The Letters of George Santayana
The Letters of George Santayana,
Book One, [1868J-1909; Book Two, 1910-1920;
Book Three, 1921-1927; Book Four, 1928-1932;
Book Five 1933-1936; Book Six, 1937-1940;
Book Seven, 1941-1947; Book Eight, 1948-1952,
Vol. V of The Works of George Santayana
Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001-2008.
William G. Holzberger and Herman J. Saatkamp Jr., eds.
In his preface to the eighth and final book of Santayana's letters, general editor
William G. Holzberger relates the story of how Santayana, during one of his final
conversations, stated that what "he always yearned for was completion — that if
he saw a circle half drawn, he longed to complete it" (8:xxviii). With the publication
of Book VIII of The Letters of George Santayana, Holzberger, who first began work
on a comprehensive edition of Santayana's correspondence in 1971, has completed the
circle that is Volume V of the Critical Edition of The Works of George Santayana. It
is a tremendous achievement. Several years ago I reviewed Book I of this series and
noted the immense undertaking for all hands involved in locating, collating, and
transcribing the 3,000-plus letters, postcards and telegrams that make up Santayana's
correspondence. Now we have seven more books of the same excellent quality as the
first: authoritative, easy to consult, and a pleasure to read. All who are interested in
Santayana's thought owe a debt of gratitude to Holzberger, to Kris Frost, and to the
other editors and assistants at The Santayana Edition. These books of letters —
suddenly a fading forum for a faded way of communicating — enrich our
understanding of Santayana's system of philosophy, document his life, and present us
with multiple perspectives on his character.
The letters put to rest the idea that there are perhaps 'two Santayanas'. Some
readers have sensed a divide between the Santayana of the earlier Life of Reason:
humanist, pragmatist, exploring ideal forms of human perfection; and the Santayana of
the later Realms of Being: detached, metaphysical, delineating ontological categories.
However, the letters show that Santayana did not change; rather, as he put it in 1949,
he 'radiated' (8:202). In December of the same year he repeats his claim, this time by
appealing to his notion of the psyche.
The real agent, in mind as well as in body, is what I now call the "psyche", i.e. the life of the
organism. And this organism, though modified by contact with the world, is essentially
hereditary, so that its reactions will express the same bent in all different reactions it may
make. In other words, we do not essentially change, but show on different occasions
different sides of the same nature or will. At least, this has been the case with me. My
genuine judgments as well as affections are what they always were. (8:219)
With respect to his philosophical judgments, a letter sent from Germany in 1887
provides striking confirmation of his thesis.
There are certain convictions which cannot be exiled from the mind, convictions about
everyday practical matters, about history, and about the ordinary passions of men. A system
starting from these universal convictions has a foothold in every mind, and can coerce that
mind to accept at least some of its content. (1:64)