Part 6 out of 9
Let no one cry that this is hyperbole! One of the most remarkable
accompanists in Paris, an attaché of the Opéra Comique, M. Bazile, was
once so overcome by emotion in accompanying Delsarte that for some
seconds the piano failed to do its duty.
I might recount numberless proofs of admiration equal to mine. One
evening, at a lecture, the lesson turned upon a song from "William
"Be motionless, and to the ground
Incline a suppliant knee."
For stage effect, Delsarte called in one of his children, about eight or
nine years old.
The subject is well known: William has been condemned to strike from a
distance, with the tip of his arrow, an apple placed on the head of his
William bids the child pray to God, and implores him not to stir.
Reversing the action of all actors whom we usually see, the artist
recited the fragment in a wholly concentric fashion; he did not declaim;
he made no gesture toward the audience; but what emotion in his voice,
and how his gaze hovered over and around the dear creature who was
perhaps to be forever lost to him! He called the child to him, he
pressed him to his heart; he laid his hands on that young head. His
caresses had the lingering slowness of supreme and final things, the
solemnity of a last benediction.
"This point of steel may terrify thine eyes!"
says the text, and the tragedian, enlarging the meaning of the words by
inflection and accent, showed that this precious life hung on a thread
and depended on the firmness of his hand.
At the last phrase:
"Jemmy, Jemmy, think of thy mother,
She who awaits us both at home!"
his voice became pathetic to such a degree that it was difficult to
endure it. The child, who had restrained himself during the tirade,
began to sob. All eyes were full of tears. One lady fainted.
At concerts his triumph was the same on a larger scale. I will give but
one anecdote. A man of letters, who was also a skilled physician, said
"Do you know, sir, that I made your acquaintance in a very strange way?
I was at the Herz Hall, at your concert. Your voice and singing so
agitated me that I was forced to leave the room, feeling oppressed and
This impressionable listener referred to a day memorable in the annals
of the master. Delsarte--he sang certain airs written for women in
Gluck's operas--had selected Clytemnestra's song:
"A priest, encircled by a cruel throng,
Shall on my daughter lay his guilty hand."
Just as this maternal despair reached its paroxysm, the artist raised
both hands to his head and remained in the most striking attitude
possible to overwhelming grief. Loud applause burst from every part of
the hall; there was a frenzy, a delirium of enthusiasm. At the same
time, a violent storm burst outside; the roaring thunder, the rain
beating in floods upon the windows, the flashing lightning which turned
the gas-lights pale, formed a tremendous orchestra for Gluck's music,
and a fantastic frame for the sublime actor. Then, as if crushed by his
glory, he prolonged that marvelous effect, and stood a moment as if
annihilated by the frantic and tumultuous shouts of the audience.
Delsarte always had his father's propensity to devote himself to
mechanics that he might apply his knowledge of them to new things. When
he felt his artistic abilities, not growing less, but their plastic
expression becoming more difficult, owing to the cruel warnings of his
departing youth, this tendency toward occupations more especially
intellectual, became more marked.
It may be helpful here to note that a _machine_--that positive and most
material of all things--is the thing whose creation requires force of
understanding in the highest degree.
The brain, that living machine, lends its aid to the intellect; it
represents the physical side; it is the spot where the work is carried
on. Feeling has no part in the intellectual acts which work together in
mechanical production,--mathematics playing the principal part,--it has
no other share, I say, but to inspire certain persons with a passionate
taste for abstract studies, which leads them toward useful and glorious
Thus, this thought of Delsarte and Pierre Leroux seems to be justified:
that, in no case, can man break his essential triplicity.
Delsarte, moreover, by changing the direction of his faculties, or
rather by displacing the dominant, affirmed his freedom of will. If he
did not always class himself with the strong, he still loved to reign
over himself in the omnipotence of his will.
The artist became an inventor; he took out letters-patent for various
discoveries, among others for an instrument of precision applicable to
astronomical observations. Competent persons have recognized the great
value of this invention, conceived without previous study, and which
remains hidden among the papers of some official.
Only one of his mechanical conceptions was ever really put to practical
use, that of the _Guide-accord_; it gained him a gold medal at the
Exhibition of 1855; Dublin awarded it the same praise.
Berlioz wrote of this invention, in his book entitled, "_A Travers
"M. Delsarte has made piano tuning easier by means of an instrument
which he calls the _phonopticon_. Any one who will take the trouble to
use it will find that it produces such absolute correctness, that the
most practiced ear could not attain to similar perfection. This
_Guide-accord_ cannot fail to gain speedy popularity."
On reading these lines, one is tempted to say: Here is an open-hearted
writer; one likes this outburst in regard to a man who was in some sense
his brother-artist. But what are we to think of this critic, when we
reflect that in this same book, where he exalts the inventor, he never
seems to remember Delsarte the revealer of a law, the creator of a
science, the distinguished teacher, the famous artist. "He has rendered
all pianists a great service by inventing this instrument," says the
author of "_A Travers Chants_," and that is all. And he calls him
_Monsieur_ Delsarte, as if he were some unknown musical instrument maker
or dealer! Had the author of "William Tell" or "Aida" vexed him, he
would have spoken of them as M. Rossini, M. Verdi!
And yet he knew all about the man whom he seemed anxious to extinguish,
for it was he who, in a musical criticism, wrote, among other praises:
"It is impossible to imagine superior execution;" and elsewhere: "He
renders the thoughts of the great masters with such brilliancy and
strength, that their masterpieces are made accessible to the most
stubborn intellect and the most hardened sensibilities are roused by his
What had happened to make the author of the "Pilgrims' March" so
oblivious of his own admiration? I have heard that the two musicians
quarreled as to the interpretation of a passage by Gluck, and that a
correspondence much resembling a literary warfare, followed. Could this
justify defection? Perhaps a desire to stifle this glory, thereby to
lend more lustre to some _meteor_ or _star_, had some share in this
At any rate, the affair is not to the honor of Berlioz. We should never
deny, whatever may happen, the just judgment which we have uttered.
Direct or indirect, the rivalries of artists are to be regretted for
the sake of art itself, which lives on noble sentiments and high
thoughts. Although we may laugh at the inconsequence of a critic who
extinguishes with one hand that which the other hand brought to light,
we cannot repress a deep feeling of sadness when we see upon what
reputation too often depends, and when we ask ourselves how much we are
to believe of the opinions of certain chroniclers.
The fact which I have just quoted is the more surprising, inasmuch as
Berlioz often drew his inspiration from the method of, and from certain
modes of expression peculiar to Delsarte.
Delsarte before the Philotechnic Association.
It was in 1865 that Delsarte was heard in public for the last time. The
meeting took place at the Sorbonne where the lectures of the
Philotechnic Society were then given.
I see him before me now with his strong personality, his captivating and
persuasive speech, his mind with its incisive flashes; but a visible
melancholy swayed him and was to follow him through the variety and
contrasts of the subjects on his program.
And first, he takes pleasure in proclaiming to all the tale of his
mistakes. Still young in heart and in mind, it seems as if in giving up
hope on earth, he tolled the knell of all the enchantments that were
passed and gone; that creative head fermenting with the ardor of
discovery seems to doubt the future and bow beneath the burden of a
And yet he is surrounded by picked men who admire him, by women, young,
beautiful, brilliant, eager to hear him, as of old; but he is not
deceived by all this. A magic spell has vanished; sympathy is not denied
him, but perhaps he feels it to be less tender, less _affectionate_
than in the radiant days of his youth.
This explains how, in the course of that evening, a recrudescence of
Christian feeling more than once tore him away from the undeniable
assertions of science, not to drag him down to the puerilities of the
letter, but to draw him up into the clouds of theology, whence hope of a
future life, the consolation of farewell hours, smiled upon him.
But if Delsarte appeared depressed, he was not to be conquered. His
restless spirit betrayed him to those whom his mystic fervor might have
"Many persons," he said, "feel confident that they are to hear me recite
"Nothing of the sort, gentlemen; I shall not recite, and I shall not
sing, because I desire less to show you what I can do, than to tell you
what I know."
Soon a wonderful change passed over him. It seemed as if he had been
covered with ashes for an instant, only to come forth in a more dazzling
light. Hardly had his audience felt a slight sense of revolt at the
words: "I shall not sing," than they found themselves in the presence of
an orator not inferior to the greatest in the force of his images, and
who, with all his serious and pathetic eloquence, never forgot the
studied touches of the poet, or the dainty style of the artist.
But I will not delay my reader to listen to me! It is Delsarte himself
who should be heard. I will give a few extracts:
"I count," he said, "on the novelty, the absolute novelty, of the
things which I shall teach you: Art is the subject of this conversation.
"Art is divine in its principle, divine in its essence, divine in its
action, divine in its aim.
"Ah! gentlemen, there are no pleasures at once more lasting, more noble
and more sacred than those of Art.
"Let us glance around us: not a pleasure which is not followed by
disappointment or satiety; not a joy which does not entail some trouble;
not an affection which does not conceal some bitterness, some grief, and
often some remorse!
"Everything is disappointing to man. Everything about him changes and
passes away. Everything betrays him; even his senses, so closely allied
to his being and to which he sacrifices everything, like faithless
servants, betray him in their turn; and, to use an expression now but
too familiar, they go on a strike, and from that strike, gentlemen, they
* * * * *
"The constituent elements of the body sooner or later break into open
rebellion, and tend to fly from each other as if filled with mutual
"But under the ashes a youthful soul still lives, and one whose
perpetual youth is torture; for that soul loves, in spite of the
disappointments of its hard experience; it loves because it is young; it
loves just because it is a soul and it is its natural condition to love.
"Such is the soul, gentlemen. Well! for this poor, solitary and
desolate soul, there are still unutterable joys; joys not to be measured
by all which this world can offer. These joys are the gift of Art. No
one grows old in the realms of Art."
After a pungent criticism of the official teaching of art as hitherto
practiced, Delsarte explained the chief elements of æsthetics. He said:
"Æsthetics, henceforth freed from all conjecture, will be truly
established under the strict forms of a _positive science_."
But, as in the course of his lecture he had more than once touched the
giddy regions of supernaturalism, this formula seemed a contradiction to
certain minds, yet enthusiastic applause greeted the orator from all
parts of the hall.
One paper, _L'Union_, said in this connection:
"M. Delsarte is a spontaneous soul, his mind is at once Christian
and free, his only passion is the proselytism of the Beautiful, and
this is the charm of his speech....I do not assert that everything
in it should be of an absolute rigor of philosophy," etc.
The same paper says elsewhere:
"All these theories are new, original, ingenious, in a word,
_felicitous_. Are they undeniably true? What I can affirm is that
none doubt it who hear the master make various applications of them
by examples. Delsarte is an irresistible enchanter."
The opposition of principles with which he is reproached, these doubts
of the strength of his logic, will be greatly diminished if this point
of view be taken: that Delsarte traced back an assured science, that he
deduced from the faculties of man the hypothesis that these faculties
are contained in essence and in the full power of their development, in
an archetype which, to his mind, is no other than the Divine Trinity.
Plato's ideal in æsthetics and in philosophy was similar although less
There is a saying that Italians "have two souls." In Delsarte there were
two distinct types, the theistic philosopher and the scientist.
Now, the philosopher could give himself up to the study of causes and
their finality, that faculty being allotted to the mental activity; he
could even, without giving the scientist cause for complaint, make, or
admit, speculative theories regarding the end and aim of art, provided
that the scientific part of the system was neither denied nor diminished
And is there not a certain kinship between science and hypothesis which
admits of their walking abreast without conflicting?
Delsarte, as we have seen, rarely left his audience without winning the
sympathy of every member of it. At the meeting of which I speak, he
vastly amused his hearers by an anecdote. He doubtless wished to clear
away the clouds caused by that part of his discourse which, by his own
confession, had a good deal of the sermon about it.
I will repeat the tale, a little exaggerated perhaps, but still very
piquant, which doubtless won his pardon for those parts of his speech
which might have been for various reasons blamed, misunderstood or but
The story was of four professors who, having examined him, had each, in
turn, he said, administered upon his [Delsarte's] cheeks smart slaps to
the colleagues by whose advice he had profited in previous lessons.
The following lines were the subject of the lesson:
"Nor gold nor greatness make us blest;
Those two divinities to our prayers can grant
But goods uncertain and a pleasure insecure."
"The first teacher to whom I turned declared there was but one way to
_recite them properly_, and this single method, you of course perceive,
gentlemen, could be only his own.
"'Those lines,' said he, 'must be recited with breadth, with dignity,
with nobleness. Listen!' Upon which my instructor began to declaim in
his most sonorous, most magisterial tones. He raised his eyes to heaven,
rounded his gestures and struck a heroic attitude.
"'Show yourself,' he resumed (after this demonstration), 'by the
elevation of your manners, worthy of the lessons I have given you.'
"'Ah!' I exclaimed, 'at last I possess the noble manner of rendering
these fine lines.'
"Next day, having practiced the noble manner to the utmost of my
ability, I went to my second professor, fully persuaded that I should
hear nothing but congratulations. Well!... I had hardly ended the
second line, when a shrug of the shoulders accompanied by a terrible
burst of laughter, very mortifying to my noble manner, closed my mouth
"'What do you mean by that emphatic tone? What is all this bombastic
sermon about? What manners are these? My friend, you are grotesque.
Those lines should be repeated simply, naturally and with the utmost
artlessness. Remember that it is _the good La Fontaine_ who speaks!
[accenting each syllable] _the-good-La-Fon-taine_--do you hear? There is
but one way possible to render the lines faithfully. Listen to me.'
"Here the professor tapped his snuff-box,--compressed his lips, dropped
the corners of his mouth in an ironical fashion, slightly contracting
his eyes, lifting his eyebrows, moving his head five or six times from
right to left, and began the lines in a firm and somewhat nasal tone.
"Ah!" I cried, amazed, 'there is no other way ... what wonderful
artlessness, simplicity and truth to nature!'
"So I set to work upon a new basis, saying to myself: 'Now, at last, I
have got the natural style which fits the spirit of this charming work.
I am very curious to know the impression which I shall make to-morrow on
my third teacher.'
"The moment came. I struck an attitude into which I introduced the
elliptic expressions shown to me the day before, and with the
confidence inspired in me by a sense of the naturalness with which I was
pervaded, I began:
"'Nor gold nor great....'
"'Wretch!' cried my third professor. 'What do you mean by that senile
manner, that tart voice! What a Cassandra-like tone! You disgrace those
beautiful lines, miserable fellow!'
"'But, but, but. I will drop you from the list of my pupils, if you dare
to utter a remark! You can do very well when you wish! But every now and
then you are subject to certain eccentric flights. You sometimes imitate
X---- well enough to be mistaken for him; then you are detestable, for you
change your nature, and I will not permit it. Besides, it is a vulgar
type. Stay, you looked like him just then, and it was hideous.
"'Now, listen, and bear my lesson well in mind: _there is but one proper
way of reciting those lines_, do you hear? _There is but one way_, and
this is it.'
"Here, my professor took a pensive attitude: then, as if crushed by the
weight of some melancholy memory, he cast slowly around him a look in
which the bitterness of a deep disappointment was painted. He heaved a
sigh, raised his eyes to heaven, still keeping his head bent, and began
in a grave, muffled and sustained voice:
"'Nor gold nor greatness....'
"'See,' said my master, 'with what art I manage to create a pathetic
situation out of those lines! That is what you should imitate!'
"'Ah! my dear master, you are right; that is the only reading worthy of
that masterpiece. Heavens, how beautiful!' I said to myself; 'decidedly,
my _noble_ teacher and my _natural_ teacher understood nothing about
this work. What an effect I shall make to-morrow at my fourth
"Alas! a fresh disappointment awaited me at the hands of my fourth
master. He was, perhaps, even more pitiless than the others to all the
meanings that I strove to express.
"'Why, my poor boy,' said he, 'where the deuce did you hunt up such
meanings?' What a sepulchral tone! What is the meaning of that cavernous
voice? And why that mournful dumb show? Heaven forgive me! it is
melodrama that you offer us! you have done no great thing. You have
completely crippled poor La Fontaine.'
"'Alas! alas!' said I to myself, 'is my dramatic teacher as absurd as
the other two?'"
After the three preceding imitations, just as the audience had reached
the height of merriment, the story-teller stopped.
"I will excuse you, gentlemen, from the reasonings of my fourth
professor, for I do not wish to prolong my discourse indefinitely."
If this retreat was an orator's artifice--which may well be,--it was a
There was a shout: "_The fourth! the fourth!_"
"Well, gentlemen, the fourth, like the other three, claimed that his was
the _only correct style_: I made no distinction between verse and prose,
thus following the false method recently established by the
Théâtre-Français. To his mind the cadence of the verse and the euphonic
charm should outweigh every other interest. The pauses which I made
destroyed its measure. I had no idea of caesura, my gestures destroyed
its harmony, etc., etc. His pedagogic manner had nothing in common with
that of his brethren."
This episode was not a mere witticism on Delsarte's part; he intended it
to prove his constant assertion--and with persistent right,--that
previous to his discovery, art, destitute of law and of science, had had
none but chance successes.
Delsarte closed this session by a summary of the law and the science
which I have set forth in this book; but I must say it was at this
moment especially that he seemed anxious that his religious convictions
should profit by his artistic wealth; all outside the sphere of rational
demonstration is treated from a lofty standpoint, it is true, and is
freed from the commonplaceness of _the letter_, but we can recognize
none but a poetic and literary merit in it.
It is to this latter period of his existence that many will doubtless
try to fasten the synthesis of this great personality; but if any one
wishes to gain an idea of François Delsarte, of his ability, the extent
of his views, the power of his reason, the graces of his mind, his
artistic perfection, it is in his law, in his science, in the memories
which his lectures and his concerts left in the press of the time, that
such an one must seek to understand him.
Delsarte's Last Years.
Before concluding these essays, my homage to the innovating spirit, the
matchless art, the sympathetic and generous nature of François Delsarte,
I make a final appeal to my memory, and, first, I invoke afresh the
testimony of others.
_La Patrie_, June 18, 1857, says in an enthusiastic and lengthy article:
"His deep knowledge, his incessant labors, his long and fatiguing
studies, have not allowed his life to pass unnoted; but although great
renown, attached in a short space to his name, has sufficed for the
legitimate demands of his pride, it has done nothing, it must be owned,
to provide for the wants which the negligences of genius do not always
Then, apropos of Gluck and other unappreciated composers of genius, the
author of the article, Franck Marie, goes on:
"With the confidence to which I recently referred, Delsarte has
undertaken the reform. Sure of the success which shall crown his bold
undertaking, he began almost unaided, a movement which was no less than
a revolution. Between two snatches from Romagnesi or Blangini, the
majestic pages of Gluck appeared to the surprise of the auditor. The
heroes of the great master took the place of Thyrcis and Colin, the
songs of Pergolese and Handel, coming from the inspired mouth of the
virtuoso, at once aroused unknown sensations. Lully and Rameau,
rejuvenated in their turn, surprised by beauties hitherto unsuspected."
Earlier still (in the _Presse_ for December 6, 1840) in an article
signed Viscount Charles Delaunay are these lines:
"We are, to-night, to hear an admirable singer (Delsarte). He is said to
be the Talma of music; he makes the most of Gluck's songs, as Talma made
the most of Racine's verses. We must hasten, for his enthusiastic
admirers would never pardon us if we arrived in the middle of the air
from 'Alcestis;' and if all we hear be true, we could never be consoled
ourselves, for having missed half of it."
March 14, 1860, we read in the _L'Independance Beige:_
"Among the many concerts announced there is one which is privileged to
attract the notice of the _dilettanti_. We refer to that announced,
almost naively, by the two lines: Concert by François Delsarte, Tuesday,
April 4.--Nothing more! These two lines tell everything! Why give a
program? Who is there in the enlightened world who would not be anxious
to be present at a concert given by Delsarte? For, at _his_ concert, he
will sing--he who never sings anywhere, at any price. Observe what I
say: _never anywhere, at any price_, and I do not exaggerate."
This assertion, which shows the indifference of Delsarte to the
speculative side of art, is not without a certain analogy to the fact
which follows. At one of his concerts he was to be aided by one of the
great celebrities of the time; Rachel was to recite a scene from some
The actress failed to appear. Some few outcries were heard. Delsarte
considered this a protest: "I beg those who are only here to hear
Mademoiselle Rachel," said he, "to step to the box-office. The price of
their tickets will be returned." Applause followed these words, and the
artist sang in a way to leave no room for regret.
I quote the following lines from an article published by the "_Journal
des Villes et des Campagnes_" in reference to a lecture given in the
great amphitheatre of the Medical School, March 11, 1867:
"Should I say lecture? It was rather a chat--simple, and wholly free
from academic forms. In somewhat odd, perhaps, but picturesque and
original form, M. Delsarte told us healthy and strengthening
truths:--'The misery of luxury devours us, but the truth makes no
display; it is modestly bare.'.... 'Art may convince by deceit; then it
blinds. When it carries conviction by contemplating truth, it
enlightens. Art may persuade by evil; then it hardens. When it persuades
by goodness, it perfects.' These are noble words. Orator, poet,
metaphysician, artist, M. Delsarte offers new horizons to the soul."
The sources whence I draw are not exhausted, but I must pause.
Thus all have hailed him with applause! Save for some few interested
critics, without distinction of opinions, political, religious or
philosophical, all differences were silenced by this admirable harmony
of the highest æsthetic faculties: the spirit of justice conquered party
But whatever may have been said--and whatever may still be said,--those
who never heard Delsarte can never be made to comprehend him: in him,
feeling, intellect, physical beauty and beauty of expression formed a
magnificent assemblage of natural gifts and of acquired faculties. In
this distinguished personality nature became art, to prove to us that
outside her limits, as outside the limits of science, arbitrary
agreement and the caprices of imagination can create nothing noble and
great, persuasive and touching.
With this artist there was never anything to betray the _artificiality_
of a situation; interpreted by him, the creation, the invention, became
real. 'From his lips a cry never seemed a studied effect. It was the
rending of a bosom. A tear seemed to come straight from the heart; his
gesture was conscious of what it had to teach us; in all these
applications "of the sign to the thing," there was never an error, never
a mistake. It was _truth_ adorned by _beauty_. In his singing, roulades
became true bursts of laughter or true sobs.
Yes, all these things surpass description.
But what any and every mind may appreciate, is the lovable, loving and
generous nature which invested these transcendant qualities with
simplicity, with charm and with life. Delsarte had a wealth of
sentiment which overflowed upon the humble and the outcast, as well as
upon those favored by nature and by fortune. Without the riches which he
knew not how to gain, disdainful as he was of petty and sinuous ways, he
was benevolent in spite of his moderate means.
He gave, perhaps, oftener than he accepted payment for them, his time,
his knowledge and his advice to all who needed them. He admitted to his
classes pupils whose beautiful voices were their only wealth, and who
could pay him only in hope.
We may say of François Delsarte, that so sympathetic a nature is rarely
seen in this world of ours, where still prevail--tyrants to be
destroyed--so much antagonism, jealousy and rivalry. If some few of the
weaknesses natural to poor humanity may be laid to his charge, no one
had a greater right to redemption than he.
He once distressed a fashionable woman by speaking severely to her of
one of her friends. She was much troubled, but out of respect, dared not
complain. Delsarte saw tears in her eyes. He instantly confessed his
fault, and acknowledged, with the utmost frankness, that he spoke from
hearsay, and very lightly. He added that this mistake should be a lesson
to him, and that he would think twice before becoming the echo of evil
If, touching his science and his art, this master often made assertions
which might seem conceited, aside from those convictions which, to his
mind, had the character of orthodoxy, he used forms of speech of which
judges without authority would never have dreamed. I have heard him say:
"I cannot be much of a connoisseur in regard to pianists, for I only
like to hear Chopin."
He was always ready to praise the amateurs who came to him for a
hearing, even if they were the pupils of other masters, finding out
among all their faults, the little acquirements or talent which he could
from their performance; sure, it is true, to correct them if he
afterward became their instructor.
Honors and fortune seemed within his grasp when he neared his end.
America offered him immense advantages, with a yearly salary of $20,000,
to found a conservatory in one of her cities. A street in Solesmes was
named for him. The King of Hanover sent him, as an artist, the Guelph
Cross, and, as a friend, a photograph of himself and family; it was to
this prince, the patron of art, that Delsarte wrote regarding his
"Episodes of a Revelator:"
"I am at this moment meditating a book singular for more than one
reason, which will be no less novel in form than in idea.... I know not
what fate is in store for this work, or if I shall succeed in seeing it
in print during my lifetime."
He did not realize this dream.
It was at about this same time that Jenny Lind took a long journey to
hear him and to consult him about her art.
At the period of the war of 1870-1871, Delsarte took refuge at
Solesmes, his native place. He left Paris, with his family, Sept. 10,
1870. Already ill, he lived there sad, and crushed by the misfortunes of
his country. Nevertheless, during this stay, he developed various points
in his method, and there his two daughters wrote at his dictation the
manuscript, "Episodes of a Revelator;" his intellect had lost none of
its vigor, but his nature was shadowed.
François Delsarte returned to Paris March 10, 1871, after his voluntary
exile. He soon yielded to a painful disease, doubtless regretting that
he had not finished his work, but courageous and submissive.
As far as it lay in my power, my task is done. I have furnished
documents for the history of the arts; I have aroused and tried to fix
attention upon that luminous point which was threatened with oblivion.
Now I call for the aid of all, that the work of memory may be
There are still among us many admirers of François Delsarte, many hearts
that loved him; a sort of silent freemasonry has been established
between them; when they meet in society, at the theatre, at concerts,
they recognize each other by mutual signs of regret or disappointment.
His name is pronounced, a few words are interchanged.
"Oh! those were happy days. Will his like ever be seen again?"
To these I say: Let us unite to assure him his place in the annals which
assert the glories of the artist and the man of science! Why should we
not combine soon to raise a statue on the modest grave where he lies?
Why should we not do for the innovator in the arts what the country
daily does for mechanical inventors and soldiers?
The Literary Remains of François Delsarte.
Translated by Abby L. Alger.
_Part Fifth contains François Delsarte's own words._
_The manuscripts were purchased of Mme. Delsarte with the understanding
that they were all she had of the literary remains of her illustrious
husband. They are published by her authorisation._
_The reader will probably notice that at times Delsarte talks as if
addressing an audience. This he really did, and some of the manuscripts
are headings or draughts of his lectures before learned societies or of
talks at his own private sessions._
_These writings are given to the public in the same fragmentary
condition that Delsarte left them in. They were written upon sheets of
paper, scraps of paper, doors, chairs, window casements and other
objects. A literal translation has been made, without a word of comment,
and without any attempt at editing them. The aim has been to let
Delsarte speak for himself, believing that the reader would rather have
Delsarte's own words even in this disjointed, incomplete form--mere
rough notes--than to have them supplemented, annotated, interpreted and
very likely perverted by another person._
_Edgar S. Werner._
[Illustration: François Delsarte.]
Extract from the Last Letter to the King of Hanover
I am at this moment meditating a book, singular for more than one
reason, whose form will be no less novel than its contents. Your majesty
will read it, I hope, with interest.
The title of this book is to be: "My Revelatory Episodes, or the History
of an Idea Pursued for Forty Years."
It will be my task to connect and condense into a single narrative all
the circumstances of my life which had as logical consequences the
numerous discoveries which it has been granted me to follow up,
discoveries which my daily occupations left me neither time nor ability
to set forth as a whole.
I know not what fate is reserved for this book. I know not whether I
shall succeed in seeing it in print during my lifetime. The minds of men
are, in these evil days, so little disposed to serious ideas, that it
seems to me difficult to find a publisher disposed to publish things so
far removed from the productions of the century.
But, however it may be, if I succeed in getting at least some part of my
work printed, I crave, sire, your majesty's permission to offer the
dedication to you. This favor I entreat not only as an honor, but also
as an opportunity to pay public homage to all the kindnesses which your
majesty has never ceased to lavish upon me.
The subject in question was a scene in the play of the _Maris-Garçons_.
The young officer, whose part I was studying, met his former landlord
after an absence of several years, and as he owed him some money, he
desired to show himself cordial.
"Ah! how are you, papa Dugrand?" he says, on encountering him. This
apostrophe is, therefore, a mixture of surprise, soldierly bluntness and
At the first words I was stopped short by an almost insurmountable
difficulty. This difficulty was all in my gesture. Do what I would, my
manner of accosting papa Dugrand was grotesque; and all the lessons that
were given me on that scene, all the pains I took to profit by those
lessons, effected no change. I paced to and fro, saying and resaying the
words: "How are you, papa Dugrand?" Another scholar in my place would
have gone on; but the greater the difficulty seemed to me, the higher my
ardor rose. However, I had my labor for my pains.
"That's not it," said my instructors. Good heavens! I knew that as well
as they did; but what I did not know was _why_ that was not it. It seems
that my professors were equally ignorant, since they could not tell me
exactly in what my way differed from theirs.
The specification of that difference would have enlightened me, but all
remained, with them as with me, subject to the uncertain views of a
"Do as I do," they said to me, one after the other.
Zounds! the thing was easier said than done.
"Put more enthusiasm into your greeting to papa Dugrand!"
The greater my enthusiasm, the more laughable was my awkwardness.
"See here; watch my movements carefully!"
"I do watch, but I don't know how to go to work to imitate you; I don't
seize the details of your gesture." (It varied with every repetition.)
"I don't understand why your examples, with which I am satisfied, lead
to nothing in me."
"You don't understand! You don't understand! It's very simple! Really,
your wits must have gone wool-gathering, my poor boy, if you are unable
to do what I have shown you so many times. Watch closely now!"
"I am watching, sir, with all my eyes."
"You certainly see that the first thing is to stretch out your arms to
your papa Dugrand, since you are so pleased to see him again!"
I stretched out my arms to their utmost extent; but my body, not
following the movement, still wanted poise, and recoiled into a
grotesque attitude. My teacher, for lack of basic principles to guide
him, was unable to correct my awkwardness; and, vexed at his inability
which he wished to conceal, fell back on blaming my unlucky intellect.
"Fool," said he finally, "you are hopelessly stupid! Why are you so
embarrassed? Are my examples, then, worthless?"
"Indeed, sir, your examples are perfect."
"Well, then, imitate them, imbecile!"
"I will try, sir."
In this, as in all preceding lessons, I could give only a blind
imitation, which had not the small merit of being twice alike, even in
my own eyes, for every time I reproduced them I observed marked
variations which the master did not perceive.
I went to my room, as I had done many times before, with tears in my
eyes and despair in my heart, to renew my useless efforts, vainly
turning and returning in all lights my unfortunate papa Dugrand.
This cruel ordeal lasted five months without the least progress to
lessen its bitterness.
Heaven knows with what ardor I cultivated my papa Dugrand! I thought of
him by day, and I dreamed of him by night. I clung to him with all the
frenzy of despair, for I was determined not to be beaten. I was bound to
triumph at any cost, for it was life or death to me. I resolved not to
give up papa Dugrand, even though he should resist me ten years!
My unceasing repetitions of (to them abominable) papa Dugrand caused my
comrades to call me a bore. In short, I became disagreeable to all
around me. Alas! all this study, all these efforts, could not overcome
the stubborn resistance of papa Dugrand. My teachers were at their wits'
end, and finally refused to give me another lesson on the subject. But
nothing could daunt the ardor of my zeal.
One day I was measuring the court-yard of the Conservatory, as usual, in
company with papa Dugrand, and repeating my "how are you?" in every
variety of tone, when, all at once, having got as far as: "How are you,
pa--," I stopped short without finishing my phrase. It was interrupted
by the sight of a cousin of mine, whose visit was most unexpected.
"Ah! how are you?" I said; "how are you, dear cou--"
Here my words were again interrupted by a surprise; but this surprise
was far greater than that caused by the appearance of my cousin. Struck
by the analogy between this greeting and the unstudied attitude which I
had assumed under the action of a genuine emotion, I cried in a
transport of joy which bewildered my innocent cousin: "Leave me--don't
disturb me--I've got it--wait for me--stay where you are--I've got it."
"But what is it that you've got?"
"The dickens, papa Dugrand!"
Thereupon I vanished like a flash, to run to my mirror and reproduce to
my sight papa Dugrand, Judge of my astonishment: not only my gesture,
until now so persistently awkward, seemed suddenly metamorphosed and
became harmonious and natural; but, stranger yet, it did not correspond
in the least to what had been prescribed. However, it was nature herself
that had revealed this to me. Then, the movements of my body, but a
moment before so discordant in my eyes, had acquired, under the
influence of this gesture inspired from above, an ease and a grace that
filled me with surprise. Without doubt, I now possessed the truth. An
emotion, spontaneously produced and so deeply felt, could not result in
This is what had happened under the action of a natural surprise:
My hands were not extended toward the object of my surprise--not the
least in the world. By an anterior extension of the arms, they were
raised high above my head, which, far from being uplifted with the
exultation which I had hitherto simulated, was lowered to my breast; and
my body, stranger yet, instead of bending toward the attractive object,
bent suddenly backward.
What a blow nature had given to my masters! What an overthrowal of all
conjectures! My reason, before this sovereign decision, was humbled and
dumbfounded. What arguments could my instructors invoke in the face of
"What," thought I, "are my masters absolutely ignorant of the laws of
"What, does their reason, as well as mine, know nothing of all this?
How is it that this much-praised reason has inspired me with effects
precisely opposite to those that were prescribed? What is reason? Is it,
then, a blind faculty?"
Let us first see what these strange phenomena, whose importance I cannot
deny without denying nature herself, signify.
I was in the midst of these reflections when the recollection of my
cousin came into my mind.
"Good heavens," thought I; "I had forgotten all about my poor cousin;
what will he think? I will hurry down, and, lest my precious ideas take
flight, send him away, and return to my reflections.
"Wretch that I am; I think only how to get rid of him, when he has so
enriched me! This is a lesson to me. Poor boy! What opinion will he have
of me? Ah, that is he whom I see stretched out on that stone bench. He
has been patient, indeed. I believe that he is asleep!"
"No, I am not asleep," said he, rising; "I am furious! Explain, if you
are not too insane to be rational, the extraordinary manner in which you
received me. Do you know that I have been waiting here for you more than
"Ah, my dear cousin," said I, embracing him warmly, "you do not know
what a service you have rendered me. I embrace you now, my good friend,
for the wonderful lesson you have given me. Without you I should never
have found it out, and, rest assured, I shall never forget it."
"What? Who? What is it?"
"Zounds, papa Dugrand! I freely acknowledge that I have learned more
from you in one second than from all my masters during four years."
"Are you in your right senses?"
The matter was finally explained. My cousin then told me about my home
and my family; but I must confess that I paid little attention to the
good news that he brought me, so excited and preöccupied was my mind.
Even then I could not help thinking of the fragility of the heart in its
affections. We soon separated, and I hurried to my room, which seemed to
me on this day-paradise itself.
I gave myself up to my interrupted course of reflections.
I had proved the impotence of my own reason, and also that of my
masters. Now, as it was not probable that all my teachers and myself
were more stupid than the rest of mankind--the common herd--I concluded
that reason is blind in the matter of principles, and that all her
instructions would be powerless to guide me in my researches. But, from
another side, it was evident to me that without this reason I could not
utilize a principle. What is human reason, that faculty at once of so
little avail and yet so precious? What role does it play in art? I feel
that this is most important for me to know.
The answer to this question must spring from the study of the phenomena
of instinct. Let us examine, then, what nature offers us freely.
If these phenomena are directed by a physiological or a spiritual
necessity, a necessity on which instinct is based, I am forced to admit,
here, a reason that is not my reason; a superior, infallible reason in
the disposition of things; a reason that laughs at my reason, which, in
spite of itself, must submit under pain of falling into absurdity. I
feel that it is only by this absolute submission of my reason that it
can rise to the reason of things, since, of itself, it would know
nothing. [See definition of reason.]
Let us seek, then, without prejudice, the reason of the things that
interested me, in order that my own reason may be raised to a higher
plane. And when it shall be illumined with the light that must break
upon it from the superior reason, I feel that my reason can generalize
instruction, and will be all-powerful in arranging the conclusions that
it may deduce. I am aware, from the utter impotence of my reason, that
all principles must be accepted humbly, in order to understand the
deductions. My reason does not know how to lead me to principles of
which it is ignorant; but it knows how to guide me back. In other words,
it is a blind person _a priori_, it is a luminary _a posteriori_. Though
it may not know at first, once shown, it readily recognizes; though it
may not divine, it learns by study; though it may not seize, it
retains, masters and generalizes.
Reason, then, is a reflex power, and as such, if, in a matter of
principle, it recognizes itself as impotent and even absurd _a priori_,
it knows that once in possession of the principle, it borrows from its
light and becomes identified with it--an incomparable power of
Let the reason of the attitudes that I had observed be once shown me,
and my individual reason would possess the Archimedean lever with which
I might open unknown worlds.
My reason! Ah! I will identify it with the reason of things!
Henceforward this shall be my method, this shall be my law.
But the reason of things--who will give it to me? Is it not my reason
itself? Oh, mystery! I will follow thee to the depths of thy abyss. Thou
shalt have no more secrets from me, for God has said that He hides only
from the wise and prudent man, but reveals Himself to the simple and to
children. Yes, these things shall be given to me through my reason, if
it will bow itself and be attentive and humble; if it will patiently
await the teachings of a mute and persevering observation; if it will
subordinate itself to the intuitive lights that constitute genius; and,
finally, if it knows how to estimate things other than itself.
Thus my reason, established, inflamed, consumed by the charm of its
contemplation, will be transfigured in order to be more closely united
to the sovereign reason toward which it ever reaches out.
The first fruit of my observation consists in making me recognize, in
the facts examined, the proof of a superior and infallible reason, and
then to arm against my individual reason and all its errors. Another
thing yet more strange, but easily comprehended on reflection, is that
to this defiance, this contempt of self, I owe the boldness and the
power of my investigations.
Let us see, now, from which observations the preceding thoughts are the
In the phrase, "How are you, etc.," my reason dictated this triple,
parallel movement: Advancing the head, and the arms, with the torso on
the fore-leg. Now, the similar phrase, "How are you, dear cousin,"
although uttered in a situation identical with that of papa Dugrand,
produced phenomena diametrically opposed to those that my reason had
said were the only ones admissible. Is it not reasonable to suppose that
the sight of an agreeable or loved object will excite in us a genuine
feeling that before we had vainly striven to simulate? Does it not seem
natural to extend the hand to a friend when, with affectionate surprise,
we exclaim: "How are you, dear friend?" And should we ever think of
drawing the body away from the object that attracts us? Finally, does it
not seem that the head should be raised, the better to see that which
Ah, no! All these things, apparently so true and so perfectly clear,
are radically false. Facts prove this beyond a doubt, and with facts
there can be on discussion, no argument. We must admit them _a priori_
or renounce the truth. Here, as in all questions of principle, _the
greatest act of reason consists in an act of faith_. This is absolutely
In the phrase, "How are you, papa Dugrand," the arms should be raised,
the head lowered and the torso thrown back, supporting itself on the
back leg. This was indeed a blow to the presumption of my poor reason,
but should it complain? No, for it has gained even from its confusion
most fruitful instruction.
Let us see. In questioning the effects and the analogy, we shall
doubtless explain their reason of being. Why should the head become
lowered? I do not see all at first sight; but let us generalize the
question and probably it will specify itself.
When does a man bow his head before the object which strikes his eye?
When he considers or examines it.
Does he never consider things with head raised?
Yes, when he considers them with a feeling of pride. It is thus that he
rules them or exalts them; and also when he questions them with his
glance; in fine, when what he sees astonishes or surprises him.
This last statement contradicts the example in question, and seems to
condemn it. Not the least in the world. How is this? Thus: when the
astonishment or the surprise is not intense enough to shake the frame,
the head wherein all the surprise is concentrated, is lifted and
exalted. But so soon as that surprise is great enough to raise the
shoulders and the arms, as by a galvanic shock, the head takes an
inverse direction, it sinks and seems anxious to become solid to offer
more resistance to that which might attack it, for the first instinctive
movement in such a case is to guard against any unpleasant event; then
if the head is lifted to look at that which surprises it, it is because
it has no great interest in the recognition of that which it considers;
but as soon as that interest commands it to examine, to recognize, it is
instantly lowered and placed in the state of expectation.
O, now it becomes clear.
Now, how does surprise cause us to lift our arms?
The shoulder, in every man who is agitated or moved, rises in exact
proportion to the intensity of his emotion.
It thus becomes the thermometer of the emotions. Now, the commotion that
imprints a strong impression, communicates to the arms an ascending
motion which may lift them high above the head.
But why do not the arms, in an agreeable surprise, tend toward the
object of that surprise?
The arm should move gently toward the object that it wishes to caress.
Under the rapid action of surprise, therefore, it could only injure or
repel that object.
This it does in affright.
But instinct--that marvelous agent of divine reason--in that case turns
the arms away from the object which they might injure by the rapidity of
their sudden extension, and directs them toward heaven, leads them to
rise as if expressing thanks for an unexpected joy, so true it is that
everything is turned to use and is modified under the empire of our
instinct. Certainly, there is no similarity between this and the
superfluous action, the inconsequent movements determined by the working
of a rule without a reason. And this is so because in all that instinct
suggests, it is the Supreme Artist himself who disposes of us and acts
in us, while whatever is suggested by a reason insufficiently inspired
by the contemplation of the divine handiwork is fatally incoherent, for
we thus pretend to substitute ourselves for God, and God thenceforth
leaving us to ourselves, surrenders us to all the discordant effects of
an inconsequential and vain conception.
It remains to find the justificatory reason for this retroactive
movement of the body, which seems illogical at first sight.
Let us inquire in what case and under the action of what emotions a man
may shrink from the object which he is considering.
In the first place, he shrinks back whenever it inspires him with a
feeling of repulsion. He shrinks from it particularly when it inspires
him with fright. This is a matter of course and self-evident.
In what case does the body take an inverse direction to the object
which attracts it? This we must know before we can explain the
phenomenon in question.
We move away from the thing which we contemplate to prove to it,
doubtless, the respect and veneration that it inspires. In fact, it
seems a lack of respect to that which we love to approach it too
closely; we move away that we may not profane it by a contact which it
seems might injure its purity.
Thus the retrograde movement may be the sign of reverence and
salutation, and moreover a token that the object before which it is
produced is more eminent and more worthy of veneration.
A salutation without moving shows but little reverence, and should only
occur in the case of an equal or an inferior.
In justification of the actual fact, let me give another observation of
quite another importance.
When a painter examines his work, he moves away from it perceptibly. He
moves away in proportion to the degree of his admiration of it, so that
the retroactive movement of his body is in equal ratio to the interest
that he feels in contemplating his work, whence it follows that the
painter who examines his work in any other way, reveals his indifference
The picture-dealer usually proceeds in quite another manner. He examines
it closely and with a magnifying-glass in hand. Why is this? Because it
is less the picture which he examines than the handiwork of the painter,
the actual work which is the chief object of his survey.
But why does the artist move away from the work which he contemplates?
The better to seize the total impression. For instance: if it be a full
length portrait and the artist studies it too closely he sees, I will
suppose, the nose of his portrait and nothing more. If he moves a little
farther off he sees a little more, he sees the head; still farther and
he sees both the head and the torso which supports it. Finally, moving
still farther away, he gets a view of the whole and thus seizes its
harmonious relations. This inspection may be called synthetic vision,
and in opposition to this, direct vision, which I assumed before
instinct taught me better, is but short and limited.
To sum up: If instinct did not lead us to retroact, to examine an object
unexpectedly offered to our gaze, each surprise would expose us to
Now we must retroact to see an object as a whole and not expose
ourselves to error, and then, too, does not the love which a creature
inspires within us naturally extend to the medium which surrounds him,
and in this way does it not seem as if all that touched him partook of
his life and thus acquired some title to our contemplation?
Thus my mind, tortured by one preoccupying thought, had, thanks to the
fixed idea which swayed it, found wondrous lessons in the simple
incident of my cousin's return, otherwise so devoid of interest; and I
may truly say that the lesson learned from meeting my cousin taught me
more than all those I had received in the space of three years. In
short, I had learned how vain is advice dictated by the caprice of a
master without a system! I had learned the inanity of individual reason
in a matter of experience. I knew that certain laws existed, that those
laws proceeded from a Supreme Reason, an immense centre of light, of
which each man's reason is but a single ray. I knew without a doubt how
ignorant my masters were of those laws to the study of which I meant to
devote my life. I possessed facts which I saw could be applied in
countless ways, luminous doctrines radiating from the application.
Thenceforth I had the nucleus of the science I had so vainly asked of my
masters, and I did not despair of formulating it.
Judge of my joy! The facts I then found myself the possessor of, seemed
to me more valuable than all the treasures of the world.
Some time later, I again saw my worthy cousin, the innocent cause of all
my joys. He was a medical student, and came to propose a visit to the
dissecting-room. I did not hesitate to accept; the proposal harmonized
with my desire.
I did not go, as so many go to the morgue, merely to see dead bodies.
No; the curiosity that impelled me, and the avidity with which I pursued
the object of my study, was not to be so easily satisfied.
Dead bodies only attracted me when they were--if not dissected--at least
flayed. Children break their dolls to see what there is inside; so I,
too, wanted to see what there was in a corpse. It seemed to me that
under the mutilations which the scalpel had inflicted on the body, I
should find the answer to more than one enigma--might solve some of the
secrets of life.
The prospect of this visit had the charm of a pleasure party to me. I
made it a holiday and awaited the hour with impatience.
But, on arriving, when I found myself in that place chill and gloomy as
the tomb; when I felt choked by the mephitic gases that arose from this
seat of infection; when I found myself in the presence of a heap of
corpses mutilated by the scalpel, disfigured by putrefaction and
partially devoured by rats and worms; when, beneath tables laden with
these horrible remains, I saw mean tubs filled with human entrails
mingled with limbs and heads severed from their trunks; when I felt
fragments of flesh reduced to the state of filthy mud, clinging to my
feet, my heart throbbed violently, and I was overcome by an
indescribable sense of repulsion.
"What," I said to myself, "those shapeless and putrifying masses have
lived! They have thought, they have loved! And, who would believe it
from the horror and disgust that they inspire, they have been loved,
cherished, perhaps adored! Ah! if, as some think, the soul is not
immortal, if so many aspirations, so many schemes, so many hopes are to
end here--what is man?"
But yet more lamentable food for thought was reserved for me: the
spectacle of a ruin yet more profound than those which my eyes could
scarce endure, was to appear before me in all its hideousness.
In fact, there reigns in these gloomy halls where no tear has ever
fallen, no prayer has ever been heard and no ray of hope has ever
pierced--there reigns something yet colder than death, something more
unwholesome, more nauseous, more deleterious than the putrid miasmas
that infect the air, something more sad to see than the nameless
fragments of extinct life, something more loathsome than those filthy
and disgusting remnants, something more repulsive than those noses eaten
by worms and those empty eyeballs devoured by rats. I mean the cynicism
of the dwellers in that place; I mean their insensibility, their
indifference and calm heedlessness in the presence of such grave
subjects for thought. I mean that lack of perception, that spirit of
negation and revolt of which those wretched men make a boast and which
they obstinately oppose to all religious sentiment, all principle of
tradition or revealed authority. I mean the atheism and ceaseless
mockery with which they invariably meet any generous impulse aroused in
an honest soul by a healthy faith.
This struck me even more sensibly than the spectacle of death and
dissolution which I have striven to describe. Thus the apparently living
men who haunt this spot are more truly dead than the corpses upon which
they exercise their pretended science. They seemed to me ruins far more
terrible than those of the body, ruins which repelled all hope, being
born of doubt and leading to negation.
If the mutilated and half-devoured bodies that lay before me, filled me
with horror and disgust, they, at least, left within me a faint
lingering hope surviving death; but the state of blindness of those
souls who have lost consciousness of their being and even the feeling of
their existence, the shadowy abyss into which they allow themselves
complaisantly to glide, the nullity which they adorn with the title of
science,--all this filled me with fright, for I felt the doubt and
despair into which contact with it would inevitably have plunged me,
if, by a special favor, the tone and mimetics, alike self-sufficient and
mocking, of these free-thinkers, as they are now styled, had not, from
the first, inspired me with aversion for them and a salutary hatred of
And yet, amidst so many repulsive objects, the faculty of observation to
which I already owed such fruitful remarks was not dormant in me: I had
already asked myself by what evident sign one could recognize a recent
From this point of view, I made a rapid exploration, and I questioned
the various corpses left almost intact; I sought in some portion of the
body, common to all, a form or a sign invariably found in all.
The hand furnished me that sign and responded fully to my question.
I noticed, in fact, that in all these corpses the thumb exhibited a
singular attitude--that of adduction or attraction inward, which I had
never noted either in persons waking or sleeping.
This was a flash of light to me. To be yet more sure of my discovery, I
examined a number of arms severed from the trunk; they showed the same
tendency. I even saw hands severed from the forearm; and, in spite of
this severing of the flexor muscles, the thumb still revealed this same
sign. Such persistence in the same fact could not allow of the shadow of
a doubt: I possessed the sign-language of death, the semeiotics of the
I rejoiced, foreseeing the service which this discovery would render
upon a battle-field, for instance, where more than one man risks being
buried alive. I divined, moreover, something of its artistic importance.
I then questioned my cousin and the other students present in regard to
the symptomatics of death, and I saw with surprise that, not only had
the expression of this phenomenon escaped them hitherto, but that they
had no exact and precise knowledge concerning this grave and important
There remained, in order to complete my discovery and to deduce useful
results from it, to verify the symptom on the dying man. It was
important for me to know in what degree it might become manifest on the
approach of death.
My wishes were gratified as if by magic, for I was led from the school
of anatomy to that of clinical medicine. There a house-student, a friend
of my cousin, placed me beside a dying patient, and I examined with the
utmost attention the hands of the unhappy man struggling against the
clutches of inevitable death.
At first I observed something strange in regard to myself, namely that
the emotion which such a sight would have caused me under any other
circumstances, was absolutely null at this moment; close attention
dulled all feeling in me. I then understood the courage which may
inspire the surgeon in the discharge of his duty; and I drew from this
observation deductions of great artistic interest.
Now I proved that the thumbs of the dying man contracted at first in
almost imperceptible degree; but as the last struggle drew near, and in
the supreme efforts made by the patient to hold fast to the life which
was slipping from him, I saw all his fingers convulsively directed
toward the palm of the hand, thus hiding the thumbs which had previously
approached that centre of convergence. Death speedily followed this
crisis and soon restored to the fingers a more normal position; but the
contraction of the thumb persistently conformed to my previous
observations. The presence and progress of this phenomenon in the dying
was invariably confirmed by numerous tests which I afterward tried.
Thus, I had acquired the proof that, not only does the total adduction
of the thumb characterize death, but that this phenomenon indicates the
approach of death in proportion to its intensity. I, therefore,
possessed the fundamental principle of a system of semeiotics hitherto
unknown to physiologists; but this principle, already so full of
interest, must be made profitable to art.
A multitude of pictures, which in former times I had admired at the
museum, passed before my mind's eye. I recalled battle-scenes where the
dying and the dead are represented; descents from the cross where Christ
is necessarily represented as dead. The idea struck me that I would go
and verify the action of the thumb in these various representations
which the painter's fancy has given us of death.
It was on a Sunday. The Louvre was on my way to the Conservatory,
where, as is well known, I lived as pensioner.
I had often traversed the galleries of the Louvre; but now I was armed
with a criterion that would give my criticisms indisputable authority.
The ignorance of the fact I sought, even among artists of renown, was
not long in being made apparent: all those hands, where they thought
they had depicted death, afforded me nothing but the characteristics of
a more or less peaceful sleep. The correctness of my criticism may be
Thus, the mere discovery of a law sufficed to elevate a poor boy of
fifteen years, destitute of all science and deploring the deep ignorance
in which he had hitherto been left, to the height of an infallible
critic in whom the greatest artists found no mercy. I then understood
all the power, all the fertility given by an acquaintance with the laws
that regulate the nature of man, and in how much even genius itself may
be rendered sterile by ignorance of those laws which simple observation
would make them acquainted with. But, I thought, my discovery is not
complete, for if, thanks to it, I have succeeded in proving that all
these pictures of death are false, true only as representing sleep, it
is, on the other hand, impossible for me to prove in how far those
figures live, in which the painter aims to represent life. I must,
therefore, seek the sign of life to complete my standard of criticism.
Suddenly, struck with amazement by the dazzling rays of unexpected
light, I asked myself whether the criterion of death would not reveal to
me, by the law of contraries, the thermometer of life. It should _a
Still I felt that it was not here that I might be permitted to
contemplate the vital phenomena attached to the thumb: since death was
so badly rendered here, I had strong reasons for thinking that life was
no better treated.
I left the museum, then, where I had nothing more to learn; and, to
observe living mimetics of the thumb, I went out on the promenade of the
Tuileries thronged by aristocratic people. I carefully examined the
hands of this crowd, but I was not long in discovering that these
elegant idlers had nothing good to offer. "This class," I said to
myself, "is false from head to foot. They live an artificial, unnatural
life. I see in them only artifice, or an art dishonored by using it to
mask their insincerity and artificiality."
The happy idea came to me to mingle with mothers, children and nurses.
"Ah," said I, "in the midst of this throng, laughing and crying at the
same time--singing, shouting, gesticulating, jumping, dancing--here is
life! If the contemplation of this turbulent and affectionate little
world does not instruct me, where shall I find the solution I seek?"
I did not have to wait long for this solution.
I noticed nurses who were distracted and indifferent to the children
under their charge; in these the thumb was invariably drawn toward the
fingers, thus offering some resemblance to the adduction which it
manifests in death. With other nurses, more affectionate, the fingers of
the hand that held the child were visibly parted, displaying a thumb
bent outward; but this eccentration rose to still more startling
proportion in those mothers whom I saw each carrying her own child;
there the thumb was bent violently outward, as if to embrace and clasp a
Thus I was not slow to recognize that the contraction of the thumb is
inversely proportionate, its extension directly proportionate to the
affectional exaltation of the life. "No doubt," I said to myself, "the
thumb is the _thermometer of life_ in its extending progression as it is
of _death_ in its contracting progression."
Countless examples have confirmed this. I could even, on the spot, form
an idea of the degree of affection felt for the children entrusted to
their care, by the women who passed before my eyes.
Sometimes I would say: "There is a servile creature whose heart is dead
to that poor child whom she carries like an inert mass; the position of
the thumb drawn toward the fingers renders that indifference evident,"
Again it was a woman in whom the sources of life swelled high at the
contact with the dear treasure which she clasped; that woman was surely
the mother of the child she carried, the excessive opening of her thumb
left no room for doubt.
Thus my diagnostics were invariably confirmed by exact information, and
I could see to what extent the remarks which I had recorded, were
justified. I drew from them most interesting applications for my special
course of study.
Thus, suppose I had asked the same service from three men, and that each
had answered me with the single word _yes_, accompanied by a gesture of
the hand. If one of them had let his thumb approach the forefinger, it
is plain to me that he would deceive me, for his thumb thus placed tells
me that he is dead to my proposition.
If I observe in the second a slight abduction of the thumb, I must
believe that he, although indisposed to oblige me, will still do so from
But if the third abducts his thumb forcibly from the other fingers, oh!
I can count on him, he will not deceive me! The abduction of his thumb
tells me more in regard to his loyalty than all the assurances which he
might give me.
Behold, then, an intuition whose correctness the experience of forty
years has not contradicted.
It is hard to imagine the joy I felt at my discovery produced and
verified in a single day by so many examples, differing so greatly one
from another and of such diverse interest.
All the emotions of this extraordinary and fertile day had so
over-excited my imagination that I had great difficulty in calming my
poor brain, and far from being able to enjoy the rest which I so much
needed, I was a prey to wakefulness in which the turmoil of my ideas at
one time made me fear that I was going mad. I then felt for the first
time the frailty of the instrument of thought in regard to the faculty
which rules and governs it.
In brief, I was--thanks to my double discovery--in possession of a law
whose deductions ought to touch the loftiest questions of science and
art,--and I was enabled thenceforth to affirm upon strong and
irrefragable proof that the thumb, in its double sphere of action, is
the thermometer of life as well as of death.
The day after that which had been so fruitful both in emotions and
discoveries, a thousand recollections tumultuously besieged my mind and
still disturbed me. I saw that if I could not contrive to classify them
in strict order of succession, I should never be able to derive any
practical value from them. I therefore took up link by link the chain of
events of the previous day, but in inverse order. That is, I began my
course where I left off the day before, and thus proceeded toward the
Tuileries to end at the Medical School.
At the retrospective sight of all that merry, noisy little world, of all
those fat, cheerful nurses, careless and laughing as they were, of those
mothers each so tenderly expansive in contemplation of her child, so
happy in its health and strength, so joyous and so proud of its small
progress, the recollection of a phenomenon which I had not at first
observed struck me with all the force of a vivid actuality.
I should say, by the way, that it is much more to the strength of my
memory than to the present observation of facts, that I owe these
remarks. Stability is the _sine qua non_ of the things one proposes to
examine, and the memory must possess the singular power of communicating
fixity to fugitive things, permanence to instantaneousness, and
actuality to the past.
Now, the phenomena of life occurring with the rapidity of lightning can
only be studied retrospectively; that is to say, in the domain of
memory, except to be verified if the attention, free from all other
preöccupation, allows us to seize them on the wing once more. The remark
suggested to me by memory seemed all the more interesting because it
formed in a new order of facts a flagrant opposition to the opinion
formulated by my masters under the title of theory. Thus nature once
more proved to me that the only point in which I had found them to
agree, rested upon a fundamental error. I have since recognized that it
is thus in the majority of cases, so that one may almost certainly
pronounce erroneous any statement in regard to which all the masters of
This proposition at first seems inexplicable, but its reason is readily
understood by those who know the sway of falsehood over a society
perverted in its opinions as in its tastes; to those who know the
deplorable facility with which error is spread and the tenacity with
which it clings to our poor mind. Error, moreover, owes to our abasement
which it flatters and crushes, the privilege of freedom from
contradiction, and it is only in regard to truth that the minds of men
are divided and contend.
On retracing in my memory the walks I had taken in the Tuileries, I was
struck by an important fact amidst the phenomena called up: the voice
of the nurse or mother, when she caressed her child, invariably assumed
the double character of tenuity and acuteness. It was in a voice equally
sweet and high-pitched that she uttered such words as these: "How lovely
he is!" ... "Smile a little bit for mamma!" Now this caressing
intonation, impressed by nature upon the upper notes of all these
voices, forms a strange contrast to the direction which all
singing-teachers agree in formulating; a direction which consists in
augmenting the intensity of the sound in direct ratio to its acuteness.
Thus, to them, strange to say, the entire law of vocal shades would
consist in augmenting progressively the sound of the ascending phrase or
scale, and diminishing in the same proportion for a descending scale.
Now, nature, by a thousand irrefutable examples, directs us to do the
contrary, that is, she prescribes a decrease of intensity (in music,
_decrescendo_) proportionate to the ascensional force of the sounds.
Another blow, I thought, for my masters, or rather I receive it for
them, for they, poor fellows, do not feel it. But how can these
phenomena of nature have escaped them, and by what indescribable
aberration can they direct, under the name of law, a process absolutely
contrary to that so plainly followed by those same phenomena? However, I
added, every supreme error under penalty of being self-evident, must, to
endure, necessarily rest upon some truth or other. Now, on what truth do
so many masters claim to base so manifest an error? This is what we
I was now convinced that caressing, tender and gentle emotions find
their normal expression in _high_ notes. This is beyond all doubt. Thus,
according to the foregoing examples, if we propose to say to a child in
a caressing tone that he is a darling, it would clearly be very bad
taste to bellow the words at him on the pretext that, according to
singing-teachers, the intensity of the sound is augmented in direct
ratio to its acuteness.
But my memory, as if to confirm this principle, and to show its contrast
with the custom admitted by those gentlemen, suggests to me other
instances derived from the same source. Let a mother be _angry_ with her
child and threaten him with punishment; she instantly assumes a grave
tone which she strives to render powerful and intense. Here, then, on
the one hand (and nature proclaims it), the voice decreases in intensity
in proportion as it rises higher; and, on the other hand, it increases
in proportion as it sinks. This double fact, undeniably established,
constitutes an unanswerable argument against the system in question. But
it is not, therefore, necessarily its radical and absolute refutation.
No, doubtless, whatever may be the significance and the number of the
facts opposed to the directions of those gentlemen, these facts do not
seem to exclude exceptions upon which they may be founded. In fact, I
find in my memory many examples favorable to those masters. Thus, I
have seen many nurses lose their temper and still use the higher tones
of their voice; and, on the other hand, I also remark (and the remark is
important) a certain form, the appellative form, where all the
characters agree without exception in producing the greatest intensity
possible upon the high notes.
The professors of singing triumph, for they find in this appellative
form, always and necessarily sharp and boisterous at the same time, a
striking confirmation of their system. Here I seem to stray far from the
solution which I thought I already grasped! Far from it; the light is
breaking. Hitherto the examples evoked had only increased my obscurity
by their multiplicity, and I saw nothing in all these remarks but a
series of contradictions whence it seemed impossible to deduce anything
but confusion, into which I found myself plunged.
But was this confusion really in the facts which I examined, or was it
not rather the creation of my own mind? Now, in the matter of principle,
the weakness of individual reason has been too often proved to me to
allow of my attaching any other cause to the contradictions which block
my path and force me to confess my ignorance. I will not, then, here cry
_mea culpa_ for myself or for others to justify that ignorance or excuse
its confession. It must be acknowledged that God knows what He does, and
His omnipotence is assuredly guiltless of the divagations which an
impotent mind finds it convenient to attribute to it.
Now, let others in the blindness of proud reason, forget this truth,
which they contest even by opposing to it the quibbles for which
free-thinkers are never at a loss, and to escape the confusion which
they inevitably derive from the ill-studied work of the Supreme Artist.
Let them venture to attribute to it their own darkness. For my part, I
shall not thereby lose my conviction that all which seems to me
disordered or contradictory in the expression of the facts which I
question, is only apparent and only exist in my own brain.
The profound obscurity into which light plunges us does not prevent the
light from being; and the chaos of ideas which, most generally, results
from our examination of things, proves nothing against the harmonies of
The pebble virtually contains the spark, but we must know how to produce
it. Thus the phenomena of nature contain luminous lessons, but we must
know how to make them speak; and, what is more, understand their
language. Now, I would add, the spirit of God is inherent in all things;
and this spirit should, at a given moment, flash its splendors in the
eyes of an intellect alike submissive, attentive, patient and suppliant.
Moreover, does not the Gospel show us the way to fertilize
investigations such as those to which I have given my life? Does it not
say: "Knock and it shall be opened, ask and it shall be given?" Then
what must I do to find my way out of the maze in which my reason
wanders? What must I do in presence of the contradictions which
nevertheless must needs contain a fecund principle? Finally, what must I
do in order to see light break from the very heart of those obscurities
wherein light is lost?
I will seek anew, night and day, if needful; I will knock incessantly at
the door of the facts which I desire to examine. I will descend into the
secret depths of their organism; there I will patiently question every
phenomenon, every organ, and I will entreat their Author to divulge to
me their purpose, their relations and their very object.
Well! It is thus that those men, proud of their vain knowledge, were
made dizzy by the splendor of that same light which they thought that
they could subject to their investigations, and the blindness which has
fallen upon them is the punishment which God is content to inflict upon
them in this world.
Having said this, where was I in my investigations? Ah! it was here.
The memory of the high inflections invariably affected by the women whom
I had seen on the previous day, caressing their infants, struck me with
the more force that I had learned from my masters that law which had
hitherto ruled uncontested, and now underwent a refutation which
demonstrated the falsity of its applications with a clearness and
minuteness which left no room for doubt.
The examples in virtue of which I saw the errors of my masters,
unanimously proclaimed the tenuity of the voice to be in proportion to
Now this formula is, in letter as in spirit, the reverse of the
prescription upon which, by a caprice whose cause I have just explained,
all the masters of art agree.
I then perceived that my first affirmations were no better founded than
those of the masters, whose theories I had attacked. The truth of the
matter is that ascending progressions may arise from opposite shades of
meaning. "Therefore," said I to myself, "it is equally inadmissible to
exclude either affirmation."
The law is necessarily complex: let us bring together, that we may seize
them as a whole, both the contrary expressions and the circumstances
which produce them.
Vulgar and uncultured people, as well as children, seem to act in regard
to an ascensional vocal progression in an inverse sense to
well-educated, or, at any rate, affectionate persons, such as mothers,
fond nurses, etc.
No example has, to my knowledge, contradicted this remark.
But why this difference? What are its motive causes?
"Ha!" I cried, as if struck by lightning, "I've found the law! As with
the movements of the head, _sensuality_ and _tenderness_, these shades
of the voice may be traced back to two distinct sources: _sentiment_ and
_passion_. It is sentiment which I have seen revealed in mothers; it is
passion which we find in uncultured persons."
Sentiment and passion, then, proceed in an inverse way. Passion
strengthens the voice in proportion as it rises, and sentiment, on the
contrary, softens it in due ratio to its intensity. It was the confusion
of these different sources which caused a momentary obscurity in my
Let us now formulate boldly the law of vocal proportions.
Given a rising form, such as the ascending scale, there will be
intensitive progression when this form should express passion (whether
impulse, excitement or vehemence).
There will be, on the other hand, a diminution of intensity where this
same form should express sentiment.
This law even seems regulated by a quantitative expression, the form of
which appeared to me like a flash of light. This is the formula:
Under the influence of sentiment the smallest and most insignificant
things that we may wish to represent proportion themselves to the degree
of acuteness of the sounds, which become softened in proportion as they
Under the influence of passion, on the contrary, the voice rises, with a
corresponding brilliancy, in proportion to the magnitude of the thing
it would express, and becomes lowered to express smallness or meanness.
Thus an ascending scale being given, it must be considered as a double
scale of proportion, agreeing alternately with an increasing or
decreasing intensitive progression, increasing under the influence of
passion and decreasing under the influence of sentiment.
Thus we would not use the same tones for the words: "Oh, what a pretty
little girl!" "What a lovely little flower!" and: "See that nice, fat
peasant woman!" "What a comfortable great house!"
By such formulæ as these I was able to sum up, in clear and didactic
form, the multifarious examples suggested by my memory, startled at
first by their contradiction and then delighted at the light thrown upon
them by these very formulæ, due, not to my own merit, but to the favor
of Him who holds in His hand the source of all truth.
Thus, I feel and readily acknowledge, that the discovery upon which I am
at work is not my own work; and, therefore, I pray for it as for a
signal favor. Nor can it be otherwise with any man. It is, therefore,
always an impertinence for any man to attribute to his personal genius,
vast as he may suppose it to be, the discovery of any law. God alone
discloses His treasures, and, as I have experienced, He only reveals
them to the eye of reason raised by humility to contemplation.
Man seeks that which he desires to know with attention and patience
proportioned to the ardor of his desire. The attention of which his mind
is capable and the constancy of will brought to bear in pursuit of his
research, constitute his only mark of distinction. Herein lies all the
merit to which he can lay just claim. But at a moment absolutely
unforeseen, God reveals to him that which he seeks, I should say that
for which he does not seek, and for his due edification it is generally
the opposite of what he seeks which is revealed to him. This is not to
be contested. Thus the things discovered to him cause him such surprise
that he never fails to beat his brow when he sees them, as if to prove
that he is not the author of their discovery, and that he was far from
foreseeing anything like what has been shown to him; and that there may
be no possible mistake in the interpretation of the gesture, he
invariably accompanies it by the phrase: "What a fool I am!" All will
admit that if a man really believed himself the author of his discovery,
he takes a very inopportune time to declare his impotence and his
stupidity so distinctly. But taking none too kindly his avowal which,
moreover, is but the proclamation of an indisputable truth, let us
rather say that this act of humility is forced from him by the greatness
of his surprise.
Happy, very happy is the man whose pride does not instantly react
against the humble and truthful confession of his folly.
Ever since I made these remarks I have asked myself the cause of the
sterility of the learned bodies, and I do not hesitate to say to-day,
that it is because scientists refuse to declare themselves fools, and it
is to this lack of sincerity that they doubtless owe the punishment that
paralyzes their genius.
How can these men fail to take seriously the little knowledge to which
they cling and their fortune and renown; how can these wise men, to whom
the world pays incessant homage, consent meekly to confess the infirmity
of their reason? They feign, on the contrary, even when crushed beneath
the Divine splendor, an air of great importance; and when the Omnipotent
in His mercy deigns to bend to their low level, to lay open to them the
treasures of His sovereign thought, do you think that in token of the
sacred and respectful admiration which they owe in return for such
goodness, they will prostrate themselves like the Seraphim whose
knowledge assuredly equals the few notions which they adorn with that
title? Ah! far from it. You little know these scientists, when you
impute to them an act which they would qualify as contemptible and would
declare unworthy of a free-thinker! They stand erect, on the contrary,
with head held high, insolently laying claim, by virtue of I know not
what conquest of the human mind, to judge the eternal and immovable
light of the Divine Reason.
My retrospective journey from this point of departure seemed destined to
be even more full of observations than that which preceded it. My day
had been so full of work, so fruitful in unexpected discoveries, that it
was absolutely necessary for me to stop at this first station.
After a few days of rest I naturally resumed my walk, toward the garden
of the Tuileries, whither I was led by an instinct full of promise.
There, in fact, fresh re-appearances were not long in adding light to
that with which I was still dazzled!
I remember that I had been vaguely struck by the contemplative attitude
of a mother toward her child. The reason why this attitude struck me
even in the midst of my absorption in search of notes relative to the
thumb, was, first, because this attitude was a contrast to that assumed
by most of the nurses under the action of the same feeling; and, in the
next place, it seemed to deny the contemplative forms which I had
deduced from my first discovery, and which rested upon such motives as
the following: That a painter admires his work by throwing back his
head. Hitherto it had seemed to me clearly proven that admiring
contemplation entailed this retroaction. I considered this, it will be
remembered, the characteristic feature of a law, and that for the
reasons which I had previously given. Well! were all these reasons,
plausible as they appeared, to be contradicted by a single fact still
present to my memory, in spite of the observations in the midst of which
it arose, and which, moreover, should have been more than enough to
efface it? Strange to say, this fact vaguely noted amidst preöccupations
to which it seemed absolutely foreign, had remained persistently in my
mind! Now this fact, becoming by a reflex act the object of serious
thought, resulted from this observation:
That a woman, as she contemplated her child, bent her head toward it.
Searching in my memory, I found several similar instances completely
confirming this principle, opposed to my observations, that
contemplation tends to push the head toward the object contemplated.
And yet this example does not affect those to which I had at first paid
exclusive heed. Here, as in the preceding remarks, the law is complex,
and it must first be recognized that contemplation or simple admiration
is produced alike by the retreat or advance of the head. This double
action being admitted, it remained to decide how far they might be
mingled in a single situation; that is to say, to what point these two
inverse inclinations might be produced indifferently; and if, as I must
_a priori_ suppose, these inclinations recognized two distinct causes.
If so, what were those reasons? The question was not easy of solution,
and yet it must be decided definitely. I could enjoy no peace until I
had answered it. The doubt instilled into my mind by this new
contradiction was intolerable. I set boldly to work, determined not to
pause until I had found a final solution. I called to mind all my
memories having any bearing on this double phenomenon. These memories
were far more numerous and far more striking than I had dared to hope.
What a magnificent thing are those mysterious reservoirs whence, at a
given moment, flow thousands of pictures which until then we knew not
that we possessed? A whole world of prostrate believers adoringly
turning their heads toward the object of their worship, appeared before
me to support the example afforded me by the mother lovingly bending her
head toward the child at which she gazed.
Among other instances, I saw a venerable master affectionately bending
his head toward the being to whom he thus seemed with touching
predilection to give luminous instructions.
I saw lovers gazing at their loved one with this attractive pose of the
head, their tenderness seeming thus to be eloquently affirmed. But, side
by side with these examples, I saw others totally opposite; thus, other
lovers presented themselves to my mind's eye with very different aspect,
and their number seemed far greater than that of the other. These lovers
delighted to gaze at their sweetheart as painters study their work, with
head thrown back. I saw mothers and many nurses gazing at children with
this same retroactive movement which stamped their gaze with a certain
expression of satisfied pride, generally to be noted in those who
carried a nursling distinguished for its beauty or the elegance of its
Two words, as important as they are opposite in the sense that they
determine, are disengaged: _sensuality_ and _tenderness_.
Such are the sources to which we must refer the attitudes assumed by the
head on sight of the object considered.
Between these inverse attitudes a third should naturally be placed. It
was easy for me to characterize this latter: I called it _colorless_ or
It is entirely natural that the man who considers an object from the
point of view of the mere examination which his mind makes of it, should
simply look it in the face until that object had aroused the innermost
movements of the soul or of the life.
Whence it invariably follows that from the incitement of these
movements, the head is bent to the side of the soul or to the side of
"Which is, then, for the head, the side of the soul," you will ask me,
"and which the side of the senses?"
I will reply simply, to cut short the useless description of the many
drawbacks that preceded the clear demonstration that I finally
established, that the side of the heart is the objective side that
occupies the interlocutor, and that the side of the senses is the
subjective, personal side toward which the head retroacts; that is to
say, the side opposed to the object under examination. Thus, when the
head moves in an inverse direction from the object that it examines, it
is from a selfish standpoint; and when the examiner bends toward the
object it is in contempt of self that the object is viewed.
These are the two related looks that I have named Sensuality and
Tenderness, for these reasons:
The former of these glances is addressed exclusively to the form of its
object; it caresses the periphery of it, and, the better to appreciate
its totality, moves away from it. This is what occurs in the retroactive
attitude of the head.
The other look, on the contrary, aims at the heart of things without
pausing on the surface, disdaining all that is external. It strives to
penetrate the object to its very essence, as if to unite itself more
closely within it; it has the expression of confidence, of faith--in a
word, the giving up of self.
Thus, when a man presses a woman's hand, we may affirm one of three
things from the attitude which his head assumes:
1. That he does not love her, if his head remains straight or simply
bent in facing her.
2. That he loves her tenderly, if he bows his head obliquely toward her.
3. Finally, that he loves her sensually--that is to say, solely for her
physical qualities--if, on looking at her, he moves his head toward the
shoulder which is opposite her.
Such are, in brief, the three attitudes of the head and the eyes, which
I have named _colorless, affectional, sensual_.
Henceforth I possessed completely the law of the inclinations of the
head, a law which derives from its very complexity the fertility of its
Semeiotics of The Shoulder.
When I found myself the possessor of this law whose triple formula is of
a nature to defy every objection, I sought to appropriate to myself,
before the mirror, all its applications.
But there arose yet another difficulty that I had not foreseen.
I, indeed, reproduced, and at the proper time, the movements of the head
already described, but they remained awkward and lifeless.
What was the cause of this awkwardness and coldness of which I was well
aware, but which I could not help? I strove unceasingly to reproduce the
examples that lived so vividly in my memory, but all these laborious
reproductions, these efforts from memory, were futile. The stubbornness
of an indomitable will, however, led only to a negative result. I was
vexed at an awkwardness the reason of which I could not find.
One day, almost discouraged by the lack of success in my researches, I
sorrowfully said to myself: "What shall I do? Alas! the more I labor,
the less clearly I see; am I incapable of reproducing nature--is the
difficulty that holds me back invincible?"
As I uttered the preceding words, I noticed that, under the sway of the
grief which dictated them, my shoulders were strangely lifted up, and,
as then I found myself in the attitude which I had previously tried to
render natural, the unexpected movement of my shoulders, joined to that
attitude, suddenly impressed it with an expression of life so just, so
true, so surprising, that I was overwhelmed.
Thus I gained possession of an æsthetic fact of the first rank, and I
was as amazed at my discovery as I was surprised that I had not observed
sooner a self-evident movement, whose powerful and expressive character
seems fundamentally connected with the actions of the head. "How stupid
I am," I thought, "not to have remarked so evident an action of an agent
which leads the head itself. How could I let this movement of the
shoulder escape me!" And I revelled in the pleasurable triumph of
reproducing and contemplating expressions which I could not have
rendered previously without dishonoring them. Thenceforth I understood
without a doubt all the importance of this latest discovery. But this
importance, clearly proven as it was, was not yet fully explained to me.
Thus, I knew henceforth the necessity for movements of the shoulder, but
I was still ignorant of their motive cause; and I was reluctant to be
longer ignorant. I foresaw a concomitance of relations between this
movement of the shoulder and the expression of the head.
The shoulder, then, became, in its turn, the chief object of my
studies, and I gained therefrom clear and indisputable principles.
In this way I managed to form the bases of my discovery. The mothers
whom I had seen bending their heads over the children on whom they
gazed, thus revealed something unreserved and touching; and in my
ignorance the important part which the shoulder played in the attitude
had escaped me. It was indeed from the action of the shoulder, even more
than from the inclination of the head, that this expression of
tenderness, so touching to behold, proceeded.
The head, in such a case, accordingly receives its greatest sum of
expression from the shoulder. That is a fact to be noted.
For instance, let a head--however loving we may suppose it to be
intrinsically--bend toward the object of its contemplation, and let the
shoulder not be lifted, that head will plainly lack an air of vitality
and warm sincerity without which it cannot persuade us. It will lack
that irresistible character of intensity which, in itself, supposes