To 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.


To 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.


To 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.


To William James
Berlin. February 21, 1887

Dear Professor James,

I am very much obliged to you for your articles on Habit and on the Perception of Space. I have read them with great interest—all the more because they go over some of the points you brought out in Phil. 2 and 9. I remember how much the idea of the nervous system as a sort of recording angel struck me at that time. It touches one of my pet questions, the sanction of Ethics, the supposed disappearance of which alarms Mr. Lilly and his school. I can’t help feeling that if people were more inclined to look for the sanction of morals in the facts, they would stop worrying about the future of morality. 

Strong and I intend to spend the coming vacation in England, where we find we can go very cheaply by way of Hamburg. My address will therefore be care of Brown, Shipley & Co., and anything sent to me for Strong will reach him. He is looking well and says he feels very much better. He has been working two hours a day over Lotze’s psychology and hearing lectures with me. He seems to be a little afraid of himself in view of the probability of his getting a chance to teach at Cornell next winter. I tell him he is well prepared enough and should thank his stars that he can begin to learn in a practical way by teaching. Still, considering what good friends we are, Strong tells me astonishingly little about himself, perhaps because he thinks I don’t understand how he feels about things, or perhaps because he is naturally reserved. But the fact is I have no idea what has been the matter with him this winter, except that evidently he has not been at ease. I myself have done very little tangible work, although I have been reading all sorts of things, especially Goethe. I don’t think my time has been wholly wasted, as I have gathered a good many impressions besides a working knowledge of German—enough, that is, to read and understand, but not enough to talk connectedly. I ought to have got along much better with the language, but I have really had very little occasion to speak it, and the pronunciation is so abominably hard that I hardly trust myself with more than a syllable at a time. I enjoy hearing it, however, especially in the hearty, honest native way. On the whole I am very glad I came to Germany, although the superiority of the place from the student’s point of view is not so great as I had imagined. In health too, I am feeling well, better a great deal than last year when, as you may remember, I was a little under the weather. In Spain, too, during the summer my stomach became refractory, but this cooler and moister climate made everything all right again. For a while I had some trouble with the complicated cooking here in vogue—but custom can make one swallow any dish, even if it contains thirty nine articles.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book One, [1868]-1909.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.


To Cyril Coniston Clemens
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6,
Rome. February 20, 1951.

Dear Clemens

Today I have sent back your copy of my “Middle Span”, with an inscription, but not with any compliments to Mark Twain, because having finished reading Huckleberry Finn, I have an idea of a greater adventure, which is to compose an essay, which you may print in your magazine if you like, on the relation of Tom Sawyer to Don Quixote. But for this I must first read the preceding book on Tom Sawyer especially. Robert Lowell, who has been here again during the past week, tells me that it is not so good a book as Huckleberry Finn; but I am not interested in giving marks to works of art or to their authors as if they were being examined for recommendation to office. What I want is to understand whether the love of adventure in Tom Sawyer is a romantic passion, with a corresponding idealistic faith (as in Don Quixote, who was mad) or only a love of mischief, of risk, and of swagger as in every schoolboy. My superficial impression, so far, is the Mark Twain is a thorough sceptic, and not a real prophet of personal independence vs. social convention of every sort. Huck Finn is a string of episodes, like Don Quixote, and a thriller and a farce by turns, with tender emotion thrown in, which Cervantes lacks altogether.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Eight, 1948-1952.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.
Location of manuscript: William R. Perkins Library, Duke University, Durham NC.