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George Santayana: 1863-1952: Philosopher

Given Traditional American Education

Santayana was born in Madrid, Spain, on December 16, 1863. His father was a Spanish diplomat who had served in the Philippines. Santayana's mother was his father's second wife; she was the widow of an American businessman from Boston, and soon after Santayana was born she moved to Boston because she wanted her children from her first marriage to be educated there. Santayana was brought to Boston by his father in 1872, but the father soon returned to Spain.

Though he arrived in Boston speaking almost no English, Santayana excelled at Boston Latin School, then as now one of the most competitive college preparatory institutions in the United States. In 1882 he enrolled at Harvard, where he notched a brilliant record as a student and became involved in such extracurricular activities as the Harvard Lampoon humor magazine even though he felt a certain detachment from Harvard's Anglo-Saxon-Protestant atmosphere and satirized the school in his autobiographical 1936 novel, The Last Puritan. Santayana studied at Harvard with William James, then considered the dean of American philosophers. After his graduation in 1886, he studied in Germany for two years, but returned to Harvard to pursue a Ph.D. degree, which he finished in 1889.

At a Glance . . .

Born Jorge Santayana on December 16, 1863, in Madrid, Spain; died on September 26, 1952, in Rome, Italy. Education: Harvard University, BA, 1886, PhD, 1889.

Career: Harvard University, faculty, 1889-1912; author, 1896-1952.

A slot filling in for the overworked James quickly evolved into a full professorship at Harvard for Santayana, who became part of the school's faculty for 23 years. His students there included several who went on to become famous American writers themselves: poets Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Gertrude Stein, and T.S. Eliot, and political writer Walter Lippmann. Santayana, who never married and whom historians believe to have been an inactive homosexual, still chafed at the atmosphere of repressive New England. "I wonder if you realize," he wrote to James in a letter quoted in the Wilson Quarterly, "the years of suppressed irritation which I have passed in the midst of an unintelligible, sanctimonious, and often disingenuous Protestantism, which is thoroughly alien and repulsive to me." Although an atheist, Santayana maintained a cultural connection to Roman Catholicism.

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Brief BiographiesBiographies: Paul Anthony Samuelson (1915– ) Biography to Bessie Smith (1895–1937) BiographyGeorge Santayana: 1863-1952: Philosopher Biography - Given Traditional American Education, Published Major Works While At Harvard