To Lawrence Smith Butler
Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6
Rome. September 19, 1946

Dear Lawrence,

The parcel from you arrived this morning, full of just the right things. The jars of marmalade were safe, only a little had leaked out of one of them through a crack in the cover. I have not yet tasted the contents, but they look inviting, and please thank the lady who sent them; it will be a treat. The only objection is that I get used to luxuries, and the memory becomes a sort of temptation of Saint Antony when I find myself in the wilderness again without even the wild honey that St. John the Baptist allowed himself. Perhaps the same pious ladies supplied it. The Gospels don’t tell us everything, but they do somewhere mention this charitable practice of good ladies in all ages and countries, in compliment to hermits. By the way, I have read a most charming story, written by St. Jerome about the visit of St. Antony to St. Paul the Hermit in the Thebaid: and I have found a photograph of a magnificent picture by Velazquez—his most beautiful one, I think; for his subjects don’t often lend themselves to poetic treatment, which I have the vulgar taste to like in painting—representing the scene. I remember the original, with the most lovely landscape, a raven bringing a loaf from heaven, and a tame lion digging the grave for St. Paul, more than a hundred years old, to occupy when he has finished the sublime prayer which he is evidently saying. Look up this picture, and tell me if you don’t like it. I have it in a book on Velazquez, which I will give you as a memento if you will come to see it and me.

Thank you especially for the black tie, which is splendid and will last me—if I live—for years. I feel very young and well, and buoyed up by the thought of perhaps finishing my book on Politics, which will be more useful than any of mine hitherto, usefulness never having been a dominant trait in your affectionate old friend

G Santayana

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


plotinus_17_To Robert Seymour Bridges
9 Av. de l’Observatoire,
Paris. September 18, 1919

I won’t attempt to answer your letter seriatim, although each of the things you tell me prompts me to say something, but I can’t let Plotinus lie under the imputation you throw on him of not being a “good philosopher”. If you mean that his system of the universe is not a map of it, is not scientifically correct or in scale, of course I agree. But it seems to me a very great system, very “good philosophy”, and I am glad that the mystics in Oxford are taking him up, rather than pretending to find comfort in Hegel or in the meretricious psychology of Bergson. The doctrines of Plotinus are flights in the same direction as the doctrines of Christianity: they are not hypotheses intended to explain facts, but expressions invented for sentiment and aspiration. The world, he feels, is full of the suggestion of beauty and goodness, but of the suggestion only. In fact, it betrays and obliterates everything it tries to express, like an inscription in invisible ink that should become luminous only for a moment. And his question is: What does the world say, what does life mean, what is there beyond, . . . that might lend significance and a worthy origin and end to this wonderful apparition and to our passionate love and passionate dissatisfaction in its presence?

His system is an elaborate answer to this question. It is not a hypothesis but an intuition, and such rightness as it has is merely fidelity and fineness in rendering moral experience. Of course all those things he describes do not exist; of course he is not describing this world, he is describing the other world, that is, deciphering the good, just beyond it or above it, which each actual thing suggests. Even this rendering of moral aspiration is arbitrary, because nature really does not aspire to anything, and each living thing aspires to something different, in divergent ways. But this arbitrary aspiration, which Plotinus reads into the world, sincerely expresses his own aspiration and that of his age. That is why I say he is decidedly a “good philosopher”. It is the Byzantine architecture of the mind, just as good or better than the Gothic. It seems to me better than Christian theology in this respect, that it isn’t mixed up with history, it isn’t half Jewish, half worldly. It is the Greek side of Christian theology isolated and made pure; and that is the side of it which seems to me truly spiritual, truly sacrificial and penitentially joyful. That it is terribly superstitious and turns all physics into magic is an integral part of its poetic and expressive virtue. Every passion, every force, must be a devil or an angel, because it is agreed to begin with we are looking for the spirit in things.

I didn’t mean to go on in this way, especially as really I know Plotinus very little; but I feel a great power in him, a sublime illusion, as if some plant or some pensive animal had laboriously spun the moral dialectic of its own experience round itself, and called it the universe.

. . . Do you ever see the Athenaeum? I have kept on writing for it, although to be quite frank I don’t like the review as a whole, and don’t read it; but there is no other that I know of that would publish my effusions, and it is a great relief to have them in print. What is once out is done for, and one doesn’t have to think of it any more.

Are you going to America? If your society for the purification of the language is going to cleanse those Augean stables, I don’t envy it its labours. Why shouldn’t the English language of a hundred years hence be as different from ours as ours is from Shakespeare’s? I know you say he pronounced as we do: but we don’t write like him. The Americans have a great love of language for its own sake, and will develop new effects, if not new beauties. As one of them used to say whenever anything was censured: Let them have their fun!

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Two, 1910-1920.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: The Bodleian Library, Oxford University, England.


faulkner-horizontal_1339598536To Robert Shaw Barlow
Glion-sur-Montreux, Switzerland. September 16, 1936

As to my letter, my memory for recent minor events is wretched, and I hardly remember what I said in it; but if you think it would interest the public, I am willing to have it published; we get at last to a point where we see how little it matters what we have said or done. Only, as this letter was private, and meant only for you, I may have used some terms that might offend Faulkner. I should be sorry for that, because besides being discourteous, it would misrepresent my feeling which on the whole is one of sympathy with him and his experiments in style. So expunge, please, any phrase that may seem too strong.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Five, 1933-1936.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2003.
Location of manuscript: The Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge MA.


Santayana 2To Horace Meyer Kallen
C/o Brown Shipley & Co.
123 Pall Mall, London, S.W.1.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy. September 15, 1926

I am delighted at this prospect of seeing you, and of hearing the many things which you will be able to tell me about unknown America. Of course, I live surrounded by Americans who have all more or less recent tidings to give of the Happy Land; but your point of view is more speculative and you will better understand my questions.

I have fallen out of the habit of going to England. The climate, material and moral, no longer suits my aged temperament. I am not much even in Paris, although I expect to be there late next summer, on returning from Spain—possibly for a few days in June also, on my way to Avila, where I have my only blood-relations and a true refuge from the world of snobs. I mean, intellectual snobs, because naturally the others don’t fall in my way. In Avila nobody has heard of anything, and it is a great relief.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Three, 1921-1927.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2002.
Location of manuscript: American Jewish Archives, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Cincinnati OH.


mouseTo Mary Whitall Smith Berenson
22 Beaumont St. Oxford
Oxford, England. Saturday, [September or October 1918]

Last night a mouse got into my bed, in which I have an ascetic preference for remaining alone, and it crossed my mind that perhaps the time was coming for a change of quarters: but I am somehow so anchored here, that it will take at least a second attack on the part of this rodent to part my cables.

From The Letters of George Santayana:  Book Two, 1910-1920.  Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001.
Location of manuscript: Villa I Tatti, Settignano, Italy.