The Karma of Vocation
4 November 1916, Dornach
Tomorrow I shall begin my discussion of the problems related to the connection of the spiritual scientific impulses with various unclarified tasks of the present time, and the influence that spiritual science must exert on individual, especially scientific, problems. Then I should like to refer to what I may call, in the sense of the fifth post-Atlantean cultural epoch, the karma of human vocation.
Today I shall take as my point of departure something that seemingly has little to do with that theme, but it will afford an opportunity to connect various related matters. I shall endeavor to point out the element in Goethe's life that characterizes him especially as a personality of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch, and much to which I have recently referred will, of course, be echoed in my remarks. I should like to bring before your souls the very facts pertaining to this personality that will enable anyone to distinguish important phenomena of the advancing post-Atlantean cultural epoch. In relation to the spiritual interests of humanity, the life and personality of Goethe are comprehensive and decisive to an extent that can hardly be ascribed to any other individual. Still, it may also be said that, in spite of much that has occurred, his life and personality have had the least possible effect on our lives. This, however, must be attributed to the very nature of our modern culture. It may be asked how it can possibly be said that the life of Goethe has remained without effect. Are not his works known? Has not an edition of his works, consisting of hundreds of volumes, been published recently? Did not his published letters number six or seven thousand by the turn of the century, and today number almost ten thousand? Is there not a wealth of literature concerning Goethe, one might almost say in every civilized language? Do not his works continue to be produced on stage? Is not his major work, Faust, brought again and again before the minds of men?
Now, I have often referred recently to the strange error of an illustrious contemporary scholar, which is really far more symptomatic of the character of our time than one might assume. A dominant scientist, this scholar speaks of the significance of the scientific world conception in such a way that he presents it as being the most brilliant, not only of our age, but of all ages in human history. He concludes that although it is hard to prove that we live in the best of all worlds, it is certain to the scientist, at least, that today we humans live in the best of all epochs, and we might exclaim in the words of Goethe:
‘Tis delightful to transport
Oneself into the spirit of the past,
To see in times before us how a wise man thought,
And what a glorious height we have achieved at last.’ 1 These words are spoken by Faust's student Wagner in Faust, Part I, lines 570–573. The German text reads as follows:
Verzeiht: Es ist ein gross Ergotzen
Sich in den Geist der Zeiten zu versetzen
zu schauen, wie vor uns ein weiser Mann gedacht,
und wie wir's dann so herrlich weit gebracht.
The German word "Ergötzen" connotes a passive and fleeting delight and is a contrast to the activating joy (“Erquickung“) Faust experienced in line 568. Wagner's conclusion in line 573 symbolizes the shallow optimism of the materialistic Enlightenment. Wagner himself is incapable of true spiritual perception.
Except when noted otherwise, quotations of Goethe's works are from translations by Ann Swanwick.
This noted scientist 2 Svante Arrhenius (1859–1927), Swedish physicist, chemist, and astronomer, was the author of Die Vorstellungen vom Weltgebdude im Wandel der Zeiten [Conceptions of the Structure of the World in the Changing Course of the Ages] (Leipzig, 1908). The foreword of this book contains the quote from Faust. is gravely in error; he presents this as his own innermost sentiment and believes that he is thereby associating himself with Goethe, who is renowned for his knowledge of the world and of man. But he is really associating himself with Wagner, whom Goethe sets up as a foil to the Faust figure. Yet such a blunder contains at least a good bit of the honesty of our age because this person speaks more genuinely than the numerous people who, in quoting Goethe, have Faust on their tongues, but really have an undisguised Wagner attitude of mind. As a basis for subsequent reflections, let us, then, bring up before our mind's eye the life of Goethe as a spiritual phenomenon.
If we wish to study human life in connection with the important question of destiny, if we study the questions of karma, we should remember that Goethe was born in a city and under conditions clearly of much meaning for his life. The family of Goethe's father had come to Frankfurt in the seventeenth century, whereas his mother's family, the Textors, was old, established, and highly respected, so much so that from it the mayors of Frankfurt were chosen. This fact alone signifies the respect enjoyed by the family at that time. Goethe's father was a man with an extraordinarily strong sense of duty, but for a man of his time, he also possessed a broad range of interests. He had traveled in Italy and representations of important Roman creations, about which he liked to talk, hung on all the walls of his Patrician Frankfurt home. What was dominant in the French culture of his time completely permeated the life of Frankfurt and most intimately influenced Goethe's home. The important world events were part of the life in his home, and his father took a deep interest in them. Goethe's mother, moreover, was a woman of the most spontaneous human sentiment, sharing directly in everything that connects human nature with the legendary, the fabulous, everything that lifts man aloft above the commonplace as if on the wings of poetic fantasy.
In Goethe's boyhood days it was much more possible to grow up unconfused by those disturbing influences that affect children today because they are dragged into school at a relatively early age. This did not happen to young Goethe; he developed extraordinarily freely in his parents' home under the austere but never harsh influence of his father and his poetically endowed mother. In later years he could recall with inner happiness these years of his boyhood and childhood that led to a ripe humanness. Many things that we read today in Goethe's story of his life, Poetry and Truth, though decked out in a somewhat pedantic humor, have more meaning than may be supposed. In telling how he practiced the piano, 3 See Goethe's Poetry and Truth, IV. there is a profoundly human significance; the fingers of his hands, as if playing mythological roles, become soul-endowed, independent figures. They become Thumbling, Pointerling — I say this without sentimentality — and acquire certain mystical relations to the tones. This indicates how Goethe was to be guided into life as a complete human being. Not only a piece of this man, the head, should be guided, as so often happens, one-sidedly into life to be followed by the support of the rest of the body, developed through all sorts of athletics and sports; but, on the contrary, the body permeated by spirit to its very fingertips should be related with the outer world.
We must take into account from the very first the marked individuality of the innate endowments and nature of Goethe. From his earliest youth, everything pointed to a definite orientation of his life. As he grows in childhood, he is just as strongly inclined to follow with complete absorption the charming and stirring fairy tales and other narratives of his mother, thus even as a boy bringing his fantasy into living activity, as he is also inclined to escape from her and especially from his austere father. Slipping away into the narrow alleys, he would observe all sorts of things and also become entangled in varied situations through which he experienced in vital sentiments and emotions much that is stored up in human karma. His stern father guides the boy in a certain matter-of-fact way to what people in those days thought could provide support and direction in life. The father is a jurist who has grown up among, and is permeated with, Roman points of view; the son's soul, too, absorbs these views. In this process, however, through viewing the works and treasures of Roman art that represented what is essentially Roman, there was kindled in the boyish soul a certain aspiration for what had been created in the culture of Rome.
Everything tended to situate Goethe in a quite definite way within the life of his time. In this way, he became, between the third and fourth centuries of the fifth post-Atlantean period, a personality bearing within him all the impulses of that period. Early on, he becomes a self-sustained personality, living out of his own nature, free of everything that binds a man in a fixed, pedantic way to those certain forms of one or another group of social ties. He learns to know social relationships in such a way that they affect him, but he is not united with them. He always keeps a certain isolated pedestal upon which he stands and from which he can establish connections with everything. From the very beginning, however, unlike so many others, he does not excessively identify himself with anything or with the environing circumstances. To be sure, all this results from a peculiarly favorable karma in which, when considered objectively, we shall find a solution for profound questions and problems regarding karma in general.
After Goethe had been introduced by his father to the field of jurisprudence, he was sent to the University of Leipzig, which he entered in 1765 at a relatively early age. We must not forget that when he joined this university life he was not tormented and exhausted by those strenuous exercises that must be suffered for an even longer period of time by young people in our day who are trying to pass the battery of final examinations at the conclusion of high school, the Abitur. After having passed their examinations, these young people are anxious to wipe the most recent learning experiences from their minds and enter a university in order to enjoy life. No, young Goethe had not entered the University of Leipzig simply to idle away his time but, nevertheless, he was not above skipping lectures and using the time saved for something else, as was done by many students. However, as he enlisted in the lofty and famous scientific life of the university, he came into circles that had never failed to awaken a longing in him whenever he had heard about them. Indeed, he knew above all that the famous Gottsched 4 Johann Christoph Gottsched (1700–1766) was a writer and a Professor of Literature in Leipzig. He is best known for his efforts to reform the German theater and for having established rules for drama that conformed to French models. worked at the university, Gottsched whose head held all the learning of the time and who expressed it in writing and orally to those associated with the contemporary culture of Leipzig. To be sure, Lessing's 5 Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729–1781) was the foremost poet and critic of the German Enlightenment. great impulse was still to be felt in Leipzig, but it was natural for Goethe to think that the lofty Gottsched would introduce him to the entire scope of contemporary wisdom, enabling him to study conjointly jurisprudence and philosophy and whatever else a man of the world might derive from theology and learning regarding supernatural things.
Goethe, however, who possessed without doubt a certain sense for aesthetics, was slightly disillusioned when he first called on Gottsched. He appeared at Gottsched's door. I do not know whether or not the servant sensed something of Goethe's nature, but he admitted him directly into the presence of Gottsched without taking the time to announce him in the proper manner. So Goethe came upon the great man without his wig, standing there quite baldheaded. To a learned man in the year 1765 this was something quite dreadful. Goethe, who was sensitive to such things, had to witness how Gottsched seized his wig with a graceful turn and jammed it on his head, and how with his other hand he slapped his servant on the face. Goethe's enthusiasm was a little chilled. But he was still more chilled by the fact that Gottsched's entire demeanor corresponded little with that for which he longed.
Nor did Gellert's 6 Christian Fiirchtegott Gellert (1715–1769) was a Prussian poet of the German Enlightenment. moralistic lectures speak to him of the comprehensive intellectual horizons he desired. Therefore, he soon turned his attention more to the medical and scientific lectures, which were in a way continued in the home of Professor Ludwig, where he took his lunch and where much of a similar nature was discussed. It cannot really be said that Goethe “studied thoroughly jurisprudence, medicine, philosophy and, unfortunately, also theology” 7 Faust, Part I, lines 1-3. Faust reviews his past education and questions his knowledge. in Leipzig, but he got a view of them and, most important, it was in Leipzig that he absorbed many a scientific concept of his time. After having busied himself with the sciences, having experienced various aspects of life, and having been involved in various affairs, he then became so ill that he stood face to face with death. Such things must be taken fully into account by one who considers the human being in a spiritual scientific way. We must realize how much passed through his soul as he actually faced death because of extremely severe and recurring hemorrhaging. He was weakened, had to return home, and could not resume his university studies for some time.
When Goethe did continue his studies in Strassburg, he joined the circle of an important personality who became of exceptional significance to him. In order to judge with what feelings he met this personality, we must recall that, when he returned to Frankfurt under the influence of those inner experiences through which he had passed in Leipzig when he was face to face with death, he had already begun to enter more deeply, through association with various persons, into a mystical experience and a mystical conception of the world. He had immersed himself in mystic, occult writings and sought in a youthful way to elaborate a systematic world conception that took its point of departure in mystical — one might say, mystic-cabalistic — points of view. Even then he endeavored to learn “what secret force/ dwells in the world and rules its course” 8 The translation is from Walter Kaufmann, Goethe's Faust (Anchor Books: 1963), p. 95. This pronouncement in the third scene of Part I, lines 382–383, reveals Faust's search for a cohesive spiritual force that holds the universe together. Later in the poem he admits that he has been seeking this knowledge through alchemy. and to open himself to the influence of “every working force and seed.” 9 Lines 384–385 in Faust, Part I; cf. footnotes 8 and 35. The German word “Samen“ [seed] refers to a term used in alchemy, but it is not certain that the word “Wirkungskraft“ [working force] does. Some scholars think Goethe invented the word. He was unwilling merely “to trade in words,” as he had seen this done in Leipzig.
Then he came to Strassburg where he could again attend lectures on science, and this is what he did at first. Jurisprudence, which was so dear to his father but less so to him, would be taken care of somehow, no doubt, but his most urgent impulse was to investigate how various laws of nature conform to one another. As he was once ascending a flight of stairs, he met a personality who immediately made a tremendous impression on him, not only through his external appearance, but also through an inner light that radiated through a highly intelligent countenance. Externally, a man approached him who had, indeed, somewhat the appearance of a priest, but who wore his long overcoat in such a curious way that the train was stuffed into his hind pockets. The man who made such a grand impression on 10 Johann Gottfried Herder (1744–1803) was a famous German theologian and cultural philosopher.
Goethe now entered vitally into all that then stirred tempestuously in Herder, and that was indeed a good deal. One might say that Herder bore within him an entirely new world conception. Basically, what had never before been undertaken, Herder bore it brilliantly within himself; that is, the endeavor to trace the phenomena of the world from the simplest entity, the simplest lifeless thing, through the plant world to the animal kingdom, on to man, to history, and even to the divine governance of the world in history. At that time, Herder's mind already harbored a vast, comprehensive view of the world, and he spoke with enthusiasm about his new ideas; but he also on occasion spoke with indignation against all pedantic, traditional ideas. Many of these conversations with Herder animated Goethe. That everything in the world is in process of evolution and that a spiritual plan of the universe sustains all evolution was a connection Herder perceived as no one ever had before. But this was still growing in him, and he had not yet expressed it on paper. Goethe received it in this state of being born and shared in Herder's aspiration, contemplation, and struggle. We may say that Herder wished to trace the evolution of the world from a grain of dust through all the kingdoms of nature up to God. He then did this in a splendid comprehensive fashion, as far as was necessary at that time, in his incomparable work, Ideas for a Philosophy of Human History. Here we can really see that Herder's mind grasped everything that was then known of the facts of nature and of the human realm, but all this knowledge was condensed into a world conception permeated with spirit.
Beside this, Goethe received through Herder an idea of Spinoza's contribution to the evolution of a new concept of the world, and this worked on him. The leaning that Goethe showed throughout his life toward Spinoza 11 Baruch Spinoza (1632–77) was a Dutch philosopher, a rationalist, and a monist. His Ethics, published posthumously in 1677, exerted a profound influence on Goethe. was planted in him at that time in Strassburg by Herder. 12 In the introduction to Goethe's Scientific Writings I (1883), pp. LV-LVIII, Rudolf Steiner depicts Goethe's relationship to Spinoza. Fritz Jacobi helped to deepen Goethe's knowledge of Spinoza's philosophy in the summer of 1774. After Goethe and Herder had renewed their friendship in Weimar, the two men and Frau von Stein studied Spinoza together. Goethe the Scientist (New York, Anthroposophic Press, 1950).
Herder was an enthusiastic admirer of Shakespeare, 13 William Shakespeare (1564–1616). which was something unheard of at that time. Just think how this peculiar polarity of souls must have worked between Herder and Goethe when Goethe, yearning to perceive these things that contemporary culture could not give him, found in Herder a revolutionary spirit of the first rank storming the culture of his day. Up to that time Goethe had learned to revere that art of form that is found in Corneille and Racine, 14 Pierre Corneille (1606–1684) established a theory of French tragedy. Jean Baptiste Racine (1639–1699) was a famous writer of French classical tragedy. and had taken all this in as one takes in things that are said to be the most important in the world. But he had absorbed all this with a certain inner indignation. When Herder introduced him to Shakespeare, it worked on his mind like a breath of fresh air. Here was a poet free from everything formal — who created characters directly from human individualities; who possessed nothing of all the unity of time, place, and action that Goethe had learned to value so highly, but who presented human beings in his plays. We may say that a revolutionary cultural mood came to life in Goethe, now baptized in the name of Shakespeare, which we may express thus: I want to comprehend what constitutes the human being himself, not how he is put into the interrelationships of the world by formal rules and laws, or by the network of unities of situation, time, place, and action.
In this regard, he was able to become acquainted with men then in Strassburg who sought to look into the deeper and more intimate aspects of the life of the soul. One of them was the remarkable Jung-Stilling, 15 Heinrich Jung-Stilling (1740–1817) was a German physician and writer. for example, who was studying the occult aspects of the life of the soul and knew how to describe them thoroughly. His life history, his description of what he calls the “gray man” who rules in the subterranean sphere of the earth, belongs among the finest descriptions of occult relationships. It may be said that Goethe was introduced by Herder to all that belongs to the life of nature and history, the aesthetic in life, and by Jung-Stilling to the occult aspects of human life, with which he had already familiarized himself in Frankfurt through an exhaustive study of Swedenborg. 16 Emanuel von Swedenborg (1688–1772) was a Swedish natural scientist and theosopher.
Such ideas fermented in Goethe's mind in connection with what had been passed on to him as the laws of nature while he was attending lectures on the sciences in Strassburg. Then he began to see the great problems and questions of human life. He looked deeply into what can be cognized and what can be willed by man, and into the relation between human nature and universal nature. Earlier in Frankfurt he had become acquainted with the work of Paracelsus 17 Paracelsus, Theophrastus von Hohenheim (1493–1541) was a Swiss physician, natural scientist and alchemist. in connection with all this. And thus, a profound longing to perceive “every working force and seed” took a hold of him, especially in Strassburg along with all that he otherwise experienced there.
It must not be imagined that, in Strassburg, Goethe simply trifled away his time during his frequent visits to the pastor's home in Sesenheim, 18 The reference is to Goethe's relationship with the pastor's daughter, Friederike Brion (1752–1813). although I certainly do not want to deprecate the importance of these visits. He was always capable of uniting life in the depths of man's will and cognition with life in association with the immediately human and ordinary, and with every human destiny.
After he had defended his dissertation, he became a sort of Doctor of Jurisprudence — Licentiate 19 Goethe received the degree of “Licentiate of Law,“ a title which in Germany was regarded as being equal to the doctorate. From then on, Goethe used the title, “Doctor juris.“ and Doctor of Jurisprudence. He thereby satisfied his father and could return home. The practice of law began, but there was a notable disharmony in the soul of this man who had to study legal documents at the Supreme Court in Wetzlar that were often literally hundreds of years old. There “law and rights like an endless illness” dragged along their weary way. Even in later times much of this sort of thing could still be experienced elsewhere. In a place where I grew up — permit me to interject this — I was able to experience the following. In the 1870s when I was a boy, we once heard that a man was to be imprisoned — in the seventies! He was a much respected man who had a rather large business for such a place. He was imprisoned for a year and a half, I think, because in 1848 he had thrown stones at an inn during the revolution! The lawsuit had actually continued from 1848 when, as a young boy, this person had thrown stones at an inn, until his present age. In 1873 he was imprisoned for a year and a half. It was, perhaps, not so bad then as when Goethe studied the documents at the Supreme Court, but it was still bad enough.
Goethe's work gave his father immense pleasure, and he shared with counsel and help the problems Goethe had to solve with the dusty documents. This is not to say, however, that Goethe was lacking in skill as a lawyer. That was by no means the case. He made his contribution as an attorney and his work at that time belies the recurring belief that a great spirit, living in the world of ideals, must be deficient in practical life. He was not at all lacking as an attorney. When lawyers these days point to their busy schedules and call attention to the fact that they have no time to read Goethe's works, one should point out to them that Goethe was unquestionably just as good a lawyer as they. That can be documented, as can many things related to his work. But in addition to being just as practical as only a practical man can be, Goethe at this time also carried within him the idea for his book, Götz von Berlichingen. 20 Götz von Berlichingen (1480–1562) came from an old Swabian family. He became the leader of the peasant uprising in 1525, fought against the Turks in 1542, and against France in 1544. His autobiography was published in 1731. Indeed, he bore within him the idea for his Faust, too, which had already emerged in Frankfurt from his scientific studies and later from his acquaintance with Herder and Jung-Stilling.
Götz von Berlichingen — Gottfried von Berlichingen — evidences at once, as Goethe forms it into a work of art, what his own nature really was. Goethe's way of being introduces a new element into the intellectual activity of humanity. As artist or poet, he cannot be compared with Dante, Homer, or Shakespeare. He stands in a different relationship to poetic creation, and this is bound up, in turn, with the way his mode of being relates to the age in which he lives. This age, as it was expressed in his immediate, and also in his more comprehensive, environment, did not permit such a spirit as his to blend wholly with the period. The life of the state that we today take for granted did not exist around him. After all, he lived in a region where certain territories had, to a high degree, taken on individual forms. How this came about is not important, but he did not live in a large state. No great all-encompassing conformity spread over the area where he lived and grew up. The life about him was not narrowly organized and thus he could experience it everywhere in its individual manifestations and simultaneously expose himself to its universal meaning. And this is what distinguishes Goethe from other poets.
One day a book came into his hands that is, indeed, badly written but that interested him immensely. It was Autobiography of the Iron-handed Gottfried of Berlichingen, which dealt with that strange individual who participated in so many events of the sixteenth century, but whose part in them was of such a peculiar nature. When we read this autobiography, we see how, under the Emperor Maximilian and Charles the Fifth, he came into contact with every possible kind of person and took part in every possible kind of quarrel and battle during the first half of the century.
His activities, however, always come about in such a way that he takes part in one event, is wholly involved in it and expresses himself completely therein. Then he becomes involved in another event in an entirely different role; he is drawn into that, fights for the most varied issues, and is later captured. After he has bound himself by an oath not to take any further part in quarrels and is thereby left at peace in his castle in middle South Germany, he becomes involved in the peasant uprising. All this, however, occurs in such a way that we see he is never forced by the events; but what holds these disparate episodes together is really his personality, the character of Gottfried himself. When one reads the autobiography of this man, I will not say that the events in which he is involved bore one to death, but we are not really interested in his quarrels and battles. Yet, in spite of all the boredom of the single events, we are always interested in his personality, so strong in character and so rich in content.
These traits, however, are just what attracted Goethe to Gottfried
of Berlichingen. Thus, he could see the substance, the life, and the
struggle of the sixteenth century concentrated in one personality as he
could never otherwise have seen it. This was what he needed. To him,
this meant taking up history and becoming acquainted with it. The way in
which one or another historian, after having searched through attics and
wastebaskets, telescopes together in a few “pragmatic
maxims” 21 The
reference is to Faust, Part I, line 584: “mit trefflichen
Maximen.“ Faust, in lines 575–585, replies to Wagner's
remarks (cf. footnote 1):
My friend, the times that antecede
Our own are books safely protected
by seven seals. What spirit of the time you call
Is but the scholar's spirit, after all,
In which times past are now reflected.
In truth, it is often pathetic,
And when one sees it, one would run away:
A garbage pail, perhaps a storage attic
At best a pompous moralistic play
With wonderfully edifying quips,
Most suitable to come from puppets' lips.
The translation of these lines is by Walter Kaufman (cf. footnote 8); he renders “pragmatic maxims“ with “edifying quips.“ individual historical periods would certainly not have suited Goethe. But to see a man standing alive in the midst of it, to see reflected in a human soul what is otherwise not of special interest, this had some meaning for him. He took this tedious, badly written autobiography of Gottfried of Berlichingen, read it, and really changed its content remarkably little. For this reason, he called the first version of this drama, if we choose so to designate it, The History of Gottfried of Berlichingen with the Iron Hand, Dramatized. He did not use the term drama, but dramatized. He had really only dramatized the history of Gottfried of Berlichingen, but in such a way that the whole period became alive through this man. Bear in mind, it was the sixteenth century, the time of the dawn of the post-Atlantean epoch. Goethe perceived this time through the character of Gottfried of Berlichingen, the man who grew up in middle South Germany.
At that time a fragment of life had already passed through Goethe's mind that is historical but seen really within actual life, not in what is “historic.” It would not have been possible for him then, with all those problems of humanity in his mind to which I have alluded, to take just any individual and dramatize his life according to history. However, to dramatize the stammering autobiography of a being who worked upon him with complete humanness in such a way that it would reflect the dramatic art as revealed to him through the reading of Shakespeare, that was something he could do. So he became known in certain circles that were interested in this sort of thing since he had lifted a fragment of the past, which was a book sealed with seven seals, into his own present world. Of course, just as little was then known about what Goethe disclosed by means of the badly written history of Gottfried of the Sixteenth Century as is known today by many a pastor about the super-sensible life.
Goethe had taken hold of human life. He had to, since his life style was one that made him blend with life as it revealed itself directly to him. To be sure, he continued to stand on an isolated pedestal, but as life touched him, he became one with it.
Goethe was to be brought into union with life in still another way.
There is little conception today of something that constituted a
profound trait of the soul life in the so-called cultured world
surrounding Goethe. People had become bound, as it were, to what had
come about since the sixteenth century. In public life, the laws and
statutes had been handed down like an inherited disease, 22 Faust, Part I,
lines 1972–1975, trans. by Walter Kaufmann. Mephisto says to the
The laws and statutes of a nation
Are an inherited disease,
From generation unto generation
And place to place they drag on by degrees. but the souls of men were, nevertheless, touched in a certain way by what we recognize as the impulse of souls of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. The result was that, for the most deeply endowed natures, a profound disharmony ensued between what they sensed within the soul and what took place in the external world. This, to be sure, led to a marked sentimentality in experience.
To sense as strongly as possible how wide the gulf was between the actual world and what a true and warm human soul could feel, to express this contrast with all possible emphasis, was felt by many to be a profound necessity. The eye was directed toward the life of the world in which various ranks of society and the people with their various interests lived. But they often had little soul contact with each other in this public life. Yet, when these human beings were alone, they sought for a special life of the soul existing apart from external life, and for them to be able to say to themselves that this external life was wholly unlike all that the soul would strive after and hope for was felt to be a great relief. To get into such a sentimental mood was a characteristic of the age. Life, as it was publicly manifest, was felt to be bad and defective. People strove to search for life where it had not been besmirched by indifferent public existence, and where they could really enter in a vital way into the silent working and weaving of the world of nature, the peaceful life of animals and plants.
From this a mood gradually arose that affected many cultured spirits. To be able to weep over the disharmonies of the world afforded a tremendous satisfaction. Those writers were especially honored whose works tended to induce a flood of tears to fall upon the pages that were being read. To be unhappy constituted for many the very happiness for which they longed. Someone takes a walk in the forest; he then returns and, sitting quite still in his room, reflects: “How many, many little flowers and tiny worms that I did not notice and trod under foot have sacrificed their lives to this walk of mine!” Then he weeps hot tears into his handkerchief over the discord between nature and human life. Letters written to beloved friends who were as sentimental as the writer begin with such expressions as “Dearly beloved Friend,” and this, too, is moistened by a tear that falls on the paper and hastens away with the letter as a precious testimony to the friend.
This life still permeated a large part of the cultured world in the second half of the eighteenth century. It also surrounded Goethe, and he had much understanding of it, for there was much truth in this feeling of the disharmony between the frequently unconscious or vague feelings of the soul and what was afforded by the outer world, and Goethe could feel the truth in it. In those days, the silent plan of life between souls was not at all similar to what took place in the world as a whole. He had to go through this because he could be, and needed to be, touched by everything. But, in his contact with these things, he had to draw health-giving forces from his inner self repeatedly.
And thus in his youthful novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, he wrote himself free of this whole temper of the age, which we call Siegwart, 23 Siegwart, a sentimental novel by Johann Martin Miller, was published 1776, two years after Goethe's Werther, and immediately became a best seller. or Werther, fever, and which had taken possession of a large part of educated society. In the figure of Werther he concealed to such a degree as to come near to suicide what he had shared of this sentimental mood and the disharmonies of the world. It is for this reason that he has Werther end his life through suicide. It is well to consider that, on the one hand, it was possible for Goethe to be bound up with everything in the souls of those about him, even though he was so firmly rooted in his own individuality. On the other hand, what he was writing about cleansed his soul and at the same time became a work of art. After he had finished Werther, he was completely cured of him, whereas in many cases other persons were only then possessed because through the influence of the Werther, Werther fever raged in the most widespread circles. Goethe, however, was cured.
In estimating such things, we must not overlook the fact that Goethe possessed a broad inner horizon so that he could, in a sense, live within himself in polaric contrasts. He went through the Werther sickness and wrote himself free of it through The Sorrows of Young Werther. Yet, there is truth in what he wrote to a friend at that time. He sketched a picture of his loftily sentimental mood, but also said there was a Goethe other than the suicidal Goethe who harbored thoughts of hanging himself and who entertained thoughts for which he ought to be hanged. There was also a carnival Goethe, 24 The reference is to Goethe's letter from Frankfurt to Countess Auguste von Stollberg-Stollberg, dated February 13, 1775. who could put on all sorts of masks and disguises, and this Goethe also really lived artistically. We need only allow the more or less fragmentary dramatic creations of that time, Satyros and Pater Brey, to work upon us, and we shall be able to sense the scope of his inner life: on the one hand, the sentimentality of Werther, on the other, the humor of the Satyros and Pater Brey.
Satyros, the deified forest devil who develops a veritable pantheism and does not enjoy the fruits of culture, wants to return to nature in genuine Rousseau fashion. Raw chestnuts — what a royal repast! Such is the ideal of Satyros. But he is really a philosopher of nature who is quite familiar with its secrets, and — if you will excuse me — he wins his followers especially among women, is deified, but finally behaves quite badly. Here all false yearning after authoritarian belief is ridiculed with immense humor. Then in Pater Brey we see the cult of false prophets play a part and, under the mask of holiness, do all kinds of things. This, indeed, is not ridiculed but objectively presented with much humor. Here Goethe is a humorist in the most vital sense — a blunt humorist, expressing it all from the same constitution of soul that created Werther. He was able to do this not because he was superficial but because he was profound enough to grasp the polarities of human life.
Especially the Werther book gained Goethe a far-reaching reputation. It became well-known rather early, 25 Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther was published in 1774. One year later, Goethe received Duke Kark August's invitation to Weimar and arrived there on November 7, 1775. and it was really this work that led the Archduke of Weimar to take an interest in him. The Gottfried of Berlichingen made a decided impression, but not among those who then considered themselves capable of understanding culture, art, and poetry. “An abominable imitation of bad English works; a disgusting platitude,” said an eminent man of the time about this book. 26 Frederick the Great in De la litterature alemande (1780).
It was in 1775 that Goethe was able to transfer his activities to a different field of operation, to Weimar. The Duke of Weimar 27 Karl August, Duke of Weimar (1757–1828), son of Duchess Anna Amalia. became acquainted with Goethe and called him there, where he became the minister of state.
Nowadays, after the event, people have the feeling that Goethe had already written the Gottfried of Berlichingen, The Sorrows of Young Werther, and even carried with him to Weimar a large part of his Faust; they see in all this his most important accomplishment. He himself did not consider them to be of first importance at that time, but they were only the scrapings of his life. The Duke, likewise, did not appoint him court poet, but minister of state, which caused the pedants in Weimar to be beside themselves with anger. The Duke had to address a sort of epistolary decree to his people in which he justified himself by saying that Goethe was in his eyes simply a greater man than the pedants. The fact that he was made minister of state without having been previously — what shall I say? — under-councillor and upper-councillor, required at least some justification from the Duke, and that is what he produced.
Goethe was by no means a bad statesman and performed his ministerial duties not as part time work, but as matters of first importance. He was a far better statesman than many a minister who was not a Goethe in our sense. Anyone who personally convinces himself — as I may say with all modesty that I have done — of the way in which he performed his ministerial obligations will know that he was an excellent minister for the Duchy of Sachsen-Weimar and was completely devoted to his duties. Being a minister was his chief occupation, and he achieved a good deal during his ten years in this capacity.
He had brought with him a part of his Faust, which is listed in the collected works under the delectable title, The Primordial Faust (Ur-Faust). All that we might call the upward vision of Faust was already alive in this version. How directly had Faust been taken from the life that touches every human soul!
In Weimar it was evident again that Goethe could not be completely captured by his environment. We often become acquainted with persons who are, in greater or lesser degree, merely the exponents of their files. Goethe, however, was not merely the exponent of the numerous documents he drew up as a Weimar functionary. In addition, he acclimated himself to the conditions in Weimar and, even though he remained on his isolated pedestal, he was nevertheless touched by everything human. The immediately human took form with him as art. Thus we see how the character of a woman, Frau von Stein, 28 Charlotte Freifrau von Stein (1742–1827). with whom he formed a friendship, became a life problem for him. It was fundamentally his immediate view of her character that was the cause of his dramatizing the figure of Iphigenia. He wished to put into artistic form what worked on him in the character of Frau von Stein, and the legend of Iphigenia was only the means for solving this life problem. The relationships at the Weimar court, his life with Duke Karl August, whose character was so strangely endowed, his view of the fate of the Duchess, and other connected circumstances, all became problems to him. Life became a question. He again needed a subject in order to master these relationships in an artistic way, and to do so he took that of Tasso. It was, however, really the Weimar situation that he artistically mastered.
It is, of course, impossible to enter here into the many details of Goethe's mental life, yet I wish to place these facts before you in order that we may form a spiritual scientific contact with them as examples. Even in the most early period of his stay in Weimar, through the various circumstances into which he was brought, the possibility arose of deepening his studies in natural science by independent work. He continued his plant studies and began anatomical studies at the University of Jena. He endeavored in everything to confirm in detail the ideas of the universal interrelationships he had received from Herder. He wished to study the connections within the plant kingdom and what was spiritually alive in plants. He wished to hold the kinship among the animals before his mind and to find the path upward from them to man. He wished to study the idea of evolution in direct connection with actual natural objects. You see, Goethe had taken up Herder's great idea to study the evolutionary phrases of all entities, a unitary spiritual process of becoming. In this thought he and Herder then stood practically alone because those who dominated the intellectual life of the time thought quite otherwise; everything was pigeonholed.
All intellectual activity can be found to work in two polaric directions: toward separation and toward union. It was important for Goethe and Herder to bring unity into diversity and multiplicity; others were simply content with neat classifications and clever division. For these people, the problem was to show, for example, how man is distinguished from the animal. Man, it was said, has no intermaxillary bone in the upper jaw in which the incisors are rooted, but only a unitary jawbone; only the animals have an intermaxillary bone. Goethe was certainly not materialistically inclined, and he had no desire to establish materialism. The thought, however, that the inner harmony of nature could not be confirmed because of such a detail offended his intelligence. He therefore undertook to prove, in opposition to all scientific authorities, that man also has an intermaxillary bone, and he succeeded. He thus arrived at his first important scientific treatise entitled, An Intermaxillary Bone Is to Be Ascribed to Man as Well as to the Animal. 29 This treatise was written in 1784 and was published in Jena in 1786. He had thereby introduced a single detail into the evolution of thought with which he opposed the entire scientific world, and which is now an obvious, undisputed truth.
Goethe appears, not as the poet of Werther, of Gottfried, and of Faust, or as the poet in whose head Iphigenia and Tasso came into being, but as one possessing a profound insight into the interrelationships of nature, so that he now studies and labors as a genuine research scientist. We have here, not a one-sided scientist, poet, or minister; he is a complete human being aspiring in all directions.
Goethe lived in Weimar for about ten years and then could no longer suppress his yearning to go to Italy. So in the late eighties he undertook a journey to Italy as if it were an escape. We must not forget that he then, for the first time, entered into situations that he had longed for and cherished from his earliest youth. This was his first introduction to the world at large; you must remember that he had never before seen any other large city except Frankfurt. We must also not forget that Rome was the first city through which he viewed the theater of world history. This must be included in his life and also that he felt the whole stream of life pulsating in Rome as it had risen in the fifth post-Atlantean epoch. Goethe united what then worked upon him as world history with the comprehensive world conception germinating in his mind. He traced the idea throughout the multiplicity of forms of plants, stones, and animals he had compared, and now followed them over the Apennine peninsula. He endeavored to confirm the idea of the "archetypal plant" over the broadest area and was able to do so. Every stone and plant interested him. How the multifold comes into form as the unit, this he allowed to work upon him.
Goethe also exposed himself to the influence of the great works of art, which revealed to him ancient Hellenism in its last feeble outgrowth. As he directed his objective glance over the multiplicity of nature, so also could he feel in the depths of his soul all the intimacies of the great art of the Renaissance. One need only read the words he spoke upon viewing Raphael's Saint Cecilia in Bologna, how, as he looked at it, he experienced in a wonderfully profound and intense manner all those feelings that lead man out of the sensory world into the super-sensible. One need only read in his Journey to Italy how, as he gradually deepened his ideas of nature, he sensed in the presence of works of art that man really creates such works only when art works creatively from the depths of life. Greek art, he said, now became clear to him: “I have an intimation that they proceed according to the same laws by which nature proceeds and which I am tracing,” 30 Goethe's letter from Rome, dated January 28, 1787. and “These lofty works of art, being also the highest works of nature, have been created by man according to true and natural laws. Everything arbitrary, all mere fancy, falls away; there 31 Goethe's letter from Rome, dated September 6, 1787. So he wrote to his Weimar friends.
Goethe took into himself something stupendous, and what he had previously felt and surmised now took form. Scenes of great importance in his Faust were composed at this time in Rome. Iphigenia and Tasso had already been sketched and partly completed in Weimar. Now he rewrote them in verse. As he exposed himself constantly to classic works of art, he was now able to find the classic style that he wished to pour into these works. This was a regeneration, an actual rebirth of the soul, that he experienced in Italy. Thus, something peculiar now took form in his soul. He sensed a profound contrast between the aspirations of his age in what he had observed in his environment and what he had learned to feel as the loftiest expression of the purely human.
Goethe returned to Weimar to the world where works had been produced that entranced everybody. Schiller's The Robbers, 32 The Robbers had been published in 1781. In his Glückliches Ereignis [Happy Event] (1817), Goethe writes: “After my return from Italy, where I had endeavored to educate myself to a more definite and pure understanding of all branches of the arts and where I did not care what in those days was going on in Germany, I discovered that some recent, as well as some older, poetic works were in high repute and had widespread appeal. Unfortunately, they included some works that I found extremely disgusting such as Heinse's Ardinghello and Schiller's The Robbers.“ Heinse's Ardinghello, and other such literary reproductions seemed to him barbaric stuff; they contradicted everything that was now rooted and living in his soul. He felt within like an utterly lonely person and had, indeed, been almost completely forgotten when a path was opened for the friendship with Schiller. 33 Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805) was a dramatist, poet and historian and is regarded as one of the greatest German literary figures. The approach was difficult because nothing was more repugnant to him when he first returned than Schiller's youthful works. But the two men discovered one another, and in such a way as to establish a bond of friendship almost without counterpart in history. They stimulated one another, and Hermann Grimm rightly remarks that in their relationship we have, not only Goethe plus Schiller, but Schiller plus Goethe as well. 34 Hermann Grimm in the 21st “Goethe“ lecture: “When two superbly gifted men combine in common endeavors, their strength is not doubled but multiplied fourfold. Each one has the other invisibly next to himself. The formula would not read G + S, but (G + S) + (S + G). The strength of one accrues to the strength of the other.“ Each became something different through the other; each enriched the other.
Profound, all-embracing human problems arose in the soul of Goethe and Schiller. What had to be resolved by the world in a political way — the vast problem of human freedom — was present before their minds as a spiritually human problem. Others gave much thought to the question of how an external institution that would guarantee man freedom in his life could be established in the world, but to Schiller the problem was: how does man find freedom within his own soul? He devoted himself to this problem in developing his unique work, Letters Regarding the Aesthetic Education of Humanity. For Schiller the question was how man guides his soul above himself, from the ordinary status of life to a higher status. Man stands, on the one hand, within sensory nature, said Schiller; on the other, he stands face to face with the realm of logic. In neither is he free. He becomes free when he enjoys and creates aesthetically, when his thoughts develop in such a way that they are under compulsion, not of logic, but of taste and inclination, and at the same time, free of the sensible. Schiller demanded a middle position.
These Letters Regarding the Aesthetic Education of Humanity of Schiller belong among mankind's most cultivated writings. But it was a question, a human riddle, that he and Goethe had faced in thought. Goethe could not penetrate this problem philosophically in abstract thoughts as Schiller had done. He had to attack it in a living way, and he resolved it comprehensively in his own way in the fairy tale of The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. When Schiller undertook to show philosophically how man ascends from ordinary life to a higher life, Goethe undertook to show in his fairy tale, through the interplay of spiritual forces in the human soul, how man evolves spiritually from an everyday soul life to a higher one. What Schiller brought to light in a philosophic, abstract way, Goethe presented it in a magnificent visible form in this fairy tale. This he attached to a description of external life in his novel-like piece Conversations of German Emigrants. There really came to life in the inspired friendship between Goethe and Schiller all that man proposes to himself in riddling questions about life, and that is related to Faust's explanation of why he turned to a magic interpretation of the world:
[That I might]
Her vital powers, her embryo seeds, survey,
And fling the trade in empty words away. 35 Faust, Part I, lines 384–385. The German text reads as follows:
Schau alle Wirkungskraft und Samen
Und to nicht mehr in Worten kramen.
The Kaufman translation (cf. footnote 9) of this passage, although preferable as a whole, leaves “Wirkungskraft und Samen“ [vital power and embryo seed] untranslated and renders the two lines as follows:
Envisage the creative blazes
Instead of rummaging in phrases.
To do justice to Steiner's remarks, I have here used Ann Swanwick's translation of these two lines. (P.M.)
Whoever penetrates the intellectual exchanges between Goethe and Schiller and sees what at that time came to life in the spirit of these two men receives through it as yet unrecognized and unrealized spiritual treasure — a treasure which manifests the aspirations of the fifth post-Atlantean epoch in an extraordinary manner. The innermost concern of the two was manifested through the way in which Schiller undertook to solve the riddle of man philosophically in his Aesthetic Letters, the way Goethe addressed himself to the realm of color in order to oppose Newton, and the ways he depicts the evolution of the human soul in the fairy tale of The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily. All this comprises comprehensive questions that were destined, it would seem, to be of vital concern to but a few people.
Even though we have wished thus far to touch only upon such facts as bear upon the life of Goethe, it must also be remarked that, although many people nowadays believe they are capable of speaking about him, for many this Goethe period belongs to the past and is a book sealed with seven seals. In a certain sense, we may really feel pleased when someone is quite honest about this. It was, of course, narrow-minded of the famous scientist Dubois-Reymond 36 Emil Du Bois-Reymond (1818–96) was a physiologist in Berlin. to deliver his discourse Goethe and No End. The same man, a rector of a university, who had previously described the limitations of a knowledge of nature and had made so many remarkable physiological discoveries, delivered his discourse on Goethe and No End! His remarks were narrow-minded because they arose from the opinion: “Yes, so many people talk about one who, after all, was only a dilettante; Goethe, the universal dilettante, is forever the subject of discussion. But how much have we since acquired about which he was, of course, totally ignorant — the cell theory, for example, the theory of electricity and advances in physiology!” All that was present in Dubois-Reymond's mind. “What was Goethe in comparison? People talk about his Faust as if he had given us an ideal of humanity.”
Dubois-Reymond cannot see that Goethe really did set before us an ideal for humanity. He asks: “Would it not have been better to make Faust greater than Goethe made him and more useful for humanity? Goethe places before us a wretched fellow” — Dubois-Reymond did not use this expression but what he says is approximately the same — “a wretched fellow who cannot even master his own inner problems. Then, if Faust had been a virtuous fellow, he would have married Gretchen instead of seducing her; he would have invented the electric generator and the air pump and have become a famous professor.” He says quite literally that if Faust had been a decent man, he would have married Gretchen and not seduced her. He would have invented the generator and air pump and would have performed other services for humanity and not have become such a debauched genius who got involved in all sorts of spiritistic nonsense.
Such a rectoral address, heard at the close of the nineteenth century, was certainly narrow-minded. Yet at least it is honest. We could wish that such honesty might appear more often; it is delightful because it corresponds with the truth. Thrice mendacious, however, is much of the laudation for Goethe and Faust that is brought forth by people who are happy “only when they find earthworms.” The quotations from Goethe that we often hear are really only spiritual earthworms even though they are Goethe's own words.
Precisely through the relationship of our time with such a spirit as Goethe's is it possible to study the deep untruth of the present age. Many people do nothing more than “trade in words,” 37 Cf. footnote 35. even trade in the very words of Goethe, whereas his world conception contains an element of everything that leads to and must come to birth in the future evolution of mankind. As we have already suggested, this element not only unites with spiritual science, but is by its very nature already tied to spiritual science.