Part 5 out of 9
course of human life. He had not proved the strange fatality--which
seeks to make itself a law--that, in general, success falls to the lot
of those who servilely follow in the ruts of routine. Happy are the
worshippers of art and poetry, those who have devoted their lives to
this sacred cult, if ambition and intrigue--with their attendant train
of flattery, party rings, and illegal speculation--do not invade the
stage whence the palms and the crowns are awarded!
Delsarte must also have learned in the course of his life, that genius,
a rare exception, is more rarely still judged by its peers; and yet, the
genius of this student was already revealed by various tokens; and for
his consolation, these premonitory symptoms were noted by other than the
After one of these scholastic contests, Delsarte withdrew confused and
heavy-hearted: he had received but one vote in the competition; and even
that exception roused a sort of cheer, as if it were given to some
The defeated youth walked slowly away, dragging at his heels all the
sorrow of his discomfiture, when two persons approached him; one was the
famous Marie Malibran, the other the brilliant tenor, Adolph Nourrit.
"Courage!" said the prima donna, pressing his hand. "I enjoyed hearing
you very much. You will be a great artist!"
"My friend," added Nourrit, "it was I who cast my vote for you: to my
mind, you are an incomparable singer. When I have my children taught
music, you shall certainly be their teacher."
Delsarte blessed the defeat which had brought him such precious
compensations. These voices which sounded so sweetly in his ear, were
soon extinguished by death; but they vibrated long in the heart which
they had comforted. The artist associated their dear memory with every
success which recalled to him their sympathetic accents and their
Delsarte's Theatre and School.
When Delsarte had finished his studies, he entered the world unaided and
alone; disarmed by the hostilities which could not fail to await him, by
his very superiority, and by that honesty which refuses to lend itself
to certain transactions.
At the Opera Comique, where he was engaged, he did not succeed.
Exceptional talents require an exceptional public who can understand
them and make them popular by applauding and explaining them.
And yet certain people, gifted with penetration, discovered under the
artistic innovations peculiar to the beginner, that indescribable
fascination which hovers round the heads of the predestined favorites of
Delsarte could not long confine himself to the stage, when everything
connected with it was so far from sympathetic to him, and seemed so
contrary to the true object of dramatic art. The theatre, to his mind,
should be a school of morality; and what did he see? Authors--what would
he say now-a-days?--absorbed in winning the applause of the masses,
rather than in feeding them upon wholesome food or in preparing an
antidote for vice and evil inclinations.
Whatever good intentions happened to be mingled with the play were lost
in the details of the action--or in the often mischievous interpretation
of the actors. With his wonderful perspicacity, Delsarte seemed to
foresee all the excesses of naturalism in certain forerunners of Adolphe
Belot and Emile Zola.
On the other hand, his comrades, who should have attracted him, showed
themselves to be envious and malicious. To sum it all up, it was very
hard for him to live with them. Some of them might please him by their
simple gaiety, their childlike ease, their lack of affectation, and
their amiability, but they were far from satisfying his lofty
An occupation of a higher order, he thought, the elaboration of his
method, demanded his thoughts. He seemed haunted by a desire to produce
what his spirit had conceived. He longed fully to enjoy that happiness
of creation that arises from useful discovery. He aspired to say: "In
accomplishing the task which I set myself, I have also done much for art
Swayed by such thoughts, François Delsarte soon left the profession of
actor to follow that of teacher of singing and elocution. Then he found
himself in his element and, as it were, at the centre of all that
attracted him. His teaching enabled him to verify the value of his
axioms hourly, in the order of facts and to confirm the truth of his
And yet he had not attained to the supreme beatitude. If the elect of
plastic and practical art have to contend with appraisers of every
degree, inventors have to deal with enemies who make up in stubborn
resistance what they lack in numbers, and oppose the iron will of a
rival who will not see the limit of the _ne plus ultra_ which he
believes himself to have reached and even exceeded.
In every station of life, the bearers of "good news" are a prey to the
tyranny of interests and established prejudices. In our time, this
persecution becomes mockery or indifference. Delsarte did not escape
this debt of revelatory genius. Humble in regard to art and science, as
he was conscious of his strength when face to face with rivals and
competitors, he sometimes felt the doubt of himself, the sudden
weakness, which overtakes great minds and great hearts in the
accomplishment of their mission.
A special form of torture attacked our young innovator. He had proved,
connected and classed a number of psychological facts relating to the
theory of art, and he did not know the special terms which would make
them intelligible. Like those phenomenal children, who see countless
relations before they possess the words to express them, he had
discovered a law, created a science, and he was still ignorant of the
language of scientists. If he tried to demonstrate the bases of his
system and its rational evolution in ordinary words, the ignorant would
not understand him and the learned would not deign to listen.
Sometimes he did find some one who would hear him, question him, even
criticize him, and who would go away bearing a fragment of conversation
or some few notes which he had copied to turn to his own profit.
At this time, there came one day to Delsarte, a pupil who--by a rare
exception--had been through a course of classical studies.
"Tell me, you who have studied (asked the teacher with the affability of
a great man), what is metaphysics?"
"Why ... just what you teach us!" said the astonished youth.
Delsarte was enchanted to learn, that he was only divided by words from
a science which had seemed to him to dwell on inaccessible heights. The
study of technical words, when intuition had provided him with important
ideas and new perceptions, was child's play to him; in a short time he
could teach his philosophy of art in the consecrated expressions.
His lectures grew rapidly in the Rue Montholon. A choice public soon
assembled to hear them, drawn thither by the admiring cry of the first
enthusiasts. At this period, the talent of the artist was enhanced by
the lustre of youth. Nature had endowed him generously. His figure,
which later assumed rather large proportions, was tall and elegant; his
gestures were marked by grace and nobleness; his hair, of a very light
chestnut, gave his face a fair softness; his brown eyes relieved this
expression and allowed him to give his face--when the interpretation of
the part required it--the signs of power and vigorous passion. A full
length portrait painted at this time and in the possession of Madame
Delsarte, gives us some idea of his grand face and form, allowing for
the disadvantages of every translation. Although, in singing, the organ
was often impaired, his speaking-voice was most agreeable in tone,
correct and persuasive in accent.
In acting various parts, Delsarte transformed himself to suit the
character that he represented. He was congratulated on bringing to life
for our age Achilles and Agamemnon, as Homer painted their types. Yet, I
think he was sometimes told: "You paint that wretch of a Don Juan a
little too faithfully." Certainly, art would never make that complaint!
If Delsarte was understood in that part of his method addressed
especially to the ear and the eye, it was not so with the theory which
prepared these striking demonstrations.
He was surrounded, it is true, by an assembly of men of letters, men of
the world, and amateur artists, rather than by scientists and
philosophers. Many in the audience and among the pupils did not pay an
undivided attention to the scientific part of the instruction. Thus the
first notes of the piano, announcing that the time for action had come,
always caused a repressed murmur of satisfaction and pleasure.
Sometimes, after the lecture, a discussion followed, for Delsarte often
left room for a controversy which was essentially incorrect and caused
many misunderstandings. This was because the innovator sometimes blended
with the clear hues of his art-principles certain tints of religious
mysticism which had no necessary relation with the synthesis of his
It was one of the peculiarities of his character, amiable and benevolent
as it was, to take delight in the conflict of ideas. If he saw, in the
course of his lecture, a man whom he took for a philosopher or anything
like it, he never failed to direct some piquant phrase, some aggressive
sentence or some irritating thought that way--it was the gauntlet which
he flung for the final combat.
Nor were women exempt from these humorous sallies.
Although the master loved all grandeur--the artistic sense with which he
was so largely endowed inclining him that way--he had democratic, I
might almost say plebeian, instincts. The poetry of simple, humble,
small existences sometimes swayed him.
Thus, if among his hearers, a bright violet or an audacious scarlet gown
annoyed his taste; if the reflection of a ruby or a diamond vexed his
eye, he would choose that instant to improvise a rustic idyl or to
intone a hymn to poverty.
But everything ended well; neither the philosopher whom he had provoked,
nor the fine lady whom he had reproved, left him as an enemy. His
nature with its varied riches had quite enough feminine coquetry to
regain betimes the sympathy which he was on the eve of losing. A
gracious word, an affectionate clasp of the hand, and all was pardoned.
The opposition manifested outside the lecture-room to his ideas and mode
of instruction, was less courteous. There rival schools and jealousies,
ill-disguised under an affectation of disdain, contended against him. He
was accused of the maddest eccentricities; barbarous processes were
imputed to him, such as squeezing the chest of singers, his pupils,
between two boards--the _reason_ was hard to understand. Others claimed
that before Delsarte accepted a scholar, he required a profession of the
Catholic faith and an examination in the catechism.
Those were the days when the author of "Les Orientales," in his legend
of the "Two Archers," spoke of
"That holy hermit who moved stones
By the sign of the cross."
But if, as an artist, Delsarte loved legends and was inspired by faith,
as a professor he could cut short this poetic part of his art, at the
point where science and the practical side of his teaching began.
The reproach, therefore, carried no weight.
Delsarte was amused by these exaggerated accusations; in another order
of criticisms, it was agreeable to him to hear "that he sang without a
voice, as Ingres painted without colors." The comparison pleased him,
Yes, I say _inexact_, Delsarte was not without a voice; he had one, on
the contrary, of great strength and range; of moving tone; eminently
sympathetic; but it was an invalid organ and subject to caprice. He was
not always master of it, and this caused him real suffering.
Let me give you the history of his voice as Madame Delsarte herself
lately told it to me. I must go back to his early days of study and
Delsarte entered the Conservatory at the age of fourteen. Too young to
endure the fatigue of the regular school-exercises, his voice must have
received an injury. When the singer offered his services at the Opera
Comique---then Salle Vantadour--he was told that his voice was hollow,
that it had no carrying power. This was perhaps partly the fault of the
building, whose acoustic properties were afterward improved. However,
thanks to the flexibility which his voice retained and his perfect
vocalization, the pretended insufficiency was overlooked, and the young
tenor was admitted.
His mode of singing pleased the skilled public, and the special
abilities of this strong artistic organism--as I have already
observed--did not pass unnoted.
A _dilettante_, to whom I mentioned Delsarte long after this time, said:
"What you tell me does not surprise me, I heard him at his first
appearance, and he has lingered in my memory as an artist of the
greatest promise. He was more than a singer; he had that nameless
quality, which is not taught in any school and which marks a
personality; a tone of which nothing, before or since, has given me the
The tenor, from the Comic Opera, went to the Ambigu Theatre, and thence
to the Variétés, where an attempt was being made to introduce lyric
works. François Delsarte's dramatic career did not, however, last more
than two years. During these various changes--I cannot give the exact
dates--this artist, on his way to glory, was forced to gain a living by
the least aristocratic of occupations. If he did not go so far as
Shakespeare in humility of profession (the English poet was a butcher's
boy), he strangely stooped from that native nobility--great
capacity,--which must yet have claimed, in his secret soul, its
If this was one more suffering, added to all the rest, it had its good
side. It was, perhaps, the source of the artist's never failing
kindness, of that gracious reception which he never hesitated to bestow
on anyone--from the Princess de Chimay and many other titled lords and
ladies, down to Mother Chorré, the neighboring milk-woman, whom he held,
he said, "in great esteem and friendship."
I return to his teaching. His lectures were given in Rue Lamartine and
Rue de la Pépinière. There was always--aside from the school--an
audience made up of certain never failing followers and of a floating
population. The birds of passage sometimes came with a very distinct
intention to criticise; but if they did not readily understand the
learned deductions, they went away fascinated by what the professor had
shown them of his brilliant changes into every type of the repertory
which he held up as a model. Enthusiasm soon triumphed over prejudice.
Envy, alone, persisted in hostility.
These meetings were genuine artistic feasts. They were held at night, at
the same hour as the theatres, and no play was preferable to them in the
eyes of the truly initiated. They were a transcendent manifestation of
all that is most elevated, which art can produce.
Here is an extract from a newspaper, which I find among the notes sent
"I heard him repeat, one evening, 'Iphigenia's Dream,' at the request of
his audience. All were held trembling, breathless by that worn and yet
sovereign voice. We were amazed to find ourselves yielding to such a
spell; there was no splendor and no theatric illusion. _Iphigenia_ was a
teacher in a black frock coat; the orchestra was a piano striking, here
and there, an unexpected modulation; this was all the illusion--and the
hall was silent, every heart throbbed, tears flowed from every eye. And
then, when the tale was told, cries of enthusiasm arose, as if
_Iphigenia_, in person, had told us her terrors."
These lines are signed "Laurentius." I am very glad to come across them
just as I am giving vent to my own feelings. I also find that Adolphe
Guéroult, in his paper, the "Press," calls Delsarte _the matchless
artist_, and recognizes _a law_ in his æsthetic discoveries. I shall
have occasion to set down, as opportunity offers, a string of
testimonies no less flattering and no less sincere; but I hasten to
produce these specimens, lest the suspicion of infatuation follow me.
How was it that amidst such warm plaudits, Delsarte failed to win that
popularity which, after all, is the supreme sanction? It must be
acknowledged that he took no great pains to gain the place which was his
due. If he loved glory like the true artist that he was, "he never tired
himself in its pursuit." Perhaps he had an instinctive feeling that it
would come to him some day unsought.
He might, in this regard, be reproached for the tardiness of his
successes; he himself made difficulties and obstacles which might be
considered as the effects of extreme pride.
Halévy once suggested his singing at the Tuilleries before King Louis
Philippe and his family.
"I only sing to my friends," replied the artist.
"That is strange," said the author of "The Jewess," "Lablache and Duprez
go whenever they are asked."
"Delsarte does not."
"But consider! This is to be a party given by the Crown Prince to his
This last consideration touched the obstinate heart.
"Well! I will go," he said, "but it is only on three conditions: I must
be the only singer; I am to have the chorus from the Opera to accompany
me; and I am not to be paid."
"You will establish a dangerous precedent."
"Those are my irrevocable terms."
All were granted.
From his youth up Delsarte manifested this, perhaps excessive, contempt
for money. On one occasion it was quite justifiable. Father Bambini had
taken him to a party where he was to sing on very advantageous terms.
The scholar was treated with deference; but the teacher who had neither
a fine face nor the claims of youth to shield him against aristocratic
prejudice, was received much as a servant would have been who had made a
mistake in the door.
The young singer felt the blood mantle his brow, and his heart rebelled.
"Take your hat and let us go!" he said to his old master.
"But why?" replied the good man. He had heeded nothing but his pupil's
Delsarte dragged him away in spite of his protests, and lost by his
abrupt departure the profits of the evening.
Delsarte married, in 1833, Miss Rosina Andrien. The young husband felt a
high esteem for his father-in-law (primo basso cantante at the Opera);
but we must not suppose that this consideration influenced his choice.
He made a love marriage such as one makes at the age of twenty-two, with
such a nature as his. Moreover, reason was never in closer accord with
Miss Andrien was remarkably beautiful. She was fifteen; her talent as a
pianist had already won her a first prize at the Conservatory. She was
just the companion, wise and devoted, to counterbalance the flights of
imagination and the momentary transports inherent in the temperament of
I pause, fearing to wound a modesty which I know to be very sensitive:
the living cannot bear praise with the indifference of the dead; but I
must be allowed to insist upon the valuable assistance which the young
wife lent her husband in his professional duties; this is a special part
of my subject.
Mme. Delsarte started with a genuine talent. The situation in which she
was placed, soon made her a perfect accompanist. Never was there more
perfect harmony between singer and player. Amid the incessant
interruptions necessary to a lesson, the piano never lagged a second
either in stopping or in going on again. The note fell promptly,
identical with the first note of the piece under study. To attain to
this obedient precision, one must possess indomitable patience, must be
willing to be utterly effaced. Delsarte appreciated this self-denial in
proportion to the merit of her who practiced it.
In everything that concerned him, he relied especially upon the opinion
of his accompanist; he felt her to be an abler and more serious judge
than the most of those around him. But--with the shy reserve of merit
unacknowledged even to itself,--the young woman shrank from expressing
her impressions. If I may judge by the anecdote which follows, the
artist was at times distressed by this.
One day Delsarte, granting one of those favors of which he was never
lavish, consented to sing a composition of which he was particularly
fond, to a few friends. It was the air from Méhul's "Joseph:" "Vainly
doth Pharaoh ..."
Mme. Delsarte, always ready at the first call, took her seat at the
The master was in the mood--that is, in full possession of all his
powers. His pathos was heartrending.
"You won a great triumph," I said to him; "I saw tears in Mme.
"My wife's eyes," he cried as if struck by surprise, "are you quite
"Perfectly," I replied.
He seemed greatly pleased. Putting aside all other feeling, it was no
slight triumph to move to such a point one who assisted at and sat
through his daily lessons for hours at a time.
A few years sufficed to form a family around this very young couple. It
was soon a charming accessory to see children fluttering about the
house; slipping in among the scholars; showing a furtive head--dark or
light--at one of the doors of the lecture-room. Let me recall their
names: The eldest were Henri, Gustave, Adrien, Xavier, Marie; then came
after a long interval, André and Madeleine.
Delsarte loved them madly; for their future he dreamed all the dreams of
the Arabian Nights. Meantime, he played with them so happily that he
seemed to take a personal delight in it.
He gave them all the joys of this life that were within his reach, and
it was well that he did so! Alas! of the dreams of glory cherished for
these beloved beings, some few were realized, but many faded promptly
with the existence of those who called them forth.
But we must not anticipate. At the time of which I speak the children
were growing and developing, each according to its nature, in full
freedom. Those who felt a vocation seized on the wing--rather than they
received from irregular lessons--some fragments of that great art which
was taught in the school.
Marie learned while very young to reproduce with marvelous skill what
were called _the attitudes_ and the physiognomic changes. Madeleine
delighted in making caricatures which showed great talent. The features
of certain pupils and frequenters of the lectures were plainly
recognizable in these sketches made by a childish hand.
Gustave was a child of an open face and broad shoulders. One incident
will show his originality.
A strange lady came to the master's house one day either to ask a
hearing or offer a pupil. She met this charming boy.
"M. Delsarte?" she asked.
"I am he, madam!" replied Gustave without flinching.
"Very good," said his questioner, laughing, "but I wish to speak to your
This same Gustave who, to a certain degree, followed in his father's
footsteps, was struck down a few years after him, at the age of
What a striking application of Victor Hugo's lines:
"And both are dead.... Oh Lord, all powerful is thy right hand!"
Gustave's career seemed to open readily and smoothly. Not that he could
approach his father from a dramatic point of view; he had not his
absolute synthesis of talents, and his figure was not suited to the
theatre; as a singer, his voice was weak, but what a charm and what a
style he had! Although his voice was not adapted to every part,
although he had not that range of the vocal scale which permits one to
attack any and every composition, still, its sympathetic, tender and
penetrating quality did ample justice to all that is most exquisite in
romance. When you had once heard that voice, guided by the force of his
father's grand method, you never forgot its sincerity and melancholy; it
haunted you and left you impatient to hear it again.
As a concert-singer and teacher, Gustave Delsarte might have won high
rank. An ill-assorted marriage and his misanthropic character prevented.
As a composer, he left some few songs, masses and religious fragments
which are not without merit. When he was to produce any of his sacred
works, the composer-singer never took a part; but he would lead the
orchestra. If he came to a rehearsal and the performers appeared weak, a
holy wrath would seize upon Gustave. Then he flung a firm, incisive,
accentuated note into the midst of the choir, vivid as a spark bursting
from a fire covered with ashes. He would accompany it with a glance
which seemed to flash from his father's eye; at such moments, he
resembled him; but this transformation never lasted more than a second;
the fictitious power disappeared as all which was Gustave Delsarte was
doomed to disappear.
At least, his father did not live to mourn his loss. And yet he knew
that worst of heart-suffering: the loss of a beloved child. Alas! In
that radiant family, whose mirth, fresh faces and luxuriant health
seemed to defy death, the implacable foe had already twice swept his
The first to go was André, one of the latest born. He was at the age
when the child leaves no lasting memories behind; but we know the grace
of innocence, the privilege of impeccability by which infancy atones for
the lack of acquirements. Then these little creatures have the
mysterious entrancing smiles, which mothers understand and adore--and
Delsarte loved his children with a mother's heart.
Time lessens such pangs; but when a fresh sorrow re-opened the era of
calamity, it seems as if the sad events trod upon each other's heels and
the interval between seems to have been but one unmitigated agony.
The loss undergone in 1863 was even greater. Xavier Delsarte was a tall,
handsome young man. The master was content with the profit which his son
had derived from his tuition. He was successful as a singer and
elocutionist. He was attacked by cholera during an epidemic. The night
before he had taken several glasses of iced orgeat in the open air.
Xavier lived in the Rue des Batailles with his family, but not in the
same apartment. This fact was fatal. Instead of calling help in the
first stages--unwilling to disturb his relatives--the invalid wandered
down stairs during the night, and into the court-yard. There he drank
water from the pump. I can still recall the unhappy father's story of
that cruel moment.
"It was scarcely day. I was waked by that unexpected, fatal ringing of
the bell, which, at such an hour, always bodes misfortune. The maid
heard it also, and opened the door. She uttered a cry of alarm. Almost
instantly, my poor boy stood at my chamber door. He leaned against the
frame of the door, his strength not allowing him to advance. From the
change in his features, I understood all--he was hopelessly lost!"
Delsarte was sensitive and of a very loving nature; but he was endowed
with great strength. Much absorbed, moreover, in his profession, his
studies, his innovations, he often found in them a counterpoise to these
rude blows of fate. So when the thoughts of his friends recur to these
disasters, they feel that their greatest sympathy and commiseration are
due to the mother who three times underwent this supreme martyrdom.
Two names remain to be mentioned in this family where artistic callings
seemed a matter of course. The concerts of Madame Thérèsa Wartel--sister
of Madame Delsarte--brought together the _élite_ of Parisian virtuosi,
and the brilliant pianist took her part in the quatuors in which Sauzay,
Allard, Franchomme and other celebrities of the period figured.
George Bizet--author of the opera of "Carmen"--prematurely snatched from
the arts, was the nephew of François Delsarte. This young man taught
himself Sanscrit unaided; he inspired the greatest hopes.
Wartel, who gave Christine Nilsson her musical education, was not of the
same blood, but we find certain points in his method which recall the
processes of Delsarte's school.
I now confront an important and very interesting subject; but one which
is more difficult to handle than the most prickly briers. There has been
a confusion, in regard to Delsarte, of two very distinct things: his
practical devotion and his philosophy of art, which does indeed assume a
religious character. He himself helped on this confusion. I am desirous
of doing my best to put an end to it. I hope that, truth and sincerity
aiding, I shall not find the task too great for me.
I must first grapple with those ill-informed persons who have denied the
master his high intellectual faculties, and even his scientific
discoveries, for the sole reason of the mystical side of his beliefs. I
must also expose the error of those who supposed that to this mysticism
were attributable the miracles accomplished by Delsarte in his career as
artist and scholar.
I was the better able to understand these two opposing
elements--religiousness and strength of understanding--because, if I
gave in my entire adhesion to the innovator in the arts, he did not find
me equally docile in what concerned the theosophic part of his doctrine.
Hence, discussions which illustrated the subject. I speak in presence of
his memory as I did before him, with perfect frankness and simplicity
of heart; taking care not to offend the objects of his veneration, but
examining without regard to his memory, as without prejudice, the
influence which his convictions exerted upon his intellectual
conceptions, his ideas, his character, his talent--in a word, his life,
in so far as it may concern a sketch which lays no claim to be a
Now, it is from the point of view of art itself that I ask the following
questions: Was Delsarte a devout Catholic? Was he orthodox?
Devout? He gloried in it, he insisted on it; I will not say that he
_affected_ minute daily acts of devotion, for that word would not accord
with the spontaneity of his nature; but he accented his demonstrations,
he spoke constantly of his religion. Without any intention to wrong the
serious side of his religious feelings, it seemed to be a bravado put on
for the incredulous, a toy which he converted into a weapon.
Orthodox? He made it his boast, and he certainly intended to be so; he
loved, in many circumstances, to show his humility of heart. His faith,
he used to say, "was the charcoal-burner's faith."
And yet, the charcoal-burner would have been strangely puzzled if he had
had to sustain the ceaseless contests which the artist accepted or
provoked from philosophers and free-thinkers; and, perhaps, no less
frequently, from his fellow-religionists, and the priests themselves.
With the former, it was a mere question of dogmatic forms or of the
necessity for some form of religion; with the latter, he entered upon a
more peculiarly theological order of ideas, such as the attributes
proper to each of the three divine persons, and other mystical subjects.
Here, as elsewhere, Delsarte brought to bear his personality, his stamp,
his breadth of comprehension.
I once asked him what some called _Dominations_ might represent, in the
celestial classification? He replied: "If any one or anything forces
itself upon our mind, takes active possession of our soul, do we not
feel that we are under a certain domination?"
He gave me several other explanations touching the angelic hierarchy. I
considered them very poetic, very ingenious--but were they also
orthodox? I am not competent to judge.
It was impossible to say at the first glance, how the influence of this
theosophy made itself felt in this sensitive character, full as it was
of surprises. Delsarte was born good, generous, above the petty
tendencies which deform and degrade the human type. On these diverse
points, religious faith could scarcely show its effect; but he also
declared himself to be irritable and violent--he confessed to a
dangerous fickleness--still, he would readily have slandered himself in
the interests of his faith.
Whatever the cause of this acquired serenity, Delsarte did not always
refuse to satisfy his native impulses. I have already alluded to cases
in which these returns to impetuous vivacity occurred, and how he rose
above these relapses. Whether his peaceful spirit arose from religious
feeling, or whether it was the result of moral strength, it breathed the
spirit of the gospel; but it must also be confessed that our artist
mingled with it much worldly grace. What matters it? Uncertainty has no
inconveniences in such a matter.
It was particularly on the occasion of those sudden fits of passion to
which the human conscience does not always attach due weight, that
Delsarte laid great stress upon supernatural intervention.
Oh! what would he have done without that powerful aid, with his lively
sensibilities--with his too loving heart?
I have no opinion to offer in regard to the shield which efficacious
grace and the palladium of the faith may form for dangerous tendencies;
for Catholics, that is a matter for the casuist or the confessor to
decide; but, as far as Delsarte is concerned, had he beaten down Satan
in a way to rouse the jealousy of St. Michael, had he made the heathen
Socrates give precedence to him in patience, wisdom and firmness, I
should regard that victory as the triumph of the sacred principles of
the eternal morality, of that which sums up, in a single group, all the
supreme precepts of all religions and all philosophies, rather than as a
result of external practices.
It is by placing myself at this culminating point, that I have
succeeded in explaining to my own satisfaction the true stimulus of the
artist-thinker, in spite of all appearances and all contradictions; and
everything leads me to believe that the elevation of his mind and the
inspiration of the art which he taught and practiced, would have
sufficed, in equal proportion with his faith, "to deliver him from
How could a man glide into the lower walks of life, whose mission it was
to set forth the types of moral beauty by opposing them, to use his
phrase, "to the hideousnesses of vice?"
Now, talent and faith meet face to face. We are to consider to what
extent the one was dependent upon the other; and whether, in reality,
the artist whom so many voices proclaimed "incomparable" owed his vast
superiority to acts of religious devotion, to his adhesion to the dogmas
of the church.
It is not arbitrarily that a transcendent intellect pointed out a
difference between _religion_ and _religions_: every mind devoted to
philosophy must needs reach this distinction.
I shall keep strictly within the limits of that which concerns art, in a
question so vast and of such great importance.
_Religion_ is that need which all generations of men have felt for
establishing a relationship between man and the supreme power or powers
whence man supposes he proceeded. To some it is an outburst of
gratitude and homage; to others, an instinct of terror which makes them
fall prostrate before an unknown being upon whom they feel themselves
dependent, although they cannot know him, still less define him.
_Religions_ are all which men have established in answer to those
aspirations of the conscience, to satisfy that intuition which forces
itself upon our mind so long as sophistry has not warped it. It follows
from this, that religions vary, are changed, and may be falsified until
the primitive meaning is lost. But whatever may be the faith and the
rites of religions--whether fanaticism disfigure them or fetichism make
a caricature of them, whether politicians use them as an ally, or the
traces of the apostolate fade beneath the materialism of
speculation,--there will always remain at the bottom, _religion_: that
is, the thought which keeps such or such a society alive for a variable
time, and which, in periods of transition, seeks refuge in human
consciences awaiting a fresh social upward flight.
Well! it was not the external part of his belief which inspired
Delsarte, when--to use the expression of the poet Reboul--"he showed
himself like unto a god!" It was not the long rosary with its large
beads which often dangled at his side, that gave him the secret of
heart-tortures and soul-aspirations! The _charcoal-burner's faith_ would
never have taught him that captivating grace, that supreme elegance of
gesture and attitude, which made him matchless. Nor did theology and
dogma teach him the moving effects which made people declare that he
performed miracles, and led several writers (Henry de Riancey, Hervet)
to say: "That man is not an artist, he is art itself!" And Fiorentino, a
critic usually severe and exacting, wrote: "This master's sentiment is
so true, his style so lofty, his passion so profound, that there is
nothing in art so beautiful or so perfect!"
_Profound passion, lofty style, art itself_, these are not learned from
any catechism. That chosen organism bore within its own breast the
fountains of beauty. An artist, he derived thence an inward
illumination, and, as it were, a clear vision of the Ideal. If religion
was blended with it, it was that which speaks directly to the heart of
all beings endowed with poetry, to those who are capable of vowing their
love to the worship of sublime things.
What I have just said will become more comprehensible if I apply to
Delsarte those more especially Christian words: _The spirit and the
Yes, in him there was the spiritual man and the literal man; and if
either compromised the other, it was not in the eyes of persons who
attended, regularly enough to understand them, the lectures and lessons
of the brilliant professor.
This I have already said, and I shall dwell upon this point, hoping to
establish some harmony between those who taxed Delsarte with madness on
account of his _positivism_ in the matter of faith, and those who
strove to connect with his devotional habits everything exceptional
which that great figure realized in his passage through this world.
In fact, it is only by separating the Delsarte of _the spirit_ from him
of _the letter_, that we can form any true idea of him.
And the letter, once again--was it not art and poetry that made worship
so dear to him? The shadowy light of the churches, the stern majesty of
the vaulted roof, contrasting with the radiant circle of light within
which reposed the sacred wafer,--all this pomp, of heathen origin,
warmed for him the severe simplicity and cold austerity of Christian
sentiment; the chants and prayers uttered in common also stimulated the
fervid impulses of his heart.
The spirit of proselytism took possession of him later in life. It was
controversy under a new form, more attractive and more _distracting_.
There was always some soul within reach to be won to the faith;
some rebellious spirit to bend to the yoke of the official
church,--proceeding, under due observance of ostensible forms, from the
letter! Neophytes were very ready to listen. After all, it pledged them
to nothing, and they talked of other things often enough to prevent the
conversation from becoming too much of a sermon. Then, certain
favors--all of a spiritual nature--were attached to this situation: a
place nearer the master during lectures, a more affectionate greeting, a
These attempts more than once resulted in disappointment to Delsarte. I
will not enumerate them all. Often he was heard with increasing
interest, it seemed as if resistance must yield, and that he might
speedily plant his flag "in the salutary waters of grace," but at that
very moment his opponent would become more refractory and more stubborn
Once, he had great hopes. Several young people seemed decided _to enter
into the paths of virtue_. The master was radiant. "Take heed," said
skeptic prudence, "perhaps it is only a means of stimulating your zeal,
of profiting better by your disinterestedness."
He soon acknowledged the truth of these predictions; he confessed it in
his moments of candor.
One of these feigned converts, especially, scandalized him. The story
The church of the Petits-Pères had ordered the wax figure of a freshly
canonized saint, from Rome. Delsarte mentioned it to the school, and
several pupils went to see it.
"Ah, sir!" cried young D. on his return, "now, indeed, I am a Catholic!
How lovely she is, how fresh and fair after lying underground so long!"
"Unhappy fellow!" said the disappointed artist, "he takes the image for
the reality, and the beauty of a waxen St. Philomena has converted him."
The young man had heard that the preservation of the flesh, after a
hundred years' burial, counted for much in canonization, if it did not
suffice to justify it; and as the place where they had deposited the
sacred image was dark, D. had taken for life itself the pink and white
complexion common to such figures before time has yellowed them.
Delsarte ended by being amused at his credulity; he laughed readily and
was not fond of sulking. Nor must we forget that this preëminent
tragedian was a perfect comedian, and that this fact entitled him to
true enjoyment of the humorous side of life. Have I not somewhere read:
"Beware of those who never laugh!"
Delsarte's piety--I speak of that of the letter--was seldom morose. It
did not forbid juvenile caprices; it overlooked _venial_ sins.
One Sunday he took his scholars to Nanterre, some to perform, others to
hear, a mass of his own composition. A few friends joined the party. The
mass over, they wandered into the country in groups. Some walked; some
sat upon the grassy turf. The air was pleasant, the conversation
animated; time passed quickly.
Suddenly the vesper bell was heard. Some one drew Delsarte's attention
to it--not without a tiny grain of malice.
"Master, what a pity--you must leave us."
He made no answer.
When the second summons sounded, the same voice continued:
"There's no help for it; for us poor sinners, it's no matter! But you,
master, you cannot miss the mass!"
He put his hand to his head and considered.
"Bah!" he cried boldly, "I'll send my children."
Let me give another trait in illustration of the nature which from time
to time pierced through and rent the flimsy fabric of his opinions. This
anecdote is a political one.
Despite the precedent of an ultra democratic grandfather, and all his
plebeian tendencies as a philanthropist and a Christian, his Catholic
friends had inclined him toward monarchical ideas--although he never
actually sided with the militant portion of the party.
On one occasion, it happened that the two wings of this
politico-religious fusion disagreed. As at Nanterre, Delsarte acted
independently, and on this occasion politics were the victim. It fell
out as follows:
A claimant of the throne of France, still young, finding himself in the
Eternal City, had not, to all appearance, fulfilled his duties to the
The first time that Delsarte encountered certain of those zealous
legitimists, who are said to be "more royalist than the king," he
launched this apostrophe at their heads:
"I hear that _your young man_ was in no haste to pay his respects to His
Thus, always free--even when he seemed to have forged chains for
himself--he obeyed his impulse without counting the cost. Never mind!
This childish outburst must have gladdened the manes of the ancestor who
connected the syllables in the patronymic name of Delsarte!
I hope I shall not forget, as my pen moves along, any of these memories,
insignificant to many minds, no doubt, but serving to distinguish this
figure from the vast mass of creation. If, among my readers, some may
say "pass on," others will enjoy these trifles, and will thank me for
Thus, Delsarte was always pleased to think he bore the name of François
in memory of Francis of Assisi--not the Spaniard whom we know, but the
great saint of the twelfth century; he who "appeased quarrels, settled
differences, taught slaves and common men,--the poor man who was good to
"The fish, the rabbits and the hares," the legend says, "placed
themselves in this fortunate man's hands." * * * * The birds were silent
or sang at his command. "Be silent," said the saint to the swallows,
"'tis my turn to talk now." And again: "My brothers, the birds, you have
great cause to praise your Creator, who covered you with such fine
feathers and gave you wings to fly through the clear, broad fields of
One need not be very devout to be attracted by such graceful simplicity.
Delsarte went farther. Whether he accepted this magnetic attraction as
true or whether he regarded it as purely symbolic--for this kind of
miracle is not dependent on faith,--he considered the monk of Assisi as
a lover of nature, whose heart was big enough to love everything that
lives, to suffer with all that suffers. He strove to comprehend him by
placing him upon a pinnacle, well aware that the sublime often lurks
between the trifling.
It was on such occasions that the man of intellect revived to ennoble
and illumine everything. If, despite his magnificent rendering of them,
Delsarte never called legendary fictions in question, let us not refuse
him that privilege. In such cases the poetry became his accomplice,
and--"Every poet is the toy of the gods," as Béranger says, a simple
song-writer, as Delsarte was a simple singer.
There was in him whom Kreutzer called "the apostle of the grand dramatic
style," a desire, I will not say for realism, but for _realization_, for
action. Thus he once had a fancy to join the semi-clerical society of
the third order; it was a way of keeping himself in practice, since
there were various prescriptions, observances and interdictions attached
to the office. One must repeat certain prayers every day, and submit to
a certain severity of costume. No precious metal, not even a thread of
gold or silver must be seen about one. In the first moments of fervor, a
beautiful green velvet cap, beautifully embroidered in gold--the loving
gift of some pupil or admirer,--was interdicted, that is to say, was
shut up in a closet or reduced to the condition of a mere piece of
bric-à-brac. Luckily, the association did not require eternal vows, and
I think I saw the pretty article restored to its proper use later on.
Another attempt--and this was his own creation--tempted this inquiring
mind; he wished to pay especial homage, under some novel form, to the
Holy Trinity. The adepts were to be called _the Trinitarians_. In the
founder's mind, this starting-point was to be the seed for a sort of
confraternity with the mark of true friendship and unity of faith.
This dream was never realized, apparently, for it seems that the
association could never number more than three members at a time: so
that it was in number only that it justified its title. Delsarte was
very fond of these few adherents. "The Trinitarians--where are the
Trinitarians?" was sometimes the cry at a lecture. It was the voice of
the master who had reserved a seat of honor for each of them. This is
all I ever knew about this society, and I have reason to think that it
never got beyond a few talks among the members upon the subject which
It is not without reluctance that I expose his weaknesses; but timid as
the steps must ever be which are taken upon historic ground, we must
walk in daylight. No one, moreover, could regard this effervescence of a
sentiment noble in its source, as a want of intellectual liberty. It
was the affectionate side of his nature which at moments dimmed his
reason, but never went so far as to put out its light. I need not
attempt to defend on this point one, of whom Auguste Luchet wrote:
"It is by his soul and _his science_ that he lifts you, transports you,
strikes you, shatters you with terror, anguish and love!"
And Pierre Zaccone says:
"He is an artist, apart, exceptional, perhaps unique! with what finished
art, what talent, what GENIUS, he uses the resources of his voice!"
That which best atoned in Delsarte for the grain of fanaticism with
which he was reproached, was the tolerance which prevailed in every
controversy, in every dissension. If he sometimes blamed free thought,
he never showed ill will to free-thinkers. In the spirit of the
gospel--so different from the spirit of the devout party--he was "all
things to all men." He was on a very friendly footing with a priest
whom, by his logic and his sincerity, he had prevailed upon to forsake
the ecclesiastical calling.
In our discussions, which dealt with secondary subjects of various forms
of belief--for I never denied God, or the soul and its immortality, or
the freedom of the will which is the honor of the human race, or the
power of charity, provided it become social and fraternal, instead of
merely alms-giving as it has been,--in these debates, sometimes rather
lively, I would end by saying to him: "You know that I love and seek
truth; very well! if God wished me to join the ranks in which you serve,
he would certainly give me a sign; but so long as I do not receive His
summons, what have I to do with it?"
I spoke his own language, and he yielded to my reasoning. "Come," he
would say, "I prefer your frankness to the pretenses of feigned piety;"
and he would add sorrowfully: "Alas! I often encounter them!" So we
always ended by agreeing, and this truce lasted--until our next meeting.
The words which I have just quoted prove that if Delsarte clung to the
Catholic dogmas, he was particularly touched by the sincere piety and
active charity of simple, evangelic hearts. I may give yet another proof
To satisfy his sympathies as much as to rescue his clan, when attacked,
he would always quote a father confessor, one Father Pricette--this name
should be remembered in the present age--who, during the icy nights of
December, slept in an arm-chair, because he had given his last mattress
to some one poorer than himself.
Friendly relations--although disputes often arose--were established
toward 1840 between Delsarte and Raymond Brucker (known to literature as
Michel Raymond). Fortunately in spite of the influence of the author of
"Mensonge," Delsarte's superior rank always prevailed in this intimacy.
Michel Raymond published several novels in the first half of this
century. Later on, he took his place in the ranks of that militia of
Neo-Catholics, the fruit of the Restoration. (I do not know whether I am
justified in giving the name of Neo-Catholic to Brucker; perhaps, on the
contrary, his dreams were all of the primitive church. But, in spite of
his Jewish crudities, I suppose he would never have joined the followers
of Father Loyson.) His keen, sharp and caustic spirit did not forsake
him when he changed his principles; and never did the Christ--whose
symbol is a lamb without a stain--have a sterner or more warlike zealot.
In appearance, Brucker had somewhat the look of a Mephistopheles--a
demon then very much in vogue,--especially when he laughed, his laughter
being full of sardonic reserves. If Delsarte's mode of proselyting was
almost always gentle, affectionate, adapted to the spirit he aspired to
conquer, that of Raymond Brucker had an aggressive fashion; he became
brutal and cynical when discussion waxed warm.
Once, in reply to one of his vehement attacks against the age, in which
he used very unparliamentary expressions, he drew upon himself the
following answer from a woman: "But, sir, I should think that in the
ardor of your recent convictions, your first act of faith should have
been to make an _auto-da-fé_ of all the books signed Michel Raymond."
I repeat, this writer, although of undoubted intellectual merit, could
not annul Delsarte's native tendencies; he could never have led Delsarte
into any camp which the latter had not already decided to join; but when
they met on common ground, he influenced, excited and sometimes threw a
shadow over him.
When they had fought together against the nearest rebel, long and lively
discussions would often arise between them, but they always agreed in
the end: the artist's good-nature so willed it.
If dissension continued, if the fiery friend had given cause for
reproach, Delsarte merely said: "Poor Brucker!" But how much that brief
phrase could be made to mean in the mouth of a man who taught an actor
to say, "I hate you!" by uttering the words, "I love you," and who could
ring as many changes on one sentence as the thought, the feeling, the
occasion, could possibly require.
Do not suppose, however, that Delsarte abused his power. Contrary to
many actors who carry their theatrical habits into their private life,
he aimed at the most perfect simplicity outside of the rôles which he
interpreted. "I make myself as simple as possible," he would say, "to
avoid all suspicion of posing." But still he could not entirely rid
himself, in conversation, of those inflections which illuminate words
and are the genuine manifestation of the inner meaning.
Be this as it may, the relation between our two converts assumed the
proportions of friendship, doubtless in virtue of the mysterious law
which makes contrast attractive.
Hegel says: "The identical and the non-identical are identical;" and
this proposition passes for nonsense. Perhaps if he had said: "May
become identical," it would be understood that he meant to speak, in
general, of that reconciliation of contraries which united the calm
genius of Delsarte and the bristling, prickly spirit of Raymond Brucker.
One motive particularly contributed to the union; Brucker was
unfortunate in a worldly sense. Delsarte, improvident for the future and
scorning money, still had, during the best years of his professorship, a
relatively comfortable home. He loved to have his friend take advantage
of it. Large rooms, well warmed in winter, a simple table, but one which
lacked no essential article, were of no small importance to one whose
scanty household had naught but sorrow and privation to offer.
How many evenings they spent together in dissertations which often ended
in nothing--and how often the dawn surprised them before they were
For Brucker it was a refuge, but for Delsarte, what a waste of time and
strength taken from his real work! That wasted time might have sufficed
to fix and produce certain special points in his method. Then, too, his
health demanded greater care.
Take it for all in all, this intimacy was perhaps more harmful than
helpful to Delsarte. Yet I have been told that Raymond Brucker urged the
innovator to elaborate his discovery, and often reproached him with his
negligence in pecuniary matters. It was he who said: "François
Delsarte's system is an orthopedic machine to straighten crippled
I have also heard in favor of Raymond Brucker, that that mind so full of
bitterness, that inquisitor _in partibus_, was most tender toward a
child in his family, and that he bore his poverty bravely. I desire to
note these eulogies side by side with the less favorable reflections
which I considered it my duty to write down here. I recall a short
anecdote which will serve to close the Brucker story.
As we have said, they were seldom parted. One day Delsarte had agreed to
dine with the family of a pupil. As he was on his way thither, he met
his inseparable friend. From that moment his only thought was to excuse
himself from the dinner; but his hosts were reluctant to give up such a
guest; they insisted"--they were offended.
"Pardon me," said Delsarte; "I really cannot stay! I had forgotten that
Brucker was to dine with me."
"But that can be arranged! M. Brucker can join us. Suppose we send and
"You need not," replied the master; "if you are willing, I will call
him; he is waiting for me below at the corner."
They had acted as children do, when one says to the other on leaving
"Wait a minute for me, I'll ask mamma if you can come and dine with us."
Brucker, who after all knew how to be agreeable when he chose, took his
place at the table, and all went well.
This proves yet once again the extent to which Delsarte possessed that
charming simplicity so well suited to all distinction.
In the dissertations upon religious subjects incessantly renewed about
Delsarte, it was sometimes declared that "great sinners were surer of
salvation than the most perfect unbelievers in the world."
A young man, who doubtless felt himself to be in the first category,
once said to the master:
"My friend, the good God has been too kind to me! I disobey him, I
offend against his laws.... I repent, and he accepts my prayer! I
relapse into sin--and he forgives me! Decidedly, the good God is a very
This seems to exceed the unrestrained ease and confidence usual toward
an earthly father; but we must not forget that the inflection modifies
the meaning of a phrase, and that _poltroon_ may mean _adorable_.
This penitent, now famous, carried his provocation of the inexhaustible
goodness very far. At one time in his life he tried to blow out his
brains! By a mere chance--he probably said, by a miracle,--the wound was
not mortal; but he always retained the accusing scar. I never knew
whether this unpleasant adventure preceded or followed Mr. L.'s
conversion, or whether it was coincident with one of the relapses of
which that repentant sinner accused himself.
Another very religious friend was no less fragile in the observance of
his firm vow. Becoming a widower, he swore eternal fidelity to the
"departed angel." Soon after, he was seen with another wife on his arm!
"And your angel?" whispered a sceptic in his ear.
"Oh, my friend!" was the reply, "this one is an archangel."
Another figure haunted Delsarte and afforded yet another proof of his
tolerance. The Italian, C----, shared neither his political ideas nor
his religious beliefs; he was one of those refugees whom the defeats of
the Carbonari have cast upon our soil, and whose necessities
France--does our neighbor remember this?--for years supplied, as if they
were her own children. However, she could offer them but a precarious
Signer C., to give some charm to his wretched existence, desired to add
to his scanty budget a strong dose of hope and intellectual enjoyment:
hope in--what came later--the independence and unity of Italy. By way of
diversion, this stranger gratified himself by indulging in a whim; he
had dreams of a panacea, a plant whose complex virtues should combat all
the evils which fall to the lot of poor humanity; but this marvel must
be sought in America. And how was he to get there, when he could barely
scrape together the necessary five cents to ride in an omnibus! The
Isabellas of our day do not build ships for every new Columbus who
desires to endow the world with some wonderful treasure trove! And yet
this man was not mad; he was one of those who prove how many insane
ideas a brain may cherish, without being entitled to a cell in Bedlam or
While awaiting the realization of his golden dreams, poor C. spent his
time in perpetual adoration of the Talma of Music--for so Théophile
Gautier styled Delsarte; he never missed a lecture; he took part in the
talks which lengthened out the evening when the parlor was at last
cleared of superfluous guests.
Among his many manias--how many people have this one in common with
him!--the Italian cherished the idea that he was of exceptional ability,
and that in more than one direction. He proclaimed that Delsarte went
far beyond everything that he knew--equal to all that could be imagined
or desired in regard to art--but as for himself, C., was he not from a
land where art is hereditary, where it is breathed in at every pore,
from birth? And more than the mass of his countrymen, did he not feel
the volcanic heat of the sacred fire burning within him?
One evening, he made a bold venture. He had prepared a tirade written by
some Italian poet. All that I remember of it is that it began with the
words: "_Trema--Trema!_" [Tremble--Tremble!]
The impromptu tragedian recited several lines in a declamatory tone
accompanied by gestures to match. Delsarte listened without a sign of
praise or blame. Then he rose, struck an attitude appropriate to the
text, but perfectly natural, and, in his quiet way, said:
"Might not you as well give it in this key?" Then, in a voice of
repressed harshness, his gestures subdued but expressive of hatred, he
repeated the two words: "_Trema--Trema!_"
The listeners shuddered. Delsarte had produced one of those effects
which can never be forgotten. The smouldering ashes did not burn long;
four syllables were enough to extinguish the flame.
Following, not the chronological order, but that of circumstances and
incidents calculated to throw light on my subject, I must once more
retrace the course of years.
C.'s persistency went on before and after 1848. During the second
period, all minds were greatly agitated by the state of politics. C., in
spite of his undoubted liberalism--he spent a great part of his leisure
in making democratic constitutions--thought, like every other claimant,
that he had _duties to perform_; and that he might as well, to
facilitate his task, make an ally of the Emperor, without scruple; but
access to royalty was no less impossible than landing on the American
shore where his panacea grew. He hit upon the following plan:
A number of ladies were to go in a body and implore Napoleon III to
pardon certain exiles: for the same calamities always follow civil war,
and there are always women ready to beg for justice or mercy.
C., who knew their purpose, said to one of the petitioners: "How are you
going to make the Emperor understand that I am the only man capable of
saving the situation?"
The petition was not presented; and the world remains to be saved!
Our Italian had another specialty: he was perpetually in search of some
notorious somnambulist. It is a well-known fact that the mental
agitation caused by governmental crises is very favorable to these
pythonesses of modern times. Each wishes to outrun the future and to
afford himself at least an illusion of the triumph of his party. The
oracles varied according to the opinion of the person who magnetized
these ladies, and, often, according to the presumed desire of the
Delsarte allowed himself to be drawn into these mysteries. He had time
for everything. It afforded him relaxation, and a means of observation.
On one occasion, he followed the refugee to a garden where a person of
"perfect lucidity" prophesied. The sibyl was a _believer_ as well as a
_seer_ and pretended to communicate with God in person. I do not know
exactly what supernal secrets the woman revealed, while she slept, but
the result was ridiculous.
They had forgotten to fix the hour for the next sitting: so, to repair
the omission--by means of a few passes--the somnambulist was restored to
sleep and lucidity. Then in a corner of the garden, in a familiar tone
and--to use the popular expression--in which, as may well be imagined,
the voice of Jehovah was not heard:
"My God, what day shall we return?"
"He says Wednesday," announced the lady.
"Thank you, God!"
If the Italian went into ecstasies over this irreverent trifling,
Delsarte did not disdain to caricature it, and gave us a most comical
little performance. Here again we see how he could transform everything,
and make something out of nothing!
Among the frequenters of his lectures was an artist whom I would gladly
mention for his talent if I did not fear to annoy him by connecting his
name with an incident concerning him. I relate it in the hope of
somewhat diverting my readers, to whom I must so often discourse of
Mr. P. painted a portrait of Delsarte as a young man. The features are
exact, the pose firm and dignified, the eye proud. The painter and the
model were on very good terms and sympathized in religious matters. It
must have been the master who brought him over. He still burned with the
zeal peculiar to recent converts; to such a point that even on a short
excursion into the country, he could not await his return to Paris to
approach the stool of repentance. This desire seemed easily satisfied;
what village is without a father confessor!
So, one fine day, the artist rang at the first parsonage he could find.
The priest's sister opened the door--offered him a seat--and told him
that her brother was away. But, after these preliminaries, the lady
seemed uneasy. She inquired what the stranger wanted.
"To speak with the priest."
What could this stranger have to say to him? Such was the question which
floated in her eyes, amidst the confused phrases in which she strove to
gain an explanation. Mr. P. finally told her that he had come to
"My brother will not return till very late," said the poor girl, unable
to disguise her distress.
"I will wait!" replied the traveler.
"Oh, sir, I hope you will not!"
He thought he heard her mutter: "We read such things in the papers!"
The visitor at last perceived that she took him for a thief, and he
could not depart quickly enough.
One more anecdote:
François Delsarte called himself a bad citizen, because he disliked to
undertake the duties entailed by reason of the national guard--a dignity
long demanded by the advanced party of the day, but of which they soon
I think that the artist's infractions were often overlooked, and his
reasons for exemption were never too closely scanned. And yet, the
soldier-citizen was one day arraigned before a council of discipline,
which, without regard for this representative of the highest personages
of fiction, condemned him to three days' imprisonment.
It was as if they had imprisoned saltpetre in company with a bunch of
matches--but he restrained his rebellious feelings; he would not give
his judges the satisfaction of knowing his torment. He soon thought only
of procuring consolation: he summoned his friends, who visited him in
throngs. Then he made the acquaintance of his companions in misfortune.
There was one especially, who, alone, would have made up to him for all
the inconveniences of his forced arrest.
The first time that this prisoner entered the room where the other
prisoners were assembled, he looked at them with the most solemn air,
put his hand to his forehead, made a military salute, and in grave
tones, as if beginning a harangue, he uttered these words:
"Captives--I salute you!"
It was strangely pertinent. Delsarte was not behindhand in comic
gravity. This little scene enlivened him.
Another compensation fell to the lot of our _captive_. One of the
prisoners sang him a song, one stanza of which lingered in his memory. I
"I was born in Finisterre,
At Quimperlay I saw the light.
The sweetest air is my native air,
My parish church is painted white!
Oh! so I sang, I sighed, I said,--
How I love my native air,
And parish church so bright!"
These lines, written by some Breton minstrel, inspired one of those
sweet, plaintive airs which the drawling voice of the drovers sing as
they return at nightfall; one of those airs which seem to follow the
brook down the valleys, and which repeat the echoes of the mountains, in
the far distance.
Oh! how Delsarte used to murmur it; it made one homesick for Brittany!
To get one's bearings in that floating population (where persistency and
fidelity are rare qualities) which haunts a singing-school, it is well
to make classifications. In Delsarte's case, the novelty of his
processes, his extraordinary reputation among the art-loving public, the
length of time which he insisted was necessary for complete education,
all combined to produce an incessant ebb and flow of pupils.
Therefore, I must distinguish.
First, there were those, brought by Delsarte's generosity, whose only
resource was a vocation more or less favored by natural gifts. He would
say: "Come one, come all." But, of course, many were called, and few
were chosen, the majority only making a passing visit.
Then there were the finished artists. They took private lessons, coming
to beg the master to put the finishing touch to their work, hoping to
gain from him something of that spiritual flame which consecrates
talent. I shall not undertake to speak of all, but I must quote a few
One winter day, says _La Patrie_ for June 18, 1857, a woman, beautiful
and still young, visited Delsarte, begging him to initiate her into the
mysteries of Gluck's style:
"You are the greatest known singer," she said; "no one can enter into
the work of the great masters and seize their most secret thought as you
do; teach me!"
"Who are you?" asked François Delsarte.
"Henrietta Sontag," replied the stranger.
Madame Barbot had a moment of great triumph, and was summoned to Russia
at the period of her success in Paris. She was perhaps the master's best
imitator; she had somewhat of his tragic emotion, his style, his
gesture; then what did she lack to equal him? She lacked that absolute
_sine qua non_ of art and poetry--_personality_. She added little of her
Even among those who could neither hear his lectures nor follow his
lessons, Delsarte had disciples. A great singing-teacher, whom I knew at
Florence, was eager to learn everything concerning the method. I often
heard him ask a certain young girl, as he read a score: "You were
Delsarte's pupil; tell me if he would have read this as I have done?"
Even the famous Jenny Lind made the journey from London to Paris,
expressly to hear the great singer.
At his lectures were seen from time to time: M. and Mme. Amand Chevé,
Mlle. Chaudesaigues, M. Mario Uchard--who, after his marriage, asked for
elocution lessons for his wife (Madeleine Brohan),--Mlle. Rosalie
Jacob, whose brilliant vocalization never won the renown which it
deserved, Mme. Carvalho, who was not one of the regular attendants, but
who trained her rare talent as a light singer, there, before the very
eyes of her fellow pupils,--Géraldon, who was very successful in Italy,
under the name of Géraldoni.
Then, there was Mme. de B----, who appeared at the opera under the name
of Betty; a beauty with a fine voice. This artist did not perfect her
talents, being in haste to join the theatre in Rue Lepelletier, under
the shield of another master. Although well received by the public, she
soon gave up the profession.
A memory haunts me, and I cannot deny it a few lines.
Mme. M. may have been eighteen when she began to study singing with
Delsarte, together with her husband, who was destined for a similar
career. She had an agreeable voice, but a particularly charming face,
the freshness of a child in its cradle, a sweet expression of innocence.
In figure she was tall and slender. The lovely creature always looked
like a Bengal rose tossing upon its graceful stalk. These young students
considered themselves finished and made an engagement with the manager
of a theatre in Brazil.
"Don't do it," said Delsarte to the husband, knowing his suspicious
nature, "that is a dangerous region; you will never bring your wife back
He prophesied but too truthfully.
Soon after, we heard that the fair songstress had been shot dead by the
hand of the husband who adored her. I like to think that she was
innocent of more than imprudence. The story which reached us from that
distant land was, that M. M. threatened to kill his wife if she
continued to associate with a certain young man.
"You would never do it!" she said.
She did not reckon on the aberrations of jealousy. It was said, in
excuse for the murderer, that she had defied him, saying:
"I love him, and I do not love you!"
After the catastrophe, the unfortunate husband gave himself up to
justice. No case was found against him, but how he must have suffered
when he had forever cut himself off from the sight of that enchanting
Three figures stand preëminent in the crowd: Darcier, Giraudet, Madame
I will proceed in order of seniority.
The first named did not attend the lectures when I did, but I often
heard him mentioned in society where he attracted attention by his
rendering of Delsarte's "Stanzas to Eternity," Pierre Dupont's "Hundred
Louis d'or," and many other impressive or dramatic pieces. I know the
master considered him possessed of much aptitude and feeling for art.
They met one evening at a large party given by a high official of the
day. Darcier sang well, in Delsarte's opinion; but it was perhaps too
well for a public made up of fashionables, not connoisseurs.
"It takes something more than talent to move them," thought the real
judge, annoyed; and with that accent familiar to well-bred people, which
transfigures a triviality, he said to the singer:
"Let them have _the bread!_"
He referred to a political song ending with these lines:
"Ye cannot hush the moan
Of the people when they cry: 'We hunger ...'
For it is the cry of nature,
They want bread, bread, bread!"
The guests were forced to give the attention which it demanded to this
cry which aroused the idea of recent seditions, and the performer came
in for his share.
This artist may still be heard, but his talents are displayed in so
narrow a circle that his reputation is a limited one. Yet it is said
that his compositions and his mode of singing them attest to great
Darcier, it seems, always retained a strong feeling of devotion for his
master. He has been heard to say: "I fear but two things--Delsarte and
Alfred Giraudet joined the grand opera as _primo basso cantante_. He was
warmly received by the press, and had already won a name at the Opéra
Comique and at concerts. In this singer may be noted the firmness of
accent and scholarly mode of phrasing, always in harmony with the
prosody of the language, which are part of the tradition of the great
school. He always bears himself well on the stage, and the sobriety of
his gesture is a salutary example which some of his present colleagues
would do well to imitate.
He, too, was a loyal soul; he always regarded it as an honor to bear the
title of _pupil of Delsarte_, the latter always writing to him as _my
dear and last disciple_. I owe many of the memories and documents used
in this volume to his kindness.
Alfred Giraudet always took his audience captive when he sang Malherbe's
verses--music by Réber--of which each strophe ends with the following
"Leave these vanities, put them far behind us,
'Tis God who gives us life,
'Tis God whom we should love."
The broad, sustained style, so appropriate to the words of the melody,
finds a sympathetic interpreter in the young artist.
Delsarte gave this with great _maestria_. The finale, particularly,
always transports the listeners.
If any one can revive the tradition of the master's teachings, it is
certainly Giraudet, who understands the method and appreciates its high
Madame Pasca was one of the latest comers; her advent was an event.
There were pupils in the school who were destined for the theatre, and
there were women of society; the future artist of the Gymnase partook
of both phases. She had the advantages of a vocation and of a careful
education; her fortune allowed her to dress elegantly, with the
picturesqueness imparted by artistic taste.
Chance, or a presentiment of speedy success, led her to take her place,
on the first day, very near the master, in a peculiar seat--a sort of
small, low easy chair which inspired one with a sense of nonchalance.
She was in full sight. Her gaze, profound and sombre at times, roamed
over the room with the natural air of a meditative queen. She inspired
all beholders with curiosity and interest. The feeling which she aroused
in her fellow-pupils was less distinct. Her rare advantages caused a
vague fear in those who hitherto had securely held the foremost rank;
her beauty created a sense of rivalry, unconscious for the most part,
and yet betrayed by countless signs.
There was a flutter of excitement throughout the school. This increased
when the young woman confirmed, by her first efforts, all that her
agreeable appearance and fascinating voice had promised. She declaimed a
fragment from Gluck's "Armida" which other pupils sang; a word sufficed
to change interest to sympathy.
That accent touched all hearts. What visible grief and what a sense of
suppressed tears when in her grave, slow tones she uttered the phrase:
"You leave me, Rinaldo! Oh, mortal pain!"
The master soon obtained from this marvellous aptness, what is rarely
acquired, even after long years of study: dramatic effects free from all
hint of charlatanism. The distinguishing point between Madame Pasca and
Madame Barbot is, that the latter, while observing all the rules of the
method avoided servile imitation.
Delsarte was all the more delighted at his success, because he had
revealed to his scholar her true calling. Madame Pasca came to him for
singing-lessons, but her large, strongly-marked voice had little range.
She was directed toward the art which she afterward practiced, and began
her studies with tragedy. Some idea of what she did in this field may be
formed from the effect which she produced in pathetic scenes, where the
comedy allowed her serious voice to show its power and penetrating tone.
I need not speak of Madame Pasca's success at the Gymnase and abroad. It
is known and undoubted. Still she lacks the consecration of the stage
where Mars and Rachel shone. When this artist left the school to enter
upon her career, Delsarte said to her:
"My dear child, you will spend your life in atoning for the crime of
being my pupil."
He was right, for Madame Pasca has no place at the Français yet.
I can speak from hearsay merely, of the lessons in elocution and
declamation intended for preachers--particularly for the fathers of the
Oratory,--never having been present at them. I only know that Father
Monsabre and other famous ecclesiastics took lessons from François
Delsarte's Musical Compositions.
Delsarte paid but little attention to musical composition; still his
musical works prove that he would have succeeded here as elsewhere, had
he devoted himself particularly to the task.
To say nothing of six fine vocal exercises and a number of songs which
had their day, his "Stanzas to Eternity" were highly popular. A mass by
him was performed in several churches; but his "Last Judgment,"
especially, ranks him among serious composers.
This setting of the _Dies Irae_ is touching and severe; the melody is
broad, sombre, threatening; the accompaniment reminds one of the dull
rattling of the skeletons reassuming their original shape. One seems to
hear the uneasy hum of voices roused from long sleep.
One incident showed the importance of this work. Various pieces of
concerted music were being rehearsed one night at the church of St.
Sulpice, for performance during the solemnity of "the work of St.
Francis de Xavier." A close circle formed around the musicians; private
conversation added a discordant note to the harmony; the church echoed
back the footsteps of people walking to and fro.
The _Dies Irae_ came! The music at first imitates the angel trumpets
which, according to Christian belief, are to be heard when _time shall
end_. The summons sounded four times.
This mournful chant of reawakening generations instantly silenced every
voice and every step; all were motionless; and the solemn melody alone
soared to the vaulted roof.
A touching story is told of this work. At a large and miscellaneous
gathering, M. Donoso-Cortes, a well-known Spanish publicist, then
ambassador to Paris, begged Delsarte to sing his _Dies Irae_. A space
was cleared in the music-room.
The score of the symphony for voice and piano, made by Delsarte himself,
retains all his intentions and effects, to which his striking voice
"Dies irae, dies illa,
Solvet saeclum in favilla,
Teste David cum sybilla."
The whole assembly were taken captive. M. Donoso-Cortes was particularly
moved. His eyes filled with tears. He was not quite well that night.
A week later the newspapers invited the friends of the illustrious
stranger to meet at St. Philippe-du-Roule, to witness his funeral rites.
Delsarte was present; the church was so hung with black that the
choristers were alarmed for the effect of their motets.
The artist recalled the request made him the previous week by the
Spanish ambassador. He felt as if that same voice came from the bier and
begged him for one more hymn to the dead. In spite of his emotion, he
offered to sing the _Dies Irae_.
To obviate the lack of resonance, Delsarte sang--according to his theory
in regard to the laws of acoustics,--without expenditure of sound,
almost _mezza voce_.
No one was prepared. The listeners were all the more overcome by those
tones in which the friend's regrets pervaded, with their sweet unction,
the masterly diction of the singer.
When his oldest daughter grew up, Delsarte seemed to take a fancy to a
different style of composition. He would not give that young soul the
regular repertory of his pupils, all passion and profane love. He wrote
for Marie words and music--couplets which were neither romance nor song;
nor were they quite canticles, although religion always lay at the base
I know none but Madame Sand who can be compared to Delsarte in variety
of feeling and simplicity even unto grandeur. I have often observed a
likeness and, as it were, a kinship between these great minds. And yet
these two great souls, these two great spirits, never exchanged ideas.
The artist never received the plaudits of the distinguished writer. Both
Delsarte said: "I lack that sanction," and Madame Sand wrote, when he
had ceased to live: "I knew Delsarte's worth; I often intended to go
and hear him, and some circumstance, beyond my control, always
The world owes a debt to Delsarte for collecting under the title
"Archives of Song," the lyric gems of the XVI, XVII, and XVIII
centuries. And also the songs of the Middle Ages, the prose hymns and
anthems of the church, arranged conformably to the harmonic type
consecrated by the oldest traditions.
"All these works," he wrote in his announcement of the work, "faithfully
copied, arranged for the piano and transposed for concert performance,
will finally be arranged and classified in separate volumes, to suit
various voices, ages, styles, schools, etc., thus affording subject
matter for a complete course of vocal studies."
I do not think that death allowed Delsarte to complete this vast plan,
but it was partly finished. In the collection, we find the scattered
treasures of an eminently French muse: old songs picked up in the
provinces, in which wit and naive sentimentality dispute for precedence.
All this still exists, but who can sing as he did the song beginning: "I
was but fifteen," or "Lisette, my love, shall I forever languish?" and
so many others!
To explain the inexpressible charm which distinguished Delsarte from all
other singers, a songstress once said: "His singing contrives to give us
the _soul of the note_. The others are _artists_, but _he_ is _the
Delsarte's Evening Lectures.
In François Delsarte's school there were morning classes and evening
classes. The former were more especially devoted to the theory, to
lessons. Those of which I shall speak might be compared to lectures, to
dramatic and musical meetings. A choice public was always present. Among
The composers Réber and Gounod;
Doctor Dailly, Madame de Meyendorf--a great Russian lady, the friend of
The Princess de Chimay and the Princess Czartoriska, who glided modestly
in and took the humblest place;
Madame Blanchecotte, whose charming verses were crowned by the Academy;
Countess d'Haussonville, a familiar name;
M. Joly de Bammeville, one of the exhibitors at the Exhibition of
Retrospective Arts, in 1878;
Doriot, the sculptor; Madame de Lamartine, Madame Laure de Léoménil, a
well-known painter; Madame de Blocqueville, daughter of Marshal Davout,
and author of his biography; a throng of artists, men of letters and
scientists; certain original figures of the period.
On one occasion we were joined by a man of some celebrity--the
chiromancist Desbarolles. Delsarte had the courtesy to base his theory
lesson upon the latter's system; he pointed out its points of relation
with the sum total of the constitution of the human being. It was a
lesson full of spirit and piquant allusions; one of those charming
impromptus in which Delsarte never failed.
From time to time certain persons in clerical robes appeared in the
audience; the austerity of their habit contrasting somewhat strangely
with the attire of the elegant women, men of fashion and young actors in
their apprenticeship around them; but matters always settled themselves.
One evening one of these priests was in a neighboring room, the doors of
which were open into the drawing-room. If the songs seemed too profane,
he kept out of sight; but so soon as the word _God_ was pronounced or a
religious thought was mingled with a romance, or operatic aria, the
servant of the altar appeared boldly, rejoiced at these brief harvests
which allowed him to enjoy the whole picture.
To give a correct idea of one of these evenings, I will copy an account
which I have just written under the heading of "Recent Memories."
By half-past eight, almost all the guests have assembled. A stir is
heard in the next room. "He is coming ... it is he!" is whispered on
every hand. The master enters, followed by his pupils. Almost at the
same instant a young woman glides up to the piano. She is to accompany
the singers; she enters furtively, timidly, as if she were not the
mistress of the house. She is beautiful, but she does not wish this to
be noticed; she has much talent, but she disguises it by her calm and
severe style of playing, which does not prevent critical ears from
noting her exactitude and precision, combined with that rare spirit of
abnegation which is the accompanist's supreme virtue.
Delsarte takes his place by the piano; his attentive gaze traverses the
assembly; he exchanges a smile, a friendly gesture with certain of the
audience who are always much envied. At this moment he is grave,
serious, and as it were, penetrated by his responsibility to an audience
who hang devoutly on his lips.
The professor begins by developing some point in his system; he gives
the law of pose or of gesture; the reasons for accent, rhythm or some
other detail connected with the synthesis which he has evolved. He
questions his scholars.
The first notes of the piano serve to mark the change to practical
instruction. The pupils sing in turn. The master listens with the
concentrated attention peculiar to him; the expression of his face
explains the nature of the remarks he is about to make, even before he
utters them. He points out mistakes, he illustrates them.
Little by little, however, his dramatic genius is aroused. Achilles
seems to seize his weapons or Agamemnon his sceptre. The scholar is
pushed aside, Delsarte takes his place.
Then the artist is seen to the utmost advantage. There, dressed in the
vast, shapeless coat which drapes itself about him as he gesticulates,
his neck free from the cravat which puts modern Europeans in the
pillory, and allowing himself greater space than at his concerts--there,
and there alone, is Delsarte wholly himself.
The piano strikes the opening notes of the prelude, and before the
artist has uttered a word, he is transfigured. If he is singing serious
opera, the oval of his face lengthens, the lines become more fixed, his
cheeks shrink, his forehead is lighted up and his eye flashes with
inspiration; the pallor of profound emotion pervades his features, the
somewhat gross proportions of his figure are disguised by the firmness
of his pose and the juvenile precision of his gesture.
The part of _Robert the Devil_ is one of those in which Delsarte best
developed the resources and suppleness of his genius. _Robert_ is the
son of a demon, but his mother was a saint. He loves with sincere love;
but even this love is subject to the influence of the evil spirit;
hence, these outbursts followed by such tender remorse, that heart which
melts into tears after a fit of rage. _Robert_ is jealous, less so than
_Othello_ possibly, but _Robert's_ jealousy is stimulated by infernal
powers and must differ in its manifestation. It was in these shades of
distinction that Delsarte's greatness was apparent to every eye.
Then came those indescribable inflections--words which pierced your
heart, cold as a sword-blade: "Come, come!" says _Robert_, striving to
drag _Isabella_ away, ... and that simple word was made frantic,
breathless, by the accent accompanying it. No one who has not heard
Delsarte utter the word _rival_ can conceive of all the mysteries of
hate and pain contained in the word.
In the trio from "William Tell," after the words, "has cut an old man's
thread of life," Arnold feels that Gessler has had his father murdered.
A first and vague suspicion dawned on the artist's face. Little by
little, the impression became more marked, a clearer idea of this
misfortune was shown by pantomime; his eye was troubled, it kindled,
every feature questioned both William and Walter; the actor's hand,
trembling and contracted, was stretched toward them and implored them to
speak more clearly. He was horror-stricken at the news he was to hear,
but uncertainty was intolerable; and when, after these touching
preparations, Arnold himself tore away the last shred of doubt, when he
uttered the cry: "My father!" there was not a heart--were it bathed in
the waters of the Styx--which did not melt from the counter shock of
such violent despair.
The effects of rage, hate, irony, the terrors of remorse, the bitterness
of disappointment, were not the only dramatic means in the possession of
that artist whom Madame Sontag proclaimed as "the greatest known
singer." None could express as did Delsarte, contemplation, serenity,
tenderness--the dreams of a sweet and simple soul, and even the divine
silliness of innocent beings. Wit and malice were equally easy for him
In the duet from "Count Ory:"
"Once more I'll see the beauty whom I love,"
he was quite as apt at interpreting the hypocritical good-nature of the
false hermit as the sentimental playfulness of the love-lorn page.
In his school the comic style bore an impress of propriety and
distinction, because it resulted from intellectual perceptions rather
than it expressed the vulgar sensations manifested by exaggerated
caricature and grimace.
Delsarte thus put his stamp upon every style which he attempted; he
renovated every part. He restored Gluck to life; he revealed Spontini to
himself. The latter--the illustrious author of "Fernando Cortez"--was at
a musical entertainment where Delsarte, whom he had never known, sang.
He had drunk deep of the composer's inspiration: he showed this in the
very first phrase of the great air:
"Whither do ye hasten? Oh, traitorous race!"
He sang with such vigorous accent, such great _maestria_, that--in the
mouth of Montezuma--the words must have sufficed to rally the Mexican
army from its rout. He gave the cantabile:
"Oh country, oh spot so full of charm!"
with indescribable sadness; desolation and despair seemed to fill his
soul, and when the conquered man invoked the spirits of his ancestors:
"Shall I say to the shadows of my fathers,
Arise--and leave your gloomy tomb!"
it seemed--so powerful was the adjuration--as if the audience must see
the sepulchre open on the spot which the singer and actor indicated by
his gesture and his gaze.
Such profound knowledge, sublime talent, terrifying effects and
contrasts so skilfully managed, and yet so natural in their transition,
strongly moved the composer.
"Do you know that you made me tremble?" Delsarte said to him after he
"Do you know that you made me weep?" replied Spontini, charmed to see
his work raised to such proportions.
Delsarte was always master of himself, however impassioned he appeared.
Often, in his lessons, when every soul hung upon his accents, he would
stop abruptly and restore the part to his pupil. Then, as if a magic
wand had touched him, all the attributes of the personage who had lived
in him, vanished. His face, his form, his bearing resumed their usual
appearance. The artist disappeared, and the professor quietly resumed
his place, without seeming to notice that the audience--still shaken by
the emotions they had felt--blamed him for this too prompt
Yet Delsarte was as agreeable a teacher as he was a marvelous artist.
His instruction was enlivened by countless unexpected flashes; his
sallies were as quick as gunpowder.
"_I die!_" languidly sang a tenor.
"You sleep!" said the master.
"_Come, lady fair!_" exclaimed another singer.
"If you call her in that voice, you may believe that she will never
"Don't make a public-crier of your Achilles," said the master to some
one with a rich organ, given over to its own uncultivated power.
All three smiled. The one tried to die more fitly; the other to call his
lady fair in more seductive accents. The petulant outburst of the master
taught them more than many a long dissertation.
Delsarte made great use of his power of imitating a defect; he even
exaggerated it so that the scholar, seeing it reflected as in a
magnifying-glass, more readily perceived his insufficiency or his
If this mode of procedure was somewhat trying to sensitive vanity, it
was easy to see its advantages. The master's censure, moreover, was of
that inoffensive and kindly character which is its own justification. It
was a criticism governed by gaiety. Delsarte laughed at himself quite as
readily as at the ridiculous performances which he caricatured, if
opportunity offered. And if by chance any pupil less hardened to these
assaults was intimidated or distressed, consolation was quick to follow.
I remember that a young girl gave rise to one of these striking
imitations. Delsarte put such an irresistible comedy into it, that the
audience was seized with an uncontrolable fit of mirth. The master's
mimicry had far more to do with this than the poor girl's awkwardness.
But she did not understand this. Her heart sank at this harsh merriment
and tears rushed to her eyes.
"What is the matter," asked Delsarte; "why are you so disturbed? Among
the persons whose laughter you hear, I do not think there is one who
sings as well as you do! I exaggerated your mistake to make you aware of
it; but you did your work in a way that was very satisfactory to all but
Speaking of this irony tempered by mercy, I recollect that Delsarte,
after a great success, was once complimented by the singer P., whose
popularity far exceeded that of the "lyric Talma."
"And yet you have given me lessons," said Delsarte, emphasizing the word
_yet_. Well! in such circumstances Delsarte showed neither the pride nor
the malicious spirit which might be imputed to him; his mind seized a
contrast which amused him, and his face interpreted it, but his voice
remained soft and friendly; for, in spite of his biting wit and cutting
phrases, his feelings were easily touched and his heart was truly rich
Delsarte sang a great deal during his lessons; and perhaps he gained,
from the point of view of the voice, by confining himself to fragments;
seizing the opportune moment, and his voice not having had time to be
tired, he could give, for a relatively long space, the clear, ringing
tones necessary for brilliant pieces. Then his vocalization--which has
only a mechanical value with most singers--became sobs, satanic
laughter, delirium, and terror.
Then, too, thanks to proximity, the most delicate tones could be heard
to the extreme limits of the _smorzando_, still preserving that slightly
veiled timbre unique in its charm, the mysterious interpreter of
infinite sweetness and unspeakable tenderness.
One might perhaps have made a complete analysis of Delsarte from hearing
him sing some dramatic song, but let him give Eleazar's air from "The
"Rachel, when the Lord,"
or that of Joseph:
"Paternal fields, Hebron, sweet vale,--"
let the artist give this in a quiet style, as putting a mute upon his
voice, and the observer forgot his part; he followed the entrancing
melody as far as it would lead him into the realms of the ineffable
whence he returned with the fascination of memory and the sorrow of