Biography George Santayana

George Santayana

photo of George Santayana
  • Time Period1863 - 1952
  • Place
  • CountrySpain

Poet Biography

Santayana's heritage is rooted in the Spanish diplomatic society with its stress on high education and familiarity with the world community. He was born in Madrid, Spain, on 16 December 1863.
1863-1886. Santayana lived eight years in Spain, forty years in Boston, and forty years in Europe. In his autobiography, Persons and Places, Santayana divides his life into three phases. The background (1863-1886) encompasses his childhood in Spain through his undergraduate years at Harvard. The second period (1886-1912) is that of the Harvard graduate student and professor with a trans-Atlantic penchant for traveling to Europe. The third period (1912-1952) is the retired professor writing and traveling in Europe and eventually establishing Rome as his home.
Until his father's death (1893), Santayana regularly corresponded with his father and he visited him after Santayana's first year at Harvard College. In Boston, Santayana's family spoke only Spanish in their home. Santayana first attended Mrs. Welchman's Kindergarten to learn English from the younger children, then he was a student at the Boston Latin School, and he completed his B.A. and Ph.D. at Harvard College (1882-1889), including eighteen months of study in Germany on a Walker Fellowship. His undergraduate years at Harvard reveal an energetic student with an active social life. He was a member of eleven organizations including The Lampoon (largely as a cartoonist), the Harvard Monthly (a founding member), the Philosophical Club (President), and the Hasty Pudding.
1886-1912. Santayana received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1889 and became a faculty member at Harvard University (1889-1912) and eventually a central figure in the era now called Classical American Philosophy. He was a highly respected and popular teacher, and his students included poets (Conrad Aiken, T. S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens).
Increasingly, naturalism and the lyrical cry of human imagination became the focal points of Santayana's life and thought. Pragmatism, as developed by Peirce and James, was an undercurrent in his naturalism, particularly as an approach to how we ascertain knowledge, but there are aspects of his naturalism more aligned with European and Greek thought that presage developments in the
late twentieth century. His naturalism had its historical roots primarily in Aristotle and Spinoza and its contemporary background in James's pragmatism and Royce's idealism. His focus on and celebration of creative imagination in all human endeavors (particularly in art, philosophy, religion, literature, and science) is one of Santayana's major contributions to American thought. This focus, along with his Spanish heritage, Catholic upbringing, and European suspicion of American industry, set him apart in the Harvard Yard.

by 1904, his attention turned almost fully to philosophical pursuits. During this period his publications include: Lotze's System of Philosophy (dissertation), Sonnets and Other Verses (1894), The Sense of Beauty (1896), Lucifer: A Theological Tragedy (1899), Interpretations of Poetry and Religion (1900), A Hermit of Carmel, and Other Poems (1901), The Life of Reason (five books, 1905-1906), Three Philosophical Poets: Lucretius, Dante, and Goethe (1910).

In May 1911, Santayana formally announced his long-planned retirement from Harvard. By now Santayana was a highly recognized philosopher, cultural critic, poet, and teacher. At forty-eight, he left Harvard to become a full-time writer.
Santayana's book publications after leaving Harvard is remarkable: Winds of Doctrine (1913), Egotism in German Philosophy (1915), Character and Opinion in the United States (1920), Soliloquies in England and Later Soliloquies (1922), Scepticism and Animal Faith (1923), Dialogues in Limbo (1926), Platonism and the Spiritual Life (1927), the four books of The Realms of Being (1927, 1930, 1938, 1940), The Genteel Tradition at Bay (1931), Some Turns of Thought in Modern Philosophy (1933), The Last Puritan (1935), Persons and Places (1944), The Middle Span (1945), The Idea of Christ in the Gospels (1946), Dominations and Powers (1951), and My Host the World (1953, posthumous

Santayana died of cancer on 26 September 1952.