A Soliloquy in limbo
Dick Lyon has had the rare privilege of discussing Oliver Alden's character with
Santayana himself. Such an advantage being impossible to counter, I resolved to
visit Limbo, and seek a dialogue with Santayana. The visit was arranged,
although not without difficulty; but I was soon disappointed to learn that
Santayana was not prepared to discuss personalities. Many times he had said
that only his philosophy was worth preserving, if indeed anything at all should
be saved. Because this view in fact reflected his innermost character, only this
eternal part of his being had been admitted, after the custom in Limbo.
I was astonished to learn, however, that Oliver himself was to be found there,
along with a host of other persons from literature whose characters were
sufficiently definite and complete to permit their entry into Limbo. An occasion to
meet him, and to engage in dialogue, was quickly arranged; but the dialogue
with Oliver was not very satisfactory either. As he learned of Lyon's opinions, he
lapsed somewhat into himself: the dialogue passed into monologue, and the
monologue into soliloquy.
Oliver was quick to deny that he was to be identified with Santayana, even
the younger Santayana, in the novel: sounding rather like a professor of
philosophy, he dismissed the thesis as "sufficiently refuted by the fact that he and
Santayana occupy different parts of Limbo. " While conceding that he frequently
expressed Santayana's opinions, he nevertheless insisted that this was true of all
the characters: each is used as a foil for the ironic expression or exploration of
these opinions. Somewhere Santayana had said that, once having attained his
own solid philosophy, he liked to test out its maxims by inserting them into
different philosophical settings. According to Oliver, Santayana was putting his
own views into the mouths of his protagonists, yes; but in each case the person's
different character or philosophy or situation would bring about interesting
changes in that opinion.
What I repeat now is taken from my notes of Oliver's one further soliloquy.
sje $ jje sje jje
The last puritan: one might anticipate for the hero a sour puritan who
eschews all forms of enjoyment and pleasure, in favour of hard duty. Many of
my relatives were like this. But my life was a quest for happiness, at least in my
own mind; and yet I seemed unable to define or achieve my happiness. Perhaps
Santayana was unhappy in his younger days, but this seems to have been due to
externalities - he was entirely capable of it In my case, I somehow lacked the
This paper was read to the Santayana Society, Boston, December 28, 1990, in a response to
Richard Lyon's talk "Oliver's Last Soliloquies."