"Romanticism Comes of Age" is a collection of essays by Owen Barfield, a close friend of C.S. Lewis. Barfield was an Anthroposophist and avid follower of Rudolf Steiner. This anthology contains his most explicitly Anthroposophical material.
Barfield discusses the Consciousness Soul, the Anthroposophical periodization of history, the significance of England and Germany for mankind's future spiritual evolution, etc. Steiner's complex theories about different astral bodies, spirits and souls are given pride of place. There are also articles dealing with Barfield's own specialty: the evolution of consciousness as seen through the prism of English literature. Thus, the author analyzes Shakespear's "Hamlet" in the light of the occult teachings of Anthroposophy. A surprisingly rambling speech on Goethe has also been included (with some mea culpas from the author - he must have felt that it's not very good).
As usual, Owen Barfield makes my head spin. This is about as far away from C.S. Lewis' "Mere Christianity" you can possible get! I admit I was weirdly fascinated by this book, but I honestly didn't get it.
Nor, it seems, did anyone else...
In a personal foreword, Barfield admits that his biggest disappointment in life was that nobody took Steiner seriously when he attempted to introduce Steiner's message to those who cared to listen. Even Lewis rejected Steiner's teachings out of hand, without ever bothering to study them in-depth. Interestingly, Barfield points out that many people who were interested in his own ideas nevertheless recoiled from Steiner, despite the fact that Barfield's thoughts were based on the very same Steiner. Rudolf Steiner, after all, was the founder of Anthroposophy.
Somehow, I get the feeling that Barfield was such a dyed-in-the-wool true believer in Steiner's system, that he couldn't see what everyone else noticed long ago: Anthroposophy, while having an interesting (and fairly complicated) intellectual side, also contains a lot of dross. Or bunk, if you're less diplomatic. After all, Rudolf Steiner did say some pretty weird things: humans are descended from the Old Saturn incarnation of Earth, every human has a demonic double secretly attached to his astral body, the Etheric Christ returned in 1876 (or was it 1933?), Atlantis and Lemuria really did exist, Jesus was a solar spirit etc. etc. And this is just for starters! In "Romanticism Comes of Age", Barfield avoids this twilight zone, but it's obvious from context that he swallowed Anthroposophy hook, line and sinker. He even says, with a straight face, that nature spirits (such as gnomes) actually exist! Since Barfield doesn't strike me as barking mad, I can only wonder at his credulity towards every comma in Steiner's conceited new religion. Here, I feel a certain sympathy with Lewis...
The foreword also explains why Barfield was initially drawn to Anthroposophy. He seems to have been a sceptic with a somewhat bleak outlook on life, until he became seriously interested in poetry. I almost get the impression that poetry was a kind of spiritual revelation for the young Barfield. Not only did his consciousness expand as a result of reading poetry, he also began looking at the world in an entirely new way through its prism. He felt that poetry made the world intensely meaningful, and began exploring the epistemological and ontological consequences of this (if any). This eventually led him to Anthroposophy and the entire notion of evolution of consciousness. Barfield was drawn to Anthroposophy for another, but related, reason as well. He admired the British Romantic writers and poets, but bemoaned their lack of a clear philosophy. Barfield believed that he had found the lacking ingredient in Anthroposophy. Steiner's teachings are Romanticism grown up. (Steiner claimed to be something of an exegete of Goethe, and Barfield himself was interested in Coleridge's philosophy, seeing affinities between it and both Goethe and Steiner.)
Personally, I'm downright bewildered by Rudolf Steiner. Some of his ideas remind me of Hegel, at least if Hegel is read in a more "spiritual" manner á la Frederic Copleston or even Ken Wilber. The notion of spirit working itself out within human history sounds like Hegel, although Steiner's version is stranger, inspired as he was by the Theosophy of Madame Blavatsky. Further, Steiner believed that even the fragmentation of the modern world (the Consciousness Soul) is a necessary and therefore positive development. The human spirit needs to come to its own as a self-conscious individual entity, and the only way to accomplish this is to temporarily sever its ties with nature and the spiritual hierarchies. When the Consciousness Soul has been developed, the Christ impulse will somehow influence it and make it return to Nature and Spirit, but at a higher, self-conscious level. Thus, Steiner didn't want a sheer return to the premodern. Rather, he longed for a new synthesis in the distant future. This also sounds a bit like Hegel, who believed that historical progress takes place by a dialectical struggle between opposites, eventually transcending both.
My main problem with this scenario is that Anthroposophy, despite the above, *does* sound premodern. I'm not a follower of Wilber, but to use his terms, Steiner was still "Red", "Magic-Mythic" or "Retro-romantic". He longed for a decentralized Arcadia based on biodynamic agriculture, a steady-state economy and Waldorf pedagogy (which seems to be so much flim flam). By contrast, modern technology is supposedly teeming with evil spirits! The 60's counter-culture would have recognized themselves in many Anthroposophical practices (but perhaps not in the convoluted theories and conservative sexual morals). Barfield himself expressed strong support for the Green movement in some other works, including the novel "Eager spring", where he claims that modern industrial civilization is the work of Ahriman, the closest thing to a devil in Steiner's system.
That being said, I nevertheless give "Romanticism Comes of Age" four stars, for being a book that actually stimulated my thinking. Another good Barfield anthology is "The Rediscovery of Meaning", which also includes a number of defences of the Anthroposophical worldview.