Karmic Relations

by Rudolf Steiner

Volume I, Lecture XI

For members of the Anthroposophical Society

Dornach, Switzerland

March 22, 1924

Our studies of karma, which have led us lately to definite individual examples of karmic relationships, are intended to afford a basis for forming a judgment not only of individual human connections, but also of more general historical ones. And it is with this end in view that I would like now to add to the examples already given. Today we will prepare the ground, and tomorrow we will follow this up by showing the karmic connections.

You will have realised that consideration of the relation between one earth-life and the next must always be based upon certain definite symptoms and facts. If we take these as our starting-point, they will lead us to a view of the actual connections. And in the case of the individualities of whom I have ventured to tell you, I have shown where these particular starting-points are to be found.

Today I want, as I said, to prepare the way, placing before you problems of which we shall find the solutions tomorrow.

Let me first draw your attention to the peculiar interest that one or another personality can arouse. I shall speak of personalities of historical interest as well as of personalities in ordinary life; the very interest that some persons arouse in us will often urge us to find a clue to their life-connections. Once we know how to look for these clues in the right way, we shall be able to find them. As you will already have noticed from the way in which I have presented the cases, it is all a matter of seeking in the right way. Let us then not be deterred, but proceed boldly.

Whatever one's attitude to the personality of Garibaldi may be in other respects, there can be no doubt that he is an interesting figure in the history of Europe; he played, as we all know, a remarkable part in the events of the 19th century. Today, then, we will make a preparatory study of Garibaldi, and to begin with I will bring to your notice certain facts in his life which, as we shall find, are able to lead the student of spiritual science to the connections of which we shall learn tomorrow.

Giuseppe Garibaldi

Garibaldi is a personality who participated in a remarkable way in the life of the 19th century. He was born in the year 1807 and he held a prominent and influential position on into the second half of the century. This means that the way he expresses himself as a man is highly characteristic of the 19th century.

When we come to consider the features of his life, looking especially for those that are important from a spiritual aspect, we find Garibaldi spending his boyhood in Nice as the son of a poor man who had a job in the navigation service. He was a child who had little inclination to take part in what the current education of the country had to offer, a child who was not at all brilliant at school, but who took a lively interest in all sorts and varieties of human affairs. What he learned at school had the effect of inducing him very often to play truant. While the teacher was trying in his own way to bring some knowledge of the world to the children, the boy Garibaldi much preferred to romp about outdoors, to scamper through the woods or play games by the riverside. On the other hand, if he once got hold of some book that appealed to him, nothing could tear him from it. He would lie on his back by the hour in the sunshine, absolutely absorbed, not even going home for meals.

Broadly speaking, however, it was the great world that interested him. While still quite young he set about preparing himself for his father's calling and took part in sea voyages, at first in a subordinate, and afterwards in an independent position. He made many voyages on the Adriatic and shared in all the varied experiences that were to be had in the first half of the 19th century, when Liberalism and Democracy had not yet organised sea traffic and put it under police regulations, but when some freedom of movement was still left in the life of man! He shared in all the experiences that were possible in times when one could do more or less what one wanted! And so he also had the experience — I believe it happened to him three or four times — of being captured by pirates. As well as being a genius, however, he was sly, and every time he was caught, he got away again, and very quickly too!

And so Garibaldi grew up into manhood, always living in the wide world. As I have said, I do not intend to give you a biography but to point out characteristic features of his life that can lead us to a consideration of what is really important and essential. He lived in the wide world, and there came a time when he acquired a very strong and vivid impression of what his own inner relationship to the world might be. It was when he was nearly grown up and was taken by his father on a journey through the country, as far as Rome. There, looking out from Rome over all Italy, he must have been aware of something quite remarkable going through his soul. In his voyages he had met many people who were, in general, quite alive and awake, but were utterly indifferent to one particular interest — they were asleep as regards the conditions of the time; and these people made an impression on Garibaldi that nearly drove him to despair. They had no enthusiasm for true and genuine humanity, such as showed itself in him quite early in life — he had indeed a genius for warm, tenderhearted enthusiasm.

As he passed through the countryside and afterward came to Rome, a kind of vision must have arisen in his soul of the part he was later to play in the liberation of Italy. Other circumstances also helped to make him a fanatical anti-cleric, and a fanatical Republican, a man who set clearly before him the aim of doing everything in his power to further the well-being of humanity.

And now, taking part as he did in all manner of movements in Italy in the first half of the 19th century, it happened one day that for the first time in his life Garibaldi read his name in the newspaper. I think he was about thirty years old at the time. It meant a good deal more in those days than it would do now, to read one's name in the newspaper. Garibaldi had, however, a peculiar destiny in connection with this reading of his name in the newspaper, for the occasion was the announcement in the paper of his death-sentence! He read his name there for the first time when his sentence to death was reported. There you have a unique circumstance of his life; it is not every man who has such an experience.

It was not granted to Garibaldi — and it is characteristic of his destiny that it was not, considering that his whole enthusiasm was centred in Italy — it was not granted him at first to take a hand in the affairs of Italy or Europe, but it was laid upon him by destiny to go first to South America and take part in all manner of movements for freedom over there, until the year 1848. And in every situation he showed himself a most remarkable man, gifted with quite extraordinary qualities. I have already related to you one most singular event in his life, the finding of his name in the newspaper for the first time on the occasion of the announcement of his own death-sentence. And now we come to another quite individual biographical fact, something that happens to very few men indeed. Garibaldi became acquainted in a most extraordinary way with the woman who was to be the mainstay of his happiness for many years. He was out at sea, on board ship, looking landwards through a telescope. To fall in love through a telescope — that is certainly not the way it happens to most people!

Anita Garibaldi

Destiny again made it easy for him to become quickly acquainted with the one whom he had chosen through the telescope to be his beloved. He steered at once in the direction in which he had looked through the telescope, and on reaching land he was invited by a man to a meal. It transpired, after he had accepted the invitation, that this man was the father of the girl he had seen! She could speak only Portuguese, and he only Italian; but we are assured by his biographer, and it seems to be correct, that the young woman immediately understood his carefully phrased declaration of love, which seems to have consisted simply of the words — in Italian of course — “We must unite for life.” She understood immediately. And it really happened so, that from this meeting came a lifelong companionship that lasted for a long, long time.

Garibaldi's wife shared in all the terrible and adventurous journeys he made in South America, and some of the recorded details of them are really most moving. For example, the story is told of how a report got about that Garibaldi had been killed in battle. His wife hurried to the battlefield and lifted up every head to see if it were her husband's. After a long time, and after undergoing many adventures in the search, she found him still alive. It is most affecting to read how on this very journey, which lasted a long time, she gave birth to a child without help of any kind, and how, in order to keep it warm, she bound it in a sling about her neck, holding it against her breast for hours at a time. The story of Garibaldi's South American adventures has some deeply moving aspects.

But now the time came, in the middle of the 19th century, when all kinds of impulses for freedom were stirring among the peoples of Europe, and Garibaldi could not bring himself to stay away any longer in South America; he returned to his fatherland. It is well-known with what intense energy he worked there, mustering volunteers under the most difficult circumstances — so much so that he did not merely contribute to the development of the new Italy: he was its creator.

And here we come to a feature of his life and character that stands out very strongly. He was, in every relationship of life, a man of independence, a man who always thought in a large and simple way, and took account only of the impulses that welled up from the depths of his own inner being. And so it is really very remarkable to see him doing everything in his power to bring it about that the dynasty of Victor Emmanuel should rule over the kingdom of Italy, when in reality the whole unification and liberation of Italy was due to Garibaldi himself. The story of how he won Naples and then Sicily with, comparatively speaking, quite a small force of men, undisciplined yet filled with enthusiasm, of how the future King of Italy needed only to make his entry into the regions already won for him by Garibaldi, and of how, nevertheless, if truth be told, nothing whatever was done from the side of the royal family or of those who stood near to them to show any proper appreciation of what Garibaldi had accomplished — the whole story makes a deep and striking impression. Fundamentally speaking, if we may put it in somewhat trivial language, the Savoy Dynasty had Garibaldi to thank for everything, and yet they were eminently unthankful to him, treating him with no more than necessary politeness.

Take, for example, the entry into Naples. Garibaldi had won Naples for the Dynasty and was regarded by the Neapolitans as no less than their liberator; a perfect storm of jubilation always greeted his appearance. It would have been unthinkable for the future King of Italy to make his entry into Naples without Garibaldi, absolutely unthinkable. Nevertheless the King's advisers were against it. Advisers, no doubt, are often exceedingly short-sighted; but if Victor Emmanuel had not acted on his own account out of a certain instinct and made Garibaldi sit by him in his red shirt on the occasion of the entry into Naples, he himself would most certainly not have been greeted with shouts of rejoicing! Even so, the cheers were intended for Garibaldi and not for him. He would most assuredly have been hissed — that is an absolute certainty. Victor Emmanuel would have been hissed if he had entered Naples without Garibaldi.

And it was the same all through. At some campaign or other in the centre of Italy, Garibaldi had carried the day. The commanders-in-chief with the King had come — what does one say in such a case, putting it as kindly as one can? — they had come too late. The whole thing had been carried through to the finish by Garibaldi. When, however, the army appeared, with its generals wearing their decorations, and met Garibaldi's men who had no decorations and were moreover quite unpretentiously attired, the generals declared: it is beneath our dignity to ride side by side with them, we cannot possibly do such a thing! But Victor Emmanuel had some sort of instinct in these matters. He called Garibaldi to his side, and the generals, making wry faces, were obliged to join with Garibaldi's army as it drew up into line. These generals, it seems, had a terribly bad time of it; they looked as though they had stomach-aches! And afterward, when the entry into a town was to be made, Garibaldi, who had done everything, actually had to come on behind like a rearguard. He and his men had to wait and let the others march in front. It was a case where the regular army had in point of fact done absolutely nothing; yet they entered first, and after them, Garibaldi with his followers.

The important things to note are these remarkable links of destiny. It is in these links of destiny that we may find our guidance to the karmic connections. For it has not directly to do with a man's freedom or unfreedom that he first sees his name in print on the occasion of his death-sentence, or that he finds his wife through a telescope. Such things are connections of destiny; they take their course alongside of that which is always present in man in spite of them — his freedom. These are the very things, however — these things of which we may be sure that they are links of destiny — that can give a great stimulus to the practical study of the nature and reality of karma.

Now in the case of a personality like Garibaldi, traits that may generally be thought incidental, are characteristic. They are, in his case, strongly marked. Garibaldi was what is called a handsome man. He had beautiful tawny-golden hair and was altogether a splendid figure. His hair was curly and gleaming gold, and was greatly admired by the women! Now you will agree, from what I have told you of Garibaldi's bride — whom he chose, you remember, through a telescope — that only the highest possible praise can be spoken of her; nevertheless, it seems she was not altogether free from jealousy. What does Garibaldi do one day when this jealousy seems to have assumed somewhat large proportions? He has his beautiful hair all cut away to the roots; he lets himself be made bald. That was when they were still in South America. All these things are traits that serve to show how the necessities of destiny are placed into life.

Garibaldi became, as we know, one of the great men of Europe after his achievements in Italy, and traveling through Italy today you know how, from town to town, you pass from one Garibaldi memorial to another. But there have been times when not only in Italy but everywhere in Europe the name of Garibaldi was spoken with the keenest interest and the deepest devotion, when even the ladies in Cologne, in Mainz and in many another place wore red blouses in Garibaldi's honour — not to mention London, where Garibaldi's red blouse became quite the fashion.

During the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, Garibaldi, now an old man, put himself at the disposal of the French, and an interesting incident took place. His only experience, as we know, had been volunteer fighting, such as he had conducted in Italy and also in South America, yet on a certain occasion in this full-scale war he was the one to capture a German flag from under a pile of men who were trying to protect it with their bodies. Garibaldi captured this flag. But he had such respect for the men who had hurled themselves upon the flag to guard it with their own bodies, that he sent it back to its owners. Strange to relate, however, when he appeared in a meeting at some place or other soon afterward, he was received with hisses on account of what he had done.

You will agree — this is not merely an interesting life, but the life of a man who in very deed and fact is lifted right above all other greatness in evidence in the 19th century! A most remarkable man — so original, so elementary, acting so evidently out of primitive impulses, and at the same time with such genius! Others working with him may perhaps have been better at leading large armies and doing things in an orderly way, but none of them in that deeply materialistic period had such genuine, spontaneous enthusiasm for what they were aiming at.

Here, then, is one of the personalities whom I would like to place before you. As I said, I shall give preparatory descriptions today, and tomorrow we will look for the answers.

Another personality, very well-known to you by name, is of exceptional interest in connection with investigations into karma. It is Lessing.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

The circumstances of Lessing's life, I may say, have always interested me to an extraordinary degree. Lessing is really the founder of the better sort of journalism, the journalism that has substance and is really out to accomplish something. Before Lessing, poets and dramatists had taken their subjects from the aristocracy. Lessing, on the other hand, is at pains to introduce bourgeois life, ordinary middle-class life, into the drama, the life concerned generally with the destinies of men as men, and not with the destinies of men in so far as they hold some position in society or the like. Purely human conflicts — that is what Lessing wanted to portray on the stage. In the course of his work he applied himself to many great problems, as for example when he tried to determine the boundaries of painting and of poetry in his Laocoon. But the most interesting thing of all is the powerful impetus with which Lessing fought for the idea of tolerance. You need only take his Nathan the Wise and you will see at once what a foremost place this idea of tolerance has in Lessing's mind and life. In weaving the fable of the three kings in Nathan the Wise, he wants to show how the three main religions have gone astray from their original forms and are none of them really genuine, and how one must go in search of the true form, which has been lost. Here we have tolerance united with an uncommonly deep and significant idea.

Interesting, too, is the conversation between Freemasons, entitled Ernst und Falk, and much else that springs from Freemasonry. What Lessing accomplished in the way of critical research into the history of religious life is, for one who is able to judge its significance, really astounding. But we must be able to place the whole Lessing, in his complete personality, before us. And this we cannot do by reading, for example, the two-volume work by Erich Schmidt which purports to be a final and complete study of Lessing. Lessing as he really was, is not portrayed at all, but a picture is given of a puppet composed of various limbs and members, and we are told that this puppet wrote Nathan the Wise and Laocoon. It amounts to no more than an assertion that the man portrayed here has written these books. And it is the same with the other biographies of Lessing.

We begin to get an impression of Lessing when we observe the driving force with which he hurls his sentences against his opponents. He wages a polemic against the civilisation of Central Europe — quite a refined and correct polemic, but at every turn hitting straight home. You must here observe a peculiar nuance in Lessing's character if you want to understand the make-up of his life. On the one hand we have the sharpness, often caustic sharpness, in such writings as The Dramatic Art of Hamburg, and then we have to find the way to an understanding, for example, of the words used by Lessing when a son had been born to him and had died directly after birth. He writes somewhat as follows in a letter: Yes, he has at once taken leave again of this world of sorrow; he has thereby done the best thing a human being can do. (I cannot cite the passage word for word, but it was to this effect.) In so writing, Lessing is giving expression to his pain in a wonderfully brave way, not for that reason feeling the pain one whit less deeply than someone who can do nothing but bemoan the event. This ability to draw back into himself in pain was characteristic of the man who at the same time knew how to thrust forward with vigour when he was developing his polemics. This is what makes it so affecting to read the letter written when his child had died immediately after birth, leaving the mother seriously ill.

Lessing had moreover this remarkable thing in his destiny — and it is quite characteristic, when one sets out to find the karmic connections in his case — that he was friends in Berlin with a man who was in every particular his opposite, namely, Nikolai.

Of Lessing it can be said — it is not literally true, but it is none the less characteristic — that he never dreamed, because his intellect and his understanding were so keen. On this account, as we shall see tomorrow, he is for the spiritual researcher such an extraordinarily significant personality. But there is something in the very construction of his sentences, something in the home-thrusts with which he lays his opponent in the dust, that really makes every sentence a delight to read.

With Nikolai it is just the opposite. Nikolai is an example of a true philistine. Although Lessing's friend, he was none the less a typical philistine-bourgeois; and he had visions, most strange and remarkable visions.

Lessing, genius as he was, had no visions, not even dreams. Nikolai literally suffered from visions. They came, and they went away only after leeches had been applied. Yes, in extremity they actually applied leeches to him, in order that he might not be forever tormented by the spiritual world which would not let him alone.

Fichte wrote a very interesting essay directed against Nikolai. He set out to give a picture of the typical German-bourgeois as shown in the personality of Nikolai. For all that, this same Nikolai was the friend of Lessing.

Another thing is very remarkable in Lessing. In his own Weltanschauung, Lessing concerned himself very much with two philosophers, Spinoza and Leibniz. Now it has often attracted me very much, as an interesting occupation for spare hours, to read all the writings in which it is proved over and over again that Lessing was a Leibnizian, and on the other hand those in which it is proved on still more solid ground that he was a Spinozist. For in truth one cannot decide whether Lessing, acute and discerning thinker as he was, was a Leibnizian or a Spinozist, who are the very opposite of each other. Spinoza — pantheist and monotheist; Leibniz — monadist, purely and completely individualistic. And yet we cannot decide whether Lessing belongs to Leibniz or to Spinoza. When we try to put him to the test in this matter, we can come to no conclusive judgment. It is impossible.

At the close of his life Lessing wrote the remarkable essay, The Education of the Human Race, at the end of which, quite isolated, as it were, the idea of repeated earth-lives appears. The book shows how mankind goes through one epoch of development after another, and how the Gods gave into man's hand as a first primer, so to speak, the Old Testament, and then as a second primer the New Testament, and how in the future a third book will come for the further education of the human race. And then all at once the essay is brought to a close with a brief presentation of the idea that man lives through repeated earth-lives. And there Lessing says, again in a way that is absolutely in accord with his character (I am not quoting the actual words, but this is the gist of it): Ought the idea of repeated earth-lives to seem so absurd, considering that it was present in very early times, when men had not yet been spoilt by school learning? The essay then ends with a genuine panegyric on repeated earth-lives, finishing with these beautiful words: “Is not all Eternity mine?”

One used to meet continually — perhaps it would still be so if one mixed more with people — one used to meet people who valued Lessing highly, but who turned away, so to speak, when they came to The Education of the Human Race. Really it is hard to understand the state of mind of such people. They set the highest estimation on a man of genius, and then reject what he gives to humanity in his most mature age. They say: he has grown old, he is senile, we can no longer follow him. That is all very well; one can reject anything by that method! The fact is, no one has any right to recognise Lessing and not to recognise that this work was conceived by him in the full maturity of his powers. When a man like Lessing utters a profound aphorism such as this on repeated earth-lives, there is, properly speaking, no possibility of ignoring it.

You will readily see that the personality of Lessing is interesting in the highest degree from a karmic point of view, in relation to his own passage through different earth-lives. In the second half of the 18th century the idea of repeated earth-lives was by no means a commonly accepted one. It comes forth in Lessing like a flash of lightning, like a flash of genius. We cannot account for its appearance; it cannot possibly be due to Lessing's education or to any other influence in this particular life. We are compelled to ask how it may be with the previous life of a man in whom at a certain age the idea of repeated earth-lives suddenly emerges — an idea that is foreign to the civilisation of his own day — emerges, too, in such a way that the man himself points to the fact that the idea was once present in very early times. The truth is that he is really bringing forward inner grounds for the idea, grounds of feeling that carry with them an indication of his own earth-life in the distant past. Needless to say, in his ordinary surface-consciousness he has no notion of such connections. The things we do not know are, however, none the less true. If those things alone were true that many people know, then the world would be poor indeed in events and poor indeed in beings.

This is the second case whose karmic connections we are going to study.

There is a third case I should like to open up, because it is one that can teach us a great deal in the matter of karmic relationships. Among the personalities who were near to me as teachers in my youth there was a man to whom I have already referred; today I should like to speak of him again, adding some points that will be significant for our study of karma.

There are, of course, risks in speaking of these matters, but in view of the whole situation of the spiritual life which ought to proceed from Anthroposophy today, I do not think such risks can be avoided.

What I am now going to tell you came to my notice several years after I had last seen the person in question, who was a greatly beloved teacher of mine up to my eighteenth year. But I had always continued to follow his life, and had in truth remained very close to him. And now at a certain moment in my own life I felt constrained to follow his life more closely in a particular respect.

Lord Byron

It was when, in another connection, I began to take a special interest in the life of Lord Byron. And at that same time I got to know some Byron enthusiasts. One of them was the poetess, Marie Eugenie delle Grazie, of whom I shall have much to say in my autobiography. During a certain period of her life she was a Byron enthusiast. Then there was another, a most remarkable personality, a strange mixture of all possible qualities — Eugen Heinrich Schmidt. Many of you who know something about the history of Anthroposophy will be familiar with his name.

Eugen Heinrich Schmidt first became known in Vienna during the eighties, and it was then that I made his acquaintance. He had just written the prize essay that was published by the Hegel Society of Berlin, on the Dialectics of Hegel. Now he came to Vienna, a tall, slight man filled with a burning enthusiasm, which came to expression at times in very forcible gestures. It was none the less genuine for that. And it was just this enthusiasm of Schmidt's that gave me the required “impulse,” as it were. I thought I would like to do him a kindness, and as he had recently written a most enthusiastic and inspired article on Lord Byron, I introduced him to my other Byron enthusiast, Marie Eugenie delle Grazie. And now began a wildly excited discussion on Byron. The two were really quite in agreement, but they carried on a most lively and animated debate. All we others who were sitting round — a whole collection of theological students from the Vienna Catholic Faculty were there, who came every week and with whom I had made friends — all we others were silent. And the two who were thus conversing about Byron were sitting like this. — Here was the table, rather a long one, and at one end sat delle Grazie and at the other end, Eugen Heinrich Schmidt, gesticulating with might and main. All of a sudden his chair slips away from under him, and he falls under the table, his feet stretching right out to delle Grazie. I can tell you, it was a shock for us all! But this shock helped me to hit upon the solution of a particular problem.

Let me tell you of it quite objectively, as a matter of history. All that they had been saying about Byron had made a strong impression upon me, and I began to feel the keenest need to know how the karmic connections might be in the case of Byron. It was, of course, not so easy. But now I suddenly had the following experience. — It was really as if the whole picture of this conversation, with Eugen Heinrich Schmidt being so terribly impolite with his foot! — as if this picture had suddenly drawn my attention to the foot of Lord Byron, who had, as you know, a club-foot. And from that I went on to say to myself: My beloved teacher, too, had a foot like that; this karmic connection must be investigated. I have already given you an example, in the affliction of the knee from which Eduard von Hartmann suffered, of how one's search can be led back through peculiarities of this kind. I was able now to perceive the destiny of the teacher whom I loved and who also had such a foot. And it was remarkable in the highest degree to observe how on the one hand the same peculiarity came to view both in the case of Byron and of my teacher, namely, the club-foot; but how on the other hand the two persons were totally different from one another, Byron, the poet of genius, who in spite of his genius — or perhaps because of it — was an adventurer; and the other a brilliant geometrician such as one seldom finds in teaching posts, a man at whose geometrical imagination and treatment of descriptive geometry one could only stand amazed.

In short, having before me these two men, utterly different in soul, I was able to solve the problem of their karma by reference to this seemingly insignificant physical detail. This detail it was that enabled me to consider the problems of Byron and my geometry teacher in connection with one another, and thereby to find the solution.

I wished to give these examples today and tomorrow we will consider them from the point of view of karma.

Continued in the next issue of SCR.

Thanks to the Rudolf Steiner Archive.