One of the stalwarts of Harvard's Golden Age of Philosophy, George Santayana '86, died Saturday night in a Roman convent at the age of 88.
Poet-Philosopher, novelist, and sharp critic of the University and of America, he lived aloof from the world for almost a quarter of a century.
One of his colleagues, Ralph Barton Perry, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, last night called him "one of the most distinguished thinkers of his day, and one who knew how to make literature out of pholosophy."
Santayana exiled himself from the United States in 1912, when he abandoned his Harvard professorship in philosophy. In one of two letters now in possession of the CRIMSON, Santayana gives his reasons for never having returned to this country: "I had none except the absence of any reason for going there. I had never felt that it was my natural milieu." The notes are addressed to A. A. Roback, former instructor of Philosophy at Harvard, and now a professor of Psychology at Emerson College.
In one of them he says that "almost everything that is attributed to me at Harvard or by interviewers is invented or travestied. . . Not a word of gossipy biography is to be believed. . ."
Popularity and Hostility
Although he was extremely popular among his students, Santayana and his colleagues shared a certain amount of hostility towards one another. He taught here from 1889 until 1912, receiving a full professorship in 1907. This is the golden age of Harvard's Philosophy Department, which had men like William James, Josiah Royce, and George Palmer.
Santayana attended Harvard College during the years 1882-86. He wrote for a magazine, "The Harvard Monthly," and was a cartoonist for the Lampoon. He did no writing for the humor magazine, however, because "My English was too literary, too ladylike, too correct for such a purpose; I never acquired, or like the American art of perpetual joking."
The lucidity and polish of his writing also characterized his style of lecture delivery. This, plus the "coldness, not to say the cruelty, of his wit," made him a popular teacher, and attracted students like T. S. Eliot '10, Felix Frankfurter, Conrad Aiken '11, and Walter Lippmann '10.
James, Royce Targets
But unfortunately, popularity is hardly the word to describe his relations with his colleagues. The principal targets for his attacks were James and Royce; they replied in kind. One of his associates remarked that "Santayana believes there is no God and Mary His mother."
One of Santayana's students, Clarence L. Lowis '05, Edgar Pierce Professor of Philosophy, called his classes in Plato "a delight for their erudition, their humanity, and the exquisite quality of his spoken words."
Henry D. Aiken associate professor of Philosophy, said that "For anyone who, like myself, professes to be a liberal, Santayana must inevitably be an ambiguous figure. I honor his naturalism, his devotion to the life of reason, his imaginative humanism. As a literary psychologist, he is exciting and profound. As a philosophical critic of literature and life on a dozen levels, he is penetrating and often wise.
Harvard: Cultural Backwash?
"His disdain for the parochialism and vulgarity of America is sobering. Anyone who, like myself, loves Harvard, must inevitably be shaken by the fact that Santayana found Harvard merely genteel and grubby a cultural backwash.
"But Santayana, as Bertrand Russell once said, was a 'cold fish.' He lacks the saving qualities of generosity and love. It goes without saying, of course, that Santayana is one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. Yet somehow one says this grudglugly, without affection. Just why, it is hand to say."