15 December, 1997
Dear Charles Padrdn.
Thank you very much for Conversaciones con Santayana.1 I find It intensely
interesting, since as David Weissman told you, I had a conversacion with Santayana in
1931, at the very same Pincio that Jrazusta mentions, where he found Santayana
correcting proofs. It's evident that Santayana enjoyed working there. The caf6 is near
the top of the park, overlooking a long sweep of lawn and shrubs. A very quiet place —
the tables are (were?) set far apart, and other people's conversaciones are barely audible.
Now what was I doing there? In May of 1931 I graduated from the School of
Architecture at Columbia University, and my first husband Henry Mins and I set off for
the Grand Tour of Europe and its Great Monuments. Henry, teaching in New York, was
granted a year's leave, so off we went, first to Paris where I was born. France was no
novelty to me, but Henry had never been to Europe. In Paris we bought a little Renault
and after some tremendous dinners with my cousins in Paris, we were off to study the
European Wonders of Architecture.
Although we were conscientious about making drawings, making notes, and taking
photos of notable buildings, we treated ourselves to vacations along the way, enjoying
the countryside, chatting with the people, and eating and drinking the specialities of the
Naturally we were in Rome. Henry since student days had been, like Irazusta,
"captivated by Santayana." He had a PhD in philosophy and Santayana was his favorite
philosopher. He had me reading the Soliloquies when I was 16. It says a lot for
Santayana that I rarely felt that I was out of my depth. In fact to quote him (I have the
Soliloquies at hand): "To the ladies when they dip into my books everything is crystal
clear." Further, "I find my unsophisticated readers [me] delightfully appreciative,
warmly sympathetic and altogether friends of mine in the spirit."
So here we were, two lovers of Santayana eager to meet him. Henry wrote him
a letter explaining who we were, inviting him to have dinner with us. It must have been
a very good letter because we had a prompt, very kind answer. He wrote that he did not
accept invitations because if he should, he would find himself perpetually away from his
study with no time to work. He would be glad to have us join him for tea at the Tea
House Caf6 of the Pincio, He was there to greet us, standing at a table near the top of
the park. We sat down, tongue tied! He immediately put us at our ease with the utmost
grace and charm, talking about his childhood, about his experiences as a young teacher.
When we had begun to thaw, he asked us where we had been, what we had seen.
He was glad to hear that we had now and then taken time off from our studies. He said:
"There's nothing so refreshing, even stimulating, to the ideas as to read, talk, think of
See pp. 14-24 of Overheard in Seville: Bulletin of the Santayana Society, No. 15, Fall 1997.