Character and Opinion in the United States

Character and Opinion in the United States by George Santayana
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    CHARACTER AND OPINION IN THE UNITED STATESThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with almostno restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re‐use itunder the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included with thiseBook or online at Character and Opinion in the United StatesAuthor: George SantayanaRelease Date: December 12, 2010 [EBook #34654]Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: UTF‐8*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK CHARACTER AND OPINION IN THEUNITED STATES ***Louise Davies, Ken Daniszewski and the Online Distributed ProofreadingTeam at (This book was produced from scanned images ofpublic domain material from the Google Print project.)CHARACTER AND OPINION IN THE UNITED STATESBY THE SAME AUTHORTHE LIFE OF REASONOR THE PHASES OF HUMAN PROGRESSVol. I. Reason in Common Sense.Vol. II. Reason in Society.Vol. III. Reason in Religion.Vol. IV. Reason in Art.Vol. V. Reason in Science.[image]INTERPRETATIONS OF POETRY AND RELIGION[image]THE SENSE OF BEAUTY[image]  LITTLE ESSAYS DRAWN FROM THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE SANTAYANAEdited with a Preface by LOGAN PEARSALL SMITH[image]*CHARACTER & OPINION IN THE UNITED STATES**WITH REMINISCENCES OF WILLIAM JAMES AND JOSIAH ROYCE**AND ACADEMIC LIFE IN AMERICA*BYGEORGE SANTAYANALATE PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY IN HARVARD UNIVERSITYNEW YORKCHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS1921 _First Published 1920_  _Reprinted 1921_ PREFACEThe major part of this book is composed of lectures srcinally addressedto British audiences. I have added a good deal, but I make no apology,now that the whole may fall under American eyes, for preserving the toneand attitude of a detached observer. Not at all on the ground that ªtosee ourselves as others see usº would be to see ourselves truly; on thecontrary, I agree with Spinoza where he says that other people's idea ofa man is apt to be a better expression of their nature than of his. Iaccept this principle in the present instance, and am willing it shouldbe applied to the judgements contained in this book, in which the readermay see chiefly expressions of my own feelings and hints of my ownopinions. Only an AmericanÐand I am not one except by longassociation¹Ðcan speak for the heart of America. I try to understand it,as a family friend may who has a different temperament; but it is onlymy own mind that I speak for at bottom, or wish to speak for. Certainlymy sentiments are of little importance compared with the volume anddestiny of the things I discuss here: yet the critic and artist too havetheir rights, and to take as calm and as long a view as possible seemsto be but another name for the love of truth. Moreover, I suspect thatmy feelings are secretly shared by many people in America, natives andforeigners, who may not have the courage or the occasion to express them  frankly. After all, it has been acquaintance with America and Americanphilosophers that has chiefly contributed to clear and to settle my ownmind. I have no axe to grind, only my thoughts to burnish, in the hopethat some part of the truth of things may be reflected there; and I amconfident of not giving serious offence to the judicious, because theywill feel that it is affection for the American people that makes mewish that what is best and most beautiful should not be absent fromtheir lives.Civilisation is perhaps approaching one of those long winters thatovertake it from time to time. A flood of barbarism from below may soonlevel all the fair works of our Christian ancestors, as another floodtwo thousand years ago levelled those of the ancients. RomanticChristendomÐpicturesque, passionate, unhappy episodeÐmay be coming to anend. Such a catastrophe would be no reason for despair. Nothing lastsfor ever; but the elasticity of life is wonderful, and even if the worldlost its memory it could not lose its youth. Under the deluge, andwatered by it, seeds of all sorts would survive against the time tocome, even if what might eventually spring from them, under the newcircumstances, should wear a strange aspect. In a certain measure, andunintentionally, both this destruction and this restoration have alreadyoccurred in America. There is much forgetfulness, much callow disrespectfor what is past or alien; but there is a fund of vigour, goodness, andhope such as no nation ever possessed before. In what sometimes lookslike American greediness and jostling for the front place, all is loveof achievement, nothing is unkindness; it is a fearless people, and freefrom malice, as you might see in their eyes and gestures, even if theirconduct did not prove it. This soil is propitious to every seed, andtares must needs grow in it; but why should it not also breed clearthinking, honest judgement, and rational happiness? These things areindeed not necessary to existence, and without them America might longremain rich and populous like many a barbarous land in the past; but inthat case its existence would be hounded, like theirs, by falsity andremorse. May Heaven avert the omen, and make the new world a betterworld than the old! In the classical and romantic tradition of Europe,love, of which there was very little, was supposed to be kindled bybeauty, of which there was a great deal: perhaps moral chemistry may beable to reverse this operation, and in the future and in America it maybreed beauty out of love. [1] Perhaps I should add that I have not been in the United States since January 1912. My observations stretched, with some intervals, through the forty years preceding that date.CONTENTS · PREFACE · CHAPTER IÐTHE MORAL BACKGROUND · CHAPTER IIÐTHE ACADEMIC ENVIRONMENT · CHAPTER IIIÐWILLIAM JAMES · CHAPTER IVÐJOSIAH ROYCE · CHAPTER VÐLATER SPECULATIONS · CHAPTER VIÐMATERIALISM AND IDEALISM IN AMERICAN LIFE · CHAPTER VIIÐENGLISH LIBERTY IN AMERICA  CHAPTER IÐTHE MORAL BACKGROUNDAbout the middle of the nineteenth century, in the quiet sunshine ofprovincial prosperity, New England had an Indian summer of the mind; andan agreeable reflective literature showed how brilliant that russet andyellow season could be. There were poets, historians, orators,preachers, most of whom had studied foreign literatures and hadtravelled; they demurely kept up with the times; they were universalhumanists. But it was all a harvest of leaves; these worthies had anexpurgated and barren conception of life; theirs was the purity of sweetold age. Sometimes they made attempts to rejuvenate their minds bybroaching native subjects; they wished to prove how much matter forpoetry the new world supplied, and they wrote ªRip van Winkle,ºªHiawatha,º or ªEvangelineº; but the inspiration did not seem much moreAmerican than that of Swift or Ossian or Châteaubriand. These cultivatedwriters lacked native roots and fresh sap because the American intellectitself lacked them. Their culture was half a pious survival, half anintentional acquirement; it was not the inevitable flowering of a freshexperience. Later there have been admirable analytic novelists who havedepicted American life as it is, but rather bitterly, rather sadly; asif the joy and the illusion of it did not inspire them, but only anabstract interest in their own art. If any one, like Walt Whitman,penetrated to the feelings and images which the American scene was ableto breed out of itself, and filled them with a frank and broad afflatusof his own, there is no doubt that he misrepresented the conscious mindsof cultivated Americans; in them the head as yet did not belong to thetrunk.Nevertheless, _belles‐lettres_ in the United StatesÐwhich after allstretch beyond New EnglandÐhave always had two points of contact withthe great national experiment. One point of contact has been oratory,with that sort of poetry, patriotic, religious, or moral, which has thefunction of oratory. Eloquence is a republican art, as conversation isan aristocratic one. By eloquence at public meetings and dinners, in thepulpit or in the press, the impulses of the community could be broughtto expression; consecrated maxims could be reapplied; the whole latentmanliness and shrewdness of the nation could be mobilised. In the formof oratory reflection, rising out of the problems of action, could beturned to guide or to sanction action, and sometimes could attain, in sodoing, a notable elevation of thought. Although Americans, and manyother people, usually say that thought is for the sake of action, it hasevidently been in these high moments, when action became incandescent inthought, that they have been most truly alive, intensively most active,and although _doing_ nothing, have found at last that their existencewas worth while. Reflection is itself a turn, and the top turn, given tolife. Here is the second point at which literature in America has fusedwith the activities of the nation: it has paused to enjoy them. Everyanimal has his festive and ceremonious moments, when he poses or plumeshimself or thinks; sometimes he even sings and flies aloft in a sort ofecstasy. Somewhat in the same way, when reflection in man becomesdominant, it may become passionate; it may create religion orphilosophyÐadventures often more thrilling than the humdrum experiencethey are supposed to interrupt.
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