Two lectures which I had to deliver shortly after the beginning of the
Weimar phase of my life are associated for me with important memories.
One took place in Weimar, and was entitled, Fancy as the
Creatress of Culture; it preceded the conversation I have
described with Herman Grimm concerning his views on the history of the
evolution of fantasy.
Before I delivered the lecture, I summarized in my own mind what I
could say on the basis of my spiritual experience concerning the
streaming of the real spiritual world into the human fantasy. What
lives in the imagination seemed to me to be stimulated by human
sense-experiences only as regards its material form. That which is
truly creative in the genuine forms of fantasy seemed to me a
reflection of the spiritual world existing outside of man. I desired
to show that fantasy is the gateway through which the Beings of the
spiritual world work creatively indirectly through man in the
evolution of civilizations.
Because I had arranged my ideas for such a lecture toward this
objective, Herman Grimm's exposition made a deep impression upon me.
He felt no need whatever to seek for the supersensible sources of
fantasy; what enters the human mind as fantasy he took as matter of
fact and proposed to observe this in the course of its evolution
I first set forth one pole of the fantasy dream-life. I showed how
external sense-experiences are perceived, because of the subdued life
of the consciousness, not as in waking life, but transformed into
symbolic pictures; how inner bodily processes are experienced through
the same symbolization; how experiences rise in consciousness, not in
sober memories, but in a way that indicates a powerful elaboration of
the thing experienced in the depths of the soul-life.
In dreams consciousness is subdued; it sinks down into the sensible
physical reality and perceives the control within the sensible
existence of something spiritual which during ordinary awareness
remains concealed, and which even to the half-sleeping consciousness
appears only as a play of colours from the shallows of the sensible.
In fantasy the mind rises as far above the ordinary state of
consciousness as it sinks below this in dream-life. The spiritual
which is concealed within the sense-existence does not appear, yet the
spiritual influences man; but he cannot grasp this in its very own
form but pictures it unconsciously to himself by means of a
soul-content which he borrows from the sense-world. The consciousness
does not penetrate all the way to the perception of the spiritual; but
it experiences this in pictures which draw their material from the
sense. world. In this way the genuine creations of fantasy are
evidences of the spiritual world even though this does not penetrate
into human consciousness.
By means of this lecture I wished to show one of the ways in which the
Beings of the spiritual world influence the evolution of life. It was
thus that I strove to discover means by which I might bring to
expression the spiritual world I experienced and yet in some way
connect it with what is adapted to the ordinary consciousness. I was
of the opinion that it was necessary to speak of the spirit, but that
the forms in which one is accustomed to express oneself in this
scientific age must be respected.
The other lecture I gave in Vienna at the invitation of the Scientific
Club. It dealt with the possibility of a monistic conception of the
world on the basis of a real knowledge of the spiritual. There I set
forth that man by means of his senses grasps the physical side of
reality from without and by means of his spiritual
awareness grasps its spiritual side from within, so that
all which is experienced appears as an unified world in which the
sensible manifests the spirit and the spirit reveals itself creatively
in the sensible.
This occurred at the time when Haeckel had formulated his own monistic
philosophy through his lecture on
Monismus als Band Zwischen Religion und Wissenschaft(1).
Haeckel, who knew of my
being in Weimar, sent me a copy of his speech. I reciprocated his
courtesy by sending him the issue of the newspaper in which my lecture
at Vienna was printed. Whoever reads this lecture must see how opposed
I then was to the monism advanced by Haeckel when occasion rose for me
to express what a man has to say about this monism for whom the
spiritual world is something into which he sees.
But there was at that time another occasion for me to give thought to
monism in the colouring given it by Haeckel. He seemed to me a
phenomenon of the scientific age. Philosophers saw in Haeckel the
philosophical dilettante, who really knew nothing except the forms of
living creatures to which he applied the ideas of Darwin in the order
in which he had rightly arranged them, and who explained boldly that
nothing further is required for the forming of a world-conception than
what can be grasped by a Darwinian observer of nature. Students of
nature saw in Haeckel a fantastic person who drew from
natural-scientific observations conclusions which were arbitrary.
Since my work required that I should realize what was the inner temper
of thought about the world and man, about nature and spirit, as this
had been dominant a hundred years earlier in Jena, when Goethe
interjected his natural-scientific ideas into this thought, I saw in
Haeckel an illustration of what was then thought in this direction.
Goethe's relation to the views of nature belonging to his period I had
to visualize inwardly in all its details during my work. At the place
in Jena from which came the important stimulations to Goethe to
formulate his ideas on natural phenomena and the being of nature,
Haeckel was at work a century later with the assertion that he could
draw from a knowledge of nature the standard for a conception of the
In addition it happened that, at one of the first meetings of the
Goethe Society in which I participated during my work at Weimar,
Helmholtz read a paper on
Goethes Vorahnungen kommender naturwissenschaftlicher Ideen(2).
I was then informed
of much in later natural-scientific ideas which Goethe had
previsioned by reason of fortunate inspirations; but it
was also pointed out how Goethe's errors in this field bore upon his
theory of colour.
When I turned my attention to Haeckel, I wished always to set before
my mind Goethe's own judgment of the evolution of natural-scientific
views in the century following that which saw the development of his
own; as I listened to Helmholtz I had before my mind the judgment of
Goethe by this evolution.
I could not then do otherwise than say to myself that, if one thought
of the being of nature in the dominant spiritual temper of that time,
that must necessarily result which Haeckel thought in utter
philosophical naïveté; those who opposed him showed everywhere that
they restricted themselves to mere sense-perception and would avoid
the further evolution of this perception by means of thinking.
I had at first no occasion to become personally acquainted with
Haeckel, about whom I was impelled to think very much. Then his
sixtieth birthday came. I was invited to share in the brilliant
festival which was being arranged in Jena. The human element in this
festival attracted me. During the banquet Haeckel's son, whom I had
come to know at Weimar, where he was attending the school of painting,
came to me and said that his father wished to have me presented to
him. The son then did this.
Thus I became personally acquainted with Haeckel. He was a fascinating
personality. A pair of eyes which looked naïvely into the world, so
mild that one had the feeling that this look must break when the
sharpness of thought penetrated through. This look could endure only
sense-impressions, not thoughts which reveal themselves in things and
occurrences. Every movement of Haeckel's was directed to the purpose
of admitting what the senses expressed, not to permit the ruling
thoughts to reveal themselves in the senses. I understood why Haeckel
liked so much to paint. He surrendered himself to physical vision.
Where he ought to have begun to think, there he ceased to unfold the
activity of his mind and preferred to fix by means of his brush what
he had seen.
Such was the very being of Haeckel. Had he merely unfolded this,
something human unusually stimulating would have been thus revealed.
But in one corner of his soul something stirred which was wilfully
determined to enforce itself as a definite thought content something
derived from quite another attitude toward the world than his sense
for nature. The tendency of a previous earthly life, with a fanatical
turn directed toward something quite other than nature, craved the
satisfaction of its passion. Religious politics vitally manifested
itself from the lower part of the soul and made use of ideas of nature
for its self-expression.
In such contradictory fashion lived two beings in Haeckel. A man with
mild love-filled sense for nature and in the background something like
a shadowy being with incompletely thought-out, narrowly limited ideas
breathing out fanaticism. When Haeckel spoke, it was with difficulty
that he permitted the fanaticism to pour forth into his words; it was
as if the softness which he naturally desired blunted in speech a
hidden demonic something. A human riddle which one could but love when
one beheld it, but about which one could often speak in wrath when it
expressed opinions. Thus I saw Haeckel before me as he was then
preparing in the nineties of the last century what led later to the
furious spiritual battle that raged over his tendency of thought at
the turning-point between the centuries.
Among the visitors to Weimar was Heinrich von Treitschke. I had the
opportunity of meeting him when Suphan included me among the guests
invited to meet Treitschke at luncheon. I received a deep impression
from this very comprehensive personality. Treitschke was quite deaf.
Others conversed with him by writing whatever they wished to say on a
little tablet which Treitschke would hand them. The effect of this was
that in any company where he chanced to be his person became the
central point. When one had written down something, he then talked
about this without the development of a real conversation. He was
present in a far more intensive way for the others than were these for
him. This had passed over into his whole attitude of mind. He spoke
without having to reckon upon objections such as meet another when
imparting his thoughts in a group of men. It could clearly be seen how
this fact had fixed its roots in his self-consciousness. Since he
could not hear any opposition to his thoughts, he was strongly
impressed with the worth of what he himself thought.
The first question that Treitschke addressed to me was to ask where I
came from. I replied that I was an Austrian. Treitschke responded:
The Austrians are either entirely good and gifted men, or else
rascals. He said such things as this, and one became aware that
the loneliness in which his mind dwelt because of the deafness drove
him to paradoxes, and found in these a satisfaction. Luncheon guests
usually remained at Suphan's the whole afternoon. So it was this time
also when Treitschke was among them. One could see this personality
unfold itself. The broad-shouldered man had something in his spiritual
personality also through which he impressed himself upon a wide circle
of his fellow-men. One could not say that Treitschke lectured. For
everything he said bore a personal character. An earnest craving to
express himself was manifest in every word. How commanding was his
tone even when he was only narrating something! He wished his words to
lay hold upon the emotions of the other person also. An unusual fire
which sparkled from his eyes accompanied his assertions. The
conversation touched upon Moltke's conception of the world as this had
found expression in his memoirs. Treitschke objected to the impersonal
way suggestive of mathematical thinking in which Moltke conceived
world-phenomena. He could not judge things otherwise than with a
ground-tone of strongly personal sympathies and antipathies. Men like
Treitschke, who stick so fast in their own personalities, can make an
impression on other men only when the personal element is at the same
time both significant and also interwoven deeply with the things they
are setting forth. This was true of Treitschke. When he spoke of
something historical, he discoursed as if everything were in the
present and he were at hand with all his pleasure and all his
displeasure. One listened to the man, one received the impression of
the personal in unmitigated strength; but one gained no relation to
the content of what he said.
With another visitor to Weimar I came into a friendly intimacy. This
was Ludwig Laistner. A fine personality he was, in harmony with
himself, living in the spiritual in the most beautiful way. He was at
the time literary adviser to the Cotta publishing house, and as such
he had to work at the Goethe Institute. I was able to spend with him
almost all the leisure time we had. His chief work,
Das Rätzel des Sphinx(3)
was then already before the world. It is a
sort of history of myths. He follows his own road in the
interpretation of myths. Our conversation dealt very much with the
field which is treated in that very important book. Laistner rejected
all interpretation of fairy-lore, of the mythical, which maintains the
more or less consciously symbolizing fantasy. He sees in dreams, and
especially in nightmares, the original source of the myth-making
conception of nature formed by the folk. The oppressive nightmare
which appears to the dreamer as a tormenting questioning spirit
becomes the incubus, the elf, the demonic tormentor; the whole troop
of the spirits arise for Ludwig Laistner out of the dreaming man. The
riddling sphinx is only another metamorphosed form of the simple
midday-woman who appears to the sleeper in the fields at midday and
puts questions to him which he has to answer. All that the dream
creates by way of strange and fanciful and meaningful, tormenting and
delightful shapes all this Ludwig Laistner traces out in order to
point to it again in the images of fairy-lore and myths. In every
conversation I had the feeling: The man could so easily find the
way from the creative subconscious in man, which works in the
dream-world, to the super-conscious which touches the real world of
spirit. He listened to my explanations of this sort with the
utmost good will; opposed nothing against these, but gained no inner
relationship to them. In this matter he, too, was hindered by the fear
belonging to that time of losing the scientific ground
from under him the moment he should enter into the spiritual as such.
But Ludwig Laistner stood in a special relationship to art and poetry
by reason of the fact that he traced the mythical into the real
experiences of dreams and not into the abstraction-creating
imagination. Everything creative in man thus took on, according to his
view, a world-significance. In his rare inner serenity and mental
self-sufficiency he was a discriminating poetic personality. His
utterances in regard to every sort of thing had a certain poetic
quality. Conceptions which are unpoetic he simply did not know at all.
In Weimar, and later during a visit in Stuttgart, when I had the
pleasure of living near him, I spent the most delightful hours in his
company. Beside him stood his wife, who entered completely into his
spiritual nature. For her Ludwig Laistner was really all that bound
her to the world. He lived only a short while after his sojourn at
Weimar. The wife followed her vanished husband after an exceedingly
brief interval; the world was empty for her when Ludwig Laistner was
no longer in it. An altogether lovable woman, in the true sense of
that word. She always knew how to be absent when she feared she might
disturb; she never failed when there was anything requiring her care.
Like a mother she stood by the side of Ludwig Laistner, whose refined
spirituality was contained in a very delicate body.
With Ludwig Laistner I could talk as with few other persons regarding
the idealism of the German philosophers-Fichte, Hegel, Schelling. He
had a vital sense for the reality of the ideal that lived in these
philosophers. When I spoke to him once of my solicitude regarding the
one-sidedness of the natural-scientific world-conception, he said:
Those people have no sense of the significance of the creative
in the human soul. They do not know that in this creative within man
there lives a cosmic content just as in the phenomena of nature.
In dealing with the literary and the artistic, Ludwig Laistner did not
lose touch with the directly human. Very distinctive were his bearing
and approach; whoever possessed an understanding for such things felt
the significant element in his personality very quickly after forming
his acquaintance. The official researchers in mythology were opposed
to his view; they scarcely paid any attention to it. Thus there
remained scarcely observed at all in the spiritual life of the time a
man to whom by reason of his inner worth belonged the very first
place. From his book The Riddle of the Sphinx the science of
mythology might have received entirely fresh impulses; it remained
almost wholly without influence. Ludwig Laistner had at that time to
undertake for the Cotta Bibliothek der Weltliteratur editions
of the complete works of Schopenhauer and of selections from Jean
Paul. He entrusted both of these to me. And thus I had to unite with
my Weimar tasks the thorough working through of the pessimistic
philosopher and of the paradoxical genius, Jean Paul. I devoted myself
to both undertakings with the deepest interest, because I loved to
transplant myself into attitudes of mind utterly opposed to my own.
Ludwig Laistner had no ulterior motive in making me the editor of
Schopenhauer and of Jean Paul; the assignment was due entirely to the
conversations we had held about the two persons. Indeed, the thought
of entrusting these tasks to me came to him during a conversation.
There were then living in Weimar Hans Olden and Frau Grete Olden. They
gathered about them a special group of those who desired to live in
the present in contrast with everything which considered
the very central point in a spiritual existence to consist in the
furtherance, through the Goethe Institute and the Goethe Society, of a
life that was past. Into this group I was admitted; and I look back
upon all that I experienced there with great appreciation. However
fixed one's idea might have become in the Institute through
association with the philological method, they must again
become free and fluid when one entered the home of the Oldens, where
every one was received with interest who had the idea in his head that
a new way of thinking must find place among men, but likewise every
one who in the depths of his soul found painful many an old cultural
prejudice and was thinking about future ideals. Hans Olden was known
to the world as the author of slight theatrical pieces such as
Die Offizielle Frau(4);
in his Weimar circle at that time
his life expressed itself quite otherwise.
He had a heart receptive to the highest interests which were manifest
in the spiritual life of that time. What lived in the plays of Ibsen,
in what thundered in the spirit of Nietzsche in regard to these
things there were endless discussions in his house, but always
Gabrielle Reuter, who was then writing the novel,
Aus guter Familie(5)
which soon afterward won for her by storm
her literary place, was a member of Olden's circle, and filled it with
earnest questions of all sorts which were then stirring men in
reference to the life of woman.
Hans Olden could be captivating when, with his rather sceptical way of
thinking, he instantly put an end to a conversation which was about to
lose itself in sentimentality; but he himself could become sentimental
when others fell into easy-going ways. The desire in this circle was
to evolve the deepest understanding for everything
human; but criticism was unsparing of whatever did not
suit one in this or that human thing. Hans Olden was penetrated
through and through with the idea that it was the only sensible course
for a man to apply himself through literature or art to the great
ideals about which there was a good deal of talk in his circle; but he
was too scornful of men to realize his ideals in his own productions.
He thought that ideals could live in a social circle of select men,
but that any one would be childish who should think that
he could bring forth such ideals before a greater public. At that very
time he was making a beginning toward the artistic realization of
wider interests by means of his
This play had only a moderate success in Weimar. This confirmed him in the
view that one should give to the public that to which it has now
attained, and should keep one's higher interests for the small circle
which has an understanding for these.
To a far greater degree than Hans Olden was Frau Grete Olden filled
with this idea. She was the most complete feminine sceptic in her
estimation of the world's capacity for receiving things spiritual.
What she wrote was plainly derived from a certain form of misanthropy.
What Hans Olden and Grete Olden offered to their circle out of such a
temper of mind breathed in the atmosphere of an aestheticizing
world-feeling, which was capable of reaching up to the most earnest
matters, but which did not hesitate to pass by many of the most
serious questions with a vein of light humour.
- Monism as a Bond between Religion and Science.
- Goethe's Previsions of Coming Scientific Ideas.
- The Riddle of the Sphinx.
- The Official Wife.
- Of a Good Family.
- Clever Kate.