CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH
In the last chapter of Rudolf Steiner’s fundamental work on social questions, The Threefold Commonwealth, or The Threefold Social Order, first published in 1919, there appears a short passage devoted to the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which came to an end in 1918: ”The fact that many nationalities went to compose the fabric of her state might well seem to have made it Austria-Hungary’s mission in the world’s history to lead the way in evolving a healthy form of social order. The mission was not recognized; and this sin against the spirit of the world’s historic life drove Austria-Hungary into war.”
Such a remark as this was undoubtedly based on Steiner’s own experiences as a boy and young man. The Austrian Empire was still a powerful state when he was born in 1861, but its foundations were beginning to crumble, even though Vienna, its capital, was still comparable only with Paris on the European continent as a center of culture. In 1849 the Habsburg rulers of the Empire had only with great difficulty and with the aid of the Russian Tsar been able to suppress an unexpected rebellion by their Hungarian subjects, while the numerous other minorities in the Empire were no less restive, and had taken the opportunity of the Hungarian rebellion to voice their own demands. All the minorities resented the dominance of the German-speaking Austrians, who after 1849 had been able to hold the Empire together only by force, accompanied by a policy of enforced ”Germanization.”
The Empire was scarcely more secure in the West. Throughout the nineteenth century Prussia had been pursuing a policy of trying to unify the numerous princedoms and kingdoms of Germany into an effective economic union, with the evident hope of some day unifying them politically also. The south German kingdoms of Bavaria and Württemberg regarded Austria as their natural ally, and resisted the blandishments of the Prussians, but they proved no match for Otto Von Bismarck’s unscrupulous policies once he had been appointed chancellor the year after Steiner’s birth. In 1866 he and his master William I succeeded in provoking Austria into declaring war on Prussia, which resulted in a calamitous defeat for the aging Empire. Thereafter Austria’s only option was to try to strengthen her ties with her eastern provinces—a policy that required her to take Hungary into partnership as co-ruler of the largely Slavic Empire. Thus in 1861 began the so-called Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary, which survived until 1918.
Rudolf Steiner was born at Kraljevec, on the border between Hungary and Croatia, the most westernized of the eastern Slavic provinces. His birthplace is now in Yugoslavia. Both his parents, however, came from Lower Austria, and were German speaking, belonging therefore to the ruling power in the area. His father, who had started his career as a gamekeeper in private employment, had learned telegraphy and thus been able to obtain employment with the Austrian Southern Railway. A year after Rudolf’s birth he was transferred to Moedling, not far from Vienna, but a few months later he received a real promotion and was transferred to Pottschach in Lower Austria as stationmaster, and thereafter he had full charge of a series of stations on the railway. Even so the job was scarcely an exalted one, and Steiner’s autobiography makes it clear that money was in short supply in the family, which included a brother and sister in addition to Rudolf. For the boy the natural beauty of his surroundings, especially at Pottschach, clearly compensated for the lack of money, to which he alludes only in passing, as when he refers to the pleasure experienced by the children when they could gather wild berries to add to the otherwise monotonous evening meal.
In 1868, a year after the establishment of the Dual Monarchy, Johann Steiner became stationmaster at Neudörfl, over the border in Hungary, and though German had been the language in general use in this part of the Empire, as it was in all the regions bordering Lower Austria, an attempt was now made by Hungarian patriots to revive the old Magyar language. Hungarian literature and history could now be taught in the Hungarian part of the Empire, with the result that German literature and history were slighted. Steiner in his autobiography speaks of a Hungarian patriot-priest who gave religious instruction in the village school at Neudörfl that he attended, and his favorite teacher was another such patriot. Fortunately for the young Rudolf Neudörfl was too small to support a resident medical doctor, and an Austrian doctor from Wiener-Neustadt, a much larger town the other side of the border in Austria, came over regularly to take care of the medical needs of the people of Neudörfl. This doctor was a lover of German literature and found a willing listener in Rudolf Steiner, who caught his enthusiasm. So when from 1872 onwards it was necessary for him to cross the border every day to go to his secondary school in Wiener-Neustadt, he was well prepared to continue his studies in German language and literature in his new school.
Thus Steiner as a boy experienced in his own person not only the division between east and west, but more particularly the clash of cultures in the Austro-Hungarian empire. In Neudörfl, as the son of Austrians, he was regarded as a foreigner who had, as he tells us, no ”right” to any nuts that were harvested from the village nut trees until all the local children had taken their shares. If he had attended the Neudörfl school before the establishment of the Dual Monarchy in 1867 the political discussions in which his father loved to participate might well have been acrimonious since the Hungarians, especially after the suppression of their rebellion in 1849, regarded themselves as oppressed by the Austrians and resented being forced to speak a language they detested.
The ”healthy social order” to which Rudolf Steiner referred in 1919 would have permitted the small national entities of Europe to be self-governing in certain respects as well as enjoying a free cultural life, without becoming separate national states as they did after the First World War. If the Austrians had granted all the minorities in their country the right to use their native languages and given them a measure of self-government, instead of merely taking the single Hungarian minority into partnership, they might well have been able to keep the country together as a free union, with all the economic and other advantages accruing to a multinational state. This state might have survived intact even after losing the war. This is clearly what the mature Rudolf Steiner had in mind when he made his remark quoted at the beginning of this chapter. As it was, the Slavic minorities looked to their fellow Slavs beyond the imperial borders for support, both independent Serbia and the huge Russian empire, and it was a clash of nationalities on the eastern and south-eastern fringes of Austria-Hungary that led to the murder of the Austrian archduke Francis Ferdinand in June, 1914, an event which precipitated the war.
Although Steiner’s autobiography does not emphasize the matter, his birth and upbringing in the middle of these clashes of nationality undoubtedly contributed to the total absence of any chauvinism in his make up, while the movement he founded is world wide and cosmopolitan, rather than Germanic. Steiner himself always spoke German with a slight Austrian intonation, and all his life he possessed to a marked degree certain typical Austrian traits, especially a general good nature and sociability as well as a characteristic Austrian sense of humor. But once his higher education had been completed in Vienna he never again lived in Austria. In early manhood and until the war he lectured extensively in every Western European country, and much of the theosophical and anthroposophical work was centered in three of the German capital cities, Berlin, the capital of Prussia, Munich, capital of Bavaria, and Stuttgart, capital of Württemberg. During the war he established himself in Switzerland, at Dornach, near Basel, where the Goetheanum was built. Here he was only a few miles from both the French and German frontiers, and for much of the war the sounds of battle could be heard, mingling with the sounds of hammering, as the first Goetheanum was taking shape. The building itself was constructed by anthroposophists from seventeen different countries.
Thus by his destiny Steiner was, on the one side, a ”world- man,” or at least an ”all-European” man, and on the other side he was also what we call a ”self-made” man in that he was born into a family that lived on a subsistence level and could afford no special advantages of any kind for him. His parents helped him as best they could, as, for example, when Johann Steiner moved to the neighborhood of Vienna and accepted an inferior job in less attractive surroundings in order to provide his son with a home when Rudolf first moved to Vienna to study at the age of eighteen. Once he was there he supported himself entirely by his own efforts, and all his later positions he secured as the result of his own work.
A few significant remarks may be cited from his autobiography that throw light on his psychological and spiritual development and how he was prepared by destiny for the life he was eventually to lead and the mission he was to undertake.
In the first school to which he was sent, in the village of Pottschach, the teacher had little interest in his job, and was able to excite no interest in his pupils. As a result Johann Steiner, after a sharp quarrel with the man, took over his son’s education himself, trying to teach him how to read and write. Young Rudolf, however, was not especially interested in learning these arts, but preferred to amuse himself in playing with the writing sand, which at that time was used for drying the ink. He liked also to watch the letters being formed, and how the feather pens were prepared for writing. In short, at that early age he learned by imitation and experimentation, spurred on by his interest in the mechanics of human activity—how the railway station was managed, how the local flour mill operated, and the like. One day when the train pulled into the station with one of its cars on fire, he wanted to know how and why this had happened, and, as usual with children, he received no answers that satisfied him. In such respects Steiner followed the usual pattern of childhood, gradually becoming aware of the physical world and asking questions about it. But, not being able to learn to read and write by simple imitation, Rudolf did not take easily to reading and writing, and if in fact he did learn to read well at a fairly early age this was because he was vitally interested in the content of the books that fell into his hands, whereas according to him his ability to write was a by-product of his interest in the sand used to dry it. Only much later, and with great difficulty, did he learn to spell correctly, and he detested grammar. Not for many years was he able to write without making many mistakes in spelling.
Such details would be of little interest were it not for the fact that from very early childhood he was clairvoyant. He tells us, indeed, that the spiritual worlds were fully open to him as far back as he could remember. But for a long time he was unaware that they were not equally perceived by others who lacked his faculties, and it was many years before he became fully convinced of his uniqueness in this respect—unique, that is, among his friends and playmates. He was never at any time afraid of anything he perceived through his clairvoyance, taking it entirely for granted. What he perceived was, if anything, more real to him than anything he saw in the material world. For example, when he was eight years old a woman appeared to him as he was sitting in a waiting room. Indeed he saw her open the door and come toward him, and heard her ask him ”to do everything he could for her now and later.” At the same time he was well aware that she was not present in her earthly body. By this time he had learned not to speak to anyone about such experiences. But he was neither surprised nor frightened when he heard later that a near relative of his parents had committed suicide on the day the woman had appeared to him.
Such experiences are indeed not at all uncommon with children and, as a rule, such early clairvoyance tends to disappear from puberty onward. For example, I well remember meeting a charming child of eleven, daughter of a Dutch father and a partly Mexican-Indian mother, almost all of whose female relatives were in some degree clairvoyant, and several were mediums. Little Alexandrina used to prattle on about the dead, what they were doing, where they were, when she had seen them before, all in the most natural manner in the world. Part of what she said could be confirmed, and the perfectly correct facts that she gave she could not have learned in any other way. The young Rudolf was also very well aware of the nature spirits with whom, indeed, he held converse, again not unlike many other children, especially in such unspoiled areas as those in which he passed his childhood. As a rule children tend to keep quiet about such experiences, and often forget them, or even try to explain them away in later life, supposing them to have been figments of their imagination. Steiner, however, continued to be fully aware of such beings all his life, but could find no one who shared his experiences, as far as he knew, until at the age of eighteen he became acquainted with a part-time herb gatherer named Felix Koguski, who used to take the same train to Vienna, and with whom he became friends. In his autobiography Steiner speaks of Felix (who formed the basis for one of the characters in his Mystery Dramas under the name of Felix Balde) as a man full of devotion but without schooling, who owned and had read a number of mystical books which did not satisfy him, trying, as he was, to ”find in others what he already knew for himself.” Steiner could not at first understand what Felix said, but later grew to appreciate him, recognizing that he had an instinctive knowledge of the spiritual worlds such as had been common in earlier ages. This contact was of the greatest importance to the young university student because it was ”possible to talk about the spiritual world as with one who had his own experience of this world.” He commented in his autobiography that ”if anyone possesses the perception of the spiritual world in himself very deep glimpses can be obtained into this world through someone else who has a firm footing in it.”1
The kind of instinctive clairvoyance possessed by Felix, and by Steiner himself from early childhood, could not possibly have sufficed for the kind of spiritual work to which Steiner was to devote his life, which in effect consisted of translating his spiritual vision into a conceptual form capable of being transmitted to others in thoughts and images. For this his spiritual vision had to be developed through the appropriate methods, which he was to describe later in his basic books and elaborate in numerous lectures. Steiner also felt it necessary to come to terms with the scientific conceptions of his age, in this respect differing from either such predecessors as Jakob Boehme, or from medieval and modern mystics as well as from Oriental sages. Steiner wished, indeed, to reconcile his perceptions of the spiritual worlds with modern scientific notions. This forced him to reject some of the latter, for example, Darwinism as it had been taught by Darwin and his orthodox followers. Even the work of Ernst Haeckel, the most distinguished exponent of the theory of evolution at the turn of the century, had to be rejected, at least in its theoretical part. Nevertheless Steiner did not deny the facts of evolution; but the conclusions then being drawn from the facts were in direct contradiction with his own vision of the spiritual origin of man. These thoughts simmered in Steiner’s mind in the 1870’s and 1880’s as he attended his scientific courses in school and university, but even when he was studying at Vienna he did not as yet feel justified in putting forward, even to himself, the criticisms he could have formulated against the prevalent currents of thought. This criticism ”had to be suppressed within me to await a time when more comprehensive sources and ways of knowledge would give me greater assurance.”2
These words were, of course, written by Rudolf Steiner very much later in his life, but there is no reason to doubt that they express very clearly his peculiar state of mind as he was nearing the end of his formal education, when he had been very thoroughly exposed to all the currents of thought of his age, both in science and philosophy. If we think these preoccupations extraordinary for a young man in his early twenties, or not as yet even twenty, we should perhaps try to imagine the special difficulties he had always encountered in his mental life, the contrast between what he knew from his spiritual vision, and what he was taught and was expected to learn—how, for example, he could perceive the nature spirits, but at the same time could not always be certain of just what his ordinary senses were telling him. If he had been simply a dreamy boy, nothing of this would have mattered. He could have contentedly enjoyed his dreams. But from the beginning his thoughts were always impelling him to understand, to explain to himself, to reconcile his vision and his learning, while at the same time until he met Felix he never received any confirmation that anyone else in the world had the same kind of vision as himself.
Such experiences naturally accentuated his loneliness since it was impossible for him to share this part of his life with his friends. Indeed when he made the attempt to talk about them he was invariably met with a total failure to understand what he was saying. However, in all other respects he did share the life of his companions, and, as we have noted, he was throughout his life a man of great sociability. He was also fortunate in having a considerable number of teachers who were, in their different ways, very helpful to him; and some of the subjects he studied filled him with joy because it became clear from these studies that a non-material world did in fact exist, even though it is not usually recognized as such. This world is that of mathematics, which deals with something that is inaccessible to the senses, and the young Steiner first entered this world when his assistant teacher in his elementary school at Neudörfl allowed him to borrow a book on geometry, into which, as he tells us, he ”plunged with enthusiasm. For weeks at a time my mind was filled with the coincidence, the similarity, of triangles, squares, polygons. I racked my brain over the question: Where do parallel lines actually meet? The theorem of Pythagoras fascinated me. That one can live within the mind in the shaping of forms perceived only within oneself, entirely without impression upon the external senses, became for me the deepest satisfaction. I found in this a solace for the unhappiness which my unanswered questions had caused me. To be able to lay hold upon something in the spirit alone brought me an inner joy. I am sure that I learned through geometry to know happiness for the first time.”3
In relation to this early experience Steiner tells us in his autobiography that such thoughts lived ”more or less unconsciously” within him during his childhood, but took on a definite and fully conscious form when he was about nineteen. He felt that one ”must carry knowledge of the spiritual world within oneself after the manner of geometry.” The next paragraph is worth quoting in full for the light it throws on his particular way of perceiving and thinking, as well as on the tremendous struggle that went on unceasingly throughout his life, the struggle to bring together his spiritual vision and his ordinary perception through the senses, how to reconcile them and how to explain them to others.
”For the reality,” he writes, ”of the spiritual world was to me as certain as that of the physical. I felt the need, however, for a justification of this assumption. I wished to be able to say to myself that the experience of the spiritual world is just as little an illusion as is that of the physical world. With regard to geometry, I said to myself: ‘Here one is permitted to know something which the mind alone through its own power experiences.’ In this feeling I found the justification for speaking of the spiritual world that I experienced in the same way that I could speak of the physical. And I did speak of it in this way. I had two conceptions which were, naturally, undefined, but which played a great role in my mental life even before my eighth year. I distinguished things and beings which ‘are seen’ and those which are ‘not seen’.”. . .”But it is just because I know how little I have later followed my personal inclination in the description of a spiritual world—having, on the contrary, followed only the inner necessity of the matter—that I myself can look back quite objectively upon the childlike, awkward way in which I confirmed for myself, by means of geometry, the feeling that I must speak of a world ‘which is not seen.’ Only, I must say also that I loved to live in that world. For I should have been forced to feel the physical world as a sort of spiritual darkness if it had not received light from that side.”4
The same assistant teacher who lent him the geometry book also played the piano and violin, and taught the young Rudolf to draw, at first with charcoal, making copies of the pictures that were in his house. A little later, the priest who came regularly to the school in Neudörfl began to teach elements of the Copernican system of astronomy to a select group of youngsters. Rudolf naturally formed part of the group, and immediately began to make numerous drawings showing the various revolutions of the planets, although he still could not, as he tells us, write without making mistakes in spelling and grammar, his difficulties now arising from the fact that he spoke a Lower Austrian dialect, and expected the words to be written according to their sounds—whereas the dialect was markedly different from the written German language. So it was far from impossible that he might be rejected when he applied for entrance into one of the higher schools in Wiener-Neustadt.
The immediate choice was between a higher elementary school where he could spend a further year studying the subjects learned at Neudörfl in preparation for entrance into the Gymnasium, which laid emphasis on the humanities, or going at once to the Realschule, or technical high school, where he could study to be a civil engineer, the career his father had planned for him. Steiner himself at this time had no particular preference, and he took both entrance exams, passing into the higher elementary school with distinction, largely on the basis of the astronomical drawings that he submitted. He passed the other exam less brilliantly, but well enough to be admitted, though at first he had difficulty in keeping up with his schoolmates because of the insufficiency of his education in the village school at Neudörfl. By the end of his second year in the school, when he was twelve years old he was regarded as a good student.
It was during his first year at the school that he came upon an article written by his principal, Heinrich Schramm, which constituted a considerable challenge to him, though at first he could understand almost none of it. The article was entitled ”Attraction Considered as an Effect of Motion,” and some parts of it could be fitted within the framework of physics that he had learned at Neudörfl. But as a sketch it was too tantalizing, and it soon became necessary for him to buy a book already published by Schramm, entitled The General Motion of Matter as the Fundamental Cause of All the Phenomena of Nature, in which the principal’s full theory was put forward. In order to buy this work Steiner had to save up his pocket money, but once he had it in his possession he certainly had his money’s worth out of it, for it accompanied him throughout his school career, while he gradually mastered its content, with the aid of the mental and mathematical tools he acquired during those years.
The author was trying to explain the universal attraction or repulsion between bodies without using the notion of forces acting at a distance, which he regarded as an unjustified ”mystical” hypothesis. Attraction, he insisted, was not any special force but only an ”effect of motion.” ”Out of the motions occurring between the small and the great parts of matter, the author undertook,” so Steiner explains, ”to derive all physical and chemical occurrences in nature.”
The eleven year-old boy was now faced with a dilemma. ”I had,” he tells us, ”nothing within me that inclined me in any way to accept such a view, but I had the feeling that it would be very important for me if I could understand what was expressed in this way.” So he ”set to work over and over again to read the paper and the book,” using whatever works in mathematics and physics he could find—not expecting to be convinced by what he read but to understand the point of view and the arguments put forward by the principal, even though they contradicted his own inner experience, in so far as this was as yet conscious in him.
Meanwhile he found two excellent teachers, one of mathematics and physics, and the other an expert in geometry, especially geometrical drawing, a subject that always fascinated him because it seemed to him that the forms he drew were derived directly from the world of spirit that was known to him. Later also he was helped by a highly gifted teacher of chemistry. But it was through home study that he acquired the mathematics necessary to come to a fuller comprehension of Dr. Schramm’s work, since he was too impatient to wait until he reached calculus in the regular course of his studies. Indeed this work on motion seems to have represented for him a kind of obstacle course which had to be overcome, even though, or perhaps particularly because, its ideas were so uncongenial to him.
In the course of these studies the question as to what actually goes on in nature became of vital importance for him. ”My feeling,” he tells us, ”was that I must grapple with nature in order to acquire a point of view with regard to the world of spirit which was directly visible to me. I said to myself that it is possible after all to come to an understanding of the experience of the spiritual world through one’s soul only if one’s process of thinking has itself reached such a form that it can attain to the reality of being which is in the phenomena of nature.”5 In a lecture given in England (Torquay) in the last year of his life, Steiner was to sum up the kind of difficulties he experienced during these years when he was studying the world as it was presented to him by modern science: ”Conceptions of the reality of the spiritual world presented no difficulty to me at any age. What the spiritual world revealed penetrated into my soul, formed itself into ideas, into thoughts. On the other hand things that came easily to others were difficult for me. I was always able to grasp quickly the arguments of natural scientific thinking, but concrete facts would not remain in my memory, simply would not register there. I could without effort understand the wave-theory, the arguments of the mathematicians, physicists and chemists. On the other hand, unlike most others, I could not recognize a particular mineral if I had seen it only once or twice; I was obliged to look at it perhaps thirty or forty times before I could recognize it again. I found it difficult to retain concrete pictures of the things of the external, material world. It was not easy for me to come fully into the world of sense.”6
In later life he was as competent with his hands as he was clear in his thinking. But both accomplishments were the fruit of a disciplined will, and could not be acquired as easily by him as by others, who become correctly oriented to the earthly world during childhood and adolescence, as a perfectly natural process.
In spite of his work in mathematics and his constant efforts to penetrate more deeply into the book written by his principal, the way of thinking of ordinary human beings was still somewhat alien to him, especially the process that most of us simply take for granted—the process of reasoning, particularly that kind of intellectual reasoning which is not concerned with the relations between earthly objects or the attempt to understand the given world, but is more or less self-sufficient, even metaphysical. This process is called in the German language Vernunft, and does not have an exact English equivalent. It was thus a moment of great excitement in young Rudolf Steiner’s life when at the age of fourteen he saw in a bookshop window a cheap reprint edition of Immanuel Kant’s masterpiece Kritik der reinen Vernunft, usually translated in English as The Critique of Pure Reason. At this time Steiner had never heard the name of Kant, still less did he know anything about his place in the history of philosophy. But the book presumably promised to enlighten the reader on the nature of human reason, a subject of surpassing importance to the boy. ”In my boyish way,” he tells us, ”I was striving to understand what human reason might be able to achieve toward a real insight into the nature of things.”
For anyone who, like Steiner even at this age, had a direct perception of the spiritual world, it would surely prove to be a striking experience to follow the logical but dry precision of a thinker such as Kant, who through pure thinking forced himself to the conclusion that the human mind could know nothing certain of the world outside the mind, either of the real nature of things in the earthly world, or of anything belonging to the spiritual world, which a fortiori was forever shut off from man. Always therefore aware that Kant’s conclusions were false, Steiner nevertheless struggled mightily with his philosophy without being as yet overtly critical of it. His primary purpose was indeed to come to understand his own thinking, and to learn how to direct it. It was not in fact easy for him to find the opportunity to study Kant, occupied as he was in trying to perfect his geometrical drawing which fascinated him at this period, and occupied him on Sundays to the exclusion of everything else. Nor had he yet found the way to study while on the way to and from school, a journey that occupied three full hours of his day. However, he found the solution as a result of the laziness of his history teacher who preferred not to prepare his classes or give a lecture in the lower grades of the school, but simply to read from the text book. Steiner soon discovered this fact and read the book for himself at home, taking it each day to class. But instead of following what the teacher was reading he took the opportunity to study Kant, having cut up Kant’s work into suitable sections and fastened them into the history text. It may be noted that no one was any the wiser and he had no difficulty in passing his history examinations, and indeed earned the highest grade in the class! The study of Kant was completed during his vacations, but perhaps it is not surprising that, as he tells us, he found it necessary to read some pages of Kant ”more than twenty times in succession.”
From his fifteenth year onward he began to earn some money to help his parents to pay the fees for his schooling in Wiener-Neustadt. He did this by tutoring other boys who were in his own grade or lower. In this he was encouraged by his teachers who were no doubt aware of his home circumstances and his need for money (especially for books!), and regarded him as a good student. Far from being a drudgery, as such work sometimes is, for Rudolf Steiner it proved to be especially helpful, for an unusual reason. In his work at the school, even though he excelled in it, he claims that at that time he was never fully awake and functioning in full consciousness. He was, as so many young people are at this stage of their lives, and on into late adolescence, extremely receptive to what he heard and read, and able to pass examinations without difficulty. But the knowledge he thus acquired, unlike what he had worked out for himself, was not fully his own. In Steiner’s own case, this ”condition of dreaming,” as he calls it, was accentuated because of his dual consciousness. But when he was called upon to give this knowledge out again to the pupils he tutored, the effort to express it in suitable words made it, for the first time, fully his own. Thus, unexpectedly, he benefited in his own development from this work and in addition was able to learn more about how minds other than his own functioned, a knowledge that he could not acquire, as the rest of us do, from examination of his own thought processes, since they were unlike those of others.
One last item from his high school career is of significant interest. From his sixteenth year onward he was required to study Greek and Latin poetry in German translation. Apparently this use of translations so offended him that he made up his mind to study Greek and Latin for himself so as to be able to read Greek and Latin literature in the original. He felt for the first time how much he had missed by attending the Realschule instead of the Gymnasium where the ancient languages were studied. While he was engaged in this new study he entered into a closer relationship with the physician from Wiener-Neustadt who had earlier been the first to introduce him to German literature. This physician evidently took a great interest in the young man, and lent him as many books as he could absorb, thereafter questioning him on their contents. Largely through this association, and with the aid of his other extracurricular work, Steiner acquired a competence in the subjects studied at the Gymnasium as well as those required of him in the Realschule, a competence that was to stand him in good stead later when he was a student in Vienna. There he was able to tutor pupils who possessed both the Gymnasium and Realschule background, and thus actually earned his living from tutoring, in this way paying for that part of his education not covered by scholarship.
The tutoring he performed while still in high school enabled him to buy the books he needed in order to teach himself Latin and Greek. But it remained difficult for a time to find the time and place to study these subjects and to read his German literature. This problem was solved for him through the aid of the stationmaster of Wiener-Neustadt who no doubt admired the boy’s thirst for learning and his persistence and enthusiasm. Because the train to Neudörfl went late in the evening the stationmaster opened a railway car specially for him and on most weekdays he was therefore able to pass several solitary hours studying in the train, leaving his precious time at home to be used for preparing his regular work and making his geometrical designs.
In the early summer of 1879 at the age of eighteen Steiner completed his studies at the Realschule in Wiener-Neustadt, winning his baccalaureat with honourable mention and earning a scholarship to the Technische-Hochschule in Vienna.* At this time it was his intention to prepare himself to teach in a Realschule.
His father had already made arrangements with the railway company to let him move with his family nearer to the capital, in order to make it possible for his gifted son to follow his chosen career. The Steiner family therefore took up residence in an unlovely suburb called Inzersdorf, where Rudolf spent the first summer wrestling with philosophical problems before enrolling in the Institute of Technology. He was still engrossed in his efforts to understand human thinking as it presented itself in the works of others, and reconciling it with what he himself knew from direct experience of the problems expounded by the others. Of his inner life and his experiences he was still unable to speak to anyone; and it was not until his meeting with Felix, the herb-gatherer, while he was commuting to Vienna, that for the first time he was able to find someone with whom, as we have noted, he was able to share his experiences and who helped him indirectly toward the path in life that he was eventually, as a mature man, to follow.
*This was a kind of advanced technical institute at university level similar to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and many European Polytechnic colleges. Its degrees were limited to certain scientific and technical subjects, but in other respects its standards were similar to those of the University of Vienna, and, as we shall see, Rudolf Steiner was permitted to attend courses also at the university while enrolled there. It will be translated here as the Vienna Institute of Technology, probably the nearest English equivalent.
Rudolf Steiner: Herald of a New Epoch