Delsarte System of Oratory
Part 3 out of 9
Speech is the crown of oratorical action; it is this which gives the
final elucidation, which justifies gesture. Gesture has depicted the
object, the Being, and speech responds: _God_.
The Value of Words in Phrases.
Expression is very difficult. One may possess great knowledge and lack
power to express it. Eloquence does not always accompany intellect. As a
rule, poets do not know how to read what they have written. Hence we may
estimate the importance of understanding the value of the different
portions of a discourse. Let us now examine intellectual language in
relation to intensity of ideas.
There are nine species of words, or nine species of ideas. The article
need not be counted, since it is lacking in several languages. It is the
accord of nine which composes the language, and which corresponds to the
numbers. Every word has a determinate, mathematical value.
As many unities must be reckoned on the initial consonant as there are
values in the word.
Thus the subject has less value than the attribute.
The attribute has a value of six degrees and represents six times the
intensity of the subject. Why? Because God has willed that we should
formulate our idea with mathematical intensities.
The value rests only upon the initial consonant of the word. Words have
only one expressive portion, that is, the initial consonant. It receives
the whole value, and is the invariable part of the word. It is the root.
Words are transformed in passing from language to language, and
nevertheless retain their radical.
How shall we say that a flower is charming?
Do not demand of intensity of sound a value it does not possess. It
suffices to await the articulation of the consonant.
The most normal phenomena remain true to mechanical laws. The mere
articulation of the word expresses more than all the vocal and imitative
effects that can be introduced.
Most speakers dwell upon the final word; this habit is absolutely
opposed to the nature of heart movements. This school habit is hard to
correct, and if Rachel became a great artiste, it was because she did
not have this precedent.
The subject represents one degree; it is the weakest expression.
The verb represents two degrees; the attribute six. Let us illustrate
the manner of passing from one to six as follows:
A rustic comes to visit you upon some sort of business. This man has a
purpose. As you are a musician he is surprised by his first sight of a
piano. He says to himself: "What is this? It is a singular object."
It is neither a table nor a cupboard. He now perceives the ivory keys
and other keys of ebony. What can this mean? He stands confounded before
an instrument entirely new to him. If it were given to him, he would not
know what to do with it; he might burn it. The piano interests him so
much that he forgets the object of his visit.
He sees you arrive. You occupy for him the place of the verb in relation
to the object which interests him. He passes from this object to you.
Although you are not the object which engrosses him, there is a
progression in the interest, because he knows that through you he will
learn what this piece of furniture is. "Tell me what this is!" he cries.
You strike the piano; it gives forth an accord. O heavens, how
beautiful! He is greatly moved, he utters many expressions of delight,
and now he would not burn the instrument.
Here is a progression. At first the piece of furniture interests him;
then its owner still more; at last the attributes of the piano give it
its entire value.
But why six degrees upon the last term? The value of a fact comes from
its limitation; the knowledge of an idea also proceeds from its
limitation. A fact in its general and vague expression, awakens but
little interest. But as it descends from the genus to the species, from
the species to the individual, it grows more interesting. It comes more
within our capacity. We do not embrace the vast circle of a generic
Let us take another proposition: "A flower is pleasing."
1 2 3456
--------- Flower is pleasing ------
| | | | |
| | | 3 7 | |
| | +-- of the forest very ---+ |
| | |
| | 4 |
| +--------- this +----------------+
| 5 8 ---+
+----------- little +-- but
1 | 2 6 9
it-+ is faded Oh!
The word flower alone says nothing to the imagination. Is it a rose or a
lily of the valley? The expression is too vague. When the idea of genus
is modified by that of species, we are better satisfied.
Let us say: "The flower of the forest." This word _forest_ conveys an
idea to the mind. We can make our bouquet. We think of the lily of the
valley, of the violet, the anemone, the periwinkle. This restriction
gives value to the subject. _Forest_ is more important than the verb
which does not complete the idea, and less important than _pleasing_.
Therefore we place 3 upon _forest_, and shall rank _pleasing_ from 3 to
4, since it closes the assertion.
If we individualize by the word _this_, we augment the value by giving
actuality to the word _flower_. _This_ has more value than _the forest_,
because it designates the subject. Hence _this_ has four degrees.
As _pleasing_ forms the very essence of our proposition, we are obliged
to give it five degrees.
The idea is still somewhat vague. If I specify it still further by
saying _this little flower, little_ has a higher value than all the
What value shall we give this adjective? We have reached five, but have
not yet fully expressed the idea which impresses us. _Little_ must
therefore have six degrees.
This is the sole law for all the languages of the world. There are no
two ways of articulating the words of a discourse. When we learn a
discourse by heart in order to deliver it, and take no account of the
value of the terms, the divine law is reversed.
Now, if we could introduce an expression here, which would at once
enhance the value of the word _pleasing_, it would evidently be stronger
than all the others. In fact, if the way in which a thing is pleasing
can be expressed, it is evident that this manner of being pleasing will
rise above the word itself.
We do not know the proportion in which the flower is pleasing. We will
say that it is _very_ pleasing. This adverb gives the word _pleasing_ a
new value. It is in turn modified. If we should say _immensely_, or use
any other adverb of quantity, the value would remain the same. It would
still be a modification. Thus, when we say of God that he is _good,
immense, infinite,_ there is always a limitation attached to the idea of
God,--a limitation necessary to our nature. For God is not good in the
way we understand goodness or greatness; but our finite minds need some
expression for our idea.
We see the word _pleasing_ modified in turn, and the term which
modifies it, is higher than itself. _Very pleasing,_--what value shall
we give it? We can give it no more than seven here.
A single word may obliterate the effect produced by all these
expressions. A simple conjunction may be introduced which will entirely
modify all we have taken pains to say. It is a _but_. _But_ is an entire
discourse. We no longer believe what has been said hitherto, but what
follows this word. This conjunction has a value of eight degrees, a
value possible to all conjunctions without exception. It sums up the
changes indicated by subsequent expressions, and embraces them
synthetically. It has, then, a very great oratorical value.
1. We refer here only to conjunctions in the elliptical sense. The
conjunction is an ellipse, because it is the middle term between two
members of the sentence which are the extremes; it recalls what has just
been said, and indicates what is to come. Considered in itself, the word
_and_, when elliptical, embraces what has just been said, and what is
about to be said. All this is founded upon the principle that the means
are equal to the extremes.
2. The copulative or enumerative conjunctions, have only two degrees. We
see that a conjunction is not elliptical when, instead of uniting
propositions, it unites only ideas of the same character.
3. Determinative conjunctions have only three degrees. For example: "It
is necessary that I should work." _That_ has only three degrees.
4. The values indicated can be changed only by additional values
justified by gesture. Thus in the phrase: "This medley of glory and
honor,"--the value of the word _medley_ can and must be changed; but a
gesture is necessary, for speech is only a feeble echo of gesture. Only
gesture can justify a value other than that indicated in this
demonstration. This value is purely grammatical, but the gesture may
give it a superlative idea, which we call additional value. The value of
consonants may vary in the pronunciation according to their valuation by
More or less value is given to the degrees noted and to be noted, as
there is more or less emotion in the speaker. This explains why a
gesture, which expresses an emotion of the soul, justifies changing the
grammatical value in the pronunciation of consonants.
5. Even aside from additional values, the gesture must always precede
the articulation of the initial consonant. Otherwise to observe the
degree would be supremely ridiculous. The speaker would resemble a
skeleton, a statue. The law of values becomes vital only through gesture
and inflection. Stripped of the poetry of gesture and inflection, the
application of the law is monstrous.
To place six degrees upon _pleasing_ without gesture, is abominable.
We now understand the spirit of gesture, which is given to man to
justify values. It is for him to decide whether the proposition is true
or not. If we deprive our discourse of gestures, no way is left to prove
the truth of values. Thus gesture is prescribed by certain figures, and
we shall now see from a proposition, how many gestures are needed, and
to what word the gesture should be given.
_The Conjunction Continued--Various Examples._
The degree of value given to the conjunction, may be represented by the
Let us justify this valuation by citing these two lines of Racine:
"The wave comes on, it breaks, _and_ vomits
'neath our eyes,
Amid the floods of foam, a monster
grim and dire."
The ordinary reader would allow the conjunction _and_ to pass
unperceived, because the word is not sonorous, and we accord oratorical
effects only to sonorous words. But the man who sees the meaning fully,
and who adds _and_, has said the whole. The other words are important,
but everything is implied in this conjunction.
Racine has not placed _and_ here to disjoin, but to unite.
We give another example of the conjunction:
Augustus says to Cinna:
"Take a chair Cinna, _and_ in all things heed
Strictly the law that I lay down for thee."
Let us suppress the isolation and silence of the conjunction, and there
is no more color.
"Hold thy tongue captive, _and_ if silence deep
To thy emotion do some violence"--
Suppress the silence and isolation of the conjunction _and_, and how
poor is the expression!
In the fable of "The Wolf and the Dog:"
"Sire wolf would gladly have attacked and slain
him, _but_ it would have been necessary to give battle,
_and_ it was now almost morning."
The entire significance lies in the silence which follows the
We speak of a sympathetic conjunction, and also of one denoting surprise
or admiration; but this conjunction differs from the interjection, only
in this respect: it rests upon the propositions and unites its terms.
Like the interjection, it is of a synthetic and elliptic nature; it
groups all the expressions it unites as interjectives. It is, then, from
this point of view, exclamative.
In the fable of "The Wolf and the Lamb," the wolf says:
"This must be some one of your own race, _for_
you would not think of sparing me, you shepherds
_and_ you dogs."
Here is an interjective conjunction. Suppress the complaint after _for_,
and there is no more effect. The conjunction is the _soul_ of the
In the exclamation in "Joseph Sold by his Brethren," we again find an
The ingrates who would sell me!"
Here the conjunction _and_ yields little to the interjection _alas_. It
has fully as much value.
_The Interjection in Relation to its Degree of Value._
The interjection has 9 degrees; this is admirably suited to the
interjection, an elliptical term which comprises the three terms of a
proposition. In summing up the value of a simple proposition, we have (a
noteworthy thing) the figure 9. This gives the accord of 9. The subject
1, the verb 2, and 6 upon the attribute, equal 9. Thus the equation is
Gesture is the rendering of the ellipse. Gesture is the elliptical
language given to man to express what speech is powerless to say.
We have spoken of additional figures. Each of these figures supposes a
gesture. There is a gesture, an imitative expression wherever there is
an additional figure. An ellipse in a word, such as is met with in the
conjunction and the interjection, demands a gesture.
9 is a neutral term which must be sustained by gesture and inflection.
Gesture would be the inflection of the deaf, inflection the gesture of
the blind. The orator should, in fact, address himself to the deaf as
well as to the blind. Gesture and inflection should supplement physical
and mental infirmities, and God in truth has given man this double means
of expression. There is also a triple expression, which is double in
view of this same modification of speech. Let us suppose this
"How much pain I suffer in hearing!"
According to the rules laid down, we have 3 upon pain, 6 upon suffer,
and 6 again upon hearing.
It is said that Talma brought out the intensity of his suffering by
resting on the word _pain_. This was wrong. We should always seek the
expression equivalent to that employed, to attain a certain value.
If, instead of the determinate conjunction _that_, we should have _how
much (combien)_, this would evidently be the important word. This word
has an elliptical form. It evidently belongs to a preceding proposition.
It means: "I could not express all that I suffer." Then 6 must be placed
upon _how much_ and not upon pain.
But the figure 6 here is a thermometer which indicates a degree of
vitality; it does not express the degree of vitality; that is reserved
for gesture. We need not ask what degree this can give; its office is to
express--and this is a good deal--a value mechanical and material, but
very significant. A reversion of values may constitute a falsehood.
Stage actors are sometimes indefinably comic in this way.
_A Resume of the Degrees of Value._
To crown this unprecedented study upon language, we give in a table, a
resume of the different degrees of value in the various parts of a
discourse, relative to the initial consonant.
The object of the preposition 1
The verb to be and the prepositions 2
The direct or indirect regimen 3
The limiting (possessive and demonstrative) adjectives 4
The qualifying adjectives 5
The participles or substantives taken adjectively or
attributively; that is to say, every word coming
immediately after the verb, in fine, the attribute 6
The adverbs 7
Conjunctions, superlative ideas or additional figures 8
The interjection 9
The pronoun is either subject or complement, and therefore included in
the rest. As for the article, it is not essential to a language; there
is no article in Latin.
Thus the value of our ideas is expressed by figures. We have only to
reckon on our fingers. We might beat time for the pronunciation of the
consonants as for the notes of music. Let the pupil exercise his
fingers, and attain that skill which allows the articulation of a
radical consonant only after he has marked with his finger the time
corresponding to its figure. If difficulties present themselves at
first, so much the better; he will only the more accurately distinguish
the value of the words.
French and Latin Prosody.
Prosody is the rhythmic pronunciation of syllables according to accent,
respiration, and, above all, quantity.
In the Italian there are no two equal sounds; the quantity is never
uniform. Italian is, therefore, the most musical of languages. Where we
place one accent upon a vowel, the Italians place ten.
There is a euphonic law for every language; all idioms must have an
accent. In every language there are intense sounds and subdued sounds;
the Italians hold to this variety of alternate short and long sounds.
Continuous beauty should be avoided. A beautiful tone must be introduced
to relieve the others. Monotony in sounds as well as in pronunciation,
must be guarded against. Harmony lies in opposition.
There is but one rule of quantity in French pronunciation. Here is the
text of this law:
_There are and can be only long initial or final vowels_--whence we
1. Every final is long and every penultimate is final, since _e_ mute is
2. The length of initial vowels depends upon the value of the initial
consonants which they precede.
A word cannot contain two long vowels unless it begins with a vowel. In
this case, the vowel of the preceding word is long, and prepares for the
enunciation of the consonant according to its degree.
Every first consonant in a word is strong, as it constitutes the radical
or invariable part of the word.
The force of this consonant is subordinate to the ruling degree of the
idea it is called to decide. But every vowel which precedes this first
consonant is long, since it serves as a preparation for it. But to what
degree of length may this initial vowel be carried? The representative
figure of the consonant will indicate it.
Usually, the first consonant of every word is radical. Still there might
be other radical consonants in the same word. But the first would rise
above the others.
The radical designates the substance of being, and the last consonant
The whole secret of expression lies in the time we delay the
articulation of the initial consonant. This space arrests the attention
and prevents our catching the sound at a disadvantage.
1. The final of a word of several syllables is usually short.
2. In words of two syllables, the first is long. In Latin words of two
syllables, the first almost always contains the radical.
3. In words of three and more syllables, there is one long syllable:
sometimes the first, sometimes another. We rest only upon this, all the
others being counted more or less short.
In compound words no account need be made of prefixes; There are many
compound words; and, consequently, it is often the last or next to the
last consonant which is the radical.
The last consonant represents always, in variable words, quality,
person, mode or time. The radical, on the contrary, represents the sum
4. Monosyllables are long, but they have, especially when they follow
each other, particular rules, which result from the sense of the
phrases, and from the mutual dependence of words.
A subject and text being given, notes may be written under the nine
1. Oratorical value of ideas.
2. The ellipse.
3. Vocal inflections.
4. Inflective affinities, or relation to the preceding inflections.
6. Imitative affinities.
7. The special rule for each gesture.
8. The law whence this rule proceeds.
9. Reflections upon the portrayal of personal character.
A Series of Gestures for Exercises.
We know the words of Garrick:
"I do not confide in myself, not I, in that inspiration for which idle
Art, then, presents a solid basis to the artist, upon which he can rest
and reproduce at will the history of the human heart as revealed by
This is true, and it is as an application of this truth that we are
about to consider the series, which is an exposition of the passions
that agitate man, an initiation into imitative language. It is a poem,
and at the same time it lays down rules through whose aid the
self-possessed artist can regain the gesture which arises from sudden
perturbation of the heart. It is a grammar which must be studied
incessantly, in order to understand the origin and value of imitative
The development of the series is based upon the static, the semeiotic
and the dynamic.
The static is the life of gesture; it is the science of the equipoise of
levers, it teaches the weight of the limbs and the extent of their
development, in order to maintain the equilibrium of the body. Its
criterion should be a sort of balance.
The semeiotic is the spirit and _rationale_ of gesture. It is the
science of signs.
The dynamic is the action of equiponderant forces through the static; it
regulates the proportion of movements the soul would impress upon the
body. The foundation and criterion of the dynamic, is the law of the
The series proceeds, resting upon these three powers. The semeiotic has
given the signs, it becomes aesthetic in applying them. The semeiotic
says: "Such a gesture reveals such a passion;" and gesture replies: "To
such a passion I will apply such a sign." And without awaiting the aid
of an inspiration often hazardous, deceitful and uncertain, it moulds
the body to its will, and forces it to reproduce the passion the soul
has conceived. The semeiotic is a science, the aesthetic an act of
The series divides its movements into periods of time, in accordance
with the principle that the more time a movement has, the more its
vitality and power; and so every articulation becomes the object of a
The articulations unfold successively and harmoniously. Every
articulation which has no action, must remain absolutely pendent, or
become stiff. Grace is closely united to gesture; the manifold play of
the articulations which constitutes strength, also constitutes grace.
Grace subdues only because sustained by strength, and because strength
naturally subdues. Grace without strength is affectation.
Every vehement movement must affect the vertical position, because
obliquity deprives the movement of force, by taking from it the
possibility of showing the play of the articulations.
The demonstration of movement is in the head. The head is the primary
agent of movement; the body is the medium agent, the arm the final
Three agents in gesture are especially affected in characterizing the
life, mind and soul. The thumb is the index-sign of life; the shoulder
is the sign of passion and sentiment; the elbow is the sign of humility,
pride, power, intelligence and sacrifice.
The first gesture of the series is the interpellation, the entrance upon
the scene. The soul is scarce moved as yet, and still this is the most
difficult of gestures, because the most complex. It must indicate the
nature of the interpellation, its degree and the situation of the giver
and receiver of the summons in regard to each other.
A study of the signs which distinguish these different shades will teach
us the analysis of gesture.
Aside from simple interpellation, the series passes successively from
gratitude, devotion, etc., to anger, menace and conflict, leaving the
soul at the point where it is subdued and asks forgiveness.
The passional or fugitive type forms the constant subject of the study
of this series.
The Series of Gestures Applied to the Sentiments Oftenest Expressed by
First Gesture. _Interpellation._
Interpellation embraces five steps:
The first consists in elevating the shoulder in token of affection. If
the right shoulder, as in figure 2 with the right leg weak.
The second step consists in a rotary movement of the arm, its object
being to present the epicondyle (elbow-joint) to the interlocutor. For
this reason the epicondyle is called the eye of the arm.
The third stage consists in substituting the articulation of the wrist
for the epicondyle. In making the forward movement of the body, the
epicondyle must resume its natural place.
The fourth step consists in extending the hand toward the speaker in
such a way as to present to him the extremities of the fingers.
The fifth step is formed by a rapid rotation of the hand.
Second Gesture. _Thanks--Affectionate and Ceremonious._
This gesture consists of six steps:
1. Consists in lifting the hand and lowering the head.
2. Consists in raising the hand to the hip.
3. The head inclines to one side, and the elbow at the same time rises
to aid the hand in reaching the lips.
4. In this, the head resumes its normal position, while the elbow is
lowered to bring back the hand to the same position.
5. In this, the hand passes from the horizontal to the vertical
position, rounding toward the arm.
6. In this, the arm is developed, and then the hand.
Third Gesture. _Attraction._
In this gesture there are three steps:
1. The hand turns toward the interlocutor with an appealing aspect.
2. The hand opens like a fan with the little finger tending toward the
3. The elbow is turned outward, and the hand passes toward the breast.
Fourth Gesture. _Surprise and Assurance._
1. This consists in elevating the shoulders, opening the eyes and mouth
and raising the eyebrow; the whole in token of surprise.
2. Raise the passive hand above the chin, making it turn around the
3. The hand still passive, is directed toward the person addressed, the
elbow being pressed against the body.
4. The arm is gradually extended toward the person addressed, while the
hand is given an opposite direction; that is, the palm of the hand is
Fifth Gesture. _Devotion._
This gesture embraces seven movements:
1. This consists in raising the passive hand to the level of the other
hand, but in an inverse direction.
2. This consists in turning back the hand toward one's self.
3. This consists in drawing the elbows to the body, and placing the
hands on the chest.
4. This is produced by taking a step backward, and turning a third to
one side; during the execution of this step, the elbows are raised, and
the head is lowered.
5. This consists in drawing the elbows near the body, and placing the
hands above the shoulders.
6. This consists in developing the arms.
7. This consists in developing the hands.
Sixth Gesture. _Interrogative Surprise._
This surprise is expressed in two movements:
1. This is wholly facial.
2. This is made by advancing the hand and drawing the head backward.
Seventh Gesture. _Reiterated Interrogation._
This gesture signifies: I do not understand, I cannot explain your
conduct to me. It embraces five steps:
1. This consists in placing both hands beneath the chin, and violently
elevating the shoulders.
2. This consists in bringing the hands to the level of the chest, as if
in search of something there.
3. This consists in extending both hands toward the interlocutor, as if
to show him that they contain nothing.
4. This consists in extending one hand in the opposite direction, and
letting the head and body follow the hand.
5. This consists in turning the head vehemently toward the interlocutor,
and suddenly lowering the shoulders.
Eighth Gesture. _Anger._
This gesture is made in three movements:
1. This consists in raising the arm.
2. This consists in catching hold of the sleeve.
3. This consists in carrying the clenched hand to the breast, and
drawing back the other arm.
Ninth Gesture. _Menace._
This gesture consists of a preparatory movement, which is made by
lowering the hand while the arm is outstretched toward the
interlocutor, then the finger is extended, and the hand is outstretched
The eye follows the finger as it would follow a pistol; this occasions a
reversal of the head proportional to that of the hand.
Tenth Gesture. _An Order for Leaving._
This is executed:
1. By turning around on the free limb.
2. By carrying the body with it.
3. By executing a one-fifth sideward movement--the right leg very weak.
All these movements are made by retaining the gesture of the preceding
menace. Then only the menacing hand is turned inward at the height of
the eye, at the moment when it is about to pass the line occupied by the
head; the elbow is raised to allow the hand a downward movement, which
ends in an indication of departure. In this indication the hand is
absolutely reversed, that is, it is in pronation. Then only does the
head, which has hitherto been lowered, rise through the opposition of
the extended arm.
Eleventh Gesture. _Reiteration._
1. The whole body tends toward the hand which is posed above the head.
The right leg passes from weak to strong.
2. The head is turned backward toward the interlocutor.
3. It rises.
4. The arm extends.
5. The hand in supination gives intimation of the order.
Twelfth Gesture. _Fright._
The right hand pendent. The left hand rises. Tremor.
The first movement is executed in one-third; the body gently passes into
the fourth, and as the fifth is being accomplished, the arm is thrust
forward as if to repel the new object of terror.
At this moment a metamorphose seems to take place, and the object which
had occasioned the fright, seems to be transfigured and to become the
subject of an affectionate impulse. The hands extend toward this object
not to repel it, but to implore it to remain; it seems to become more
and more ennobled, and to assume in the astonished eyes of the actor, a
celestial form--it is an angel. Therefore the body recoils anew
one-fourth; the hands fall back in token of acquiescence; then, while
drawing near the body, they extend anew toward the angel (_here a third
in token of affection and veneration_). Then a prayer is addressed to
it, and again the arms extend toward it in entreaty. (_Here the orator
falls upon his knees._)
The series can be executed beginning with the right arm or the left,
being careful to observe the initial and principal movement, with the
arms at the side where the scene opened. This gives the same play of
organs only in an inverse sense.
Should any student despair of becoming familiar with our method, we give
him three pieces of advice, all easy of application:
1. Never speak without having first expressed what you would say by
gesture. Gesture must always precede speech.
2. Avoid parallelism of gesture. The opposition of the agents is
necessary to equilibrium, to harmony.
3. Retain the same gesture for the same sentiment. In saying the same
thing the gesture should not be changed.
Should the student limit himself to the application of these three
rules, he will not regret this study of the
Practice of the Art of Oratory.
The Symbolism of Colors Applied to the Art of Oratory.
We close this book with an appendix which will serve for ornament.
Before delivering up a suite of rooms, we are wont to embellish them
with rich decorations. Architects usually color their plans. We also
wish to give color to our criterion, by explaining the symbolism of
1 3 2
1-II 3-II 2-II
Ecc.-Conc. Norm.-Conc. Conc.-Conc.
Violet-blue. Green-blue. Indigo.
1-III 3-III 2-III
Ecc.-Norm. Norm.-Norm. Cone.-Norm.
Red-yellow. Yellow. Green-yellow.
1-I 3-I 2-I
Ecc.-Ecc. Norm.-Ecc. Conc.-Ecc.
Red. Yellow-red. Violet-red.
In the literary world, color gives forms of speech consecrated by
frequent usage. Thus we very often say: a florid style, a brilliant
orator. This figurative language signifies that in order to shine, the
orator must be adorned with the lustre of flowers. And as one flower
excels others and pleases us by the beauty of its colors, so the orator
must excel, and please by the brilliant shades of his diction. It is as
impossible to give renown to a monotonous and colorless orator as to a
faded, discolored flower. Would you give to the phenomena of your
organism this beautiful corolla of the flower of your garden, throw your
glance upon nature.
Nature speaks to the eye through an enchanting variety of colors, and
these colors in turn teach man how he may himself speak to the eyes. The
whole man might recognize himself under the smiling emblem of colors.
Imagine him in whatever state you will, a color will give you the secret
of his aspirations. And so it has been easy for us to show you the
orator imaged in this colored chart, and we shall have no trouble in
justifying our choice of colors.
Since man, as to his soul, presents himself in three states: the
sensitive, intellectual and moral; and in his organism in the eccentric,
concentric and normal states; _a priori_, you may conclude that nature
has three colors to symbolize the three states, and experience will not
In fact, red, yellow and blue are the primitive colors. All others are
derived from these three rudimentary colors.
Why have we painted the column that corresponds to the life red? Because
red is the color of blood, and the life is in the blood. But life is the
fountain of strength and power. Hence red is the proper symbol of
strength and power in God, in man and in the demon.
Why blue in the column of the concentric state, the mind? Because blue,
from its transparency, is most soothing to our eyes.
Why yellow in the column of the soul? Because yellow has the color of
flame; it is the true symbol of a soul set on fire by love. Yellow is,
then, the emblem of pure love and of impure flames.
Why not use white in our chart? Because white is incandescence in the
highest degree. We say of iron that it is at a red or a white heat. But
in this world it is rare to see a heart at a white heat. Earthly
thermometers do not mark this degree of heat.
It cannot be denied that red, yellow and blue are the three elementary
colors, whose union gives birth to all the varieties that delight our
eyes. We have proof of this in one of nature's most beautiful
The rainbow is composed of seven colors. Here we distinguish the red,
yellow and blue in all their purity; then from the fusion of these three
primary colors, we have violet, orange, green and indigo.
This is the order in which the seven colors of the rainbow appear to
Violet (_red_}, orange (_yellow_), green (_blue_), indigo. Orange is
composed of yellow and red. Yellow mixed with blue, produces green. Blue
when saturated, becomes indigo. Upon closer investigation, we may easily
find the nine shades which correspond perfectly to the nine operations
of our faculties, and to the nine functions of angelic minds.
By complicating and blending the mixture of these colors, we shall have
all the tints that make nature so delightful a paradise.
The seven notes of music sound in accord with the seven colors of the
rainbow. There is a brotherhood between the seven notes and the seven
The voice-apparatus, with that of speech and gesture, is for the orator
a pallet like that upon which the painter prepares and blends those
colors which, under the brush of a Raphael, would at once glow forth in
Delsarte's criterion is true; still more, it is beautiful, especially so
with its brilliant adornment of the colors of the rainbow.
We verify our judgment by an explanation of the colored chart.
As may be seen, this chart is an exact reproduction of the criterion
explained at the beginning of this book, only we have adorned it with
colors analogous to the different states of the soul that art is called
upon to reproduce.
Beginning with the three transverse columns corresponding to the
_genus_, we have painted the lower column red, the middle column yellow,
and the upper one blue. These are the three colors that symbolize the
life, soul and mind, as well as the genera.
Passing to the vertical columns which correspond to species, we have
painted the first column red, the second yellow, and the third blue,
passing from left to right. The blending of these colors produces the
variety of shades we might have in this representation.
Blue added to blue gives indigo; blue with yellow gives a deep green;
with red, violet. Yellow passed over to the middle column, gives bright
green upon blue; pure yellow, when passed upon yellow, and orange upon
Thus pure red will be the expression of the sensitive state or the life.
Orange will render soul from life, and violet will be the symbol of mind
Applying this process of examination to the two other columns, we shall
know by one symbolic color, what the soul wishes at the present hour,
and these same colors will, besides, serve to regulate the attitude of
Honor and thanks to the genius which gives us this criterion, where is
reflected the harmony of all worlds!
In this rational grammar of the art of oratory, I have given the rules
of all the fine arts. All arts have the same principle, the same means
and the same end. They are akin, they interpenetrate, they mutually aid
and complete each other. They have a common scope and aim. Thus, music
needs speech and gesture. Painting and sculpture derive their merit from
the beauty of attitudes. There is no masterpiece outside the rules here
It is not enough to know the rules of the art of oratory. He who would
become an orator, must make them his own. Even this is not enough for
the free movement of the agents which reveal the mind, the soul and the
life. The method must be so familiar as to seem a second nature. Woe to
the orator if calculation and artifice be divined in his speech! How
shun this quicksand? By labor and exercise. The instruments and the
manner of using them are in your hands, student of oratory. Set about
your work. Practice gymnastics, but let them be gymnastics in the
service of the soul, in the service of noble thoughts and generous
sentiments--divine gymnastics for the service of God.
Renew your nature. Lay aside the swaddling-bands of your imperfections,
conform your lives to the highest ideals of uprightness and truth.
Exercise your voice, your articulation and your gestures. If need be,
like Demosthenes, place pebbles in your mouth; repair like that great
orator to the sea-shore, brave the fury of the billows, accustom
yourself to the tumult and roar of assemblies. Do not fear the fracture
or dislocation of your limbs as you seek to render them supple, to
fashion them after the model, the type you have before your eyes. _Labor
In any event, be persevering. Novitiate and apprenticeship in any
profession, are difficult. In every state the bitterness of trial is to
be expected. To arrive at initiation has its joys, to arrive at
perfection is a joy supreme. Beneath the rind of this mechanism, this
play of organs, dwells a vivifying spirit. Beneath these tangible forms
of art, the Divine lies hidden, and will be revealed. And the soul that
has once known the Divine, feels pain no longer, but is overwhelmed with
Art is the richest gift of heaven to earth. The true artist does not
grow old; he is never too old to feel the charm of divine beauty. The
more a soul has been deceived, the more it has been chastened by
suffering, the more susceptible it is to the benefits of art. This is
why music soothes our sorrows and doubles our joys. Song is the
treasure of the poor.
Return, then, with renewed enthusiasm to your work! The end is worth the
pains. The human organism is a marvelous instrument which God has given
for our use. It is a harmonious lyre, with nine chords, each rendering
various sounds. These three chords for the voice, and three for both
gesture and speech, have their thousand resonances at the service of the
life, the soul and the mind. As these chords vibrate beneath your
fingers, they will give voice to the emotions of the life, to the
jubilations of the heart and the raptures of the mind. This delightful
concert will lend enchantment to your passing years, throwing around
them all the attractions of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
We may well salute the three Graces and the nine Muses as gracious
emblems, but it is far better to discern in art, the reflected image of
the triple celestial hierarchy with its nine angel choruses.
Honor, then, to the fine arts! Glory to eloquence! Praise to the good
man who knows how to speak well! Blessed be the great orator! Like our
tutelary angel, he will show us the path that conducts or leads back to
Arnaud on Delsarte.
The Delsarte System.
Angelique Arnaud, (_Pupil of Delsarte_).
Translated by Abby L. Alger.
The Bases of the Science.
Delsarte published no book upon art. The bases of the science which he
created are contained in a synthetical table. Other tables develop each
branch of it considered separately.
Starting from an undeniable law--that which regulates the constitution
of man,--Delsarte applies it to aesthetics; he designates man as "the
object of art," and groups in series the organic agents that co-operate
in the manifestation of human thought, sentiment and passion; declaring
the purpose of these manifestations, now become artistic, to be the
amelioration of our being by throwing into relief and light the
splendors of moral beauty and the horrors of vice.
Delsarte defines art in several ways. He has been reproached for his
over-amplitude of definition, and his development of it in a sense too
metaphysical for a science which he himself calls "positive." I give
here only such definitions as seem to me most clear and important.
"Art is at once the knowledge, the possession and the free direction of
the agents by virtue of which are revealed the life, soul and mind. It
is the appropriation of the sign to the thing. It is the relation of
the beauties scattered through nature to a superior type. It is not,
therefore, the mere imitation of nature."
The word _life_, in the sense employed above, is the equivalent of
_sensation_, of _physical manifestations._
Man being the object of art, it is from the working of the various
faculties of the human organism that Delsarte deduces the task of the
artist; as from the knowledge of the essential modalities of the _ego_,
he deduces his law of general aesthetics.
Delsarte teaches, therefore, that man is a triplicity of persons; that
is, he contains in his indestructible unity, three principles or
aspects, which he calls _life, soul_ and _mind_; in other words,
_physical, moral_ and _intellectual_ persons.
In this statement this master agrees with the philosophers who give a
triplicity of essential principles as the base of ontology. Pierre
Leroux names them as follows: _sensation, sentiment, consciousness._
That which is personal to Delsarte is the derivation of the law of
aesthetics from this conception of being.
The primal faculties once ascertained, he devotes himself to an analysis
of the organism; he describes the harmony of each of these faculties
with the apparatus which serves it as agent for manifesting itself, and
demonstrates the fitness of each organ for the task assigned it. The
master establishes that the inflections of the voice betray more
especially the sensitive nature; that gesture is the interpreter of
emotion; that articulation--a special element of speech--is in the
direct service of intelligence and thought. He gave the name of _vocal_
to the active apparatus of sensation; _dynamic_ to that of sentiment;
_buccal_ to that of articulation.
From the union of the faculties and their agents arise three modes of
expression: the _language of affection_, the _language of ellipsis_ (or
gesture) and the _language of philosophy_. They respond to the three
states which Delsarte recognizes in man, and which the artist is to
translate: the _sensitive state,_ corresponding to the _life_; the
_moral state_, to the _soul_; the _intellectual state_, to the _mind_.
But this division into three modalities or into three states is far from
giving the number of the manifestations of being. Nature is not reduced
to this indigence. From the fusion of these three states, in varying and
incessant combination, and from the predominance of one of the primitive
modalities, whether accidental or permanent, countless individualities
are formed, each with its personal constitution, its shades of
difference of education, habits, age, character, etc.
It seems at the first glance as if the mind must be confused by these
varieties, whose possible number fades into infinity; but the teacher
does not open this labyrinth to his disciples without providing them
with a clue.
Independently of these modalities, of these states, which form the
basis of the system, Delsarte traces triune subdivisions, which serve as
a point of convergence; thus the intermediary rays of the compass or
mariner's card are multiplied, and receive special names, without
ceasing to belong to one of the four cardinal points.
Whatever, for instance, may be the tendency of the individual whom we
desire to portray, or to represent by any art whatsoever, we can think
of him in his normal state, as well as in a concentric or eccentric
state: this is a first distinction.
Each of these states is itself subject to shades of difference, to
modifications. The normal state of a diplomat and that of an artist
could not be the same. The one, by the very effect of his profession,
will incline to concentration; the other will tend to expansion, if not
to eccentration. Hence a _simple normal_ state which is the most common;
a normal-concentric state, a normal-eccentric state: here we have a
Delsarte, in order to avoid confusion between the word _state_ applied
to primordial modalities--which he defines as _sensitive, moral_ and
_intellectual_ states,--often uses the word _element_ in place of that
of _state_ in speaking of _concentration, eccentration_ and _normality_,
which, in this case, he also calls _calm_; but, in teaching, he was
always accustomed to use these more exact terms: normal state,
concentric state, eccentric state.
These differences may occur in regard to each of the other terms. Thus
we may have the simple concentric state, the concentro-concentric state,
It is upon this mutual interpenetration of the various states in the
triple unity, that the master founds the idea which dominates and
pervades his whole system; the three isolated and independent terms do
not, to his thinking, constitute the integrality of the human _ego_. To
constitute, according to Delsarte's theory, three, the vital number, it
must, by its very essence, and by inherent force, raise itself to its
multiple nine. This is what the master calls _the ninefold accord_.
Medicine--a science which also derives its justification from the human
organism--from certain points of view affords us analogies to this
mixture of primordial components; for example, nervous and sanguine
temperaments which are blended in the sanguo-nervous, etc.
If we refer to our own faculties, does it not strike us indeed, that
neither life--nor sensation--nor sentiment, nor intellect can manifest
itself without the aid of its congeners or co-associates?
Is intelligence evident elsewhere than in a sensitive being (life)? And
even when considering the most abstract things, does it not bear witness
of its taste, its power of choice (sentiment)? Can sentiment be
absolutely disengaged from impression (life)? And if it is not always
under the sway of the idea, is it not certain that it gives rise to it,
by provoking observation and reflection (intellect)?
Finally, can an adult--save in the case of absolute idiocy--exist by
sensitive life alone outside of all sentiment and all thought (soul,
It is by the harmony of the modalities among themselves, and the
contribution of each to the unity, that every individual type is formed.
Delsarte thought that he could fix their numerical scale; but he was not
permitted to _carry_ his scientific studies thus far; still, it is not
indispensable to art, which demands above all things very marked types,
that verification should be carried to its farthest limits. It will not
be difficult, guided by the knowledge which Delsarte has left us, to
classify artistic personages as physical, intellectual and moral or
sentimental types; and, in the same category, to differentiate those
belonging to the concentric state from those falling more particularly
into the eccentric or normal states: the Don Juans, Othellos, Counts
Ory, etc. Delsarte, in practice, excelled in characterizing these shades
These prolegomena would not perhaps alone suffice to give this teacher a
claim to the title of creator of a science. Although they give the
theory of the system, they are far from containing all its developments.
But Delsarte did not stop here.
In appropriate language--wherein new words are not lacking for the new
science--he takes apart each of the agents of the organism, enumerated
above; he examines them in their details, and assigns them their part in
the sensitive, moral, or intellectual transmission with which they are
charged. Thus gesture--the interpreter of sentiment--is produced by
means of the head, torso and limbs; and in the functions of the head are
comprised the physiognomic movements, also classified and described,
with their proper significance, such as anger, hate, contemplation,
etc.,--and the same with the other agents.
Each part observed gives rise to a special chart, where we see, for
instance, what should be the position of the eye in exaltation,
aversion, intense application of the mind, astonishment, etc. The same
labor is given to the arms, the hands and the attitudes of the body,
with the mark, borrowed from nature, of the slightest movement, partial
or total, corresponding to the sensation, the sentiment, the thought
that the artist wishes to express.
I hope that these works may yet be recovered entire, for the master was
lavish of them, and that they may be given to the public.
An exact science at first sight appears contradictory to art. Will it
not diminish its limits, * * * trammel its transports? Will it not prove
hostile to its liberty at every point? * * * Will it not check the
flights of its graceful fancy, its adorable caprice?
No, indeed! as I said in regard to the ideal, the theories of Delsarte,
far from hampering the free expansion of art, do but enlarge its
horizons, and prepare a broader field for its harmonies. They leave
freedom to the opinions most difficult of seizure, the most unforeseen
creations; because, responding to every faculty of being, this science,
while it corrects imagination, respects its legitimate power.
Finally, what is this science which analyzes every spring and every part
brought to play in the manifestation of life? A compass to guide us to
the desired goal; a measure of proportion to fix each variety in the
immensity of types; a touchstone by which to judge of each man's
But do not let us forget that if this science holds back, restrains and
preserves us from parasites, * * * if it prepares proper soil, and
assists feebly dowered natures to acquire real value, it cannot supply
the place of those marvelous talents, that personality, which showed us,
in Delsarte himself, the heights to which a dramatic singer may attain.
What surprises and subjugates us in these privileged persons is the
secret of nature; it is not to be written down, not to be demonstrated;
this unknown quantity, this mystery, reveals itself at its own time by
flashes, and with different degrees of intensity during the career of
the same artist. Some have thought to explain the prodigy by that
superior instinct known as intuition; but the discovery of the word does
not open the arcanum.
I have said enough, I hope, in regard to the science created by
Delsarte, to put upon the track such minds as are apt for the subject,
and endowed with sufficient penetration to assimilate it; but it must
not be disguised that even should the whole work be collected together,
the science must still await its examination, its verification and its
complements; for a science at its birth is like a program given out for
the study of present and future generations. Delsarte was still working
on his to the last years of his life. Every day he gained fresh insight;
he added branches and accessories. Yet the criticisms of details which
will come later--even when they are justified,--will not rob the
inventor of the glory of his scientific discovery. Let genius invent,
scholars pursue its discoveries! * * * If genius works alone, scientists
work hand in hand,
I have shown Delsarte as a composer, as pre-eminently an artist, who, as
a certain critic says, "was never surpassed;" I have insisted upon the
two titles which form his special glory: that of revealer of the laws of
aesthetics, and that of creator of a science to support his discoveries;
a science whose application relates particularly to the dramatic and
lyric arts, although at its base, and especially when considered as law,
it embraces all the liberal arts.
It remains for me to speak of his method, properly so called; of his
precepts, his maxims, his opinions and his judgments; of that, in a
word, which constitutes the personal manner of each master, and his mode
of instruction; for if the law is single in its essential and
constitutive ideas, it radiates into diversity in its individual
manifestations; _it has infinite possibilities_.
Delsarte considered art as the surest, purest and most constant good in
life. He required much time to complete the education of a pupil,
because he knew how long it had taken him to master the methods of
translating, through that noble interpreter, art, the best and most
sublime possibilities of the human soul; and because he knew as well all
that is inherent in our nature of vice and imperfection. He held that
the truth, be it good or bad, is always instructive.
In regard to truth he says: "A man may possess remarkable qualities, may
have grace, expression, charm and elegance, but they are all as nothing
if he does not interpret the truth." He desired the artist to study
beauty in every form, to seek and discover its secrets. He tells us that
he himself studied the poses of the statues of antiquity for fifteen
It was in consequence of this period of study, assuredly, that the
master condemned the parallel movement of the limbs in gesture, and
recommended attitudes which he called _inverse_; if, for instance, the
actor leans on his left leg, the corresponding gesture must necessarily
be entrusted to the right arm.
The master taught that the gesture--the true interpreter of the
sentiment--should precede the word. He added: "The word is but an echo,
the thought made external and visible, the ambassador of intelligence.
Every energetic passion, every deep sentiment, is accordingly announced
by a sign of the head, the hand or the eye, before the word expresses
it." Thus, the actor and the orator, if they do not conform to this
precept, have failed to attain to art.
Delsarte proves his assertion by giving examples, somewhat overdrawn, in
a sense the inverse of this theory. Nothing was more amusing than to
see him execute one of these _dilatory_ gestures; for instance, this
phrase, uttered by the lackey of some comedy, delivering a message:
"Sir, here is a letter which I was told to deliver to you at once." The
hand extending the note unseasonably, produced so ridiculous an effect
that the heartiest laughter never failed to follow.
The preceding steps lead us to ellipsis, which plays an important part
in the method of Delsarte.
All the thoughts and sentiments contained in literature, in one
comprehensive word, are entrusted to the mimic art of the actor, whose
essential agent is gesture. The _conjunction_ and _interjection_ are
alike elliptical; thus in the phrase: "Ah! * * how unhappy I am! * *"
"Ah!" should imply a painful situation before the explanatory phrase
begins. In his _course of applied aesthetics_, Delsarte gives us the
striking effects of the elliptic conjunction.
_On Shades and Inflections._
The shade, that exquisite portion of art, which is rather felt than
expressed, is the characteristic sign of the perfection of talent; it
forms a part of the personality of the artist. You may have heard a play
twenty times with indifference, or a melody as often, only to be bored
by it; some fine day a great actor relieves the drama of its chill, its
apparent nullity; the commonplace melody takes to itself wings beneath
the magic of a well-trained, expressive and sympathetic voice. Delsarte
possessed this artistic talent to a supreme degree, and it was one of
the remarkable parts of his instruction; he had established typical
phrases, where the mere shade of inflection gave an appropriate meaning
to every variety of impression and sentiment which can possibly be
expressed by any one set of words. One of these phrases was this: "That
is a pretty dog!"
A very talented young girl succeeded in giving to these words a great
number of different modulations, expressing endearment, coaxing,
admiration, ironical praise, pity and affection. Delsarte, with his
far-reaching comprehension, conceived of more than 600 ways of
differentiating these examples; but he stopped midway in the execution
of them, and certainly no one else will ever pursue this outline to its
The second phrase was: "I did not tell you that I would not!"
This time the words were given as a study for adults; they lent
themselves to other sentiments; they revealed, as the case might be,
indifference, reproach, encouragement, the hesitation of a troubled
It was by means of these manifold shades that the artist-professor
established characteristic differences in parts wherein so many actors
had seen but the identical fact of a similar passion or a similar vice.
To his mind, all misers were not the same miser, nor all seducers the
same seducer. In singing particularly, with what art Delsarte used the
_On Vocal Music._
In regard to lyric art especially, Delsarte had his peculiar and
personal theories. Singing was not to him merely a means of displaying
the singer's voice or person; it was a superior language, charged with
the rendition, in its individual charm, of all the greatest creations of
literature and poetry; all the sweet, tender, or cruel sentiments
possible to humanity.
This exceptional singer attained his effects partly by means of certain
modifications of the rhythm, which caused inattentive critics to say:
"Delsarte does not observe the measure." What they themselves failed to
note, was that the first beat was always given firmly; and that it was
in the divisions of one measure, and by subtle compensations, that he
made the difference. Far from having cause for complaint, the composer
gained thereby, a more clear expression of his thought, a more
persuasive expansion of his sentiment, and the respiration appeared more
easy. It was something similar--with a greater value--to that personal
punctuation with which skilful readers often divide the text which they
It was particularly in recitative, the style, moreover, least subject to
precise laws, that Delsarte used this license; and it was in this style
that he especially excelled.
And is it not in what remains unwritten that the singer's true greatness
is revealed? What dilettante has not felt the power of a more incisive
attack of the note; of that prolongation of the note, held
imperceptibly, which, having captured it, holds the attention of the
But, to hear these things, it is not necessary, as the saying is, "to
bestride _technique_." In so far as the training of the voice is
concerned, Delsarte gave himself a scientific basis. He was the first to
think that it would be well to know the mechanism of the organ, that it
might be used to the best advantage, both by avoiding injurious methods
of exercising it, and by aiding the development of the tone by
In his rooms were to be seen imitations of the larynx--in pasteboard--of
various sizes. His pupils, it seems to me, could profit but little by
these far from pleasing sights. At the utmost it increased their
confidence in the man who desired an intimate acquaintance with
everything relating to the art which he taught. It is to teachers
particularly that the introduction of this auxiliary into the study of
the vocal mechanism may have been of some value. I have lately learned
that several singing teachers use these artificial larynxes. Can
priority be claimed for Delsarte? I can only affirm that he refers to
them in a treatise signed by himself, and dated in the year 1831.
I shall not enter into the details of this contingent side of the
method; the statement of the facts is enough to lead all those who are
interested, to devote thought and study to the matter. I prefer to dwell
upon the things which Delsarte carried with him into the grave, having
written them only on the memories of certain adepts destined to
disappear soon after him.
Delsarte established his theory of _diaphragmatic breathing_ in
accordance with his anatomical knowledge. It consists in restoring the
breath, without effort, from the commencing lift of the diaphragm to the
production of the tone. He opposed it to the _costal breathing_, which
brings the lungs suddenly into action by movements of the chest and
shoulders, and causes extreme fatigue. "The chest," he says, "should be
a passive agent; the larynx and mouth, aiding the diaphragm, alone have
a right to act in breathing; the action of the larynx consists of a
depression, that of the mouth should produce the canalization
(concavity) of the tongue and the elevation of the veil of the palate."
To this first idea is attached what the master taught in regard to the
distinction between _vital breath_ and _artificial breath_. It is
certain that one may sing with the natural respiration; but it is
rapidly exhausted if not augmented by additional inhalation; for it
results in dryness and breathlessness, which cause suffering alike to
singer and listener. The _artificial breath_, on the contrary, preserves
the ease and freshness of the voice.
_On the Position of the Tone._
The placing of the tone was one of Delsarte's great anxieties. According
to his theory, the attack should be produced _by explosion_. He rejected
that stress which induces the squeezing out of the tone after it is
produced. The way to avoid it is to prepare rapidly and in anticipation
of the emission of the note.
These ideas demand oral elucidation; but it is enough to declare them,
for teachers and singers to recognize their meaning.
_On the Preparation of the Initial Consonant._
The preceding lines refer to vocalization; but Delsarte applied the same
process to pronunciation. He directed that the _initial consonant_
should be prepared in the same way as the attack on the tone; it was
thus produced distinctly and powerfully, that is, in less appreciable
_extent of time_. Such is the concentration of the archer preparing to
launch an arrow; of the runner about to leap a ditch. The master, in no
case permitted that annoying compass of the voice before a consonant, so
frequently employed by ordinary singers. The Italians justly translate
this disagreeable performance by the word _strascinato_ (dragged out or
Delsarte has been severely blamed for the way in which he trained the
voice. I have nothing to say in regard to those who imputed to him
physical and barbarous methods of developing it; but it may be true that
he endangered it by certain exercises or by failure to cultivate the
mechanism. I do not feel myself competent to pronounce upon this
technical point, but I can give an exact account of what was done in his
Delsarte directed that the tones should be swelled on a single note, E
flat (of the medium); he claimed that by strengthening this intermediary
note the ascending and descending scales were sympathetically
strengthened. He thus avoided, as he said, breaking the high treble
notes by exercises which would render the cords too severely tense,
convinced morever, that at a given moment a burst of enthusiasm and
will-power would take the place of assiduous practice.
He also taught that this special exercise of the medium would prevent
the separation of the registers, that phylloxera of the vocal organ,
which wrecks so many singers, and causes them so many sorrows. This was
the way to gain that mixed voice, the ideal held up to the scholars as
being the most impressive and the most exquisite; that which at the
same time ravished the ear and charmed the heart.
This master considered the chest-voice as more particularly physical;
and the head-voice, it must be confessed, is too much like the voice of
a bird, to awaken sentiment and sympathy.
Delsarte himself possessed this mixed voice; in him, it seemed to start
from the heart, and brought tears to eyes which had never known them.
The power of that tone--allied to the perfection of shading, diction and
lyric declamation--caused every listening soul to vibrate with latent
emotion which might never have been waked to life save by that appeal.
I return to the practice of swelled tones upon the note E flat. This
note certainly acquired broad and powerful tones about which there was
nothing forced, and which were most agreeable. This development was
communicated to the neighboring notes. But did not these advantages take
from the compass of the scale? If so, were they a counterbalance to the
injury? I repeat that I dare not affirm anything in this respect.
Delsarte, assuredly, did not give as much space to vocalization as other
teachers, especially those of the Italian school.
It is also undeniable, that dramatic singing--the style which he
preferred--is dangerous to the vocal organism; particularly when one
practices the _shriek or scream_, which produces a fine effect when
skilfully employed, but is most pernicious in excess.
Delsarte was too conscientious an artist not to sacrifice his voice, at
certain moments, to his pathetic effects; but he was very careful to
warn his scholars against the abuse of this method; he directed them to
use it but very rarely, and with the greatest precaution.
I should also say, in his favor, that light voices were very differently
trained from heavy ones. Madame Carvalho, who began her studies in his
school, did not alter the flexible but feeble organ she brought there.
Mlle. Chaudesaigues and Mlle. Jacob, under Delsarte's tuition, attained
to marvels of flexibility, without losing any of their natural gifts.
Delsarte brought about a revolution in French music in everything
relating to appoggiatura, or rather, he restored its primitive meaning.
The way in which he interpreted it has created a school.
He taught that the root of the word--appoggiatura--being _appuyer_ (to
sustain), the chief importance should be given in the phrase, to
appoggiatura, by extent and expression; the more so that this note is
generally placed on a dissonance; and, according to this master's
system, it is on the dissonance--and not at random and very frequently,
as is the habit of many singers--that the powerful effect of the
vibration of sound should be produced.
Contrary to this opinion, the appoggiatura was for a long time used in
France as a short and rapid passing note; it thus gave the music a
vivacious character, wholly discordant with the style of serious
compositions; the music of Gluck was particularly unsuited to it.
_Roulade and Martellato._
In every school of singing the roulade is effected by means of the
_staccato_ and _legato_. Delsarte had a marked prejudice in favor of the
martellato, which partakes of both. He compared it, in his picturesque
way of expressing his ideas, to pearls united by an invisible thread.
The master's pronunciation was irreproachable; not the slightest trace
of a provincial accent; never the least error of intonation, the
smallest mistake in regard to a long or short syllable. What is perhaps
rarer than may be thought, he possessed, in its absolute purity, the
prosody of his native language, alike in lyric declamation and in the
_cantabile_. His penetrating tones added another charm to the many
merits which he had acquired by study.
Pronunciation, therefore, was skilfully and carefully taught in
Delsarte's school. The professor's first care was to correct any
tendency to lisp, which he did by temporarily substituting the syllables
_te, de_, over and over again, for the faulty R. This substitution
brought the organ back to the requisite position for the vibration of
This process is now in common use; but I cannot say whether it was
employed before Delsarte's day. He obtained very happy results from it.
_E mute before a Consonant._
Delsarte did not allow that absolute suppression of the E mute before a
consonant, which seems to prevail at present, and which produces so bad
an effect in delivery. As the evil, at the time of which I speak, was
yet comparatively unknown, he did not make it a case of conscience; but
if he never lent himself to this ellipsis, he, "the lyric Talma," "the
exquisite singer," as he has frequently been called, should we not
regard his abstinence as a condemnation from which there is no appeal? I
do not believe, moreover, that either Nourrit or Dupre authorized by
their example a habit so contrary to the rules of French versification,
so disagreeable to the well-trained ear and so opposed to good taste.
Such young singers as have yielded to it, have only to listen to
themselves for one moment to abandon it forever.
It is certain that E mute can in no instance be assimilated to the
accented E; but to suppress it entirely, is to break the symmetry of the
verse, to put the measure out of time. It is unmistakable that the
weakness of the vowel, or mute syllable, concerns the sound, not the
duration. Let it die away gently; but for Heaven's sake, do not murder
it! Voltaire wrote: "You reproach us with our E mute, as a sad, dull
sound that dies on our lips, but in this very E mute lies the great
harmony of our prose and verse." Littre recognizes two forms of the E
mute: the E mute, faintly articulated as in "_ame_;" and the E mute
sounded as in _me, ce, le;_ but he does not allude to an E which is
Once more, then, that there may be no misunderstanding, let me say that
the word _mute_ added to the E, has but a relative sense, in view of the
two vowels of the same name and marked with an acute or a grave accent.
One fact throws light on the question: did any author ever make a
character above the rank of a peasant or a lackey, say:
/ "_J'aime' ben Lisett' J'crois qu'ell' m'en veut!"_ P/
Take an example from Voltaire (tragedy of the Death of Caesar): "_Voila
vos successeurs, Horace, Decius_." Evidently, if the E mute had not been
counted, the second hemistich of the Alexandrine verse would have had
but five syllables instead of six.
Would any one like to know how the heresiarchs of the E mute would
In this instance they would repeat the A of the penultimate, aspirating
it and pronouncing thus: "_Voila vos successeurs, Hora ... as',
In this way they would have the requisite number of syllables; but they
would be wholly at odds with the dictionary of the good actors of the
This falsification is especially common in singing, though it is no less
revolting in that field of art. How often at concerts--the force of
tradition saves us at the theatre--do we hear even artists of great
"_Quel jour prosp'..er' plus de myste..er_," instead of: "_Quel jour
prospere plus de mystere._" And, in one of the choruses of the opera
"_La Reine de Chypre_":
"_Jamais, jamais en Fran ... anc'
Jamais l'Anglais ne regnera!_"
"_Jamais, jamais en France,
Jamais l'Anglais ne regnera!_"
This anomaly is most offensive in the final syllable of a verse, because
there the measure is more impaired than ever, and in this way that
alternation of male and female rhymes is suppressed, which produces so
flowing and graceful a cadence in French verse.
_E mute before a Vowel._
The encounter of E mute in a final syllable, with the initial vowel of
the word which follows it, makes the defect more apparent and
accordingly easier to fight against.
Delsarte's process was as follows: When a silent syllable is
immediately followed by a word beginning with another vowel, the E mute
(by a prolongation of the sound of the penultimate) is suppressed with
the next letter. Thus in the aria of _Joseph_ (opera by Mehu):
"_Loin de vous a langui ma jeune.. sexilee;_" and in _Count Ory: "Salut,
o venera ... blermite._"
In these cases, by an unfortunate spirit of compensation, the abettors
of the innovation, suppressing the grammatical elision, sing thus:
"_Loin de vous a langui ma jeune ... ess'exilee."
"Salut, o venrera ... abl'erm ... it!_"
Littre's Dictionary gives us the same pronunciation as Delsarte; and his
written demonstration is even more positive. We find _favorables
auspices, arbres abattus_, written in this way:
It is, however, very difficult to express these differences exactly, in
type: what Littre expresses _radically_ by typographic characters, is
blended with most natural delicacy by the voice of a singer.
Thus, according to Delsarte, the E mute of a final syllable should be
suppressed before a vowel, on condition of a prolongation of the sound,
in harmony with the penultimate syllable.
According to Delsarte again, according to Voltaire, according to Littre,
the E mute is weakened, more or less, but never completely suppressed,
before a consonant.
Finally Legouve, whose voice is preponderant in these matters, whose
books are in the hands of the whole world, has never entered into this
I hope to be pardoned this long digression, thinking it my duty to
protest against such a ludicrous method of treating French prosody; I do
so both in the name of aesthetics and as a part of my task as biographer
Was Delsarte a Philosopher?
If we consider philosophy in the light of all the questions upon which
it touches, the subjects which it embraces, we must answer "No;" but if
we concentrate the word within the limits of aesthetics, we may reply in
the affirmative. Did not Delsarte point out the origin of art, its
object and its aim?
Not that this master never exceeded the limits of his science and his
method. He had sketched out a "Treatise on Reason," and had begun to
classify the faculties of being, entering into the subject more
profoundly than the categories of Kant; but all this only exists in mere
outline, in a technology whose terms have not been weighed and connected
together by a solid chain of reasoning: logic has not uttered its final
A separate volume would be required to give an idea of these _gigantic
sketches_, which must remain in their rudimentary state.
If Delsarte had finished his work, it would seem that he must have
leaned toward the scholastic method, now so much out of favor; but
certainly he would put his own personality into this, as into everything
that he undertook to investigate; for he was held back on the steeps of
mysticism by the science which he had created, and which could only
afford a shelter to the supernatural as an extension of those psychical
faculties which have been called intuition, imagination, etc.
Then the influence of Raymond Brucker, who died shortly after Delsarte,
being lessened, and conscientious and patient study having fed the flame
in that vast brain, we might have obtained affirmations of a new order.
And Delsarte might have met with thinkers like Leibnitz, Descartes and
Jean Reynaud, on that height where religion is purged of superstition
and fanaticism, philosophy set free from atheism and materialism!
If Delsarte had a fault, it was that he regarded all modern philosophy
as sensuous naturalism; and if reason sometimes seemed to him
suspicious, it was because he often confounded it with sophistry, which
reasons indeed, but is far from being _reason_.
Let us regret that Delsarte never finished his complete philosophy; but
let us be grateful to him for having raised his art and all arts to the
level of philosophy, by giving them truth as a basis and morality as a
final aim; which fairly justifies, it seems to me, the title of
_artist-philosopher_, which I have sometimes applied to him.
I should not neglect, in this connection, to set down the explanation,
given by Delsarte, of what he meant by the word _trinity_, as used in
his scientific system. The reader cannot fail to see the elements of a
system of philosophy in this succinct statement, this outline to be
"The principle of the system lies in the statement that there is in the
world a universal formula which may be applied to all sciences, to all
things possible: --this formula is _the trinity_.
"What is requisite for the formation of a trinity?
"Three expressions are requisite, each presupposing and implying the
other two. Each of three terms must imply the other two. There must also
be an absolute co-necessity between them; thus, the three principles of
our being--life, mind and soul--form a trinity.
"Because life and mind are one and the same soul; soul and mind are one
and the same life; life and soul are one and the same mind."
Course of Applied AEsthetics.
_Meeting of the Circle of Learned Societies_.
Independently of its method, which was especially applicable to dramatic
and lyric arts, Delsarte's doctrine, as we have seen, drew from the
primordial sources, which are the law of things, the principles of all
poetry, all art and all science. The intense light which he brought
thence was too dazzling for young scholars, whose minds were rarely
prepared by previous education. It, nevertheless, overflowed into the
daily lessons, and gave them that peculiar and somewhat singular aspect,
which acted even upon those whose intelligence could not cope with it.
Such is the mysterious magic of things which penetrate before they
But these lofty problems demanded an audience in harmony with their
elevation. Delsarte soon attracted such. Under the title "Course of
Applied AEsthetics," he collected in various places, notably at the
"Circle of Learned Societies," profane and sacred orators, and learned
men of all sorts. There he could develop points of view as new as they
seemed to be strikingly true. It was on leaving one of these meetings,
that a distinguished painter thus expressed his enthusiasm: "I have
learned so much to-day, and it is all so simple and so true, that I am
amazed that I never thought of it before."
The Course of Applied AEsthetics was addressed to painters, sculptors,
orators, as well as to musicians, both performers and composers; and was
finally extended to literary men. This audience of scholars was no less
astonished and enchanted than others had been.
_Theory of the Degrees_.
The theory of degrees was largely developed at these meetings, and I
have purposely delayed it till this chapter. To understand this
theory--one of the most striking points in Delsarte's method, and
original with him,--one should have some idea of the grammar which he
composed for the use of his pupils.
I will not say that this treatise was complete in the sense usually
attached to the word grammar. There is no mention of orthography or of
lexicology; but all that is the very essence of language, that from
which no language, no idiom can escape--the constituent parts of
speech--are examined and investigated from a philosophic and psychologic
point of view. Just as the author examined the constituent modalities of
our being in the light of aesthetics, he seized the affinities between
the laws of speech, as far as regards the voice--_logos_--and the moral
manifestations of art.
This production of Delsarte has undergone the fate of almost all his
works--it has not been printed. Indeed, I greatly fear that, all his
notes on the subject can never be collected; nevertheless that which has
been gathered together presents a certain development. I will not enter
into the purely metaphysical part, limiting myself, as I have done from
the beginning of this study, to making known the conceptions of Delsarte
only in so far as they refer to the special field of aesthetics.
In this category, we find the following definitions which serve to
classify the quantitative values or degrees: that is the extent assigned
to each articulation or vocal emission to enable it to express the
thoughts, sentiments and sensations of our being in their truth and
1. _Substantive_ is the name given to a group of appearances, to a
totality of attributes.
2. _Adjective_ expresses ideas, simple, abstract, general and
medicative; it is an abstraction in the substantive.
3. _Verb_ is the word that affirms the existence and the co-existence
between the being existing and its manner of existing: that is to say it
connects the subject with the attribute. The verb is not a sign of
action, but of affirmation, and existence.
4. The _participle_ alone is a sign of action.
5, 6, 7. The _article, pronoun and preposition_ fit into the common
8. The _adverb_ is the adjective of the adjective and of the participle
(in so far as it is an attribute of the verb); it modifies them both,
and is not modifiable by either of them; it is a sign of proportion, an
9. The _conjunction_ has the same function as the preposition: it unites
one object to another object; but it differs from it, inasmuch as the
preposition has but a single word for its antecedent, and a single word
for its objective case, while the conjunction has an entire phrase for
antecedent, and the same for complement. It characterizes the point of
view under the sway of which the relations should be regarded:
restrictive, as _but_; hypothetical or conditional, as _if?_ conclusive,
as _then_, etc., etc. The conjunction presents a general view to our
thought, it is the reunion of scattered facts; it is essentially
10. The _interjection_ responds to those circumstances where the soul,
moved and shaken by a crowd of emotions at once, feels that by uttering
a phrase it would be far from expressing what it experiences. It then
exhales a sound, and confides to gesture the transmission of its
The interjection is essentially elliptical, because, expressing nothing
in itself, it expresses at the time all that the gesture desires it to
express, for ellipsis is a hidden sense, the revelation of which belongs
exclusively to gesture.
It must first be noted that these degrees are numbered from one to nine,
and that, of all the grammatical values defined, the conjunction,
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