To John Hall Wheelock
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo
Rome. March 17, 1945

At bottom, I don’t much care to discriminate history from poetry: good history is unintentionally poetical, and poetry is inevitably a capital. historical document concerning the poet’s mind.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Libraries, Princeton NY.

To William Lyon Phelps
Hotel Bristol,
Rome. March 16, 1936

An important element in the tragedy of Oliver (not in his personality, for he was no poet) is drawn from the fate of a whole string of Harvard poets in the 1880’s and 1890’s—Sanborn, Philip Savage, Hugh McCullough, Trumbull Stickney, and Cabot Lodge: also Moody, although he lived a little longer and made some impression, I believe, as a playwright. Now all those friends of mine, Stickney especially, of whom I was very fond, were visibly killed by the lack of air to breathe. People individually were kind and appreciative to them, as they were to me: but the system was deadly, and they hadn’t any alternative tradition (as I had) to fall back upon: and of course, as I believe I said of Oliver in my letter, they hadn’t the strength of a great intellectual hero who can stand alone.

I have been trying to think whether I have ever known any “good” people such as are not to be found in my novel. You will say “There’s me and Anabel: why didn’t you put us into your book, to brighten it up a little?” Ah, you are not novelesque enough: and I can’t remember anybody so terribly good in Dickens except the Cheerybell Brothers, and really, if I had put anyone like that in they would have said I was “vicious”, as they say I am in depicting Mrs. Alden.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Five, 1933-1936.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven CT.

To Rosamond Thomas Bennett Sturgis
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6,
Rome. March 15, 1946

I wish we had a medical thermometre for style, so that I could take my literary temperature when I sit down to write, and be reassured when it indicated blood heat, or average rationality, and be warned off and take a rest or a glass of something strong if it indicated dangerous fever, involving bad language, or vitality lower than 36° threatening platitudes and imbecility. Yet in the absence of scientific diagnosis it is a resource to take some good coffee which will probably do good; or at least make foolishness unconscious.

I didn’t skip a single page of the Harvard book, remembering that you believe firmly in education and not, like me, in inspiration or drink—and I wanted to inform myself a little on that important subject. Frankly, I thought it a dull book, and full of needless repetition; but at least I was relieved to find that “general” education did not mean education in general (Kindergardens being excluded) but meant what I should call essential education, or learning the things that are most worth knowing, not for their utility in making a living, but in giving us something to reward us for being alive.

There is an orthodox system of life and thought, called apparently “democracy” which must be made the basis and criterion of right education and right character. This is new to me in America. In my time Harvard wasn’t at all inspired in that way. Not that anyone was hostile to democracy, but that we thought enlightenment lay in seeing it, and all other things, in the light of their universal relations, so as to understand them truly, and then on the basis of the widest possible knowledge, to make the best of the facts and opportunities immediately around us. But now education is to be inspired by revealed knowledge of the vocation of man, and faith in our own apostolic mission. Perhaps the war has made this view more prevalent than it would have been in uninterrupted peace.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.



To Daniel MacGhie Cory
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6
Rome. March 14, 1945

Dear Cory: I see by your letter of Jan. 29th, that you have been officially debasing my pure and legitimate English to conform with the vernacular. The substitution of on for in has been going on for ages, and no doubt is bound to go on further. We all say “on earth”, but King James’ Bible says “in earth;” and the immense difference appears more clearly in a line of Cary’s Dante: “I was a virgin sister in the earth.” That is lovely: a good translation of Io fui nel mondo vergine sorella. Imagine what a come-down if he had said “on earth”! As to passengers in ships, the Prayer Book prays only for them, not for those on ships: and I confess that, though we say “on board” and “on deck”, when I am in my cabin with perhaps three decks over my head, it seems absurd to say I am on the ship and not in her. But in (why not on?) America I suppose they would say that Jonah was three days and three nights on his whale and not in her; and she might confirm that view by complaining that he had got on her stomach.

I regard this edition of Persons & Places as a mutilated victim of war, and dream of a standard edition, which probably I shall never see, in which the original words, the omitted passages, and the marginal comments (not headings, as in the Triton edition) shall be restored and the portraits and other illustrations shall be well reproduced.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Seven, 1941-1947.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2006.
Location of manuscript: Butler Library, Columbia University, New York NY.


To Justus Buchler and Benjamin P. Schwartz
Hotel Danieli,
Venice. March 13, 1940

The winter here, as elsewhere, has been extraordinarily severe: six snow-storms, continual fog, and occasional biting winds from Finnland. Now that peace seems to be returning at least there, we may hope for more balmy weather.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Six, 1937-1940.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2004.
Location of manuscript: Brooklyn College Library, Brooklyn NY.