Your “Twelve Japanese Painters” and your article on “Winds of Doctrine” reached me long ago and both, in very different ways, gave me a great deal of pleasure. Perhaps you did yourself a little violence to praise or at least to condone everything in my book. It would have been right to blame anything that really seemed to you unreasonable; I am not sure that I shouldn’t have been even better pleased if you had blamed something, for then I should have felt that in most matters you had made observations and judgments similar to mine, and been confirmed in them myself by that. The warmth of your tone is very exhilarating—like liquor—but the ardours of bout-drinking friendship, even in philosophy, are short-lived. I am grateful to you for your evident wish that other people should appreciate me and see something good in what Wm James once called my “diabolisms”; but what does it matter what other people think? If we care too much about persuading them we may disturb their peaceful conventions to no good purpose, since they will never get anything straight, while we blunt the edge of truth in our own words.
Your Japanese book has done something for me that I have long been praying for—given me a hint of how Japanese painting should be understood. I have asked several other people . . . to guide me in a matter very foreign and mysterious to me, and they have never said anything human and philosophical enough for me to understand it. They have merely said: this line is good, this design is beautiful, and left it at that. In your poems I find at last the first ray of light. It is the glimpse of life at some instant, of some ungrounded bird-note of life caught as it vibrates, we ask not why or in what a world; it is some shimmer of passion expressed economically, keenly, with wonderful dexterity, and without any comment; and it is (perhaps this is your personal addition to what the Oriental felt) a responding sentimental passion or moral comment inspired in ourselves. Tints, lines, attitudes, stuffs all have a certain hypnotic power, a sensuous magic that enthrals us if we gaze at them intently. This I have always known, and it is the fault of our Renaissance, (from the sixteenth century to the middle of the nineteenth, and even today among the academic and conventional artists) not to have felt this sensuous quality enough, to have had no natural idolatry, but to have been interested in a pompous completeness and discursive literary reports. Zolas on canvas. What you teach me is that the Japanese are not merely sensuous but lyric, that it is the charm, mood, unrecoverable secret of some “witching hour” that they sing to us; and that as they feel this function to be sufficient for the painter, they are led naturally to that wonderful simplification and wonderful proficiency which they exhibit. Is this at all right, or like what you feel?
As English poems I also like your pieces; here and there, perhaps, you want to say things too elaborately (unlike your Japs) and slip into prose; but often your touch is exquisite, like theirs. I keep your little book at hand, and swear by it.
From The Letters of George Santayana: Book Two, 1910-1920. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven CT