Over the next forty years I periodically read and reread Santayana’s works, especially Realms of Being (much admired by Guy Davenport); Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe; Persons and Places and the letters. But that first book remained a cipher without author. My copy is long gone. Santayana’s name was never mentioned in any of my philosophy or literature classes. I remembered only that the book was published by Washington Square Press. Recently I turned to the internet and within minutes identified the volume: George Santayana by Willard E. Arnett, one of twenty-two titles in the Great American Thinkers series. Go here to see the cover and please note the price: 75 cents. With the author’s name I was able to find a copy in the library. The first printing is dated March 1968. Now I’ve reread it and experienced only two moments of déjà vu: Arnett’s mention in the introduction of Santayana’s problematical American identity (he was born in Spain of Spanish parents and never became an American citizen), and the epigraph he places at the top of Chapter 9, “Art, Beauty, Meaning, and Value.” It’s from Reason in Art (volume IV of The Life of Reason, published in 1905): “. . . the effort of art is to keep what is interesting in existence, to recreate it in the eternal.” It was Santayana’s choice of “eternal” that thrilled and bothered me, and caused me to remember the passage.
Joseph Epstein is another admirer of Santayana. In “George Santayana: The Permanent Transient” (Essays in Biography, Axios Press, 2012), he judges the philosopher “one of the greatest of American writers,” and says he is “among the small handful of true artist philosophers—Plato, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer are in this select category—who write beautifully and whose finer-grained meanings are never so straightforward as philosophers who write without artistry.”