Lectures to the First Class
24 August 1918, Dornach
I have received many comments about the publication here of Rudolf Steiner's First Class Lessons. Most of these comments have been positive, expressing the writers' thanks for finally being able to have access to the Lessons. But there have also been messages expressing surprise, even shock at seeing them online and available to everyone who may be interested. So I decided that it's time to write an “apologia” (not an apology).
Those who object to the publication do so on both legal and moral grounds — I assume. I'll start with the legal aspect, because it's the easiest. All of Rudolf Steiner's literary work has been in the public domain since the year 2000. Previously it was the property of his literary estate, in the legal person of the “Nachlassvereinigung” in Dornach, and before that to Marie Steiner; never to the General Anthroposophical Society. Being in the public domain means that the original German works may now be published by anyone and read by everyone.
A translation is a different matter. Its copyright may belong to the translator or to the publisher. There already is an English translation issued by the Anthroposophical Society of Great Britain and, I believe, copyrighted by that body. There may be other translations of which I am not aware.
The translations published in SouthernCrossReview.org are new and are mine. So I could claim copyright if I wanted to. But my point is that I have the right to publish my own translations of texts which are in the public domain in their original language — without needing permission from anyone, least of all the General Anthroposophical Society.
Now for the moral issue. Those who object to the publication in English and free availability to everyone of these texts are probably thinking about Rudolf Steiner's admonitions that the texts, and especially the mantras, are available exclusively to members of the First Class of the Free School for Spiritual Science. In respect to the mantras, he said that if they got into the wrong hands their esoterically positive effect on those for whom they were intended would vanish. In other words they would no longer be effective, no longer be alive. It is an occult rule.
However, Rudolf Steiner died in 1925. The esoteric school since then has consisted of continuous readings of the transcripts of the unfinished First Class by so-called officially appointed “readers”. The second and third classes were of course never even begun. To believe that the Esoteric School still exists is an illusion.
The texts in German are available to the public since they have been in the public domain. If we take what Steiner said seriously, the esoteric effect of the mantras no longer exists. Now the student must create his own effect with the help of the mantras.
If the texts are available in German, why should they not be available in other languages, especially English, in order to be studied by members and non-members of the G.A.S and the Free School who do not understand German?
Practically everything Rudolf Steiner wrote and said has been published in German. Keeping certain works, such as the First Class Lessons, secret for some and not for others, no longer corresponds to the times. The time for secrets in esoteric life is over. The publication of the First Class texts in English, and their availability to non-German speaking interested individuals and groups is a reflection of that reality.
Frank Thomas Smith