Turning to Santayana
From those who have recently turned their attention to Santayana, some of the
more appreciative and sensitive criticisms have come from scholars of
literature, rather than of philosophy. To a large extent, this stems from the
republication of his autobiography, along with the major biography by John
McCormick, both of which appeared simultaneously, and which have been
widely reviewed.1 The focus of the reviews has understandably been upon his
life and surroundings, with less attention to his technical philosophy, although
of course these two are especially difficult to separate in his case. This focus on
Santayana as man of letters is likely to continue, since the next books slated to
appear in the Santayana Edition are his early work on aesthetics, on poetry and
religion, his novel, and his letters.
A welcome aspect of comments from the literary quarter is the opportunity
to read phrases combining elegance and precision in a manner fitting for a
commentary on Santayana: John M. Robson speaks of "Santayana's wary and
astonishing powers of observation and expression"; McCormick tells us that, at
Harvard, Santayana stood out like "a ripe mango among Jonathan apples";
"Santayana's style of unhurried contemplation demands an attentiveness that
our frenetic age is loath to embrace," says James J. Thompson, Jr.; and Daniel
Aaron writes: "For a philosopher he wrote indecently well, incurring suspicion
by the very felicity of his language." My favourite is the opening sentence in a
hostile Village Voice review, which reads like an echo distorted after a thousand
repetitions: 'Those who forget Santayana this year are doomed to be
Another excellent book on Santayana has turned up from an entirely
unexpected source - the department of English of the University of
Witwatersrand. Anthony Woodward's Living in the Eternal: A Study of George
Santayana/ will of course not receive the attention given to the two
simultaneously appearing tomes, but I hope that it does not go unnoticed.
1 Persons and Places: Fragments of Autobiography, edited by William G. Holzberger and Herman J.
Saatkamp, Jr., (MIT Press, Boston, 1986). John McCormick, George Santayana: A Biography, (Alfred A.
Knopf, New York, 1987).
2 Robson *s review is "Persons and Places - Hold the Events," in Overheard in Seville: Bulletin of the
Santayana Society 5, Fall 1987; See pages 32-33. See page 441 of Thompson's review, "A Philosopher's
life and Death," in Book World; February, 1988, Daniel Aaron's review, "Pilgrim's Progress," appears in
the May 18, 1987 issue of The New Republic; See page 33. And Carlin Romano wrote the review KSay
Goodnight, George," in the Voice Literary Supplement, May 1987. I shall refer to these reviews by the
name of the author,
3 This is brought out by Vanderbilt University Press, Nashville, 1988.