Thursday 4 November 2021

The early Romantics were evolutionary "throws-forward" - Colin Wilson

And suddenly, like a thunderbolt, the realisation fell into my mind, so that I felt the roots of my hair stir with it. Of course! That was the whole meaning of the nineteenth century, Wordsworth and Keats and Hoffmann and Wagner and Bruckner. 

Certain people are born evolutionary throw-backs, victims of an atavism, less than fully human. And certain people he opposite . What could one call them? Evolutionary ‘throws-forward’? Typically, our language contains no word to describe it. But the fact is as clear as daylight. 

The romantics represented the next stage in man’s evolution , or at least, possessed one of its central characteristics - the ability to launch into these strange states of detachment. Could anything be more obvious, once one had seen it? 

The previous century had been an age of solid, earth-bound men - Dryden, Swift, Pope, Johnson, Bach, Haydn - even Mozart. And suddenly, for no apparent reason, you have an age of visionaries, beginning with Blake. But why? Why did Goethe and Coleridge and Wordsworth and Novalis and Berlioz and Schubert and Beethoven have these moments of pure exaltation, when man feels god-like? A ‘development of sensibility’? 

How could it be called a development, as if the change had been gradual? No, it was a leap of sensibility, as if there had been a high wall between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries... 

So what caused it? Could there be some simple cause – perhaps even chemical? A comet composed of psychedelic drugs, breaking up in the earth’s atmosphere and affecting the water supplies? Hardly likely. 

In any case, whatever the cause, there could surely be no doubt that the romantics and visionaries were presages of the future, heralds blowing trumpets to announce a new stage in human evolution - a new power in human beings - this power of detachment, of the ‘god’s eye view’ instead of the ‘worm’s eye view’.

 From The Philosopher's Stone by Colin Wilson (1969)

The 'leap of sensibility' that was first seen among the early romantics such as Goethe, Novalis, Blake, Coleridge and Wordsworth; was indeed a presage of what was to come much more widely. 

But when Wilson speculated about what may have caused this change in consciousness, he did not consider God. Yet, my understanding is that Romanticism was part of the divine plan for Man - that Men began changing because they began to be 'made differently'.

Rudolf Steiner and Owen Barfield assumed that this divinely-driven change was linked with reincarnation; that spirits which had been reborn over many centuries (indeed millennia) had been incrementally developing the 'romantic' capacities that became evidence around 1800. 

My own somewhat tentative view is that the cause was the nature of the human souls which were being incarnated (for the first and only time); and that from the late 1700 Men began  being born (initially in Western Europe) who had the romantic disposition and capability - and that this had been carried-through from our pre-mortal existence as spirits. 

Whatever the reason; the emergence of more and more Men with the Romantic disposition was a spiritual challenge and a fork in the road. There were various possibilities - but the divine intention was that this new Romanticism should be carried through into Christianity. 

But aside from a few individuals, this did not happen - and romanticism became either opposed to, or remained separate from, Christianity. 

This meant that the new romantic consciousness lacked direction and context - it lacked the direction that comes from divine purpose, and it lacked the meaning that comes from the context of eternal resurrected life. 

Therefore, Romanticism became focused on form not content. Romantics tried to have 'romantic experiences' by whatever means - including science, magic and drugs. They pursued a state of mind: and when they got it, they did not know what to do with it - except enjoy it. 

Romanticism without (and against) Christianity became merely a refined form of hedonism - with strong tendencies to selfishness and manipulation of others. 

And the fact that the Romantic could not enjoy this experience at will or continuously, and that it faded with repetition - tended to lead to pessimism, despair, even suicide. 

Meanwhile Christians came to associate Romanticism with anti-Christian motivations, and became hostile to Romanticism. 

Or Christians else subordinated the romantic within the faith, and rendered it at most an optional extra; at the level of psychology and lifestyle - rather than theological truth. 

But Romanticism was meant to be a means not the end - a Romantic Christianity. The content should be Christian, the form Romantic. 

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