Aphorisms by George Santayana
Jim Finnegan, proprietor of the always enlightening ursprache blog as well as the aphoristically amazing Tramp Freighter, sends news of a new book on philosopher-aphorist George Santayana: The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy and Character and Opinion in the United States. This article from City Pulse describes the book, a collection of scholarly essays, and includes the Santayana sayings listed below. Santayana (pp. 346–347 in Geary’s Guide) led a life completely dedicated to literature, thanks in part to a hefty inheritance from his mother. He studied and taught at Harvard, where William James was a fellow student and T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens were his pupils. An atheist, he spent the last decade of his life in a convent in Rome, cared for by the nuns. I recently came across Atoms of Thought, an aphoristic compilation of excerpts from Santayana’s books, published in 1950. It’s a kind of anthology, with the excerpts arranged under key categories and themes. Santayana is distinctive for having coined several phrases that have become proverbial, like
Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
But my favorite Santayana-ism is:
The God to whom depth in philosophy brings back men’s minds is far from being the same from whom a little philosophy estranges them.
Here are the aphorisms quoted in the City Pulse piece:
A child educated only at school is an uneducated child.
America is a young country with an old mentality.
Fun is a good thing but only when it spoils nothing better.
History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.
The Bible is a wonderful source of wisdom for those who don’t understand it.