Persons and Places: Time, Place, and Parents



A DOCUMENT in my possession testifies that in the parish church of San Marcos in Madrid, on the first of January, 1864, a male child, born on the sixteenth of the previous December, at nine o’clock in the evening, at No. 69 Calle Ancha de San Bernardo, was solemnly christened; being the legitimate son of Don Augustín Ruiz de Santayana, native of Zamora, and of Doña Josefina Borrás, native of Glasgow; his paternal grandparents being Don Nicolás, native of Badumés, in the province of Santander, and Doña Maria Antonia Reboiro, native of Zamora, and his maternal grandparents being Don José, native of Reus, Catalonia, and Doña Teresa Carbonell, native of Barcelona. The names given him were Jorge Agustín Nicolás, his godparents being his uncle, Don Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana, and his half-sister, Doña Susana Sturgis; “whom I admonished,” writes Don Joaquín Cabrasco, who signs the certificate with his legal rúbrica or flourish, “of their spiritual relationship and duties.”

A shrewd fortuneteller would have spotted at once, in this densely Spanish document, the two English names, Glasgow and Sturgis. With parents evidently Catalans of the Catalonians, how did my mother come to be born in Glasgow, and how did she ever marry a Bostonian named Sturgis? These facts, taken separately, were accidents of travel, or rather of exile and of colonial life; but accidents are accidents only to ignorance; in reality all physical events flow out of one another by a continuous intertwined derivation; and those odd foreign names, Sturgis and Glasgow, were in fact secretly allied and their presence here had a common source in my grandfather’s character and circumstances and in the general thaw, so to speak, of that age: incongruous wreckage of a great inundation. For my little cockleshell and the cockleshells of the rest of my family and of the whole middle and upper class (except the unsinkable politicians) were being borne along more or less merrily on the surface currents of a treacherous social revolution; and the things that happened to us, and the things we did, with their pleasant and their hopeless sides, all belong to that general moral migration.

My maternal grandfather, José Borrás y Bufurull, belonged to a well-established family of Reus, in Catalonia, of the sort that possess a house in the town and a farm in the country. But José was a younger son, and the law of entail or mayorazgo still prevailed at that time in Catalonia, so that the house and land and an almost Roman authority as head of the family fell to his eldest brother. Yet dignity to the classic mind does not involve great wealth or much territory, and younger sons, even in Reus, had to seek their fortunes away from home. They might indeed expect hospitality or a little aid from their families in time of stress, but were well aware that in the ancestral estate and community there was no place or occupation for more than one household at a time.

There was the Church always tempting them, if it tempted them; there were the other professions, and there was the New World, or at least Cuba and the Philippines. One of my grandfather’s brothers had actually combined these opportunities, become a monk, and later been established as a parish priest in Montevideo or in Buenos Aires. My grandfather, far from becoming a monk, became a Deist, an ardent disciple of Rousseau, and I suspect a Freemason; and when a French army entered Spain in 1823, to restore the shaken authority of Ferdinand VII and the absolute monarchy, José Borrás was compelled, or thought it advisable, to leave the country. The story goes that he fled first to Las Palmas, in the Balearic Islands, where he saw and wooed Teresa Carbonell, a stout blonde with very blue eyes (my mother’s eyes were also blue and large); and that after a romantic marriage he persuaded her to follow him in his wanderings.

I do not know why my grandfather should have chosen Glasgow for a place of refuge, or what he did there. All I can say is that his thirst for exploration or his longing for a simpler and more ideal society carried him eventually across the Atlantic, to rural, republican, distinguished, Jeffersonian Virginia. Here, if anywhere, mankind had turned over a new leaf and in a clean new world, free from all absurd traditions and tyrant mortgages, was beginning to lead a pure life of reason and virtue.

José Borrás either came well recommended or ingratiated himself easily into the democracy of Winchester, Virginia, becoming (as a florid testimonial averred) one of its most honored and beloved citizens; so much so that, as the years revolved and a change of government in the liberal direction had occurred in Spain, his Winchester friends induced Andrew Jackson, then President of the United States, to appoint him American consul at Barcelona. Thus his cordial attachments in exile enabled him eventually to return home not only safely but gloriously, and with some prospect of bread and butter.

Whether my grandfather’s appointment lapsed with the change of Presidents in the United States, or whether those strictly legal fees to be received by him were disappointing, or whether other diiliculties arose, 1 do not know; but he was still a Spanish subject, and after a change of government in the liberal direction had occurred both in France and in Spain, his friends were able to obtain for him what promised to be a lucrative post in the Philippine Islands. This was farther geographically than Virginia, but politically and socially much nearer home; and perhaps the oceanic distance and the idyllic state of nature of the natives in those unspoiled latitudes tempted his imagination as much as the easy life and future pension tempted his advancing years.

At any rate, he decided to go; and it was obvious that his daughter, — my mother, — who was devoted to him and was the apple of his eye, must accompany him. Distant lands were not unknown to her, nor colored people. Ller first memories were about a “Grandmother Locke” in whose house they had lived in Virginia, and the darky children that ran half naked about it.

The problem was her mother, who seems to have been less willing to leave her friends and country for the second time. She was very fat; she was not young; perhaps she felt that she had not much longer to live; perhaps she had a premonition that this adventurous project might go wrong, and that her husband and daughter might come back to her before they expected. If so, she would have been half right, as are the best premonitions. She died soon; her husband never returned; and new dawns opened before her daughter in which she counted for nothing.

The voyage from Cadiz to Manila, round the Cape of Good Hope, lasted six months, included the inevitable worst storm the Captain had ever encountered, with death yawning before the passengers in every hollow between the black waves; and it included also the corresponding invention of something to do in good weather. My mother learned to play chess; and her father gave her lessons in English, to brush up her Virginian baby-talk, which must have been rather forgotten during her ten years in Barcelona.

Not all vessels took so long, even round the Cape of Good Hope; and there was also the overland route by Alexandria, and camel-back to Suez. Dispatches from Spain, sent after my grandfather’s departure, reached Manila before him; and he learned to his dismay that in Madrid there had been a change of ministers, and that the post promised to him had been given to somebody else. Yet as justice does not exclude mercy in God, so injustice does not always exclude it in men.

The Captain General of the Philippines enjoyed the prerogatives of a viceroy, since distance from superiors always leaves some room for initiative in subordinates; and another post was found for my unfortunate grandfather — an absurdly modest one, yet sufficient to keep body and soul together. He was sent as governor to a small island — I think it was Batang — where there were only natives, even the village priest being an Indian. Terrible disappointment, do you say? But was not this the very ideal realized? What a pity that Rousseau himself, so much more eloquent than poor José Borrás, could not have been sent instead to that perfect island, to learn the true nature of virtue and happiness!

Now when my grandfather found himself relegated to Batang, he was not a young man; he was a battered and disappointed official, a man of sedentary habits, studious, visionary, and probably careless about his health. He was an enthusiastic moralist and idealist, and it is only fair to suppose that his life corresponded with his principles. But now, in the decline of his life, he was suddenly transferred to a tropical climate entirely new to him, without advice or such resources, medical or other, as even a tropical colony would have afforded in its capital city; and he succumbed. His wife also had meantime died in Barcelona; and my mother was left an orphan, without property or friends, alone at the age of twenty in a remote island peopled only by Indians.


It was at this crisis that she first gave proof of her remarkable courage and strength of character. With what ready money she could scrape together, and with her jewels for security, she bought or hired a small sailing vessel, engaged a native skipper and supercargo, and began to send hemp for sale in Manila. If she was without friends in a social sense, the people round her were friendly. Two of her servants, her man cook and her maid, offered to remain with her without wages; and her skipper and agent proved faithful; so much so that in a short time a small fund was gathered, and she began to feel secure and independent in her singular position. She adopted the native dress: doubtless felt herself the lady shepherdess as well as the romantic orphan.

And she was not without friendly acquaintances and friends of her father’s in Manila who were concerned at her misfortunes and invited her to come and live with them. In time, offers of protection came from even greater distances. Her uncle, the monk, then in charge of a parish in Montevideo, wrote asking her to join him and be his housekeeper. But she did not desire it; and I don’t know how long her life according to nature, to virtue, and to Rousseau might have continued, but for an accident I almost blush to record, because it seems invented.

That solitude, at once tragic and protective, was one day disturbed by a fresh arrival. Batang had remained without a governor; but at last a new governor, a young man, was sent out from Manila. Now two white persons, a young man and a young lady without a chaperon, alone together on a tropical island formed an idyllic but dangerous picture; and it became necessary for that young lady, in order to avoid scandal, to return to a corrupt civilization. Thus the life of pure virtue, as I might show if I were Hegel, by its inner ironical dialectic transformed itself into conventional life; and fate laughed at the antithesis that prudence and decorum opposed to its decrees: because, though my mother proudly turned her back on that young intruder, and went to live with friends in Manila, he nevertheless was destined, many years later, to become her second husband and my father.

The friends with whom she took refuge were a Creole family in Manila, by the name of Iparraguirre, a Basque name rich in resounding r’s. My mother always spoke contemptuously of love-making and matchmaking: yet she herself was twice married, and not by any simple concatenation of circumstances but in spite of serious obstacles. Passion may inspire determination in a Romeo and a Juliet; in my mother I think determination rather took passion’s place. She decided what was best, and then defied all difficulties in doing it. Now it was certainly not best, or even possible, to remain forever a guest of the Iparraguirres. Her special friend, Victorina Iparraguirre, any day might be married and what would the orphaned Josefina do then? Go to Montevideo to keep house for her uncle, the parish priest? Wouldn’t it be wiser and more natural herself to marry? Certainly not any one of those Creole youths or Spanish officials, who in the first place did not particularly court her, and in the second place were not virtuous.

However, there was one wholly exceptional young man in Manila, tall, blond, aquiline, blue-eyed, an American, a Protestant, and unmistakably virtuous. And that young man, probably as little passionate as herself, and as little trustful of the Spanish young women as she was of the Spanish young men, could not but be visited by kindred thoughts. Was not this grave, silent, proud orphan wholly unlike the other young girls? Was she not blue-eyed like himself? Did she not speak English? Had she not lived in Virginia, which, if not so reassuring as Boston, still was in the United States? And as he found on inquiry, if she was not a Protestant, at least she was no bigoted Catholic, but a stern, philosophical, virtuous soul. Was she not courage personified, and had she not suddenly found herself alone and penniless and, like Benjamin Franklin, made her own way in the world? Was she not a worthy, a safe, a suitable, even an exceptionally noble and heroic person to marry? And was it not safer, more suitable, and more virtuous for a merchant in the Far East to be married to a foreigner than not to be married at all?

Such convergent reflections found ways of expressing themselves, and the logical conclusion was easily drawn. A virtuous marriage meant safety and peace for him in his old bonds, and it meant safety and peace for her, who had no dread of novelty, in new bonds rationally chosen. By all means, they would be married; but there was an obstacle. No legal marriage was then possible in Manila except in the Church; and the Church there had not the privilege of granting dispensation for a marriage to a non-Catholic.

Even the Archbishop was sympathetic and free from prejudice; but a petition would have to be sent to Rome for a special license. This would involve long delay, perhaps a year, and of course some expense; and much worse, I am sure, from my mother’s point of view, it would involve a conspicuous act of submission to ecclesiastical authority, such as her pride and her liberal principles would never submit to. Yet it would have been useless to take extreme measures, and to declare that she was a nonCatholic herself; there was no non-Catholic marriage possible within Spanish jurisdiction.

But accident offered a simple means of effecting this purpose. There happened at that time, April, 1849, to be a British man-ofwar at anchor in Manila Bay. The deck of that ship was British territory, and of course there was a chaplain who, being a jolly tar, would not object to marrying a Unitarian to a Papist. Indeed, although the thing was not then fashionable, he might have contended that theologically he was a Catholic, that he stood in the true Apostolic succession, and was blessing a truly Catholic marriage. In any case, the ceremony and the certificate of marriage under British law were legal; and we may imagine the wedding party, the bride and bridegroom, all the Iparraguirres, all the members of the firm of Russell and Sturgis, and the nearer friends of both, setting out in the ship’s cutter, manned by its double row of sailors and flying the white ensign, to the frigate, and cautiously but joyfully climbing the ladder up the great ship’s side. And perhaps, if the Captain was jovial, there may have been a glass of wine, with a little speech, after the ceremony.

This important event — important even for me, since it set the background for my whole life — occurred on the twenty-second of April, 1849, chosen by George St urgis because it was the thirty-second anniversary of his birth. This choice of his birthday for his wedding was characteristic; as was also his sanguine assertion, only half facetious, that his son Victor, because born in the Tremont House in Boston, would some day be President of the United States. Such fancies are in the tone of the Sturgis mind, inclined to pleasantry that is too trivial to be so heartily enjoyed; and these jester’s jests are likely to have some sad echo. That future President of the United States did not live to be two years old, and his confident father had preceded him to the grave.

When this double bereavement fell on my mother, eight years after her marriage, she was already deadened to sorrow and resigned to living on resolutely in a world that could no longer please her or wound her deeply. Ten months after the wedding she had given birth to a beautiful boy, blue-eyed like his parents, fair, and destined to have yellow hair; and his nature at once showed itself no less engaging than his appearance; for when only fifteen months later he found he had a little sister, who sometimes couldn’t help calling away their mother’s attention to herself, he, far from being jealous, was most tolerant and kind, and would even give the baby his toys, although she was too small to appreciate them.

The contrast between the babies was marked, and had a lasting influence in our family. Susana, the second child, was in the first place only a girl, and although my mother had all due respect and affection for her own sex, and was more attached to her women friends, to one or two of them, than even to her two husbands, yet she had no artificial illusions about womenkind, their rights, or their virtues. They were, in most things, inferior to men; she would have preferred to be a man.

Until the age of two Pepín had seemed to be in perfect health, even if rather gentle and oldish for a baby; but at that age signs of fading away began to appear, and became slowly more pronounced. No remedies, no care, no change of residence could arrest them, and seven months later the perfect child died.

The loss of her firstborn did not affect my mother as it would any other mother, especially a Spanish mother. There were no violent fits of lamentation, no floods of tears, no exaggerated cult of the grave or relics of the departed. Especially in a woman who has or is expecting other children, as was the case here, such wild sorrow has its period: the present and the future soon begin to gain healthily upon the past. But with my mother this event was crucial. It made a radical revolution in her heart. It established there a reign of silent despair, permanent, devastating, ruffled perhaps by fresh events on the surface, but always dark and heavy beneath, like the depths of the sea.

Her husband, with his sanguine disposition and American optimism, couldn’t understand it. He wrote worried letters home to Boston, expressing his fears for her life or her reason. He didn’t see the strength of this coldness. Her health was not affected. She bore children at frequent intervals — five in seven years. She did not neglect her appearance, her embroidery, her friends, or her flowers. She spoke little, but she never had been loquacious; and when, in a brief interval between babies, he proposed a voyage to Boston, to present her and the children to his family, she readily agreed. This marriage for him had been extremely happy. He described his domestic bliss in glowing terms in his letters. Was it not a happy marriage for her also? Of course it was. Why then this deadly calm, this strange indifference? Why these silent steps, grave bows, and few words, such as people exchange at a funeral?

Many Spanish women live in this way the life of a Mater Dolorosa, and are devout for that reason to Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows, with seven swords fixed in her heart. They give a religious or pictorial turn to their despair; but at bottom they have the same experience that my mother congealed into a stoical philosophy.

Her depth was entirely psychic, passionately dispassionate, intensely determined and cold; but her intelligence had no depth. It was borrowed, and borrowed not from the best sources, but from the intellectual fashions of her father’s time. Therefore, in her outward life and actions, she showed a persistent attachment to persons and to principles that really meant very little to her. This paradox must be accepted and understood if we are to explain the two apparently contrary bonds with which now, in this first voyage to Boston, she outwardly bound herself. One was her attachment to the whole Sturgis family, much more hearty than her attachment to her husband personally, of whom she never spoke with enthusiasm or even with deference. The other was the unwilling but somehow inescapable bond with my father.

For by a second curious chance, or perhaps by an unconscious or even conscious attraction, my father was one of the passengers in the same clipper ship, Fearless, that took her and her husband with their little children, Susana, Joscfina, and Roberto, in the record time of ninety days from Manila to Boston. He was on his way to Spain on leave.


What Boston first thought of my mother or she of Boston I can only infer from their relations in later years; these relations were always friendly and theoretically cordial, but never close. Indeed, when she first arrived in Boston she was expecting another child. Victor was born there, in the hotel on Tremont Street directly north of the graveyard adjoining the Park Street Church. I remember this Tremont House clearly. It had rounded red-brick bay windows like bastions, and the glass in some of the square windowpanes had turned violet, a sign of venerable age. In 1856 it may have passed for a fashionable place, being near the rural Common yet not far from State Street and the center of business. The principal churches were scattered round it — the Park Street Church, the Old South, King’s Chapel, and St. Paul’s — while round the corner the eye was caught by the State House with its classic dome, model for all capitols in the New World. And almost opposite was the theater, called the Museum, because before entering it your cultured mind was refreshed by the sight of a choice collection of plaster antiques, including the Apollo Belvedere, as well as by cases of stuffed birds and mammals that surrounded the grand entrance hall.

Such was the enlightened center of Boston in the 1850’s; and there were gentle lights really burning in some of those houses, with no exaggeration of their range or brilliance: Ticknors, Parkmans, Longfellows, and Lowells with their various modest and mature minds. I came too late to gather much of that quiet spirit of colonial culture that felt itself to be secondary and a bit remote from its sources, and yet was proud of this very remoteness, which gave it the privilege of being universal and just. In my time this spirit lingered only in Professor Norton, but saddened by the sense of being a survival. I also knew Lowell, in his last phase; I once shook hands with Longfellow at a garden party in 1881; and I often saw Dr. Holmes, who was our neighbor in Beacon Street; but Emerson I never saw.

All this was nothing to my mother, who was too proud to pretend to care for what didn’t concern her. That which she saw and prized in Boston was only what the Sturgises represented: wealth, kindness, honesty, and a general air of being competent and at home in the world. They belonged to the aristocracy of commerce, the only one my mother respected and identified with the aristocracy of virtue.

A superstitious person might have been alarmed at the omens and accompaniments of this first visit to Boston; for old Nathaniel, her father-in-law, whom they presumably went to see, died soon after their arrival, and George Sturgis, her husband, died soon after their return to Manila — not only prematurely and unexpectedly, for he was scarcely forty, but in the midst of a disastrous commercial venture, which left the widow with inadequate means. My mother, however, had not a vestige of superstition; and her courage and coolness, her quick and intrepid action, on this occasion contrasted oddly with the utter apathy and despair that had overcome her on the death of Pepín. The pathetic but not uncommon loss of an infant had paralyzed her; the loss of a young husband, the prospect of a complicated journey half round the world, alone with four little children, and the prospect of life in a strange society and a strange climate in reduced circumstances, seemed to revive her energies and to make her more alert and selfpossessed than ever.

In Madrid, to which my mother returned four years later, there was naturally a circle of retired or transferred officials and military men who had served in the Philippines, and who liked to renew old acquaintance and recall common experiences. Among these retired officials was my father. My mother’s friends from Manila, Don Toribio and Doña Victorina, knew “Santayana,” as they always called him. They liked his wit and his well-informed conversation. He spoke little — he was very prudent — but he spoke well. It was inevitable that he and my mother should meet again.

If I were writing a novel and not a history I should be tempted to invent here a whole series of incidents and conversations that might have occurred during those ninety days in the clipper ship Fearless six years before, and to indicate how the scattered little impulses then awakened, now, when all checks to free expression were removed, could gather head, combine their currents, and become an irrepressible force. But I have no evidence as to what really may have brought these two most rational persons, under no illusion about each other or their mutual position and commitments, to think of such an irrational marriage. It was so ill-advised a union that only passion would seem to justify it; yet passion was not the cause. It was an irresistible daemonic force, a drift of circumstances and propensities, as in one more throw at dice, or one more picture to paint. Things on the whole drove them to that action; but both he and she performed it unwillingly and with full prescience of the difficulties in store. It still remains obscure what the irrational force was that nevertheless carried the day.


The name Santayana is tolerably well known in Spain. My father had a book of the eighteenth century written by one of the family on the subject of international trade, advocating the Spartan policy of isolation and autarchy. My father didn’t call it Spartan, but monkish; and it was based perhaps more on fear of heresy than on love of political independence; but the author was a man of affairs, not an ecclesiastic. My two forlorn unmarried aunts, older than my father, used to tell me that our family was noble and allied to the house of a Marqués de Santayana then existing in Madrid; but they had no means of tracing the relationship, nor did my father give the least attention to questions of this kind; so that I know nothing of my ancestry beyond his own time.

Moreover our family name is really Ruiz, a very common one; and perhaps the addition of de Santayana was as accidental in our family as the addition of de Espinosa must have been in a family of Amsterdam Jews. Dropping Ruiz and retaining only Santayana was my father’s doing, and caused him some trouble in legalizing his abbreviated signature in formal documents. He loved simplicity, and thought plain Augustín Santayana as pompous a name as his modest position could carry. I sympathize with the motive; but why not drop the Santayana and keep the Ruiz, which was the true patronymic? Legally I still possess both; and the question has no further importance, since with me our branch of the family becomes extinct.

The Spanish dignity in humility was most marked in my father. He lived when necessary and almost by preference like the poor, without the least comfort, variety, or entertainment. He was bred in poverty — not the standard poverty, so to speak, of the hereditary working classes, but in the cramped genteel poverty of those who find themselves poorer than they were or than they have to seem.

He was one of twelve children, imposing the strictest economy in the household of a minor official with insecure tenure of office, such as his father was. For supper they had each a small bowl of garlic soup — something that my father loved in his old age, and that I also liked, especially if I might break a raw egg into it, as those twelve children were certainly never allowed to do. You fry some garlic in a pan with some olive oil; when crisp you remove the larger pieces of garlic, add hot water according to the size of the family, with thin little slices of bread, no matter how dry, ad libitum, and a little salt; and that is your supper. Or perhaps, with a further piece of bread, you might receive a slice of cheese, cut so thin that the children would hold it up to the light to admire its transparency and to wink at one another through the frequent round holes.

My father was educated at Valladolid, I don’t know under what schoolmaster first, but eventually at the university there, where he studied law; and he at least learned Latin well enough to take pleasure in translating the tragedies of Seneca into Castilian blank verse — a pure work of love since he could expect no advancement, perhaps rather the opposite, from such an exhibition of capricious industry. Nor was that his only taste; he also studied painting, and quite professionally, although he made no great progress in it.

As to painting, my father’s ideas were absolutely those of the craftsman, the artisan, following his trade conscientiously with no thought or respect for the profane crowd of rich people who might be babbling about art in their ignorance. This jealous professionalism did not exclude speculation and criticism; but they were the speculation and criticism of the specialist, scientific and materialistic. He viewed the arts in the manner of Leonardo, whom probably he had never read.

His methods were not less workmanlike than his thoughts. His easel, his colors, ground by himself with a glass pestle and carefully mixed with the oil, his palette and his brushes, were objects of wonder to my childish heart. I was too young to catch the contagion and try to imitate him; but afterwards, when drawing became a pastime for me (as it still is), I wondered sometimes if my father’s example and lessons would have helped me to make the progress in draughtsmanship which I have never made. I rather doubt that they would have helped me. Because composition and ideal charm, which are everything to me in all the arts, seemed to be nothing to my father. I might have acquired a little more manual skill and corrected a few bad mannerisms; but I should soon have broken away and turned to courses that he could not approve.

Yet I think that he himself suffered in his painting, as in his life, from the absence of any ideal inspiration. He was arrested by the sheer mechanics of the art, as I was arrested by ignorance of them; and he remained an amateur all his life in his professionalism, because after measuring his drawing and catching the likeness (since his paintings were all portraits) and laying on his first strata of color, he would become uncertain and discouraged, without a clear vision of what might render his picture living, distinctive, harmonious, and, in a word, beautiful.

When I once asked him, apropos of his liberal politics, the hollowness of which I already began to feel, what ideal of society he would approve, he said he had no ideal. “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I don’t want.” We laughed, and the matter ended there, since discussion with him was rendered difficult by his extreme deafness; and few things seem worth saying when one has to reduce them first to a few words, and to make and impose an express effort in order to communicate them.

Not to know what one wants is simple absence of self-knowledge. It is abdication, — my father was inclined to abdicate, — and the insistence on not wanting this, or not wanting that, becomes an unamiable exhibition of the seamy side of your nature, the fair face of which you have turned downwards. Now my father hated shams, among which he placed religion, and hated complicated purposes or ambitions, with all the havoc they make. He was tolerant and kindly towards the minor vices and the physical ills of mankind; he was t ightly and ferociously closed against all higher follies. But is it not an initial folly to exclude all happy possibilities and condemn oneself to limp through life on one leg? If it be legitimate to live physically, why isn’t it legitimate to live morally? I am afraid that my father, unlike my mother, was not brave.

He stopped halfway also in the law, which was his chosen profession, but for different reasons. Here he had not the blessed independence of the painter, consulting only his own inspiration. He had to think of tradition, of clients, of magistrates, of personal and political influences and intrigues; and his natural diffidence and dislike of rigmarole stood in his way. His family had no influential connections, and when still a very young man he accepted a post in the government service in the Philippine Islands. In this career, save for the effect of a tropical climate on his health, he did very well.

My father’s last post had been that of financial secretary to the “Captain General” or Governor General of the Philippines, who at that time had been General Pavía, Marques de Novaliches. Now at the time of the revolution that dethroned Queen Isabella II, this general, then in Spain again, had been the only one to remain faithful to his sovereign, and actually to oppose Prim and Serrano in a battle at Alcolea, in which he was easily defeated and wounded. In 1871, when my father and I were living alone in Avila, my mother and sisters having gone to America, Novaliches and his lady came to live in Avila, in the palace that was later the Military Academy; and in their solitude and provincial retirement they seemed to relish the society of my father, with whom they had so many old memories in common. They had a carriage — the only one then in Avila — in which they took a daily drive along one carretera or another, or perhaps to the green hermitage of Sonsolcs at the foot of the mountains opposite: a favorite walk of ours also. Sometimes they would send word, asking my father to accompany them; and as he and I were then the whole family, it was inevitable that I should go too.

Conversation on those occasions was naturally above my head, as I was seven years old; and after the first day I was promoted to a seat on the box beside the coachman, where I could watch the horses and the front wheels in motion to my heart’s content. The landscape of that region has character, but no charming features such as a child might notice; indeed it is striking how entirely children and common people fail to see anything purely pictorial. Women and babies seem to them lovely, and animals attract their attention, as being human bodies curiously gone wrong or curiously overendowed with odd organs or strength or agility; but the fact escapes them that light and shade or outlines in themselves are something.

It was unusually mature of me, in ripe years, to rediscover essences — the only things people ever see and the last they notice. From that coachman’s box my young mind saw nothing but the aesthetics of mechanism; yet my unconscious psyche kept a better watch, and I can now evoke images of impressions that meant nothing to me then but that had subtler significance. Now I can see how deferentially my father sat on the front seat of that carriage, listening to the General’s thick voice: for he had been wounded in the jaw and tongue, so that he had an impediment in his speech and wore a black beard — of the sort I don’t like — to conceal the scar. Every now and then he made a one-sided grimace that I still recall, as well as the serene silent figure of the Marquesa at his side, dressed in black, passive and amiable, but observant, and when she spoke saying something always kind and never silly. She had the air, so common in Spanish ladies, of having suffered, being resigned, and being surprised at nothing.

We soon left for America, and Novaliches and his lady also left Avila on the return of the Bourbons, and resumed a place in the great world: not a leading place any longer, but a sort of grand fatherly place in the background of affairs. Once, some twelve years later, when I was to pass through Madrid, my father gave me a letter of reintroduction to the old General. I was then, 1883, in that appealing phase of youth when one’s heart and intelligence are keenly active, but unpledged; and if Novaliches or the Marquesa should take a fancy to me, might they not still have enough influence to secure a place for me in the army, or at court, or in some government service, where my knowledge of foreign languages might be useful? English, my strong point, was as yet little studied in Spain, and even my elementary German might have seemed an accomplishment: unfortunately it was my Spanish that limped, although that defect would soon have been remedied had I remained in Spain.

These illusions floated, I know, in my father’s mind, and they tempted me also imaginatively; but practically, had it ever come to a choice, I should have dismissed them. They would have led me into a slippery and insecure path, full of commitments, personal obligations, and false promises, very different from the homely plank walk across the snow that was to open to me in America. I have never been adventurous; I need to be quiet in order to be free.

I took my letter to the General’s house, but he was out of town; and this little accident, which we might have foreseen, as it was midsummer, sufficed to discourage us. We took it instinctively for an omen, symbolizing the insurmountable difficulties in the way of our hopes. We had no money. We had no friends. My mother not only would not have helped, but would have regarded my action as an ungrateful rebellion against her and a desertion of my duty.

The desertion, though excusable, was really hers, because nothing would have been more natural and proper than for her to return to Spain, being a Spanish subject, especially a few years later when for her daughters it would have been a most welcome change. Only her son Robert, then thoroughly Americanized and planning marriage, would have been separated from her, not my father or my sisters or me. Rut her will was adamant, once it had taken shape; and without her aid — apart from the unpleasantness and responsibility of the quarrel — I could not have weathered the storms and the prolonged calms of such a voyage in Spanish waters. How her passionate will found expression in words may be seen in a letter, unusually rhetorical for her, that I will translate literally; it deals with this very point of a possible military career for me in Spain, although the essential question — sticking to her or sticking to my father and my country — is not mentioned.

No date (about 1880)

I am glad that our son has no inclination to be a soldier. No career displeases me more, and if I were a man it would repel me less to be a hangman than a soldier, because the one is obliged to put to death only criminals sentenced by the law, but the other kills honest men who like himself bathe in innocent blood at the bidding of some superior. Barbarous customs that I hope will disappear when there are no Kings and no desire for conquest and when man has the world for his country and all his fellowbeings for brothers. You will say that I am dreaming. It may be so. Adieu.

In repeating the part of this letter about the hangman and the soldier, my father once observed, “I wonder in what novel your mother had read that.” Perhaps it had been in a novel; but I suspect that the words may have come from her father’s lips, or out of the book of maxims drawn from all sages, from Confucius to Benjamin Franklin, that my grandfather had collected and published, breathing the spirit of Locke, Rousseau, and Nathan der Weise.

In his old age my father’s eyes became so weak that it was almost impossible for him to read or write. Painting he had long since abandoned; and in order to while away the time, he took to carpentering and to framing and polishing steel clothes-horses of which there was soon one in every room in the house. I think he was happier in these rude occupations than when he had been more occupied with politics and ideas. He felt better, and his mind could choose its own themes rather than the unpleasant events of the moment.

Nature is far kindlier than opinion. When one faculty perishes, the others inherit a modicum of energy, or at least forget gladly, now tliat they are free, that formerly they were subordinate. Anything suffices if nothing else is demanded; and mankind, let us hope, will dwindle and die more contented than it ever was when it waxed and struggled. I at least have found that old age is the time for happiness, even for enjoying in retrospect the years of youth that were so distracted in their day; and I seem to detect a certain sardonic defiance, a sort of pride, in the whining old beggars that look so wretched as they stretch out a trembling hand for a penny. They are not dead yet; they can hold together in spite of everything; and they are not deceived about you, you welldressed young person. Your new shoes pinch you, and you are secretly racked by hopeless desires.

The house in which my father spent his last years, and which afterwards fell to me and was the only property I ever had in Spain, was opposite the Convent of Santa Ana, where above a stone cross and a modest row of trees the rocky soil rises a little above the road and forms a sort of terrace or little square. It was a workingman’s dwelling, what in England is called a cottage, but commodious; there was ample room for my father and aunt, and for me and Susana, and eventually for my other old aunt and my cousin Elvira. In the first place it was a whole house, not divided into apartments; and it possessed a walled space, called a garden, in the rear, with a low wing on one side, which with its kitchen formed a complete dwelling by itself.

The ground before this little house was neither town nor country: virgin earth with rock emerging in places, and preserving its irregular surface; but stone paths had been laid across it roughly, in the directions that people were likely to take, and served as steppingstones in case of mud or pools of water; for there was no drainage. We had a well with an iron pump, in the house, so that only the water for cooking and drinking needed to be fetched from the public fountains. Sometimes in summer, when the purest water was desired, a donkey with four large jars in the pockets of a wicker saddle brought it from some reputed spring in the country. This primitiveness was rather pleasant and on the whole salubrious; we lived nearer to mother earth. Nor was it exclusively Spanish. At Harvard I used to bring up my coal and water daily from the cellar of Hollis Hall, or water in summer from the college pump opposite.

All this formed a meager, old-fashioned, almost indifferent stage-setting to my father’s life: the real drama was his health. He was a wiry and (for a Spaniard) a tall man, and lived to the age of seventy-nine; and long walks and long sea voyages in comfortless old sailing vessels were nothing to him. Yet he was a hypochondriac, always watching his symptoms and fearing that death was at hand. Whether this was congenital or the effect of insidious ailments proper to tropical climates, I do not know; but the sense of impediment, of insecurity, was constant in him. It defeated any clear pleasure in any project, and mixed a certain bitterness with such real pleasures as he enjoyed. They were snatched, as it were, from the fire with a curious uneasiness, as if they were forbidden and likely to be punished. And this when theoretically he was absolutely rationalistic, materialistic, and free from moral or physical superstition.

Perhaps, if a man’s bowels are treacherous, he cannot trust anything else. Dysentery removes all the confidence that the will has in itself: the alien, the irresistibly dissolving force is loo much within you. Moreover, my father had other obvious discouragements to face: poverty, deafness, semi-blindness: yet these, if his digestion had been good and strong, I don’t think would have cowed him. He had plenty of Castilian indifference to circumstances and to externals, plenty of independence and capacity to live content with little and quite alone. But the firmness of the inner man must not be undermined by a sour stomach: that, at least, seems to have been my father’s experience.

Intelligence and brave philosophy were mixed strangely with this discouragement. On one of the many occasions when he thought, or dreaded, that he might be on his deathbed, he felt a sudden desire for some boiled chicken, without in the least giving up his asseveration that he was dying; and as his deafness prevented him from properly modulating his voice, he cried out with a shout that resounded through the whole house: La Unción y la gallina! “Extreme Unction and a chicken!”

Extreme Unction only, be it observed. That is the last sacrament, to be received passively, without saying a word. It would put him to no inconvenience. To have asked for Confession and Communion would have implied much talking; he was too far gone for that. Extreme Unction would do perfectly to avoid all unpleasantness regarding his funeral and burial in holy ground. Nobody would need to be distressed about his soul. And meantime, since these were his last moments and the consequences of any imprudence would make no difference, why not boldly indulge himself one last time and have some boiled chicken? That, I am confident, was his thought. And he had the chicken. The last sacrament, this time, was not required.