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Art and Mr. Santayana

ISSUE:  Summer 1937

Among philosophical personalities probably the most urbane and humanistic since Socrates is Mr. Santayana. I imagine he is what Emerson might have been if Emerson had had a philosophical instead of a theological background; in other words, if his Harvard had been the Harvard of today or yesterday. As an Emerson disturbs the theologians, a Santayana disturbs the philosophers—an admirable function. Each speaks luminously, and that dismays his professional colleagues and drives them to speak primly; and each pours out an incessant gnomic wisdom, so that the colleagues look a little innocent or empty. The likeness goes further: each possesses the technical accomplishment of verse. But here the report is not so favorable. Emerson was too much the theologian to be quite released by poetry, and Mr. Santayana is imprisoned with all his graces in the net of his intellectualism. They do not command the freedom of poets.

And here the parallel stops, for Emerson did not undertake to compete with Hawthorne in another art, but Mr. Santayana has written a big novel, at the moment when his wisdom is ripest. Unfortunately the wisdom, the great shining blocks of it, is a little adventitious for the special purpose of fiction, which on its side happened at the same moment to have reached a stage of enormously subtle proficiency. “The Last Puritan” has distinguished merits, but this is not the novel which will cause the author’s secular competitors to cancel their projects and rush off to Academies and Stoas in order to acquire technical philosophy before they write again. It is still they who determine for us what fiction is to be. The flexibility of Mr. Santayana’s mind, which is extreme when judged by the standards of philosophical writing, is hardly sufficient for verse and fiction. The philosopher consumes the artist; a very old story. And just as his practice does not quite indicate an understanding of the art-work, neither, I think, does his published theory.

The published theory is scarcely to be found in any one locus, for Mr. Santayana’s writings are lavish and various. A good single volume for a quick look at the later and characteristic doctrines is the choice collection of essays, “Obiter Scripta”—an indispensable book for all amateur or general readers with the slightest pretension to knowledge. But I think we had better go further back, to the time when the characteristic doctrines were not yet established, in order to see how and why the Santayana aesthetic had to take its form. As a Harvard professor Mr. Santayana admired Greek philosophers and abhorred German idealists. If one should offer the opinion that the five volumes published in 1905 under the general title, “The Life of Reason,” are excellent, without effecting much displacement in the existing body of theory, it would be a misinformation unless one added: But they have an extraordinary literary finish, and the vitality of a discourse that is fertilized by metaphor.

We come to Volume IV of this series, “Reason in Art”; and what is the view taken of the meaning of the arts? It is quite commonplace: they are actions which are useful and expressive at the same time. These two requirements are commented on and illustrated, and we are given to understand that they govern both industrial art, which must not be merely useful, and fine art, which must not be merely expressive. Many a pretty application of this formula can be made by a literary philosopher.

But expressiveness and utility! If the phrase sounds determinate to the uncritical, nevertheless it must be one of the best examples of the worst tradition of philosophical rigmarole. The currency of formulations like it is a disgrace to philosophy, and in particular has doomed aesthetic to remain its most undeveloped branch. This can be said without especially disparaging Mr. Santayana, who has long since thrown the foolish formula away.

Utility may stand, for at least it says something. The utility of a work is objective, and measurable in terms of the satisfactions which man as a biological species exacts of a resistant environment. Economics has appropriated this term perhaps, but the goods with which economics deals are no other than those perfectly arbitrary ones defined by the peculiar human organism. Utility will even stand, I think, with Mr. Santayana’s qualifications, as one of the requirements of fine art. We are in the habit of saying that a piece of art must be important, or must have an interest, but the import and the interest are biological too. Mr. Santayana has conceded that it need not be a direct or possessive interest; Kant enforced this point, and we repeat it when we say that the interest is felt in an imaginary rather than an actual situation. The fine arts are all symbolic, and rest on a conscious fiction, or illusion; it is the illusion of reality; “true to life” as we say, or “a preparation for living” as Mr. Santayana says. Schopenhauer showed that even music must symbolize life, and otherwise could not move us as it does; Mr. Santayana shows it too, and is more explicit than Schopenhauer.

Expressiveness, on the contrary, is a term exquisitely calculated to conceal thought, if there is really thinking on these premises; or, what is more likely, to evade thought. Of what is art expressive? Mr. Santayana is thoroughly uncomfortable with the term, and in using it seems as often as not to be a species of demonologist, and to think that art expresses certain impish, irrational, and unproductive impulses, too trifling for him to track down and name, not ruled by common sense nor aiming at the worth-while biological values, insisting democratically on their right to expression, and humored without doing much harm in anomalous exercises called works of art. It is as if he said, Art is a kind of scientific performance enacted with a great deal of foolishness; but, not telling us what foolishness is, permitted us to believe the worst. By this strategy he runs the risk of instructing his readers to make a savage comment on his own pretty prose and melodious sonnets, as follows:

We admire the utility of Mr. S.’s philosophical discourses, but it is obstructed and indignified by his weakness for rhetoric, and we think we shall return after all to those philosophers who attend strictly to business. As for his verse, which seems to have niched for itself a secure if modest corner in the monument of literature, we have looked that up and found the place where he tells us about a too-aspiring metaphysician:

All, the thin air is cold above the moon!
I stood and saw you fall, befooled in death,
As, in your numbéd spirit’s fatal swoon,
You cried you were a god, or were to be;
I hear with feeble moan your boastful breath
Bubble from depths of the Icarian sea.

This metaphysician is certainly in a plight, but it is absurd to say he has flown higher than the moon and fallen into the sea, and what is ever gained by absurdities, or by false accents and musical accompaniments? If this represents a side of Mr. S.’s nature which had to be expressed, he should have had the goodness to be ashamed of it and to express it in private; most grown men are, and do.

For by the doctrine of expressiveness, in the hands of persons not its enthusiasts, art is disreputable.

But suppose the doctrinaire says that art is expressive not of a contemptible residue of little impulses, disloyal to the practical successes of the organism, but of personality itself, which is imposing, which in fact is the whole organism? The position of art is not much improved. What an odd collocation of terms! Art as utility is dealing with perfectly objective ends, and at the same time as expression is trying to please a perfectly subjective personality. And what is personality? It can only mean: whatever in the organism is responsible for whatever in the work of art is not utility. Personality is mentioned because the doctrinaire is not analytical enough to make out the form that expression takes but can remark sagely that something, probably something big, with about five syllables, is expressing itself. If the utilitarians can point out the objective utility of art, which is indistinguishable from that of science, the personalists might try to point out the objective differentiation which removes art from science. The utility and the residue are equally in the objective record, which is the art-work itself.

Objectively, the works of art make a great show in the detritus of the civilizations; they all but rival the aggregate exhibit of the sciences. The testimony which they furnish is certainly adequate. Yet so little have philosophers done to distinguish the art from the science that intelligent teachers of literature are still addressing astonished pupils in this manner:

Our poem brings to us, then, young gentlemen, a nugget of wisdom, a principle that makes for righteousness and the welfare of humankind. See that you cherish it. But it is only by an abstraction that I have paraphrased it in prose and taken it out of context. The prose statement is the practical or scientific meaning. But the object really before us is the work of art, whole and untranslatable. It is richer than its scientific abstract. In what way richer we cannot exactly say, but if we are spiritually sensitive we can feel it. At best we may say that the artist has fused the bare meaning in his genius and in his personality, and made it glowing and expressive, till it has suffered this sea-change. Such is the magic and the mystery of art.

In the meantime the sceptical scientific population, perpetually on the increase, is rudely remarking that it does not believe in magic, and asking of the apologists of poetry to show what the poet has added to the scientific record except irrelevance and disorder. The apologists presently are obliged in honesty to confess that the scientific or prose value of the poem is often trite and therefore slight, as if in satisfaction of a merely formal requirement, and that the unique or characteristic value of all the poetry everywhere, a sum heroic in magnitude, must depend on other but to them invisible considerations. With which confession in their pockets, it may be predicted that the sceptics with renewed confidence and in even greater numbers will be asking whether there is demonstrably anything in the whole world of human actions except scientific ones, dictated by the animal needs of the organism; and whether any distinction can ever be made between actions except in the respect that they may have different degrees of rigor, or consistency, and therefore may be the more or the less perfect; the so-called sciences more, and the unhappy arts a great deal less.


Mr. Santayana evolved and grew, like a good biological organism, and produced doctrines which are original, within the limits which must confine originality at a late stage of philosophy. I shall refer to them so far as they seem to have consequences for aesthetic theory.

He cannot have been happy with his word expressive, and the like words, for the kind of commentary which I have improvised is too easy to have escaped him. He had an objective problem and was falling back upon a vague subjective solution: a bad business for any philosopher, and worse for one who had made it his specialty to point to the healthy metaphysical state of Greeks and to deride subjectivism. In 1923 appeared “Scepticism and Animal Faith,” a body blow at the idealists. Animal faith is the new and ingenious weapon. William James had talked about pragmatic truth and the will to believe, so that one might say to an idealist who believed in mind more than in matter that these things were perfectly optional. But Mr. Santayana says no, that belief is compulsive, in mind and in matter alike, being part of the animal function which has to act upon environment. Scepticism is not the mark of the living animal; and unbelief in matter, if it could be genuine, would be far on the road to inaction and death. Idealism, that perverse attitude, could have suggested itself hardly anywhere else than among the romantics of the Northern races. (Idealism as if by the principle of equal and opposite reactions has produced behaviorism, its latest and most precise counterpart, which believes in matter but not in mind; a punishment visited upon the world for the crimes of the Nordic idealists.)

I suppose the new doctrine has no application to aesthetic unless indirectly: it dramatizes more sharply the question whether art is really distinct from science. Is art only another work of animal faith? The form and purpose of its animality are not disclosed. And the truth is that the lover of art, who will “feel” a good deal that he cannot know explicitly, would expect to find its residuary properties quite different from those which interest animals. The Christians need not be brought into the argument, but the Greeks, including even Aristotle, held that man is in part an animal but also in part a god. If in his sciences he has insight into objective nature so far as it is serviceable to an animal, perhaps in his arts he may have a more innocent and indeed a divine insight into nature as it is. But waiving theology entirely, I am sure that many art-lovers have a secret notion which goes like this: Art distinguishes man from the other animals in kind, since they have none of it, while science distinguishes him only in power or efficiency, which means degree. Mr. Santayana had almost behaved too handsomely by animality.

He atoned for it handsomely in the two-volume “Realms of Being,” his chief philosophical work, of which “The Realm of Essence” appeared in 1927 and “The Realm of Matter” in 1930. Very properly for this Platonist, essences engaged him first; they are his version of the Platonic ideas.

A refined and even attenuated version, for Plato’s have some animal odor on them as compared with the Santayana essences, upon which no animal would think of trying to support life. Yet Plato’s ideas, like all the varieties of essence to which his sons have ever become attached, fall short of having the fullness of natural or material existences. Plato punished his animality through being fastidious, in a manner not necessarily aristocratic and indeed rather mean for a Greek: the manner of an animal who has become painfully self-conscious, and who has conceived a powerful preference for his rational or “higher” activities and a distaste for the fortuitous pleasures of sense. This is the ascetic or Puritan pattern of fastidiousness. It is not the only one, for Plato might have decided to embrace what he could not cure and to cultivate even the diffusive senses under the standard which is called taste. Its acquisition is laborious enough to have satisfied the schoolmaster in him. (In England the Cavaliers did not go to school less than the Roundheads but more.) But it would not have produced any Platonic ideas. The world of sense, like real property, may be “improved” in a number of ways, but taste would like to bring it under arts, fashions, rites, and manners, which emphasize those residuary splendors that are of no animal importance. Not electing this sort of discipline, Plato went in for ideas, and created them after the likeness of his preferences: as natural substances dried out, purified, and made fit for disaffected but very rational animals. They claim to be the archetypal forms of all created things, but we know nothing about that; and they claim “really” to constitute the present natural world, but that only means that they might have done so if contingency and confusion had not got into nature. So Plato qualified them as only “real” or “essential” constituents of the world, and we need not waste time objecting; it is a locution against which it would be a great deal of trouble to legislate. But I think I know the briefest and best description of the Platonic ideas: they are ideals; moral and religious ones. They have a degree of practicability. They are effective in so far as they can persuade men actually to occupy their minds with rational essences rather than with the whole of the contingent world; and is there not an incorrigible and irreducible Platonic faction in every civilized Western population? It is easy to work with nature as animals must, and then to pretend that we are working with essences, which are so neat and clean.

Mr. Santayana’s kind of essence abandons even the rational core of body; yet abandoning so much it is a more honest ghost than the Platonic idea. A body is a locus of properties numerically infinite, while the properties of an essence are numerically finite. But we might arrange essences in a series as including more or fewer properties, and Mr. Santayana’s would stand at the end; the poorest excuse for body imaginable, but possibly for that very reason, in their void of animal utility, the noblest essences. They make no pretense to existence, and are not in the least norms or ideals. They are nothing but the pure qualities, each one unique and incomparable. Their realm comprises all the qualities in the world, but it is a grammatical or paper realm. They are the atoms of nature in a quaint qualitative sense, for they are single, when it is well understood that nature, even in its smallest and most empty-looking piece, must offer itself as a vast collocation of qualities. And how have they acquired a realm? I suppose it is very simple. Whenever one comes upon a new quality one takes a picture of it and puts it into a drawer. Perhaps one may return one day and look at the pictures. It would be a harmless pastime, though probably a dull one, not like animal pleasure, not like moral pleasure; and not, one would think, like aesthetic pleasure.

But if the realm of essence is quaint, like a child’s collection of colored blocks, it is not so with the realm of matter. Essences are just harmless adjectives, but the forms of matter, the things, are nouns, and in action they are frightful things for an animal to have to deal with, because their activities are unpredictable, and evil more often than good; and they are sadly or comically unsuitable for a scientist, because they cannot be held to strict accountability like the nouns in dictionaries but are possessed of an obscene and malignant fertility for spawning fresh adjectives as long as he has the courage to observe them. Mr. Santayana’s account of this realm is a great literary achievement, and should be recommended equally to soft-hearted sentimentalists and hard-headed positivists. The account is more exciting than Milton’s picture of Chaos, because nothing should have been expected of Chaos except the chaotic, but in nature we hope to find perfect animal fulfilments and rational processes; for, though we may often have been cheated, we have animal faith.

The animal lives in the realm of matter, which is the natural world, and occupies himself with wresting and worrying his living out of it; and if Mr. Santayana’s realm of essence were called to his attention he would find it rather beneath his notice or, as its author might say, above it; but actually he will hardly know nor care if there is such a realm. I come back to the original question, and now it will be in the new terms which Mr. Santayana has furnished: With which is the specific vision of the artist concerned, with essence or with matter?

Mr. Santayana has dallied with essences as if they were to be the fruits of his well-spent life. His long road has led him to this sharp categorical division as if precisely in order that he may justify artists at last; for I cannot find any other occasion for it. But at this stage his admirers, though hoping that he will place the feet of the artists on very firm ground, must feel many ignoble apprehensions lest they suffer the fate of his ambitious metaphysician if it should turn out that he has only essences to give them.

He has only essences. That appears from the papers relating to art which are dated from 1925 on, so far as I can judge from those in the “Obiter Scripta,” which are several. In 1925 he is emphasizing “. . . the fact that beauty, as I feel it, transports us altogether into the realm of essence, and that no pleasure, interest, or admiration becomes a sense of beauty unless it does so. Every image, however, if animal faith is suspended in its presence, is an essence seen under the form of eternity.”

I may as well remark at once crudely, for it will be already clear that I do not subscribe to this view, that it seems to require us, if we would be artists or follow them, to get out of the world where essences inhere in the living substances, and into the drawer where the little flat images are kept. It does little good to say that in this drawer is a treasure which neither moths can corrupt nor thieves break through and steal, inasmuch as everything here is under the form of eternity. Essences are eternal enough; a similar way of thinking has led Mr. Whitehead to name them eternal objects. To eternize an object is to save it by withdrawing it from circulation; from circulation in the battering and incessant transaction of nature, which is life; but it is a peculiar method of salvation, amounting to death. Mr. Santayana has had a peculiar history as a philosopher. He has censured the idealists for not believing their own natural images, but that is exactly the policy he now recommends to them if they would have aesthetic experience; they are to fly to a realm too thin to pretend to support belief. If we should hold him to his verbal commitments, which might be too harsh a procedure, we would have to say that this is one of the most profound of scepticisms, and that Mr. Santayana himself is a Puritan, and in the last extremity.

A remark about essence as the scientists construe it; for we should keep all these essences straight. Of course they never permit it to receive the modest indefinite article, and this implies that they are under the bondage of animal faith when they handle it. To be scientific is to pursue an exclusive interest effectively, and so the scientists abstract from natural forms what they take to be a nucleus or core of properties, and set this aside as “the essence” of a whole series of forms. They do not put it into an attic drawer but rather into the office files. For these essences are Platonic ideas somewhat vulgarized; that is, more shrewdly selective, and believed in not as broad ideals but as sure things, or specific working formulas. Yet the sum of the scientific interests covers the whole range of animality, and if we should define the world in terms of scientific ideality it might easily wear the look of a perfect Christmas party, where all the drinks and sweets were delicious without painful consequences and all the toys obedient to the mechanics’ pleasure; so much it might lack of the austerity of the Platonic vision. At any rate, scientists define “the essential” pattern of an object that interests them, and “the essential” conditions for its production. Both the scientific essences and the Santayana ones are obtained by abstraction, but theirs are for hard animal use, and his are for innocent contemplation; non-animal contemplation, I think we must say.


In 1929 Mr. Santayana reports a windfall. Proust, fullest and richest if most laborious of all the novelists, has published an aesthetic doctrine scarcely distinguishable from his. It occurs in the last volume of Proust’s great work, the one in which he most broods, I think, upon his preoccupation with the past and the meaning of aesthetic joy. Mr. Santayana writes briefly upon it. I quote from his footnote and with his omissions a passage taken out of Blossom’s translation:

The being that was called to life again in me by uniting the present impression with something in the past draws its sustenance only from the essence of things, in that alone does it find its nourishment and delight. . . . Let a sound already heard or an odour caught in bygone years be sensed anew, simultaneously in the present and the past, real without being of the present moment, ideal but not abstract, and immediately the permanent essence of things, usually concealed, is set free and our true self . . . awakes, takes on fresh life as it receives the celestial nourishment brought to it. . . . This contemplation, though part of eternity, was transitory. And yet I felt that the pleasure it had bestowed on me at rare intervals of my life was the only one that was fecund and real. Is not the indication of the unreliability of the others sufficiently evident either in their inability to satisfy us . . . or in the despondency that follows whatever satisfactions they may give? . . . And so I was decided to consecrate myself to this study of the essence of things, to establish its true nature. . . . And if I recapitulated the disappointments in my life, so far as it had been lived, which led me to believe that its real essence must lie somewhere else than in action . . . I came to realize clearly that disappointment in a journey and disappointment in a love affair were not different in themselves but merely the different aspects they assumed in varying situations by our inability to find our real selves in physical enjoyment or material activity.

Commenting on this passage, Mr. Santayana thinks it shows an awkwardness in grasping the essences, which does not affect the value of its testimony:

No wonder that a sensibility so exquisite and so voluminous as that of Proust, filled with endless images and their distant reverberations, could be rescued from distraction only by finding certain repetitions or rhymes in this experience. He was a tireless husbandman of memory, gathering perhaps more poppies than corn; and the very fragility and worthlessness of the weeds collected may have led him to appreciate their presence only when lost, and their harsh scent only when recovered. Thus he required two phenomena to reveal to him one essence, as if essences needed to appear a second time in order to appear at all. A mind less volatile and less retentive, but more concentrated and loyal, might easily have discerned the eternal essence in any single momentary fact. It might also have felt the scale of values imposed on things by human nature, and might have been carried towards some by an innate love and away from others by a quick repulsion: something which in Proust is remarkably rare. Yet this very inhumanity and innocent openness, this inclination to be led on by endlessly rambling perception, makes his testimony to the reality of essences all the more remarkable. We could not have asked for a more competent or a more unexpected witness to the fact that life as it flows is so much time wasted, and that nothing can ever be recovered or truly possessed save under the form of eternity which is also, as he tells us, the form of art.

From the last sentence of Mr. Santayana’s passage we receive the sense of a philosopher seizing on the treasure which is not a treasure, because it comes to him under the hollow form of eternity. And from the last sentence of Proust’s passage we receive what? The sense that the artist finds his characteristic pleasure, though it is invidious to say that he finds his “real self,” not in animal activity but somewhere else. That is one part of Proust’s testimony. The other part is more difficult to translate into intelligible terms: the part which has to do with the special importance of memory in Proust’s aesthetic practice. Memory is so unrelated to the doctrine of essence that it is not strange that Proust hardly knows what to do with it, nor that Mr. Santayana in effect has to cancel what he does. I do not know who is so adventurous as to dispute Proust’s transcript of actual experience, but it is not to be expected that Proust will have the gift for theorizing it; and if Mr. Santayana has the gift it is hardly to be expected that he will theorize it either, being committed already to fixed theories.

Proust has a repertory of simple images which he employs to invoke the past, and with their assistance he lives and finds his delight in the past. His fiction is about the things past, and it is autobiographical. A psychologist should study these key-images to see of what sort they are; it might lead to an understanding of nostalgia, which is the clear emotional overtone of, I think, more than half of lyric poetry, and perhaps of an even larger fraction of music. Proust mentions here a sound and an odor. A sound is heard which transports him into the past, and he testifies that it is by the help of the past that he fixes upon this sound as an essence and enjoys it. But that seems meaningless; and more important to an understanding of the experience might be the fact, which I think could be established, that it was no such sound as, say, the dinner bell; it was not a sound which might lead the animal in him into an act of retrospective imagination in order to lick its chops. (It might have been such a sound, but not in the kind of experience to which Proust refers.) An odor is caught, but it is that of a flower perhaps, not that of animal sweat, or food. Nearly any distinct and “unimportant” sound or odor would do; these senses are specially innocent, in that their images are generally not attended to in the fury of the animal processes. And once these images start the thing, other images come pouring out of the past, the past takes form again. The past which they invoke would seem to be, pending the psychologist’s report, precisely that past which the man as animal did not attend to. Memory retained it while he was not attending to it, and memory is available. The automatic memory seems disposed to preserve an innumerable troop of meek and homeless items that the animal consciousness has rejected; but are they not just the items that are waiting to be attended to? It is in art, or in the informal indulgence of memory, that we come back and attend to them. For Proust or for us there are always images accompanying present experience which are just as innocent as those were, but it is as hard to attend to them now as it was then, since we are still, presumably, good animals.

The consequence is that what must seem like a disproportionate fraction of art is a fairly literal reading of the memory, and autobiographical; the artist already has a record of the world more complete than he can transcribe, and need not take the trouble to invent a fiction. For that matter, the fiction when it is invented has to be pieced out of the odd scraps furnished by the memory. It is by employing the device of systematic memory, which recovers a past relieved of its animal urgency, or the device of fiction, which is too hypothetical to engage the inhibitory animal, that the civilized races, who are the mechanized and the highly scienced, obtain their most solid aesthetic experience. Art serves them better than nature. And if we often seem to detect in the childlike aspect of art the trace of something sly, roundabout, and for theoretical admiration unfortunate, when we have come from watching the bold front, the almost cynical directness, with which the confident animal moves upon his objectives, that is only another way of saying that art in action is artificial, or indirect. It has to be. It has learned its technique in a hard school.

But I cannot think it credible that Proust’s joy should consist, as he and Mr. Santayana believed, in obtaining the simple sound, or odor, and then collapsing into eternity, which is trance, emptied of further consciousness, beside it. The state does not seem likely enough to be even pathological. Freudians have wonderful imaginations, and use them ingeniously to account for a strange phenomenon: the fascination and terror which an apparently simple image may exercise over the morbid; and their answer is that through the mechanism of memory it sets in motion a vast, secret, and terrifying train of imagery, so that the total agent is not simple at all. But for Proust we are told that the image is really simple, and unaccompanied; that this is its whole virtue. If it then can be the cause of so profound an experience as art, we are out of the range of the human economy so far as we have had any understanding of that.


If Mr. Santayana as a free personality in a dull professional world reminds us of Emerson, in the light of his systematic philosophy he is a diffused modern version of Schopenhauer. Both are very well aware of the customary unmannerly ferocity of man as an animal, with Schopenhauer of course grieving more than tolerant Mr. Santayana about that; the animal directing and corrupting the most remote-looking and publicly-esteemed pursuits, like tribal morality, which passes for disinterested action, or science, which passes for the pursuit of pure knowledge; yet kenneled, or put to sleep, or transcended, in at least one free and charming activity, which is aesthetic experience. In art, according to Schopenhauer, we at last have knowledge without desire. It remains only to determine just what this knowledge is about, and there again the two philosophers pronounce similarly. Knowledge of the Platonic ideas, said Schopenhauer, but explained them very mistily; and knowledge of the pure essences, says Mr. Santayana, but they look inadequate.

It cannot be impertinent to refer Mr. Santayana, and those who may have followed or preceded him into the ethereal climate of essences, to that remarkable work of metaphysical description, “The Realm of Matter.” The images of art are too crowded, contingent, and energetic to be of much use to scientific animals. But the reason is that they belong to the realm of matter as scientific abstracts do not, and not to the realm of essence as scientific abstracts do. In them the scientific or useful essence finds itself accompanied by an infinite residue, and for scientists this residue is exactly what they have charged: irrelevance and foolishness, which cannot suit the limited aims of animals. But all wealth of circumstance and event is within the realm of matter; Mr. Santayana has precisely distinguished the realms and then has not looked at the right one. From it countless works of art have been equipped with their substance, yet it is undiminished and ready for fresh works. What these works intend is, simply, the widest and most unprejudiced knowledge of nature that is possible. There may not be gods to whom knowledge of this sort is the constant form of their activity, for who knows? But there is man, who is not merely animal, and whose animal preoccupations ought never to have become so binding as to exclude a constant exercise of this free knowledge. Now, in his inevitable decadence, he has fallen apart, and the pursuit of it has become one of the specialized and technical functions of his divided mind.


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