La Harpe and his followers have distributed praise and blame, and at the same time said what should be done, but they have given no how.
More grievous still are the meanderings of the critics of our public journals. They wander without compass and without rudder, approving or condemning according to their friendships and antipathies; save those connoisseurs emerites, whose fine, sure taste and exceptional erudition are rarely able to supply a law and state a reason for their judgment.
Among us, as among the Greeks, may be found artists who have given proofs of the existence of the supreme theory of which I now write. Talma and Malibran—in another order, Dejazet, and Frederick Lemaitre, even Theresa herself, have, in a greater or less degree, exemplified this law imprescriptable. These artists, marked by nature with the seal of their vocation, possessed that force of truth which produces sudden bursts of eloquence, great dramatic effects; in a word, as before expressed, "the happy strokes of genius."
Yes, before and after Delsarte, there were and shall be beings conforming by instinct to his law. But with him alone shall rest the honor of its discovery and first teaching, and of the establishment of the science upon strong foundations.
It remains for me to examine the relations between the workings of Delsarte and those who have treated the same questions concerning the terms (according to him, accessory), the True, the Good and the Beautiful; and also to consider the value of each branch of aesthetics in the entirety of the system.
The Elements Of Art.
The True, the Good, the Beautiful.
Though Delsarte be acknowledged the discoverer of the law of aesthetics, he may have held points in common with many who before him had had presentiments of its coming and had instinctively experienced its force. Premonitions precede the discovery as complements should follow.
The True, the Good, the Beautiful, constituent elements of aesthetics, have been diversely interpreted. From his intellectual observatory, a zenith whence the artist-philosopher viewed clearly the whole and the details, he may be supposed to have gained light beyond any which could have come to his predecessors.
I will, then, resume my parallel from this point of view.
The True, the Good and the Beautiful were not made, in the school of Delsarte, objects of special teaching. By definitions, reflections and illustrations of the master, they were shown to enter fully into the science and method—a part of it distinguishable and inseparable. The master, in his demonstrations, commonly employed various well-known maxims which were always accredited to their authors. Thus, from Plato: "The Beautiful is the splendor of the True." From St. Thomas Aquinas, in regard to science: "In creation all is done by number, weight and measure." From St. Augustine (for he often quoted from sacred works): "Moral beauty is the brilliancy of the Good."
But I must proceed in order. I owe it to the sincerity of my endeavor to explain first the aesthetic work of Delsarte as shown me by his own teachings.
The True Illuminates the Thought.
To determine the signification of the True, we must first ask what is truth? It has been defined as: "A fixed principle, an axiom." The term truth has been applied to such or such maxims; but there are few assertions not subject to discussion or which would be accepted as decisive without comment. They have not that piercing clearness which determines conviction by simple apprehension or at first sight.
The dictionary of the Academy is more explicit in its statement: "Truth is the conformity of the idea to its object." But a preferable definition is that of Madame Clemence Royer: "Truth is the concept of the spirit in regard to the reality of things and the laws which govern them." This philosophical statement is readily adapted to the True in the arts, which is acquired by the observation of nature and adaptation of the lawful ideal.
How, then, may we recognize the True in aesthetics according to this definition? The artist, first and above all, should disregard no law of nature, but when he aspires to great works, "the concept of his spirit in regard to the reality of things and their laws" should lead him to idealize what he sees, translating his personal conception of the Beautiful and the Sublime, if his flight carry him so far.
The word Art is more comprehensive in that which it expresses, than the word True. Art completes itself by its other elements, the Beautiful and the Good. Plato, and the philosophers in general, treated of truth from the stand-point of philosophy rather than of art. Still the great Athenian seemed to believe in a sort of celestial museum, where the artist, penetrating by intuition, was inspired by a vision, more or less clear, of the masterpieces of divine conception.
Delsarte approached in a certain sense this very idea, but his doctrine of the True in art, although depending upon the mystic basis of a holy Trinity, brought forth developments both rational and scientific which leave far behind the Platonic hypothesis.
In the system of Delsarte it is no longer a vague ideal dimly perceptible, which must guide the artist in the execution of his work, for the innovator says expressly that "the divine thought is written in man himself." It is therefore at the command of every one who seeks truth to make it manifest in art. In the new system, man being at once the artist and object of art, literary men, sculptors and painters proceed from a basis ever to be observed and studied, to rise from the True to the Ideal. Here the flight must be more rapid and, above all, less deceptive than the purely mystic fancy of Plato.
We shall see in considering the Beautiful in the arts, that far from giving rise to arbitrary and fantastic conceptions, the great ideal must become, according to the science and method of the master,—the aggrandizement and the harmony of the faculties of the human being.
The Good Sanctifies the Soul.
What is the Good in art? Here again the philosophical standard bars the way and demands priority. What, then, is Good independent of varied feelings and of all the varied and contradictory interests of human subjectivity which encumber it in the minds of the multitude of thinking people?
The Good, after this elimination, is reduced or rather elevated to one simple idea, so general and requisite is it. The Good seems to be that which can give to the greatest number of beings, existing in the universe (conformably to their hierarchy), the greatest sum of happiness and perfection, considering, for humanity, the importance of the mutual relations of the faculties. If this be true of the Good in life, is not a way clearly traced for art, whose mission is to embellish existence? And, further, if it be incontestable, that man cannot transgress the laws of his nature without wronging his intelligence and his happiness, even his strength and beauty, how shall art merit our love and homage if its power be exerted to excite inferior faculties and subversive passions? Are not poise and harmony the best conditions of existence for the human organism? That which Plato demanded for the Beautiful in favor of the True—namely, splendor—Delsarte demanded also of art in favor of the Good. His thought is summed up in this formula, "Man is the object of art." Man, being artist, becomes the agent of aesthetics. Man, in his humanity, is the goal toward which should tend all the efforts and experiments of the art-moralizer.
The master maintained the possibility of reaching this end by two opposing ways, not contradictory; i.e., the production of the Beautiful under its physical, mental and moral forms; and by the manifestation of the Ugly under the same forms, exhibiting what he called the hideousness of vice. Immorality may be rendered poetical and artistic, because of its being a corruption of the moral, often preserving the imprint of its origin, even throughout its greatest errors. Its agitation, its combats and its defeats interest the judgment and the heart. The Ugly or unseemly, morally speaking, is the synonym of vice.
The Ugly in the language of the arts has many diverse significations. It is in these shades and variable proportions that it affects our subject, but the depicting of repulsive things, foreign to morality, to sentiment and to passion, has no right to exist in aesthetics. It may be possible to cure a vice by showing its hideousness. But does this warrant such exciting of the disgust of the senses? It is an outrage to the worship of the Beautiful, without compensation of any kind.
There can be no advantage to humanity in exhibiting the hideousness of disease or the monstrosities of certain natural phenomena! Open to them the museums of comparative anatomy, but close the galleries consecrated to the fine arts! There exist also monstrosities which are not included in these categories; they present no moral danger, but are disagreeable and repulsive to good taste. They consist of fantastic forms, in accordance with the spirit of an inferior civilization, reminding one of the misshapen and gigantic prehistoric animals, whose bones astound us, and which disappeared from our globe that man might appear.
Among cultivated contemporaries these eccentricities spring from an inclination toward originality, caprice, grotesque taste; from a similar impulse to that which directs literature toward burlesque and parodies, and the plastic arts toward caricature. Such productions may please some distinguished and intelligent natures which cannot have been highly favored in the distribution of the delicacies of sentiment and the exquisite graces of wit. In a word, the art indulging in this class of manifestations acts according to the mode simpliste. I borrow this term from Charles Fourier, and I say once for all, that by it I mean not the entire, but the almost exclusive predominance of one or the other of the modalities of the human being. Here the simplisme being altogether intellectual, while it is inferior to manifestations in which the being expands harmoniously, it wounds no essential in the synthesis of the me; while a predomination of the sensual to the same degree is most pernicious to that which delights in it and antipathetic to those who do not live solely in the material aspects of existence.
Existing among the elements of aesthetics, as the faculties of man, are certain dependencies, connections, affinities, penetrations, which render an abstraction of one of them almost impossible. Thus I have anticipated allusions to the Beautiful in considering the Good. By thus connecting them, the better to distinguish them, I have reached the conclusion that moral evil should never be manifested in the arts unless with the view of redressing it. In this case the better its real characteristics are studied, the more strongly they are accentuated throughout, the more successful the work will be from the plastic point of view, and the more power it will have to repel those inward wrongs which it denounces, and this even though the intention of the artist should not touch this result.
The Beautiful Purifies the Emotions.
At first glance, it might seem the privilege of each one to say, "The Beautiful is that which appears to me as such." I believe in this regard, that the most capable artist, should he be also the most perfect logician, would never be able to persuade sainted and simple ignorance that it should not remain firmly grounded upon faith in its own impressions.
Place Hugo, Mercie, Bonnat, Saint-Saens, Massenet, Joncieres in the presence of simple countrymen—or, what is worse still, of inferior artists and critics, of pretentious amateurs—and you will see by what supercilious, incredulous gestures, being incapable of argument, this satisfied ignorance will repel all assertions of the great authorities.
Should we, therefore, disregard this reluctance to recognize the features of the Beautiful in great works? We must at least deduce from it the fact that the effect of art depends upon some relation between the observer and the thing observed.
Notwithstanding the reality of the beauties of such or such a work, in the eyes of many appreciators, the subjectivity of each observer should remain decisive, vis-a-vis to himself, as long as he cannot be convinced by the authority of a law; and, finally, it is imperative that his comprehension of that law should be rendered possible by preliminary studies. On the contrary, shall that which has been recognized as beautiful by the initiated ever since artists created, and enlightened criticism discussed and judged it, appear now before uncultivated criticism as without authority?
In default of law and science, there is a sort of universal consent among competent thinkers; and their appreciation of the highest class of works is maintained by a process of adhesion carried on by every conversion from ignorant blindness to the light of appreciation.
The question of subjectivity in the declared judgments in aesthetics has given rise to incessant controversies which began, perhaps, among the Greeks and are going on among us. Though no absolute decision has been reached, some excellent maxims have resulted. In default of an irrefutable definition of the Beautiful, there have been given us images, analogies and thoughts upon the subject which approach and prepare for such definitions:
Victor Cousin has said: "It is reason which decides as to the Beautiful and reduces it to the sensation of the agreeable, and taste has no further law."
"Aversion accompanies the Ugly (unseemly) as love walks hand in hand with the Beautiful."
"The Beautiful inspires love profound but not passionate."
"The artist perceives only the Beautiful where the sensual man sees only the attractive or frightful."
And, again, "That is sublime which presents the idea of the Infinite."
This last thought brings us to Delsarte, who, perhaps, was its inspiration.
The following valuable thoughts of the master, while not related scientifically to his system, are still allied to its physical and philosophical aspects:
"Form," says the innovator in aesthetics, "is the vestment of substance; it is the expressive symbol of a mysterious truth; it is the stamp of a hidden virtue, the actuality of being; in a word, form is the plastic of the Ideal."
"The Beautiful is the transparency of the aptitudes of the agent, and it radiates from the faculties which govern it. It is order which results from the dynamical disposition of forms."
"Beauty is the reason which presides at the creation of things; it is the invisible power which draws us and subjugates us in them."
"The Beautiful comprises three characters, which we distinguish under the following titles: Ideal, moral and plastic beauty."
By the enunciation of these three categories, Delsarte enters upon the positive aspect of his system. As the result of the careful examination of the aptitudes or faculties of the Ego, approachable by analysis and applied to aesthetics, he has established this first class of manifestations (ideal beauty) as requisite to art. This must result from a combination of the faculties; the possibilities of combination being infinite, but always in subjection to the human being. The artist, according to this personal power of inspiration, should be able to portray a totality of superior and harmonious qualities, such as will oblige any competent observer to recognize it as beautiful. We have taken a step into the realm of the Ideal; that is to say, we have touched that which, without departing from the law, surpasses conventional rule and the natural types accepted for the Beautiful.
Before following the Ideal into its ethereal region, we will further consider the nature of its foundation, which is a combination of the three mother faculties which Delsarte declares to be, in aesthetics, the criterion of the law and the foundation of the science. We already recognize these as the physical, mental and moral aspects of the human being.
The plastic art allies itself particularly to the physical constitution, but the physique cannot be perfectly beautiful unless it manifests intellectual and moral faculties.
Moral and intellectual beauty reveal themselves in the human being under the empire of passion and of sentiment, and the physique is momentarily transformed. The artist should seize beauty at this moment of fullest perfection, above the normal conditions of human existence and perhaps beyond possible plastic beauty.
Behold what glorious possibility for the direction of the artist's aspirations toward the Beautiful! But even this happy chance by no means includes all of the possible conceptions of the Ideal, and neither does it furnish us any absolute idea or definition. This vision of beauty, made ideal by exaltation of the intelligence and the emotion, can only be perceived by the artist of practiced observation and of that intuitive perception which is the gift of nature.
Again considered, the Ideal, being relative as well as the Beautiful, of which it is the exuberance, we must remember that the word is far from corresponding to an idea of absolute beauty. Thus the Ideal of an ordinary taste is not so high as that of a person whose standard of beauty is superior, and the two will be very distant from the image conceived by the pen, the chisel or the brush of a great artist. In many cases the Ideal is nothing but a searching for the intention of nature, obliterated by the circumstances and accidents of life. Then the task of the artist should be to reestablish the type in his logic—a vulgar face may be portrayed by a skilful brush—and, while preserving its features, there may be put into it the culture of intellect and noble sentiments.
An artist, for instance, will see in a woman, whom time has tried, certain elements of beauty which enable him to portray her nearly as she was at the age of twenty years. He should be able to divine in the young girl, according to the normal development of her features, her appearance at the complete unfolding of her beauty. Yes; in these different cases the artist shall have idealized, since he shall have comprehended, penetrated, interpreted and rectified nature. Still, he may not yet have attained to the comprehension of perfect beauty, such, at least, as human emotion and intellect can conceive, and such as we love to imagine as inhabiting the superior spheres of the universe of which we know nothing further than the dictate of our reason, namely, that they are inhabited by beings more or less like ourselves.
When these sublime effects appear in art, it is as though a veil were torn, revealing glimpses of a world of ideas, emotions and impressions, surpassing our comprehension, approachable only by our aspirations.
Thus, Delsarte, superior to his science, has shown us the artist in full possession of all that he has acquired, and the inmost charm of that which is revealed to him. In execution he proved this truth: If talent may be born of science, it is genius which distinguishes the highest personalities, and to merit the title of high artistic personality one must contain in himself an essence indescribable, unutterable, which constitutes the aureole of grand brows, and the sign luminous of great works of art.
Thus, as virtue, art has its degrees.
Art, in its most simple expression, is the faithful representation of nature. If the conception of a work or of a type is elevated to a degree of perfection which satisfies at once the plastic sense, the emotion and the intellect, we will call it Grand Art.
Finally, if, in the presence of a creation, we recognize perfect harmony (which goes beyond perfect proportion); if the work call forth in us that contemplative ecstasy which gives us the impression and, as it were, the vision of pure beauty, shall we not recognize Supreme Art?
The system of Delsarte responds to all these desiderata of aesthetics. In his law he gives us the necessary bases; by his science he indicates the practical means, by his method and illustrations he completes the science and demonstrates the law. Where is place left for doubt or contradiction?
He stated what he knew and how he had learned it. In his recitals occurred innumerable beautiful proofs of his greatness and simplicity, oftentimes more convincing than lengthy, involved argument could ever be.
Some may ask: How can a positive science lead toward an ideal which cannot be touched, heard not seen? Would not this science be the antipode (some would say antidote) of the mystic dreams of Plato and of Delsarte himself?
Reply is easy. Delsarte recognized in our mental consciousness that desire for research into the unknown which would sound the mysteries of nature. He did not disregard that intuitive force of imagination which can often form from simple known elements the concept of conditions superior to the tangible.
Between this nature, which we hear and see and touch, and that nature which the artist feels, imagines, and to which he aspires, Delsarte has placed a ladder whose base is among us, and whose summit is lost in the infinite spaces of fiction and poesy. By this ascent into the realm of liberty, of personality and of genius, the elect of aesthetics shall mount and gain, and, still maintaining their relations with the Real, shall bring down to us the glorious trophies of their art.
Delsarte, foremost among men, had climbed the magic ladder. His exquisite harmonies in the dramatic art and lyric declamation were beautiful indeed, but the aesthetic beauties which he brought forth in the roles that he interpreted, must, alas! disappear with him. He has left us the bases of his science, but who shall so beautifully tread the way—reigning by song amidst a thousand accents of devoted enthusiasm!
Application of the Law to the Various Arts.
We have now to consider each branch of aesthetics in the totality of the system, to be assured whether or no this law discovered by Delsarte covers all departures in the domain of art. First, then, the starting-point around which all is centered and from which flow all developments.
"Man is the object of art." This proposition applies as readily to the conception of literature, poetry and the plastic art as to the more active manifestations of the dramatic, oratorical or lyric art. Man being thus the object of art in all of its specialties, the part of the artist is to manifest that which is revealed to him, through his three essential modalities,—physical, moral and intellectual (in the words of Delsarte, life, soul and spirit, with the divisions and subdivisions that they allow), as has been clearly stated in the chapter upon "The Law of AEsthetics," and further confirmed in the one upon "The Bases of the Science." But though all of these primordial modalities appear in each concept and in all artistic manifestations, the proportion in which each appears is indefinitely variable. It is a predominance of one or another of these which classifies and specializes. It is the harmony, more or less perfect, of the components of this triple unity which determines the value of artistic manifestations. Under this law, then, come all of the arts, inasmuch as each, differing in subjects treated and in means of execution, still has a common mission, namely, the revelation of impressions, the intelligible expression of the thoughts and feelings of man. To be more clearly understood, I will from this point consider separately the different branches of aesthetics.
Art—Dramatic, Lyric and Oratorical.
The proclivities necessary to an artist, actor or orator (intelligence being the first consideration and beauty of minor importance) are: expansion, sensibility or at least impressionability; a ready comprehension of the works to be interpreted, if not the requisite capacity to execute them. One's particular vocation (or congenial line of work) is the first condition in either of these departments of art, and into the consideration of this must enter that of physical beauty such as the roles demand; always considering what has been named "the physique" of the situation. In a word, these three aspects of art correspond to the predominance of that modality which Delsarte calls "life;" this with the complementary share of the other essentials to maintain a symmetry; this for the average "chosen." As to the individuality necessary for the creation of a role, general statements cannot apply. It is one and entire for each. Should it reproduce itself identically, it would no longer be individual. The strength of a powerful individuality lies in the revelation of a type sui generis.
Thus Delsarte can never be reproduced. If by an impossibility an artist having seen him, and being penetrated by his method, could assimilate the sum total of his acquired qualities and his inmost purposes, still he could be but a copy, however perfect, since personality cannot be transmitted. I could not pursue the demonstration of the application of the laws of the human organism to the generality of the liberal arts without meeting an objection which we will consider just here. Some one says: If the law of art is the same as that of the human constitution, what need that Delsarte teach that law—will it not suffice for each artist-nature to study himself in order to determine satisfactory means of transmitting (to spectators, audiences or readers) the thoughts, passions or emotions which he would reveal, either by his pen, his chisel, his brush, or by the fictitious personages which he incarnates? I answer, No! The expression of nature by gesture, face, or voice will not come to the artist by inspiration nor by reflection, especially in extreme situations. He may chance upon agreeable effects, and even moving expressions, but rarely does a just and telling expression of that which he would express result from mere chance. Caustic truth or knack—more vulgarly, cheek—comes of influence outside of one's self. Upon one occasion Madame Pasta was heard to say: "I would be as touching as that child in her tears. I should, indeed, be a great artist if I could imitate her."
Rare, indeed, are the artists who know how to weep. The sublimity of art responds to nature's simplest impulses. By the study and work of Delsarte a science has been created, every fleeting sign of emotion has been fixed, and may be reproduced at will; and this for the instruction of the artist who may never have observed them in another, nor himself felt the impressions which give rise to them.
Application of the Law to Literature.
It is hardly necessary to state that the predominance of one of the primordial faculties in the actor would necessarily differ from that in the author of the drama or opera which he would interpret. Literary capability presupposes more or less of philosophical aptitude and a predominance of the intellectual faculties, and this not to the exclusion of a certain amount of artistic and moral development in the truly great writers. It is in the field of literature especially, that man attains to a creation; and whether his object be a fellow-creature or an extended and enlarged ideal,—in either and any case facts have furnished repeated and incontestable evidence, in support of the statement of Delsarte, that art is always defective unless it be the product of the three essential modalities of being, acting in their relative proportions. This statement is not to be contested; but here again these relations would vary among the writers upon science, ethics and poetry.
The epic, most synthetic of literary productions, is no longer in fashion, because, perhaps, of the growing rarity of heroes. On the contrary, simplisme is now deforming the greatest germs in the drama and romance. The weakness often lies in the morality of the production, or rather in its lack of morality, often so lacking that the author sinks to the level of producing repulsive works and cynical pictures.
In view also of man's essential faculties, but from another point of view, St.-Simonianism classed men as scholars, artists and artisans. Then were added the priests of a new order whose nature, more perfectly balanced, was to furnish the model type of future humanity. This classification had brought thinking people to the consideration and criticism of a system isolating and concentrating all development upon one or another of the faculties. It was readily seen that thus sentiment would rush to folly; sensibility without a corrective would soon become weakness; unbalanced industry would lead to disregard of health and strength, while the triviality of the sensual nature, unrestrained by mental or moral activity, would soon fall into hopeless degradation. Herein was simplisme most bitterly condemned. Delsarte, ever studying relations between coincidences in art and the revelations of nature, arranged a typical demonstration, as ingenious as logical, of the action and play of opposing faculties. By most wonderful pantomime he showed a man tempted to sin; then, touched by pity for the victim of his desire, at last transformed by the intervention of the moral sense, he came by slow gradations to most elevated sentiments. One saw clearly the courage of resistance and triumph in the sacrifice. Then, taking an inverse progression, he slid from this height to the opposite extreme of culpable resolutions.
Delsarte was the author of this mute scene which contains the elements of a drama. The contemplation of this wonderful effect leads to the conviction of the great value to literature of the fundamental law, which may be applied to any and all literature, as a permanent criterion by which productions may be classified and judged, in their departure from the simpliste form and approach to a conception in which the constituent modalities of being act in harmonious accord. Here, again, we have a fresh distinction between scientific and ethical literature, and that which may be termed the literature of art. To this latter class belong romances, dramatic productions and poems—works made up of shades of meaning and just proportions, which should be based on clear and sound philosophy, prudently disguised but indisputable and imperishable. Here is place for the grace of an agreeable wit and the elegant flexibility of a fruitful pen. More imperative than in any other class of writing is the demand for individual touch and that harmony of construction depending upon the proportionate relations of those elements of aesthetics,—the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Thus, through aesthetics, it is elevated.
To this literature of art belong the sonnet of Arvers, and "The Soul," by Sully-Prudhomme. Musset, in his grace or pathos, is not inferior to Victor Hugo. There are, even in his faults, certain effective boldnesses to which the author of "Notre Dame de Paris" cannot aspire. Whence, then, comes the immense distance between these poets? It lies in the fact that Victor Hugo, while he is a finished artist, shows himself also a thinker, philosopher, man of science and erudition. Endowed with a profound humanitarian feeling, he is preoccupied with the evils of society, with its rights, its mistakes, its tendencies and with their amelioration; while the poet of "Jacques Rolla"—a refined sensualist—devotes his verse to the unbridling of the torments of imagination in delirium, to the agitations of hearts which have place only for love.
If comparison be made between novelists and dramatists of diverse schools, why has not M. Zola, who in so many regards should be considered a master, attained the heights of eminence upon which are enrolled the names of Shakespeare, Moliere, Corneille, Schiller, Madame de Stael, and George Sand? It is because M. Zola, profound analyst and charming narrator, even more forcibly than Musset breaks the aesthetic synthesis by the absence of morality in his writings. His fatalism arrests the flight of that which would be great; he corrupts in the germ wonderful creative powers! M. Zola's great lack lies in his considering in man his physical nature only. Between mind and matter he holds a magnifying lantern full upon the lowest molecules, and rejects disdainfully the initiating atom that Leibnitz has signalized as the centre of life. M. Zola has created a detestable school which already slides into the mire beneath the weight of the crimes which it excites and the disgust which it arouses. Should we blame Zola and his disciples for the danger and the impotence of this method? Should we not impute the wrong in greater measure to philosophical naturalism?
In considering materialism and naturalism let us not lose sight of the fact that while materialism is simpliste, naturalism (in so much as it represents nature) is essentially comprehensive and necessarily synthetic; harmony of force and matter being an invariable requisite of life.
Realism, another term strangely compromised, seems to proclaim itself under the banner of materialism, while the Real, implying the idea of the True, cannot be contained in simplisme. It is a most pernicious evil that writers, calling themselves realistic, still concentrate their talent upon the painting of vicious types and characters drawn in an infernal cycle of repulsive morals.
"Man is the object of art." Never could the words of the master more appropriately interpose than before the encroachments of literary simplisme. The man of whom Delsarte speaks is not confined to such or such a category of the species. He proposes that aesthetics should interpret an all-comprehensive human nature, which is not made up alone of baseness, egotism and duplicity. Though it be subject to perversion, it has its luminous aspects, its radiant sides, and we should not too long turn our eyes from them.
Artistically, evil or the Hideous (which is also evil) should never be used except as a foil. There is no immorality in exhibiting the prevailing vices of the epoch, but this is the physician's duty. The evil lies in presenting these evils under such forms as may lead many to enjoy or tolerate them, giving them the additional power of a charming style and the specious arguments of fatality. This is precisely the case of M. Zola. The glamor of his disturbing theory, which annihilates free will, gives to his works a philosophical appearance. He conceals its vacuity beneath forms of a highly-colored style, an amiable negligence and a facility that is benumbing to thought. As he asserts nothing, no one dreams of contradicting, and one finds himself entwined in a network of repulsive depravity without a ray of healthful protection or correction. In comparison with the blight of this disastrous system of fatality, the coarseness of the writer's language, so loudly censured, is relatively unimportant. The simplisme of M. Zola is not absolute, as but one of the three constituent modalities is omitted, that one being morality. The lack is, however, no less fatal, inasmuch as the void produced by the absence of one of the noblest faculties of human activity must usually be filled by disturbing forces.
I have heard the theory, "art for art," supported by men otherwise very enlightened. "An artistic production need not contain a moral treatise," they say, and this is quite true, provided the artist be a quick observer, possessing talent sufficient to handle his subject harmoniously. Vice carries its own stigma, and pure beauty surrounds itself with light. The author should be able readily to distinguish the one as well as the other, and his precepts should come as the harmonious result of his experience. But such a work, at the mercy of an ill-balanced brain and unhealthful temperament, must yield bad fruit. Talent without broad and true knowledge of reality, or that which is, instead of being invented, is incomplete in its workings and results. Its creations resemble the light of the foot-lamp, of fireworks, of the prodigies of our modern pyrotechnists—pleasing for a time, dazzling, captivating, intoxicating! But lost in the life-giving beauty of a summer's night or a glorious sunset, we are tempted to cry out with the poet,—
"Nothing is beautiful but the True."
What can be said of the other simplisme which, in its search for the True, ignores the Beautiful while it disregards the Good? Again, its partisans seek artistic truth in its very worst conditions. Why paint in full sunshine, if the intense light obliterates details and confuses the shadows? Does it seem a difficulty conquered? It is far oftener a disguised insufficiency. If my reference to painting seem premature, it is because I wished to borrow an image to show how equally grievous was the faulty touch of many of our writers of renown. Many among them seem striving to propagate the culture of the Mediocre and Unseemly, as a thousandfold easier practice than the religion of the Beautiful.
My present aim is to show clearly the influence of even incomplete simplisme, in certain pernicious effects upon literature. Edgar A. Poe entered the realm of the fanciful after Hoffman, and how is it that the initiator is less dangerous than his disciple? It is because of these two simplistes, who have put reason out of consideration, the first addressed himself only to the imagination, while the American poet sounded the emotions to depths where terror is awakened and madness begins to sting. Hoffman has perhaps upon his conscience some readers confined in asylums for the deranged, but the far more perilous hallucinations of Poe must account for greater harm. The distance is great between imagination and sentiment, and should be so regarded. This extravagance should surely not be allowed to usurp the place of morality, but this is what is done, and greatness is not for them.
Another illustration lies in the transition intermediate between the romances of Balzac, Frederic Soulie, Emile Souvestre, and Eugene Sue, and the poetry of Victor Hugo, Lamartine, Beranger, Barbier and the impressionalist school whose decline is already at hand.
Of many names, which have acquired notoriety, I select the two which afford the best contrast,—Charles Baudelaire and Jules de la Madelene. The first, among other eccentric works, has left us "The Blossoms of Evil." In the ideas which it embraces it is the successful production of an imagination misled and in distress; a pathological experience probably prompted the conception. In it one reads beautiful verse of scholarly construction, and readily perceives an individuality and originality of thought and expression; but no one would predict or desire that this production should pass to posterity.
"Le Marquis des Saffras," by Jules de la Madelene, on the contrary, gratifies both judgment and feeling. It is a spirited painting, acute and profound, as well as true, of human life, especially of provincial life. The human being is revealed in all his aspects. Though the author disguises neither errors nor weaknesses, he presents clearly the redeeming side—the simple manners and the humble devotion of sincere hearts. This, then, is the reason why, sustained by a style rich in grace and strength, full of the breath of poetry which is felt rather than described, "Le Marquis des Saffras" holds its place as an incontestable masterpiece in the choice libraries that preserve the renown of great writers.
A more careful examination of the doctrine of Delsarte—"The necessity of the concurrence of the mother modalities of the human organism to fulfil the conditions of aesthetics"—but forces the conviction that disregard of this requirement renders all sterile and incomplete, if not monstrous. Is this equivalent to saying that the deductions from the law of Delsarte tend to condemn in French literature its simple gaiety, its graceful lightness, and to efface this stamp of the race that our ancestors have surely imprinted?
In works of the imagination the omission of moral meaning is often more seeming than real, and every good reader should be able to recognize this. However, this negligent seeming is far less hurtful than brilliant wit concealing crudities and modifying boldnesses. Writers of this class do not lose sight of the fact that, while the French character has its audacities (contrary to the modifications of aesthetics), our language possesses a proverbial chastity, which, even in its farthest wanderings, genius comprehends and respects. Tact and taste suffice to him who consults them to escape grossness of language. The delicacy of the allusions leaves their images in a transparent mist; the very elasticity of the equivocation furnishes a refuge for the thought which it disquiets.
By art some most delicate subjects, very nearly approaching license, have been pardoned. We would surely exhibit a tyrannical and morose humor to condemn to be burned en place de Greve, by the hand of the executioner, the romances of Manon Lescaut, and Daphnis and Chloe by Longus, as they have been transmitted to us by Paul Louis Courier.
But when literature, realistic or materialistic (or whatever they please to call it), freeing itself from moral accompaniment, shows itself negative or weak in its creations; if it be simpliste to the point of appealing exclusively to the senses, limiting its means of action to the development of the egotistic and instinctive side of the human passions,—its works have no longer right of consideration in aesthetics. The consideration of the physical being should surely figure in all representations of life, but it is not necessary that from a subordinate consideration it should ever be made all-governing. The body, the essential part of our personality, is the companion of our higher faculties. We should be mindful of it, making it as beautiful as possible, but giving it the reins would be even worse than giving power absolute to the imagination.
Once more, impressionalism, without the control of science and of reason, has nothing to claim in the spheres of the True, the Good, the Beautiful.
Application of the Law to Architecture.
The productions of architecture, like those of literature, have their origin in the realm of thought. Architecture is not, like the dramatic art, in subjection to the person of the artist. It is one of the plastic arts, and of them the most synthetic by reason of the number of agents concurring in its harmony. Its dependence upon form is akin to that of sculpture, while the value of color in its effects is only less than in the art of the painter.
This art, essentially comprehensive, demands of its masters varied knowledge and that power of cooerdination which, according to the learned philosopher Antoine Cros, is the highest function of the human intellect. The relation of aesthetics to the totality of the faculties is here more evident than ever. After the manifestation of mind in the composition of the plan, the architect's next duty is to please the eye. To this end he employs marble, stone, wood, bronze or gold, and the result is that element of the symphony which responds to sensation. The third and only remaining element of the trinity is sentiment. In order that, rising above its utilitarian purpose, appropriateness and mathematical rules of stability, the architect may fulfil the requisition of aesthetics and arrive at the "Grand Art," the remaining element as well as the other two must be perfected in result. The perfection of this element of sentiment is shown in the work by the impression of grandeur or elegance, of grace, severity or delicacy. The triple necessity thus filled, the result is truly a work of art.
Application of the Law to Sculpture.
The relation of Delsarte's system to sculpture has already been alluded to. Its application here lies principally in the realm of form. The sculptor aims to reproduce finest proportions of face and figure. He delights in a beautiful contour and, as Mengs has said, "in lines undulating and serpentine," while he studiously avoids all simple straight lines.
The more limited range of outlook demands more studied beauties and more significant expressions. The statue—unlike the monument, which at once arouses spontaneous emotions in the spectator—should express the human being, his sensations, his affections, his passions and struggles, and should arouse an enthusiasm of admiration while it awakens sympathetic echoes in the heart of the observer. Here more strikingly than ever must we recognize "Man the object of art." In the light of this truth we should demand of sculpture the manifestation of the human life with its constituent faculties, not in a perfectly equal accord which is never met in nature, but with such predominance as the subject presents.
In Greek art the predominance is of the physical aspect. They had before them exquisite models of plastic beauty; not the sensual beauty which is fleshly, but a plastic beauty consisting of harmony of line and form. Let us further consider this difference as shown in comparison of the Apollo and the Bacchus.
The Apollo satisfies alike the intellect and the eye by its beautiful outlines. [We are not yet ready to discuss beauty of expression.] The Bacchus less ideal and more humanly natural cannot so satisfy a highly aesthetic temperament. In neither work is there much of sentiment expressed. The distinctively moral side plays a secondary part, unless we consider beauty itself a moral factor,—a theory that may be sustained. In neither beautiful marble is there revealed any sensual dominance, though the Bacchus, notwithstanding its plastic superiority, rather inclines that way. The Apollo has been loudly extolled for the pride of its attitude and its divine calm in the encounter with the serpent Python; and still it is said that "a god could not have cause for so great pride in the conquest of a reptile." But the art-critics have exaggerated the import of the figure, which is wonderfully beautiful without being accurately expressive. The civilization of the new era has developed in man moral and physical qualities, which furnish new expressions by which the artist may set forth that part of human life which Delsarte called "the transluminous obscurities of our inmost organism." Dating from this epoch we find in sculpture less of plastic beauty and more spiritual and touching expression. Who would compare the pathos of the Laocoon to that of Canova's Magdalen? The sculptor Marcello (Mme. de Castiglione), too early removed from an artistic career, exhibited certain creations which illustrate this difference. Among them is a bust, in marble, of an Arab chief, which is after the style of the antique, beautiful lines, without expression (a predominance of the physical element). In her "Weary Bacchante" she shows beauty tarnished by vice, and here the predominant expression is sensual. But in her "Marie Antoinette in the Temple Prison," as in Mercie's "David" and the "Dying Napoleon," it is not the marvelous beauty which entrances us, but first and above this reigns the power of expression.
Sentiment is become predominant. In the "Marie Antoinette," what bitter disappointment! In the "Napoleon," what disillusion with the toys of the world in which he had reigned! In the "David"—Biblical subject treated by a modern chisel—what strange impressions and reflections are suggested by that tranquil head and the wonderful frailty of the body! how original the conception of the figure, and the whole a tribute to the high personality of the artist! Mercie shows not only the work accomplished, but in this are glimpses of promise of greatness to come which serve as more valuable proof of greatness than the masterpiece completed. This leads me to a reflection already often alluded to, but which I would keep ever before you as the foundation of my argument: "Man is the object of art." He is also the art-producer, and considering relatively the two terms of the proposition, the manifestations of the faculties are not necessarily adequate between the producer and the production. I will explain.
The best conditions under which an excellent work of art should be produced are undoubtedly the following: The conceiver possesses in the highest possible degree of development the modalities of being essential to the kind of creation undertaken, and these in their most perfect harmony; but this perfection of intensity and of the relations of the elements of the concept by no means necessitates the artist's formation of types at once morally, intellectually and physically artistic. This depends upon the truth of his subject. That he embellish it, whatever it may be, by his artistic interpretation and execution, is all that we should expect.
In the new manifestation which we now consider, where expression of sentiment is given predominance, the artist, interpreter of the passions, sentiments, weaknesses and vices as well as of the virtues and sympathies of humanity, must, in order to interest or chasten, show to it its own image, which reflection will be most frequently not an ideal of perfection but a type of suffering and vice, of weakness and depravity. A work will be successful in proportion as the chisel shall be most indefatigable in putting in relief the virtue or the vice which characterizes the subject. The greatest artist shall be he who renders most striking the characteristic predominance, whatever it may be, of the type created or interpreted. To sum up: Art is proportional to the faculties of the artist, and the work is the result of an application of these faculties to some special manifestation of the human ego.
Impressionalism, as in the other arts, should be considered in two aspects: the impression of the artist and that of the public or observer. The question then arises, what kind of a public should be impressed that the artist may merit a place in the higher ranks of aesthetics? While we have recognized that judgments in questions of art are the result of a certain sympathy existing between artist and observer, we have decided also that in considering such a question, all observers cannot be considered equal. In sculpture as in literature, where appreciators are possibly more numerous, we must admit that knowledge and capability or even sincerity are rarely of any weight in the balance of the grand juries of history or in the verdicts of contemporaries. The ignorant multitude sanction the grossest works because these only come within their understanding. Encouraged by the applause of numbers and by the lack of restraint which wins applause, artists descend the rounds of the ladder of progress which step by step has marked the ascent of the great schools and the great masters, and the result inevitably must be the return to mere sketches in sculpture, and painting will diminish to imagery. This end is quickly and readily reached, so easy and so fatal is the descent in these paths of decadence.
"All styles are good except the tedious," a well-known critic has said. Pursuing the import of this thought, we are led to the speedy conclusion that the null should never enter into competition. Nothing better than that the condition of priority should exist between diverse styles and opposite schools; but why strive to institute comparison between a synthetic idea and the absence of synthesis and idea, between certain proportions and harmony and the absence of proportion and harmony, between a style and the absence of style? Whatever the subject and whatever the mode of treating it, the intelligence of the artist should always be visible in his work.
I am more and more thoroughly convinced that the theory of Delsarte, fatal to simplisme, is the true theory of art. What can be more simpliste than impressionalism when viewed as a school? It considers no law or science, disregards entirely analysis and logic, the Good and the Beautiful; it is given over to sensation; vague impressions which are, whatever may be said to the contrary, only the inferior part of man's faculties, indispensable surely, but that which we have in common with the animals and little children; very interesting to observe among animals, a charming grace in children, but a most unimportant factor in adult existence, particularly in the artist's life, unless it be governed by the intellect and subject to the sanction of feeling.
Application of the Law to Painting.
If any art should be given over to impressionalism it seems as if it should be painting. To see and to transmit what is seen,—is not this the true office of the painter, his undoubted mission? Yes, on condition that the artist has the requisites for seeing correctly! And if he rises to composition, he must also be endowed with a creative intellect, with a portion of that mental power which will permit him to embrace a conception synthetically, and to cooerdinate its parts.
Among the impressionalists of our time, there are assuredly painters of talent; but what talent they possess is, as it were, against their will: the influence of tradition, the weight of the medium in which they live unconsciously restrain them. Then, it must be confessed, this impressionability of the artist has its intrinsic merits, if it is kept to its place and degree; but it must be regarded as certain, that if the simpliste artist makes himself distinct in his work, it is because he contains within himself more of the requisites for what he undertakes, and because, without his having summoned them, the faculties of the understanding and the aesthetic sense have come to his aid.
If Delsarte admitted the precept that "everything is perceived in the manner of the perceiver," he, of course, did not admit that every perceiver should make his own law: his conception of the aesthetic trilogy would never have permitted him to open this Babel for the vanity of ignorance.
To finish with simplisme or naturalism, let us say that, carried to its utmost extreme, it becomes a fixed idea, a monomania; has not impressionalism attained to this even in the choice of colors? It has been said of certain painters that they had only to upset their palette on the canvas to compose their pictures! Yet this varicolored chaos is not the characteristic of the school On the contrary, certain favorite colors prevail; do not green and violet rule almost exclusively in some of the most striking pictures from impressionalist brushes?
There are moments when we ask whether the impressionalists and their adherents are not obeying an impulse to contradict rather than a serious conviction. In either case, it is time for many of them to furnish proofs—that is to say, works,—in lack of the reasons which they have not even offered.
After this digression, forced upon me by recent scholastic quarrels, let us return to Delsarte.
I have given the reasons for his doctrine in other chapters; this doctrine will gain strength when I show what I have gathered from his science, since science and law mutually testify for each other; since all art, acquiring fresh vigor from its source, law, and enlightened by the aid of these same formulae, must bear the impress of truth, beauty and goodness.
Even where color occupies in painting the place attributed to outline in sculpture, there are in these two manifestations of mental images—and in spite of the synthetism peculiar to painting,—striking similitudes.
As regards physical manifestations, both these arts should seek truth—which does not mean literal exactness,—and all that has been said of simplisme, in regard to sculpture, is perfectly applicable to that part of painting which treats of the human figure. Science and law lay down the same rules for both,—save for the differing modes of execution.
It is another matter when it is a question of representing nature as a whole, and under less limited forms: seas, mountains, the atmosphere and broad plains—landscapes of vast extent,—subjects forbidden to sculpture even more exclusively than simple compositions of several figures, which are seldom successful in sculpture. For if sculpture sometimes makes a group, if it is used to decorate monuments and tombs, it offers nothing analogous to those magnificent phases of nature which we find on the canvases of the great masters.
Delsarte, who from the laws of mimetics deduced for painters means of expressing correctly every impression and emotion which man can feel, taught nothing in regard to this special field of the landscape artist, who is not subject to the conditions of the actor, sculptor or orator. But, if this aspect of art—save in cases where figures are introduced—does not come under the head of certain statements of our science, not having to imitate attitude, gesture or voice—in a word, anything proceeding from the human organism,—it is, perhaps more closely than elsewhere, allied to the innovator's law: to that law which prompts the artist to respond to the psychical aspirations of his fellowmen, and demands that in satisfying the senses, he should also arouse or inspire the thought and feeling of beauty.
Thus the painter of nature, as much of a reality as man, but a reality in its own way, if he desires to make nature understood and loved, must give it the stamp of his own ideas, his own feelings, his own impressions.
Why should I care to be shown trees and waters, valleys and mountains, if the tree does not tell me of the coolness of its shade, if the water does not reveal the peace of the deep lake, if I cannot divine the rippling of the brook, if the valley does not make me long to plunge into its depths! Why recall to me the mountain, if its curves do not rouse in my mind any ideas of grace, elegance and majesty,—if its peaks do not make me dream of the Infinite!
However skilful the artist may be in the reproduction of form and the handling of color, he will always be far inferior to nature if his soul has never heard the inner murmur of all those mysteries of the sensitive, and I will venture to say, spiritual life, contained in forests, waterfalls and ravines. Lacking this initiation, he will play the cold and flavorless part of one who tells a twice-told tale; for it is in landscape especially, that talent consists in revealing the painter's own feeling.
The charm of things felt is not produced merely by a grand way of looking at things: the mind, the soul, occupy but little space; but where they figure, the canvas is well filled, and the brush betrays their presence.
I remember, in support of my thesis, that at one of the annual expositions at the Salon—which then represented the aristocracy of painting,—there was a tiny picture: a hut half hidden in moss and flowers. It was almost lost among the portraits of distinguished personages, the historic incidents, the scenes taken from fashionable life, and almost drowned in the bloody reflections from the vast display of battle pictures, which, as was then the custom, monopolized half the space.
Well! this canvas, a yard wide and not so long, held you captive, took your thought prisoner, and inevitably impressed itself on your memory. You longed to ramble over its thick turf; to enter that cottage whose open windows gave you the feeling that it was a peaceful shelter; you loved that poor simplicity, which seemed to hide happiness.
Certainly the author of this graceful, touching picture practiced Delsarte's law, at least from intuition.
Profound emotions are not always due to objective beauty; the beauty of the work is a thing apart from what it represents. Who does not recall, in another order of talent, this effect, due to the brush of Bonnat: an ugly, old Spanish woman is praying in a dark chapel; she prays with eyes, lips and soul. There was never seen more complete absorption, more complete forgetfulness of self in humble fervor. It was far more touching than all the types of sensual beauty, with pink and white and perfumed skins—with delicate limbs, in disagreeable attitudes!
This is, yet once again, due to the fact that sentiment is stronger than sensualism; and because the artist's skill, taking the place of beauty in his subject, becomes genuine aesthetic beauty: so much so that, looking at old age and ugliness—as represented by Bonnat,—the spectator is enchanted and applauds—the success of the work!
If, however, to perfect execution is allied beauty—not sensual, but aesthetic,—if it is made manifest from the point of view of form, feeling and thought, the enthusiasm will be still greater, because all the aims of art are realized at one and the same time.
"The artist, a traveller on this earth, leaves behind imperishable traces of his being."—Francois Delsarte.
We would fain prolong the faintest rays of all that glitters and fades too soon, and if intense light is generated in a human brain, we strive to retain its every reflection. Nothing is indifferent which concerns the nature of the chosen few; great men belong to the annals of their nation, and history should be informed regarding them.
Francois Delsarte left this life at the moment when misfortune had crushed France beneath her iron heel for some ten years. The date of his death—July 20, 1871—partially explains the silence of the press on the occasion of so vast a social loss.
The circumstance of an artistic education, which was carried on in my presence, gave me opportunity to collect a mass of incidents and observations in regard to the great artist who is the object of this sketch.
I collected ideas in regard to his instruction, his method and his discovery of the laws of aesthetics, which are the more precious that nothing, or almost nothing, was published by him touching upon subjects of such supreme importance. It is my duty to tell what I know.
I have already established the bases of the work which I now undertake, in a pamphlet containing several articles published in various newspapers. These articles were written under the inspiration of the moment; they won the master's approval. I shall have frequent recourse to them to correct the errors of memory and give more vivid life to that now distant past.
Delsarte was born at Solesmes (Department of the North), November 9, 1811. His father was a practicing physician; but tormented by a genius for invention, he spent his time and money in studies and experiments. Then, when he succeeded in producing some mechanical novelty, some capitalist more used to trade and rich enough to start the affair, usually reaped all the profits. This condition of things, of course, produced great poverty in the family of the inventor, and the children's education suffered in consequence, and yet young Francois even then showed signs of superior endowments. A missionary, passing through Solesmes, said to him: "As for you, I don't know what you will turn out, but you will never be an ordinary man!" In spite of this, his parents intended him for trade, being unable to direct his talents toward science and the liberal arts.
Before proceeding farther, I must consider a question often asked in regard to the great artist, and concerning which his family have kindly informed me.
For a long time Delsarte signed his name in a single word, as I write it now; why, then, should we ever see it written with the separate particle, which seems to aim at nobility and which gives us the form, del Sarte? I will give you the tradition as it is told in Solesmes, and as the artist heard it during a visit to his native place. If it be fiction, it is not without interest, and I take pleasure in telling it.
The natives of Solesmes say that at a very remote period a great painter, coming from a distance, spent some time in their town. The good inhabitants of the place know nothing of the pictures which this master must have produced; perhaps they are quite as wide from his name! But Delsarte, struck by the probability of this poetic origin, filled with brotherly sympathy for the pure and graceful talent of Vannuchi del Sarto, doubted not that the latter was the artist whose memory is held sacred in Solesmes. Out of respect and veneration for the Italian master, he divided the syllables, but still retained the French termination of his name.
We can readily see that an imaginative spirit, such as we now have to deal with, would be carried away by the legendary side of this story, and that he would put full faith in his own commentaries:—he believed so many things!
To return to prose and to reality, I must add that Delsarte based his sentiment upon partial proof. Before the Revolution, the family did indeed sign themselves del Sarte; but an ancestor—imbued with the principles of 1789, and anxious to efface all suspicion of noble origin—effected a fusion of the two parts of the word, and left us the name as we have known it and as, perhaps, we regret it.
Those who regard this change of family name as mere vanity seem to me wide of the truth. A strange nobility, moreover, that of Vannuchi, surnamed del Sarto! Sarto may be translated as tailor; therefore Vannuchi del Sarto would mean: Vannuchi of the tailor, short for Vannuchi, son of the tailor.
What need had he of empty honors, he who was on equal terms with the great men of letters, science and the arts, who was surrounded by the incense of the most legitimate enthusiasm, and who received the homage of kings as of less value than the praises of Spontini and Reber!
I return to my sketch which will, I hope, justify these last remarks.
At the time of which we speak, the poor child was not treated as the predestined favorite of art, He had been entrusted to people who ill fulfilled their mission. He was scolded and abused; he was left destitute of the most necessary things. He felt this injustice, and, gifted with a precocious sensibility, he suffered greatly from it.
Francois had as a companion in misfortune, one of his brothers, who could not bear the hard life; born feeble, he soon succumbed. This was a severe trial to the future artist! When he saw his only friend buried in the common grave, he could not contain his grief.
"I rebelled," he tells us, "at the idea of losing all trace of this tomb. I shrieked aloud. I would not leave the mournful place!"
The grave-diggers took pity on his despair; they promised to mark the spot. The child resigned himself to fate and departed. I will let him speak for himself:
"I crossed the plain of St. Denis (it was in December); I had eaten little or nothing, and I had wept much. Great weakness combined with the dazzling light of the snow, made me dizzy. The fatigue of walking being added to this, I fell upon the damp earth and fainted dead away."
What followed may be explained by the ecstatic state often experienced on coming out of a fainting-fit.
"Everything seemed to smile into my half-open eyes; the vault of heaven and the iridescent snow made magical visions about me; the slight roaring in my ears lulled me like a confused melody; the wind, as it blew over the deserted plain, brought me distant, vague harmonies."
Delsarte interpreted what he saw in the light of Christian ideas: it seemed to him that the angels made this delightful concert to console him in his misery and to strengthen him to bear his hard lot.
Rising up, the child felt himself a musician. He soon evinced an utter contempt for the china painting to which he had been bound apprentice. That too was an art; but of that art, the angels had said nothing.
How was he to learn music?
He knew that by a knowledge of a very small number of signs, one could sing and play on instruments. He talked of this to all who would listen; he questioned and inquired:—
"Do you know music, you fellows?" he asked some school boys of his own age.
"A little," said some.
"Well! what do they teach you?"
"They teach us to know our notes."
"Do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, si."
"That is all."
"Are there no more notes?"
"How happy I am! I know music!" cried the delighted Delsarte.
"Cries of joy have their sorrows," said a poet. The child had uttered his cry of joy, and his torments were about to begin. Seven notes! It was a whole world; but what was he to do with them? He scarcely knew, although he was enchanted to possess the treasure. Could he foresee the revelations which art had in store for him? Still less could he predict those conquests in the realm of the ideal which cost him so many sleepless nights.
It must be confessed, superior talents bring suffering to their fortunate possessor. They console him on his journey, along the rough road down which they drag him; they sometimes reward one of the elect, but it is their nature to cause suffering.
And so Francois Delsarte was tempest-tossed while yet a child. He soon saw that his scientific baggage was but small; he felt that something unknown, something infinite, barred his passage, so soon as he strove to approach the goal which, in an outburst of joy, he fancied within his grasp. What hand would guide him to enter on the dazzling career which he had dimly foreseen? Where should he get books? Who would advise him?
Well! these impossible things were all found—in scanty measure, no doubt, and somewhat capriciously; but still the means for learning were provided for his greed of knowledge.
At first, his stubborn will had only the seven notes of the scale to contend with. He combined them in every possible way. He derived musical phrases from them; at the same time, he listened with all his ears to church music, to street musicians, to church organs and hand-organs.
In these first struggles with knowledge—we cannot call it science yet,—instead of bowing to the method of some master, Delsarte made a method for himself. Had it any resemblance to that which—with the progress of time,—his genius revealed to him? I cannot say, and probably the thought never occurred to him. However it may be, Delsarte said that he learned a great deal by this autonomic process: in fact, one who is restrained by nothing, who satisfies a passion instead of accomplishing a mere act of obedience, may enlarge his horizon and dig to whatever depth he sees fit. In this case, study is called research; if, by this method, one loses the benefit of the experience of others, he becomes more quick at discovery. Is not the puzzle which we work out for ourselves more readily remembered than the ideas which are merely learned by heart?
A wise man, a disciple of Socrates—who has been greatly ridiculed, but by whose lessons the science of pedagogy has greatly profited,—Jacotot, gave similar advice to teachers: "Put your questions, but let the scholar think and work out his answers instead of putting them into his mouth."
The talent of young Francois once established, he left the inhospitable house where he had been so misunderstood, and was taken into the family of an old musician, "Father Bambini," as Delsarte loved to call him.
Here, finding it in the order of facts, I must repeat almost literally a page from the little work quoted before.
Father Bambini was one of those old-fashioned masters, who treat their art with love and veneration. He gave concerts at which he was at once performer and audience, judge and client. Delsarte was sometimes present. He saw the good man take up a Gluck score as one handles a sacred book; he surprised him pressing it to his heart, or to his head, as if to win a blessing from the great soul which poured itself forth in these immortal compositions.
Here we most assuredly have the foundation of the unlimited admiration which our great artist felt for the author of "Alcestis" and of "Iphigenia." Everyone knows that it was Delsarte who drew Gluck from the oblivion in which he had languished since the beginning of the century. Delsarte alone could have revived him, his assured and majestic talent being amply capable of correctly interpreting those colossal works. Delsarte is the equivalent of Gluck, and, if we may say so, the incarnation of his thought. When the artist sang a part in those lyric tragedies of which Gretry says: "They are the very expression of truth," it seemed as if the illustrious chevalier lived again in him to win better comprehension than ever before and to be avenged at last for all the injustice and bad taste from which he had suffered.
Delsarte received no very regular musical education from Father Bambini. The lesson was often given while the teacher was shaving, which did not distract the attention of either party. The master, having no hand at liberty to hold a book, made his pupil explain all the exercises aloud, sing every composition, and read at sight the authors with whom he wished him to be familiar. Great progress can be made where there is such mutual good will. They had faith in each other: the child, because he saw that his master really loved his art; the old musician, because he realized that his scholar had a genuine vocation and would be a great artist.
One evening they were walking together in the Champs Elysees. Carriages rolled by filled with fashionable people. The humble pedestrians were surrounded by luxury. Suddenly Father Bambini turned toward his scholar:
"You see," said he, "all these people who have their carriages, their liveried lackeys and their fine clothes; well, the day will come when they will be only too glad to hear you, and they will envy you because you are so great a singer."
The child was deeply moved; not by this promise of future glory; not by the thought, that by fame he should gain wealth; but he seemed to see his dream realized in a remote future. That dream was the complete mastery of his art; it was his ideal attained, or closely approached. This mode of feeling already justified the prediction.
Delsarte retained a grateful memory of another teacher. M. Deshayes, he said, spurred him on to scientific discovery, as Bambini directed his attention and his taste to the works of the great masters.
One day, as the young man was studying a certain role, M. Deshayes, busily talking with some one else and not even glancing toward his pupil, exclaimed:
"Your gesture is incorrect!"
When they were alone Delsarte expressed his astonishment.
"You said my gesture was incorrect," he exclaimed, "and you could not see me."
"I knew it by your mode of singing."
This explanation set the young disciple's brain in a whirl. Were there, then, affinities, a necessary concordance between the gesture and the inflections of the voice? And, from this slight landmark, he set to work, searching, comparing, verifying the principle by the effects, and vice versa.
He gave himself with such vigor to the task that, from this hint, he succeeded little by little in establishing the basis of his system of aesthetics and its complete development.
After these beginnings, which Delsarte considered as a favorable initiation, Father Bambini—his faithful patron—thought that he required a more thorough musical education, and chose the Conservatory school. There, that broad and impulsive spirit in its independence ran counter to classic paths, to rigid processes; there, that exceptional nature, that potent personality, which was already a marked one, that vivid intuition—which already went beyond the limits of the traditional holy of holies—had little chance of appreciation. Moreover, Delsarte was timid; his genius had not yet acquired the audacity which dares. Competition followed competition; would he win a prize? In answer to this question which he had asked himself throughout the year, he saw mediocrity crowned; his soul of light and fire was forced to bow before will-o'-the-wisps, most of whom were soon extinguished in merited oblivion.
The artist's regret was the more acute because he did not yet know the course of human life. He had not proved the strange fatality—which seeks to make itself a law—that, in general, success falls to the lot of those who servilely follow in the ruts of routine. Happy are the worshippers of art and poetry, those who have devoted their lives to this sacred cult, if ambition and intrigue—with their attendant train of flattery, party rings, and illegal speculation—do not invade the stage whence the palms and the crowns are awarded!
Delsarte must also have learned in the course of his life, that genius, a rare exception, is more rarely still judged by its peers; and yet, the genius of this student was already revealed by various tokens; and for his consolation, these premonitory symptoms were noted by other than the official judges.
After one of these scholastic contests, Delsarte withdrew confused and heavy-hearted: he had received but one vote in the competition; and even that exception roused a sort of cheer, as if it were given to some contemptible competitor.
The defeated youth walked slowly away, dragging at his heels all the sorrow of his discomfiture, when two persons approached him; one was the famous Marie Malibran, the other the brilliant tenor, Adolph Nourrit.
"Courage!" said the prima donna, pressing his hand. "I enjoyed hearing you very much. You will be a great artist!"
"My friend," added Nourrit, "it was I who cast my vote for you: to my mind, you are an incomparable singer. When I have my children taught music, you shall certainly be their teacher."
Delsarte blessed the defeat which had brought him such precious compensations. These voices which sounded so sweetly in his ear, were soon extinguished by death; but they vibrated long in the heart which they had comforted. The artist associated their dear memory with every success which recalled to him their sympathetic accents and their clear-sighted prediction.
Delsarte's Theatre and School.
When Delsarte had finished his studies, he entered the world unaided and alone; disarmed by the hostilities which could not fail to await him, by his very superiority, and by that honesty which refuses to lend itself to certain transactions.
At the Opera Comique, where he was engaged, he did not succeed. Exceptional talents require an exceptional public who can understand them and make them popular by applauding and explaining them.
And yet certain people, gifted with penetration, discovered under the artistic innovations peculiar to the beginner, that indescribable fascination which hovers round the heads of the predestined favorites of art.
Delsarte could not long confine himself to the stage, when everything connected with it was so far from sympathetic to him, and seemed so contrary to the true object of dramatic art. The theatre, to his mind, should be a school of morality; and what did he see? Authors—what would he say now-a-days?—absorbed in winning the applause of the masses, rather than in feeding them upon wholesome food or in preparing an antidote for vice and evil inclinations.
Whatever good intentions happened to be mingled with the play were lost in the details of the action—or in the often mischievous interpretation of the actors. With his wonderful perspicacity, Delsarte seemed to foresee all the excesses of naturalism in certain forerunners of Adolphe Belot and Emile Zola.
On the other hand, his comrades, who should have attracted him, showed themselves to be envious and malicious. To sum it all up, it was very hard for him to live with them. Some of them might please him by their simple gaiety, their childlike ease, their lack of affectation, and their amiability, but they were far from satisfying his lofty aspirations!
An occupation of a higher order, he thought, the elaboration of his method, demanded his thoughts. He seemed haunted by a desire to produce what his spirit had conceived. He longed fully to enjoy that happiness of creation that arises from useful discovery. He aspired to say: "In accomplishing the task which I set myself, I have also done much for art and artists."
Swayed by such thoughts, Francois Delsarte soon left the profession of actor to follow that of teacher of singing and elocution. Then he found himself in his element and, as it were, at the centre of all that attracted him. His teaching enabled him to verify the value of his axioms hourly, in the order of facts and to confirm the truth of his observations.
And yet he had not attained to the supreme beatitude. If the elect of plastic and practical art have to contend with appraisers of every degree, inventors have to deal with enemies who make up in stubborn resistance what they lack in numbers, and oppose the iron will of a rival who will not see the limit of the ne plus ultra which he believes himself to have reached and even exceeded.
In every station of life, the bearers of "good news" are a prey to the tyranny of interests and established prejudices. In our time, this persecution becomes mockery or indifference. Delsarte did not escape this debt of revelatory genius. Humble in regard to art and science, as he was conscious of his strength when face to face with rivals and competitors, he sometimes felt the doubt of himself, the sudden weakness, which overtakes great minds and great hearts in the accomplishment of their mission.
A special form of torture attacked our young innovator. He had proved, connected and classed a number of psychological facts relating to the theory of art, and he did not know the special terms which would make them intelligible. Like those phenomenal children, who see countless relations before they possess the words to express them, he had discovered a law, created a science, and he was still ignorant of the language of scientists. If he tried to demonstrate the bases of his system and its rational evolution in ordinary words, the ignorant would not understand him and the learned would not deign to listen.
Sometimes he did find some one who would hear him, question him, even criticize him, and who would go away bearing a fragment of conversation or some few notes which he had copied to turn to his own profit.
At this time, there came one day to Delsarte, a pupil who—by a rare exception—had been through a course of classical studies.
"Tell me, you who have studied (asked the teacher with the affability of a great man), what is metaphysics?"
"Why ... just what you teach us!" said the astonished youth.
Delsarte was enchanted to learn, that he was only divided by words from a science which had seemed to him to dwell on inaccessible heights. The study of technical words, when intuition had provided him with important ideas and new perceptions, was child's play to him; in a short time he could teach his philosophy of art in the consecrated expressions.
His lectures grew rapidly in the Rue Montholon. A choice public soon assembled to hear them, drawn thither by the admiring cry of the first enthusiasts. At this period, the talent of the artist was enhanced by the lustre of youth. Nature had endowed him generously. His figure, which later assumed rather large proportions, was tall and elegant; his gestures were marked by grace and nobleness; his hair, of a very light chestnut, gave his face a fair softness; his brown eyes relieved this expression and allowed him to give his face—when the interpretation of the part required it—the signs of power and vigorous passion. A full length portrait painted at this time and in the possession of Madame Delsarte, gives us some idea of his grand face and form, allowing for the disadvantages of every translation. Although, in singing, the organ was often impaired, his speaking-voice was most agreeable in tone, correct and persuasive in accent.
In acting various parts, Delsarte transformed himself to suit the character that he represented. He was congratulated on bringing to life for our age Achilles and Agamemnon, as Homer painted their types. Yet, I think he was sometimes told: "You paint that wretch of a Don Juan a little too faithfully." Certainly, art would never make that complaint!
If Delsarte was understood in that part of his method addressed especially to the ear and the eye, it was not so with the theory which prepared these striking demonstrations.
He was surrounded, it is true, by an assembly of men of letters, men of the world, and amateur artists, rather than by scientists and philosophers. Many in the audience and among the pupils did not pay an undivided attention to the scientific part of the instruction. Thus the first notes of the piano, announcing that the time for action had come, always caused a repressed murmur of satisfaction and pleasure.
Sometimes, after the lecture, a discussion followed, for Delsarte often left room for a controversy which was essentially incorrect and caused many misunderstandings. This was because the innovator sometimes blended with the clear hues of his art-principles certain tints of religious mysticism which had no necessary relation with the synthesis of his aesthetics.
It was one of the peculiarities of his character, amiable and benevolent as it was, to take delight in the conflict of ideas. If he saw, in the course of his lecture, a man whom he took for a philosopher or anything like it, he never failed to direct some piquant phrase, some aggressive sentence or some irritating thought that way—it was the gauntlet which he flung for the final combat.
Nor were women exempt from these humorous sallies.
Although the master loved all grandeur—the artistic sense with which he was so largely endowed inclining him that way—he had democratic, I might almost say plebeian, instincts. The poetry of simple, humble, small existences sometimes swayed him.
Thus, if among his hearers, a bright violet or an audacious scarlet gown annoyed his taste; if the reflection of a ruby or a diamond vexed his eye, he would choose that instant to improvise a rustic idyl or to intone a hymn to poverty.
But everything ended well; neither the philosopher whom he had provoked, nor the fine lady whom he had reproved, left him as an enemy. His nature with its varied riches had quite enough feminine coquetry to regain betimes the sympathy which he was on the eve of losing. A gracious word, an affectionate clasp of the hand, and all was pardoned.
The opposition manifested outside the lecture-room to his ideas and mode of instruction, was less courteous. There rival schools and jealousies, ill-disguised under an affectation of disdain, contended against him. He was accused of the maddest eccentricities; barbarous processes were imputed to him, such as squeezing the chest of singers, his pupils, between two boards—the reason was hard to understand. Others claimed that before Delsarte accepted a scholar, he required a profession of the Catholic faith and an examination in the catechism.
Those were the days when the author of "Les Orientales," in his legend of the "Two Archers," spoke of
"That holy hermit who moved stones By the sign of the cross."
But if, as an artist, Delsarte loved legends and was inspired by faith, as a professor he could cut short this poetic part of his art, at the point where science and the practical side of his teaching began.
The reproach, therefore, carried no weight.
Delsarte was amused by these exaggerated accusations; in another order of criticisms, it was agreeable to him to hear "that he sang without a voice, as Ingres painted without colors." The comparison pleased him, although inexact.
Yes, I say inexact, Delsarte was not without a voice; he had one, on the contrary, of great strength and range; of moving tone; eminently sympathetic; but it was an invalid organ and subject to caprice. He was not always master of it, and this caused him real suffering.
Let me give you the history of his voice as Madame Delsarte herself lately told it to me. I must go back to his early days of study and debuts.
Delsarte entered the Conservatory at the age of fourteen. Too young to endure the fatigue of the regular school-exercises, his voice must have received an injury. When the singer offered his services at the Opera Comique—-then Salle Vantadour—he was told that his voice was hollow, that it had no carrying power. This was perhaps partly the fault of the building, whose acoustic properties were afterward improved. However, thanks to the flexibility which his voice retained and his perfect vocalization, the pretended insufficiency was overlooked, and the young tenor was admitted.