The Works of George Santayana

Category: LETTERS Page 2 of 274

Letters in Limbo ~ December 2, 1939

Flag_of_Spain_(1931_-_1939).svgTo Arthur Davison Ficke
Hotel Danieli
Venice, Italy. December 2, 1939

In the flattering mention you make of me in your book, there is a slight and very natural error, which in spite of its littleness, is strangely significant and shows how little the public really knows about its members. You speak of my half-Spanish blood. If you had said I was half-Spanish or half-American, it would have been true enough, because my dominant language and associations are American and I have lived little in Spain; but I am wholly Spanish in blood, and have always remained legally Spanish in nationality. . . . [O]ur family life in Boston was wholly Spanish: I never spoke any other language at home; and you can’t imagine what a completely false picture comes to the mind if you suggest that my mother was an American. Then, too, she and my sisters would have been Protestants, and my whole imaginative and moral background would have been different.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Six, 1937-1940.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.
Location of manuscript: The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven CT

Letters in Limbo ~ December 1, 1897

charles-w-eliot-in-studyTo Charles William Eliot
75 Monmouth St
Brookline, Massachusetts. December 1, 1897

Dear Mr Eliot,
I see by the notice and the cheque I received this morning from the Treasurer that my salary for this year has been reduced to $1500 from $1750, which it was in 1895–1896. I venture to call your attention to the fact, as possibly the change was not intended.

You may remember that two years ago I spoke to the members of my department of my unwillingness to continue at Harvard unless there was some prospect of my promotion. I afterwards suggested taking a year away and returning for this other year with my former standing, in order that the Corporation’s plans for the Philosophical Department, which I understood were not yet fully decided upon, might be arranged in the interval. I should naturally be glad to hear as soon as possible what the decision in regard to myself is likely to be, so that if I am not to remain here I may make other arrangements.

Yours very truly,
G Santayana

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

Letters in Limbo ~ November 30, 1912

i1155To Elizabeth Stephens Fish Potter
C/o Brown Shipley & Co.
123 Pall Mall
I Tatti
Florence, Italy. November 30, 1912

You have not heard, perhaps, that my mother died soon after I left America. It was not an unexpected loss, and in one sense, as you know, it had really occurred long before, as my mother had not been herself for some years. Nevertheless, her death makes a tremendous difference in all our lives, as she had always been the ruling influence over us. She had a very strong will and a most steadfast character, and her mere presence, even in the decline of her faculties, was the central fact and bond of union for us. Now, everything seems to be dissolved.

. . . .

I was forgetting to tell you what is perhaps the only important fact—that I have resigned my professorship altogether, and don’t expect to go back to America at any fixed time. As you know, my situation at Harvard has never been to my liking altogether, and latterly much less so, because I began to be tired of teaching and too old for the society of young people, which is the only sort I found tolerable there. The arrangement I had made with Mr. Lowell for teaching during half of each year, I should have carried out had my mother lived; but it was never meant, in my own mind, to last for ever. Now, it seemed that the moment to make the change had come. My brother assures me that I shall have a little income that more than supplies my wants; Boston, with no home there, with no place to dine in night after night but that odious Colonial Club, is too distressing a prospect. Here, on the other hand, everything is alluring. My books (the only earthly chattels I retain) are at the avenue de l’Observatoire; that is my headquarters for the present. Meantime I am looking about, and if some place or some circle makes itself indispensable to my happiness, there I will stay. Intellectually, I have quite enough on hand and in mind, to employ all my energies for years.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Two, 1910-1920.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA

Letters in Limbo ~ November 29, 1940

Frank_JewettTo Frank Jewett Mather
Grand Hotel
Rome. November 29, 1940

Your letter gives me particular pleasure because you notice something central and radical in my views, not as most critics and correspondents do something accidental if not merely imputed. Spirit, both as an evident reality discoverable by analysis in the fact of experience and as a plane of moral life, lies too near to be clearly seen, when attention is called to external events, as it necessarily is in daily life and in science. We must be patient with those who deny spirit, or confuse it with psychic forces or historical movements. . . . Isn’t the intellectual world much in the position it was in during the Roman Empire? Won’t it move towards similar issues? People like T. S. Eliot or like Prof. Collingwood (have you read his interesting Essay on Metaphysics?) are calling people back to spiritual interests and spiritual judgments, even if they relapse, in so doing, into mythology. I don’t mind that. It is so transparent a fiction that it can hardly distort the truth, however poetically it may express it. And a correct and economical definition of the concept of spirit, however desirable, is of little importance compared with the presence or absence of spirituality in the lives of men. Probably you detest idols more than I do; you have been surrounded by ugly ones. If people will only make their idols beautiful, I would not take those idols away from them for the world. It is the beautiful that they are really worshipping through those forms, which is what I worship also.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Six, 1937-1940.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.
Location of manuscript: Department of Rare Books and Manuscripts, Princeton University Libraries, Princeton NJ.

Letters in Limbo ~ November 28, 1936

MaxEastmanTo Max Forrester Eastman
C/o Brown Shipley & Co.
123, Pall Mall, London, S.W.1
Rome. November 28, 1936

Dear Mr. Eastman,
Your letter reaches me when I had just written to your publishers saying I was ashamed to confess that I couldn’t understand a word of your book.¹ If I had been writing to you I should have expressed the matter differently. I can understand your own words, and no doubt I should see a part, at least, of your reasons for making the distinctions you make in the kinds of the comic. My difficulty is with this comic universe itself. There is where everything eludes me in so far as it is supposed to be comic and in so far as the comic is supposed to be a part of the good. To me all these jokes seem rather ghastly. And the enjoyment of laughter, rather than a painful twist and a bit of heart-ache at having to laugh, perhaps, at such things at all, being your whole subject, I say I don’t understand a word of your book. That is, I am not able to share the happy experience that inspires you to write it.

Never mind. You are probably in the same case (although you don’t say so) about my “Realm of Essence.” Why trouble about it? No one is going to hell, or even to the stake, for being a victim, in some direction, of “invincible ignorance.”
Yours sincerely,
G Santayana

  1. Enjoyment of Laughter (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1936).

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Five, 1933-1936.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: The Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington

Page 2 of 274

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