stoker, I would like to direct your attention to the cover. Here you will find Harry Clarke’s “Mephisto” (1914) from Goethe’s Faust. Stoker’s employer, the celebrated actor-manager Sir Henry Irving, played Mephistopheles with great success throughout his career. It is a role Stoker saw him perform over seven hundred times. The infernal character, as portrayed by Irving, is thought to have influenced Dracula—but the astute reader will catch Stoker’s much earlier reference to Mephistopheles in the pages ahead.
And now, without further ado, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to present to you, Mr. Bram Stoker’s “Saved by a Ghost” . . .
On St. Patrick’s Day I decided to spend my time not drinking Guinness, but instead promoting Irish Writers of the Fantastic on both Twitter and Facebook. While I’m not convinced there is a “tradition” of Irish fantastic literature—that is to say a relatively unbroken chain of influence from one writer to the next—Ireland has consistently produced authors whose works have proved to be singular contributions of international importance. Unfortunately, some of these authors are given short shrift in Ireland—even those authors otherwise widely recognised abroad.
Here is the list that I compiled. It is by no means complete or definitive (and at one point in particular even quite self-indulgent). There is a comments section down there too, so no reason you can’t add to the list if you feel I’ve overlooked someone important.
And as a reminder, anyone who would like to learn more about Irish writers of the fantastic, I encourage you to check out The Green Book, a journal started specifically to explore these authors and their works.
“In Ireland we have a national apathy about literature . . . It began to descend on us after we became self-governing; before that we were imaginative dreamers.”
— AE to Van Wyck Brooks, 10 October 1932
So wrote the poet, painter, and mystic George William Russell (1867-1935) — better known by his spiritual name AE — less than a year before he left Ireland after a lifetime working to enrich a nation he loved and dedicated himself to. Yet his vision of Ireland as an enlightened society was seemingly at odds with the mass desire for the cultural censorship and social conservatism that coincided with the birth of the Irish Free State.
Today, with the continuation of a crippling austerity policy — which includes the treatment of the arts as commodity, the considered monetisation of our public museums, financial cuts to arts funding, and the budgetary destitution of the National Library, among other similar injuries masquerading as common sense measures — one wonders just exactly how the arts are valued in a nation that still proudly sells itself as “the land of saints and scholars”.
Fifty years later, a sentiment similar to AE’s was echoed by author Mervyn Wall (1908-1997) in a fascinating interview (reprinted in this issue) in which he asserts that, “When the new Free State was set up, it settled down to very mundane things . . . since 1922 there has been no inspired leadership whatsoever, leadership that would say here is a small country starting off fresh and here is the opportunity to make something wonderful of it.” But instead of leaving Ireland, as so many of our luminaries did (and still do), Wall wrote a pair of brilliant fantasy novels, The Unfortunate Fursey (1946) and The Return of Fursey (1948), sharply satirising both Church and State — and though they tried, the Irish censors could find no specific reason to ban Wall’s books. Similarly acerbic, his 1952 novel, Leaves for the Burning, with its accumulation of exaggerated and improbable details, is often read as a satire, but as critic Robert Hogan points out, should be considered more of a realistic (“albeit one-sided”) depiction of post-war Ireland. Wall, incidentally, worked for the Arts Council from 1957-1975, and his legacy includes Ireland’s tax exemption for artists scheme, which I might add the current government occasionally talks of abolishing because of its perceived “cost to the taxpayer”. Many of Wall’s comments in this interview, though conducted over thirty years ago, feel just as relevant today.
Also in this issue you’ll find Kevin Corstorphine’s survey of a selection of stories by Cork-born author Fitz-James O’Brien (1826?-1862). O’Brien left Ireland at a young age, and eventually settled into a bohemian literary lifestyle in New York before perishing in the American Civil War. Corstorphine looks at O’Brien’s better known stories, like “What Was It?” and “The Diamond Lens”, and those less read but equally deserving of examination, such as “The Lost Room” and “A Dead Secret”. We’ve also got an essay by noted Stoker-scholar Elizabeth Miller, who considers in detail the 1901 abridged paperback edition of Dracula. Published during Stoker’s lifetime, and possibly even condensed by his own hand, Miller’s essay sheds just a little more light on the mind of the Dubliner who penned the most influential horror novel of all time. Finally, though Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s bicentenary celebrations are now over, here are two short, but important pieces by Richard Dury and James Machin that are simply too good to pass up: new discoveries that notably expand the ever-growing list of the Invisible Prince’s admirers.
A word should also be said about this issue’s cover painting, “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” by Pamela Colman Smith (1878-1951). Pixie, as she was known to her friends, was an accomplished artist who not only illustrated Bram Stoker’s final novel, Lair of the White Worm (1911), but in 1909 contributed the eighty drawings that adorn the iconic Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deck. The painting on the cover of this issue, which kindly comes to us from the Collection of John Moore, was a gift from Pamela Colman Smith to AE. An inscription on the back of the painting reads: “To AE, with all good wishes to you and yours for Christmas and the New Year and all time. Yours, Pixie. Xmas 1902.” Beside the inscription is a small drawing of a pixie. As a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, Pamela Colman Smith was likely introduced to AE through their mutual friend W.B. Yeats. This is the first time “The Princess on the Ridge of the World” has been published.
AE’s comment regarding our national apathy toward literature—and art in general—is provocative and disheartening, and the natural instinct will be to deny it, pointing to one example or another of independent artistry or do-it-yourself creativity existing in Ireland today. And yes, AE’s comment was made nearly a century ago. But I do not think his assertion should be dismissed without first deep consideration tempered with honesty free from national pride.
However, given the gloominess of AE’s words at the start of this piece, I thought we might do well to end it with a comment he made to Seán Ó Faoláin in a letter from 1933, a decidedly more hopeful prescription from the man who helped shepherd into the world writings we now associate with Ireland’s literary identity.
“We have imagined ourselves into littleness, darkness, and ignorance, and we have to imagine ourselves back into light.”
On Friday I decided to go to Mount Jerome Cemetery in Harold’s Cross, just one neighbourhood over from Rathmines, to pay respect to George William Russell (1867-1935), better known by his spiritual name “AE” (short for Aeon; simultaneously the mortal incarnation of the Logos and the representation of the immortal self). AE was a great man of a great many talents: poet, painter, novelist, economist, editor, critic, mystic, pacifist, patriot, literary facilitator, visionary—he was once (and rightfully) called “That myriad-minded man” by Archbishop Gregg (also the title of Henry Summerfield’s excellent biography). AE is largely overlooked today, perhaps because he was never recognised as a master of just one discipline. But, as AE might have joyfully observed, employing his favourite line from Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: “I contain multitudes.”
The occasion of my visit to the cemetery on 10 April was in celebration of AE’s birth in 1867. Though buried in Dublin, AE was an Ulsterman born in Lurgan, a small town in County Armagh. His family moved to Dublin in 1878, and in 1880 he attended the Metropolitan School of Art on Kildare Street where he met his lifelong friend (and occasional antagonist) W.B. Yeats. In their early days both AE and Yeats were explorers of the esoteric, but where Yeats gravitated towards the occult and the totalitarian, AE’s interests lay in the theosophic teachings of Madame Blavatsky, not to mention he was of a considerably more democratic mindset. AE originally dedicated his novel The Avatars (1933) “To W.B. Yeats, my oldest friend and enemy”, but shortly before publication shortened it: “To W.B. Yeats”.
As a young man in the 1890s, AE lived in the Theosophical Society Lodge at 3 Ely Place (just a block off St. Stephen’s Green) where his mystical murals still adorn the walls. Not far from Ely Place is 84 Merrion Square, where a memorial plaque for AE can be found. It was in the upper offices of this Georgian house that AE edited the Irish Homestead (and later the Irish Statesman), the journal for the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society founded by Sir Horace Plunkett (uncle of Lord Dunsany—another of AE’s many friends). For a time Yeats lived at 82 Merrion Square, and the above cartoon entitled “Chin-angles: Or, How the Poets Passed Each Other” illustrates the anecdote of how Yeats and AE both went to visit the other, only to find they’d passed each other on the street without notice. A bust of AE can be found nearby in Merrion Square Park, head tilted as in the cartoon.
As I left my own house that morning, chin tucked against my chest, I noticed on the floor a large envelope that had been pushed through the mail slot. It contained a wonderfully synchronistic gift from that gentleman-publisher Colin Smythe: a hand-bound letterpress chapbook entitled Memories of AE by Dorothy Moulton-Mayer. I had often wondered how AE might take to certain people, and long ago concluded that he and Algernon Blackwood might have got on quite well. It was with great delight that, according to Moulton-Mayer, AE had indeed read Blackwood—she had spied a copy of The Centaur on his table during a visit. I should have known! Though had AE not read Blackwood, this is the novel I would first have lent him. Moulton-Mayer also apparently knew Arthur Machen, though I don’t suppose we’ll ever know now if she discussed the Welshman with AE. But something tells me the latter had read him nevertheless.
With this illuminating Blackwood connection in mind, I set off west towards Mount Jerome. Around the corner from my own residence once stood AE’s home on Mountpleasant Avenue, where he started writing The House of the Titans (a long poem he wouldn’t finish until late in life). While this house on Mountpleasant is no longer standing, his first home at 6 Castlewood Terrace is, and I passed by it just a few minutes later. However, AE’s house at 17 Rathgar Avenue, which is perhaps the home for which he is most remembered, still stands and boasts a worthy memorial plaque. During the early 20th century, this house became a Mecca for poets, politicians, novelists, artists, and various other thinkers, all seeking AE’s conversation, advice, and ever-genial hospitality: Padraic Colum, Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, Frank O’Connor, Seán Ó Faoláin, Susan Mitchell, Oliver St. John Gogarty, Jack Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Lady Gregory, Lord Dunsany, Sean O’Casey, L.A.G. Strong, Katherine Tynan, George Moore, J.M. Synge, Countess Markievicz, Francis Ledwige, Hugh Lane . . . the list is as ridiculously noteworthy as it is long. And to the twenty-year-old James Joyce, who arrived unannounced one midnight in 1902 clutching a fresh manuscript, AE said, “Young man, there is not enough chaos in your mind to create a world.” Afterwards he wrote to Lady Gregory about the visit, ” . . . [Joyce] sat with me up to 4 a.m. telling me of the true inwardness of things from his point of view.” AE eventually published three of Joyce’s stories that would later be collected in Dubliners, while Joyce went on to portray AE in Ulysses (“A.E.I.O.U.”).
Continuing across Rathmines I cut through Leinster Square and passed the former home of James Stephens (AE’s friend and protégé, and a man who definitely associated with Machen). “He inclined to sit on the top of the morning all day,” wrote Stephens of his friend’s demenour. The arrival of the chapbook earlier in the morning wouldn’t be the only fortuitous moment that day. Towards the end of Leinster Road I decided to take a shortcut down a particularly rundown alleyway where I came across some graffiti that I think I will allow to speak for itself.
Finally Mount Jerome, with its familiar flower vendors and the red-faced man in top hat and walking stick greeting visitors at the gate. I bought a bouquet for a fiver. It was the least I could do. Naturally along the way I also stopped to visit an old friend, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. I pulled the spring weeds from his recently restored vault and admired the memorial plaque his friends and family erected in his honour last summer.
At last I arrived at the modest grave of the man born George William Russell. In 1933, after the deaths of his wife Violet and his lifelong friend Horace Plunkett, and the recent formation of Éamon de Valera’ s government (“I curse that man as generations of Irishmen to come will curse him—the man who destroyed our country”), AE sold his house in Rathgar, left Ireland, and eventually settled in England after a lengthy lecturing tour of America.
“Dublin’s Glittering Guy” (as O’Casey once described AE) breathed his last on 10 July 1935 in a nursing home in Bournemouth. Though Yeats had not come (and only telegraphed after a long silence), Gogarty was at his bedside, as was P.L. Travers, AE’s nurse and secretary in his final days. His body was laid out at the offices in 84 Merrion Square, and a procession more than a mile long passed through Rathmines before arriving at Mount Jerome.
Here at the graveside, where I now stood, once were assembled, beside many others, AE’s son Diarmuid, his political foe President de Valera, ex-President W.T. Cosgrave, W.B. Yeats, and Frank O’Connor, who delivered the oration. The most extravagant offering of flowers came from a woman who was once a servant in the Russell household. On being questioned on the costliness of her gift, she declared “I would have died for him.”
I’d brought along my copy of AE’s Selected Poems, published shortly before his death in 1935. In the brief preface, the poet wrote, “If I should be remembered I would like it to be for the verses in this book. They are my choice out of the poetry I have written.” And from this selection I read:
Should you ever come to Ireland, there are many places you can visit to celebrate AE’s life and works, a good few of which I’ve already listed. The Hugh Lane Gallery often has one of his paintings on display, and a trip to Lissadell House in County Sligo is a must: they have the largest collection of AE’s paintings in the world. In the Armagh County Museum is another exhibition on the life and works of AE, including a number of paintings.
First editions of AE’s work can be easily procured online, and they are worth the effort. Among the prizes in my own collection are a signed copy of Enchantment and Other Poems (1930) and AE’s novel The Interpreters (1922) inscribed to Gogarty. John Eglinton’s A Memoir of AE (1937) is worth a read, as is the essay collection The Living Torch (1937) edited by Monk Gibbon. Those of a more mystical mindset might like The Candle of Vision (1919; my copy once belonged to Gibbon) or Song and Its Fountains (1932).
My sincere hope is that in the lead-up to the 150th anniversary of AE’s birth, more people will discover and appreciate his contributions to Irish art, literature, and culture.