The Works of George Santayana

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Letters in Limbo ~ September 23, 1949

HBalzacTo Rosamond Thomas [Sturgis] Little
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6,
Rome. September 23, 1949

Dear Rosamond,

Two letters, a box of provisions, a magic bird’s eye view of the Harvard Yard in two parts, and numbers of Life and Time full of innumerable coloured pictures of happiness, abundance, youth, travel, and laughter have transported me to a sort of dream-world where everything is a merry-go-round. Is America really like that? No: I know it can’t be. But you are having a splendid holiday after a good many years of comparative seclusion, and there is really a sort of youthful gaiety, as if everybody were dressed in brand new clothes, and rushing from one “delightful” thing to another. Is this really so, or are people putting on a public smile as soon as they come in sight of anybody else, and do public prints reproduce the same appearance of joy as a professional duty?

I am perfectly happy myself in the absence of any gaiety or variety; but I feel that the world is very shaky indeed and morally lost and drifting among shams which it doesn’t believe in, but can’t give up. And I think most Europeans feel as if the end of the world were at hand. Even the late Mr. Whitehead, the mathematical philosopher who was for years professor at Harvard, but was an Englishman (I knew him in 1897 at Trinity College, Cambridge) one of whose books I happen to be reading is full of this feeling, although, writing in America, he veils it in a haze of cordiality and religious hope. He is an excellent philosopher in spots but there seems to me to be a contradiction between his physical science, which is straightforward, and his philosophical and moral reflections, which are all subjective: history, for instance, or the past, when he speaks of them, do not signify the “concrete” events but the feeling, memory, or imaginative view of them that people have taken or now take. The social world is a novel, like Balzac’s; and the scientific world seems to disappear. However, he does recognise that this century, so far, has been catastrophic: which would seem to me to show that the philosophy of the nineteenth century was fatal sophistry; yet that is just the substitution of a novel for a science as the truer picture of the world.

Excuse me for running into these depths, or shallows; if you don’t see what I mean, you might show this letter to your husband, and give him my best regards and congratulations. I was surprised at seeing him looking so young, sturdy, and solid in his picture. He will perhaps tell you that I am all wrong, which may turn out true, because of America

Yours affectionately G Santayana

P.S. Don’t bother about my needing anything. Supplies of everything reach me, and I don’t need very much now-a-days.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Eight, 1948-1952.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.

Letters in Limbo ~ September 22, 1949

arthur-schopenhauerTo Rimsa Michel
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo. 6
Rome. September 22, 1949

Dear Mr. Michel,
Since I seem to be responsible for turning you into the wilderness of philosophy, I suppose I ought to help you to get out of it, but I am not sure that there was ever any “Humanism” in me that I have given up. Certainly I have given up talking about the superiority of rational to inspired poetry, or vice versa. I am not a dogmatist in morals, which for me include both aesthetic and political judgments; and in judgment of love or taste I am entirely a humanist in the sense of thinking that the human psyche is, in each case, the only possible judge; and naturally each psyche the only possible judge, for it own satisfaction, of the satisfaction that it finds in the satisfactions of the others. But what I don’t believe, or seriously ever did, is that any human authority, private or social, has any absolute control or jurisdiction over what “ought” to be done or praised. In fact, I have been attempting, in my old age, to re-educate myself in the matter of poetry, so as to be able to appreciate the “modern” forms of it. But I have never so much enjoyed and admired the old Latin poets as of late years: and have actually translated, at great expense of sleepless hours, a bit of the 3rd Elegy of Tibullus, Book I, which will come out in a new English little Review which will begin publication before long. The editor writes that my diction is still traditional but that the poem is a modern poem. So you see I practice what I preach.
Edwin Edman is a sour-sweet friend of my philosophy, but was (before this last war) much offended at my Toryism which he felt to be Fascist. He appreciates some parts of my philosophy—the “spiritual” or religious radiations of it, but I am not sure that he respects the respect I have for matter or “Will” (according to Schopenhauer).
Ask him what he thinks of my “Idea of Christ.” My own opinion of it is that I was never more religious in insight and never less religious in opinion. The Catholics like and condemn it. Prof. Guzzo, of Turin and his wife have beautifully translated it into Italian; they think I am more truly Christian than any of the Fathers; but I hear that an American Catholic Bishop has said that not one sentence in that book could have been written by a Christian. I agree with both judgments, if by being a good “Christian” you understand being a disciple of Christology or worshipper of God in Man.
I don’t think I have moved, ever, either to the Right or to the Left. I have radiated, and now feel more at home than in my callow youth in both camps: but I don’t agree at all with the Left about the Right or with the Right about the Left. It is only where they love that they are intelligent, both of them, in regard to what is good in their object; neither sound, however, about the cosmological importance of their interests.
Yours sincerely
G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Eight, 1948-1952.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.
Location of manuscript: Alderman Library, University of Virginia at Charlottesville.

Letters in Limbo ~ September 21, 1917

Santayana3To Charles Augustus Strong
22 Beaumont Street, Oxford
Oxford, England. September 21, 1917

The notes on your paper (which but for the Censor—I hope, you would have already received) seem to me rather discouraging. Some of our prospective collaborators are evidently nominalists of the dull-thing-eating school; but Lovejoy is intelligent, and I imagine his opposition to “essence” is more a matter of bad temper and egotism (the doctrine is not his own!) than of incapacity to distinguish; he speaks of universals and of principles of individuation; and a person who is so scholastic as that is sure to be saved, or at least savable. Essence has made such a row that it almost seems as if I ought to plunge in with my whole exposition of the subject—a large part of my opus magnum. But, apart from the fact that the manuscript is not finished, there are two reasons for holding it back on this occasion: one, that it is impossible, and would seem presumptuous, to press a complete new ontology on a set of more or less mature—I mean aged—colleagues, and the other, that it is not necessary for the immediate subject of realism to distinguish essence very particularly. In my paper on Literal and Symbolic knowledge, for instance, although I use the word essence, I didn’t feel it necessary to explain or defend the concept in order to make my argument persuasive. Of course, fundamental clearness and soundness will not be achieved without it: but this volume is one of local and momentary importance only; it is merely controversial and instrumental. Both your theory and mine are to be set forth elsewhere in their true context and proportions.

There are some points made in those notes with which I am in agreement. “Essence has nothing to do with existence”: “semi-existence” is not an ultimately acceptable phrase. As I told you long ago, I like the frankness and descriptiveness of that phrase: one sees what you mean, and that you are reporting the facts honestly; but these are literary merits, not implying necessarily a correct or ultimate analysis. Essences have not semi-existence when they are given: they, even then, have no existence at all: but the intuition of them exists, and with the intuition (since the animal mind expresses a reaction, a presumption, and therefore projects its data, and takes them for things) there is probably a belief in the existence of an object having the given essence. This object, or essence hypostasized, has an alleged or imputed existence: whether it exists or not is a matter of fact to be decided by further investigation. But what is obvious, patent, indubitable, and really given is not an existence at all: it is an essence; a homeless, dateless, qualitative, self-identical, self-sufficing theme or motif, a universal, in that there is no knowing how often or where it may not recur, how many things it may be predicable of or how many minds may be acquainted with it in the course of infinite time. Examples of essences are: nausea, jealousy, a particular shade of violet, any poem or musical composition, any noise, the multiplication-table, the straight line. These may, with literary propriety, be said to exist or, “as it were, exist”, whenever, and for as long as, they are felt, conceived, or embodied in material things: but in truth it is not they that exist, but the feeling, thought, or thing which in one case intuits, and in the other case embodies them. In the first case they are given, in the latter they are predicable: in neither case do they, in themselves, acquire any hypostatic or real existence.

As to the definition of existence, that is a large question, involving the definition of matter (or psychic substance) and of consciousness.

I approve (as you know) of the use of “object” for whatever is or becomes “correlative to an organism that perceives or desires”.

“Object” is an egotistical and adventitious name given to things, and also to essences. It is proper to them only on occasion of their being noticed by us. Things become objects when somebody thinks of them; they are never objects in themselves. This is the equivocation on which idealism (in the Aesthetik of Kant’s Critique, for instance) is founded, since it is quite true that objects, “as such”, are relative to “subjects”, as such, which in turn are relative to objects “as such”: etc, etc. so that, if you imagine that things, essences, because sometimes called objects, are objects intrinsically, you are able to turn the universe into an “egocentric” whirpool and maze of relations in which all the terms are abstractions from the relations, and nothing exists except thinking, and that doesn’t.

What is true of “object” is equally true of “datum”: and I fear our friends in America are not sure, when they say “datum”, whether they mean that which is, by chance, given, or that whose whole being and existence is to be given. If they mean the latter, the retort would be that there is no such thing. Things and essences, whose being is not to be given, become data.

I am still working, in a desultory fashion, on my second realistic paper, with the excursus on “existence” which has grown out of it: but my mind is rather attracted to other subjects, nearer to the war, on which I am also writing more or less. I have been to Bath, to London, and to Chichester, to stay with the Russells. “Elizabeth” has returned from her Californian garden, and is having a second honeymoon with her wicked Earl. “Bertie” lives with them now in London but he was not at their place in the country when I was there.

I have seen the first American soldiers in Oxford from an aviation camp not far off. Their uniforms seemed tight (they wear stiff white collars) and their smiles excessive, but otherwise they seemed very fit.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Two, 1910-1920.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow NY.

Letters in Limbo ~ September 20, 1948

1812147To John Hall Wheelock
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6,
Rome. September 20, 1948

Dear Mr. Wheelock,

“Dialogues in Limbo” arrived the day before yesterday—one copy—and simultaneously I had letters from Cory and from Robert Lowell saying they had received their copies. Cory and I are much pleased with the carefully designed front page of the jacket. The colours are particularly well chosen, and the Greek border not too pretentiously Greek. I have a lingering prejudice against large lettering, especially for the author’s name: but the letters in themselves a very nicely drawn and edged, and I cannot really find fault with them. No more can I find fault with the laudatory judgments quoted on the rest of the cover: they sound fulsome, but they will have a salutary effect on shy critics who might not dare to take the Dialogues seriously without some reputable pace-maker. I am glad this time there is no portrait of me. Do you know of any of Alcibiades? A Socrates could be easily found, and there is probably some spurious Democritus that could be rigged out in a long white beard. I like to imagine this book illustrated. Alcibiades gazing at his image in the fountain, with Socrates coming up behind would make a lovely one. Also Avicenna sitting in the Suk on the saddler’s doorstep, and reading by a lamp.

. . . As to anticipating the publication of chapters of Dominations and Powers, I see the justice of your view. We must not take the wind out of the sails by prematurely satisfying the public appetite by a family dinner before the banquet. But perhaps a bite—at the cocktail hour—may keep the illusion up. Anyhow, I am having a few selected chapters recopied, to send to Cory for his consideration. I know that he is not interested in the book on its own account, but think there is a chance of his waking up when he sees what it is like. He has become suddenly an admirer of the Dialogues. These lazy intuitive-fellows have to be allowed to take their time. . . .

Yours sincerely G Santayana

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Eight, 1948-1952.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008.
Location of manuscript: Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries, Princeton NJ.

Letters in Limbo ~ September 19, 1946

To Lawrence Smith Butler
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6
Rome. September 19, 1946

Dear Lawrence,

The parcel from you arrived this morning, full of just the right things. The jars of marmalade were safe, only a little had leaked out of one of them through a crack in the cover. I have not yet tasted the contents, but they look inviting, and please thank the lady who sent them; it will be a treat. The only objection is that I get used to luxuries, and the memory becomes a sort of temptation of Saint Antony when I find myself in the wilderness again without even the wild honey that St. John the Baptist allowed himself. Perhaps the same pious ladies supplied it. The Gospels don’t tell us everything, but they do somewhere mention this charitable practice of good ladies in all ages and countries, in compliment to hermits. By the way, I have read a most charming story, written by St. Jerome about the visit of St. Antony to St. Paul the Hermit in the Thebaid: and I have found a photograph of a magnificent picture by Velazquez—his most beautiful one, I think; for his subjects don’t often lend themselves to poetic treatment, which I have the vulgar taste to like in painting—representing the scene. I remember the original, with the most lovely landscape, a raven bringing a loaf from heaven, and a tame lion digging the grave for St. Paul, more than a hundred years old, to occupy when he has finished the sublime prayer which he is evidently saying. Look up this picture, and tell me if you don’t like it. I have it in a book on Velazquez, which I will give you as a memento if you will come to see it and me.

Thank you especially for the black tie, which is splendid and will last me—if I live—for years. I feel very young and well, and buoyed up by the thought of perhaps finishing my book on Politics, which will be more useful than any of mine hitherto, usefulness never having been a dominant trait in your affectionate old friend

G Santayana

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

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