George Santayana.

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SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND***


E-text prepared by Marc D'Hooghe (http://www.freeliterature.org) from page
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SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND

And Later Soliloquies

by

GEORGE SANTAYANA







New York
Charles Scribner's Sons
1922




PREFACE


Many of these Soliloquies have appeared in _The Athenaeum_ and one or
more in _The London Mercury_, _The Nation_, _The New Republic_, _The
Dial_, and _The Journal of Philosophy_. The author's thanks are due to
the Editors of all these reviews for permission to reprint the articles.

For convenience, three Soliloquies on Liberty, written in 1915, have
been placed in the second group; and perhaps it should be added that
not a few of the later pieces were written in France, Spain, or Italy,
although still for the most part on English themes and under the
influence of English impressions.



CONTENTS

Prologue

SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND, 1914-1918

1. ATMOSPHERE
2. GRISAILLE
3. PRAISES OF WATER
4. THE TWO PARENTS OF VISION
5. AVERSION FROM PLATONISM
6. CLOUD CASTLES
7. CROSS-LIGHTS
8. HAMLET'S QUESTION
9. THE BRITISH CHARACTER
10. SEAFARING
11. PRIVACY
12. THE LION AND THE UNICORN
13. DONS
14. APOLOGY FOR SNOBS
15. THE HIGHER SNOBBERY
16. DISTINCTION IN ENGLISHMEN
17. FRIENDSHIPS
18. DICKENS
19. THE HUMAN SCALE
20. ENGLISH ARCHITECTURE
21. THE ENGLISH CHURCH
22. LEAVING CHURCH
23. DEATH-BED MANNERS
24. WAR SHRINES
25. TIPPERARY
26. SKYLARKS
27. AT HEAVEN'S GATE

LATER SOLILOQUIES, 1918-1921

28. SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE
29. IMAGINATION
30. THE WORLD'S A STAGE
31. MASKS
32. THE TRAGIC MASK
33. THE COMIC MASK
34. CARNIVAL
35. QUEEN MAB
36. A CONTRAST WITH SPANISH DRAMA
37. THE CENSOR AND THE POET
38. THE MASK OF THE PHILOSOPHER
39. THE VOYAGE OF THE SAINT CHRISTOPHER
40. CLASSIC LIBERTY
41. GERMAN FREEDOM
42. LIBERALISM AND CULTURE
43. THE IRONY OF LIBERALISM
44. JOHN BULL AND HIS PHILOSOPHERS
45. OCCAM'S RAZOR
46. EMPIRICISM
47. THE BRITISH HEGELIANS
48. THE PROGRESS OF PHILOSOPHY
49. THE PSYCHE
50. REVERSION TO PLATONISM
51. IDEAS
52. THE MANSIONS OF HELEN
53. THE JUDGEMENT OF PARIS
54. ON MY FRIENDLY CRITICS
55. HERMES THE INTERPRETER



PROLOGUE


The outbreak of war in the year 1914 found me by chance in England,
and there I remained, chiefly at Oxford, until the day of the peace.
During those five years, in rambles to Iffley and Sandford, to Godstow
and Wytham, to the hospitable eminence of Chilswell, to Wood Eaton or
Nuneham or Abingdon or Stanton Harcourt,

Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe,

these Soliloquies were composed, or the notes scribbled from which they
have been expanded. Often over Port Meadow the whirr of aeroplanes sent
an iron tremor through these reveries, and the daily casualty list,
the constant sight of the wounded, the cadets strangely replacing the
undergraduates, made the foreground to these distances. Yet nature
and solitude continued to envelop me in their gentleness, and seemed
to remain nearer to me than all that was so near. They muffled the
importunity of the hour; perhaps its very bitterness and incubus of
horror drove my thoughts deeper than they would otherwise have ventured
into the maze of reflection and of dreams. It is a single maze, though
we traverse it in opposite moods, and distinct threads conduct us; for
when the most dire events have assumed their punctiform places in the
history of our lives, where they will stand eternally, what are they
but absurd episodes in a once tormenting dream? And when our despised
night-dreams are regarded and respected as they deserve to be (since
all their troubles are actual and all their tints evident), do they
prove more arbitrary or less significant than our waking thoughts, or
than those more studious daylight fictions which we call history or
philosophy? The human mind at best is a sort of song; the music of it
runs away with the words, and even the words, which pass for the names
of things, are but poor wild symbols for their unfathomed objects. So
are these Soliloquies compared with their occasions; and I should be
the first to hate their verbiage, if a certain spiritual happiness did
not seem to breathe through it, and redeem its irrelevance. Their very
abstraction from the time in which they were written may commend them
to a free mind. Spirit refuses to be caught in a vice; it triumphs
over the existence which begets it. The moving world which feeds it
is not its adequate theme. Spirit hates its father and its mother. It
spreads from its burning focus into the infinite, careless whether
that focus burns to ashes or not. From its pinnacle of earthly time it
pours its little life into spheres not temporal nor earthly, and half
in playfulness, half in sacrifice, it finds its joy in the irony of
eternal things, which know nothing of it.

Spirit, however, cannot fly from matter without material wings;
the most abstract art is compacted of images, the most mystical
renunciation obeys some passion of the heart. Images and passion,
even if they are not easily recognizable in these Soliloquies as now
coldly written down, were not absent from them when inwardly spoken.
The images were English images, the passion was the love of England
and, behind England, of Greece. What I love in Greece and in England
is contentment in finitude, fair outward ways, manly perfection and
simplicity. Admiration for England, of a certain sort, was instilled
into me in my youth. My father (who read the language with ease
although he did not speak it) had a profound respect for British polity
and British power. In this admiration there was no touch of sentiment
nor even of sympathy; behind it lay something like an ulterior
contempt, such as we feel for the strong man exhibiting at a fair. The
performance may be astonishing but the achievement is mean. So in the
middle of the nineteenth century an intelligent foreigner, the native
of a country materially impoverished, could look to England for a model
of that irresistible energy and public discipline which afterwards
were even more conspicuous in Bismarckian Germany and in the United
States. It was admiration for material progress, for wealth, for the
inimitable gift of success; and it was not free, perhaps, from the poor
man's illusion, who jealously sets his heart on prosperity, and lets
it blind him to the subtler sources of greatness. We should none of us
admire England to-day, if we had to admire it only for its conquering
commerce, its pompous noblemen, or its parliamentary government. I
feel no great reverence even for the British Navy, which may be in
the junk-shop to-morrow; but I heartily like the British sailor, with
his clear-cut and dogged way of facing the world. It is health, not
policy nor wilfulness, that gives true strength in the moral world,
as in the animal kingdom; nature and fortune in the end are on the
side of health. There is, or was, a beautifully healthy England hidden
from most foreigners; the England of the countryside and of the poets,
domestic, sporting, gallant, boyish, of a sure and delicate heart,
which it has been mine to feel beating, though not so early in my life
as I could have wished. In childhood I saw only Cardiff on a Sunday,
and the docks of Liverpool; but books and prints soon opened to me more
important vistas. I read the poets; and although British painting,
when it tries to idealize human subjects, has always made me laugh, I
was quick to discern an ethereal beauty in the landscapes of Turner.
Furgueson's _Cathedrals of England_, too, and the great mansions in
the Italian style depicted in the eighth edition of the _Encyclopaedia
Britannica_, revealed to me even when a boy the rare charm that can
envelop the most conventional things when they are associated with
tender thoughts or with noble ways of living.

It was with a premonition of things noble and tender, and yet
conventional, that after a term at the University of Berlin I went to
spend my first holidays in England. Those were the great free days of
my youth. I had lived familiarly in Spain and in the United States;
I had had a glimpse of France and of Germany, and French literature
had been my daily bread: it had taught me how to think, but had not
given me much to think about. I was not mistaken in surmising that in
England I should find a _tertium quid_, something soberer and juster
than anything I yet knew, and at the same time greener and richer.
I felt at once that here was a distinctive society, a way of living
fundamentally _foreign_ to me, but deeply attractive. At first all
gates seemed shut and bristling with incommunication; but soon in
some embowered corner I found the stile I might climb over, and the
ancient right of way. Those peaceful parks, and those minds no less
retired, seemed positively to welcome me; and though I was still
divided from them by inevitable partitions, these were in places so
thin and yielding, that the separation seemed hardly greater than is
requisite for union and sympathy between autonomous minds. Indeed, I
was soon satisfied that no climate, no manners, no comrades on earth
(where nothing is perfect) could be more congenial to my complexion.
Not that I ever had the least desire or tendency to become an
Englishman. Nationality and religion are like oar love and loyalty
towards women: things too radically intertwined with oar moral essence
to be changed honourably, and too accidental to the free mind to be
worth changing. My own origins were living within me; by their light
I could see clearly that this England was pre-eminently the home of
decent happiness and a quiet pleasure in being oneself. I found here
the same sort of manliness which I had learned to love in America, yet
softer, and not at all obstreperous; a manliness which when refined
a little creates the gentleman, since its instinct is to hide its
strength for an adequate occasion and for the service of others. It is
self-reliant, but with a saving touch of practicality and humour; for
there is a becoming self-confidence, based on actual performance, like
the confidence of the athlete, and free from any exorbitant estimate of
what that performance is worth. Such modesty in strength is entirely
absent from the effusive temperament of the Latin, who is cocky and
punctilious so long as his conceit holds out, and then utterly humbled
and easily corrupted; entirely absent also from the doctrinaire of the
German school, in his dense vanity and officiousness, that nothing can
put to shame. So much had I come to count on this sort of manliness
in the friends of my youth, that without it the most admirable and
gifted persons seemed to me hardly _men_: they fell rather into an
ambiguous retinue, the camp followers of man, cleverer but meaner than
himself - the priests, politicians, actors, pedagogues, and shopkeepers.
The _man_ is he who lives and relies directly on nature, not on the
needs or weaknesses of other people. These self-sufficing Englishmen,
in their reserve and decision, seemed to me truly men, creatures of
fixed rational habit, people in whose somewhat inarticulate society
one might feel safe and at home. The low pressure at which their minds
seemed to work showed how little they were alarmed about anything:
things would all be managed somehow. They were good company even when
they said nothing. Their aspect, their habits, their invincible likes
and dislikes seemed like an anchor to me in the currents of this
turbid age. They were a gift of the gods, like the sunshine or the
fresh air or the memory of the Greeks: they were superior beings, and
yet more animal than the rest of us, calmer, with a different scale
of consciousness and a slower pace of thought. There were glints in
them sometimes of a mystical oddity; they loved the wilds; and yet
ordinarily they were wonderfully sane and human, and responsive to the
right touch. Moreover, these semi-divine animals could talk like men
of the world. If some of them, and not the least charming, said little
but "Oh, really," and "How stupid of me," I soon discovered how far
others could carry scholarly distinction, rich humour, and refinement
of diction. I confess, however, that when they were very exquisite or
subtle they seemed to me like cut flowers; the finer they were the
frailer, and the cleverer the more wrong-headed. Delicacy did not come
to them, as to Latin minds, as an added ornament, a finer means of
being passionate, a trill in a song that flows full-chested from the
whole man; their purity was Puritanism, it came by exclusion of what
they thought lower. It impoverished their sympathies, it severed them
from their national roots, it turned to affectation or fanaticism,
it rendered them acrid and fussy and eccentric and sad. It is truly
English, in one sense, to fume against England, individuality tearing
its own nest; and often these frantic poses neutralize one another and
do no harm on the whole. Nevertheless it is the full-bodied Englishman
who has so far ballasted the ship, he who, like Shakespeare, can wear
gracefully the fashion of the hour, can play with fancy, and remain a
man. When he ceases to be sensual and national, adventurous and steady,
reticent and religious, the Englishman is a mad ghost; and wherever he
prevails he turns pleasant England, like Greece, into a memory.

Those first holidays of mine, when I was twenty-three years of
age, laid the foundation of a lifelong attachment - of which these
Soliloquies are a late fruit - to both Oxford and Cambridge: not so much
to the learned society of those places as to their picturesque aspects
and to the possibility of enjoying there in seclusion the intense
companionship of the past and of the beautiful; also the intense
companionship of youth, to which more advanced years in themselves are
no obstacle, if the soul remains free. I have never liked the taste of
academic straw; but there are fat grains and seeds of novelty even at
universities, which the lively young wits that twitter in those shades
pick up like hungry sparrows, yet without unmitigated seriousness; and
unmitigated seriousness is always out of place in human affairs. Let
not the unwary reader think me flippant for saying so; it was Plato,
in his solemn old age, who said it. He added that our ignominious
condition forces us, nevertheless, to be often terribly in earnest.
Wanton and transitory as our existence is, and comic as it must appear
in the eyes of the happy gods, it is all in all to our mortal nature;
and whilst intellectually we may judge ourselves somewhat as the gods
might judge us, and may commend our lives to the keeping of eternity,
our poor animal souls are caught inextricably in the toils of time,
which devours us and all our possessions. The artist playing a farce
for others suffers a tragedy in himself. When he aspires to shed as
much as possible the delusions of earthly passion, and to look at
things joyfully and unselfishly, with the clear eyes of youth, it is
not because he feels no weight of affliction, but precisely because he
feels its weight to the full, and how final it is. Lest it should seem
inhuman of me to have been piping soliloquies whilst Rome was burning,
I will transcribe here some desperate verses extorted from me by events
during those same years. I am hardly a poet in the magic sense of the
word, but when one's thoughts have taken instinctively a metrical form,
why should they be forbidden to wear it? I do not ask the reader to
admire these sonnets, but to believe them.


A PREMONITION

_Cambridge, October_ 1913

Grey walls, broad fields, fresh voices, rippling weir,
I know you well: ten faces, for each face
That passes smiling, haunt this hallowed place,
And nothing not thrice noted greets me here.
Soft watery winds, wide twilight skies and clear,
Refresh my spirit at its founts of grace,
And a strange sorrow masters me, to pace
These willowed paths, in this autumnal year.
Soon, lovely England, soon thy secular dreams,
Thy lisping comrades, shall be thine no more.
A world's loosed troubles flood thy gated streams
And drown, methinks, thy towers; and the tears start
As if an iron hand had clutched my heart,
And knowledge is a pang, like love of yore.


THE UNDERGRADUATE KILLED IN BATTLE

_Oxford_, 1915

Sweet as the lawn beneath his sandalled tread,
Or the scarce rippled stream beneath his oar,
So gently buffeted it laughed the more,
His life was, and the few blithe words he said.
One or two poets read he, and reread;
One or two friends with boyish ardour wore
Close to his heart, incurious of the lore
Dodonian woods might murmur overhead.
Ah, demons of the whirlwind, have a care,
What, trumpeting your triumphs, ye undo!
The earth once won, begins your long despair
That never, never is his bliss for you.
He breathed betimes this clement island air
And in unwitting lordship saw the blue.


THE DARKEST HOUR

_Oxford_, 1917

Smother thy flickering light, the vigil's o'er.
Hope, early wounded, of his wounds is dead.
Many a night long he smiled, his drooping head
Laid on thy breast, and that brave smile he wore
Not yet from his unbreathing lips is fled.
Enough: on mortal sweetness look no more,
Pent in this charnel-house, fling wide the door
And on the stars that killed him gaze instead.
The world's too vast for hope. The unteachable sun
Rises again and will reflood his sphere,
Blotting with light what yesterday was done;
But the unavailing truth, though dead, lives on,
And in eternal night, unkindly clear,
A cold moon gilds the waves of Acheron.




SOLILOQUIES IN ENGLAND

1914-1918



1

ATMOSPHERE


The stars lie above all countries alike, but the atmosphere that
intervenes is denser in one place than in another; and even where
it is purest, if once its atoms catch the sunlight, it cuts off the
prospect beyond. In some climates the veil of earthly weather is so
thick and blotted that even the plodder with his eyes on the ground
finds its density inconvenient, and misses his way home. The advantage
of having eyes is neutralized at such moments, and it would be better
to have retained the power of going on all fours and being guided by
scent. In fact human beings everywhere are like marine animals and live
in a congenial watery medium, which like themselves is an emanation
of mother earth; and they are content for the most part to glide
through it horizontally at their native level. They ignore the third,
the vertical dimension; or if they ever get some inkling of empty
heights or rigid depths where they could not breathe, they dismiss
that speculative thought with a shudder, and continue to dart about in
their familiar aquarium, immersed in an opaque fluid that cools their
passions, protects their intellect from mental dispersion, keeps them
from idle gazing, and screens them from impertinent observation by
those who have no business in the premises.

The stellar universe that silently surrounds them, if while swimming
they ever think of it, seems to them something foreign and not quite
credibly reported. How should anything exist so unlike home, so out of
scale with their affairs, so little watery, and so little human? Their
philosophers confirm them in that incredulity; and the sea-caves hold
conclaves of profound thinkers congregated to prove that only fog can
be real. The dry, their council decrees, is but a vain abstraction, a
mere negative which human imagination opposes to the moist, of which
alone, since life is moist, there can be positive experience.

As for the stars, these inspired children of the mist have discovered
that they are nothing but postulates of astronomy, imagined for a
moment to exist, in order that a beautiful human science may be
constructed about them. Duller people, born in the same fog, may not
understand so transcendental a philosophy, but they spontaneously
frame others of their own, not unlike it in principle. In the middle
of the night, when the starlight best manages to pierce to the lowest
strata of the air, these good people are asleep; yet occasionally when
they are returning somewhat disappointed from a party, or when illness
or anxiety or love-hunger keeps them pacing their chamber or tossing
in their beds, by chance they may catch a glimpse of a star or two
twinkling between their curtains. Idle objects, they say to themselves,
like dots upon the wall-paper. Why should there be stars at all, and
why so many of them? Certainly they shed a little light and are pretty;
and they are a convenience sometimes in the country when there is no
moon and no lamp-posts; and they are said to be useful in navigation
and to enable the astronomers to calculate sidereal time in addition
to solar time, which is doubtless a great satisfaction to them. But
all this hardly seems to justify such an expense of matter and energy
as is involved in celestial mechanics. To have so much going on so far
away, and for such prodigious lengths of time, seems rather futile and
terrible. Who knows? Astrologers used to foretell people's character
and destiny by their horoscope; perhaps they may turn out to have been
more or less right after all, now that science is coming round to
support more and more what our fathers called superstitions. There may
be some meaning in the stars, a sort of code-language such as Bacon put
into Shakespeare's sonnets, which would prove to us, if we could only
read it, not how insignificant, but how very important we are in the
world, since the very stars are talking about us.

The safest thing, however, is to agree with the great idealists, who
say there are really no stars at all. Or, if their philosophy seems
insecure - and there are rumours that even the professors are hedging
on the subject - we can always take refuge in faith, and think of the
heavenly bodies as beautiful new homes in which we are to meet and work
together again when we die; and as in time we might grow weary even
there, with being every day busier and busier, there must always be
other stars at hand for us to move to, each happier and busier than the
last; and since we wish to live and to progress for ever, the number of
habitable planets provided for us has to be infinite. Certainly faith
is far better than science for explaining everything.

So the embryonic soul reasons in her shell of vapour; her huddled
philosophy is, as it were, pre-natal, and discredits the possibility
of ever peeping into a cold outer world. Yet in time this shell may
grow dangerously thin in places, and a little vague light may filter
through. Strange promptings and premonitions at the same time may visit
the imprisoned spirit, as if it might not be impossible nor inglorious
to venture into a world that was not oneself. At last, willy-nilly, the
soul may be actually hatched, and may suddenly find herself horribly
exposed, cast perhaps on the Arabian desert, or on some high, scorched,
open place that resembles it, like the uplands of Castile. There the
rarefied atmosphere lets the stars down upon her overwhelmingly, like a
veritable host of heaven. There the barren earth entwines few tentacles
about the heart; it stretches away dark and empty beneath our feet, a
mere footstool for meditation. It is a thing to look away from, too
indifferent and accidental even to spurn; for after all it supports
us, and though small and extinguished it is one of the stars. In these
regions the shepherds first thought of God.




2

GRISAILLE


England is pre-eminently a land of atmosphere. A luminous haze
permeates everywhere, softening distances, magnifying perspectives,
transfiguring familiar objects, harmonizing the accidental, making
beautiful things magical and ugly things picturesque. Road and pavement
become wet mirrors, in which the fragments of this gross world are
shattered, inverted, and transmuted into jewels, more appealing than
precious stones to the poet, because they are insubstantial and must be
loved without being possessed. Mists prolong the most sentimental and
soothing of hours, the twilight, through the long summer evenings and
the whole winter's day. In these country-sides so full of habitations
and these towns so full of verdure, lamplight and twilight cross their
rays; and the passers-by, mercifully wrapped alike in one crepuscular
mantle, are reduced to unison and simplicity, as if sketched at one
stroke by the hand of a master.

English landscape, if we think only of the land and the works of man



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