Best known for his esoteric philosophy, Santayana’s career involved an unusual mixture of academic philosophy, teaching, literary criticism and popular writing. The best known among his 18 volumes of poetry include the 5 volume “Life of Reason” (1905-6) and the 4 volume “The Realms of Being” (1927-40). He often analyzed the work of poets such as Browning, Dante, and Goethe to illustrate philosophical points. He was known as a gifted teacher at Harvard, where his students included T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein, and Felix Frankfurter. He also wrote a best selling novel, “The Last Puritan” (1935) about Cambridge, Massachusetts society. At the end of his life – in his 80s, nearly deaf and half-blind – he was working on a translation of Lorenzo de’Medici’s love poem, “Ambra”.
Born in Madrid to Spanish parents, Santayana never relinquished his Spanish citizenship, although he spent most of his life in America and he wrote in English, his second language. Educated at Boston Latin School, Harvard University, and the University of Berlin, Santayana joined the Harvard faculty in 1889. In 1912 his mother died and Santayana resigned from Harvard. Despite his success and acceptance at Harvard, he was never comfortable with academia or, for that matter, America. He spent the rest of his life writing and living in Europe, primarily in Oxford and Rome. He died in Rome at age 89.