Part 4 out of 9
interjection and adverb are classed highest.
Delsarte made the following experiment one day in the "Circle of Learned
Societies," during a lecture:
"Which word," he asked his audience, "requires most emphasis in the
"The wave draws near, it breaks, and vomits up before our eyes,
Amid the surging foam, a monster huge of size?"
The absence of any rule applicable to the subject caused the most
complete anarchy among the listeners. One thought that the word to be
emphasized must be _monster_--as indicating an object of terror; another
gave the preference to the adjective _huge_. Still another thought that
_vomits_ demanded the most expressive accent, from the ugliness of that
which it expresses.
Delsarte repeated the lines:
"The wave draws near, it breaks, and ... vomits up before our
It was on the word _and_ that he concentrated all the force of his
accent; but giving it, by gesture, voice and facial expression, all the
significance lacking to that particle, colorless in itself, as he
pronounced the word, the fixity of his gaze, his trembling hands, his
body shrinking back into itself, while his feet seemed riveted to the
earth, all presaged something terrible and frightful. He saw what he was
about to relate, he made you see it; the conjunction, aided by the
actor's pantomime, opened infinite perspectives to the imagination; his
words had only to specify the fact, and to justify the emotion which
had accumulated in the interval.
But this particle, which here allows of eight degrees, is much
diminished when it fills the office of a simple copulative. The extent
of the word or the syllable is always subordinate to the sense of the
phrase; in the latter case it does not require more than the figure 2.
The Recitation of Fables.
Some years before his death Delsarte substituted for his concerts,
lectures in which he explained his scientific doctrines and his
philosophy of art. He also supplied the place of song by the recitation
of certain fables selected from La Fontaine. He was not less perfect in
this style than in the interpretation of the great roles of tragedy and
grand lyric poems; but it must be acknowledged, that under this new
guise, his talent could not display itself in all its amplitude; save
for the facial expression which gave the lessons of the apologue a
variety of outline of which La Fontaine himself perhaps never dreamed
... and in spite of the fine and scholarly accent which he could give to
all those clever beasts, he was, on many points, deprived of his power
and his prestige: how endow a lion with the proud poses of Achilles; and
lend the foolish grasshopper the satanic charm of Armida?
Instead of noble or terrific attitudes, his gesture was confined to a
few movements of forearm or hand; of his fingers, when the intentions
were more subtle, more refined ... Still it was always most pleasant to
hear him. It was Delsarte restrained, but not diminished. If you did not
recover in his speaking voice that sort of enchantment with which his
slightly-veiled tone pierced the soul, his accent remained so pure, so
intelligent, that you were none the less ravished.
When, in the fable of _The Two Pigeons_, he said:
"Absence is the greatest of ills, ...
Not so for you, cruel one!"
He discovered shades, hitherto unknown, with which to paint reproach
mingled with grief. And when he said:
"_The ant ... is not a lender!..._"
A more affirmative and striking sense of the character attributed to our
thrifty friend, was detached from this delay, filled up by a negative
movement of the narrator's head.
If Delsarte had limited himself in his lectures, to teaching men by
means of the menagerie, which was a sly burlesque of the courtiers of
Louis XIV., perhaps he might have made idolatrous partisans there as
elsewhere; but it seems as if in the exposition of his theory, he posed
rather as a censor than a teacher; he delighted in baffling the mind by
paradoxes. By annexes superimposed and ill-blended with his system, he
sometimes compromised those scientific truths whose splendor bursts
forth when they are freed from heterogeneous accessories. We cannot
otherwise explain the resistance of certain minds, distinguished
otherwise, to the recognition in him of the artist who excited the
enthusiasm of all the most competent critics and brilliant amateurs.
The Law of AEsthetics.
However striking and superior the system of Francois Delsarte has been
shown to be, however admirable and attractive the manifestation of art
in his person,--herein lie not his first rights to the grateful sympathy
which we owe to his memory. His works and discoveries in aesthetics are a
benefit of general interest, while they disclose to us the fruitful
resources of his genius.
In the first place, what is a law? We have here to deal, not with the
legislation decreed by man for the regulation of social and political
relations, but with those laws deduced from a natural order, as the
principle of life itself, which govern the relations of beings and of
things. In religion these laws are its dogmas and mysteries;
philosophically speaking, the laws of things are the essentials of their
nature, their specific relations.
Voltaire has written: "Law is the instinct by which we feel justice." In
Littre's Dictionary we find stated that "laws are conditions imposed by
circumstances." Another has said: "The constant, uneludable succession
in which phenomena occur, takes the name of law."
I would here state, that in no one of the last three citations does the
word "law" seem to me to be precisely defined. From the different
explanations of the natural laws which I have been able to compare, I
conclude that laws are forces containing in themselves the reasons, to
us unknown, of a power and permanence which are unchangeable. Plato
named them _ideas_. We must now conclude that the nature of a law, in
the present acceptation of the term, _can_ be but imperfectly
interpreted by exact formulae. Laws are still much involved in the
secrets of creation. Here must we seek their origin or origins.
But courage still! Although these formulae but imperfectly define law,
the facts suffice to establish them. They (facts) show the certain
action and, as stated heretofore, the uneludable nature of these
But the discovery of Delsarte is the application to aesthetics of a
natural law, proven and established by science. This law is that which
governs the system of man's organism. Its present application is
justified by a series of scientifically cooerdinated facts. Delsarte
rests upon the principle that man is the object of art. Thus the artist
should aim to manifest _human nature_ in its three modalities, in its
three phases which the master named _life, soul_ and _mind_. In other
words, the beings _physical, moral_ and _mental_.
These three expressions figure in the work of Pierre Leroux (_De
l'Humanite_) in the following equivalent terms: _sensation, sentiment,
knowledge._ But Leroux applied to ethics this law of human organism,
whereas Delsarte derived from it the law of aesthetics. When two minds of
this stamp are thus led, each in his own way, to the same source of
analogous principles differently applied, is it not a proof that they
have stated truth? And in this case it is more than presumable that the
two men of whom I speak had never worked together. Delsarte was a
philosopher in spite of himself. With Pierre Leroux art was only an
element contingent upon a system which he elaborated.
Was Delsarte led to his classification of man's nature by the doctrine
of the three persons in the Trinity combined in unity? Was he, by his
observations upon the _human triplicity_, led on to consider their
infinite development in the divine personalities? I know not, nor is it
of importance in considering the system.
Leroux affirmed a relation between the unity of man and the universality
of his pantheism; both relying at the outset upon an idea at once
religious and philosophical. But the research of Leroux was
philosophically inclined, while that of Delsarte was of a character more
Is it necessary to urge that you accept this obviously primitive
classification of the human faculties? Who, that shall have considered a
moment to convince himself, can doubt this truth,--that our sensations,
our sentiments, our understanding, are the principal elements of our
life, and that all that we are able to know of ourselves is made known
to us by them directly, or by the result of their combinations? This
consideration will soon lead us to the rational development of the
theory of Delsarte. For the present, it suffices to receive these
principles as they have been presented to us, and to admit that art
could not go far astray while following a clue leading from a law
invincible, and guiding to a science as positive as that of the
astronomer, derived from the law of attraction, or that of the chemist,
depending upon the law of affinities. Here need be no confusion. The
science is positive. The mystery of the natural law implies a
hypothesis,--even were the proposition negative.
Delsarte insisted upon the influence of a religious sentiment in art, as
a part of the constitutive animating faculties of the human being. In
the light of this proposition his enemies maintain that he teaches this
heresy: that success in aesthetics depends upon a definite faith--even
upon the observance of the _Catholic religion!_ This distinction between
religion and creed, between sentiment and assertion, I have followed
carefully since the beginning of my study. Delsarte was able to so
address his pupils at the beginning of a lecture, as to arouse the
apathetic, and electrify the passionate; but his teaching was far from
dogmatic. I do not say that at times, in his aspirations and dreams,
which he regarded perhaps as intuitions, this religious philosophy did
not make some incursions into the region of mysticism. I have seen at
his home charts named from the circumincession, and classifying
celestial spirits; but these trans-mundane personifications found no
place in his practical lectures. They are not found in the great
synthetical chart which I possess, and which recapitulates the system as
the master arranged it in the strength of his youth and genius, free
from all mystical element.
When, in 1859, I submitted to Delsarte my treatise containing a succinct
statement of his method, he said to me: "You have not followed me so far
as the angels."
I replied: "I have related and recognized as truth all that I have heard
you teach upon the laws of art as deduced from the relations of the
human faculties, because I have observed and verified it among people
and upon myself. But I speak not of things which you have never shown
me, and whose existence you have never _demonstrated_. The angels are of
Yet he received with no less approval my profane work. And it is the
judgment which he placed upon that essay which authorizes my resuming
the subject, augmented by further developments and evidence.
I should not state with so great confidence this great truth--the
application of a natural law to a succession of discoveries constituting
a science, an incontestable innovation--were I not able to refer to
competent opinions supporting my statement. A few of these opinions I
would here quote from some of the journals I have examined, many of
which thoroughly appreciated Delsarte throughout the long period of his
It was said by Adolphe Gueroult (_Presse_, May 15, 1858): "To discover
and produce wonderful effects, is preeminently the characteristic of
great artists, but never, so far as I can learn, has it occurred to any
one, before Delsarte, to attach these strokes of genius to positive
laws." And further: "The eloquent secrets of pantomime, the
imperceptible movements which, in great actors, so forcibly impress us,
coming under the observation of this discoverer, were by him analyzed
and synthetized in accordance with laws whose clearness and simplicity
render them doubly admirable."
I give also some statements from the _Journal des Debats_ (May 10,
1859). Though in the following the word "law" does not appear, it bears
interestingly upon the relations of the ideas and expressions under
consideration. The quotation is:--
"The audience was charmed and instructed. It applauded the new
definitions. It divined the essence of each art, and comprehended that
the various manifestations of art are classified according to the
classifications of the human faculties. It knows why each passion
produces each accent: 'because the accent is the modulation of the
soul,' and why a given emotion produces a given expression of the face,
gesture and attitude of the body."
When we allow that "the classifications of the manifestations of art are
made according to those of the human faculties," do we not also allow
that they are derived from one law?
Thus the _fiat lux_ ("let there be light") is pronounced. Art departs
from chaos, escapes from anarchy; it acts no longer only for the
so-called artist, but also for the actor and singer, whom we are now to
consider. Art has to do with the pose of the body, a graceful carriage,
distinct pronunciation and an unconscious command of dramatic effects.
For a tenor to phrase agreeably, vocalize skilfully, giving us resonant
chest-tones, no longer suffices to gain for him the title of great
The followers of art should be able, before and above all, to portray
humanity in its essential truth, and according to the original tendency
of each type. Mannerism and affectation should forever be
proscribed--_unless they are imitated as an exercise_--but all the
excellence that chance has produced up to the present time should be
incorporated in the new science.
Moreover, by referring to a law the occasional successes which come to
one, it becomes possible to reproduce them at will.
The essential point is to get back to the truth, to express the passions
and emotions as nature manifests them, and not to repeat mechanically a
series of conventional proceedings which are violations of the natural
law. "Effects should be the echoes of a situation clearly comprehended
and completely felt,"--such was the import of this teaching.
One of the great benefits arising from the discoveries of Delsarte is
the reconciliation of freedom and restraint. If it bind the artist by
determinate rules, it is in order to free him from routine, to recall
him to the general law of being and of his own individuality. It is in
order that he may study himself, in the place of submitting to arbitrary
prescriptions. In such study every marked personality will find itself
in its native element.
As for those who have no _vocation_, and in whom the "ego" distinguishes
itself so little from the multitude that it remains lost in it, it is
best that they should withdraw, since _they are not called_. They have
in view only vanity or speculation, and must always be intruders in the
sacred temple of art.
"My glass is not large, but I drink from my glass," said Alfred de
Musset. Very well! let each one drink from his glass, but observe! it is
not necessary that in the true artist all should be individual and
peculiar. It is necessary only that there should exist a degree of
individuality, something novel, a distinguishing tone and an artistic
physiognomy peculiarly his own. Servile imitations, plagiarism, stupid
adaptations, put to death all art and all poetry. In literature
particularly is such decline most easy.
Hoping that, from what has been said, you have been led more fully to
appreciate the advantage of seeing all of the branches of intellectual
culture led out of the ruts of routine, away from plagiarism and from
disorder and anarchy, one word upon the most distasteful and effectual
blight to which art is subject--_the loss of naturalness_, viz.,
_affectation_. Can anything be more irritating than an affected actor or
singer, caterers to perverted tastes?
In sculpture what is more displeasing than a distorted figure, which
aimed at grace and is become a caricature? Affectation is in the arts
the equivalant of sophistry in logic, of the false in morals, of
hypocrisy in religion. It is not extravagant to assume that affectation,
being a falsity, an active lie, is a torture to the spirit which
perceives it, and a wrong to the honest souls who endure it. It should
be, therefore, for twofold cause, banished without pity from the realm
of aesthetics. Why should the natural, which is the expression of truth,
have so great an attraction if affectation--its enemy and
incumbrance--aroused not our impatience or disdain?
How is it that in children of all classes we find grace, ravishing and
inimitable? It is because in them the accord is perfect between the
look, the smile, the gesture and the impression within, of which they
are the interpreters--the adequate signs, as Delsarte would say--the
perfidious flexibility of words _never interposing_ to alter the
True grace in adults is not that which is studied, nor that which is
artistically copied from a badly-chosen type. Grace is born of itself,
the natural fruit of the culture of the mind, of elevated thoughts and
noble sentiments. It is a combination of excellences which come
unconsciously to some privileged beings. To imitate beautiful effects in
nature, to surprise their expressions, after having observed and
established the relation of cause to effect,--this is the end to which
the discovery of Delsarte would lead us.
As it is difficult for each to find ready at his command the elements
for such research, how can we overestimate the great value of
establishing schools in which the instruction of students of the great
art shall be guided in accordance with the established laws of
aesthetics? The time of greatest necessity is the immediate present,
since the voice of the people cries loudly through the press, "Art is
decaying and will surely die!"
"Barriers are also supports," said Madame de Stael; and what more sure
support in the decadence which threatens us, than a positive science
deduced from irrefragable law! I say _irrefragable_ with conviction.
Though human laws be subject to change, the laws of nature are shown to
be immutable, at least so far as the observations of learned men of all
ages have been able to establish them.
To such assertions one objection arises: Why, admitting that the human
organism furnishes exact and complete means of manifesting art in all
the departments of aesthetics, should not others before Delsarte have
discovered that correlation? I have conscientiously considered and
sought light in this direction, and the result of my research furnishes
me only a negation. Although I do not here attempt a complete study of
the philosophy of art, nor a general history of the arts, I have sought
to discover all that could warrant one in presuming the discovery of a
law of aesthetics in antiquity, particularly among the Greeks.
I find that in the writings of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle--who are
the best authorities--art was a dependence upon philosophy; that is to
say, one with it, having no law outside of it. (Whereas, in the work of
Delsarte, aesthetics occupies the first place, and philosophy becomes
I will here enter into some details of the ancient teachings.
Socrates gave to his teachings a practical character founded upon the
knowledge of man. He took for his point of departure man himself, and
established (according to this idea) a morality with the motto of the
temple of Delphi,--"Know thyself." This doctrine related more especially
to ethics than to aesthetics--as later did that of Pierre Leroux--and it
was far from being able to direct artists in their work.
Plato often discoursed upon the True, the Beautiful, the Good. He strove
to disengage them from the concrete that he might derive some general
formulae. To do this he employed the method of "elimination," a form of
dialectics which I recommend to no one, notwithstanding its great value
and the services it may render, after all, to those minds endowed with
patience. What does he conclude in regard to art?
The Socratic and dogmatic dialogues--the _Phaedo_, the _Gorgias_, the
_Symposium, Protagoras, Ion, Phaedrus_--abound in allegories, aphorisms,
and in aspirations toward an ideal, more or less clearly defined, which
end, however, not by any means in a discussion of art, but in such
affirmations as that which closes the first _Hippias:_--"Beautiful
things are difficult."
In the _Symposium_ we have a philosophical discussion interposed between
two orgies. Socrates there maintains his title of sage, but it is surely
not wisdom which presides at the feast. What light upon my subject? Do
we here find any conclusive decision regarding art? No! We have instead
such statements as this: "It is possible for the same man to be both a
tragic and a comic poet." Then are made some reflections upon time in
music. We can as yet discover nothing like a law of aesthetics.
In this company, where are assembled the most cultivated of the Athenian
citizens, they discuss love and jealousy of a kind that the moral
instinct of modern society can with difficulty comprehend. But these
dissertations are of no aid in the solution which I seek.
And yet the spirit of Socrates at times attained to great heights. He
puts into the mouth of a woman of Mantinea the theory which saps the old
doctrine and presents monotheism. It is but one step thence to
Christianity, and it was Apollonius of Tyana, disciple of Pythagoras,
who established a connection between the idealism of the later Greek
philosophy and the spirituality of the new religion taught by Jesus of
Socrates, after a discussion upon those intermediate deities, whom he
called _daimons_, and among whom he places love, assigns to love an
origin and strange attributes which, to a certain extent, explain the
remarkable workings of this passion at that time. He at once exalts and
seeks to make comprehended the new god--"Beauty eternal, uncreated and
imperishable, a beauty having nothing sensuous, nothing
corporeal,--which exists absolutely and eternally." This is all.
Perhaps this ideal of love, as that of philosophy, may have been
expressed in the foundation of the religious ideal of Delsarte, but this
encounter in the ethereal regions of theology and psychology--where the
human consciousness perceives nothing tangible, and whence it derives
only vague aspirations--implies no knowledge, of anything like a law, a
science or a method, such as our artist-innovator of the nineteenth
century conceived and taught.
Aristotle, disciple of the founder of the Academy of Athens, divided
the sciences into three classes--logic, philosophy and morals. Within
this classification art is closely bound, but this philosopher made no
scientific demonstration of it. His workings are not those of
application and execution. More than his predecessors, it is true, he
considered the human organism and, in this, his conception bears a
certain analogy to the system of Delsarte. Aristotle, as well as Plato,
advised the study of nature, and seeking there the elements of the
Beautiful; but they had specially in view literature and eloquence.
Further than this, their precepts are counsels and have reference to no
definite law. They have not shown the links of connection between the
human faculties and the mechanism which manifests them; they have not
taught man the manner of using his organs to express artistically his
sensations, emotions and thoughts.
The Greeks had every advantage of models and philosophical schools, in
which art was taught. But they had no school of aesthetics. Artists of
genius taught the schools more than they learned of them; and these
artists, so far as I can learn, have left no trace of theoretical works,
but, as before written, genius precedes and exemplifies law. While Plato
and Aristotle placed a beacon light upon the road leading to a law, they
never touched the goal. Delsarte proceeded otherwise. He starts with a
principle clearly defined and everything harmonizes with it.
Have the historians and critics of the Greek philosophy discovered that
which I vainly sought in its initiators,--_a law of aesthetics?_ This is
a question to be answered.
Winkelmann, in his "History of Art," says: "The fine arts, in their rise
and decadence, may be likened unto great rivers which, at the point of
fullest greatness, break up into innumerable tiny streams and are lost
in the sands." Still following this imagery, he compares "Egyptian art
to a fine tree whose growth is stopped by a sting; Etruscan art to a
torrent; Greek art to a limpid stream."
Now, the law of life of trees, streams or torrents, is not identical
with that which governs the unity of a human life.
Like Aristotle, Winkelmann states clearly the principle that man is the
measure of all things, but he does not follow up the consequences; he
reaches no scientific demonstration upon any point. Far from
establishing the existence of a law of aesthetics among the Greeks, he
simply remarks upon the extreme simplicity of their beginnings, and
shows by what gropings they came from Hermes to the most perfect works
of Phidias and Praxiteles.
Mengs states that "the first designs were of forms approaching human
semblance;" and that the sciences and philosophy must of necessity have
preceded the Beautiful in the arts. He thinks that the Greeks
established the proportions of their figures by imitation of beautiful
From these two commentators we have a history of the progression of the
arts toward the Ideal. Mengs states that the Greeks and the Etruscans
have given rules of proportion and style. But progression, proportion,
style,--all of which proceeding from a fixed standard of beauty may
guide artists--the perception even of the ideal which each one
interprets in his own way--cannot be assimilated to that original law
which carries in itself all the reasons of the concept, that which
contains all conditions and means of a true execution,--_individual even
to the perfection of each type, general and varied as the infinite
shades of nature_.
In response to the allegation of Mengs, that "the sciences and
philosophy must necessarily have preceded the Beautiful in the arts," I
would call attention to the fact that celebrated artists--as Phidias and
Zeuxis for example--had produced their works long before the dialogues
between Socrates, Protagoras, Hippias and others, upon the True, the
Good and the Beautiful. The great painter and the great sculptor could
only have proceeded by the intuition of their genius, knowing nothing of
a law of aesthetics.
In that which remains to us of antiquity, I find nothing which implies
such an application of the human organism to the arts as that whose
discovery, promulgation, exemplification and teaching we owe to
M. Eugene Veron, writer of our day, and author of remarkable works on
art, far from recognizing among the Greeks a law of aesthetics, writes
of Plato: "He considered ideas as species of divine beings, intermediate
between the Supreme Deity and the world. Theirs is the power of creation
and formation.... Matter unintelligent and self-formed is _nothing_, and
realizes existence only through the operation of the idea which gives it
its form. Aristotle begins by rejecting all this phantasmagory of
eternal and creative ideas. He fills the abyss between matter and
spirit. God, pure thought and being preeminent, brings all into
existence by his power of attraction which gives to all activity and
We wander farther and farther from a law of aesthetics and its means of
application as established by Delsarte.
Of all the writers who have thoroughly examined antique art, Victor
Cousin would seem the one with whom Delsarte had most in common, if this
eminent philosopher were not a contemporary of the master and had not
attended his lectures, his artistic sessions and his concerts. In his
manner of treating art, this is often shown bywords and forms and
flashes of instinctive reminiscence which recall the great school. In
his book, "The True, the Beautiful and the Good" (edition of 1858), the
learned professor writes: "The true method gives us a law to start from
man to arrive at things. All the arts, without exception, address the
soul _through the body_."
He is on the way, but his position embraces neither the starting-point,
which is the law, nor any practical means toward an end. For the rest,
the nearer his propositions approach the law of Delsarte, the easier it
becomes to establish the radical differences which separate them.
Delsarte does not say that "the law is to start from man to arrive at
things," but that "man uses his corporeal organs to manifest himself in
his three constituent modalities,--physical, mental and moral."
It is very certain that works of art, like all concrete forms, can only
be perceived by the senses. Who does not know this? But that which is
most difficult to comprehend, is the just relation of cause to
effect--as to the faculty and its manifestation,--and it is this which
Delsarte discovered and made clear. The one stated the action of art
when perceived; the other, the necessities of the artist in order that
art respond to the law.
I shall have more than once to render justice to Victor Cousin.
Inheritor of the Greek philosophers, he allows dialectics too great
margin. He wanders in his premises and arrives at his conclusions--when
he can. (Here, of course, I speak only of art.) In philosophy, Cousin,
beginning with effects, from induction to induction, often arrives at
causes and states some principles. Delsarte, perhaps, proceeded thus
while seeking to combine his discoveries, but this accomplished, he
placed in the first line, synthesis, whence all emanates, and this focus
of light radiating in all directions, illumines even to its farthest
limit, the vast field of aesthetics. Cousin, after all, claims neither
for the Greeks nor for himself the discovery of a law.
Proudhon, who represented the Protagorean school among us, humoring his
whim, produced a work on art. In this he declares that he has very
little gift in aesthetics, and asserts himself a dialectician, and we
cannot deny his power in logic while he regards things from a proper
stand-point. Very well! Proudhon challenged the Academy "to indicate a
_method_"--with even more reason might he have said _law_ of aesthetics.
Shall we, at last, find among the true critics of French literature any
synthetic basis which may guide us in all branches of art? What do I
find in "The Poetic Art," by Boileau, the great authority of the
Augustan age,--rhetoric, beautiful verses, full of excellent counsel? I
find there wisely arbitrated rules, a sieve through which it would be
well to pass the works of our own times, including the verdicts which
distribute the glory.
But the means of putting into practice these valuable precepts--the
criterion to establish their truth, the touchstone which may distinguish
the pure gold--does not appear! In default of these means of certitude,
each may, according to his instinct or his pride, insist that he has
fulfilled the conditions prescribed by the author of the _Lutrin_, and
judge his rivals by the sole authority of his prejudices.
La Harpe and his followers have distributed praise and blame, and at the
same time said _what_ should be done, but they have given no _how_.
More grievous still are the meanderings of the critics of our public
journals. They wander without compass and without rudder, approving or
condemning according to their friendships and antipathies; save those
_connoisseurs emerites_, whose fine, sure taste and exceptional
erudition are rarely able to supply a law and state a reason for their
Among us, as among the Greeks, may be found artists who have given
proofs of the existence of the supreme theory of which I now write.
Talma and Malibran--in another order, Dejazet, and Frederick Lemaitre,
even Theresa herself, have, in a greater or less degree, exemplified
this law imprescriptable. These artists, marked by nature with the seal
of their vocation, possessed that force of truth which produces sudden
bursts of eloquence, great dramatic effects; in a word, as before
expressed, "the happy strokes of genius."
Yes, before and after Delsarte, there were and shall be beings
conforming by _instinct_ to his _law_. But with him alone shall rest the
honor of its discovery and first teaching, and of the establishment of
the science upon strong foundations.
It remains for me to examine the relations between the workings of
Delsarte and those who have treated the same questions concerning the
terms (according to him, accessory), the True, the Good and the
Beautiful; and also to consider the value of each branch of aesthetics in
the entirety of the system.
The Elements Of Art.
_The True, the Good, the Beautiful._
Though Delsarte be acknowledged the discoverer of the law of aesthetics,
he may have held points in common with many who before him had had
presentiments of its coming and had instinctively experienced its force.
Premonitions precede the discovery as complements should follow.
The True, the Good, the Beautiful, constituent elements of aesthetics,
have been diversely interpreted. From his intellectual observatory, a
zenith whence the artist-philosopher viewed clearly the whole and the
details, he may be supposed to have gained light beyond any which could
have come to his predecessors.
I will, then, resume my parallel from this point of view.
The True, the Good and the Beautiful were not made, in the school of
Delsarte, objects of special teaching. By definitions, reflections and
illustrations of the master, they were shown to enter fully into the
science and method--a part of it distinguishable and inseparable. The
master, in his demonstrations, commonly employed various well-known
maxims which were always accredited to their authors. Thus, from Plato:
"The Beautiful is the splendor of the True." From St. Thomas Aquinas,
in regard to science: "In creation all is done by number, weight and
measure." From St. Augustine (for he often quoted from sacred works):
"Moral beauty is the brilliancy of the Good."
But I must proceed in order. I owe it to the sincerity of my endeavor to
explain first the aesthetic work of Delsarte as shown me by his own
The True Illuminates the Thought.
To determine the signification of the _True_, we must first ask what is
_truth?_ It has been defined as: "A fixed principle, an axiom." The term
truth has been applied to such or such maxims; but there are few
assertions not subject to discussion or which would be accepted as
decisive without comment. They have not that piercing clearness which
determines conviction by simple apprehension or at first sight.
The dictionary of the Academy is more explicit in its statement: "Truth
is the conformity of the idea to its object." But a preferable
definition is that of Madame Clemence Royer: "Truth is the concept of
the spirit in regard to the reality of things and the laws which govern
them." This philosophical statement is readily adapted to the True in
the arts, which is acquired by the observation of nature and adaptation
of the lawful ideal.
How, then, may we recognize the True in aesthetics according to this
definition? The artist, first and above all, should disregard no law of
nature, but when he aspires to great works, "the concept of his spirit
in regard to the reality of things and their laws" should lead him to
idealize what he sees, translating his personal conception of the
Beautiful and the Sublime, if his flight carry him so far.
The word Art is more comprehensive in that which it expresses, than the
word True. _Art_ completes itself by its other elements, the _Beautiful_
and the _Good_. Plato, and the philosophers in general, treated of truth
from the stand-point of philosophy rather than of art. Still the great
Athenian seemed to believe in a sort of celestial museum, where the
artist, penetrating by intuition, was inspired by a vision, more or less
clear, of the masterpieces of divine conception.
Delsarte approached in a certain sense this very idea, but his doctrine
of the True in art, although depending upon the mystic basis of a holy
Trinity, brought forth developments both rational and scientific which
leave far behind the Platonic hypothesis.
In the system of Delsarte it is no longer a vague ideal dimly
perceptible, which must guide the artist in the execution of his work,
for the _innovator_ says expressly that "the divine thought is written
in man himself." It is therefore at the command of every one who seeks
truth to make it manifest in art. In the new system, man being at once
the _artist_ and _object of art_, literary men, sculptors and painters
proceed from a basis ever to be observed and studied, to rise from the
True to the Ideal. Here the flight must be more rapid and, above all,
less deceptive than the purely mystic fancy of Plato.
We shall see in considering the _Beautiful_ in the arts, that far from
giving rise to arbitrary and fantastic conceptions, the great ideal must
become, according to the science and method of the master,--the
aggrandizement and the harmony of the faculties of the human being.
The Good Sanctifies the Soul.
What is the Good in art? Here again the philosophical standard bars the
way and demands priority. What, then, is _Good_ independent of varied
feelings and of all the varied and contradictory interests of human
subjectivity which encumber it in the minds of the multitude of thinking
The Good, after this elimination, is reduced or rather elevated to one
simple idea, so general and requisite is it. The Good seems to be that
which can give to the greatest number of beings, existing in the
universe (conformably to their hierarchy), the greatest sum of happiness
and perfection, considering, for humanity, the importance of the mutual
relations of the faculties. If this be true of the Good in life, is not
a way clearly traced for art, whose mission is to embellish existence?
And, further, if it be incontestable, that man cannot transgress the
laws of his nature without wronging his intelligence and his happiness,
even his strength and beauty, how shall art merit our love and homage if
its power be exerted to excite inferior faculties and subversive
passions? Are not _poise_ and _harmony_ the best conditions of existence
for the human organism? That which Plato demanded for the _Beautiful_ in
favor of the _True_--namely, splendor--Delsarte demanded also of _art_
in favor of the _Good_. His thought is summed up in this formula, "Man
is the object of art." Man, being artist, becomes the agent of
aesthetics. Man, in his humanity, is the goal toward which should tend
all the efforts and experiments of the art-moralizer.
The master maintained the possibility of reaching this end by two
opposing ways, not contradictory; _i.e._, the production of the
Beautiful under its physical, mental and moral forms; and by the
manifestation of the Ugly under the same forms, exhibiting what he
called the _hideousness of vice_. Immorality may be rendered poetical
and artistic, because of its being a corruption of the moral, often
preserving the imprint of its origin, even throughout its greatest
errors. Its agitation, its combats and its defeats interest the judgment
and the heart. The Ugly or unseemly, morally speaking, is the synonym of
The Ugly in the language of the arts has many diverse significations. It
is in these shades and variable proportions that it affects our subject,
but the depicting of repulsive things, foreign to morality, to
sentiment and to passion, has no right to exist in aesthetics. It may be
possible to cure a vice by showing its hideousness. But does this
warrant such exciting of the disgust of the senses? It is an outrage to
the worship of the Beautiful, without compensation of any kind.
There can be no advantage to humanity in exhibiting the hideousness of
disease or the monstrosities of certain natural phenomena! Open to them
the museums of comparative anatomy, but close the galleries consecrated
to the fine arts! There exist also monstrosities which are not included
in these categories; they present no moral danger, but are disagreeable
and repulsive to good taste. They consist of fantastic forms, in
accordance with the spirit of an inferior civilization, reminding one of
the misshapen and gigantic prehistoric animals, whose bones astound us,
and which disappeared from our globe that man might appear.
Among cultivated contemporaries these eccentricities spring from an
inclination toward originality, caprice, grotesque taste; from a similar
impulse to that which directs literature toward burlesque and parodies,
and the plastic arts toward caricature. Such productions may please some
distinguished and intelligent natures which cannot have been highly
favored in the distribution of the delicacies of sentiment and the
exquisite graces of wit. In a word, the art indulging in this class of
manifestations acts according to the _mode simpliste_. I borrow this
term from Charles Fourier, and I say once for all, that by it I mean not
the entire, but the almost exclusive predominance of one or the other of
the modalities of the human being. Here the _simplisme_ being altogether
intellectual, while it is inferior to manifestations in which the being
expands harmoniously, it wounds no essential in the synthesis of the
_me_; while a predomination of the sensual to the same degree is most
pernicious to that which delights in it and antipathetic to those who do
not live solely in the material aspects of existence.
Existing among the elements of aesthetics, as the faculties of man, are
certain dependencies, connections, affinities, penetrations, which
render an abstraction of one of them almost impossible. Thus I have
anticipated allusions to the Beautiful in considering the Good. By thus
connecting them, the better to distinguish them, I have reached the
conclusion that moral evil should never be manifested in the arts unless
with the view of redressing it. In this case the better its real
characteristics are studied, the more strongly they are accentuated
throughout, the more successful the work will be from the plastic point
of view, and the more power it will have to repel those inward wrongs
which it denounces, and this even though the intention of the artist
should not touch this result.
The Beautiful Purifies the Emotions.
At first glance, it might seem the privilege of each one to say, "The
Beautiful is that which appears to me as such." I believe in this
regard, that the most capable artist, should he be also the most perfect
logician, would never be able to persuade sainted and simple ignorance
that it should not remain firmly grounded upon faith in its own
Place Hugo, Mercie, Bonnat, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Joncieres in the
presence of simple countrymen--or, what is worse still, of inferior
artists and critics, of pretentious amateurs--and you will see by what
supercilious, incredulous gestures, being incapable of argument, this
satisfied ignorance will repel all assertions of the great authorities.
Should we, therefore, disregard this reluctance to recognize the
features of the Beautiful in great works? We must at least deduce from
it the fact that the effect of art depends upon some relation between
the observer and the thing observed.
Notwithstanding the reality of the beauties of such or such a work, in
the eyes of many appreciators, the subjectivity of each observer should
remain decisive, _vis-a-vis_ to himself, as long as he cannot be
convinced by the authority of a law; and, finally, it is imperative that
his comprehension of that law should be rendered possible by preliminary
studies. On the contrary, shall that which has been recognized as
beautiful by the initiated ever since artists created, and enlightened
criticism discussed and judged it, appear now before uncultivated
criticism as without authority?
In default of law and science, there is a sort of universal consent
among competent thinkers; and their appreciation of the highest class of
works is maintained by a process of adhesion carried on by every
conversion from ignorant blindness to the light of appreciation.
The question of subjectivity in the declared judgments in aesthetics has
given rise to incessant controversies which began, perhaps, among the
Greeks and are going on among us. Though no absolute decision has been
reached, some excellent maxims have resulted. In default of an
irrefutable definition of the Beautiful, there have been given us
images, analogies and thoughts upon the subject which approach and
prepare for such definitions:
Victor Cousin has said: "It is reason which decides as to the Beautiful
and reduces it to the sensation of the agreeable, and taste has no
"Aversion accompanies the Ugly (unseemly) as love walks hand in hand
with the Beautiful."
"The Beautiful inspires love profound but not passionate."
"The artist perceives only the Beautiful where the sensual man sees only
the attractive or frightful."
And, again, "That is sublime which presents the idea of the Infinite."
This last thought brings us to Delsarte, who, perhaps, was its
The following valuable thoughts of the master, while not related
scientifically to his system, are still allied to its physical and
"Form," says the innovator in aesthetics, "is the vestment of substance;
it is the expressive symbol of a mysterious truth; it is the stamp of a
hidden virtue, the actuality of being; in a word, form is the plastic of
"The Beautiful is the transparency of the aptitudes of the agent, and it
radiates from the faculties which govern it. It is order which results
from the dynamical disposition of forms."
"Beauty is the reason which presides at the creation of things; it is
the invisible power which draws us and subjugates us in them."
"The Beautiful comprises three characters, which we distinguish under
the following titles: Ideal, moral and plastic beauty."
By the enunciation of these three categories, Delsarte enters upon the
positive aspect of his system. As the result of the careful examination
of the aptitudes or faculties of the Ego, approachable by analysis and
applied to aesthetics, he has established this first class of
manifestations (ideal beauty) as requisite to art. This must result from
a combination of the faculties; the possibilities of combination being
infinite, but always in subjection to the human being. The artist,
according to this personal power of inspiration, should be able to
portray a totality of superior and harmonious qualities, such as will
oblige any competent observer to recognize it as beautiful. We have
taken a step into the realm of the Ideal; that is to say, we have
touched that which, without departing from the law, surpasses
conventional rule and the natural types accepted for the Beautiful.
Before following the Ideal into its ethereal region, we will further
consider the nature of its foundation, which is a combination of the
three mother faculties which Delsarte declares to be, in aesthetics, the
criterion of the law and the foundation of the science. We already
recognize these as the physical, mental and moral aspects of the human
The plastic art allies itself particularly to the physical constitution,
but the physique cannot be perfectly beautiful unless it manifests
intellectual and moral faculties.
Moral and intellectual beauty reveal themselves in the human being under
the empire of passion and of sentiment, and the physique is momentarily
transformed. The artist should seize beauty at this moment of fullest
perfection, above the normal conditions of human existence and perhaps
beyond possible plastic beauty.
Behold what glorious possibility for the direction of the artist's
aspirations toward the Beautiful! But even this happy chance by no means
includes all of the possible conceptions of the Ideal, and neither does
it furnish us any absolute idea or definition. This vision of beauty,
made ideal by exaltation of the intelligence and the emotion, can only
be perceived by the artist of practiced observation and of that
intuitive perception which is the gift of nature.
Again considered, the Ideal, being relative as well as the Beautiful, of
which it is the exuberance, we must remember that the word is far from
corresponding to an idea of absolute beauty. Thus the Ideal of an
ordinary taste is not so high as that of a person whose standard of
beauty is superior, and the two will be very distant from the image
conceived by the pen, the chisel or the brush of a great artist. In many
cases the Ideal is nothing but a searching for the intention of nature,
obliterated by the circumstances and accidents of life. Then the task of
the artist should be to reestablish the type in his logic--a vulgar face
may be portrayed by a skilful brush--and, while preserving its features,
there may be put into it the culture of intellect and noble sentiments.
An artist, for instance, will see in a woman, whom time has tried,
certain elements of beauty which enable him to portray her nearly as she
was at the age of twenty years. He should be able to divine in the young
girl, according to the normal development of her features, her
appearance at the complete unfolding of her beauty. Yes; in these
different cases the artist shall have idealized, since he shall have
comprehended, penetrated, interpreted and rectified nature. Still, he
may not yet have attained to the comprehension of perfect beauty, such,
at least, as human emotion and intellect can conceive, and such as we
love to imagine as inhabiting the superior spheres of the universe of
which we know nothing further than the dictate of our reason, namely,
that they are inhabited by beings more or less like ourselves.
When these sublime effects appear in art, it is as though a veil were
torn, revealing glimpses of a world of ideas, emotions and impressions,
surpassing our comprehension, approachable only by our aspirations.
Thus, Delsarte, superior to his science, has shown us the artist in full
possession of all that he has acquired, and the inmost charm of that
which is revealed to him. In execution he proved this truth: If talent
may be born of science, it is genius which distinguishes the highest
personalities, and to merit the title of high artistic personality one
must contain in himself an essence indescribable, unutterable, which
constitutes the aureole of grand brows, and the sign luminous of great
works of art.
Thus, as virtue, art has its degrees.
Art, in its most simple expression, is the faithful representation of
nature. If the conception of a work or of a type is elevated to a degree
of perfection which satisfies at once the plastic sense, the emotion and
the intellect, we will call it Grand Art.
Finally, if, in the presence of a creation, we recognize perfect
harmony (which goes beyond perfect proportion); if the work call forth
in us that contemplative ecstasy which gives us the impression and, as
it were, the vision of pure beauty, shall we not recognize Supreme Art?
The system of Delsarte responds to all these desiderata of aesthetics. In
his law he gives us the necessary bases; by his science he indicates the
practical means, by his method and illustrations he completes the
science and demonstrates the law. Where is place left for doubt or
He stated what he knew and how he had learned it. In his recitals
occurred innumerable beautiful proofs of his greatness and simplicity,
oftentimes more convincing than lengthy, involved argument could ever
Some may ask: How can a positive science lead toward an ideal which
cannot be touched, heard not seen? Would not this science be the
antipode (some would say _antidote_) of the mystic dreams of Plato and
of Delsarte himself?
Reply is easy. Delsarte recognized in our mental consciousness that
desire for research into the unknown which would sound the mysteries of
nature. He did not disregard that intuitive force of imagination which
can often form from simple known elements the concept of conditions
superior to the tangible.
Between this nature, which we hear and see and touch, and that nature
which the artist feels, imagines, and to which he aspires, Delsarte has
placed a ladder whose base is among us, and whose summit is lost in the
infinite spaces of fiction and poesy. By this ascent into the realm of
liberty, of personality and of genius, the elect of aesthetics shall
mount and gain, and, still maintaining their relations with the Real,
shall bring down to us the glorious trophies of their art.
Delsarte, foremost among men, had climbed the magic ladder. His
exquisite harmonies in the dramatic art and lyric declamation were
beautiful indeed, but the aesthetic beauties which he brought forth in
the roles that he interpreted, must, alas! disappear with him. He has
left us the bases of his science, but who shall so beautifully tread the
way--reigning by song amidst a thousand accents of devoted enthusiasm!
Application of the Law to the Various Arts.
We have now to consider each branch of aesthetics in the totality of the
system, to be assured whether or no this law discovered by Delsarte
covers all departures in the domain of art. First, then, the
starting-point around which all is centered and from which flow all
"Man is the object of art." This proposition applies as readily to the
conception of literature, poetry and the plastic art as to the more
active manifestations of the dramatic, oratorical or lyric art. Man
being thus the object of art in all of its specialties, the part of the
artist is to manifest that which is revealed to him, through his three
essential modalities,--physical, moral and intellectual (in the words of
Delsarte, life, soul and spirit, with the divisions and subdivisions
that they allow), as has been clearly stated in the chapter upon "The
Law of AEsthetics," and further confirmed in the one upon "The Bases of
the Science." But though all of these primordial modalities appear in
each concept and in all artistic manifestations, the proportion in which
each appears is indefinitely variable. It is a predominance of one or
another of these which classifies and specializes. It is the harmony,
more or less perfect, of the components of this triple unity which
determines the value of artistic manifestations. Under this law, then,
come all of the arts, inasmuch as each, differing in subjects treated
and in means of execution, still has a common mission, namely, the
revelation of impressions, the intelligible expression of the thoughts
and feelings of man. To be more clearly understood, I will from this
point consider separately the different branches of aesthetics.
_Art--Dramatic, Lyric and Oratorical._
The proclivities necessary to an artist, actor or orator (intelligence
being the first consideration and beauty of minor importance) are:
expansion, sensibility or at least impressionability; a ready
comprehension of the works to be interpreted, if not the requisite
capacity to execute them. One's particular vocation (or congenial line
of work) is the first condition in either of these departments of art,
and into the consideration of this must enter that of physical beauty
such as the roles demand; always considering what has been named "the
physique" of the situation. In a word, these three aspects of art
correspond to the predominance of that modality which Delsarte calls
"life;" this with the complementary share of the other essentials to
maintain a symmetry; this for the average "chosen." As to the
individuality necessary for the creation of a role, general statements
cannot apply. It is one and entire for each. Should it reproduce itself
identically, it would no longer be individual. The strength of a
powerful individuality lies in the revelation of a type _sui generis_.
Thus Delsarte can never be reproduced. If by an impossibility an artist
having seen him, and being penetrated by his method, could assimilate
the sum total of his acquired qualities and his inmost purposes, still
he could be but a copy, however perfect, since personality cannot be
transmitted. I could not pursue the demonstration of the application of
the laws of the human organism to the generality of the liberal arts
without meeting an objection which we will consider just here. Some one
says: If the law of art is the same as that of the human constitution,
what need that Delsarte teach that law--will it not suffice for each
artist-nature to study himself in order to determine satisfactory means
of transmitting (to spectators, audiences or readers) the thoughts,
passions or emotions which he would reveal, either by his pen, his
chisel, his brush, or by the fictitious personages which he incarnates?
I answer, No! The expression of nature by gesture, face, or voice will
not come to the artist by inspiration nor by reflection, especially in
extreme situations. He may chance upon agreeable effects, and even
moving expressions, but rarely does a just and telling expression of
that which he would express result from mere chance. Caustic truth or
knack--more vulgarly, cheek--comes of influence outside of one's self.
Upon one occasion Madame Pasta was heard to say: "I would be as
touching as that child in her tears. I should, indeed, be a great
artist if I could imitate her."
Rare, indeed, are the artists who know how to weep. The sublimity of art
responds to nature's simplest impulses. By the study and work of
Delsarte a science has been created, every fleeting sign of emotion has
been fixed, and may be reproduced at will; and this for the instruction
of the artist who may never have observed them in another, nor himself
felt the impressions which give rise to them.
_Application of the Law to Literature._
It is hardly necessary to state that the predominance of one of the
primordial faculties in the actor would necessarily differ from that in
the author of the drama or opera which he would interpret. Literary
capability presupposes more or less of philosophical aptitude and a
predominance of the intellectual faculties, and this not to the
exclusion of a certain amount of artistic and moral development in the
truly great writers. It is in the field of literature especially,
that man attains to a _creation_; and whether his _object_ be a
fellow-creature or an extended and enlarged ideal,--in either and any
case facts have furnished repeated and incontestable evidence, in
support of the statement of Delsarte, that art is always defective
unless it be the product of the three essential modalities of being,
acting in their relative proportions. This statement is not to be
contested; but here again these relations would vary among the writers
upon science, ethics and poetry.
The epic, most synthetic of literary productions, is no longer in
fashion, because, perhaps, of the growing rarity of heroes. On the
contrary, _simplisme_ is now deforming the greatest germs in the drama
and romance. The weakness often lies in the morality of the production,
or rather in its lack of morality, often so lacking that the author
sinks to the level of producing repulsive works and cynical pictures.
In view also of man's essential faculties, but from another point of
view, St.-Simonianism classed men as scholars, artists and artisans.
Then were added the priests of a new order whose nature, more perfectly
balanced, was to furnish the model type of future humanity. This
classification had brought thinking people to the consideration and
criticism of a system isolating and concentrating all development upon
one or another of the faculties. It was readily seen that thus sentiment
would rush to folly; sensibility without a corrective would soon become
weakness; unbalanced industry would lead to disregard of health and
strength, while the triviality of the sensual nature, unrestrained by
mental or moral activity, would soon fall into hopeless degradation.
Herein was _simplisme_ most bitterly condemned. Delsarte, ever studying
relations between coincidences in art and the revelations of nature,
arranged a typical demonstration, as ingenious as logical, of the
action and play of opposing faculties. By most wonderful pantomime he
showed a man tempted to sin; then, touched by pity for the victim of his
desire, at last transformed by the intervention of the moral sense, he
came by slow gradations to most elevated sentiments. One saw clearly the
courage of resistance and triumph in the sacrifice. Then, taking an
inverse progression, he slid from this height to the opposite extreme of
Delsarte was the author of this mute scene which contains the elements
of a drama. The contemplation of this wonderful effect leads to the
conviction of the great value to literature of the fundamental law,
which may be applied to any and all literature, as a permanent criterion
by which productions may be classified and judged, in their departure
from the _simpliste_ form and approach to a conception in which the
constituent modalities of being act in harmonious accord. Here, again,
we have a fresh distinction between scientific and ethical literature,
and that which may be termed the _literature of art_. To this latter
class belong romances, dramatic productions and poems--works made up of
shades of meaning and just proportions, which should be based on clear
and sound philosophy, prudently disguised but indisputable and
imperishable. Here is place for the grace of an agreeable wit and the
elegant flexibility of a fruitful pen. More imperative than in any other
class of writing is the demand for individual touch and that harmony of
construction depending upon the proportionate relations of those
elements of aesthetics,--_the True, the Good_, and _the Beautiful_. Thus,
through aesthetics, it is elevated.
To this literature of art belong the sonnet of Arvers, and "The Soul,"
by Sully-Prudhomme. Musset, in his grace or pathos, is not inferior to
Victor Hugo. There are, even in his faults, certain effective boldnesses
to which the author of "Notre Dame de Paris" cannot aspire. Whence,
then, comes the immense distance between these poets? It lies in the
fact that Victor Hugo, while he is a finished artist, shows himself also
a thinker, philosopher, man of science and erudition. Endowed with a
profound humanitarian feeling, he is preoccupied with the evils of
society, with its rights, its mistakes, its tendencies and with their
amelioration; while the poet of "Jacques Rolla"--a refined
sensualist--devotes his verse to the unbridling of the torments of
imagination in delirium, to the agitations of hearts which have place
only for love.
If comparison be made between novelists and dramatists of diverse
schools, why has not M. Zola, who in so many regards should be
considered a master, attained the heights of eminence upon which are
enrolled the names of Shakespeare, Moliere, Corneille, Schiller, Madame
de Stael, and George Sand? It is because M. Zola, profound analyst and
charming narrator, even more forcibly than Musset breaks the aesthetic
synthesis by the _absence of morality_ in his writings. His fatalism
arrests the flight of that which would be great; he corrupts in the germ
wonderful creative powers! M. Zola's great lack lies in his considering
in man his physical nature only. Between mind and matter he holds a
magnifying lantern full upon the lowest molecules, and rejects
disdainfully the initiating atom that Leibnitz has signalized as the
centre of life. M. Zola has created a detestable school which already
slides into the mire beneath the weight of the crimes which it excites
and the disgust which it arouses. Should we blame Zola and his disciples
for the danger and the impotence of this method? Should we not impute
the wrong in greater measure to philosophical naturalism?
In considering _materialism_ and _naturalism_ let us not lose sight of
the fact that while materialism is _simpliste_, naturalism (in so much
as it represents nature) is essentially comprehensive and necessarily
synthetic; harmony of force and matter being an invariable requisite of
_Realism_, another term strangely compromised, seems to proclaim itself
under the banner of materialism, while the _Real_, implying the idea of
the _True_, cannot be contained in _simplisme_. It is a most pernicious
evil that writers, calling themselves realistic, still concentrate their
talent upon the painting of vicious types and characters drawn in an
infernal cycle of repulsive morals.
"Man is the object of art." Never could the words of the master more
appropriately interpose than before the encroachments of literary
_simplisme_. The man of whom Delsarte speaks is not confined to such or
such a category of the species. He proposes that aesthetics should
interpret an all-comprehensive human nature, which is not made up alone
of baseness, egotism and duplicity. Though it be subject to perversion,
it has its luminous aspects, its radiant sides, and we should not too
long turn our eyes from them.
Artistically, evil or the Hideous (which is also evil) should never be
used except as a foil. There is no immorality in exhibiting the
prevailing vices of the epoch, but this is the physician's duty. The
evil lies in presenting these evils under such forms as may lead many to
enjoy or tolerate them, giving them the additional power of a charming
style and the specious arguments of fatality. This is precisely the case
of M. Zola. The glamor of his disturbing theory, which annihilates free
will, gives to his works a philosophical appearance. He conceals its
vacuity beneath forms of a highly-colored style, an amiable negligence
and a facility that is benumbing to thought. As he asserts nothing, no
one dreams of contradicting, and one finds himself entwined in a network
of repulsive depravity without a ray of healthful protection or
correction. In comparison with the blight of this disastrous system of
fatality, the coarseness of the writer's language, so loudly censured,
is relatively unimportant. The _simplisme_ of M. Zola is not absolute,
as but one of the three constituent modalities is omitted, that one
being morality. The lack is, however, no less fatal, inasmuch as the
void produced by the absence of one of the noblest faculties of human
activity must usually be filled by disturbing forces.
I have heard the theory, "art for art," supported by men otherwise very
enlightened. "An artistic production need not contain a moral treatise,"
they say, and this is quite true, provided the artist be a quick
observer, possessing talent sufficient to handle his subject
harmoniously. Vice carries its own stigma, and pure beauty surrounds
itself with light. The author should be able readily to distinguish the
one as well as the other, and his precepts should come as the harmonious
result of his experience. But such a work, at the mercy of an
ill-balanced brain and unhealthful temperament, must yield bad fruit.
Talent without broad and true knowledge of _reality_, or that which
_is_, instead of being invented, is incomplete in its workings and
results. Its creations resemble the light of the foot-lamp, of
fireworks, of the prodigies of our modern pyrotechnists--pleasing for a
time, dazzling, captivating, intoxicating! But lost in the life-giving
beauty of a summer's night or a glorious sunset, we are tempted to cry
out with the poet,--
"Nothing is beautiful but the True."
What can be said of the other _simplisme_ which, in its search for the
True, ignores the Beautiful while it disregards the Good? Again, its
partisans seek artistic truth in its very worst conditions. Why paint in
full sunshine, if the intense light obliterates details and confuses the
shadows? Does it seem a difficulty conquered? It is far oftener a
disguised insufficiency. If my reference to painting seem premature, it
is because I wished to borrow an image to show how equally grievous was
the faulty touch of many of our writers of renown. Many among them seem
striving to propagate the culture of the Mediocre and Unseemly, as a
thousandfold easier practice than the religion of the Beautiful.
My present aim is to show clearly the influence of even incomplete
_simplisme_, in certain pernicious effects upon literature. Edgar A. Poe
entered the realm of the fanciful after Hoffman, and how is it that the
initiator is less dangerous than his disciple? It is because of these
two _simplistes_, who have put reason out of consideration, the first
addressed himself only to the imagination, while the American poet
sounded the emotions to depths where terror is awakened and madness
begins to sting. Hoffman has perhaps upon his conscience some readers
confined in asylums for the deranged, but the far more perilous
hallucinations of Poe must account for greater harm. The distance is
great between imagination and sentiment, and should be so regarded. This
extravagance should surely not be allowed to usurp the place of
morality, but this is what is done, and greatness is not for them.
Another illustration lies in the transition intermediate between the
romances of Balzac, Frederic Soulie, Emile Souvestre, and Eugene Sue,
and the poetry of Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Beranger, Barbier and the
_impressionalist_ school whose decline is already at hand.
Of many names, which have acquired notoriety, I select the two which
afford the best contrast,--Charles Baudelaire and Jules de la Madelene.
The first, among other eccentric works, has left us "The Blossoms of
Evil." In the ideas which it embraces it is the successful production of
an imagination misled and in distress; a pathological experience
probably prompted the conception. In it one reads beautiful verse of
scholarly construction, and readily perceives an individuality and
originality of thought and expression; but no one would predict or
desire that this production should pass to posterity.
"Le Marquis des Saffras," by Jules de la Madelene, on the contrary,
gratifies both judgment and feeling. It is a spirited painting, acute
and profound, as well as true, of human life, especially of provincial
life. The human being is revealed in all his aspects. Though the author
disguises neither errors nor weaknesses, he presents clearly the
redeeming side--the simple manners and the humble devotion of sincere
hearts. This, then, is the reason _why_, sustained by a style rich in
grace and strength, full of the breath of poetry which is felt rather
than described, "Le Marquis des Saffras" holds its place as an
incontestable masterpiece in the choice libraries that preserve the
renown of great writers.
A more careful examination of the doctrine of Delsarte--"The necessity
of the concurrence of the mother modalities of the human organism to
fulfil the conditions of aesthetics"--but forces the conviction that
disregard of this requirement renders all sterile and incomplete, if not
monstrous. Is this equivalent to saying that the deductions from the law
of Delsarte tend to condemn in French literature its simple gaiety, its
graceful lightness, and to efface this stamp of the race that our
ancestors have surely imprinted?
In works of the imagination the omission of moral meaning is often more
seeming than real, and every good reader should be able to recognize
this. However, this negligent seeming is far less hurtful than brilliant
wit concealing crudities and modifying boldnesses. Writers of this class
do not lose sight of the fact that, while the French character has its
audacities (contrary to the modifications of aesthetics), our language
possesses a proverbial chastity, which, even in its farthest wanderings,
genius comprehends and respects. Tact and taste suffice to him who
consults them to escape grossness of language. The delicacy of the
allusions leaves their images in a transparent mist; the very elasticity
of the equivocation furnishes a refuge for the thought which it
By art some most delicate subjects, very nearly approaching license,
have been pardoned. We would surely exhibit a tyrannical and morose
humor to condemn to be burned _en place de Greve_, by the hand of the
executioner, the romances of _Manon Lescaut_, and _Daphnis_ and _Chloe_
by Longus, as they have been transmitted to us by Paul Louis Courier.
But when literature, realistic or materialistic (or whatever they please
to call it), freeing itself from moral accompaniment, shows itself
negative or weak in its creations; if it be _simpliste_ to the point of
appealing exclusively to the senses, limiting its means of action to the
development of the egotistic and instinctive side of the human
passions,--its works have no longer right of consideration in aesthetics.
The consideration of the physical being should surely figure in all
representations of life, but it is not necessary that from a subordinate
consideration it should ever be made all-governing. The body, the
essential part of our personality, is the companion of our higher
faculties. We should be mindful of it, making it as beautiful as
possible, but giving it the reins would be even worse than giving power
absolute to the imagination.
Once more, _impressionalism_, without the control of science and of
reason, has nothing to claim in the spheres of the _True_, the _Good_,
_Application of the Law to Architecture._
The productions of architecture, like those of literature, have their
origin in the realm of thought. Architecture is not, like the dramatic
art, in subjection to the person of the artist. It is one of the plastic
arts, and of them the most synthetic by reason of the number of agents
concurring in its harmony. Its dependence upon form is akin to that of
sculpture, while the value of color in its effects is only less than in
the art of the painter.
This art, essentially comprehensive, demands of its masters varied
knowledge and that power of cooerdination which, according to the learned
philosopher Antoine Cros, is the highest function of the human
intellect. The relation of aesthetics to the totality of the faculties is
here more evident than ever. After the manifestation of _mind_ in the
composition of the plan, the architect's next duty is to please the eye.
To this end he employs marble, stone, wood, bronze or gold, and the
result is that element of the symphony which responds to sensation. The
third and only remaining element of the trinity is sentiment. In order
that, rising above its utilitarian purpose, appropriateness and
mathematical rules of stability, the architect may fulfil the
requisition of aesthetics and arrive at the "Grand Art," the remaining
element as well as the other two must be perfected in result. The
perfection of this element of sentiment is shown in the work by the
impression of grandeur or elegance, of grace, severity or delicacy. The
triple necessity thus filled, the result is truly a work of art.
_Application of the Law to Sculpture._
The relation of Delsarte's system to sculpture has already been alluded
to. Its application here lies principally in the realm of form. The
sculptor aims to reproduce finest proportions of face and figure. He
delights in a beautiful contour and, as Mengs has said, "in lines
undulating and serpentine," while he studiously avoids all simple
The more limited range of outlook demands more studied beauties and more
significant expressions. The statue--unlike the monument, which at once
arouses spontaneous emotions in the spectator--should express the human
being, his sensations, his affections, his passions and struggles, and
should arouse an enthusiasm of admiration while it awakens sympathetic
echoes in the heart of the observer. Here more strikingly than ever must
we recognize "Man the object of art." In the light of this truth we
should demand of sculpture the manifestation of the human life with its
constituent faculties, not in a perfectly equal accord which is never
met in nature, but with such predominance as the subject presents.
In Greek art the predominance is of the physical aspect. They had before
them exquisite models of plastic beauty; not the sensual beauty which is
fleshly, but a plastic beauty consisting of harmony of line and form.
Let us further consider this difference as shown in comparison of the
Apollo and the Bacchus.
The Apollo satisfies alike the intellect and the eye by its beautiful
outlines. [We are not yet ready to discuss beauty of expression.] The
Bacchus less ideal and more humanly natural cannot so satisfy a highly
aesthetic temperament. In neither work is there much of sentiment
expressed. The distinctively moral side plays a secondary part, unless
we consider beauty itself a moral factor,--a theory that may be
sustained. In neither beautiful marble is there revealed any sensual
dominance, though the Bacchus, notwithstanding its plastic superiority,
rather inclines that way. The Apollo has been loudly extolled for the
pride of its attitude and its divine calm in the encounter with the
serpent Python; and still it is said that "a god could not have cause
for so great pride in the conquest of a reptile." But the art-critics
have exaggerated the import of the figure, which is wonderfully
beautiful without being accurately expressive. The civilization of the
new era has developed in man moral and physical qualities, which furnish
new expressions by which the artist may set forth that part of human
life which Delsarte called "the transluminous obscurities of our inmost
organism." Dating from this epoch we find in sculpture less of plastic
beauty and more spiritual and touching expression. Who would compare the
pathos of the Laocoon to that of Canova's Magdalen? The sculptor
Marcello (Mme. de Castiglione), too early removed from an artistic
career, exhibited certain creations which illustrate this difference.
Among them is a bust, in marble, of an Arab chief, which is after the
style of the antique, beautiful lines, without expression (a
predominance of the physical element). In her "Weary Bacchante" she
shows beauty tarnished by vice, and here the predominant expression is
sensual. But in her "Marie Antoinette in the Temple Prison," as in
Mercie's "David" and the "Dying Napoleon," it is not the marvelous
beauty which entrances us, but first and above this reigns the power of
Sentiment is become predominant. In the "Marie Antoinette," what bitter
disappointment! In the "Napoleon," what disillusion with the toys of the
world in which he had reigned! In the "David"--Biblical subject treated
by a modern chisel--what strange impressions and reflections are
suggested by that tranquil head and the wonderful frailty of the body!
how original the conception of the figure, and the whole a tribute to
the high personality of the artist! Mercie shows not only the work
accomplished, but in this are glimpses of promise of greatness to come
which serve as more valuable proof of greatness than the masterpiece
completed. This leads me to a reflection already often alluded to, but
which I would keep ever before you as the foundation of my argument:
"Man is the object of art." He is also the art-producer, and considering
relatively the two terms of the proposition, the manifestations of the
faculties are not necessarily adequate between the producer and the
production. I will explain.
The best conditions under which an excellent work of art should be
produced are undoubtedly the following: The conceiver possesses in the
highest possible degree of development the modalities of being essential
to the kind of creation undertaken, and these in their most perfect
harmony; but this perfection of intensity and of the relations of the
elements of the concept by no means necessitates the artist's formation
of types at once morally, intellectually and physically artistic. This
depends upon the truth of his subject. That he embellish it, whatever it
may be, by his artistic interpretation and execution, is all that we
In the new manifestation which we now consider, where expression of
sentiment is given predominance, the artist, interpreter of the
passions, sentiments, weaknesses and vices as well as of the virtues and
sympathies of humanity, must, in order to interest or chasten, show to
it its own image, which reflection will be most frequently not an ideal
of perfection but a type of suffering and vice, of weakness and
depravity. A work will be successful in proportion as the chisel shall
be most indefatigable in putting in relief the virtue or the vice which
characterizes the subject. The greatest artist shall be he who renders
most striking the characteristic predominance, whatever it may be, of
the type created or interpreted. To sum up: Art is proportional to the
faculties of the artist, and the work is the result of an application of
these faculties to some special manifestation of the human ego.
Impressionalism, as in the other arts, should be considered in two
aspects: the impression of the artist and that of the public or
observer. The question then arises, what kind of a public should be
impressed that the artist may merit a place in the higher ranks of
aesthetics? While we have recognized that judgments in questions of art
are the result of a certain sympathy existing between artist and
observer, we have decided also that in considering such a question, all
observers cannot be considered equal. In sculpture as in literature,
where appreciators are possibly more numerous, we must admit that
knowledge and capability or even sincerity are rarely of any weight in
the balance of the grand juries of history or in the verdicts of
contemporaries. The ignorant multitude sanction the grossest works
because these only come within their understanding. Encouraged by the
applause of numbers and by the lack of restraint which wins applause,
artists descend the rounds of the ladder of progress which step by step
has marked the ascent of the great schools and the great masters, and
the result inevitably must be the return to mere sketches in sculpture,
and painting will diminish to imagery. This end is quickly and readily
reached, so easy and so fatal is the descent in these paths of
"All styles are good except the tedious," a well-known critic has said.
Pursuing the import of this thought, we are led to the speedy conclusion
that the _null_ should never enter into competition. Nothing better than
that the condition of priority should exist between diverse styles and
opposite schools; but why strive to institute comparison between a
synthetic idea and the absence of synthesis and idea, between certain
proportions and harmony and the absence of proportion and harmony,
between a style and the absence of style? Whatever the subject and
whatever the mode of treating it, the intelligence of the artist should
always be visible in his work.
I am more and more thoroughly convinced that the theory of Delsarte,
fatal to _simplisme_, is the true theory of art. What can be more
_simpliste_ than impressionalism when viewed as a school? It considers
no law or science, disregards entirely analysis and logic, the Good and
the Beautiful; it is given over to sensation; vague impressions which
are, whatever may be said to the contrary, only the inferior part of
man's faculties, indispensable surely, but that which we have in common
with the animals and little children; very interesting to observe among
animals, a charming grace in children, but a most unimportant factor in
adult existence, particularly in the artist's life, unless it be
governed by the intellect and subject to the sanction of feeling.
_Application of the Law to Painting._
If any art should be given over to impressionalism it seems as if it
should be painting. To see and to transmit what is seen,--is not this
the true office of the painter, his undoubted mission? Yes, on condition
that the artist has the requisites for seeing correctly! And if he rises
to composition, he must also be endowed with a creative intellect, with
a portion of that mental power which will permit him to embrace a
conception synthetically, and to cooerdinate its parts.
Among the impressionalists of our time, there are assuredly painters of
talent; but what talent they possess is, as it were, against their will:
the influence of tradition, the weight of the medium in which they live
unconsciously restrain them. Then, it must be confessed, this
impressionability of the artist has its intrinsic merits, if it is kept
to its place and degree; but it must be regarded as certain, that if the
_simpliste_ artist makes himself distinct in his work, it is because he
contains within himself more of the requisites for what he undertakes,
and because, without his having summoned them, the faculties of the
understanding and the aesthetic sense have come to his aid.
If Delsarte admitted the precept that "everything is perceived in the
manner of the perceiver," he, of course, did not admit that every
perceiver should make his own law: his conception of the aesthetic
trilogy would never have permitted him to open this Babel for the vanity
To finish with _simplisme_ or naturalism, let us say that, carried to
its utmost extreme, it becomes a fixed idea, a monomania; has not
impressionalism attained to this even in the choice of colors? It has
been said of certain painters that they had only to upset their palette
on the canvas to compose their pictures! Yet this varicolored chaos is
not the characteristic of the school On the contrary, certain favorite
colors prevail; do not green and violet rule almost exclusively in some
of the most striking pictures from impressionalist brushes?
There are moments when we ask whether the impressionalists and their
adherents are not obeying an impulse to contradict rather than a serious
conviction. In either case, it is time for many of them to furnish
proofs--that is to say, works,--in lack of the reasons which they have
not even offered.
After this digression, forced upon me by recent scholastic quarrels, let
us return to Delsarte.
I have given the reasons for his doctrine in other chapters; this
doctrine will gain strength when I show what I have gathered from his
science, since science and law mutually testify for each other; since
all art, acquiring fresh vigor from its source, _law_, and enlightened
by the aid of these same formulae, must bear the impress of truth, beauty
Even where color occupies in painting the place attributed to outline in
sculpture, there are in these two manifestations of mental images--and
in spite of the synthetism peculiar to painting,--striking similitudes.
As regards physical manifestations, both these arts should seek
truth--which does not mean literal exactness,--and all that has been
said of _simplisme_, in regard to sculpture, is perfectly applicable to
that part of painting which treats of the human figure. Science and law
lay down the same rules for both,--save for the differing modes of
It is another matter when it is a question of representing nature as a
whole, and under less limited forms: seas, mountains, the atmosphere and
broad plains--landscapes of vast extent,--subjects forbidden to
sculpture even more exclusively than simple compositions of several
figures, which are seldom successful in sculpture. For if sculpture
sometimes makes a group, if it is used to decorate monuments and tombs,
it offers nothing analogous to those magnificent phases of nature which
we find on the canvases of the great masters.
Delsarte, who from the laws of mimetics deduced for painters means of
expressing correctly every impression and emotion which man can feel,
taught nothing in regard to this special field of the landscape artist,
who is not subject to the conditions of the actor, sculptor or orator.
But, if this aspect of art--save in cases where figures are
introduced--does not come under the head of certain statements of our
science, not having to imitate attitude, gesture or voice--in a word,
anything proceeding from the human organism,--it is, perhaps more
closely than elsewhere, allied to the innovator's law: to that law which
prompts the artist to respond to the psychical aspirations of his
fellowmen, and demands that in satisfying the senses, he should also
arouse or inspire the thought and feeling of beauty.
Thus the painter of nature, as much of a reality as man, but a reality
in its own way, if he desires to make nature understood and loved, must
give it the stamp of his own ideas, his own feelings, his own
Why should I care to be shown trees and waters, valleys and mountains,
if the tree does not tell me of the coolness of its shade, if the water
does not reveal the peace of the deep lake, if I cannot divine the
rippling of the brook, if the valley does not make me long to plunge
into its depths! Why recall to me the mountain, if its curves do not
rouse in my mind any ideas of grace, elegance and majesty,--if its peaks
do not make me dream of the Infinite!
However skilful the artist may be in the reproduction of form and the
handling of color, he will always be far inferior to nature if his soul
has never heard the inner murmur of all those mysteries of the
sensitive, and I will venture to say, spiritual life, contained in
forests, waterfalls and ravines. Lacking this initiation, he will play
the cold and flavorless part of one who tells a twice-told tale; for it
is in landscape especially, that talent consists in revealing the
painter's own feeling.
The charm of things felt is not produced merely by a grand way of
looking at things: the mind, the soul, occupy but little space; but
where they figure, the canvas is well filled, and the brush betrays
I remember, in support of my thesis, that at one of the annual
expositions at the Salon--which then represented the aristocracy of
painting,--there was a tiny picture: a hut half hidden in moss and
flowers. It was almost lost among the portraits of distinguished
personages, the historic incidents, the scenes taken from fashionable
life, and almost drowned in the bloody reflections from the vast display
of battle pictures, which, as was then the custom, monopolized half the
Well! this canvas, a yard wide and not so long, held you captive, took
your thought prisoner, and inevitably impressed itself on your memory.
You longed to ramble over its thick turf; to enter that cottage whose
open windows gave you the feeling that it was a peaceful shelter; you
loved that poor simplicity, which seemed to hide happiness.
Certainly the author of this graceful, touching picture practiced
Delsarte's law, at least from intuition.
Profound emotions are not always due to objective beauty; the beauty of
the work is a thing apart from what it represents. Who does not recall,
in another order of talent, this effect, due to the brush of Bonnat: an
ugly, old Spanish woman is praying in a dark chapel; she prays with
eyes, lips and soul. There was never seen more complete absorption, more
complete forgetfulness of self in humble fervor. It was far more
touching than all the types of sensual beauty, with pink and white and
perfumed skins--with delicate limbs, in disagreeable attitudes!
This is, yet once again, due to the fact that sentiment is stronger than
sensualism; and because the artist's skill, taking the place of beauty
in his subject, becomes genuine aesthetic beauty: so much so that,
looking at old age and ugliness--as represented by Bonnat,--the
spectator is enchanted and applauds--_the success of the work!_
If, however, to perfect execution is allied beauty--not sensual, but
aesthetic,--if it is made manifest from the point of view of form,
feeling and thought, the enthusiasm will be still greater, because all
the aims of art are realized at one and the same time.
"The artist, a traveller on this earth, leaves behind imperishable
traces of his being."--_Francois Delsarte._
We would fain prolong the faintest rays of all that glitters and fades
too soon, and if intense light is generated in a human brain, we strive
to retain its every reflection. Nothing is indifferent which concerns
the nature of the chosen few; great men belong to the annals of their
nation, and history should be informed regarding them.
Francois Delsarte left this life at the moment when misfortune had
crushed France beneath her iron heel for some ten years. The date of his
death--July 20, 1871--partially explains the silence of the press on the
occasion of so vast a social loss.
The circumstance of an artistic education, which was carried on in my
presence, gave me opportunity to collect a mass of incidents and
observations in regard to the great artist who is the object of this
I collected ideas in regard to his instruction, his method and his
discovery of the laws of aesthetics, which are the more precious that
nothing, or almost nothing, was published by him touching upon subjects
of such supreme importance. It is my duty to tell what I know.
I have already established the bases of the work which I now undertake,
in a pamphlet containing several articles published in various
newspapers. These articles were written under the inspiration of the
moment; they won the master's approval. I shall have frequent recourse
to them to correct the errors of memory and give more vivid life to that
now distant past.
Delsarte was born at Solesmes (Department of the North), November 9,
1811. His father was a practicing physician; but tormented by a genius
for invention, he spent his time and money in studies and experiments.
Then, when he succeeded in producing some mechanical novelty, some
capitalist more used to trade and rich enough to start the affair,
usually reaped all the profits. This condition of things, of course,
produced great poverty in the family of the inventor, and the children's
education suffered in consequence, and yet young Francois even then
showed signs of superior endowments. A missionary, passing through
Solesmes, said to him: "As for you, I don't know what you will turn out,
but you will never be an ordinary man!" In spite of this, his parents
intended him for trade, being unable to direct his talents toward
science and the liberal arts.
Before proceeding farther, I must consider a question often asked in
regard to the great artist, and concerning which his family have kindly
For a long time Delsarte signed his name in a single word, as I write
it now; why, then, should we ever see it written with the separate
particle, which seems to aim at nobility and which gives us the form,
del Sarte? I will give you the tradition as it is told in Solesmes, and
as the artist heard it during a visit to his native place. If it be
fiction, it is not without interest, and I take pleasure in telling it.
The natives of Solesmes say that at a very remote period a great
painter, coming from a distance, spent some time in their town. The good
inhabitants of the place know nothing of the pictures which this master
must have produced; perhaps they are quite as wide from his name! But
Delsarte, struck by the probability of this poetic origin, filled with
brotherly sympathy for the pure and graceful talent of Vannuchi del
Sarto, doubted not that the latter was the artist whose memory is held
sacred in Solesmes. Out of respect and veneration for the Italian
master, he divided the syllables, but still retained the French
termination of his name.
We can readily see that an imaginative spirit, such as we now have to
deal with, would be carried away by the legendary side of this story,
and that he would put full faith in his own commentaries:--he believed
so many things!
To return to prose and to reality, I must add that Delsarte based his
sentiment upon partial proof. Before the Revolution, the family did
indeed sign themselves del Sarte; but an ancestor--imbued with the
principles of 1789, and anxious to efface all suspicion of noble
origin--effected a fusion of the two parts of the word, and left us the
name as we have known it and as, perhaps, we regret it.
Those who regard this change of family name as mere vanity seem to me
wide of the truth. A strange nobility, moreover, that of Vannuchi,
surnamed _del Sarto!_ Sarto may be translated as _tailor;_ therefore
Vannuchi _del Sarto_ would mean: Vannuchi _of the tailor_, short for
Vannuchi, _son of the tailor_.
What need had he of empty honors, he who was on equal terms with the
great men of letters, science and the arts, who was surrounded by the
incense of the most legitimate enthusiasm, and who received the homage
of kings as of less value than the praises of Spontini and Reber!
I return to my sketch which will, I hope, justify these last remarks.
At the time of which we speak, the poor child was not treated as the
predestined favorite of art, He had been entrusted to people who ill
fulfilled their mission. He was scolded and abused; he was left
destitute of the most necessary things. He felt this injustice, and,
gifted with a precocious sensibility, he suffered greatly from it.
Francois had as a companion in misfortune, one of his brothers, who
could not bear the hard life; born feeble, he soon succumbed. This was a
severe trial to the future artist! When he saw his only friend buried
in the common grave, he could not contain his grief.
"I rebelled," he tells us, "at the idea of losing all trace of this
tomb. I shrieked aloud. I would not leave the mournful place!"
The grave-diggers took pity on his despair; they promised to mark the
spot. The child resigned himself to fate and departed. I will let him
speak for himself:
"I crossed the plain of St. Denis (it was in December); I had eaten
little or nothing, and I had wept much. Great weakness combined with the
dazzling light of the snow, made me dizzy. The fatigue of walking being
added to this, I fell upon the damp earth and fainted dead away."
What followed may be explained by the ecstatic state often experienced
on coming out of a fainting-fit.
"Everything seemed to smile into my half-open eyes; the vault of heaven
and the iridescent snow made magical visions about me; the slight
roaring in my ears lulled me like a confused melody; the wind, as it
blew over the deserted plain, brought me distant, vague harmonies."
Delsarte interpreted what he saw in the light of Christian ideas: it
seemed to him that the angels made this delightful concert to console
him in his misery and to strengthen him to bear his hard lot.
Rising up, the child felt himself a musician. He soon evinced an utter
contempt for the china painting to which he had been bound apprentice.
That too was an art; but of that art, the angels had said nothing.
How was he to learn music?
He knew that by a knowledge of a very small number of signs, one could
sing and play on instruments. He talked of this to all who would listen;
he questioned and inquired:--
"Do you know music, you fellows?" he asked some school boys of his own
"A little," said some.
"Well! what do they teach you?"
"They teach us to know our notes."
"Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si."
"That is all."
"Are there no more notes?"
"How happy I am! I know music!" cried the delighted Delsarte.
"Cries of joy have their sorrows," said a poet. The child had uttered
his cry of joy, and his torments were about to begin. Seven notes! It
was a whole world; but what was he to do with them? He scarcely knew,
although he was enchanted to possess the treasure. Could he foresee the
revelations which art had in store for him? Still less could he predict
those conquests in the realm of the ideal which cost him so many
It must be confessed, superior talents bring suffering to their
fortunate possessor. They console him on his journey, along the rough
road down which they drag him; they sometimes reward one of the elect,
but it is their nature to cause suffering.
And so Francois Delsarte was tempest-tossed while yet a child. He soon
saw that his scientific baggage was but small; he felt that something
unknown, something infinite, barred his passage, so soon as he strove to
approach the goal which, in an outburst of joy, he fancied within his
grasp. What hand would guide him to enter on the dazzling career which
he had dimly foreseen? Where should he get books? Who would advise him?
Well! these _impossible things_ were all found--in scanty measure, no
doubt, and somewhat capriciously; but still the means for learning were
provided for his greed of knowledge.
At first, his stubborn will had only the seven notes of the scale to
contend with. He combined them in every possible way. He derived musical
phrases from them; at the same time, he listened with all his ears to
church music, to street musicians, to church organs and hand-organs.
In these first struggles with knowledge--we cannot call it science
yet,--instead of bowing to the method of some master, Delsarte made a
method for himself. Had it any resemblance to that which--with the
progress of time,--his genius revealed to him? I cannot say, and
probably the thought never occurred to him. However it may be, Delsarte
said that he learned a great deal by this _autonomic_ process: in fact,
one who is restrained by nothing, who satisfies a passion instead of
accomplishing a mere act of obedience, may enlarge his horizon and dig
to whatever depth he sees fit. In this case, study is called _research_;
if, by this method, one loses the benefit of the experience of others,
he becomes more quick at discovery. Is not the puzzle which we work out
for ourselves more readily remembered than the ideas which are merely
learned by heart?
A wise man, a disciple of Socrates--who has been greatly ridiculed, but
by whose lessons the science of pedagogy has greatly profited,--Jacotot,
gave similar advice to teachers: "Put your questions, but let the
scholar think and work out his answers instead of putting them into his
The talent of young Francois once established, he left the inhospitable
house where he had been so misunderstood, and was taken into the family
of an old musician, "Father Bambini," as Delsarte loved to call him.
Here, finding it in the order of facts, I must repeat almost literally a
page from the little work quoted before.
Father Bambini was one of those old-fashioned masters, who treat their
art with love and veneration. He gave concerts at which he was at once
performer and audience, judge and client. Delsarte was sometimes
present. He saw the good man take up a Gluck score as one handles a
sacred book; he surprised him pressing it to his heart, or to his head,
as if to win a blessing from the great soul which poured itself forth in
these immortal compositions.
Here we most assuredly have the foundation of the unlimited admiration
which our great artist felt for the author of "Alcestis" and of
"Iphigenia." Everyone knows that it was Delsarte who drew Gluck from the
oblivion in which he had languished since the beginning of the century.
Delsarte alone could have revived him, his assured and majestic talent
being amply capable of correctly interpreting those colossal works.
Delsarte is the equivalent of Gluck, and, if we may say so, the
_incarnation of his thought_. When the artist sang a part in those lyric
tragedies of which Gretry says: "They are the very expression of truth,"
it seemed as if the illustrious chevalier lived again in him to win
better comprehension than ever before and to be avenged at last for all
the injustice and bad taste from which he had suffered.
Delsarte received no very regular musical education from Father Bambini.
The lesson was often given while the teacher was shaving, which did not
distract the attention of either party. The master, having no hand at
liberty to hold a book, made his pupil explain all the exercises aloud,
sing every composition, and read at sight the authors with whom he
wished him to be familiar. Great progress can be made where there is
such mutual good will. They had faith in each other: the child, because
he saw that his master really loved his art; the old musician, because
he realized that his scholar had a genuine vocation and would be a great
One evening they were walking together in the Champs Elysees. Carriages
rolled by filled with fashionable people. The humble pedestrians were
surrounded by luxury. Suddenly Father Bambini turned toward his scholar:
"You see," said he, "all these people who have their carriages, their
liveried lackeys and their fine clothes; well, the day will come when
they will be only too glad to hear you, and they will envy you because
you are so great a singer."
The child was deeply moved; not by this promise of future glory; not by
the thought, that by fame he should gain wealth; but he seemed to see
his dream realized in a remote future. That dream was the complete
mastery of his art; it was his ideal attained, or closely approached.
This mode of feeling already justified the prediction.
Delsarte retained a grateful memory of another teacher. M. Deshayes, he
said, spurred him on to scientific discovery, as Bambini directed his
attention and his taste to the works of the great masters.
One day, as the young man was studying a certain role, M. Deshayes,
busily talking with some one else and not even glancing toward his
"Your gesture is incorrect!"
When they were alone Delsarte expressed his astonishment.
"You said my gesture was incorrect," he exclaimed, "and you could not
"I knew it by your mode of singing."
This explanation set the young disciple's brain in a whirl. Were there,
then, affinities, a necessary concordance between the gesture and the
inflections of the voice? And, from this slight landmark, he set to
work, searching, comparing, verifying the principle by the effects, and
He gave himself with such vigor to the task that, from this hint, he
succeeded little by little in establishing the basis of his system of
aesthetics and its complete development.
After these beginnings, which Delsarte considered as a favorable
initiation, Father Bambini--his faithful patron--thought that he
required a more thorough musical education, and chose the Conservatory
school. There, that broad and impulsive spirit in its independence ran
counter to classic paths, to rigid processes; there, that exceptional
nature, that potent personality, which was already a marked one, that
vivid intuition--which already went beyond the limits of the traditional
holy of holies--had little chance of appreciation. Moreover, Delsarte
was timid; his genius had not yet acquired the audacity which dares.
Competition followed competition; would he win a prize? In answer to
this question which he had asked himself throughout the year, he saw
mediocrity crowned; his soul of light and fire was forced to bow before
will-o'-the-wisps, most of whom were soon extinguished in merited