More from and about
George Santayana
(biographical info at bottom of page)

  

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to relive it.

   

A buoyant and full-blooded soul has quick senses and miscellaneous sympathies:  it changes with the changing world; and when not too much starved or thwarted by circumstances, it finds all things vivid and comic.  Life is free play fundamentally and would like to be free play altogether.
  
  
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. In the first stage of life the mind is frivolous and easily distracted; it misses progress by failing in consecutiveness and persistence. This is the condition of children and barbarians, in which instinct has learned nothing from experience.
  
  
It takes patience to appreciate domestic bliss; volatile spirits prefer unhappiness.

      
The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever; but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter; and in these, the spirit blooms timidly, and struggles to the light amid the thorns.
  
A string of excited, fugitive, miscellaneous pleasures is not happiness; happiness resides in imaginative reflection and judgment, when the picture of one’s life, or of human life, as it truly has been or is, satisfies the will, and is gladly accepted.
   

To feel beauty is a better thing than to understand how we come to feel it.  To have imagination and taste, to love the best, to be carried by the contemplation of nature to a vivid faith in the ideal, all this is more, a great deal more, than any science can hope to be.

     

Never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others.

   

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People become superstitious, not because they have too much
imagination, but because they are not aware that they have any.

   

What is the part of wisdom? To dream with one eye open; to be
detached from the world without being hostile to it; to welcome
fugitive beauties and pity fugitive sufferings, without forgetting
for a moment how fugitive they are.

   

The Difficult is that which can be done immediately;
the Impossible that which takes a little longer.

   
    
Born Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana, he spent his early childhood in Ávila, Spain.  His father was a diplomat, painter, and minor intellectual.  His mother was the daughter of a Spanish official in the Philippine Islands.  Jorge was the only child of his mother's second marriage. She was the widow of George Sturgis, a Boston merchant by whom she had five children, two of whom died in infancy.  She lived in Boston following her husband's death in 1857, but in 1861 went with her three surviving Sturgis children to live in Madrid.  There she again encountered Agustin Santayana, an old friend from her years in the Philippines and married him in 1862.  The family lived in Madrid and Avila until 1869 when Santayana's mother returned to Boston with her three Sturgis children, leaving Jorge, then five, with his father in Spain.  Jorge and his father followed her in 1872, but his father, not finding Boston to his liking, soon returned alone to Ávila, where he remained for the rest of his life.  Jorge did not see his father again until summer vacations while he was a student at Harvard.  Hence from the time he was five, Jorge's parents lived apart.  Sometime during this period Jorge americanized his name to George, its English equivalent.

He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University, studying under William James and Josiah Royce, whose colleague he subsequently became. After graduating from Harvard in 1886, he studied for two years in Berlin, then returned to Harvard to write a thesis on Rudolf Hermann Lotze and teach philosophy, thus becoming part of the Golden Age of Harvard philosophy.  Some of his Harvard students became famous in their own right, including T. S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, Walter Lippmann, and Harry Austryn Wolfson.

In 1912, an inheritance from his mother allowed him to retire from Harvard and spend the rest of his life in Europe.  After some years in Paris and Oxford, he began to winter in Rome starting in 1920, eventually living there year-round until his death in 1952. During his 40 years in Europe, he wrote 19 books and declined several prestigious academic positions.  Most of his friends and correspondents were Americans, including his valuable assistant and eventual literary executor, Daniel Cory.  The aged Santayana was comfortable, in part because his 1935 novelized memoir, The Last Puritan, sold well.  In turn, he assisted financially a number of writers including Bertrand Russell, with whom he was in fundamental disagreement, philosophically and politically.  Santayana never married.

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