Friday, April 21, 2017

Augustus Pugin: Architect of the Victorian Gothic

By Mark Patton.

The skylines of Britain's great cities, London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, are dominated by two great architectural styles, which compete with one another for the attention of the visitor: the "Gothic," and the "Classical." Whilst some really significant buildings (Westminster Abbey, York Minster, the Cathedrals of Salisbury, Winchester, Ely and Durham prominent among them) are genuinely Gothic (i.e. Medieval), none are genuinely Classical (i.e. Roman - this is in contrast, say, to France, where significant Roman buildings are still standing). Most of the prominent buildings in British cities are more accurately described as "Neo-Gothic" or "Neo-Classical," and were built in the Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries.

The skyline of Edinburg in c 1895. Photo: Library of Congress (image is in the Public Domain).


Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin (1812-1852) was one of the leading architects of Victorian Neo-Gothic. He was not the first British architect of the modern era to look to the Medieval past for inspiration, but he took the attachment to the Gothic world view to a new level, and, in doing so, created some of Britain's most iconic buildings.

Augustus Pugin, c 1840. Image: National Portrait Gallery (Public Domain).


Pugin's father, A.C. Pugin, himself an architectural illustrator, came to England as a refugee from the French Revolution. As a boy, Augustus traveled through Germany and the Netherlands with his father, helping to survey and sketch the great Gothic churches and cathedrals of the continent. By the age of fifteen, he himself was designing Gothic furniture for Windsor Castle.

"Specimens of Gothic Architecture," by A.C. Pugin (image is in the Public Domain).


Pugin's great break came in 1834, when a fire destroyed the greater part of the Palace of Westminster. A committee was established to commission a replacement, and the contract went to Pugin's collaborator, the architect, Charles Barry. The committee had specified that the new building should be either in the Gothic or the Elizabethan style: the capital already had its share of Neo-Classical buildings - Somerset House, St Paul's Cathedral, the Greenwich Hospital, the British Museum, still under construction - and the style had been discredited by association with the nation's defeated enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte. Britain was not a secular republic, it was argued, but a Christian kingdom, and this identity should be reflected in the nation's most prominent public building. Pugin argued, successfully, for a Neo-Gothic building, not least because one of the few surviving elements of the original Medieval building was Westminster Hall, built during the reign of Richard II.

The Medieval Westminster Hall, as depicted by Pugin's father (image is in the Public Domain).


Arguments have subsequently raged over which man was responsible for which elements of the building, but it seems likely that, whilst Barry designed the floor-plan and managed the budget, Pugin took responsibility for much of the detail, including the design of what is now referred to officially as the Elizabeth Tower (but, popularly, as "Big Ben" - actually the name of the bell), and almost all the features of the interior.

The Palace of Westminster, as designed by Barry & Pugin. Photo: Alvesgaspar (licensed under GNU).
The thrones in the House of Lords, as designed by Pugin. Photo: US Government (image is in the Public Domain).


For Pugin, however, the choice of Gothic was not simply an aesthetic, but also a moral, even a religious one. In 1836, he converted to Roman Catholicism, and, in the same year, he published a tract called Contrasts, arguing that the Gothic was the authentic Christian style, which embodied the principles of true religion. Classicism, on the other hand, he saw as rationalistic, atheistic, and ultimately utilitarian, going hand in glove with the tendency to treat human beings merely as means to an end. His tract came with a series of provocative illustrations.

"Contrasted Towns," by Augustus Pugin, showing the supposed contrast between a civilised Medieval town and a dehumanised modern one (image is in the Public Domain). The Medieval image, however, is highly sanitised, with no evidence (for example) for capital punishment or poverty.
"Contrasted Residences for the Poor," by Augustus Pugin (image is in the Public Domain). In fact, the "modern" design at the top (a modified, but not a true, "pan-opticon"), though widely used for Victorian prisons, was never used for workhouses; and the corpses of workhouse inmates, though they may have been buried in mass-graves, were never supplied to anatomists.   


As a refugee, Pugin's father had adopted the Anglican faith to avoid the prejudices that might have prevented him from finding work. During the reign of Queen Victoria, however, Britain became more tolerant of other religious traditions, including Catholicism and Judaism. The Catholic Church re-established a hierarchy of bishops, and new Catholic churches sprang up around the country, largely in response to the influx of Catholic, Irish labourers. Pugin was well-placed to be the architect of preference to the new dioceses, although he sometimes came into conflict with the bishops, both over budgets (like many architects, he didn't like working within them), and over his ultra-traditional views on church architecture.

The Roman Catholic Church of St Giles, Cheadle, Staffordshire, designed by Pugin. Photo: Oosoom (licensed under GNU).


Pugin did not only design public buildings and churches, however, but also private houses, schools and colleges.

Scarisbrick Hall, Lancashire, designed by Pugin as a private home, now a school. Photo: PC78 (licensed under CCA).


His later years were troubled by apparent mental health difficulties: syphilis and hyperthyroidism have been suggested as possible causes of these, but he had also suffered tragedy in his personal life (his first two wives died young), and he seems to have responded to this by immersing himself in his work, so perhaps exhaustion was also a factor. He would have died in the Bethlehem Hospital had his third wife, Jane, not engineered his release, against medical advice. He died at home in Ramsgate shortly afterwards, at the age of just forty, and is buried nearby, in St Augustine's Church, which he designed himself.

Mark Patton is a published author of historical fiction and non-fiction, whose books can be purchased from Amazon.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Yes, the Anglo-Saxon Spring Goddess Eostre Did Exist

By Kim Rendfeld


The Venerable Bede probably did not realize he would create a controversy for centuries when he wrote about the months of the year. In De Ratione Temporum (The Reckoning of Time), he mentioned the English used to call April Eosturmonath.

“Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated ‘Paschal month’, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.” (Translated by Faith Wallis, Liverpool University Press, 1988)

Eostre might have been a goddess of spring. Or of the dawn. Or both. Worshipers might have lit bonfires, drawn healing waters during her festival, and have maidens wearing white. (Tales of Eostre, also known as Ostara, transforming a wounded bird into an egg-laying rabbit are from the 19th century, apparently from Germans influenced by the Romantic Nationalist movement.)

The problem is, Bede’s mention of Eostre is the only one in historical records. Even scholars have debated whether she existed among the deities pagans worshiped. Some argue Bede got it wrong.

Bede (672/3-735), a monk at Wearmouth-Jarrow in Northumbria, penned the famous Historia Ecclesiastica (Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation) about the English peoples’ conversion to Christianity in the seventh century. Anyone who has studied the Middle Ages will tell you the writers of that time were far from objective observers and would have been less than meticulous about how they portrayed pagan beliefs, especially if the followers of those religions officially converted about 100 years before.

Despite the lack of evidence, it is possible Eostre was real to early medieval pagans in today’s England and Germany. There is a dearth of information about anything that early medieval pagans believed and how they worshiped, much to the frustration of a novelist trying to depict pagan characters in eighth-century Saxony. The faithful didn’t write their mythology down. In fact, the Continental Saxons had no written language as we know it, and among cultures that used pens and parchment, only a select few could read. Even fewer could write—that task was often left to clerks employed by aristocrats, the only people who could afford book. So, there might be a lot of god, goddesses, and other supernatural beings that we’ll never know about.

"Ostara" (1901) by Johannes Gehrts


Paganism Not Completely Dead

A lot of what we do know about Saxon mythology comes to us in remnants such as poems, folk tales, rituals, and what their literate enemies had to say. On top of that, the eighth-century Church made every effort to obliterate a religion it believed to be devil worship when Charlemagne conquered territory in Saxony and Avaria and used increasingly harsh measures to get the indigenous peoples to convert.

Even after a populace accepted baptism, pagan practices did not vanish. In fact, they continued for generations. The Church officially prohibited what it called sorcery, but the faithful, including the clergy, still turned to white magic—vestiges of paganism. It was common for Christians to wear amulets beside their crosses. A priest might employ someone to interpret his dreams. A manuscript copied by a monk might have a magical square with the letters of a patient’s name and the number of the day on which they fell ill. The epic poem Beowulf has both Christian and pagan elements. The monsters, Grendel and his mother, are descendants of Cain, but human warriors wear helmets with boar figures, a symbol of a pagan god.

Keep in mind that the practice of a religion differed from region to region. Even Christian rites varied with geography. So it would not be a surprise if Eostre was revered in one place but ignored in another.

In arguing for Eostre’s existence, Jacob Grimm, one of the Grimm brothers who collected German folk tales, takes a look at the language. The holy day to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection is Easter in English and Ostern in German. Other languages, including French, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, Icelandic, and even Latin, are a variation on Pasch. Easter comes to us through Old English and is akin to Old High German. Pasch originates in pesah, the Hebrew word for Passover. Eostre is also similar to the Austri, mentioned in the Norse Edda. The gender is different, but both are spirits of light.

"Frigg as Ostara" (1882)


If You Can’t Beat Them ...

Like other pagan practices, the rites associated with Eostre were probably so much a part of the culture that rather than ban them, Church leaders used them to celebrate a holy day occurring about the same time. The reason would be to celebrate Jesus conquering sin and death rather than the arrival of a goddess. It wouldn’t be the first time a seasonal celebration was adapted to a new religion. And it was a happier and more peaceful way to get converts to accept their new faith.

In other words, I conclude that Bede got it right. As Grimm states, Eostre “seems therefore to have been the divinity of the radiant dawn, of upspringing light, a spectacle that brings joy and blessing, whose meaning could be easily adapted to the resurrection-day of the Christians' God.”

At this time of year, life returns. Birds are singing again, flowers bloom, green shoots emerge from the earth, and gardeners can start planting crops. And isn’t that a cause for celebration, no matter what religion?

Sources

Bede, on ‘Eostre’

Ostara’s Home Page

Jacob Grimm’s Teutonic Mythology, Volume 1, pp. 288-291

“The Goddess Eostre: Bede’s Text and Contemporary Pagan Tradition(s)” by Carole Cusack, The Pomegranate 9.1 (2007) 22-40

Pierre Riché’s Daily Life in the World of Charlemagne, translated by Jo Ann McNamara

Ostara and the Hare: Not Ancient, but Not As Modern As Some Skeptics ThinkFolklife Today by Stephen Winick

Merriam-Webster

~~~~~~~~~~

Kim Rendfeld researched the pagan religion of eighth-century Continental Saxons as best she could while writing her second novel, The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar, about a Saxon peasant who will fight for her children after losing everything else. The book is available at AmazonKoboBarnes & NobleiTunesCreateSpaceSmashwords, and other vendors.

Kim's first novel, The Cross and the Dragon, in which a Frankish noblewoman must contend with a jilted suitor and the fear of losing her husband, is available at Amazon, Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, CreateSpace, and other vendors.

Kim is working on her third novel, Queen of the Darkest Hour, about Charlemagne's influential fourth wife, Fastrada, and his rebellious eldest son, Pepin.
Connect with Kim at her website kimrendfeld.com, her blog, Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, or follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.


Monday, April 17, 2017

George William Russell (AE) - Writer, Painter, Philosopher, Social Activist

by Arthur Russell
 
George William Russell was born in the rural townland of Drumgor, near the town of Lurgan, Co Armagh, Northern Ireland on April 10th 1867 to Thomas Elias Russell and Mary (nee Armstrong). He was baptized in the nearby Shankill church. He was the youngest of three children; a brother Thomas Samuel who was 3 years older and sister Mary Elizabeth, who was one year older. When he was 11 years old, the family moved to Dublin to allow father Thomas to take up a new job in a brewery. George was sent to the Metropolitan School of Art where he befriended the principal teacher’s son, William Butler Yeats, who was destined to become the brightest light of the Irish Literary revival as well as a future Nobel prize winner for literature.

When George was 17, the Russell family was dealt a severe blow with the death of his sister Mary Elizabeth. The poignant poem “A Memory” gives indication of how her death affected him, and was an early indication of his writing talent.

You remember dear together 

Two children you and I 

Sat once in the Autumn weather
Watching the Autumn sky

There was someone around us straying 

The whole of the long day through 

Who seemed to say, "I am playing 

At hide and seek with you"

And one thing after another
Was whispered out of the air
How God was a great big brother
Whose home is everywhere

His light like a smile comes glancing
Through the cool winds as they pass
From the flowers in heaven dancing
To the stars that shine in the grass

The heart of the wise was beating
Sweet sweet in our hearts that day
And many a thought came fleeting
And fancies solemn and gay

We were grave in our ways divining 

How childhood was taking wings 

And the wonderful world was shining 

With vast eternal things.

His Cooperative Work

After leaving Art School, where he developed his painting skills, but obviously not enough to consider taking up painting as a full time profession capable of giving him an income, he went to work in his father’s employer’s brewery. Later he became a clerk in Pim’s drapery store in Dublin, where he was earning 60 pounds sterling per annum by the time he resigned to join the budding Irish Cooperative and Credit Union movements at the invitation of the Irish Agricultural Organisation Society (IAOS) founder, Sir Horace Plunkett.  His first job with IAOS was as Banks Organiser, but his writing ability soon saw him contributing to and then editing the Society’s magazine The Irish Homestead which later merged with The Irish Statesman. He had a strong social sense and threw himself wholeheartedly into the development of the Cooperative movement as a means of supporting the economic development and market integration of emergent small holder proprietors that the various Land Purchase Acts were creating all over Ireland at the time. His cooperative work brought him to every part of Ireland, most of which still had searing and recent memories of famine and eviction which were seen as outcomes of the centuries old landlord system of land ownership in Ireland.

He edited the IAOS publication until 1930, which provided him with an outlet to display his writing talents as well as giving him a facility to mix the practical with the visionary (the vision and the dream). His boyhood experience as the son of a small holder farming community in Armagh helped him to provide well grounded technical advice to his farmer readers, at the same time giving him opportunity to outline philosophical thoughts on what the social and political future for his rural readers might be. He was sought after as a speaker lecturer not only in Ireland, but also in the United Kingdom and pre and post Depression era United States of the 1920’s and 1930’s.  

After his death in England in 1935, his body was returned to Dublin and lay in state for a day in Plunkett House, headquarters of IAOS, before it was brought to Mount Jerome cemetery for burial.

His Literary Work

Cover of AE's first publication (1894)
Drawing by the author
His first book of poems, Homeward: Songs by the Way, published in 1894, established George William Russell as one of the leading lights of the Irish Literary Revival. His friend W B Yeats considered this little book as one of the most important literary offerings of the day.

The Origin of His Pseudonym “AE”

As his literary reputation grew he adopted the pseudonym “AE”, derived from the word Aeon. This is a gnostic term used to describe the first created being. The story is told that his printer had difficulty deciphering Russell’s handwriting and could only discern the first two letters of the 4 letter word in his manuscript. When asked to clarify the remaining two letters of the word, Russell decided not to add to what had already been composited by the printer and thereafter used AE to sign off on all subsequent offerings.  His mystic disposition had earlier caused him to join the small Theosophist movement in Dublin for several years, but he left after the death of its founder, Madame Blavatsky. While living there he met his future wife, Violet North and married her in 1897. The couple lived for some time in Coulson Avenue where they were neighbours to Maude Gonne and Count and Countess Markiewicz.

He was an active member and contributor to the Irish Literary Society, which was founded by his friend W B Yeats and others. The early moving force for the literary movement was the writings of Standish O’Grady who looked at Ireland’s romantic past for inspiration. On reading O’Grady, Russell was moved to write "one suddenly feels ancient memories rushing at him and knows he was born in a royal house - it was the memory of race which rose up within me."

His Theatrical Work

Yeats and Russell shared a passion for the theatre and together they formed the National Theatre Company, later called the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. Yeats was President, Russell Vice-President and among the Committee members were Maud Gonne and the Gaelic language scholar and later first President of the Republic of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. Russell's play Deirdre is credited to have been the spark that set the Irish dramatic movement alight. Not only did he write the play, he also designed the costumes in its first production. His brilliant but eccentric personality contributed mightily to the evolving Irish literary revival, which is popularly referred to as the “Celtic twilight”.

His Paintings:
Bathers - by AE (exhibited in 1904)
Russell had a talent for painting, which he followed during his life, mainly for his own recreation "whenever words failed him". There is a respectable gallery of his works which would lead one to question how good and enduring his painting legacy would be if he had invested more time and effort into that side of his output. We will never know. Suffice it to say, his paintings have a significant market and are well regarded by many.

The Irish Times newspaper, on the occasion of the centenary of the first exhibition of his paintings in 1904 at which he sold an amazing 68 paintings – many to the noted New York art collector, John Tobin; suggested it is high time for another exhibition to create awareness and appreciation of AE’s art.    

Russell the Social Activist

He was destined to live through troubled times in Ireland and much change. The first two decades of the 20th century were the final years of the British Empire in Ireland and ushered in the formative years of the new Irish Free State that emerged in the aftermath of the Irish War of Independence in 1919-1921. It was never in Russell’s nature to be a mere bystander or spectator in the movements of his times, and he engaged fully in trying to formulate what kind of Ireland would face into the last century of the millennium. As a visionary, poet, painter, author, journalist, economist and (finally) an agricultural expert he had views aplenty and was never slow to express them with great articulation and conviction.

He was involved in the general strike of 1913 and took part in a mass meeting in Albert Hall London in support of the Dublin strikers, where he shared the platform with George Bernard Shaw and suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst. He was an Irish Nationalist, but as a committed pacifist he deplored the violence of the Nationalist inspired Dublin Rebellion in Easter 1916. This did not stop him from organising a subscription for the widow of one of the executed leaders, James Connolly, who he had befriended during the 1913 strike; both men having shared views on how to deal with the exploitative attitude of many employers of the time.

The following lines written by Russell indicates something of the dilemma he and many pacifist nationalists of the day felt. He could admire the idealism of those who followed Patrick Pearse in taking up the gun in pursuit of nationalist ideals, but like many others he had serious issues with bloodletting as a means to achieve them.    

“And yet my spirit rose in pride
Refashioning in burnished gold
The images of those who died
Or were shut up in penal cell
Here's to you Pearse, your dream, not mine
And yet the thought- for this you fell
Has turned life's water into wine”.
(from To the memory of some I knew who are dead and loved Ireland  - 1917)

He was conscious his adherence to non main stream views and opinions at a time when the extremes on both sides of the political divide were in clear ascendancy, drew sharp criticism from many, but he remained stoically unapologetic for his pacifism through that most turbulent period of Irish history.

On Behalf of Some Irishmen Not Followers of Tradition

They call us aliens we are told 

Because our wayward visions stray 

From that dim banner they unfold 

The dreams of worn out yesterday.

We hold the Ireland of the heart 

More than the land our eyes have seen 

And love the goal for which we start 

More than the tale of what has been.

No blazoned banner we unfold 

One charge alone we give to youth 

Against the sceptred myth to hold 

The golden heresy of truth.

His Relationship With the Newly Independent Irish State

George William Russell was disappointed that Irish independence was painfully slow in bringing the cultural and social flowering for which he yearned. He was of the opinion that the emerging rather puritanical state with its narrow vision, of which censorship of arts and writing was one of its most potent instruments, effectively blocked intellectual and artistic freedom as it tried to establish the new nation during the 1920s and 30s. He was particularly critical of the excessive influence the Catholic Hierarchy had manage to establish over the emergent body politic. It was his discomfort with this, along with the death of his wife a year earlier that caused him to leave Ireland in the aftermath of the 1932 Eucharistic Congress which was held in Dublin and which he considered a potent demonstration of over pervasive clerical power.

He moved to Bournemouth in England where he died in 1935.

His Support to Young Writers and Artists

During his years in Dublin, his company was much sought after and his home in Rathgar Avenue, Dublin became a meeting place for those interested in the Arts and Economics. He paid special attention to young talent, which he did all in his power to groom and encourage.

He was an endless source of support and advice to emerging writers. He first met James Joyce in 1902 and encouraged him to hone his craft as a writer. He once loaned him money, which Joyce acknowledged pithily with a written “AEIOU”.

One of his lesser known acts was to support the American writer Pamela Lyndon Travers, the future author of Mary Poppins (published 1934) at a time when her interest in myths brought her into contact with both Yeats and himself in 1924. AE encouraged her to write and even published some of her writings in The Irish Statesman.

Simone Tery the French writer in L'ile des Bards wrote about him:
"Do you want to know about providence, the origin of the universe, the end of the universe? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about Gaelic literature? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about the Celtic soul? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about Irish History? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know about the export of eggs? 
Go to AE. 

Do you want to know how to run society? 
Go to AE. 

If you find life insipid - 
Go to AE. 

If you need a friend - 
Go to AE.

These lines from a contemporary are a fitting accolade for one of Ireland’s not so well known writers who played a vital role in what is now known as the Celtic revival.

Author’s Note – While I had always been aware of George William Russell, otherwise known as AE, with whom I share a surname: I was not so aware of any family connection with him until very recently, when a distant cousin with interest in genealogy put focus on a lady called Frances Mary McGee, whose mother was a daughter of our common great grandfather. This lady married the brother of George William (AE), and while his surname was also Russell, Thomas Elias was not directly related to “our” Russells. (At least we need to go much further back to find any blood linkage). This information about Frances Mary caused me to remember conversations in my own family about a distant cousin called Fanny (short for Frances) McGee, second cousin to my father who had married into a family associated with artists and poets. Who else could it have been?

It was a personal Eureka moment, as I share some of AE’s interests (though not necessarily his unique talent) for reading, writing, (I really know little about painting!) As well I share a strong belief in the positive role of self-help cooperative endeavor for solving problems facing Agriculture in feeding today's World's burgeoning population.


Arthur Russell is the Author of Morgallion, a novel set in medieval Ireland during the Invasion of Ireland in 1314 by the Scottish army led by Edward deBruce, the last crowned King of Ireland. It tells the story of Cormac MacLochlainn, a young man from the Gaelic crannóg community of Moynagh and how he, his family and his dreams endured and survived that turbulent period of history. Morgallion was awarded the indieBRAG Medallion and is available in paperback and e-book form.

Further information from s.arthur.russell@gmail.com