Santayana in Europe

by DANIEL CORY

1

AFTER fourteen years of close association with George Santayana, I find myself separated from him by the exigencies of war. At the moment of writing, he is living in a private nursing home in Rome, while I have returned to the place of my birth, New York. Naturally I have been unable to keep in touch with him by letter and inform him of the many anxious inquiries made by his friends in this country. Under the circumstances, I have felt a kind of persistent inner compulsion to solidify in words, while the materials of memory are fresh and plastic, my recollections of him.

The Santayana that I know is the older Santayana: he was sixty-three when I first met him. His life may be divided conveniently into two parts, the line being drawn when he gave up teaching at Harvard in 1912 and left America for good. To the first half belong the poet, the interpreter of poetry and religion, and the author of The Life of Reason. Let us call this Santayana I. I can speak from direct memory only of Santayana II — the elderly gentleman who turned novelist for a season and gave us The Last Puritan, the metaphysician laboring for years on his profound Realms of Being, the autobiographer now completing his Persons and Places.

In 1926, when I was twenty-one years old, I left New York to live in London, and I intended to continue my studies abroad as long as I — or rather my grandmother—could afford it. My interests were divided equally between poetry and philosophy, and in the writings of Santayana I had discovered a wonderful marriage of the aesthetic and intellectual sides of the mind that moved me deeply. So after a year in England I decided to write an essay on his work. For six weeks I shut myself up in a room on the top floor of a boardinghouse in South Kensington. When finally my essay was completed I determined to send it to Santayana himself and ask him to fell me frankly what he thought of it. His English publishers in London supplied me with his address, and the rest I left to fate. A week of anxiety ensued, and then one morning a letter postmarked Roma and addressed in a large, clear handwriting arrived. To put it tritely, my fondest expectations were surpassed by the flattering comments he made on my paper, which was subsequently published in the Journal of Philosophical Studies.

In replying to Santayana I expressed my desire to meet him. I mentioned that Rome would be a long and expensive trip for me, and that if he intended to come to Paris in the near future, I could manage that much better, He answered in due course and suggested that if I cared to take the sea voyage from Tilbury to Naples, he would be pleased to defray the expenses of the trip. As I look back over the last twenty years of my life, I ask myself if I have ever been quite so happy, so filled with suppressed excitement, as on that morning in early April, 1927, when I boarded one of the Orient liners at Tilbury and sailed for Italy.

In Rome, I booked in at a small hotel-pension in the Via Quattro Fontane. Santayana’s large but rather old-fashioned hotel was just down the street in the Piazza Barberini. (He had already lived there for about twelve years when I first met him.) I remember I was a bit nervous about seeing him, and loitered for a long time in the broad sun-splashed piazza.

At last I sent my name upstairs and was soon in the lift on the way to his apartment. I had never seen a photograph of Santayana, and only knew vaguely that he must be over sixty years old. But I had imagined him as rather thin and very remote.

I was wrong down to the last detail. The man who arose from his desk to greet me was portly and genial. A contagious smile, large brown flashing eyes (extremely Spanish), and an ample waistline (which I always associate with affability) reassured me at once. Something youthful about his manner and conversation bridged the gulf of years that might have stood between us. I forgot completely that I was with a much older man; and for his part, Santayana was surprised when I told him that I was only twenty-two.

I remember vaguely that he seemed rather impatient that afternoon when I spoke about his poetry or his earlier books on aesthetics and religion. He said something to the effect that “aesthetics is only a part of psychology,” and reminded me that Matthew Arnold was “in the air” when he wrote his Interpretations of Poetry and Religion. Perhaps he dreaded that I would ply him with carefully planned technical questions, as so many young students and professors did at their first and only meetings. If he failed that afternoon to measure up to a very immature ideal of the “great philosopher” that I expected to meet in Rome, it is because I misunderstood a certain lightness of word and manner that is characteristic of Santayana in conversation. There was certainly nothing “difficult” about him, and this was all to the good as far as I was concerned.

2

I HAD a standing invitation to luncheon, and afterwards we would either go for a stroll in the Pincio or take a carrozza to some place of interest in Rome — if it was too distant for walking. Museums and picture galleries were excluded, however, for it tired and bored Santayana to mingle with the groups of wide-eyed tourists shepherded by shouting guides. And of course he had seen and studied everything as a younger man. Sometimes we would visit a remote church to see, for example, a lovely window of stained glass; or drive to a position on one of the surrounding hills that afforded a wonderful view of the campagna and the city below us. I could not have had a more sympathetic guide: Santayana knew Rome like a native, and we did things in a very leisurely manner.

From my own point of view, our luncheons together were great events — and I am speaking materially as well as spiritually. At first he took me to very fashionable restaurants: the subterranean Ulpia, the elevated sunlit Castello dei Cesari, or the Café della Rosa in the glorious Villa Borghese. But later on we frequented a popular Italian restaurant in the heart of the city.

Food always made an enormous difference to Santayana: it was striking the way it would fortify him almost immediately. All the fatigue of a long morning of writing, and the weight of age, seemed to disappear like magic as soon as the bread had been broken and the wine poured. I tried not to tire him: I never planned any special question to ask him and after luncheon I let the discussion grow out of what George Meredith has called a “post-digestive calm.”

One afternoon, however, I inadvertently ruffled the more sensitive side of Santayana’s nature. We were gazing at St. Peter’s from some high point of vantage, and Santayana, after pointing out the private railroad that ran through the spacious grounds of the Vatican, began explaining some detail of ecclesiastical administration to me. For some obscure reason (I am a low Presbyterian) I suddenly blurted out as I nodded towards the glittering dome of the cathedral, “All this has nothing to do with the simple Master who walked by the Sea of Galilee. I wonder indeed what He would think if He returned to the world today and saw this power organization at work.”

Santayana was not only astonished but angry at my remark. I think he considered it a crude and impertinent expression of a provincial kind of Protestant prejudice. He controlled himself by saying nothing and we walked along in total silence. I realized I had been a bit flippant, and I apologized for my hasty observation.

He forgave me immediately, and I remember fairly accurately what he then said, because it made a strong impression on me.

“I’m a little surprised at your attitude,” he began, “ because I hoped that you were more sympathetic to a great tradition like the Catholic Church. Even if its early history is bloody, — full of political intrigue and other imperfections, — is it not perhaps wiser to accept such a tradition in toto than to pick flaws in it like the Protestants? If unfortunately — like myself—you cannot hold the official doctrine, it is better to regard the whole thing as an expression of the human spirit than to attempt to get back to a few hypothetical sayings and actions of its alleged Founder, and then base your whole religion and theology on such a flimsy foundation.

“The trouble with Catholicism,” Santayana went on, “is not that it is too ornamental or symbolic, — the usual Protestant criticism, — but that it is too human — too good to be true. I simply cannot believe that nature at large can conform so closely to the heart’s desire.”

We were having tea one afternoon in a cafe near the Esedra — that “crescent of modern white buildings” the visitor first sees as he leaves the railway station. I had then been in Rome for about six weeks, and as my funds were getting low, I said something to the effect that I must return to London shortly and arrange things for my trip back to America. Santayana was silent for a moment and then remarked that it would be a pity not to see Paris. I answered that I planned to stop there for a few days before crossing the Channel to England.

Suddenly he turned to me and said in a very frank, almost boyish way: “How would you like to help me with the preparation of The Realm of Matter? I could do with a secretary for a year or so, and you’re just the person.”

I was so startled and excited by his question that I nearly strangled on an undissolved lump of sugar in my teacup, but I managed to answer quite calmly, “Why, I think it’s a splendid idea.”

The conditions subsequently agreed upon could not have been happier from my point of view. In the first place, Santayana was to turn over the manuscript of The Realm of Matter to me (I shall have more to say concerning the nature of my secretarial duties shortly); secondly, I could live wherever I wished in Europe and he would arrange to have me visit him from time to time when it proved convenient; and lastly, he promised to support me until his book was ready for publication. This time limit to our arrangement was emphasized by Santayana, as he did not wish to mislead me in regard to my eventual future. But he said that the work on The Realm of Matter “would occupy us” for about two years.

A few days later I left for Paris. I did not take The Realm of Matter with me, as Santayana said he would bring it himself to Paris at the end of the month. And in the meantime he advised me to brush up on my French so that I would feel more at home.

3

WHEN Santayana arrived a little later, I was surprised to learn — in view of his customary detachment — that for several summers he had been in the habit of residing with an old American friend, Mr. C. A. Strong, in an apartment on the Avenue de l’Observatoire near the Luxembourg. As I had heard nothing previously about this arrangement, I can only surmise that the two old gentlemen had exchanged letters before deciding whether or not I should be a possible nuisance in Paris. But Mr. Strong must have been impressed by what Santayana wrote him, for I was soon invited over to the Left Bank for discussion. I discovered that their apartment had become a kind of summer headquarters for visiting American professors, and one afternoon Henri Bergson had come over from Passy for tea. As it is impossible to move in the orbit of Santayana without taking into account the existence of the less famous philosophical body of Mr. Strong, I shall say something more about him.

Santayana and Strong (I shall now drop the Mr. — as he himself shortly urged me to) had been friends since college days, and judging by early photographs that I have seen of them, they must have been two very good-looking young men when they shared a Harvard fellowship together in Germany over fifty years ago. But Strong had become exclusively and passionately interested in a set of philosophical puzzles that have been dignified by the rather ominous title of epistemology: a discipline that may be defined roughly as an attempt to explain how we know what we know without studying philosophy. This was Strong’s self-appointed lifework, and having toiled unceasingly over his puzzles for four decades, his honest soul had become embittered by a strange lack of public attention. Fortunately, I had read one of his books, The Origin of Consciousness, and he was delighted to find someone who appreciated his labors.

I listened with great interest to everything Strong said, for although I was Santayana’s avowed disciple (a source of unavoidable irritation to Strong), all problems in philosophy were fresh and fascinating to me. But with Santayana it was different. His mind was made up: his official doctrine had been made public. And Strong’s inability or refusal to recognize this obvious fact amazed me. In my innocence I failed to realize that nothing could be more calamitous to a man of Strong’s nature (and there are other philosophers like him) than to have any question finally settled. Not only would an ultimate solution of anything entail the horrible possibility that some day there might be a scarcity of bones to growl over, but it is somehow repugnant to the Protestant conscience itself, which demands either a subjective Devil or an epistemological problem to wrestle with forever and ever.

Strong was a lonely man for all his wealth, and the fact that he had become a cripple, and had to use a wheelchair to get about in, had not helped matters. Unlike Santayana, he depended upon other people to keep his spirits up. He was miserable unless there was some fellow philosopher at hand for him to whet his thoughts on. And for years Santayana had served this purpose admirably. Although on all the major issues in philosophy they were in substantial agreement, when it came to some special minute bone of contention, there was often a violent tempest in a teapot. For Strong had worked very hard over his puzzles, and it dismayed him to find his old and distinguished friend reluctant to accept his pet solutions.

But behind all these superficial disagreements were the brute facts that Santayana was a Castilian, a Catholic by family ties and sentiment, and a littérateur as well as a metaphysician; while Strong was an American, a Puritan by instinct, with an admiration for the scientific side of philosophy.

4

MY PENSION was only a few minutes from the Champs Élysées and there I came to work on the huge manuscript of The Realm of Matter, written in Santayana’s own hand. He explained what he wanted me to do. He had composed two or three drafts of nearly every chapter of the book, and he asked me to study these alternative accounts of the same topics, mark out the passages or paragraphs I liked best, and then try to reconstruct, as it were, the ideal chapters to compose the final version of his book.

I was duly impressed and somewhat alarmed at the nature of my task, but Santayana was sympathetic and genial, and I knew of course that he would have the last word about everything. As a matter of fact, he was rather fed up with philosophy just then, and welcomed an opportunity to shift some of the burden of revising a difficult book onto another person. Although I was unaware of it at the time, he was already beginning to sketch out the chapters of The Last Puritan — a novel which had been revolving in his mind for many years.

I might as well anticipate the course of events and confess at once that on the whole I failed to help Santayana as much as he expected me to — at least, this is true of my work on The Realm of Matter. The painful discovery that I was not an indispensable collaborator did not dawn on my mind immediately. I would study each chapter leisurely, and then write out a list of “suggestions” on a separate page. And though a number of my incidental hints were accepted gratefully, I fear that those ambitious reconstructions were silently rejected.

Apart from philosophy, I think it was a relief for Santayana to get away from tlie apartment and have a different kind of friend in Paris. I showed him my poems (our interest in poetry was another tie between us that Strong did not share); he helped me with my French, using Le Temps as a kind of daily textbook. And sometimes we went to a matinee at the Odéon or Théâtre-Français. In the evening we would often meet at some café-restaurant — say the Angleterre on the Boulevard des It aliens.

After a Pernod (sometimes two) he would order dinner to be served outdoors in the cool of the evening. Philosophy was forgotten as we watched the gay cosmopolitan throng or commented on the casual news of the day. That is to say, technical discussion was banned, but I felt that I was realizing a certain philosophy of life that I had never found in America. Around nine-thirty Santayana would say good-night. He liked to stroll alone by the Seine for about a half an hour before taking his favorite footbridge across the river on his way to the apartment near the Luxembourg.

It actually took more than two years to trim The Realm of Matter down to fighting — or rather, publishing — weight; but by the summer of 1929, my meager share in the preparation of the book was finished. And late that June, Santayana and Strong had gone to Glion-sur-Montreux in Switzerland instead of Paris, for the latter had decided to spend the summer at his clinic, and had persuaded Santayana to go to a near-by hotel so that he could drive with him in the afternoons — and discuss epistemology.

5

I HAD just decided to leave Venice and prepare for my return to America, when I received a letter from Santayana. He asked me to come to Switzerland for the rest of the summer, saying that he and Strong wanted to see me. Naturally I was delighted at the idea of seeing Switzerland for the first time, but I wondered if this visit was intended as a gracious farewell gesture.

When I arrived at Montreux the following night, it was so dark that I could see nothing of my new surroundings, but the air — especially after Venice — was like a glass of cool champagne. The hotel bus was at the station to meet me, and I remember that Santayana had waited up to greet me. He was in a very jolly mood, and I think the mountains must have done him good. After the usual exchange of polite inquiries, he came to the point of my visit

“If you still don’t want to return to America,” he said, “ I think that Strong has something of interest to tell you. He is now writing a book on the origin of the mind, and it might be a good idea for you to live in Florence this winter and assist him in any way you can. But Strong will tell you the rest himself.”

Relieved by these unexpected good tidings, I slept well that night. It must have been around nine-thirty in the morning when I was awakened by Santayana’s knocking at my door. We had arranged to have breakfast downstairs together at half past eight, and I imagine he had got tired of waiting for me.

“But haven’t you seen yet the view from your balcony?” he asked me in surprise.

We remained for several minutes admiring the magnificent panorama, and Santayana pointed out and identified for me the distant towns and mountain ranges. Although he is nearsighted himself and thinks in words rather than visual images (he once told me that when he dreams it is always of people talking rather than of how people look), he can appreciate large masses of color.

I led a very luxurious life at Glion for the rest of the summer. Santayana and I had all our meals together in the spacious dining room, and several times a week we would go driving with Strong after luncheon. Santayana worked hard as usual in the mornings, and most of our conversation took place at mealtime. The dining room was a bit too noisy and glaring for him, but on Saturday evenings, before the weekly hotel dance, he would rise to the occasion and order champagne as well as our customary wine.

Santayana had visited Strong many times at his villa in Fiesole, and he had duly warned me of the Anglo-American aesthetic accent that haunted the somber cypresses on the hills above Florence. It is true that Bernard Berenson lived a few miles away at Settignano, and that the Sitwell family was equally distant; but the famous Villa Medici — where Lady Sybil and Percy Lubbock held court — was situated within a stone’s throw of Strong’s winter philosophical headquarters.

All in all, I passed a difficult winter with Strong. Apart from his fanatical desire to convert other people to his own epistemological point of view (which itself was constantly undergoing modifications, so that you never knew exactly where you were in an argument with him), I suffered intensely from colitis. It was the psychological climate that affected me as much as the dampness of a cold Tuscany winter. I had no friends or external distractions to relieve the monotony. Strong and I would talk philosophy by the hour, and it would be ungracious in me not to confess that these endless conversations sharpened my own ideas and helped to define, by way of contrast, Santayana’s own position in theory of knowledge. I did all I could to help Strong with his book — Essays on the Natural Origin of the Mind — and it was generous of him to acknowledge my assistance in the preface. Whenever I write an article on epistemology nowadays, I realize anew that those long hours at Fiesole were not misspent, and I am still haunted by the spectacle of Strong shaking his finger at me and saying, “Cory! That is not the right word for what you really mean.”

Finally, when the spring came and turned Florence into a paradise again, Santayana invited me to Rome for a long visit. He had gathered that I was not happy at Fiesole, and so had arranged with Strong to look after me until the following autumn.

6

IT WAS during the spring of 1930 in Florence that I began jotting down my impressions of Santayana in a diary and forming, I believe, a more adequate conception of the man himself and his way of life. I lived at his hotel and so had a good opportunity of observing him “at home.”

His economy of life was reflected in his personal habits. To begin with, he dressed extremely simply. He had two black suits, a winter and a spring overcoat, and three pairs of shoes (I am excluding an old pair of evening pumps that Santayana had purchased in Boston over forty years ago and still wore occasionally), If you add to this a black felt hat, half a dozen white shirts, and two black ties, you have almost his entire wardrobe.

The economy of life was manifested in the simple and long-established routine of his day. He would arise at seven in the morning, slip on an old dressing gown, a pair of socks and slippers, and then breakfast in the sitting room at precisely seven-thirty. This meal consisted of tea and toast and a softboiled egg. At eight o’clock he would go to his desk, wrap an old rug around his legs to keep him warm, and after glancing at his correspondence, start working in earnest. He would write steadily until half past eleven. Then he would have his bath, shave, and dress for the day. I usually turned up about noon, and read his London Morning Post in the sitting room until he had completed his toilet.

If the weather was fair, and it generally is in Rome in spring, we would walk to a near-by restaurant for luncheon. And here Santayana would “ let himself go” to a certain extent: I mean there was nothing especially abstemious exemplified in his choice of food. He would often order a dish that struck me as being rather rich, such as a spicy Indian curry or an elaborate cake for dessert. And he drank two or three glasses of wine — a mezzo-titro — with his food. (It astonished me the way he poured leftover wine on his cake when the dessert was served.)

After luncheon he would go for a walk in the Pincio. He preferred as a rule to be alone in the afternoon, now that there were no new sights for us to see in Rome. I frequently spied him in the park reading his newspaper, or strolling in the shade of some tree-arched avenue — and the Pincio is full of lovely promenades.

He would return to his hotel about four-thirty, put on his slippers and dressing gown, and either read a book or attend to his correspondence — but would do no more serious writing. Around six o’clock I would drop in for a chat. I say chat, but some of my most personal conversations with Santayana occurred during this brief half hour or so before dinner was served in his sitting room. I never dined with him: I had my dinner downstairs in the hotel restaurant.

To complete this bare description of a typical day in the life of my friend, it only remains to add that he read until about ten o’clock before retiring. In my mind’s eye I can see him walk over to the large front window that opened on the Piazza Barberini, and gaze for a few moments up the lighted Via Tritone before drawing the curtains for the night. Santayana liked that view from his top-story window: it was gay and yet sufficiently distant to be undisturbing.

He lived spiritually as well as physically above the traffic of this world. I remember how it impressed me when I discovered that Santayana would never read any notices or criticisms of his work — unless some old friend happened to send him a clipping. He detested the solicitations of literary agencies. Middleton Murry has wisely said that Santayana’s detachment is a condition of clear thinking, but other less friendly critics have put it down to a dread of contamination — or perhaps ultimate snobbery. Whatever way you look at it, the fact remains that he lived above the popular movements in the intellectual world.

Santayana is said to be reluctant to meet people, and it is rumored that he has dropped many casual acquaintances who have mistaken themselves for friends. It cannot be denied that he has manifested a certain dread of interruption, for that is what the imputation of being unsocial boils down to in his case. His dread of interruption is grounded on a practical consideration. Santayana was over sixty when I first met him. There were still a number of books he wanted to write while the candles were burning brightly. And he had to protect the daily routine that had been devised expressly for this purpose.

There were a few people who came from time to time for luncheon, students or professors for the most part. And sometimes I helped Santayana in a very practical way, for after luncheon he would excuse himself, but suggest that I should go in his stead for a walk with the disappointed student or professor. I became callous to the stony silence or rather forced conversation that usually resulted from this expedient. Of course there were a few older friends of long standing that Santayana welcomed in a different spirit every five years or so — old Harvard friends like Lawrence Smith Butler or Horace Kallen. And the late Lady Russell (“Elizabeth”) used to write him when she was to be in Rome.

7

SOMETIME in June, 1932, after I had at last returned to London, I received a long letter from Santayana. He said that he required my material assistance again (The Last Puritan was really beginning to take shape), and offered to support me indefinitely. I had been making a little money doing book reviews and occasional articles for English literary periodicals, but it was a relief to know there would be something more regular to depend on.

In his letter Santayana also wrote me that, despite his long absence from the classroom and lecture hall, he had consented to deliver two final public addresses — one in Holland and one in England. He first went to The Hague in August for the commemoration of the tercentenary of the birth of Spinoza, and read a remarkable paper on “Ultimate Religion.” Then, early in September, he crossed the Channel for the first time since World War I and came to London. I had engaged rooms for him just off St. James’s Street in the quarter he knew so well. His object in coming to London had been to fulfill a long-delayed promise made to the Royal Society of Literature when they had honored him with their gold medal some years before. I understand it is customary to be present and read a paper when you receive the gold medal, but Santayana had been in Rome at the time and was excused on the promise that he would deliver an address at some future date. So he had decided to kill two birds on one round trip in 1932, and follow up his Spinoza lecture by giving one on “John Locke and the Frontiers of Common Sense” in London.

One of the first things Santayana did in London was to buy a gray hat, an umbrella, and a raincoat, in the Burlington Arcade. Although I assured him that many people in England wore black felt hats, he insisted that he would look less conspicuous in a gray one. We had luncheon every day at Hatchett’s — that charming old restaurant in Piccadilly that Santayana had frequented before the turn of the century. Then we would go for a long walk around the Serpentine in Hyde Park.

I enjoyed very much being with Santayana in London, but he was not happy there himself. He thought the place had changed tremendously and had become very bustling and commercialized. He asked me not to tell any of his old friends that he had returned to England. If they should discover his presence by some accident, well, that was fate and he would accept the consequences. I think Santayana felt his age more in England than anywhere else. He had been there as a younger man and all during the First World War, and he regarded England as a segment of his past, a green and distant episode in his life, that could not now be revived or added to with any spiritual profit. His heart was in Rome and he told me frankly that he was “longing to go back there.” But there was first this business of his lecture to be attended to.

Although his address on Locke was well received (the applause was loud and sustained at the end), Santayana himself was far from pleased with his performance. To begin with, he had been rather exasperated by the distinguished old windbag who introduced him. A more distressing feature from Santayana’s point of view, however, was the inexcusable fact that there was no light over or even near his rostrum, and he had to hold his manuscript at an angle to catch the flickering daylight from a distant window.

But despite this handicap, the fatuous chairman, and the fact that he had been out of practice for so long, he did very well. His voice was low and deliberate and eloquent; and his perfect accent, so free of anything adventitious or local, with nothing of Oxford or Boston in it, surprised his audience. They had not expected a “foreigner” to speak so well. Personally, I have never heard anyone speak a purer English than Santayana: it is impossible to place him geographically by his pronunciation. I can well believe that his lectures were a daily delight to his pupils at Harvard.

The day after his lecture, Santayana left for Dover. He remained there for a few days until the Channel was reported to be calm (he has always dreaded and suffered from seasickness), and then left for Rome without halting in Paris. But during his brief stop in Dover he had found time to revisit Canterbury and to revive some old impressions.

8

IT HAD not been Santayana’s intention to publish The Last Puritan during his lifetime. But when his publishers got wind of the fact that the manuscript was nearly ready by the summer of 1934, they naturally clamored for the right to publish it as soon as possible. Santayana could not make up his mind what to do. He never for a moment entertained the idea that the book might become a howling success; his only concern was to keep it on as high a level as possible, so that his friends would not think that he had made a mistake in turning novelist for a season. I remember his saying to me: “I don’t care a hang what the general public think of the book, as long as my friends — both personal and in the spirit — don’t feel that I was foolish to attempt such a thing at all.”

In other words, Santayana hoped that The Last Puritan would not disappoint that small, discriminating audience for which it was written. But before telling his publishers definitely that he would comply with their washes, he wrote me a letter in August — I was summering in Sussex, England — and said he would be happier if I read the manuscript and told him frankly just what I thought of it. “It will help me to make up my mind about publishing it now,” he wrote, “if I know the reaction of a normal, representative human being to my novel.”

When I received the manuscript sometime in the autumn, I read through The Last Puritan quickly in order to get a general impression before setting to work on it in detail. And it was obvious to me at once that here was an opportunity to be of help. In the first place, I spotted immediately a good many phrases or expressions that impressed me as being old-fashioned and stilted. For example, Santayana, wishing to state that Oliver was going for a swim, would describe his proposed action as an “aquatic exercise.” I suggested that a “dip” or “plunge” would probably do the business as well as his own way of putting it.

On a somewhat larger scale of criticism, I later came to feel that one or two themes had been sufficiently developed in certain chapters, and that they tended to lose their original force by being reintroduced and emphasized in other directions. So I sent the manuscript back to Rome with all my suggestions carefully typed out. In about a fortnight I heard from Santayana, and he wrote that he was studying my “commentaries” with interest, but preferred to defer the question of revising his book until I arrived in Rome on my annual spring visit.

It was always with the keenest pleasure that I looked forward to returning to Italy and visiting Santayana, and this time I was more excited than usual, for I was eager to hear from his own lips what he thought of my “commentaries.” Although I arrived in Rome rather late on a March evening, I went straight to his rooms. Fortunately, he was still up, and he must have felt my eagerness to talk about The Last Puritan, for he put his hand on my shoulder and said: “Cory, I don’t want to discuss the novel this evening. But I will tell you that I have decided to accept nearly all your suggestions.”

I was immensely flattered and relieved. And to this day I feel that it was magnanimous of Santayana to admit openly that I could help him to such an extent. Of course he knew that my suggestions were not those of a carping critic, but perfectly spontaneous. And that, I believe, is why he sometimes accepted them. I told him candidly that I expected his novel would have a “quiet success,” but that I doubted very much if its appeal would be popular or lasting. He fully agreed with me.

Sometime early in April, Strong turned up in Rome. Because he had little to do and was extremely curious about The Last Puritan, Santayana gave him the first part of his book to read. But instead of being amused by the characters depicted against their New England background, Strong solemnly explained that some of Santayana’s old friends and relations in Boston might be “hurt and offended” by the “hasty caricature” of their psychological traits and social setting. As I have never considered Santayana an indiscreet person, I urged him to disregard these admonitions.

So, despite Strong’s solemn strictures, the manuscript of The Last Puritan was duly revised and sent off to Constable in London. It first came out in England in the autumn of 1935 and was well received. As usual, the Sunday Times and the Observer made a new book by Santayana the subject of their leading book reviews. But it was hardly an outstanding literary event. One did not feel that a reading of The Last Puritan was an intellectual duty to be performed at all costs; it was simply a matter of interest that a well-known philosopher could write a charming, if somewhat involved, novel.

The enormous success of The Last Puritan was a phenomenon that could have occurred only in America, with its peculiar mass psychology. Granting that the novel had been accepted by the Bookof-the-Month Club and was enthusiastically and fully reviewed, and that Santayana has a considerable reputation in America outside of the purely literary and philosophical circles, I fail to see how the general interest and appeal of The Last Puritan, as a novel, could have been sufficient to make it the top fiction best-seller for many weeks. Perhaps I am entirely mistaken. Perhaps in the character of Oliver many a sober reader has found a ghost of his own soul-searchings, or in that of Mario a vicarious satisfaction of a secret desire to be perfectly at home in the world of nature and society.

As for Santayana himself, his reaction to the reception of his novel was typical. When I visited him in 1936, the excitement over the book had somewhat abated in the United States, although it was still selling well.

“How does it feel to be a famous novelist?” I asked him.

“I don’t like it at all,” Santayana replied with a smile. “In the first place, it’s the last thing in the world that Oliver would have desired; in the second place, I don’t need the money; and lastly, I’m bothered to death with letters from the most remote quarters — ‘fan mail,’ I believe they call it. Just look at that huge parcel over there!”

Santayana was really pleased with the success of his novel, but I think that he turned to the writing of The Realm of Truth with a sense of relief a few months later. He was eager to forget the furore over The Last Puritan.

9

SANTAYANA was by now over seventy, and although he would still walk two or three miles a day after luncheon, the desire to get back to his rooms and put on his slippers was increasing. When Santayana was well rested, in the morning, or just after dinner, the sparkle of his conversation was as bright and entertaining as ever; but he had become extremely careful to reserve his best hours for writing. And he showed a marked disinclination to discuss philosophical questions during his “off hours.” For this reason, the intermittent visits of Strong to Rome used to worry him more and more.

Despite the fact that they would both formally agree beforehand not to discuss philosophy, and Santayana would gladly live up to his part of the contract, it was literally impossible for Strong (because of his ruling passion) to avoid “turning on epistemology” — as one might the radiator or the radio. And this would inevitably lead to bitterness and dismay. The bitterness was Strong’s, because he was unable to convince Santayana of the soundness of his “latest view” on some minute issue, or to persuade his old friend to reconsider the advisability of revising the entire Realms of Being. The dismay was Santayana’s, because he could think of no way, short of a complete rupture of relations, of postponing these unhappy meetings.

If it had not been for certain admirable qualities in Strong, the situation might have been more difficult. But he bore his material disabilities with high courage; his search for the Truth, if narrow and tinged by fanaticism, was unflagging, and he was a most learned person. For example, he read Greek and Latin easily, and knew and spoke fluently both French and German. And his retentive memory was extraordinary. I was amazed at his knowledge of historical events and dates, and at the ease with which he traced some out-of-the-way quotation to its remote source.

As an illustration of Strong’s moral character when a matter of principle was at stake, I shall never forget his firm attitude when, in May, 1937, Hitler visited Mussolini in Italy. On the day when the two dictators were due to drive through the streets of Florence, all hotels and private residences were ordered to hang out their flags in honor of the occasion. But Strong resolutely refused to do so. Although the authorities several times telephoned his villa and demanded angrily that he comply with the order issued, and his servants literally begged him to, he turned a deaf ear to every request. Strong told me quietly that he would rather be fined or go to prison than show any respect for Hitler’s visit. And when one remembers his age and physical condition, I think he showed remarkable courage. Unfortunately, not all of his compatriots in Italy were so exemplary in their behavior.

10

THE clouds were gathering over Europe, and the sense of something ominous, dark and inescapable, was growing on all sides. I felt it especially in Paris. Even the casual visitor knew that the old holiday spirit had gone and had given place to a kind of fatal indifference born of internal division — a spiritual incapacity to alter the course of events. People shrugged their shoulders, spoke of the Maginot Line, and ordered some more wine.

Santayana was just finishing one of the most abstract and technical of his books — The Realm of Truth. I had been with him for a while in Paris in the summer (I forget what prompted him to return there instead of to the mountains), and of course we had discussed the international situation as well as Truth. Santayana was convinced that there was not going to be any war.

“This is the war now,” he said to me. “I mean this diplomatic feeling out of each other — these veiled threats and important questions of prestige. But I don’t think any blows will be struck on a large scale.”

Santayana remained indoors most of the day, working over his manuscript. For this reason he missed to a certain extent the general tension in Paris. For it was not unusual to come across a heated argument in a café, or to see fists suddenly raised on the boulevards between members of the Front Populaire and the various right-wing parties such as the Croix de Feu. It was only in the evenings, when I talked with Santayana, that I managed to forget the impact of the external world.

As usual he was relieved that another book was nearly ready for the publishers. And the period of gestation had been rather trying in the case of The Realm of Truth. Santayana has an intuitive rather than an analytical mind, and the fine drawing of implicit conclusions from premises does not come easily to him.

I shall never forget those months in Europe before the war finally broke out. In the spring of 1939, Strong had become apprehensive over remaining in Italy, and had moved suddenly to Vevey in Switzerland to await developments. As Strong was by now very feeble, and certain to be less comfortable in a hotel than in his own home, Santayana urged me to forgo my customary visit to Rome, and go instead to Vevey to keep our friend company.

Switzerland was an ideal center from which to experience the feverish pulse beats of a nervewracked Europe: I found the Swiss newspapers in close touch with everything and their editorials admirably objective. Both Strong and I were uneasy about Santayana in Italy, and finally we persuaded him to consider the idea of coming to Switzerland for the summer. Of course Strong was not motivated solely by his desire to have Santayana reach a haven of safety: he wanted one more chance to discuss philosophy with him before it was too late. But when Santayana finally wrote me that he had made up his mind to come to Switzerland, it was Lugano rather than Vevey that he chose for his place of residence. As I have his letters from April, 1939, until Pearl Harbor, let me quote him directly: —

ROME, June 3, 1939
DEAR CORY,
I have decided to go to Lugano and make myself as comfortable as possible, having a sitting room (but I shall go down to meals) and living all day in pyjamas, as I am too old for basking on beaches. There is bathing at Lugano, which you might like if you come to see me. I now seek warmth (if there are no flies and mosquitoes) and besides have an eye to a place that might suit me the year round, and Lugano might be the spot. Also it is Catholic and Italian fundamentally, so that it will be more human than Vevey or Cortina.
I hope you will be tempted to look me up, but you must do just what you feel like doing. They will tell you what is the best way of getting around, but the northern all-Swiss route by the St. Gothard would be, I should think, very picturesque and would avoid customs and changes of money. I may eventually thread that path myself and go to Glion, if I find Lugano unbearably hot or otherwise objectionable.
I am glad you see your way clear in Dewey [Santayana had sent me Dewey’s Logic after embellishing it with his fascinating margin-notes], and hope you will tell me later what he really means.
Yours affectionately,
G.S.

That Santayana never succeeded in reaching Lugano was due to an unfortunate complication he had not foreseen. As a rule visas were not necessary for foreigners in crossing the Swiss frontiers, and Santayana had assumed that his Spanish passport was perfectly in order. To his dismay when he arrived at Chiasso he was refused permission to enter Switzerland. After traveling all the way back to Milan, he learned from the Swiss consulate there that he could procure only a temporary visa, good for two weeks, if he wished to go to Switzerland. Apparently a considerable number of destitute Spanish communists had been filtering into the country, and some new regulation had just been passed to prevent any further financial embarrassment to the Swiss government.

Santayana did not argue long with the Swiss consulate at Milan. A few days later I heard from him that he had decided to return to his old mountain retreat at Cortina d’Ampezzo, and I answered that I would visit him there in August.

Santayana had always found Cortina d’Ampezzo a good spot for working in the summer, and two months of high altitude helped to increase his resistance to those severe bronchial attacks that often troubled him during the winter. The Ampezzo valley lies in the heart of the majestic but hellish Dolomites, and the town of Cortina — “The Little Court” — is decidedly more Austrian than Italian. The simple mountain folk were extremely courteous, and if it had not been for the rich Italian visitors and the intermittent appearance of the same cheap German tourists coming up from Venice to gulp the air for a few hours and find everything wunderbar, one might have forgotten for a while the awful shape of things to come.

I think I was the only English-speaking person in Cortina that summer, and it was most disconcerting to be constantly slapped on the back and “heiled” in the village stores or cafes. But if you did not look Italian it was assumed that you must be German.

Of course Santayana was by now fully aware of the immediate danger of war, but after his unhappy experience at the Swiss frontier, he had virtually decided to stick it out in Italy, come what may. Above all he was determined to finish The Realm of Spirit — the last volume of his philosophical tetralogy — as quickly as possible.

“I have been occupied with the Realms of Being for sixteen years,” he told me, “and I should like to complete my task this winter. As long as I can get my money from the United States, I am prepared to put up with the inevitable hardships that are part and parcel of every great war. You must remember that I was in England all through the last one.”

Santayana gave me several chapters of his unfinished manuscript to read in Cortina. And from the first I felt that The Realm of Spirit was to be his most personal philosophical book. This may seem like a paradox when we discover that its theme (I almost said message) is an examination of the spiritual possibility of conquering the engrossments of the personal self in a precarious competitive world. But if the single desire of certain men at certain periods of history has always been to transcend the limitations of the self and live — as we put it in religious phraseology—“in the Presence of God,” it would be true to say that this desire, this pure flame, was the most characteristic, the most personal thing about them.

There is something so timeless, so above a mere planetary disturbance, about Santayana’s philosophy that it is difficult for most of us today to attain the composure necessary for a just appreciation of his work. We are more concerned with saving our skins than with the inner education of the spiritual life. And if the material conditions of democracy are preserved, it will not be necessary for us to practice an intellectual domination of fatality in a concentration camp. In the meantime, when the flame of the spirit is pure,

It suffices that its light should fall on things steadfast and true, worthy to be discerned and returned to and treasured; so that though spirit be everywhere halting in achievement, it may be always perfect in allegiance.

I remained with Santayana in Cortina until the end of August, but he then urged me to return to England immediately. He knew that practically all my personal belongings were in London and that Italy might not be very congenial for an American if hostilities broke out. I can see him now as lie came down the steps of the hotel to bid me good-bye.

“All being well,” he said, “we shall meet again sometime next year. Bon voyage.”

I have not seen my friend since that day.