Volume 1, Lecture 8
Dornach, March 9, 1924
I said yesterday that although it is a somewhat hazardous venture to speak of individual karmic connections, I intended to do so, and that I would take as examples the personalities of whom I gave you certain biographical details. Later on we shall also be able to study the karma of less representative personalities, but I have chosen, in the first place, examples which show clearly how in the karmic course of repeated phases of existence, the evolution of mankind as a whole goes forward. In modern civilisation we speak of history as if it were one continuous stream of happenings: events of the 20th century are related to events of the 19th century, these again to events of the 18th century, and so on. That it is people themselves who carry over things from one epoch of history to another, that the people now living have themselves carried over from earlier epochs what is to be found in the world and in life at the present time — this knowledge alone brings reality to light and reveals the true, inner connections in the historical life of mankind.
If we speak merely of “cause” and “effect,” no real connection comes to light. The connecting threads running through the evolution of humanity are woven as human souls pass over from epochs in the remote past to more recent times, entering again and again into new incarnations on the earth.
These connecting threads can be perceived in all their significance when we study really representative personalities.
In the lecture yesterday I spoke, firstly, of the aestheticist Friedrich Theodor Vischer, the “Swabian Vischer” as he is called, telling you something of his character. I said that I shall choose only examples that I have actually investigated. These investigations are a matter of vision, and are pursued by means of the spiritual faculties of which I have spoken so often and about which you can read in anthroposophical literature. Accordingly the only possible way of describing these things is that of narrative, for in this domain it is only what presents itself to direct vision that can be communicated. The moment we turn from one earthly life to an earlier life in the past, all intellectual reasoning comes to a standstill. Vision alone is the criterion here. A last vestige of intellectual understanding is possible when it is a matter of relating earthly life to the last phase of existence between death and rebirth from which it has directly proceeded — that is, to the life of soul-and-spirit just before the descent to earth. Here, up to a point, an intellectual approach is possible. When, however, it is a matter of showing the relation between one earthly life and a preceding incarnation, this can be done only in the form of narrative, for vision is the sole criterion. And if in contemplating a personality like Friedrich Theodor Vischer one is able to apprehend what is eternal in him — what passes over from one earthly life to another — then such a personality as he was in an earlier incarnation will emerge into one's field of vision, provided always that the right currents can be found in the whole series of earthly lives. Investigation leads back, first of all, of course, to the pre-earthly experiences. But in speaking now I shall give second place to these pre-earthly experiences and indicate how, behind the earthly lives of the three personalities in question, their previous incarnations can be perceived.
In undertaking such investigations it is absolutely essential to get rid of all preconceived notions. If, because of some opinion or view we may hold concerning the present or the last earthly life of a human being, we imagine that it is justifiable to argue intellectually that because of what he is now, he must have been this or that in an earlier incarnation — if we make judgments of this kind, we shall go astray, or at any rate it will be very easy to go astray. To base an intellectual judgment of one incarnation upon another in this way would be just as if we were to go into a house for the first time, look out of the windows facing north, and seeing trees outside were to conclude from these trees what the trees look like from the windows facing south. What must be done is to go to the south windows, see the trees there and look at them with entirely unbiased eyes.
In the same way, all intellectual reasoning must cease when it is a matter of apprehending the Imaginations which correspond to the earlier earthly lives of the personalities in question.
In the case of Friedrich Theodor Vischer, one is led back to the last incarnation of importance — in the intervening time there may have been one or another unimportant or possibly brief earthly life, but for the moment that is of no consequence — one is led back to the incarnation in which the karma of his present life was prepared — I mean “present” in the wider sense, for as you know, Vischer died at the end of the eighties of the 19th century. The incarnation in which the karma of his latest earthly life was prepared lies somewhere about the 8th century A.D. We see him among the Moorish-Arabian peoples who crossed over at this time from Africa to Sicily and there came into conflict with the peoples who were making their way down to Sicily from the north.
The essential point is that in this previous incarnation of importance, the individuality of whom I am speaking had received a thoroughly Arabian education, Arabian in every detail, containing all the artistic, perhaps also the inartistic elements in Arabism; it was characterised, too, by the vital energy with which in those days Arabism forced its way to Europe; and, above all, it brought this individuality into close human relationship with a large number of other people belonging to the same race.
This individuality, who afterward lived in the 19th century as Friedrich Theodor Vischer, tried in the 8th century to establish close comradeship with many people belonging to the same Arabian stock and the same Arabian culture, who had already made strong contacts with Europe, were endeavouring to establish themselves in Sicily, and had to face heavy fighting; or rather it was really more the Europeans who had to face the fighting. The individuality we are considering took a full share in these conflicts. One may say that he was a person of genius — in the sense in which genius was conceived in those times. This individuality then, is to be found in the 8th century A.D.
Then he passes through the gate of death into the life between death and rebirth, during which there is naturally intimate fellowship with the souls with whom one has been together on earth. Here, in the spiritual world, were the souls with whom this individuality had tried, as I have just told you, to establish a close relationship.
Now between these human beings — in language that has been coined for earthly relationships it is difficult to find expressions for describing supersensible conditions — between the human souls with whom this individuality was now together, after he and they had passed through the gate of death, there existed through all the following centuries, right into the 19th century, a spirit-bond, a spiritual tie.
You will have understood from the lecture I gave here a week ago that what takes place on earth is lived through in advance by the Beings of the highest Hierarchies, by the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones, and that a human being who is passing through the life between death and a new birth looks down to a heaven of soul and spirit as we look up to the heavens. There, in that heaven of soul and spirit, the Seraphim, Cherubim and Thrones live through what subsequently becomes our destiny, what is brought to realisation as our destiny when we descend again to the earth.
Now, in the conditions obtaining in the spiritual world, it was foreseen by the souls belonging to the community into which the individuality we are studying had been drawn, that through the coming centuries it would be their destiny to preserve a line of progress that would be quite uninfluenced by Christianity. What I am now saying will seem very strange, for the idea often prevails that the ordering of the world is as simple as we humans like to have it in everything we arrange ourselves. But the ordering of the world is by no means so simple. While on the one hand the mightiest of all impulses poured from the Mystery of Golgotha into the whole of Earth evolution, on the other hand it was necessary that what had been contained in earthly evolution before the Mystery of Golgotha should not be allowed at once to perish; it was necessary that what was, I will not say “anti-Christian” but “non-Christian,” should be allowed to stream on through the centuries.
And the task of sustaining this stream of culture for Europe — of enabling a phase of culture not yet Christian to continue on into the Christian centuries — fell to a number of individuals who were born into Arabism in the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. Arabism was not, of course, directly Christian, but neither had it remained as backward as the old heathen religions. In a certain direction it had made steady progress through the centuries. A number of souls born into this stream were to carry forward in the spiritual world, untouched by the conditions prevailing on earth, that which the spirit of man, separated from Christianity, can know, feel and experience. They were to encounter Christianity only later, in later epochs of earthly evolution. And it is in truth an experience of shattering grandeur, full of deep significance, to see how a large community lived on in the spiritual world removed from the development of Christianity, until in the 19th century the majority of these souls came down to incarnation on earth. As you may suppose, they were very different individualities, with every variety of talent and disposition.
Friedrich Theodor Vischer was one of the first souls from this community to descend in the 19th century. [Vischer was born in 1807 and died in 1887] And he was as remote as can be from any possibility of direct experience of Christianity.
On the other hand, while still in his pre-earthly existence, he was able to receive impulses from those leading spirits who had been more or less near to Christianity but whose views of the world and conceptual life had developed in a direction not primarily and intrinsically Christian.
For a soul such as the one we now have in mind, the incarnation in the 7th/8th century was an especially good preparation — (it is of course paradoxical to speak of these things as one speaks of earthly affairs, but as I said, I intend to make the venture) — for coming together in the spiritual world with souls like that of Spinoza and others of a similar type, and with a large number of bearers of non-Christian culture, particularly, too, of Cabbalistic culture, who died during those centuries and came up into the spiritual world.
Thus prepared, this particular soul came into earthly existence in the 19th century, rather earlier than the others. All the others, for the reason that they descended somewhat later, became bearers of the natural-scientific outlook prevailing in the second half of the 19th century. For in point of fact the secret of the peculiar evolution of natural-scientific thinking in the second half of the 19th century is that well-nigh all the bearers of this stream at that time had been Arabians in their previous incarnations of importance; they were companions of the individuality who then came down as Friedrich Theodor Vischer. But Vischer came down earlier than they — it was like a premature birth in the sense of soul-and-spirit.
This, moreover, was grounded deeply in his karma, owing to his association, before his descent to earthly life, with the souls with whom Hegel was connected. With these souls, too, Friedrich Theodor Vischer had been associated in the spiritual world. This expressed itself in a strong personal bent for what Hegelianism became on earth, and protected him from growing into a purely materialistic-mechanistic conception of the world. If he had been born somewhat later, as were his companions in the spiritual life, he too, as an aestheticist, would in the natural course of things have headed straight for materialism. He was protected from this by his experiences in pre-earthly life and by his earlier descent to earth. But he could not adhere permanently to this Hegelian influence. And that is why he came to write the destructive critique of his own aesthetics — because here was something that was not quite in the line of his karma but was the result of a deflection of his karma. It would have been entirely in line with his karma to have been born at the same time as people who were steeped in the natural-scientific thinking of the second half of the 19th century, people who had been his associates in the earlier incarnation, belonging, as he did, to Arabism. His karma would have led him naturally to the same orientation of thinking.
The strange fact is that through a deflection of karma — which will be adjusted in later earthly lives — Friedrich Theodor Vischer was torn away from the straightforward line of his karma. This deflection was determined by his pre-earthly existence, not by his earthly karma. But when he reached a certain age he could no longer sustain it; he was impelled to enter right into his karma. And so he rejects his five-volume work on aesthetics and succumbs to the temptation of approaching the subject in the way of which the natural scientists would approve. In his first work on aesthetics he looks down from above, starting from principles and then passing to sense-phenomena. This he now criticises root and branch. He wants now to build from below upwards, starting from material facts and gradually rising to principles. And we witness a tremendous struggle: Vischer working at the destruction of his own aesthetics! We see how karma had been deflected and how he is hurled back into it, led to those whose companion he had been in a previous earthly life.
It is shattering in its significance to see how Vischer never really makes progress with this second work on aesthetics, how a kind of chaos seems to creep into the whole of his spiritual life. I told you yesterday about his curiously philistine attitude even towards Goethe's Faust. It is all due to the fact that he feels unsure of himself and is striving to get back to his old companions. But we must remember how strongly the unconscious works in karma. At a higher stage, of course, it becomes conscious. We must also remember how deeply certain philistine scientists hated Goethe's Faust! I told you yesterday what du Bois-Reymond said on the subject: that it would have been much more sensible of Goethe to let Faust make some real discovery rather than call up spirits, evoke the Earth-Spirit, associate with Mephistopheles or seduce young girls and not marry them afterwards. du Bois-Reymond regards all this as tomfoolery. According to him, Goethe should have presented a hero who invents an electrical machine or an air pump! Then there would have been social propriety about it all and the hero would have become Mayor of Magdeburg. Above all, there ought to have been no Gretchen-tragedy, and instead of the Prison Scene a correct and proper civic wedding! Well ... it is a point of view that is not without justification; but it was certainly not what Goethe had in mind!
Friedrich Theodor Vischer, as I said, was not completely sure of himself after his karma had been deflected in this way. But something was always pulling him back, and unconsciously, although he was a really free spirit, he was always delighted when he heard the philistines running down Goethe's Faust. He was witty, of course, and clever, and it was like snowballing going on between them. It is precisely when one observes things about a human being that are more a matter of vision, that one lights upon the Imaginations which lead behind the scenes of material existence.
Truly it is a grand spectacle! There, on the one side, stand the philistines of the first order, like du Bois-Reymond and the others, saying that Goethe ought to have represented Faust as Mayor of Magdeburg, inventing the electrical machine and the air-pump, and marrying Gretchen — verily these are philistines of the first order! Something is at work in the subconscious, because a karmic connection is in operation here. All these men had been Moors, associated with Vischer in Arabism. He was attracted by it all, he felt related to it ... and yet in another respect he was not. In the intervening time he had come into contact with other streams which had brought about a deflection of his karma. And now when the philistines of the first order threw their snowballs, he threw back his, saying that someone ought to write a thesis on a subject like the relation of Frau Christine von Goethe's chilblains to the symbolic-allegorical figures in the second part of Faust! That, you will agree, is philistinism with a touch of real wit in it, it is philistinism of the second order!
To assess these things at their true value is a matter of vision, not of merely intellectual apprehension.
In what I have told you of Vischer, my aim, to begin with, was to give you some indication — I shall return to these things again — of how the one earthly life can be understood from foregoing earthly lives.
There was something extraordinarily significant about the figure of Vischer going about in Stuttgart. I mentioned to you yesterday the wonderful blue eyes, the reddish-brown beard, the arms held out in the way I described. The Imagination of him, however, did not tally with the physical stature of the Swabian Vischer as he went about Stuttgart, for even to occult sight he did not look like a reincarnated Arabian. Again and again I left the matter alone, because one becomes — I cannot say “sceptical” in regard to one's visions, but one does become distrustful, one wants to have definite confirmation. Again and again I let the matter drop, until the riddle was solved in the following way.
In the 7th/8th century — that was also a male incarnation — this individuality regarded the people from the North, especially those he encountered in Sicily, as his ideal. In those days, as you may imagine, it was very easy to be carried away by people one greatly admired. And so he “caught” as it were, his bodily characteristics in the later incarnation from those against whom he had once waged war. Here is the solution of the riddle in regard to his physical stature.
In the last lecture we considered a second personality, namely, Franz Schubert, in connection with his friend Spaun, and with his own volcanic nature which on rare occasions, such as the one I related to you, could flare up in rage, making him into a thorough brawler; on the other hand he was extraordinarily tender and sensitive; he was like a sleep-walker, writing down his lovely melodies directly after waking in the morning. It was extremely difficult to get a picture of this personality, but the connection with Spaun gave the clue. For in the case of Schubert himself, when one looks back in the occult field and tries to find something definite, one has the feeling that he gives one the slip — if I may use this colloquialism. It is not easy to go back to his former incarnation; he eludes one all the time.
There is in truth something of a contrast here with the destiny of Schubert's works after his death. At the time of Schubert's death his compositions were very little known; only a few people had heard of him. After the lapse of some years, however, he became more and more renowned, until in the seventies and eighties of last century, fresh works of his were published every year. It was very interesting: suddenly, long after his death, Schubert turned out to be a most prolific composer. New works of his were constantly appearing.
When, however, we look back spiritually from Schubert's life in the 19th century into his earlier earthly life, the tracks disappear; it is not easy to find him.
On the other hand it is comparatively easy to find the tracks in the case of Baron von Spaun. And this line also led back to the 8th or 9th century A.D., to Spain. He was a Prince of Castile who had a reputation for being extraordinarily wise. He busied himself with astrology and with astronomy in the form current in those days, amending and drawing up astronomical tables. At a certain time in his life this Prince was forced to flee from his home, and he found refuge among those who were actually the bitterest enemies of the Castilian population at that time, namely the Moors.
He was obliged to stay here for a considerable time, and he formed a relationship of great tenderness and intimacy with a Moorish personality in whom the individuality of the later Franz Schubert was then incarnated. And this Prince of Castile would certainly have met with his end had it not been for the tender-spirited personality among the Moors who cared for him with every kindness. His earthly life was thus safeguarded for many years, to the great joy of them both.
What I am now relating to you is utterly remote from intellectual deduction in any shape or form. I have indicated the roundabout way which the research had to take. But along this roundabout way one is led to the fact that in Franz Schubert we have a reincarnated Moorish personality, one who had little opportunity of cultivating musical talent in his life among the Moors, but who, on the other hand, steeped himself with impassioned longing in whatever was to be found in the way of art and, I will not say of subtle “thinking” but rather of subtle “reasoning,” which in the train of Arabic culture had come from Asia, passed across Africa and finally reached Spain.
During that incarnation this personality developed the gentle, unassuming and yet vital flexibility of soul which quickened to life the poetic, dreamlike phantasy in the later incarnation as Franz Schubert. On the other hand this personality was obliged to take part in the fierce conflicts now again taking place between the Moors and the non-Moorish inhabitants of Castile, Aragon, and so forth. And this accounted for the suppressed emotion which like a pent-up stream burst forth — but only in unusual circumstances — during the Schubert-existence.
It seems to me that just as the earlier life of Friedrich Theodor Vischer can be understood only when one can view it against the background of Arabism, so the essence of Schubert's music, especially the undertone of many of his songs, can be discerned only when one perceives (I have not constructed anything, it arises from the facts themselves) that there is something spiritual in this music, something Asiatic which was shone upon for a time by the desert sun, took on greater definition in Europe, was carried through the spiritual world between death and rebirth and as something essentially human, removed from all the artificialities of society, came to birth again in a penniless schoolteacher.
The third personality of whom I spoke yesterday was Eugen Dühring. [Born 1833, died 1901.] I shall give brief indications only, for we can always return to these subjects again. Eugen Dühring was of particular interest to me because as a young man I was deeply engrossed in the study of his writings. I was fascinated by his works on physics and mathematics, especially by the treatise Neue Grundmittel und Erfindungen Zur Analysis, Algebra, Funktionsrechnung, and by his treatment of the law of corresponding boiling points. I was irritated to distraction by a book such as Sache, Leben und Feinde which is a sort of autobiography. There is something terribly self-complacent about it, self-complacent to the point of genius; not to mention traits which came out in utterly malicious pamphlets such as Die Ueberschätzung Lessings und dessen Anwaltschaft für die Juden. On the other hand I could admire Dühring's History of Mechanics as long as the lion was not in evidence, but only the lion's claws. There was, however, one unpleasant impression: for a history of mechanics, too much is said about all the gossip associated with Frau Helmholtz; abuse is hurled at Hermann Helmholtz, but the emphasis is upon the gossip that went on in the circle around Frau Helmholtz. Well ... such things do happen; gossip goes on in all kinds of circles! ... As I have said, I experienced every shade of feeling in regard to Dühring and his writings: respect, deep appreciation, criticism, irritation. And you will understand the desire to see how these traits had developed against the background of at any rate the immediately preceding earthly life.
But here again it was not easy, and at first — I have no wish to keep back these things — at first, the pictures were deceptive. Deceptive pictures arise very easily, because everything often depends upon starting from what is actually the most significant feature in some particular life of a human being in order to be led back along the right path. And in the case of Dühring it was a long time before I succeeded in finding any really significant feature.
The procedure I adopted was as follows. — I pictured to myself everything about him that appealed to me most, namely his materialistic-mechanistic conception of the world — materialistic, but yet, in a certain respect, spiritual, intellectually spiritual. I turned over in my mind how it all has to do with a finite world of space, a finite world of time; I constructed Dühring's whole conception of the world again for myself. That is not difficult. But when one has done it and looks back to earlier incarnations, numbers and numbers come into view and again there is delusion. One finds nothing essential; countless incarnations appear, but there cannot, of course, possibly have been so many: they are nothing but reflections of the present incarnation. It is just as if you were to have mirrors in a room, one here and another there: you would see numberless reflections. Then I went on to ponder with all intensity: What is Dühring's world-conception in reality, expressed in terms of clear thought? For the time being I left aside all the spiteful criticism, the abuse and other such non-essentials. I left all that aside and concentrated upon what is really grand and impressive in a world-conception which, as such, has always been antipathetic to me, but which, on account of the way in which Dühring presented it, attracted me. I pictured all this vividly to myself and then tried to get a clear grasp of the reality. From a certain age onwards he was totally blind. A blind man does not see the world, and his mental image of it is quite different from that of a man with sight. In point of fact, ordinary materialists, ordinary mechanistic thinkers, are on a different level altogether from Dühring. In comparison with them, Dühring has genius. All these men who have evolved conceptions of the world, Vogt, Büchner, Moleschott, Spiller, Wiessner and the rest — “twelve to the dozen” as the saying goes — with them it is a very different matter. The way in which Dühring builds up his world-conception is utterly different. We can perceive, too, that the urge to give a certain shape to this view of the world was in him even before he became blind, and it really tallied with the fundamental trend of his mind only when he had lost his sight and space was dark around him. For the principles according to which Dühring builds up his world-conception belong essentially to dark space. It is a fallacy to imagine that this was the work of a man with sight.
But just think of it. In Dühring this is intrinsic truth. Other people — twelve dozen of them if you like — have evolved such conceptions of the world, but with Dühring there is a difference: with Dühring it is true. The others have sight and construct pictures of the world as if they were blind; Dühring is blind and evolves his world-conception as one who is blind. And that is an astonishing thing! If one realises what it means, if one observes this man and knows: here is someone who in his soul-evolution was like a blind man, whose outlook becomes mechanistic because of his blindness — then one finds him again. Two incarnations come into consideration here. We find him associated with the movement in the Eastern Church, about the 8th or 9th century A.D., which at one period was iconoclastic, bent upon the destruction of all images, and then, later on, reinstated them. In Constantinople, particularly, this conflict developed between religion employing pictures and images, and religion in which none were permitted. And there we find the individuality who was born in a later age as Eugen Dühring battling ardently, good fighter as he was, for a cultural life devoid of pictures and images. Here, manifesting in purely physical conflict, one can see all that later comes to expression in words.
One point was extraordinarily interesting to me. A strange word occurs in the second volume of the work on Julius Robert Mayer. One actually sees the whole thing! In the earlier incarnation, when Dühring was engaged in destroying images, he had a special way of brandishing his scimitar, the hooked scimitar which already then was being tried out and developed. In the book on Mayer — these things, you know, often turn on pictorial details — I found a word that seemed to ring in unison with the scimitar. There is a chapter in this book entitled Schlichologisches (“trick-ology”). “Trickology” in German University life and so forth — getting in from the side by a cunning manoeuvre.
Dühring coins the word “Schlichologisches,” as well as the amusing expression “Intellectuaille,” connected with canaille. He invents all kinds of words. As I said, details that seem quite unimportant may be very revealing. And paradoxical as it may appear, one does not really arrive at the connecting links between different earthly lives unless one has an eye and a feeling for symptoms of this kind. Anyone who cannot discern a man's character from the way he walks, how he steps on the soles of his feet, will not easily make progress in such matters as those dealt with in the present lectures. One must be able to see the very swing of the scimitar transferred into words that were coined by this individuality in his subsequent life.
Dühring was always heaping abuse on the savants — “men of unlearning,” as he calls them. He said he would be thankful if there were no more names to remind him of ancient erudition. He wants no logic, he wants anti-logic; no Sophia, but anti-Sophia; no science, but anti-science. He says explicitly that he would like best of all to make everything “anti.” Now in the incarnation before the one when he was a rabid iconoclast, this man who so fiercely abused everything in the way of erudition had belonged to the School of the Greek Stoics, was himself a Stoic philosopher. In days of antiquity Dühring was himself one of the kind of men he now abused so vehemently; in the third incarnation back he was a professed philosopher, a Stoic philosopher at that, therefore one who in a certain sense withdrew from earthly life.
What dawned upon me first of all was that very many of Dühring's thoughts, or rather the forms in which his thoughts are expressed, are to be found in the Stoics! The matter is not, of course, as simple as all that. Indeed a whole course of lectures might be given on the forms of thought in Dühring and in the Stoics.
Thus we are led back, first, to the age of iconoclasm in the east of Europe about the 9th century A.D., when Dühring was a rabid iconoclast; then to the 3rd century B.C., the period of Stoic philosophy in ancient Greece.
And now again it is astounding: this Stoic, who makes no demands upon life, who holds back from everything that is not absolutely essential to life, renounces earthly sight in the second of the subsequent incarnations. And in this he brings truth to expression, for he illustrates in a magnificent way the blindness of the modern conception of the world.
Whatever may be one's attitude to Dühring's conception of the world, the moving tragedy of it is that Dühring personifies what the world-conception prevailing in the 19th century truly is; he expresses it through his very make-up as a man. The Stoic, who would not face the world as it is, becomes blind; the iconoclast, the destroyer of images, who will not tolerate imagery, makes the history of literature and poetry into what it became in Dühring's two volumes on Great Men of Letters, where not only are Goethe and Schiller put aside but where at most a man like Bürger plays any definite rôle. Here we have the truth of what is presented elsewhere in a false light. For people assert that the mechanistic thought, the materialism of the second half of the 19th century, sees. There lies the untruth, for materialism does not see; materialism is blind. And Dühring presents it as it truly is.
And so a representative personality, viewed in the right light, is an illustration of world-historic karma, the karma of civilisation as represented by its conception of the world in the second half of the 19th century.
In the next lecture we will speak further of these matters.