The Works of George Santayana

Category: LETTERS Page 1 of 274

Letters in Limbo ~ February 26, 1946

Charles Darwin resting against pillar covered with vines.

To Lieutenant Garcia
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo 6
Rome. February 26, 1946

Dear Lieutenant Garcia,

That you should think Plato good but not true, and should at the same time follow Darwin with approval would seem to indicate that you instinctively think as I think. This, and your Latin (or Greek-for Calabria is very Greek) blood don’t apparently suffice to make you feel at home in my Weltanschauung. What is the difficulty? You don’t tell me or give me any hint of where it lies. Why is Plato good in spite of being wrong? I should say because his ethics and politics are right in principle, but his cosmology is mythical and made to fit his humanism miraculously, having been planned on purpose to produce an ideal Athens and a perfect set of Athenians. Now, this is contrary to Darwin, and must be abandoned: Although the Platonic myth may be excellent parables, illustrating the growth of human virtues, I therefore stick to Darwin (or in my case, rather to Lucretius and Spinoza) in my cosmology; but when I turn to the realm of Spirit (which has its perfectly natural place in animal life) I drop Darwin, Lucretius, and even Spinoza and stick to Plato, or rather to the idea of Christ. I have lately been writing a book on this last subject, which may show you what I mean, and how I graft this Christian morality on the naturalistic stalk. Of course, if you hanker for a physically real good world, you will never find it, and it may seem to you discouraging spiritually that spirit should not rule the universe. That would seem to me a pity, and a lack of caution in not keeping truth and imagination in their respective places. Is that what makes you uncomfortable?

Yours sincerely,

G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Unknown.

Letters in Limbo ~ February 25, 1937

128238r301To Horace Meyer Kallen
C/o Brown Shipley & Co.
123, Pall Mall, London, S.W.1
Rome. February 25, 1937

Dear Kallen,

Perry’s mind is more conventional than yours, and he has undoubtedly presented a William James painted, as it were, by a member of the Royal Academy. He has done it very nicely, much better than I had thought him capable of doing anything. But there are at least two fatal handicaps under which such a biographer suffers—an official biographer. He can’t tell, he can’t even wish to know, everything, not the misères, physical and moral that really beset and largely direct the lives of all of us. That is one handicap. The other is that he is still interested in the questions that agitated his hero, they are still living questions to the biographer too, so that he will necessary pull and stretch the man’s thoughts to agree with his own, and will give a disproportionate emphasis and finality to those thoughts so surviving in himself. This is the trouble with your corrections and interpretations. Wm James is still living within you, and in vindicating him (as you think) you are vindicating yourself. That is honourable enough, but not biography. I therefore entirely agree with you that it would be better if Wm James’s Nachlass had been published almost without comments, leaving it for a future age, if it is interested in him, to review the maximum of his ipsissima verba and then perhaps draw a portrait of him as he appears to that remote posterity, to whom his problems will be a dead as himself, though both perhaps memorable in their by-gone virtues and humanity. If I were younger, and my planned work quite finished, I might be tempted to work out a notion I have, not about James especially, but about the old mind of the New World in general. It looks to me (I have been reading Jonathan Edwards) as if America had started life with an official mentality of the most alien and artificial character, and that these three hundred years have not sufficed to allow a native mentality to grow up (like a weed, at first) and crowd out the traditional imported principles. Wm James would illustrate the bravest possible struggle of the young and native growth against the old roots and stumps still encumbering and empoverishing the ground. And I am not sure that, for all his vitality and courage, he too was not, on the whole, stifled. Neither Emerson nor Walt Whitman seem to me to have escaped altogether, especially not on the political side. In any case, the discrimination between tradition and nativism would be tempting to make in every American yet on exhibition.

With best wishes from

G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Six, 1937-1940.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.
Location of manuscript: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, New York NY.


Letters in Limbo ~ February 24, 1936


The $5,000 from the Book-of-the-Month Club arrived some time ago and are now duly credited to my London bank-account, which can now safely supply your allowance for two years. Other reverberations of the novel have been reaching me from America, pleasant enough in themselves but rather an impediment to work on other subjects, as if the afterglow of that sunset were keeping the stars from shining clearly.

America has swallowed the novel whole without a qualm. The other day I got a fresh invitation from the President of Harvard College, by cable, to come and get a degree of Doctor of Letters: this, I say, to show that even after my novel they were not ashamed of me. And Mr. Scribner (in the absence of Mr. Wheelock whose health demanded a rest) wrote, on sending me the cheque for $5000, that “no novel published in the twenty odd years that I have been in the business has had such an enthusiastic reception from the press, which has showered it with praise without a dissenting note.” In the reviews I have seen, however, besides fault-finding in this or that,–one person says that the last hundred pages are poor stuff, and should merely be skimmed over; I must have been tired when I wrote them–besides such hap-hazard fault-finding there is a general timidity or perplexity. It is more than they dare to tackle, at least before knowing what other people will say. The letters from my friends, too, are a bit disappointing. They seem to be thinking of me, or of their own views on the same themes, without taking the book on its face value, and letting it speak for itself. Some letters from strangers, however, are fresher and more genuine. For instance, a man named Hamilton Bosso writes from North Carolina that he has “never read so wise and lovely and witty a book.” I like the choice of those three adjectives: the fun, especially, seems to have been missed by most readers. For me it is everything, or at least the sauce without which the rest wouldn’t go down.

P.S. Your question about “spiritual freedom” makes me wonder what direction your mind is taking now that you are comparatively free from pressure from Strong and me. Is your Catholic tendency dormant or reviving or outgrown? Have you some other lights, drawn perhaps from Bergson? I don’t expect that you will always agree with me simply because at the age of twenty your fancy was caught by my Scepticism & Animal Faith. You then had less knowledge of rival doctrines, and were perhaps more impressed by the texture of my thought (as now by the texture of Bergson’s) than by the general conception of things which I represent. Your natural sympathies, after all, may go elsewhere; but even in that case I should be sorry if you didn’t understand my views. Now, as to the matter of “spiritual freedom”, I don”t remember where I have used the words: the context would indicate what I had in mind. But in any case, the thing has nothing to do with the physical question of determinism or indeterminism in the genesis of events. . . . When we can act and grow as our nature demands, we are morally free. When things or people or fatal commitments impede us, we are morally constrained, and not morally free agents. And “Spiritual freedom”, if distinguished from moral freedom, would mean liberation from all allegiance to what is private to each psyche, and love in perfect sympathy with the truth. Moral freedom is freedom from others, spiritual freedom is freedom from oneself.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Five, 1933-1936.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: Butler Library, Columbia University, New York NY

Letters in Limbo ~ February 23, 1946

resurrection700To Andrew Joseph Onderdonk
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6
Rome. February 23, 1946

Dear Onderdonk:

I have to thank you for your Christmas card and now for the large size calendar with views of old Harvard. Le Christ de Dijon is not like my “idea” of Christ, because it is resisting suffering, while my Christ is choosing and transcending it, like the Christ rising from the tomb by Piero della Francesca which you may remember I used to have in my room. However, many sides are to be found in the idea of Christ, as in the reality of Old Harvard. But as to Harvard, I think the album of photographs you sent me of the new Harvard is more attractive than old Harvard ever was: I mean to the eye. Harvard was terribly ugly; but we could be tolerably happy there notwithstanding. I am afraid, if you come back to live in Europe you will find it uncomfortable as well as ugly. Things seem destined to be brought down to a lower level all round, as at the fall of the Roman Empire. Better stay in Chicago. I read in the paper yesterday of a person asked if he came from Austria. He did, but his reply was: Vengo dal Purgatorio. Don’t gather from this that I wish I were not here. I am quite happy here, and cheerful. But I have given up demanding luxuries.

Yours sincerely,

G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Butler Library, Columbia University, New York NY.


Letters in Limbo ~ February 22, 1947

Guenon-author-pg-image-2To Daniel MacGhie Cory
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6
Rome. February 22, 1947

Dear Cory:

The last two days have been spent devouring Guénon’s book, which has not disappointed me, although he leaves the reader rather in suspense about the nature of the “First Principles” or “Superior Knowledge” on which he makes everything hang. To digest him I have to reverse him, making the “first” last and the “superior” ultimate. In that way I can follow almost all his steps. Of course, he is a doctrinaire and shows no sympathy with sinners and jolly fools: but if you are thinking of spiritual liberation and the beatific vision, certainly modern life is a sad mess.

Father Benedict here has given me (to read) a book by a Don at Magdalen, Oxford, named Lewis, about the machinations of the devil and his police against the soul of a young Anglican. The picture of society is much like Guénon’s: and Mr. Wheelock has sent me a novel about New York life, “Am I asleep or awake,” to the same effect. People are calling for the Last Judgment as in the time of Christ.

Yours as ever,

G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Butler Library, Columbia University, New York NY.

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