As Student and Teacher, Santayana Left Mark on College

At his death, George Santayana '86 is a somewhat ambiguous figure, surround by the usual complement of myth and legend.

Perhaps the final volume of his three-volume autobiography, "Persons and Places," which he did not want published until after his death, will present the philosopher in warmer, if not more definite, tones.

But for the present, his life of solitude for 40 years in Rome--even while he was teaching at Harvard he made himself something of a recluse--his complete intellectual detachment (which provoked Bertrand Russell to call him a "cold fish"), and his unrelenting, uncompromising attacks on many of his associates in the field of philosophy tend slightly to obscure the view of Santayana, or at any rate, to give a rather unsympathetic one.

There are, however, many personal effects and recollections concerning the philosopher that give us another picture than the one of the detached "cold fish," the man renowned for the "coldness. . . the cruelty, of his wit."

Two letters of Santayana's, now in possession of the CRIMSON, are suitable illustrations. A. A. Roback, former instructor in philosophy at Harvard and presently professor of Psychology at Emerson College, received these notes in 1950 and 1952, and gave them to the CRIMSON yesterday. Roback has studied and taught semantics, the psychology of language and literature, and the psychology of character. One of his major interests in the field of philosophy is the Dutch Jew, Benedict de Spinoza. Since Santayana was quite interested in him, and since he was born in the Spanish town of Santillana, close to Spionza's birthplace, Espinosa, Roback addressed an inquiry to Santayana. The philosophy replied as follows: Via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6   Rome, November 4, 1950

Dear Professor Roback:

. . . My enthusiasm for Spinoza had nothing political or even ethical about it. Nor do I agree with Bertrand Russell in thinking that it is on the side of ethics that Spinoza and I are at our best: only on the relativity of morals to material dispositions and circumstances. It was Spinoza's cosmic elevation and disinterestedness that I admired which removed from morality the tyranny of public tradition of fanaticism. . .

As to a reason for not returning to America. I has none except absence of any reason for going there. I had never felt that it was my natural milieu. Even my second Harvard College life--1884.93--although I enjoyed it heartily, was rather unusual and exotic, and its pleasantness and possibility evaporated with youth. . .

You are very good to offer me one of your books and it is your voluminous "Psychology of Character" (especially it if is critically Freudian) that would tempt men, but I am getting blind and I fear if I accepted so good a present I should not be able to profit by it as it deserves. Let me rather send you my forthcoming book of politics entitled "Dominations and Powers" when it appears, probably in the coming spring.

I have always been a naturalist feeling that the clouds are preeminently and typically a part of nature: but in the book I do not tread them at all, but keep to the earth and its arts. . .

Almost everything that is attributed to me at Harvard or by interviewers is invented of travestied. Myth starts absurdly and spreads incredibly even when the event that contradicts it is hardly passed. Not a word of gossipy biography is to be believed. . .   G. Santayana

Particularly interesting are his apparent sensitivity to the attacks on him at Harvard, the false myths that had developed, and his distaste for, or indifference to, America. While he was teaching at Harvard, for example, he lived almost in solitude because Cambridge society bored him as much as a "faculty meeting without any business." Further, he considered Harvard to be "merely genteel."

He was actually a man with no allegiance, national or religious, save perhaps a vague emotional allegiance to Catholicism. Nominally a Spanish citizen, he had as little use for that country as he and for this one.

The second letter from Santayana to Roback is a follows:   via Santo Stefano Rotondo, 6   Rome, March 23, 1952

Dear Mr. Roback: