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I cannot write too enthusiastically about these meetings with Mr. Santayana. I came to discuss a thesis on his philosophy but I've stayed to be charmed by his cordiality, his wit and his kindness. He lives alone here in Rome in modest rooms on the top floor of the Hotel Bristol. When I first saw him he was with Mr. Daniel Cory, his assistant, and was dressed in a dressing gown and slippers, as he wrote me I would find him. One day perhaps I shall send you an account of the more serious aspect of our conversations but suffice it now in this little letter to write of litte things.
Daily Existence Described
He lives a hermit sort of life. Getting up about 8, he has breakfast in his rooms, works until 12, then shaves, gets dressed, and goes out to some restaurant for lunch. When Mr. Cory is not here, and he is with him only three months or so every year, Santayana prefers to have lunch alone in his rooms. Thence for a stroll, after which he gets back to the Hotel about tea time, gets into his grey dressing gown and now and then receives a few visitors; though Cory tells me he's rather reluctant to see people. Dinner is about 7:30, then reading or writing until 10 or so; then the philosopher calls it a day.
Enormous Amount Done
The amount he gets done each day is enormous. He's now in the process of writing a book on politics; has about finished "The Realm of Truth", and incidentally is revising a little play: "Philosophers At Court" concerning Plato's visit to Dionysius at Syracuse. At present for relaxation he's reading Latin poetry and touching up a few sonnets. He writes easily but carefully. Manuscripts are set aside for long periods of time; then if necessary undergo severe revision. It is no wonder he's been called the best modern prose stylist. Yet you will recall he didn't learn English until he was nine; and then he learned it "by ear". He knew the music of the language long before he knew its construction. Personally, I've never heard anyone speak purer English.
And about what did we talk? I'll write you first of the things nearest home. Yes, of course Professor Whitehead: Process and Reality, Science and the Modern World; and the little essays: Nature and Life, which unfortunately Santayana has not seen. One cannot say that Professor Whitehead and Santayana are in philosophical agreement on many points. But I can assure you in one way they're absolutely alike: Both call Bertram Russell, "Berty". But even here all is not clear: For I understood from Santayana that it was he who gave Mr. Russell that name; but if I remember correctly Professor Whitehead told me that he himself first called Russell "Berty". It seems to me this is a unique opportunity for our foremost philosophers to come to terms on some point!
How, or why, the conversation turned to the Lampoon I don't remember; but without prejudice I say Mr. Santayana does not look at it anymore. He is glad that the Harvard Monthly has been revived and happily recalled that he contributed to the magazine when it was first founded many years ago. I asked him if he would over return to America again. And from there the conversation turned to the subject of "seasickness", bromide and the English Channel!
Talked of "Last Puritan"
But at lunch yesterday we got talking about The Last Puritan. I was interested in hearing that Peter Alden in the novel was in many ways like Mr. Santayana's father; and though it is not true, as many have thought, that Santayana tried to reveal his own personality through Oliver and Mario still they do reflect a bit of his general character. It seems to me that Mr. Santayana, like Oliver, is deeply moral. Daub his philosophy what you will, there is always the moral flavor. It is this morality that bridges his materialism with his mysticism. But this is all another story.
Yet unlike Oliver, Mr. Santayana's morality is not static. Like Mario he can act. He can compare, criticise and share the virtues of ways of life different from his own--which Oliver could never do.
Santayana is Unique
As you talk with Mr. Santayana it is as difficult to pigeon-hole him as a "type" as it is to pigeon-hole his philosophy. He's not an American, though he was educated there; he's not a Spaniard, though he was born one. He's more the ancient Greek somehow or other brought up in the 19th century England. Though he dislikes "the taste of academic straw" he's a scholar who zealously fools his work. He has the greatness of genius, and yet the common sense of one richly human. Like the ancients, he would make philosophy an art
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