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The Karma of the Individual and the Collective Life of Our Time, Goethe

Karma of Vocation

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The Karma of the Individual and the Collective Life of Our Time

Rudolf Steiner Archive Document

Lectures Section

This lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner on November 5th in 1916 at Dornach, Switzerland. Is is the third lecture in the lecture series entitled, The Karma of Human Vocation as related to Goethe's Life, and was published in German as, Das Karma des Befurs des Menschen in Anknuepfung an Goethes Leben. Kosmische und menschliche Geschichte. Band III. It was later published in the lecture series, The Karma of Human Vocation.

By Rudolf Steiner

The translator is unknown.
Bn 172; GA 172; CW 172

This lecture was given by Rudolf Steiner on November 5th in 1916 at Dornach, Switzerland. Is is the second lecture in the lecture series entitled, The Karma of Human Vocation as related to Goethe's Life, and was published in German as, Das Karma des Befurs des Menschen in Anknuepfung an Goethes Leben. Kosmische und menschliche Geschichte. Band III. It was later published in the lecture series, The Karma of Human Vocation.

This lecture series is presented here with the kind permission of the Rudolf Steiner Nachlassverwaltung, Dornach, Switzerland. From Bn 172, GA 172, CW 172.

This e.Text edition is provided through the wonderful work of:
Various e.Text Transcribers

Thanks to an anonymous donation, this Lecture has been made available.

FOR MEMBERS ONLY.

Anthroposophical Movement

Weekly News for English-speaking Members
of the Anthroposophical Society

  VOL. IV. No. 41

9th October, 1927  


Published at the Offices of the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain, 46, Gloucester Place, London, W.1, England. Subscriptions: Great Britain and Dominions, 15s. yearly, 3s. gd. quarterly. Single Copies, 3d. America, $4.00 yearly, $1.00 quarterly. All right reserved.



Lecture by Rudolf Steiner

Dornach, 5th November, 1916.

[Shorthand report unrevised by the Lecturer. All rights reserved,]

F 

ROM the indications already given [4th November 1916. See Anthroposophical Movement, Vol. IV. No. 37] you will have perceived that it is our intention in this lecture to lead to an understanding of the karma of the individual human being and (in a wider sense) of the whole karma of our time. But human life, particularly when we wish to study it as it concerns each individual one of us, is exceedingly complicated. If we desire to answer the question concerning a man's destiny, we have to follow many threads which connect him with the world, and with the more or less distant past. That will perhaps show you why, now that I wish to explain something that really concerns every one very closely, I am going a longer way round and connecting these studies, which are intended to throw light upon the narrower life of each individual, with the earthly life of one who was important in the world's history: with Goethe. Very many details of Goethe's earthly life have been made accessible to us, and although, of course, the destiny of an ordinary individual is very different from the path of destiny of such an exemplary, world-historic spirit, it is nevertheless possible, precisely from the study of such a life, to gain points of view applicable to each of us. For this reason we will not hesitate to extend these studies a little more, with respect to the special questions which we are considering, and gradually approaching.

If one follows Goethe's life as many of his would-be biographers have done hitherto, one does not notice how hastily man is inclined to establish causes and effects.

The scientists of to-day will point out again and again that man makes many mistakes if he hastily adopts the principle, ‘After a thing, — therefore because of it’ — Post hoc, ergo propter hoc, — the principle that because one thing follows after another it must therefore proceed from it as effect from cause. In the domain of natural science this principle is condemned, and rightly so; but in the study of human life we are not yet so far advanced. Certain savage tribes belonging to the valleys of Kamchatka, believe that the water-wagtails or similar birds bring about the Spring, because Spring follows their arrival. Only too frequently, we draw the same conclusion: What follows something, must proceed from it. In Goethe's own descriptions of his life — descriptions of a human life that shines far and wide over humanity — we read that he had such and such a father, such and such a mother, and that in youth he underwent certain experiences which he himself narrates. Thereupon the biographers trace back what he did in later life, whereby he became so important for humanity, to these his youthful impressions — quite in accordance with the principle that because something follows on something else it must therefore proceed from it. That is no wiser than to believe that the Spring is brought by the water-wagtails. In natural science the superstition has been thoroughly condemned; but in the science of the mind, this stage of advancement has yet to be attained. True, it is explained quite plausibly how in his boyhood when the French were quartered in his parents' house during the occupation of Frankfort, Goethe was present when the celebrated Count Thorane, lieutenant to the King of France, arranged theatricals there. Goethe saw how he set the painters to work, and thus, while he was still almost a child, he came into touch with painting and with the art of the theatre. Thus lightly is Goethe's inclination towards art in later years traced back to these his youthful impressions! Nevertheless, in Goethe's case especially we can see his preordained karma working from earliest youth onward. Is it not a prominent feature in Goethe's whole life, how he unites his view of art and of the world with his view of Nature, how everywhere behind his artistic fantasy he has the impulse to strive after the knowledge of the truth in the phenomena of Nature? And do we not see how a strictly preordained karma causes him, even as a boy of six or seven years, to gather minerals and geological substances which he finds in his father's collection, and lay them on a music-stand and make an altar to the great God of Nature? On this altar, composed of many different objects of Nature, he fixes a fumigating candle and kindles the light, not in the ordinary mechanical way, but by catching with a lens the rays of the morning sun. He lets fall the very first rays through the lens on to the candle, thus kindling by the rays of the morning sun the fire which he offers to the great God of Nature. How sublimely beautiful is it to see the mind of this six or seven-year-old boy directed to what lives and moves as Spirit in the phenomena of Nature. Here we see how this trait, which must surely have come from an inborn tendency, could not have originated in his environment. In Goethe especially, what he brought with him into this incarnation worked with peculiar intensity.

If we study the time into which Goethe was born in that incarnation, we shall find a remarkable harmony between his nature and the events of his time. In accordance with the present world-outlook, one is no doubt inclined to say: What Goethe has created — Faust and other works that proceeded from him for the uplifting and spiritual permeation of humanity — all this came into being because Goethe created it out of his inner tendencies. For these creations which were given to humanity by Goethe, it is undoubtedly more difficult to prove that they do not belong to his personality in this simple way. But now consider something else for a moment. Think how futile, in face of certain phenomena of life, is many a mode of study whose authors believe that they are entering thoroughly into the truth. In my latest book, ‘The Problem of Man’ (Vom Menschenrätsel), you will find de la Mettrie's statement quoted, to the effect that Erasmus of Rotterdam or Fontenelle would have become quite different beings if even only a tiny part of their brain had been different. According to such a way of thinking, we must presume that all that Erasmus and Fontenelle produced would not be in the world if, as de la Mettrie thinks, through a slightly different constitution of their brains, Erasmus and Fontenelle had become fools instead of wise men. Now in a certain respect this may perhaps apply to such works as Erasmus and Fontenelle produced; but consider the same question in another case. For example, can you imagine that the evolution of modern humanity would have run the same course if America had not been discovered? Just think of all that has flowed into the life of modern humanity through the discovery of America! Can the materialist assert that Columbus would have become a different being if his brain had been a little different, so that he would have become a fool instead of a

Columbus, and that he would not then have discovered America? Certainly, this much could be said, just as one may say: Goethe would not have become Goethe, Fontenelle not Fontenelle, Erasmus not Erasmus if, for example, during their pre-natal period their mothers had met with an accident and they had been still-born. But we can never suppose that America would not have been discovered even if Columbus had been unable to discover it. You will admit, it is well-nigh self-evident that America would still have been discovered even if Columbus had had a defect in his brain! And so you cannot doubt that the course of the World's events is one thing and the share of the individual human being in these events is quite another; nor can you doubt that the World-events themselves summon those human individuals whose karma specially adapts them to carry out what the World-events require. In the case of America it can very easily be seen; but to one who looks more deeply the case is just the same with the origin of Faust. We should really have to believe in the utter lack of any sense in World-evolution if we were obliged to think that there was no inherent necessity for such a poem as Faust to be produced, even if what the materialists are so fond of reiterating had actually happened — if a slate had fallen on Goethe's head when he was five years old and he had become an imbecile. If you trace the development of spiritual life during the last decades before Goethe, you will see that Faust was an absolute requirement of the time. Lessing is a characteristic spirit; he too wished to write a Faust. He even wrote one scene, which is very beautiful. It was not Goethe's mere subjective needs which called for Faust; it was the Time itself. And one who looks more deeply into things can truly say: As to the course of events in the World's history, there is a similar connection between Goethe's works and Goethe himself, to what there is between Columbus and the discovery of America.

I said that if we study the time into which Goethe was born we notice a certain harmony between the individuality of Goethe and his age. Moreover, this applies to his age in the very widest sense. Remember that in spite of all their great differences (we shall return to this in a moment) there is nevertheless something very similar in the two spirits, Goethe and Schiller, not to mention others around them who were less great than they. You will remember, many things which shine out in Goethe, we also find appearing in Herder. We can, moreover, go much further. If we look at Goethe it does not perhaps at once appear; we will go into that in a moment. But if we look at Schiller, Herder, or Lessing we shall say: their lives certainly became different; but in their tendencies, in their impulses, there is in Goethe, in Schiller, in Herder, and in Lessing undoubtedly a tendency of soul through which, under other circumstances, any one of them could just as well have become a Mirabeau, or a Danton! They really harmonise with their age. In the case of Schiller it can be shewn without much difficulty, for no one can say that Schiller's frame of mind, as the author of The Robbers, or Fiesco, or Intrigue and Love, was very different from that of Mirabeau, Danton, or even Robespierre. It was only that Schiller allowed the same impulses to flow into Literature and Art which Danton, Robespierre, Mirabeau allowed to flow into their political tendencies. But with respect to the blood of the soul which pulses through World-history, there flows in The Robbers exactly the same as in the deeds of Danton, Mirabeau and Robespierre; and this same blood of the soul flowed also in Goethe. Although one might be prone at first to think of Goethe as a man far, far from being a revolutionary, he was not so — not by any means. Only in Goethe's complex nature there was also a special complication of karmic impulses, of impulses of destiny, which placed him in quite a special way into the world, even in his earliest youth.

When we follow Goethe's life with a vision sharpened by spiritual science, we find that, apart from everything else, it is divided into certain periods. The first period runs its course in such a way that we may say: An impulse which exists already in his childhood, flows on further. Then something comes from outside which apparently diverts the stream of his life, namely, his acquaintance with the Duke of Weimar in 1775. Again we see how his sojourn in Rome brings him into a different path of life. Through being able to take the Roman life into himself he becomes quite different. And if we wished to penetrate still more deeply we might say, that after this Roman transformation, a third impulse, coming apparently from without (though, as we shall see, this would not be quite correct in the sense of spiritual science) was the friendly intercourse with Schiller.

If we study the first part of Goethe's life up to the year 1775, we find — although to reach this result we must, of course, observe the various events more attentively than is usually done for such purposes — that in Goethe there lives a very strong revolutionary feeling, an opposition to what is around him. But Goethe's nature is spread over many different things, and as the spirit of revolt, being more spread out, does not manifest itself in him so strongly as it does when concentrated in Schiller's Robbers, the matter is not so noticeable. One who, with the aid of spiritual science, is able to enter into Goethe's boyhood and youth, finds that he possesses a spiritual life-force which he brings with him into his existence through the gate of birth, but which would not have been able to accompany him throughout his whole life if certain events had not taken place. What lived in Goethe as his individuality, was far greater than his organism could really receive and express.

In Schiller's case this can be seen very clearly. The cause of Schiller's early death was simply that his organism was consumed by the mighty life-force of his soul. That is as clear as day. It is well-known that when Schiller died it was found that his heart was, as it were, dried up within him. Only through his strong force of soul was he able to hold out as long as he did; but this great soul-force also consumed the life of his body.

In Goethe this force of soul became still greater, and yet he lived to a ripe old age. How was this possible? In the last lecture I mentioned a fact which played a very important part in Goethe's life. After he had lived a few years as a student in Leipzig, he fell ill, seriously ill, and almost died. We may say that he really looked death in the face. This illness was of course a natural phenomenon connected with his body; but we can never understand a man who works out of the elemental forces of the world, nor indeed can we understand any human being at all, unless we also take into consideration events such as these, which take place in the course of their Karma. What really happened to Goethe when he lay ill at Leipzig. There took place what we may call a complete loosening of the etheric body in which the life-force of the soul had until then been active; this was so loosened that after his illness Goethe no longer had the firm connection between the etheric body and the physical body which he had before. Now the etheric body is that part of our supersensible nature which really makes it possible for us to form concepts, to think. Abstract ideas such as we have in ordinary life, and which are alone appreciated by most materialistically minded people — these we have through the fact that the etheric body is bound up with the physical body very closely, as it were by a strong magnetic tie. This also gives us the strong impulse to carry our will into the physical world. Notably we have this impulse of the will when the astral body also is very strongly developed. If we consider Robespierre, Mirabeau or Danton, we find in them an etheric body firmly united with the physical, but they also have a strongly-developed astral body which in its turn acts strongly upon the etheric body and places these human individualities strongly into the physical world. Goethe was organised in this way too; but in him there was another force at work, and this produced a complication. It was this force which brought it about that through the illness which took him almost to death's door, his etheric body was loosened, and remained so. Now when the etheric body is no longer so intimately bound up with the physical body, it no longer thrusts its forces into the physical, but preserves them within itself. Hence the change which took place in Goethe when he then returned from Leipzig to Frankfort, where he became acquainted with Fräulein von Klettenberg the mystic, and with various medical friends who were devoting themselves to alchemical studies, and where he also studied the works of Swedenborg. At this time he really constructed for himself a spiritual system of the world. Chaotic as yet, it was nevertheless a spiritual system; for he possessed a very deep inclination to occupy himself with supersensible things. This, however, was essentially connected with his illness. And his soul, while carrying into this earth-life the foundations for this force which acts downward like gravity, also brought with it the impulse, through the above-mentioned illness, so to prepare the etheric body that it not merely manifested in the physical, but received the impulse — and not only the impulse but the capacity — to fill itself with supersensible ideas. So long as we consider merely the outer biographical facts in a person's life in a materialistic fashion, we never perceive the subtle connections which exist in the stream of his destiny; but as soon as we go into the connection of the natural events which occur in the body — such for instance as Goethe's illness — with what is manifested ethically, morally and spiritually, it becomes possible for us to have a presentiment of the profound working of karma.

In Goethe the revolutionary force would certainly have manifested in such a way as to have consumed him at an early age, for in his environment it would not have been possible for the revolutionary force to have expressed itself outwardly, and Goethe could not have written dramas like Schiller; so that he would simply have consumed himself. This was diverted through the loosening of the connection — the magnetic link — between his etheric and his physical body.

Here we see something that is apparently a natural event, playing a significant part in the life of a human being. Certainly, such a thing as this indicates a deeper connection than what the biographers mostly bring to the surface. The significance of an illness for the whole individual experience of a human being cannot be explained from hereditary tendencies, but it points to his connection with the universe — a connection which must be conceived as spiritual. You will also observe from this how complicated Goethe's life became; for the way in which we receive an experience makes us what we are.

Goethe now comes to Strassburg with an etheric body that is to a certain extent filled with occult knowledge; and in this condition he meets Herder. Herder's great ideas necessarily took a very different form in Goethe from what they were in Herder himself, who had not the same conditions in his finer constitution.

In Goethe's life, such an event had taken place as that above-described in Leipzig at the end of the 1760's, when he stood face to face with death. But the forces for this had already been preparing for a long time before. Anyone wishing to trace back such an illness to external or merely physical events, has not yet reached in spiritual spheres the point at which the scientists already stand, who say, that if one thing follows on another it must not therefore necessarily be looked upon as its direct result. In Goethe, therefore, this isolating of himself from the world was always there, owing to the peculiar connection between his physical body and his etheric body, which only reached its crisis through his illness.

When the outer world affects a man in whom there is a close connection between the physical body and the etheric, the impressions made upon the physical body pass on at once into the etheric; they become one with it, and the etheric body simply experiences the impressions of the outer world simultaneously with the physical. In a nature such as Goethe's, impressions are of course made on the physical body, but the etheric body, being loosened, does not participate in them at once. The consequence is that such a man can be more isolated from his environment; a more complicated process takes place when ail impression is made on his physical body. Make a bridge for yourselves, from this peculiarity of Goethe's organic structure, to what you know from his biography, namely, that he allowed events — even historical events — to affect him without ever using force with them. Then you will understand the unique way in which Goethe's nature works. As I said: he takes the biography of Gottfried of Berlichingen. He allows himself to be influenced by Shakespeare's dramatic impulses, but he does not make very much alteration in the autobiography of Gottfried, although it is not specially well written; indeed he does not call his drama a Drama, but The Story of Gottfried of Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, dramatized. He only alters it a little. This shy and gentle touching of things, not grasping them with force, comes about through the peculiar connection between his etheric and his physical body.

This connection did not exist in Schiller. He therefore presents in Karl Moor thoughts which were truly not the result of any external impression on him, but which he formed quite forcefully — even with violence — out of his own nature. Goethe requires the action of life upon him, but he does not do violence to life; he only gently assists it, and raises what is already living, to a work of art. This is also the case when those conditions of life approach him which he then fashions in his Werther. His own experiences or those of his friend, Jerusalem, he does not bend or mould very much; he simply takes life as it is and helps it on a little, and through the gentle way in which he does so — precisely out of his etheric body — life itself becomes a work of art. But on account of this same organisation of his, he only comes into touch with life indirectly, I might say; and in this incarnation he prepares his karma through this merely indirect approach to life.

He goes to Strassburg. In addition to all that he experiences there, which brings him forward in his career as Goethe, he also experiences in Strassburg, as you know, the love affair with Frederica, the pastor's daughter at Sesenheim. His heart is very, very much engaged in this affair. Various moral objections can be raised, no doubt, to the course of this affair between Goethe and Frederica of Sesenheim — objections which may even be justified. That is not the point at this moment; the point is that we should understand. Goethe indeed goes through all that which in any other person — not a Goethe — not only must have led, but would as a matter of course have led to a lasting union. But Goethe does not experience directly. Through what I have just explained, a kind of cleft is created between his peculiar inner being and the outer world. Just as he does not do violence to what lives in the outer world, but only gently remodels it, so too, his feelings and sensations, inasmuch as he can experience them only in his etheric body: — he does not bring them through the physical body at once into a firm connection with the outer world so as to lead to a very definite event in life, as it would have done for others. Thus he withdraws again from Frederica of Sesenheim. But we should take such a thing as this in its relation to the soul. As he departs for the last time — (you may read of it in his biography) — he meets himself. Goethe actually encounters Goethe! Very much later in his life he tells how he met himself at that time. Goethe meets Goethe; he sees himself. He leaves Frederica; towards him comes Goethe, not in the clothing he is wearing, but in a different dress. And when years later he comes there again and visits his old friend, he recognises that, without premeditating it, he is wearing the suit in which he foresaw himself years ago, when he encountered himself. That is an event one must believe just as fully as one believes anything else that Goethe relates. It would be unseemly to criticise it, in face of the love of truth with which Goethe has presented his whole life.

How, then, did it come about that Goethe, who was so near and yet so far removed from the circumstances into which he had entered — so near that if it had been anyone else it would have led to something altogether different, and so far that he could still withdraw — how did it come about that on this occasion he actually met himself? In a human being who experiences something in the etheric body, this experience may very easily become objectified if the etheric body is thus loosened. He sees it as an external object, it is projected outward. This really took place with Goethe. On a specially favourable occasion, he actually saw the other Goethe — the etheric Goethe who lived within him, and who through his karma remained united with Frederica of Sesenheim. Hence he saw himself as a spectre coming towards him. This event in the deepest sense confirms what may already be seen from the very facts of Goethe's nature.

Here you see how a man may stand in the midst of external events and how we must nevertheless first understand the particular way, the individual way in which he is related to them. For the relation of man to the world is complicated — I mean his relation to the past and the inner connections of what he carries over from the past into the present. But through the fact that Goethe had in a sense torn his inner being from its connection with the body, it was possible for him, even in youth, to cultivate in his soul the profound truths which so surprise us in his Faust. I say ‘surprise’ intentionally, for the simple reason that they really must cause surprise; for I know scarcely anything more foolish than when biographers of Goethe continually repeat the sentence: ‘Goethe is Faust and Faust is Goethe.’ I have often read that remark in biographies of Goethe. It is simply nonsense; for what we really have in Faust, if we let it work upon us properly, actually affects us in such a way that sometimes we cannot suppose that Goethe himself experienced it or even knew of it in the same way; and yet, there it is in Faust. Faust always grows beyond Goethe. This can however be fully understood by one who knows the surprise which an author himself feels when he sees his poem in front of him. We have no right to suppose that the poet must always be as great as his work. This is no more necessarily the case, than that a father must be as great in soul-force and genius as his son. For true poetic creation is a living process, and it can never be affirmed that a spiritual creative genius cannot create something higher than himself, any more than it can be said that a living being cannot produce something greater than itself. Through the inner isolation I have described, those deep perceptions arise in Goethe's soul which we find in his Faust. For a work such as Faust is not merely a poem like other poems. Faust springs forth as it were out of the whole spirit of the fifth post-Atlantean age of civilisation; it grows far beyond Goethe himself. And much that we experience regarding the world and its development, rings out to us from Faust in a remarkable manner. Think of the words you have just heard:

‘My friend, the times gone by are but in sum
A book with seven seals protected;
What ‘Spirit of the Times' you call,
Good sirs, is but your spirit after all’

Latham's translation.

People pass too lightly over such a work. One who feels it in all its depths is reminded of many things which can only prove such words true in the very deepest sense. Think of what modern humanity possesses through the knowledge of the Greeks and of Greek culture, through Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides. People study this Greek life of culture. Take Sophocles: Is Sophocles a book with seven seals? It may not be easy for some to conceive that even Sophocles may be a book with seven seals. Yet Sophocles, who reached the age of 91, wrote over 80 dramas, — seven of which have been preserved. Do we know a man who wrote 81 dramas or more, when only seven have been handed down to us? Is it not literally true to say: a book with seven seals? How can anyone maintain, from what has been handed down, that he is acquainted with the whole culture of the Greeks, when he must simply admit that 74 dramas by Sophocles, which enraptured and uplifted the Greeks, no longer exist? A great number of the works of Aeschylus, too, have disappeared. Poets lived in Grecian times, whose names are even now unknown. Are not the times gone by ‘a book with seven seals?’ When we consider such an outward fact as this, we are obliged to answer ‘Yes.’ Or again:

‘The joy may well be courted,
Into the spirit of the times transported,
To see what thoughts of old the wise have entertained,
And then, how we at last such glorious heights have gained.’

Latham's translation.

‘Wagner’-natures think that they can easily transpose themselves into the spirit of a wise man — namely, when it is presented to them! It is a pity we cannot make trial of what the valiant critics would write about Hamlet if this play were to appear for the first time now and be put before them on some city stage, — or if a drama by Sophocles were to be performed before them. Perhaps in their case, even that would be of no avail, which Sophocles himself had to do in order to convince at least his relatives of his greatness when he was very old. For he reached the age of 91; and his relatives had to wait so long for their inheritance that they tried to get witnesses to prove that he had grown senile and could no longer control his own property. He could only save himself by writing Oedipus on Colonus. Thereby he could at least prove that he had not yet become senile. Whether that would help with present-day reviewers I do not know, but it helped with them. One who deeply studies such a fact as the tragedy of the 90-year-old Sophocles, will at the same time be able to measure how hard it is to find the way to a human individuality, and in what a complicated way the human individuality is connected with the events in the world. We might bring forward a very great deal to show into what deep layers one has to delve in order to understand the world. And yet, how much of the wisdom required to understand the world is contained in even the very first parts of Goethe's Faust! This is to be traced back to this destiny, which took such a remarkable form, showing in all reality how Nature and the activity of the Spirit are one in human evolution, and how an illness may have not only an outer physical significance but also a spiritual one.

Thus we see how the original karmic impulse which lived in Goethe was strictly continued. Then again, in 1775, there came, as it were from outside, his acquaintance with the Duke of Weimar. Goethe was called from Frankfort to Weimar. What did that signify in his life? We must first understand what an event like this signifies in the life of a human being. Otherwise we can get no further in the understanding of his life. I know how little the people of the present day are inclined really to awaken the soul-forces which are necessary, fully to feel what is contained even in the first parts of Goethe's Faust. In order to write the scenes represented here to-day (Faust, Part I., the Monologue in Faust's study, and the Easter Scene) a wealth of soul is required which, when one realises it, is apt to cause one to remain before it for a long, long time in an attitude of fervent adoration; and it often gives one the deepest pain to see how very dense the world really is; how little able to feel what is truly great. But if once one feels this fully, one will also realise what the human being who is thoroughly imbued with Spiritual Science arrives at in his feeling; for he comes to say: Something tremendous was living in this Goethe; ... it could not possibly go on in the same way.

One must indeed have some such thoughts. Just imagine: Goethe was born in 1749, in 1775 he was, therefore, only 26 years of age, when he carried with him to Weimar in his box the Scene we have seen performed today. A man who lived through such material to such a degree that he can write it, has something in his soul to bear; it weighs heavily upon his soul, for it is a force that wills to lead upward and would almost burst the soul to pieces.

We must be clear about two things, if we would appreciate in the right sense and in the true light the value of these first parts of Faust. One might think that if Goethe had gradually written these scenes from the age of 25 to 50, they would in that case not have strained his soul so much nor been such a heavy burden. Certainly, that would be so; but that is not possible, would not have been possible; for from 30 or 35 years of age the youthful force would have been lacking which was necessary to fashion these things so. He had to write them during those years, in accordance with his individual nature; but he could not go on living in that way. He needed something which was like a quenching, a kind of partial sleep of the soul, to weaken the fire that had burned in his soul when he wrote the first parts of Faust. The Duke of Weimar brought him to Weimar in order to make him Minister there; and he was a good Minister, as I said yesterday. When he was Minister and did a great deal of laborious work that which had burned in his soul could sleep partially and take a rest. There was really a very great difference in his mood before 1775 and after that year; it was like a kind of mighty awakeness followed by a life more dim and toned down. The word ‘torpor’ — Dumpfheit — even comes into Goethe's mind when he describes his Weimar life, where he took part in the various events and entered into them far more than he had done before, when he had rather revolted against them. Then it is remarkable that after this duller state, which lasted for ten years, there followed a time in which events approached him more gently. And just as the ordinary life of sleep is not a direct result of the life of the previous day, so too, this sleeping life of Goethe was not an effect of what had gone before. Such connections are much deeper than is usually supposed. I have often pointed out that when the question is asked: Why does a person go to sleep? it is very superficial to answer: Because he is tired. It is an idle, nay, even a sleeping truth, for it is nonsense. Otherwise we should not have the fact that persons who cannot possibly be tired — ladies or gentlemen of private means, for example — doze off to sleep after a heavy meal when they are to listen to something in which they are not particularly interested. They are certainly not tired. It is not the case that we sleep because we are tired, for waking and sleeping are a rhythmic life-process. When the period of sleep, the necessity for sleep approaches, we then grow tired. We are tired because we ought to sleep, we do not sleep because we are tired. I will not go into this any further at the moment.

Think to what a great Order the rhythm of waking and sleeping belongs! It is the reflection in human nature of day and night in the Cosmos. It is, no doubt, more natural to material science to wish to explain sleep as resulting from the fatigue of the day; but the rhythm of sleeping and waking must be explained from the Cosmos, from great cosmic connections. And from great connections it must also be explained why in Goethe's case, after the period during which Faust stormed in the veins of his soul, there followed the ten years of his inwardly-dulled life at Weimar. This directs you at once to his Karma, regarding which, however, we cannot say any more at present.

The ordinary man wakes in the morning, as a rule, just in the same condition in which he goes to sleep at night; but that is only with respect to his own consciousness, in reality it is never so. We never waken exactly as we went to sleep; we are really a little richer; only we are not aware of this enrichment. But when a ‘wave-hollow’ has followed upon a ‘wave-mountain’ as in Goethe during his years at Weimar, there comes the awakening at a higher stage; it must come at a higher stage. The inmost forces strive towards this. And in Goethe also the inmost forces strove to awaken again — out of the Weimar stupor to full life, — in surroundings which could really bring him what he lacked. It was in Italy that he awakened. He could not, in accordance with his particular constitution, have awakened in Weimar itself. In just such a matter as this we can see the deep connection between the creative work of a true artist and his special experiences. One who is no artist can gradually write a drama, page after page, straight off the reel; he can do it quite well. A great poet cannot do this, for he needs to be deeply rooted in life. For this reason Goethe was able to express the very deepest truths in his Faust in comparatively early youth — truths which grew out far beyond his soul-capacities. But he had to express a rejuvenation in Faust. Think of it: Faust had to be brought to an entirely different frame of mind; notwithstanding the fact that he was moulded so deeply. For after all, in spite of all his depth, what he had hitherto taken into his soul had brought him to the verge of suicide. He had to be rejuvenated. A lesser poet may describe quite well, in verses which may, perhaps, be very beautiful, how a man can be rejuvenated. Goethe could not do this until something had taken place; he himself had first to be rejuvenated at Rome. The rejuvenation scene in the ‘Witch's Kitchen’ was therefore written at Rome, in the Villa Borghese. Goethe would not have ventured to write this scene before.

Now, connected with a rejuvenation such as that experienced by Goethe, there is also a dull, dim consciousness (for in Goethe's time spiritual science did not yet exist); it could not be a clear consciousness but only a dim one. ... Special forces, too, are connected with such a rejuvenation — forces which play over into the next incarnation. Experiences belonging to this incarnation intermingle with many things that play over into the next incarnation. When we reflect upon this we are led to a specially deep and significant tendency in Goethe. Allow me at this point to make a personal remark: I have continually occupied myself for decades past — I may say since 1879 or 1880 — with Goethe's conception of Nature, and intensely so since 1885-1886; during this time I have come to see that in the impulse given by Goethe to the conception of Nature — regarding which the present natural philosophers, scientists and thinkers really know nothing at all — there is contained something that can be developed further, but only in the course of centuries; so that Goethe, when he comes again, will probably be able in another incarnation to work upon what in this incarnation he could actually have completed, from his own views of Nature. People have as yet no notion of many things contained in Goethe's view of Nature. I have expressed my views on this point in my book Goethe's Weltanschauung (Goethe's Conception of the World) and in my introduction to Goethe's Works on Natural Science in Kürschner's Nationalliteratur. So that I can really say: In his conception of Nature, Goethe has within him something which points to very wide horizons — something inwardly connected with his rebirth, which indeed, in this connection, was not exactly connected with Rome, but with the period of his life which he lived through while he was at Rome. Read once more what I have said in connection with these things: how during his Italian journey he developed his Metamorphosis of plants and animals, the primal plant, the primal animal; and how, when he returned, he took in hand the Theory of Colour which people cannot yet understand to-day; and how he took still other things in hand. Then you will see that this development of his all-embracing conception of Nature is also connected with his rebirth. He did indeed bring all that had arisen within him in the course of his life into connection with Faust, not however in the way an insignificant poet would have done, but as a great one alone can do. Faust experiences the Gretchen tragedy. In the middle of this tragedy we suddenly meet with Faust's conception of Nature, which has many points of similarity with Goethe's great conception of Nature, and is expressed in Faust's words: —

‘Spirit sublime, didst freely give me all,
All that I prayed for. Truly not for nought
Thy countenance in fire didst turn upon me.
This glorious Nature thou didst for my kingdom give,
And power to feel it, to enjoy it. Not
A cold astonished visit didst alone
Permit, but deep within her breast to read
As in the bosom of a friend, didst grant me.
Thou leadest past mine eyes the long array
Of living things, mak'st known to me my brethren
Within the silent copse, the air, the water.‘ ...

Latham's translation.

A mighty conception of the world! Goethe ascribes it to Faust. Goethe only reached this permeation of the soul during his stay in Italy. The scene ‘Spirit sublime, didst freely give me all’ was also written in Rome; Goethe could not have written it earlier. Just these two scenes were written in Rome: the Rejuvenation Scene in the ‘Witch's Kitchen’ and the scene ‘Woodland and Cave:’ ‘Spirit sublime, didst freely give me all.’

You see from this an actual rhythm in Goethe's life — a rhythm which betrays an inner impulse, just as the rhythm of waking and sleeping in man betrays an inner impulse. In a life such as Goethe's we can study many laws with special clarity; moreover, we shall see how the laws we find in great men can also become of importance to the life of each individual. For, after all, the same laws which obtain in the case of a very great man, rule also in each single human being.




Last Modified: 15-Nov-2017
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