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Jorge Agustín Nicolás Ruiz de Santayana y Borrás, known in English as George Santayana (December 16, 1863 – September 26, 1952), was a philosopher, essayist, poet, and novelist. Originally from Spain, Santayana was raised and educated in the United States from the age of eight and identified himself as an American, although he always kept a valid Spanish passport. He wrote in English and is generally considered an American man of letters. At the age of forty-eight, Santayana left his position at Harvard and returned to Europe permanently, never to return to the United States. George Santayana was related to the family of Sturgis Bigelow.
Santayana is popularly known for aphorisms, such as "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it", "Only the dead have seen the end of war", and the definition of beauty as "pleasure objectified". Although an atheist, he treasured the Spanish Catholic values, practices, and worldview in which he was raised. Santayana was a broad-ranging cultural critic spanning many disciplines.
The membership of Boston’s artistic and literary club, the St Botolph Club (1879), the Tavern Club (1884), and the Club of Odd Volume (1887), was derived principally from Harvard graduates who wanted to maintain the ties they developed in the school’s social clubs and fraternities. These private men’s dining clubs also served as safe and convivial spaces where well-to-do gay members of Boston’s cultural establishment could express themselves freely and creatively. The Tavern Club, which had a distinct bohemian aura about it, counted a number of members from Isabella Stewart Gardner’s circle, including George Santayana; librarian Theodore Dwight; musicians Charles Loeffler and Tymoteusz Adamowski; and Thomas Russell Sullivan. Tavern Club theatricals, directly descended from the cross-dressing antics of the Hasty Pudding Club, were legendary.
Santayana never married. His romantic life, if any, is not well understood. Some evidence, including a comment Santayana made late in life comparing himself to A. E. Housman, and his friendships with people who were openly homosexual and bisexual, has led scholars to speculate that Santayana was perhaps homosexual or bisexual himself, but it remains unclear whether he had any actual heterosexual or homosexual relationships.
In the mid-1880s George Santayana had an undergraduate crush on 17-year-old Ward Thoron who, as a sheltered educated by Jesuits, had a hard time fitting into Protestant Harvard but eventually married the niece of Henry Adams. Santayana wrote a sonnet about Thoron as he did about Warwick Potter, a student of his who died of cholera in 1893. Santayana's homosexuality was so well known that Harvard President Charles Eliot was reluctant to hire him, though he eventually did so.
In 1875 John Lowell "Jack" Gardner's brother, Joseph P. Gardner, committed suicide, leaving three young sons, Joseph Peabody, William Amory and Augustus Peabody. Jack and Isabella Stewart Gardner adopted and raised the boys. In 1886, Joseph Peabody Gardner, Jr., committed suicide like his father. Douglass Shand-Tucci believes he killed himself because of his unrequited love for another man. Augustus Peabody Gardner became a military officer, a U.S. congressman and son-in-law of Henry Cabot Lodge. William Amory Gardner was probably the lover of Ned Warren, the benefactor of the Museum of Fine Arts. And Shand-Tucci recounts this anecdote about Amory, when he was a don at the then-new Groton School. A young boy brought a minister to William Amory Gardner’s room for a visit after chapel. The visitors having arrived at what turned out to be Gardner’s bedroom, it was at once clear that not only was W.A.G. stark naked before the fireplace (except for a pair of voluptuous bedroom slippers) but also so was the young man reclining on the sofa… Charles Eliot Norton, one of the foremost scholars of archeology in the United States, had four protégés in the 1880s. Three were gay: George Santayana, Charles Loeser, who after a lifetime in Florence bequeathed 8 paintings by Cezanne to the White House and Logan Pearsall Smith. The fourth, Bernard Berenson, was straight but was very accomodating to his gay friends. All four were frequent visitors to the Gardners. Also at Harvard was newphew Joe Gardner Jr, who lived across the hall from Ned Warren and was friends with the four protégés. Joe was in love with Smith and after graduating, he bought a retreat in Hamilton, Massachusetts purchased as a place he could spend time with Smith. For a while the relationship was happy and Smith went up to Hamilton quite frequently, often bringing his sister, Mary Smith (who eventually married Berenson, her second husband, in 1900). Smith eventually lost interest in Joe. The lovesick young man, who frequently suffered from depression, committed suicide on October 10, 1886. Isabella and Jack were brokenhearted while Smith departed for Oxford and a career as a essayist and social critic in England.
Santayana was interested in men as an undergraduate. When a friend brough John Francis Stanley, the second Earl Russell and brother of philosopher Bertrand Russell, to Hollis Hall to meet Santayana during his senior year in 1886, Santayana was "immediately taken with Russell's appearance: tall, tawny hair, clear little steel-blue eyes, and a florid complexion." Russell was adrift; he had recently been thrown out of Oxford for having a young man overnight in his room. Santayana was simultaneously attracted to Russell's intellect and repelled by his hypocrisy. Russell spoke of becoming a parson though he was "about as spiritual as Attila the Hun." Their love-hate relationship would last 30 years.
George Santayana spent a lot of time with fellow Harvard graduate Ned Warren in Europe, particularly when Santayana was writing The Last Puritan. Despite Boston's tolerance, Santayana was frustrated by its conservatism. He "could either stay in the city, pursue a career in business while withering and "folds up his heat" or he could flee to Oxford or Montmartre and save his soul... Santayana chose his soul.
Harvard Episodes was published in the 1890s by Charles Flandrau. Its publication caused shockwaves throughout college circles for many reasons, not least because of its pervasive Wildeanisms; one character is described as having been “such a nice little boy at St. Timothy’s—piping liquidly in an angelic ‘nighty’ at Chapel—that when the inevitable rumors reached there, the rector and masters were deeply pained to learn that still another butterfly had burst at Harvard from the godly chrysalis. They assumed lank, Pre-Raphaelite expressions, and murmured, ‘Oh, Harvard—Harvard.’” One whole chapter was about Santayana: though in real life he somewhat blurred the two traditions, he hardly did so in the pages of Harvard Episodes. In real life he had accepted election as “pope” of Harvard’s Lacadocian Club, the members of which were sworn to be neither too hot nor too cold, and also membership in something called the Stylus, where he and his friends stocked the club’s library with aesthete literature by Wilde and his French opposite number, number, Joris-Karl Huysmans, so no exception could really be taken by him to Flandrau’s reading of the situation. Furthermore, it was the students who most interested Flandrau, himself an undergraduate in the 1890s. Harvard Episodes was one of two books Santayana regularly recommended to those eager to absorb the Harvard ambience in the 1890s.
In 1912, Santayana resigned his position at Harvard to spend the rest of his life in Europe. He had saved money and been aided by a legacy from his mother. In Englad he met againwith young Frank, Earl Russell. Frank was evidently Santayana's type: mascunline, extrovert, hopelessly heterosexual; intelligent, fearless, of much manual dexterity. Interested in engineering and navigation, he was getting his yacht ready for a cruise. The Russells gave the prim young Harvard scholar a breezy welcome; when the black-suited figure tried to cross the plank which Frank Russell took in his stride - as he took women - George almost fell into the water and had to be helped over. It was the initiation into years of acquaintance - devotion on Santayana's part, in which he identified himself with many of Russell's troubles, chiefly matrimonial, brought down on him by his excessive heterosexuality.
Another reason behind his leaving for England must have been the relative freedom of cousin Howard Sturgis, who lived openly as a gay man in the years between 1890 and WWI. Santayana would later remember how Sturgis' Windsor estate was a mecca of gay life at the time. "It seemed a bower of roses. He played by turns the Fairy Prince and the disconsolate Pierrot, now full of almost tearful affection, now sitting dressed in sky-blue silk at the head of his sparkling table, surrounded by young dandies and distinguished elderly dames."
After some years in Ávila, Paris and Oxford, after 1920, he began to winter in Rome, eventually living there year-round until his death. During his forty years in Europe, he wrote nineteen books and declined several prestigious academic positions. Many of his visitors and correspondents were Americans, including his assistant and eventual literary executor, Daniel Cory. In later life, Santayana was financially comfortable, in part because his 1935 novel, The Last Puritan, had become an unexpected best-seller. In turn, he financially assisted a number of writers, including Bertrand Russell, with whom he was in fundamental disagreement, philosophically and politically.
Following 1935 and the writing of his only novel The Last Puritan, he continued to winter in Rome, eventually living there year-round until his death in 1952.
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