BY IRVING SINGER
PHILOSOPHERS are not generally noted for their literary criticism, just as literary critics have rarely distinguished themselves as philosophers. For all its integrity, the philosophic mind always runs the danger of becoming tendentious: it knows too much, and cannot become as a little child. On the other hand, the literary mind all too often resembles the ghost of Hamlet's father: 'tis here, 'tis there, a perturbed and insubstantial spirit that flits about in mysterious darkness. It is a rare genius who can combine good philosophy with good literary criticism. George Santayana was a genius of this sort. One is even tempted to say that his genius was pre-eminently of this sort, and that in the special province of philosophical literary criticism his contribution was more unique and more permanently outstanding than in any other field. In the last two hundred years there have been better philosophers and better essayists, and certainly better poets and novelists, but hardly any critics who have blended philosophical and literary insights with as free and authentic a hand as Santayana. Even among the greatest literary critics there have been few who could do Santayana's "job of work."
Just what kind of work was it? The practice is almost lost among American writers. In the last fifty years our philosophers and critics alike have become technical, minute, and pedagogical in a way that Santayana never was. Ours is an age of instruments: we are devoted to examining the telescope, as Santayana would say, instead of looking through it. Santayana wanted to look. He was an intellectual astronomer with good eyesight and a refined sense of distance. Unlike recent critics, he was not particularly interested in the principles of rhetoric. For better or for worse, his criticism generally avoids both exegesis and linguistic analysis.