- Editor’s Note
George Santayana [Jorge Agustin Nicolás Ruiz de] (1863–1952) was, along with William James and John Dewey, one of the principal figures in the history of American philosophy after Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was born in Madrid, but his mother moved to Boston in 1869 to honor her promise to her late American husband to raise their three children there; her second husband brought George, the child they had together, to join the rest of the family in Boston three years later, but the parents soon separated and George’s father returned to Spain. The young boy learned English quickly, and in 1874 entered the Boston Latin School, from which he was graduated in 1882. In the fall of that year, he enrolled at Harvard, where he studied with William James; at the end of his undergraduate career he was admitted to Phi Beta Kappa, and after receiving his B.A. degree, summa cum laude, in 1886, he left for Germany with a graduate fellowship to continue his studies.
After two years, Santayana came back to Harvard, where he completed his Ph.D. degree in 1889 and was invited to stay on to teach. He remained in the Philosophy Department there for the next twenty-three years, and among his students during that time were the poets Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, and Conrad Aiken, as well as leading American public intellectuals including Walter Lippmann, Van Wyck Brooks, and Max Eastman, scholars like Harry Austryn Wolfson and Samuel Eliot Morison, Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter, and university president James B. Conant.
Santayana’s first published book was a collection of poems, Sonnets and Other Verses; the work, which appeared in 1894, was not particularly well received. In contrast, he attracted considerable notice and significant praise with The Sense of Beauty (1896), which in his account had grown out of “a course of lectures on the theory and history of aesthetics given at Harvard College from 1892 to 1895.” In these lectures, he challenged some prevailing idealist assumptions, shifting to an empirical and psychological analysis which led him to conclude that “beauty is constituted by the objectification of pleasure. It is pleasure objectified. ” Among the further investigations he published in subsequent years were the five volumes of The Life of Reason; or the Phases of Human Progress (1905–6), which secured for him a position of eminence in twentieth-century American philosophy. Three Philosophical Poets, a study of Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe published in 1910, remains a source of illumination for any reader interested in the major imaginative achievements of Western literature.
In 1912, after the death of his mother, Santayana received a small inheritance, enough to allow him to retire from teaching and devote his time to travel and writing. He was only forty-eight, but despite several offers from Harvard, Brown, and Oxford, he never accepted another academic appointment; nor did he ever return to the United States. Over the next four decades, he produced an extraordinary number of wide-ranging and influential studies, as well as The Last Puritan: A Memoir in the Form of a Novel (1936) and three volumes of reminiscences collectively titled Persons and Places. After spending the years of World War I and after in Oxford, in 1924 he took up permanent residence in Rome, where he died in 1952, just short of the age of eighty-nine.
The pages that follow are taken from The Sense of Beauty: Being the Outline of an Aesthetic Theory, first published in 1896 by Charles Scribner’s Sons. [End Page 180]