Andrei Belyj's Portrait of Rudolf Steiner
A book about Rudolf Steiner which was written by Boris Bugayev, a distinguished Russian symbolist poet who wrote under the pen name of Andrei Belyi, was published long after the author's death in a German translation, but never has appeared in Russian, the language in which it was written in 1928. Belyi, who was married for a few years to Assya Turgenieff, spent four years in Germany from 1912 to 1916, during this time attending as many lectures of Steiner's as he could. After the Russian Revolution he was able to return to the West on a tempororary visa, but he was required to return home in 1923. Perhaps fortunately for him, he died prematurely in 1934 before the worst of Stalin's purges. Most of the quotations that follow are taken from the account of his first period in Germany, but the personal interview described here belongs to the 1923 period just before he returned home to the Soviet Union. At the time there had been a slight disagreement between Rudolf Steiner and him, which both were anxious to clear up.
His apartment in Berlin . . . was like a command post . . . All the inmates of the house, above and below Steiner's apartment, rushed in constant haste from one floor to another with papers and copies, clattered on typewriters and made telephone calls. My impression: Steiner's home is always open; its effect is like that of a cell in a commune where no one places any value on comfort; every minute is already scheduled, and there are tasks, tasks, tasks. Here somebody is editing; there, admission tickets for a lecture are being distributed; here, books are being handed out . . . Past these involved, restless rooms, and keeping the breathless ladies from their work, there stream - stream and stream all those who have announced themselves for a consultation with Steiner; all of them people who are foreign to this bubbling life. But each comes with a question that is more important to him than anything else in the world. Some of them come for the first time; they arrive as one comes to confession in the greatest state of excitement. And most of them are suprised. Instead of the dignified atmosphere they expected, they are received by loud seething life that may offend their sense of propriety. They ring the doorbell with hearts a-flutter - but the door is open; they are not received by the housemaid; in fact, there are no domestics at all. Instead they are received by someone who just happens to be there . . . They are ushered into a small waiting room where every upholstered piece is occupied by waiting people . . . One door leads into the hallway, the other into the corridor . . . directly in front of one's nose a deep voice resounds behind it every so often.
What, the Doctor is here right behind this wall? One pictures the personal meeting with the "Teacher" within a certain ceremonial framework; but here simplicity rules and an atmosphere of intense everyday work where there is no room for ceremonials, hardly a fitting place for the teacher and the confessing pupil. In one of the back rooms there are probably some open, unpacked suitcases standing about. He returned yesterday from Switzerland and tomorrow he leaves for Hannover - and somebody is readying his luggage for a new journey. Then, suddenly, right in front of your nose, the door of this plain, mystery-filled room is opened, quick as lightening and with a total lack of mystery, and the Doctor appears - a little worn, with a tired pale face; and, the perfect gentleman, ushers a lady out charmingly like a man of the world . . . with his hand raised in greeting from the threshold of the room unless he accompanies her personally into the hallway, where he switches on the light, helps her into her coat and closes the door behind him with his own hands. And then he quickly crosses the corridor leading past the waiting room, pushes his head through the drapes with a smiling 'One moment, please,' and goes on into the dining room, perhaps in order to drink a cup of coffee. His visiting hours last for hours and hours. He gets no opportunity either to eat or drink . . . Sometimes he paces hurriedly through the waiting room even without looking up, with serious, sad, stern eyes, only to return immediately. 'Who is next?' and to withdraw with the next person, sometimes for a very long period, sometimes for five minutes . . . He wears a tight short jacket, a jacket that is no longer new. On occasion he wears slippers; his pince-nez dangle and dance on a little ribbon and sometimes become entangled in the drapes when he rushes through them. And then you find yourself in his reception room; a tiny room, black furniture, books, table, an easy chair, everything very modest . . . When I enter here I immediately lose the ability to perceive anything except him, himself; how he sits down next to me, turning his ear in my direction (he hears less well with one ear)... Simplicity remains simplicity, kindness remains kindness, but in the simple interior of this room there occur such dramas of every kind, dreadful and joyous ones . . . But it is of no avail to talk about it. He was, after all, 'Rudolf Steiner' and he has the capacity to transform every situation into an unforgettable moment . . .
He had, as it were, a therapeutic smile; the countenance blossomed... one felt that one had nothing of the kind to give in return. He had the gift of the smile, the faculty of direct expression from the heart . . . His smile could have had a smothering effect had he not tempered it down when necessary. Many know his sunny smile; we spoke of it. One must speak about it, for not a single photograph of his reflects it . . . Our last meeting went like this: a long line of persons ahead of me [this was in 1923] and behind me; the car was waiting - Steiner was scheduled to return to Dornach from Stuttgart. He greeted me and led me into the room. We sat down by a small desk. Steiner was pale as death; it isn't easy to listen to such large numbers of people one after the other when each comes with his most urgent problem. His answers were always concrete, but they only unfolded their full nature in the course of the years. All this passed over in my mind during our last meeting. He turned his over-tired face with the good-natured eagle nose in my direction with a smile difficult to describe. 'We do not have much time, try to say briefly everything you have on your mind.' This conversation of twenty minutes lives within me as if it had lasted many hours, not because I would have been capable of saying everything but because he replied to everything beyond any word. The answers grew out of the facts of the following years of my life. Only he was capable of replying like this, to recognize the leading thought of months and years behind the spoken words and to discern behind this thought the sum of experiences, and to see my will that was not even clear to myself at that time . . . In his subdued, somewhat deep voice he explained to me in what respect and why I was wrong; and I felt how his atmosphere of warmth and fervor enveloped me too. Everything that I expressed was only three dimensional; but this atmosphere of glowing warmth that purified me from my sins and my pain could not be grasped; this comprehension only developed in the course of years as the best in me.
A friend also described to me this warmth that seemed to emanate directly from the heart. She had arrived altogether unexpectedly, to leave again soon, and for a long time. She had the absolutely urgent desire to be received by Steiner, but the Doctor was overburdened; he couldn't suppress the annoyed exclamation: 'Why do you come during the conference? I don't have a free minute!' And my friend replied in the same vein, 'We cannot come whenever we want to, only when we are able to!' She turned around and walked away. She heard a voice calling her name and looked around. Doctor Steiner was running after her with outstretched arms; he took both her hands, was full of warmth . . .
In his kindness, the demands he made upon himself were unending. "Compassion has its limits," Marie Steiner said to him, but he replied, "No, compassion has no limits." Of love he said: "It is a giving faculty. The more one gives, the more one has to give." Every true love, according to his words, has the quality of infinite extension.
He extended himself.
These extracts are taken from a section of Belyi's book which appeared in Number 23 and 26 of the Journal for Anthroposophy, Spring and Autumn, 1977 (New York, Anthroposophical Society in America). German version was translated from the Russion original by Svetlana Geier (Basel: Zbinden Verlag).
The introduction was taken from the eighth chapter of Stewart Easton's Steiner-biography "Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch," Anthroposophic Press 1980.
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