Delsarte System of Oratory
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DELSARTE SYSTEM OF ORATORY
1. The Complete Work of L'Abbe Delaumosne
2. The Complete Work of Mme. Angelique Arnaud
3. All the Literary Remains of Francois Delsarte
(Given in his own words)
4. The Lecture and Lessons Given by Mme. Marie
Geraldy (Delsarte's Daughter) in America
5. Articles by Alfred Giraudet, Francis A. Durivage,
and Hector Berlioz
Edgar S. Werner
By Edgar S. Werner
1882, 1884, 1887, 1892
Delaumosne On Delsarte.
Preliminary Ideas--Criterion of the Oratorical Art.
Chapter II. Of The Voice.
Organic Apparatus of the Voice--The Voice in Relation to
Compass--The Voice in Relation to Vowels--Practical Conclusions
Chapter III. The Voice in Relation to Intensity of Sound.
What is Understood by Intensity of Sound--Means of Augmenting the
Timbre of the Voice--Rules for Intensity of Sound
The Voice in Relation to Measure.
Of Slowness and Rapidity in Oratorical Delivery--Of Respiration and
Silence--Inflections--Rules of Inflection--Special Inflections
Chapter I. Of Gesture in General
Chapter II. Definition and Division of Gesture.
Gesture is the Direct Agent of the Heart--Gesture is the Interpreter
of Speech--Gesture is an Elliptical Language
Chapter III. Origin and Oratorical Value of Gesture
Chapter IV. The Laws of Gesture.
The Priority of Gesture to Speech--Retroaction--Opposition of
Agents--Number of Gestures--Duration of Gesture--The Rhythm of
Gesture--Importance of the Laws of Gesture
Chapter V. Of Gesture in Particular.
The Head--Movements of the head: The Normal State, The Eccentric
State, The Concentric State--Of the Eyes--Of the Eyebrows
Chapter VI. Of The Torso.
The Chest--The Shoulders.
Chapter VII. Of The Limbs.
The Arms--Inflections of the Forearm--Of the Elbow--Of the Wrist--Of
the Hand: The Digital Face, The Back Face, The Palmar Face--Of the
Fingers--Of the Legs.
Chapter VIII. Of the Semeiotic, or the Reason of Gesture.
The Types which Characterize Gesture--Of Gesture Relative to its
Chapter IX. Of Gesture in Relation to the Figures Which Represent It.
Part Third. Articulate Language.
Chapter I. Origin and Organic Apparatus of Language.
Chapter II. Elements of Articulate Language.
Chapter III. The Oratorical Value of Speech.
Chapter IV. The Value of Words in Phrases.
The Conjunction--The Interjection in Relation to its Degree of
Value--A Resume of the Degrees of Value
Chapter V. French and Latin Prosody
Chapter VI. Method.
Chapter VII. A Series Of Gestures For Exercises.
Preliminary Reflections--The Series of Gestures Applied to the
Sentiments Oftenest Expressed by the Orator: (1) Interpellation; (2)
Thanks, Affectionate and Ceremonious; (3) Attraction; (4) Surprise
and Assurance; (5) Devotion; (6) Interrogative Surprise; (7)
Reiterated Interrogation; (8) Anger; (9) Menace; (10) An Order for
Leaving; (11) Reiteration; (12) Fright--Important Remarks
Arnaud On Delsarte.
Chapter I. The Bases of the Science
Chapter II. The Method.
Ellipsis--Shades and Inflections--Vocal Music--Respiration--Position
of the Tone--Preparation of the Initial Consonant--Exercises--
Appoggiatura--Roulades and Martellato--Pronunciation--E mute before a
Consonant--E mute before a Vowel.
Chapter III. Was Delsarte a Philosopher?
Chapter IV. Course of Applied AEsthetics.
Meeting of the Circle of Learned Societies--Theory of the Degrees.
Chapter V. The Recitation of Fables.
Chapter VI. The Law of AEsthetics.
Chapter VII. The Elements of Art.
The True. The Good. The Beautiful.
Chapter VIII. Application of the Law to Various Arts.
Dramatic, Lyric and Oratorical Art.
Application of the Law to Literature.
Application of the Law to Architecture.
Application of the Law to Sculpture.
Application of the Law to Painting.
Chapter IX. Delsarte's Beginnings.
Chapter X. Delsarte's Theatre and School.
Chapter XI. Delsarte's Family.
Chapter XII. Delsarte's Religion.
Chapter XIII. Delsarte's Friends.
Chapter XIV. Delsarte's Scholars.
Chapter XV. Delsarte's Musical Compositions.
Chapter XVI. Delsarte's Evening Lectures.
Chapter XVII. Delsarte's Inventions.
Chapter XVIII. Delsarte before the Philotechnic Association.
Chapter XIX. Delsarte's Last Years.
Literary Remains Of Francois Delsarte.
Delsarte's Last Letter To The King Of Hanover
Semeiotics of the Shoulder.
What I Propose.
Reversal of Processional Relations.
Passion of Signs, Signs of Passion.
Definition of Form.
On Distinction and Vulgarity of Motion.
Definition of Gesture.
Attitudes of the Head.
Attitudes of the Hands.
Affirmation of the Hand.
Table of the Normal Character of the Nine Attitudes.
Attitudes of the Legs.
The Holy Trinity Recovered in Sound.
Definition Of The Voice.
What the Register is.
On the Tearing of the Voice.
Medallion of Inflection.
The Nature of the Colors of Each Circle in the Color Charts.
The Attributes of Reason.
The Lecture and Lessons Given by Mme. Marie Geraldy (Delsarte's
Daughter) in America.
Article by Alfred Giraudet.
Article by Francis A. Durivage.
Article by Hector Berlioz.
Delaumosne On Delsarte.
The Delsarte System,
M. l'Abbe Delaumosne,
(_Pupil of Delsarte._)
Translated by Frances A. Shaw.
Francois Delsarte was born November 11, 1811, at Solesme, a little town
of the Department of the North, in France. His father, who was a
renowned physician and the author of several inventions, might have
secured a fortune for his family, had he been more anxious for the
morrow, but he died in a state bordering upon poverty.
In 1822, Francois was apprenticed to a porcelain painter of Paris, but,
yielding to a taste and aptitude for music, in the year 1825, he sought
and obtained admission to the Conservatory as a pensioner. Here a great
trial awaited him--a trial which wrecked his musical career, but was a
decided gain for his genius. He had been placed in the vocal classes,
and in consequence of faults in method and direction, he lost his voice.
He was inconsolable, but, without making light of his sorrow, we may
count that loss happy, which gave the world its first law-giver in the
art of oratory.
The young student refused to accept this calamity without making one
final effort to retrieve it. He presented himself at the musical contest
of 1829. His impaired voice rendered success impossible, but kind words
from influential friends in a great measure compensated for defeat.
The celebrated Nourrit said to him: "I have given you my vote for the
first prize, and my children shall have no singing-master but you."
"Courage," said Madame Malibran, pressing his hand. "You will one day be
a great artist."
But Delsarte knew that without a voice he must renounce the stage, and
yielding to the inevitable, he gave up the role of the actor to assume
the functions of the professor. After his own shipwreck upon a bark
without pilot or compass, he summoned up courage to search into the laws
of an art which had hitherto subsisted only upon caprice and personal
After several years of diligent study, he discovered and formulated the
essential laws of all art; and, thanks to him, aesthetic science in our
day has the same precision as mathematical science. He had numerous
pupils, many of whom have become distinguished in various public
careers--in the pulpit, at the bar, on the stage, and at the tribune.
Madame Sontag, when she wished to interpret Gluck's music, chose
Delsarte for her teacher. Rachel drew inspiration from his counsels, and
he became her guardian of the sacred fire. He was urgently solicited to
appear with her at the Theatre-Francais, but religious scruples led him
to refuse the finest offers.
Madame de Giradin (Delphine Gay), surnamed the Muse of her country,
welcomed him gladly to her salon, then the rendezvous of the world of
art and letters, and regretted not seeing him oftener. He was more than
once invited to the literary sessions of Juilly college, and, under the
spell of his diction, the pupils became animated by a new ardor for
Monseigneur Sibour had great esteem and affection for Delsarte, and made
him his frequent guest. It was in the salon of this art-loving
archbishop that Delsarte achieved one of his most brilliant triumphs.
All the notable men of science had gathered there, and the conversation
took such a turn that Delsarte found opportunity to give, without
offence, a challenge in these two lines of Racine:
_L'onde approche, se brise, et vomit a nos yeux,
Parmi des flots d'ecume, un monstre furieux._
("The wave draws near, it breaks, and casts before our eyes,
Amid the floods of foam, a monster grim and dire.")
"Please tell me the most emphatic and significant word here," said
All reflected, sought out and then gave, each in turn, his chosen word.
Every word was selected save the conjunction _et_ (and). No one thought
Delsarte then rose, and in a calm and modest, but triumphant tone, said:
"The significant, emphatic word is the only one which has escaped you.
It is the conjunction _and_, whose elliptic sense leaves us in
apprehension of that which is about to happen." All owned themselves
vanquished, and applauded the triumphant artist.
Donoso Cortes made Delsarte a chosen confidant of his ideas. One day,
when the great master of oratorical diction had recited to him the _Dies
Irae_, the illustrious philosopher, in an access of religious emotion,
begged that this hymn might be chanted at his funeral. Delsarte promised
it, and he kept his word.
When invited to the court of Louis Philippe, he replied: "I am not a
court buffoon." When a generous compensation was hinted at, he answered:
"I do not sell my loves." When it was urged that the occasion was a
birth-day fete to be given his father by the Duke of Orleans, he
accepted the invitation upon three conditions, thus stated by himself:
"1st. I shall be the only singer; 2d. I shall have no accompaniment but
the opera chorus; 3d. I shall receive no compensation." The conditions
were assented to, and Delsarte surpassed himself. The king paid him such
marked attentions that M. Ingres felt constrained to say: "One might
declare in truth that it is Delsarte who is king of France."
Delsarte's reputation had passed the frontier. The king of Hanover
committed to his instruction the greatest musical artiste of his realm,
and was so gratified with her improvement that, wishing to recompense
the professor, he sent him the much prized Hanoverian medal of arts and
sciences, accompanied by a letter from his own royal hand. Delsarte
afterwards received from the same king the cross of a Chevalier of the
Delsarte's auditors were not the only ones to sound his praises. The
learned reviews extolled his merits. Such writers as Laurentie, Riancey,
Lamartine and Theophile Gautier awarded him the most enthusiastic
praise. Posterity will perpetuate his fame.
M. Laurentie writes: "I heard Delsarte recite one evening '_Iphigenia's
Dream_,' which the audience had besought of him. The hall remained
thrilled and breathless under this impaired and yet sovereign voice. All
yielded in rapt astonishment to the spell. There was no prestige, no
theatrical illusion. Iphigenia was a professor in a black frock coat;
the orchestra was a piano, giving forth here and there an unexpected
modulation. This was his whole force; yet the hall was mute, hearts
beat, tears flowed from many eyes, and when the recital ended,
enthusiastic shouts arose, as if Iphigenia in person had just recounted
After Delsarte had gathered so abundant a harvest of laurels, fate
decided that he had lived long enough. When he had reached his sixtieth
year, he was attacked by hypertrophy of the heart, which left his rich
organization in ruins. He was no longer the artist of graceful, supple,
expressive and harmonious movements; no longer the thinker with profound
and luminous ideas. But in the midst of this physical and intellectual
ruin, the Christian sentiment retained its strong, sweet energy. A
believer in the sacraments which he had received in days of health, he
asked for them in the hour of danger, and many times he partook of that
sacrament of love whose virtue he had taught so well.
Finally, after having lingered for months in a state that was neither
life nor death, surrounded by his pious wife, and his weeping, praying
children, he rendered his soul to God on the 20th of July, 1871.
Delsarte never could be persuaded to write anything upon themes foreign
to those connected with his musical and vocal work. The author of this
volume desires to save from oblivion the most wonderful conception of
this superior intellect: his _Course of AEsthetic Oratory_. He dares
promise to be a faithful interpreter. If excuse be needed for
undertaking a task so delicate, he replies that he addresses himself to
a class of readers who will know how to appreciate his motives.
The merit of Delsarte, the honor of his family, the gratification of his
numerous friends, the interests of science, the claims of friendship,
demand that this light should not be left under a bushel, but placed
upon a candlestick--this light which has shed so brilliant a glow, and
enriched the arts with a new splendor.
Orators, you are called to the ministry of speech. You have fixed your
choice upon the pulpit, the bar, the tribune or the stage. You will
become one day, preacher, advocate, lecturer or actor; in short, you
desire to embrace the orator's career. I applaud your design. You will
enter upon the noblest and most glorious of vocations. Eloquence holds
the first rank among the arts. While we award praise and glory to great
musicians and painters, to great masters of sculpture and architecture,
the prize of honor is decreed to great orators.
Who can define the omnipotence of speech? With a few brief words God
called the universe from nothingness; speech falling from the glowing
lips of the Apostles, has changed the face of the earth. The current of
opinion follows the prestige of speech, and to-day, as ever, eloquence
is universal queen. We need feel no surprise that, in ancient times, the
multitude uncovered as Cicero approached, and cried: "Behold the
Would you have your speech bear fruit and command honor? Two qualities
are needful: virtue and a knowledge of the art of oratory. Cicero has
defined the orator as a good man of worth: _Vir bonus, dicendi peritus_.
Then, above all, the orator should be a man of worth. Such a man will
make it his purpose to do good; and the good is the true end of
oratorical art. In truth, what is art? Art is the expression of the
beautiful in ideas; it is the true. Plato says the beautiful is the
splendor of the true.
What is art? It is the beautiful in action. It is the good. According to
St. Augustine, the beautiful is the lustre of the good.
Finally, what is art? It is the beautiful in the harmonies of nature.
Galen, when he had finished his work on the structure of the human body,
exclaimed: "Behold this beautiful hymn to the glory of the Creator!"
What, then, is the true, the beautiful, the good? We might answer, it is
God. Then virtue and the glory of God should be the one end of the
orator, of the good man. A true artist never denies God.
Eloquence is a means, not an end. We must not love art for its own sake,
that would be idolatry. Art gives wings for ascent to God. One need not
pause to contemplate his wings.
Art is an instrument, but not an instrument of vanity or complaisance.
Truth, alas! compels us to admit that eloquence has also the melancholy
power of corrupting souls. Since it is an art, it is also a power which
must produce its effect for good or evil.
It has been said that the fool always finds a greater fool to listen to
him. We might add that the false, the ugly and the vicious have each a
fibre in the human heart to serve their purpose. Then let the true
orator, the good man, armed with holy eloquence, seek to paralyze the
fatal influence of those orators who are apostles of falsehood and
Poets are born, orators are made: _nascuntur poetae, fiunt oratores_.
You understand why I have engraved this maxim on the title-page of my
work. It contains its _raison d'etre_, its justification. Men are poets
at birth, but eloquence is an art to be taught and learned. All art
presupposes rules, procedures, a mechanism, a method which must be
We bring more or less aptitude to the study of an art, but every
profession demands a period more or less prolonged. We must not count
upon natural advantages; none are perfect by nature. Humanity is
crippled; beauty exists only in fragments. Perfect beauty is nowhere to
be found; the artist must create it by synthetic work.
You have a fine voice, but be certain it has its defects. Your
articulation is vicious, and the gestures upon which you pride yourself,
are, in most cases, unnatural. Do not rely upon the fire of momentary
inspiration. Nothing is more deceptive. The great Garrick said: "I do
not depend upon that inspiration which idle mediocrity awaits." Talma
declared that he absolutely calculated all effects, leaving nothing to
chance. While he recited the scene between Augustus and Cinna, he was
also performing an arithmetical operation. When he said:
"Take a chair, Cinna, and in everything
Closely observe the law I bid you heed"--
he made his audience shudder.
The orator should not even think of what he is doing. The thing should
have been so much studied, that all would seem to flow of itself from
But where find this square, this intellectual compass, that traces for
us with mathematical precision, that line of gestures beyond which the
orator must not pass? I have sought it for a long time, but in vain.
Here and there one meets with advice, sometimes good but very often
bad. For example, you are told that the greater the emotion, the
stronger should be the voice. Nothing is more false. In violent emotion
the heart seems to fill the larynx and the voice is stifled. In all such
counsels it behooves us to search out their foundation, the reason that
is in them, to ask if there is a type in nature which serves as their
We hear a celebrated orator. We seek to recall, to imitate his
inflections and gestures. We adopt his mannerisms, and that is all. We
see these mannerisms everywhere, but the true type is nowhere.
After much unavailing search, I at last had the good fortune to meet a
genuine master of eloquence. After giving much study to the masterpieces
of painting and sculpture, after observing the living man in all his
moods and expressions, he has known how to sum up these details and
reduce them to laws. This great artist, this unrivaled master, was the
pious, the amiable, the lamented Delsarte.
There certainly was pleasure and profit in hearing this master of
eloquence, for he excelled in applying his principles to himself. Still
from his teachings, even from the dead letter of them, breaks forth a
light which reveals horizons hitherto unknown.
This work might have been entitled: _Philosophy of Oratorical Art_, for
one cannot treat of eloquence without entering the domain of the highest
What, in fact, is oratorical art? It is the means of expressing the
phenomena of the soul by the play of the organs. It is the sum total of
rules and laws resulting from the reciprocal action of mind and body.
Thus man must be considered in his sensitive, intellectual and moral
state, with the play of the organs corresponding to these states. Our
teaching has, then, for its basis the science of the soul ministered to
by the organs. This is why we present the fixed, invariable rules which
have their sanction in philosophy. This can be rendered plain by an
exposition of our method.
The art of oratory, we repeat, is expressing mental phenomena by the
play of the physical organs. It is the translation, the plastic form,
the language of human nature. But man, the image of God, presents
himself to us in three phases: the sensitive, intellectual and moral.
Man feels, thinks and loves. He is _en rapport_ with the physical world,
with the spiritual world, and with God. He fulfils his course by the
light of the senses, the reason, or the light of grace.
We call life the sensitive state, mind the intellectual state, and soul
the moral state. Neither of these three terms can be separated from the
two others. They interpenetrate, interlace, correspond with and
embrace each other. Thus mind supposes soul and life. Soul is at the
same time mind and life. In fine, life is inherent in mind and soul.
Thus these three primitive moods of the soul are distinguished by nine
perfectly adequate terms. The soul being the form of the body, the body
is made in the image of the soul. The human body contains three
organisms to translate the triple form of the soul.
The phonetic machinery, the voice, sound, inflections, are living
language. The child, as yet devoid of intelligence and sentiment,
conveys his emotions through cries and moans.
The myologic or muscular machinery, or gesture, is the language of
sentiment and emotion. When the child recognizes its mother, it begins
The buccal machinery, or articulate speech, is the language of the
Man, neither by voice nor gesture, can express two opposite ideas on the
same subject; this necessarily involves a resort to speech. Human
language is composed of gesture, speech and singing. The ancient
melodrama owed its excellence to a union of these three languages.
Each of these organisms takes the eccentric, concentric, or normal form,
according to the different moods of the soul which it is called to
In the sensitive state, the soul lives outside itself; it has relations
with the exterior world. In the intellectual state, the soul turns back
upon itself, and the organism obeys this movement. Then ensues a
contraction in all the agents of the organism. This is the concentric
state. In the moral or mystic state, the soul, enraptured with God,
enjoys perfect tranquility and blessedness. All breathes peace,
quietude, serenity. This is the normal state,--the most perfect,
elevated and sublime expression of which the organism is capable.
Let us not forget that by reason of a constant transition, each state
borrows the form of its kindred state. Thus the normal state can take
the concentric and eccentric form, and become at the same time, doubly
normal; that is, normal to the highest degree. Since each state can take
the form of the two others, the result is nine distinct gestures, which
form that marvelous accord of nine, which we call the universal
In fine, here is the grand law of organic gymnastics:
The triple movement, the triple language of the organs is eccentric,
concentric, or normal, according as it is the expression of life, soul
Under the influence, the occult inspiration of this law, the great
masters have enriched the world with miracles of art. Aided by this law
the course followed in this work, may be easily understood.
Since eloquence is composed of three languages, we divide this work into
three books in which voice, gesture and speech are studied by turns.
Then, applying to them the great law of art, our task is accomplished.
The advantages of this method are easily understood. There is given a
type of expression not taken from the individual, but from human nature
synthetized. Thus the student will not have the humiliation of being the
slave or ape of any particular master. He will be only himself. Those
who assimilate their imperfect natures to the perfect type will become
orators. _Fiunt Oratores._
Success having attended the first efforts, let the would-be orator
assimilate these rules, and his power will be doubled, aye increased a
hundredfold. And thus having become an orator, a man of principle, who
knows how to speak well, he will aid in the triumph of religion, justice
Preliminary Ideas--criterion of the Oratorical Art.
Let us note an incontestable fact. The science of the Art of Oratory has
not yet been taught. Hitherto genius alone, and not science, has made
great orators. Horace, Quintilian and Cicero among the ancients, and
numerous modern writers have treated of oratory as an art. We admire
their writings, but this is not science; here we seek in vain the
fundamental laws whence their teachings proceed. There is no science
without principles which give a reason for its facts. Hence to teach and
to learn the art of oratory, it is necessary:
1. To understand the general law which controls the movements of the
2. To apply this general law to the movements of each particular organ;
3. To understand the meaning of the form of each of these movements;
4. To adapt this meaning to each of the different states of the soul.
The fundamental law, whose stamp every one of these organs bears, must
be kept carefully in mind. Here is the formula:
The sensitive, mental and moral state of man are rendered by the
eccentric, concentric or normal form of the organism.
Such is the first and greatest law. There is a second law, which
proceeds from the first and is similar to it:
Each form of the organism becomes triple by borrowing the form of the
It is in the application of these two laws that the entire practice of
the art of oratory consists. Here, then, is a science, for we possess a
criterion with which all phenomena must agree, and which none can
gainsay. This criterion, composed of our double formula, we represent in
a chart, whose explanation must be carefully studied.
The three primitive forms or genera which affect the organs are
represented by the three transverse lines.
1 3 2
II. Conc. 1-II 3-II 2-II
Ecc. Conc. Norm. Conc. Conc. Conc.
III. Norm. 1-III 3-III 2-III
Ecc. Norm. Norm. Norm. Conc. Norm.
I. Ecc. 1-I 3-I 2-I
Ecc. Ecc. Norm. Ecc. Conc. Ecc.
The subdivision of the three genera into nine species is noted in the
three perpendicular columns.
Under the title _Genus_ we shall use the Roman numerals I, III, II.
Under the title _Species_ we employ the Arabic figures 1, 3, 2.
I designates the eccentric form, II the concentric form, III the normal
The Arabic figures have the same signification.
The normal form, either in the genus or the species, we place in the
middle column, because it serves as a bond of union between the two
others, as the moral state is the connecting link between the
intellectual and vital states.
Thus the first law relative to the primitive forms of the organs is
applied in the three transverse columns, and the second law relative to
their compound forms is reproduced in the three vertical columns.
As may be easily proven, the eccentric genus produces three species of
eccentric forms, marked in the three divisions of the lower transverse
Since the figure 1 represents the eccentric form, 1-I will designate the
form of the highest degree of eccentricity, which we call
Since the figure 3 represents the normal form, the numbers 3-I will
indicate the _normo-eccentric_ form.
Since the figure 2 designates the form which translates intelligence,
the figures 2-I indicate the _concentro-eccentric_ form as a _species_.
As the species proceeds from the genus, we begin by naming the species
in order to bring it back to the genus. Thus, in the column of the
eccentric genus the figure 1 is placed after the numbers 3 and 2, which
belong to the species. We must apply the same analysis to the transverse
column of the normal genus, as also to that of the concentric genus.
Following a diagonal from the bottom to the top and from left to right,
we meet the most expressive form of the species, whether eccentric,
normal or concentric, marked by the figures 1-I, 3-III, 2-II, and by the
abbreviations _Ecc.-ecc. (Eccentro-eccentric), Norm.-norm.
(Normo-normal), Conc.-conc. (Concentro-concentric)_. It is curious to
remark how upon this diagonal the organic manifestations corresponding
to the soul, that is to love, are found in the midst, to link the
expressive forms of life and mind.
This chart sums up all the essential forms which can affect the
organism. This is a universal algebraic formula, by which we can solve
all organic problems. We apply it to the hand, to the shoulder, to the
eyes, to the voice--in a word, to all the agents of oratorical language.
For example, it suffices to know the _eccentro-eccentric_ form of the
hand, of the eyes; and we reserve it for the appropriate occasion.
All the figures accompanying the text of this work are only
reproductions of this chart affected by such or such a particular organ.
A knowledge of this criterion gives to our studies not only simplicity,
clearness and facility, but also mathematical precision.
In proposing the accord of nine formed by the figure 3 multiplied into
itself, it must be understood that we give the most elementary, most
usual and least complicated terms. Through natural and successive
subdivisions we can arrive at 81 terms. Thus multiply 9 by 3; the number
27 gives an accord of 27 terms, which can again be multiplied by 3 to
reach 81. Or rather let us multiply 9 by 9, and we in like manner obtain
81 terms, which become the end of the series. This is the alpha and
omega of all human science. _Huc usque venies, et ibi confringes
tumentes fluctus tuos._ ("Thus far shalt thou come, and here shall thy
proud waves be stayed.")
It is well to remark that this criterion is applied to all possible
phenomena, both in the arts and sciences. This is reason, universal
synthesis. All phenomena, spiritual as well as material, must be
considered under three or nine aspects, or not be understood. Three
genera and nine species; three and nine in everything and everywhere;
three and nine, these are the notes echoed by all beings. We do not fear
to affirm that this criterion is divine, since it conforms to the nature
of beings. Then, with this compass in hand, let us explore the vast
field of oratorical art, and begin with the voice.
NOTE TO THE STUDENT.--Do not go on without a perfect understanding of
this explanation of the criterion, as well as the exposition of our
method which closes the preface.
Of The Voice.
The whole secret of captivating an audience by the charms of the voice,
consists in a practical knowledge of the laws of sound, inflection,
respiration and silence. The voice first manifests itself through sound;
inflection is an intentional modification of sound; respiration and
silence are a means of falling exactly upon the suitable tone and
Sound being the first language of man in the cradle, the least we can
demand of the orator is, that he speak intelligently a language whose
author is instinct. The orator must then listen to his own voice in
order to understand it, to estimate its value, to cultivate it by
correcting its faults, to guide it--in a word, to dispose of it at will,
according to the inclination of the moment. We begin the study of the
voice with _Sound;_ and as sound may be viewed under several aspects, we
divide this heading into as many sections.
_Compass of the Voice--Organic Apparatus of the Voice._
This apparatus is composed of the larynx, the mouth and the lungs. Each
of these agents derives its value from mutual action with the others.
The larynx of itself is nothing, and can be considered only through its
participation in the simultaneous action of the mouth and lungs.
Sound, then, is formed by a triple agent--projective, vibrative and
The lungs are the soliciting agent, the larynx is the vibrative agent,
the mouth is the reflective agent. These must act in unison, or there is
no result. The larynx might be called the mouth of the instrument, the
inside of the mouth the pavilion, the lungs the artist. In a violin, the
larynx would be the string, the lungs the bow, the mouth the instrument
The triple action of these agents produces phonation. They engender
sounds and inflections. Sound is the revelation of the sensitive life to
the minutest degree; inflections are the revelation of the same life in
a higher degree, and this is why they are the foundation and the charm
Such is the wonderful organism of the human voice, such the powerful
instrument Providence has placed at the disposal of the orator. But what
avails the possession of an instrument if one does not know how to use
it, or how to tune it? The orator, ignorant of the laws of sound and
inflection, resembles the debutant who places the trumpet to his lips
for the first time. We know the ear-torturing tones he evolves.
The ear is the most delicate, the most exacting of all our senses. The
eye is far more tolerant. The eye resigns itself to behold a bad
gesture, but the ear does not forgive a false note or a false
inflection. It is through the voice we please an audience. If we have
the ear of an auditor, we easily win his mind and heart. The voice is a
mysterious hand which touches, envelops and caresses the heart.
_Of the Voice in Relation to Compass._
All voices do not have the same compass, or the same range. By range we
mean the number of tones the voice can produce below and above a given
note on the staff, say A, second space of the treble clef.
There are four distinct kinds of voices: Soprano, alto, tenor and bass.
There are also intermediate voices, possessing the peculiar quality of
the kind to which it belongs, for example: Mezzo-soprano, with the
quality of the soprano and only differing from the soprano in range, the
range of this voice being lower than the soprano and a little higher
than the alto. Then comes the alto or contralto.
In the male voice we have the tenor robusto, a little lower than the
pure tenor and more powerful; next the baritone, a voice between the
tenor and bass, but possessing very much the quality of the bass.
The tones in the range of every voice can be divided into three
parts--the lower, medium and higher. Thus we would say of a performer,
he or she used the lower or higher tones, or whatever the case may be.
This applies to every kind of voice.
The soprano voice ranges generally from the middle C, first added line
below on the treble clef, upwards to A, first added line above the
staff. Contralto voices range generally from G, below middle C in the
treble clef, up to F, the upper line of the clef.
The tenor voice ranges from C, second space of the F clef, to D, second
space in the treble clef.
The bass voice ranges from lower F, first space below of the F or bass
clef, to D, second space above of this clef.
The first perception of the human voice imperatively demands, 1. That
the voice be tried and its compass measured in order to ascertain to
what species it belongs. Its name must be known with absolute certainty.
It would be shameful in a musician not to know the name of the
instrument he uses. 2. That the ear be trained in order to distinguish
the pitch upon which one speaks.
We should be able to name a sound and to sound a name. The Orientals
could sing eight degrees of tone between C and D. There may be a whole
scale, a whole air between these two tones. It would be unpardonable
not to know how to distinguish or at least to sound a semitone.
There is a fact proved by experience, which must not be forgotten. The
high voice, with elevated brows, serves to express intensity of passion,
as well as small, trivial and also pleasant things.
The deep voice, with the eyes open, expresses worthy things.
The deep voice, with the eyes closed, expresses odious things.
_The Voice in Relation to Vowels._
As already stated, the vocal apparatus is composed of the lungs, the
larynx and the mouth; but its accessories are the teeth, the lips, the
palate and the uvula. The tip and root of the tongue, the arch of the
palate and the nasal cavities have also their share in perfecting the
In classifying the different varieties of voice, we have considered them
only in their rudimentary state. Ability to name and distinguish the
several tones of voice is the starting point. We have an image more or
less perfect, leaving the mould; we have a canvas containing the design,
but not the embroidery--the mere outline of an instrument, a body
without a soul. The voice being the language of the sensitive life, the
passional state must pass entirely into the voice.
We must know then how to give it an expression, a color answering to the
sentiment it conveys. But this expressive form of the voice depends
upon the sound of its vowels.
There is a mother vowel, a generative tone. It is _a_ (Italian _a_). In
articulating _a_ the mouth opens wide, giving a sound similar to _a_ in
The primitive _a_ takes three forms. The unaccented, Italian _a_
represents the normal state; _a_ with the acute accent (') represents
the eccentric state; _a_ with the grave accent (`) represents the
These three _a_'s derived from primitive _a_ become each in turn the
progenitor of a family with triple sounds, as may be seen in the
following genealogical tree:
A A A
e o e
e au eu
i ou u
Eccentric. Normal. Concentric.
This is the only simple sound, but four other sounds are derived from
it. The three _a's_ articulated by closing the uvula, give the nasal
_an_. Each family also gives its special nasal sound: _in_ for the
eccentric voice, _on_ for the normal state, _un_ for the concentric. All
other sounds are derived from combinations of these. The mouth cannot
possibly produce more than three families of sounds, and in each family
it is _a_ united with the others that forms the trinity.
The variety of sounds in these three families of vowels arises from the
difference of the opening of the mouth and lips in articulating them.
These different modes of articulation may be rendered more intelligible
by the subjoined diagrams:
_a_ is pronounced with the mouth very wide open, the uvula raised and
the tongue much lowered.
_e, e, i_ and _in_ are articulated with the lips open and the back part
of the mouth gradually closed.
_a, au, ou_ and _on_ are articulated with the back of the mouth open and
the lips gradually closed.
_e, eu, u_ and _un_ are articulated with the back of the mouth and the
lips uniformly closed.
The voice takes different names, according to the different sounds in
each family of vowels: the chest-voice, the medium voice and the
These names imply no change in the sort of voice, but a change in the
manner of emission. The head, medium or chest-voice, indicates only
variety in the emission of vowels, and may be applied to the high as
well as the deep and medium voice. Thus the deep voice may produce
sounds in the head-voice, as well as in the medium and chest voices.
The head-voice is produced by lowering the larynx, and at the same time
raising the uvula. In swallowing, the larynx rises by the elevation of
the uvula, without which elevation there can be no head-tones.
1. It is highly important to know how to assume either of these voices
at will. The chest-voice is the expression of the sensitive or vital
life, and is the interpreter of all physical emotions. The medium voice
expresses sentiment and the moral emotions. The head-voice interprets
everything pertaining to scientific or mental phenomena. By observing
the laugh in the vital, moral and intellectual states, we shall see that
the voice takes the sound of the vowel corresponding to each state.
We understand the laugh of an individual; if upon the _i_ (_e_ long), he
has made a sorry jest; if upon _e_ (_a_ in _fate_), he has nothing in
his heart and most likely nothing in his head; if upon _a_ (_a_ short),
the laugh is forced. _O, a_, (_a_ long) and _ou_ are the only normal
expressions. Thus every one is measured, numbered, weighed. There is
reason in everything, even when unknown to man. In physical pain or
joy, the laugh or groan employs the vowels _e, e, i_.
2. The chest-voice should be little used, as it is a bestial and very
3. The head-voice or the medium voice is preferable, it being more noble
and more ample, and not fatiguing. In these voices there is far less
danger of hoarseness. The head and medium voices proceed more from the
mouth, while the chest-voice has its vibrating point in the larynx.
4. The articulation of the three syllables, _la, mo_ and _po_, is a very
useful exercise in habituating one to the medium voice. Besides
reproducing the tone of this voice, these are the musical consonants
_par excellence_. They give charm and development to the voice. We can
repeat these tones without fatiguing the vocal chords, since they are
produced by the articulative apparatus.
5. It is well to remark that the chest, medium and head voices are
synonymous with the eccentric, normal or concentric voice.
6. It is only a hap-hazard sort of orator who does not know how to
attain, at the outset, what is called the white voice, to be colored
afterward at will. The voice should resemble the painter's pallet, where
all the colors are arranged in an orderly manner, according to the
affinities of each. A colorless tint may be attained in the same way as
a pure tint. It may be well to remark here, although by anticipation,
that the expressions of the hand and brow belong to the voice. The
coloring of the larynx corresponds to the movements of the hand or
Sound is painting, or it is nothing. It should be in affinity with the
The Voice in Relation to Intensity of Sound.
_What is Understood by Intensity of Sound._
The voice has three dimensions--height, depth and breadth; in other
terms, diapason, intensity and duration; or in yet other words,
tonality, timbre and succession.
Intensity may be applied alike to the voice and to sound. The voice is
strong or weak, according to the mechanism of the acoustic apparatus.
The strength or weakness of sound depends upon the speaker, who from the
same apparatus evolves tones more or less strong. It is the _forte,
piano_ and _pianissimo_ in music. Thus a loud voice can render weak
tones, and a weak voice loud tones. Hence the tones of both are capable
of increase or diminution.
_Means of Augmenting the Timbre of the Voice._
1. A stronger voice may be obtained by taking position not upon the heel
or flat of the foot, but upon the ball near the toes--that attitude
which further on we shall designate as the third. The chest is
eccentric; that is, convex and dilated. In this position all the muscles
are tense and resemble the chords of an instrument whose resonance is
proportional to their tension.
2. There are three modes of developing the voice. A voice may be
manufactured. A natural voice is almost always more or less changed by a
thousand deleterious influences.
1. _In volume_, by lowering the larynx, elevating the soft-palate and
hollowing the tongue.
2. _In intensity._--A loud voice may be hollow. It must be rendered
deep, forcible and brilliant by these three methods: profound
inspiration, explosion and expulsion. The intensity of an effect may
depend upon expulsion or an elastic movement. Tenuity is elasticity. It
is the rarest and yet the most essential quality of diction.
3. _In compass._--There are three ways of increasing the compass of the
1. By the determination of its pitch;
2. By practicing the vocal scale;
3. By the fusion of the registers upon the key-note.
The first of these methods is most effective. The second consists in
exercising upon those notes which are near the key-note. Upon this
exercise depends in great measure the homogeneity of the voice. Taking
_la_ for the diapason, the voice which extends from the lowest notes to
upper _re_ is the chest-voice, since it suffers no acoustic
modification. From _mi_ to _la_ the voice is modified; it is the medium
voice, or the second register, which gives full and supple tones. The
head or throat-voice, or the third register, extends from _si_ to the
highest and sharpest notes. Its tones are weak, and should be avoided
as much as possible. There are then only four good notes--those from
_mi_ to _la_, upon which the voice should be exercised. By uniting the
registers, an artificial, homogeneous voice may be created, whose tones
are produced without compression and without difficulty. This being
done, it is evident that every note of the voice must successively
indicate the three registers--that is, it must be rendered in the chest,
medium and head voices.
There is also a method of diminishing the voice. As the tone is in
proportion to the volume of air in the lungs, it may be weakened by
contracting the epiglottis or by suppressing the respiration.
_Rules for Intensity of Sound._
1. The strength of the voice is in an inverse ratio to the respiration.
The more we are moved, the less loudly we speak; the less the emotion,
the stronger the voice. In emotion, the heart seems to mount to the
larynx, and the voice is stifled. A soft tone should always be an
affecting tone, and consist only of a breath. Force is always opposed to
power. It is an error to suppose that the voice must be increased as the
heart is laid bare. The lowest tones are the best understood. If we
would make a low voice audible, let us speak as softly as we can.
Go to the sea-shore when the tempest rages. The roar of the waves as
they break against the vessel's side, the muttering thunders, the
furious wind-gusts render the strongest voice impotent. Go upon a
battle-field when drums beat and trumpets sound. In the midst of this
uproar, these discordant cries, this tumult of opposing armies, the
leader's commands, though uttered in the loudest tones, can scarce be
heard; but a low whistle will be distinctly audible. The voice is
intense in serenity and calm, but in passion it is weak.
Let those who would bring forward subtle arguments against this law,
remember that logic is often in default when applied to artistic facts.
A concert is given in a contracted space, with an orchestra and a
double-bass. The double-bass is very weak. Logic would suggest two
double-basses in order to produce a stronger tone. Quite the contrary.
Two double-basses give only a semitone, which half a double-bass renders
of itself. So much for logic in this case.
The greatest joy is in sorrow, for here there is the greatest love.
Other joys are only on the surface. We suffer and we weep because we
love. Of what avail are tears? The essential thing is to love. Tears are
the accessories; they will come in time, they need not be sought.
Nothing so wearies and disgusts us, as the lachrymose tone. A man who
amounts to anything is never a whimperer.
Take two instruments in discord and remote from each other. Logic
forbids their approach lest their tones become more disagreeable. The
reverse is true. In bringing them together, the lowest becomes higher
and the highest lower, and there is an accord.
Let us suppose a hall with tapestries, a church draped in black. Logic
says, "sing more loudly." But this must be guarded against lest the
voice become lost in the draperies. The voice should scarce reach these
too heavy or too sonorous partitions, but leaving the lips softly, it
should pulsate through the audience, and go no farther.
An audience is asleep. Logic demands more warmth, more fire. Not at all.
Keep silent and the sleepers will awaken.
2. Sound, notwithstanding its many shades, should be homogeneous; that
is, as full at the end as at the beginning. The mucous membrane, the
lungs and the expiratory muscles have sole charge of its transmission.
The vocal tube must not vary any more for the loud tone than for the low
tone. The opening must be the same. The low tone must have the power of
the loud tone, since it is to be equally understood. The acoustic organs
should have nothing to do with the transmission of sound. They must be
inert so that the tone may be homogeneous. The speaker or singer should
know how to diminish the tone without the contraction of the back part
of the mouth.
To be homogeneous the voice must be ample. To render it ample, take high
rather than low notes. The dipthong _eu_ (like _u_ in muff), and the
vowels _u_ and _o_ give amplitude to sound. On the contrary, the tone
is meagre in articulating the vowels _e_, _i_ and _a_. To render the
voice ample, we open the throat and roll forth the sound. The more the
sound is _circumvoluted_, the more ample it is. To render the voice
resonant, we draw the tongue from the teeth and give it a hollow form;
then we lower the larynx, and in this way imitate the French horn.
3. The voice should always be sympathetic, kindly, calm, and noble, even
when the most repulsive things are expressed. A tearful voice is a grave
defect, and must be avoided. The same may be said of the tremulous voice
of the aged, who emphasize and prolong their syllables. Tears are out of
place in great situations; we should weep only at home. To weep is a
sure way of making people laugh.
The Voice in Relation to Measure.
_Of Slowness and Rapidity in Oratorical Delivery._
The third and last relation in which we shall study voice, is its
breadth, that is, the measure or rhythm of its tones.
The object of measure in oratorical diction is to regulate the interval
of sounds. But the length of the interval between one sound and another
is subject to the laws of slowness and rapidity, respiration, silence
Let us first consider slowness and rapidity, and the rules which govern
1. A hasty delivery is by no means a proof of animation, warmth, fire,
passion or emotion in the orator; hence in delivery, as in tone, haste
is in an inverse ratio to emotion. We do not glide lightly over a
beloved subject; a prolongation of tones is the complaisance of love.
Precipitation awakens suspicions of heartlessness; it also injures the
effect of the discourse. A teacher with too much facility or volubility
puts his pupils to sleep, because he leaves them nothing to do, and they
do not understand his meaning. But let the teacher choose his words
carefully, and every pupil will want to suggest some idea; all will
work. In applauding an orator we usually applaud ourselves. He says
what we were just ready to say; we seem to have suggested the idea. It
is superfluous to remark that slowness without gesture, and especially
without facial expression, would be intolerable. A tone must always be
reproduced with an expression of the face.
2. The voice must not be jerky. Here we must keep jealous watch over
ourselves. The entire interest of diction arises from a fusion of tones.
The tones of the voice are sentient beings, who love, hold converse,
follow each other and blend in a harmonious union.
3. It is never necessary to dwell upon the sound we have just left; this
would be to fall into that jerky tone we wish to avoid.
_Of Respiration and Silence._
We place respiration and silence under the same head because of their
affinity, for respiration may often be accounted silence.
_Of silence._--Silence is the father of speech, and must justify it.
Every word which does not proceed from silence and find its vindication
in silence, is a spurious word without claim or title to our regard.
Origin is the stamp, in virtue of which we recognize the intrinsic value
of things. Let us, then, seek in silence the sufficient reason of
speech, and remember that the more enlightened the mind is, the more
concise is the speech that proceeds from it. Let us assume, then, that
this conciseness keeps pace with the elevation of the mind, and that
when the mind arrives at the perception of the true light, finding no
words that can portray the glories open to its view, it keeps silent and
admires. It is through silence that the mind rises to perfection, for
_silence is the speech of God_.
Apart from this consideration, silence recommends itself as a powerful
agent in oratorical effects. By silence the orator arouses the attention
of his audience, and often deeply moves their hearts. When Peter
Chrysologue, in his famous homily upon the gospel miracle of the healing
of the issue of blood, overcome by emotion, paused suddenly and remained
silent, all present immediately burst into sobs.
Furthermore, silence gives the orator time and liberty to judge of his
position. An orator should never speak without having thought, reflected
and arranged his ideas. Before speaking he should decide upon his
stand-point, and see clearly what he proposes to do. Even a fable may be
related from many points of view; from that of expression as well as
gesture, from that of inflection as well as articulate speech. All must
be brought back to a scene in real life, to one stand-point, and the
orator must create for himself, in some sort, the role of spectator.
Silence gives gesture time to concentrate, and do good execution.
One single rule applies to silence: Wherever there is ellipsis, there
is silence. Hence the interjection and conjunction, which are
essentially elliptic, must always be followed by a silence.
_Respiration._--For the act of respiration, three movements are
necessary: inspiration, suspension and expiration.
_Its importance._--Respiration is a faithful rendering of emotion. For
example: _He who reigns in the skies_. Here is a proposition which the
composed orator will state in a breath. But should he wish to prove his
emotion, he inspires after every word. _He--who--reigns--in--the--skies_.
Multiplied inspirations can be tolerated on the strength of emotion, but
they should be made as effective as possible.
Inspiration is allowable:--
1. After all words preceded or followed by an ellipse;
2. After words used in apostrophe, as Monsieur, Madame;
3. After conjunctions and interjections when there is silence;
4. After all transpositions; for example: _To live, one must work_. Here
the preposition _to_ takes the value of its natural antecedent,
_work_; that is to say, six degrees, since by inversion it precedes
it, and the gesture of the sentence bears wholly on the preposition;
5. Before and after incidental phrases;
6. Wherever we wish to indicate an emotion.
To facilitate respiration, stand on tip-toe and expand the chest.
Inspiration is a sign of grief; expiration is a sign of tenderness.
Sorrow is inspiratory; happiness, expiratory.
The inspiratory act expresses sorrow, dissimulation.
The expiratory act expresses love, expansion, sympathy.
The suspensory act expresses reticence and disquietude. A child who has
just been corrected deservedly, and who recognizes his fault, expires.
Another corrected unjustly, and who feels more grief than love,
Inspiration is usually regulated by the signs of punctuation, which have
been invented solely to give more exactness to the variety of sounds.
_Their importance._--Sound, we have said, is the language of man in the
sensitive state. We call inflections the modifications which affect the
voice in rendering the emotions of the senses. The tones of the voice
must vary with the sensations, each of which should have its note. Of
what use to man would be a phonetic apparatus always rendering the same
sound? Delivery is a sort of music whose excellence consists in a
variety of tones which rise or fall according to the things they have to
express. Beautiful but uniform voices resemble fine bells whose tone is
sweet and clear, full and agreeable, but which are, after all, bells,
signifying nothing, devoid of harmony and consequently without variety.
To employ always the same action and the same tone of voice, is like
giving the same remedy for all diseases. "_Ennui_ was born one day from
monotony," says the fable.
Man has received from God the privilege of revealing the inmost
affections of his being through the thousand inflections of his voice.
Man's least impressions are conveyed by signs which reveal harmony, and
which are not the products of chance. A sovereign wisdom governs these
With the infant in its cradle the signs of sensibility are broken cries.
Their acuteness, their ascending form, indicate the weakness, and
physical sorrow of man. When the child recognizes the tender cares of
its mother, its voice becomes less shrill and broken; its tones have a
less acute range, and are more poised and even. The larynx, which is
very impressionable and the thermometer of the sensitive life, becomes
modified, and produces sounds and inflections in perfect unison with the
sentiments they convey.
All this, which man expresses in an imitative fashion, is numbered,
weighed and measured, and forms an admirable harmony. This language
through the larynx is universal, and common to all sensitive beings. It
is universal with animals as with man. Animals give the identical sounds
in similar positions.
The infant, delighted at being mounted on a table, and calling his
mother to admire him, rises to the fourth note of the scale. If his
delight becomes more lively, to the sixth; if the mother is less pleased
than he would have her, he ascends to the third minor to express his
displeasure. Quietude is expressed by the fourth note.
Every situation has its interval, its corresponding inflection, its
corresponding note: this is a mathematical language.
Why this magnificent concert God has arranged in our midst if it has no
auditors? If God had made us only intelligent beings, he would have
given us speech alone and without inflections. Let us further illustrate
the role of inflection.
A father receives a picture from his daughter. He expresses his
gratitude by a falling inflection: "Ah well! the dear child." The
picture comes from a stranger whom he does not know as a painter; he
will say, "Well now! why does he send me this?" raising his voice.
If he does not know from whom the picture comes, his voice will neither
rise nor fall; he will say, "Well! well! well!"
Let us suppose that his daughter is the painter. She has executed a
masterpiece. Astonished at the charm of this work and at the same time
grateful, his voice will have both inflections.
If surprise predominates over love the rising inflection will
predominate. If love and surprise are equal, he will simply say, "Well
_Kan_ in Chinese signifies at the same time the roof of a house, a
cellar, well, chamber, bed--the inflection alone determines the meaning.
Roof is expressed by the falling, cellar by the rising inflection. The
Chinese note accurately the depth and acuteness of sound, its intervals
and its intensity.
We can say: "It is pretty, this little dog!" in 675 different ways. Some
one would do it harm. We say: "This little dog is pretty, do not harm
it!" "It is pretty because it is so little." If it is a mischievous or
vicious dog, we use _pretty_ in an ironical sense. "This dog has bitten
my hand. It is a pretty dog indeed!" etc.
_Rules of Inflection._
1. Inflections are formed by an upward or downward slide of the voice,
or the voice remains in monotone. Inflections are, then, eccentric,
concentric and normal.
2. The voice rises in exaltation, astonishment, and conflict.
3. The voice falls in affirmation, affection and dejection.
4. It neither rises nor falls in hesitation.
5. Interrogation is expressed by the rising inflection when we do not
know what we ask; by the falling, when we do not quite know what we ask.
For instance, a person asks tidings of his friend's health, aware or
unaware that he is no better.
6. Musical tones should be given to things that are pleasing. Courtiers
give musical inflections to the words they address to royalty.
7. Every manifestation of life is a song; every sound is a song. But
inflections must not be multiplied, lest delivery degenerate into a
perpetual sing-song. The effect lies entirely in reproducing the same
inflection. A drop of water falling constantly, hollows a rock. A
mediocre man will employ twenty or thirty tones. Mediocrity is not the
too little, but the too much. The art of making a profound impression is
to condense; the highest art would be to condense a whole scene into one
inflection. Mediocre speakers are always seeking to enrich their
inflections; they touch at every range, and lose themselves in a
multitude of intangible effects.
8. In real art it is not always necessary to fall back upon logic. The
reason needs illumination from nature, as the eye, in order to see,
needs light. Reason may be in contradiction to nature. For instance, a
half-famished hunter, in sight of a good dinner, would say: "I am
_hungry_" emphasizing _hungry_, while reason would say that _am_ must be
emphasized. A hungry pauper would say: "I _am_ hungry," dwelling upon
_am_ and gliding over _hungry_. If he were not hungry, or wished to
deceive, he would dwell upon _hungry_.
Among the special inflections we may reckon:--
1. _Exclamations._--Abrupt, loud, impassioned sounds, and
2. _Cries._--These are prolonged exclamations called forth by a lively
sentiment of some duration, as acute suffering, joy or terror. They are
formed by the sound _a_. In violent pain arising from a physical cause,
the cries assume three different tones: one grave, another acute, the
last being the lowest, and we pass from one to the other in a chromatic
There are appealing cries which ask aid in peril. These cries are formed
by the sounds e and o. They are slower than the preceding, but more
acute and of greater intensity.
3. _Groans._--Here the voice is plaintive, pitiful, and formed by two
successive tones, the one sharp, the final one deep. Its monotony, the
constant recurrence of the same inflection, give it a remarkable
4. _Lamentation_ is produced by a voice loud, plaintive, despairing and
obstinate, indicating a heart which can neither contain nor restrain
5. _The sob_ is an uninterrupted succession of sounds produced by
slight, continuous inspirations, in some sort convulsive, and ending in
a long, violent inspiration.
6. _The sigh_ is a weak low tone produced by a quick expiration
followed by a slow and deep inspiration.
7. _The laugh_ is composed of a succession of loud, quick, monotonous
sounds formed by an uninterrupted series of slight expirations, rapid
and somewhat convulsive, of a tone more or less acute and prolonged, and
produced by a deep inspiration.
8. _Singing_ is the voice modulated or composed of a series of
Of Gesture in General.
Human word is composed of three languages. Man says what he _feels_ by
inflections of the voice, what he _loves_ by gesture, what he _thinks_
by articulate speech. The child begins with feeling; then he loves, and
later, he reasons. While the child only feels, cries suffice him; when
he loves, he needs gestures; when he reasons, he must have articulate
language. The inflections of the voice are for sensations, gesture is
for sentiments; the buccal apparatus is for the expression of ideas.
Gesture, then, is the bond of union between inflection and thought.
Since gesture, in genealogical order, holds the second rank in human
languages, we shall reserve for it that place in the series of our
We are entering upon a subject full of importance and interest. We
purpose to render familiar the _heart language_, the expression of love.
We learn dead languages and living languages: Greek, Latin, German,
English. Is it well to know conventional idioms, and to ignore the
language of nature? The body needs education as well as the mind. This
is no trivial work. Let it be judged by the steps of the ideal ladder we
must scale before reaching the perfection of gesture. Observe the ways
of laboring men. Their movements are awkward, the joints do not play.
This is the first step.
At a more advanced stage, the shoulders play without the head. The
individual turns around with a great impulse from the shoulders, with
the leg raised, but the hand and the rest of the body remain inert. Then
come the elbows, but without the hand. Later come the wrist-joint and
the torso. With this movement of the wrist, the face becomes mobilized,
for there is great affinity between these two agents. The face and hand
form a most interesting unity. Finally, from the wrist, the articulation
passes to the fingers, and here is imitative perfection. If we would
speak our language eloquently, we must not be beguiled into any _patois_
Gesture must be studied in order to render it faultlessly elegant, but
in such a thorough way as not to seem studied. It has still higher
claims to our regard in view of the services it has rendered to
humanity. Thanks to this language of the heart, thousands of deaf-mutes
are enabled to endure their affliction, and to share our social
pleasures. Blessed be the Abbe de l'Epee, who, by uniting the science of
gesture to the conventional signs of dactyology, has made the deaf hear
and the dumb speak! This beneficent invention has made gesture in a
twofold manner, the language of the heart.
Gesture is an important as well as interesting study. How beautiful it
is to see the thousand pieces of the myological apparatus set in motion
and propelled by this grand motor feeling! There surely is a joy in
knowing how to appreciate an image of Christ on the cross, in
understanding the attitudes of Faith, Hope and Charity. We can note a
mother's affection by the way she holds her child in her arms. We can
judge of the sincerity of the friend who grasps our hand. If he holds
the thumb inward and pendant, it is a fatal sign; we no longer trust
him. To pray with the thumbs inward and swaying to and fro, indicates a
lack of sacred fervor. It is a corpse who prays. If you pray with the
arms extended and the fingers bent, there is reason to fear that you
adore Plutus. If you embrace me without elevating the shoulders, you are
What can you do in a museum, if you have not acquired, if you do not
wish to acquire the science of gesture? How can you rightly appreciate
the beauty of the statue of Antinous? How can you note a fault in
Raphael's picture of Moses making water gush from the rock? How see that
he has forgotten to have the Israelites raise their shoulders, as they
stand rapt in admiration of the miracle? One versed in the science of
gesture, as he passes before the Saint Michael Fountain, must confess
that the statue of the archangel with its parallel lines, is little
better than the dragon at his feet.
In view of the importance and interest of the language of gesture, we
shall study it thoroughly in the second book of our course.
Definition and Division of Gesture.
Gesture is the direct agent of the heart, the interpreter of speech. It
is elliptical discourse. Each part of this definition may be easily
1. _Gesture is the Direct Agent of the Heart._--Look at an infant. For
some time he manifests his joy or sorrow through cries; but these are
not gesture. When he comes to know the cause of his joy or sorrow,
sentiment awakens, his heart opens to love or hatred, and he expresses
his new emotion not by cries alone, nor yet by speech; he smiles upon
his mother, and his first gesture is a smile. Beings endowed only with
the sensitive life, have no smile; animals do not laugh.
This marvelous correspondence of the organs with the sentiment arises
from the close union of soul and body. The brain ministers to the
operations of the soul. Every sentiment must have its echo in the brain,
in order to be unerringly transmitted by the organic apparatus.
_Ex visu cognoscitur vir._ ("The man is known by his face.") The role of
dissimulation is a very difficult one to sustain.
2. _Gesture is the Interpreter of Speech._--Gesture has been given to
man to reveal what speech is powerless to express. For example: _I
love_. This phrase says nothing of the nature of the being loved,
nothing of the fashion in which one loves. Gesture, by a simple
movement, reveals all this, and says it far better than speech, which
would know how to render it only by many successive words and phrases. A
gesture, then, like a ray of light, can reflect all that passes in the
Hence, if we desire that a thing shall be always remembered, we must not
say it in words; we must let it be divined, revealed by gesture.
Wherever an ellipse is supposable in a discourse, gesture must intervene
to explain this ellipse.
3. _Gesture is an Elliptical Language._--We call ellipse a hidden
meaning whose revelation belongs to gesture. A gesture must correspond
to every ellipse. For example: "This medley of glory and gain vexes me."
If we attribute something ignominious or abject to the word _medley_,
there is an ellipse in the phrase, because the ignominy is implied
rather than expressed. Gesture is then necessary here to express the
value of the implied adjective, _ignominious_.
Suppress this ellipse, and the gesture must also be suppressed, for
gesture is not the accompaniment of speech. It must express the idea
better and in another way, else it will be only a pleonasm, an after
conception of bad taste, a hindrance rather than an aid to intelligible
_Division of Gesture._
Every act, gesture and movement has its rule, its execution and its
_raison d'etre_. The imitative is also divided into three parts: the
static, the dynamic and the semeiotic. The static is the base, the
dynamic is the centre, and the semeiotic the summit. The static is the
equiponderation of the powers or agents; it corresponds to life.
The dynamic is the form of movements. The dynamic is melodic, harmonic
and rhythmic. Gesture is melodic by its forms or its inflections. To
understand gesture one must study melody. There is great affinity
between the inflections of the voice and gesture. All the inflections of
the voice are common to gesture. The inflections of gesture are oblique
for the _life_, direct for the _soul_ and circular for the _mind_. These
three terms, oblique, direct and circular, correspond to the eccentric,
normal and concentric states. The movements of flection are direct,
those of rotation, circular, those of abduction, oblique.
Gesture is harmonic through the multiplicity of the agents which act in
the same manner. This harmony is founded upon the convergence or
opposition of the movements. Thus the perfect accord is the consonance
of the three agents,--head, torso and limbs. Dissonance arises from the
divergence of one of these agents.
Finally, gesture is rhythmic because its movements are subordinated to
a given measure. The dynamic corresponds to the _soul_.
The semeiotic gives the reason of movements, and has for its object the
careful examination of inflections, attitudes and types.
Under our first head, we treat of the static and of gesture in general;
under our second, of the dynamic, and of gesture in particular; and
finally, under our third head, of the semeiotic, with an exposition of
the laws of gesture.
Origin and Oratorical Value of Gesture.
The infant in the cradle has neither speech nor gesture:--he cries. As
he gains sensibility his tones grow richer, become inflections, are
multiplied and attain the number of three million special and distinct
inflections. The young infant manifests neither intelligence nor
affection; but he reveals his life by sounds. When he discerns the
source of his joys or sufferings, he loves, and gesticulates to repulse
or to invite. The gestures, which are few at first, become quite
numerous. It is God's art he follows; he is an artist without knowing
_Oratorical Value of Gesture._
The true aim of art is to move, to interest and to persuade. Emotion,
interest and persuasion are the first terms of art. Emotion is expressed
by the voice, by sounds; interest, by language; persuasion is the office
To inflection belongs emotion through the beautiful; to logic, interest
through the truth; to plastic art, persuasion through the good.
Gesture is more than speech. It is not what we say that persuades, but
the manner of saying it. The mind can be interested by speech, it must
be persuaded by gesture. If the face bears no sign of persuasion, we do
Why at first sight does a person awaken our sympathy or antipathy? We do
not understand why, but it is by reason of his gestures.
Speech is inferior to gesture, because it corresponds to the phenomena
of mind; gesture is the agent of the heart, it is the persuasive agent.
Articulate language is weak because it is successive. It must be
enunciated phrase by phrase; by words, syllables, letters, consonants
and vowels--and these do not end it. That which demands a volume is
uttered by a single gesture. A hundred pages do not say what a simple
movement may express, because this simple movement expresses our whole
being. Gesture is the direct agent of the soul, while language is
analytic and successive. The leading quality of mind is number; it is to
speculate, to reckon, while gesture grasps everything by
intuition,--sentiment as well as contemplation. There is something
marvelous in this language, because it has relations with another
sphere; it is the world of grace.
An audience must not be supposed to resemble an individual. A man of the
greatest intelligence finding himself in an audience, is no longer
himself. An audience is never intelligent; it is a multiple being,
composed of sense and sentiment. The greater the numbers, the less
intelligence has to do. To seek to act upon an individual by gesture
would be absurd. The reverse is true with an audience; it is persuaded
not by reasoning, but by gesture.
There is here a current none can control. We applaud disagreeable things
in spite of ourselves--things we should condemn, were they said to us in
private. The audience is not composed of intellectual people, but of
people with senses and hearts. As sentiment is the highest thing in art,
it should be applied to gesture.
If the gestures are good, the most wretched speaking is tolerated. So
much the better if the speaking is good, but gesture is the
all-important thing. Gesture is superior to each of the other languages,
because it embraces the constituent parts of our being. Gesture includes
everything within us. Sound is the gesture of the vocal apparatus. The
consonants and vowels are the gesture of the buccal apparatus, and
gesture, properly so called, is the product of the myological apparatus.
It is not ideas that move the masses; it is gestures.
We easily reach the heart and soul through the senses. Music acts
especially on the senses. It purifies them, it gives intelligence to the
hand, it disposes the heart to prayer. The three languages may each
move, interest and persuade.
Language is a sort of music which moves us through vocal expression; it
is besides normal through the gesture of articulation. No language is
exclusive. All interpenetrate and communicate their action. The action
of music is general.
The mind and the life are active only for the satisfaction of the
heart; then, since the heart controls all our actions, gesture must
control all other languages.
Gesture is magnetic, speech is not so. Through gesture we subdue the
most ferocious animals.
The ancients were not ignorant of this all-powerful empire of gesture
over an audience. Therefore, sometimes to paralyze, sometimes to augment
this magic power, orators were obliged to cover their faces with a mask,
when about to speak in public. The judges of the Areopagus well knew the
power of gesture, and to avoid its seductions, they adopted the resource
of hearing pleas only in the darkness.
The sign of the cross made at the opening of a sermon often has great
effect upon good Catholics. Let a priest with his eyes concentric and
introspective make deliberately the sign of the cross while solemnly
uttering these words: "In-the-name-of-the-Father;" then let his glance
sweep the audience. What do they think of him? This is no longer an
ordinary man; he seems clothed with the majesty of God, whose orders he
has just received, and in whose name he brings them. This idea gives him
strength and assurance, and his audience respect and docility.
The Laws of Gesture.
The static treats of the laws of gesture which are six in number, viz.:
Priority, retroaction, the opposition of agents, unity, stability and
_The Priority of Gesture to Speech._
Gesture must always precede speech. In fact, speech is reflected
expression. It must come after gesture, which is parallel with the
impression received. Nature incites a movement, speech names this
movement. Speech is only the title, the label of what gesture has
anticipated. Speech comes only to confirm what the audience already
comprehend. Speech is given for naming things. Gesture asks the
question, "What?" and speech answers. Gesture after the answer would be
absurd. Let the word come after the gesture and there will be no
Priority of gesture may be thus explained: First a movement responds to
the sensation; then a gesture, which depicts the emotion, responds to
the imagination which colors the sensation. Then comes the judgment
which approves. Finally, we consider the audience, and this view of the
audience suggests the appropriate expression for that which has already
been expressed by gesture.
The basis of this art is to make the auditors divine what we would have
Every speaker may choose his own stand-point, but the essential law is
to anticipate, to justify speech by gesture. Speech is the verifier of
the fact expressed. The thing may be expressed before announcing its
name. Sometimes we let the auditors divine rather than anticipate,
gazing at them in order to rivet their attention. Eloquence is composed
of many things which are not named, but must be named by slight
gestures. In this eloquence consists. Thus a smack of the tongue, a blow
upon the hand, an utterance of the vowel _u_ as if one would remove a
stain from his coat. The writer cannot do all this. The mere rendition
of the written discourse is nothing for the orator; his talent consists
in taking advantage of a great number of little nameless sounds.
A written discourse must contain forced epithets and adjectives to
illustrate the subject. In a spoken discourse a great number of
adjectives are worse than useless. Gesture and inflection of the voice
supply their place. The sense is not in the words; it is in inflection
We have formulated this general law: The eccentric, normal and
concentric expression must correspond to the sensitive, moral and
intellectual state of man. When gesture is concerned, the law is thus
modified: In the sensitive state, the gesture, which is naturally
eccentric, may become concentric, as the orator is passive or active.
He is passive when subject to any action whatever, when he depicts an
He is agent when he communicates to the audience the expression of his
own will or power; in a word, at all times when he controls his
When the orator assumes the passive role, that is, when he reflects, he
gazes upon his audience; he makes a backward (or concentric) movement;
when he assumes the active role, he makes a forward (or eccentric)
movement. When one speaks to others, he advances; when one speaks to
himself, he recoils a step, his thought centres upon himself.
In the passive state, one loves. But when he loves, he does not move
forward. A being who feels, draws back, and contemplates the object
toward which the hand extends. Contemplation makes the body retroact.
Hence in the passive state, the orator must step backward. In the
opposite state he moves forward. Let us apply this law: A spendthrift
officer meets his landlord, whom he has not yet paid, and greets him
with an--"Ah, good day, sir!" What will be his movement? It must be
retroactive. In the joy of seeing a friend again, as also in fright, we
start back from the object loved or hated. Such is the law of nature,
and it cannot be ignored.
Whence comes this law? To behold a loved object fully, we must step
back, remove to some little distance from it. Look at a painter admiring
his work. It is retroaction at sight of a beloved person, which has led
to the discovery of the phenomena of life, to this triple state of man
which is found in like manner, everywhere: Concentric, eccentric, and
The concentric is the passive state, for when one experiences a deep
emotion, he must retroact. Hence a demonstration of affection is not
made with a forward movement. If so, there is no love. Expiration is the
sign of him who gives his heart. Hence there is joy and love. In
inspiration there is retroaction, and, in some sort, distrust. The hand
extends toward the beloved object; if the hand tend toward itself, a
love of self is indicated. Love is expressed by a retroactive, never by
a forward movement. In portraying this sentiment the hand must not be
carried to the heart. This is nonsense; it is an oratorical crime. The
hand must tend toward the loved being to caress, to grasp, to reassure
or to defend. The hand is carried to the heart only in case of suffering
Take this passage from Racine's Phedre:
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