Josefina Borràs was Spanish but spent part of her youth in the Philippines. Here she met and married the Bostonian George Sturgis.
After her husband’s death, Josefina went to live in the U.S. with her children but, after awhile, decided to move back to Spain. Here she remarried Agustin Ruiz de Santayana, an old friend from the Philippines who liked to paint and read. In 1863, Josefina and Agustin had a son and lived in Avila (home of the mystic saint, Teresa). But Josefina grew bored with the new ménage and found an excuse to return to Boston with her children from her first marriage. The six year old Jorge was left behind in Spain with his father. Maybe because he disliked the idea of having his son grow up without a mother, a few years later Augustin took Jorge to Boston. Unfortunately, Augustin found out that he didn’t like Boston or his wife and returned to Spain leaving Jorge behind. Father and son did not see one another again until Jorge was an adult. Santayana was later to call this estrangement from his father as a “moral disinheritance”.
Now, growing up in Boston, Jorge’s name became George and his mother tongue, Spanish, put in a drawer. Jorge aka George grew up feeling himself to be an outsider not only because he was a Spaniard growing up in the United States but also because he was growing up with siblings and an environment he couldn’t identify with. In his autobiography, Santayana says he was solitary and unhappy but well-anchored in his dream life. He had learned to rely upon his imagination for emotional survival.
And, as many outsiders do, Santayana spent much time alone thinking and reading—two things that helped him enter Harvard University. One of his professors was William James, the first to offer a psychology course in the U.S. After his degree, Santayana studied philosophy in Berlin then returned to the States where he taught philosophy at his alma mater. His students included T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost and Gertrude Stein. But, at the age of 48, Santayana was completely burned out on the academic world and quit his job at Harvard. He moved back to Europe and never again returned to the United States. Santayana was disdainful of Americans’ need for “material achievement, good humor and football”.
Santayana and St. Teresa were both from Avila. But that’s not all they had in common. For example, both are known for their aphorisms.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
“History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.”
“I Would I Might Forget That I Am I.”
“Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”
“Wisdom comes by disillusionment.”
“The earth has music for those who listen.”
“The highest form of vanity is love of fame.“
“The Bible is a wonderful source of inspiration for those who don’t understand it.”
“To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.”
I do not fear Satan half so much as I fear those who fear him.
To have courage for whatever comes in life – everything lies in that.
There are more tears shed over answered prayers than over unanswered prayers.
Pain is never permanent.
May God protect me from gloomy saints.
Santayana, as a university professor, was always under pressure to write books. So, in 1886, he came out with The Sense of Beauty. Aesthetics are about emotions because beauty gives us pleasure. Thus beauty is a human experience.
But Santanyana big literary success came from the only novel he every published, The Last Puritan (1936). It was a bestseller and not only got him on the cover of Time magazine but helped him survive economically. The novel evolves around the concept of personal growth and took Santayana 45 years to write it.
Novels are always about conflicts and how the protagonists affronts them. The Last Puritan (which took Santayana 45 years to write) relates the story of Oliver’s difficulty in reconciling his sense of duty with his true nature. There are those who are spontaneously Puritans and others who are constructed Puritans and so conditioned by the world around them they themselves don’t know who they really are. Sometimes habitual behavior takes us away from our true selves.
After travelling around Europe, Santayana eventually settled in Rome. However, with the outbreak of WW II, he tried to leave Italy but, unable to do so, he moved into the convent of the Blue Nuns and stayed there until he died in 1952. And it was because of his closeness to the nuns that the Vatican helped Santayana smuggle out his manuscripts so they could be published in the United States.
After the American forces arrived in June of 1944, Santayana was flooded with visitors and journalists. Newspapers photographed him reading his newspaper in the park. He said “people, strangers flock to me as if I were the oldest inhabitant of the village.”
Many writers went to visit him in his tiny convent room. Ezra Pound, whose Cantos were greatly inspired by Santayana, said of him that he’d never met a man who was less of a fake. Gore Vidal took Tennesse Williams to visit Santayana as well. Literary critic Edmund Wilson was rather spooked by Santayana and poet Wallace Stevens wrote a poem dedicated to Santayan entitled “To an Old Philosopher in Rome” as did another poet, Robert Lowell, “For George Santayana”.
George Santyana is buried at the Verano Monumental Cemetery in Rome in the area known as the” Panteòn de la Obra Pìa Española”. The Panteón was designed, in part, by the Spanish architect Javier Carvajal Ferrer in 1955 while at the Academy of Fine Arts in Rome. Carval’s style was rational and formal. And, like all Brutalist architects, a lover of concrete. The Panteón is made of travertine, concrete and a black steel grating.
Carvajal not only designed concrete structures such as the Caeacas building in Madrid (1966), he also designed furniture such as the lounge Granda chairs
Javier Carvajal Ferrer is now buried at the collective tomb he designed as is the Spanish painter Antonio Maria de Reyna Manescau and his wife, the opera singer Beatriz Mililotti.
De Reyna Manescau (1859-1937) was born in Malaga and, thanks to a grant, went to Venice where he enjoyed painting the canals. In Venice he was friends with Cecilia Madrazo, wife of Fortuny Sr. and mother of Fortuny Jr. (Fortuny father and son are both buried at Verano). Then he moved to Rome where he became an active part of the Spanish community.
Aren’t we all exiles just waiting to go home?
George Santayana’s tomb at Verano Monumental Cemetery