Dear Mr. Elton,
It would not have occurred to me spontaneously that there was any affinity between Montaigne’s way of thinking and mine;¹ but when you say you feel that there is, perhaps I can see where it might lie. We are both Mediterranean-blooded Menschen, and we take a low familiar view of human nature. It does not shock us, but we do not respect it or ask much of it. Where we certainly part company is in the inner reaction to those observations. Montaigne has no ideals, except a sort of anticipation of Rousseau and moral democracy. I am not a democrat in my affections, but interested in perfect even if simple things. As to influence, I don’t think Montaigne ever had any on me. I have never studied or read him much; what I like best in his Essays is the Latin quotations. The sixteenth century had vulgar tastes, and they satisfied him, although he was fair-minded enough to know that there was something better, and kept a door open for others in religion and for himself in friendship. Perhaps I am really a little like him in that last respect. One can hardly judge oneself; one looks through one’s prejudices.
- Actually, Santayana’s approach in Scepticism and Animal Faith is virtually identical to Montaigne’s Pyrrhonian method in “An Apology for Raymond Sebond.” The “Apology,” an essay in the second book of Essais, defends a naturalistic Roman Catholic theologian against charges of heresy.
From The Letters of George Santayana: Book Seven, 1941-1947. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Unknown