Though he achieved some success as a composer, he is chiefly known as a teacher in singing and declamation oratory. Delsarte was born in Solesmes, Nord. While studying singing at the Conservatoire, he became unsatisfied with what he felt were arbitrary methods for teaching acting. He began to study how humans moved, behaved and responded to various emotional and real-life situations. By observing people in real life and in public places of all kinds, he discovered certain patterns of expression, eventually called the Science of Applied Aesthetics.
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His father, who was a renowned physician and the author of several inventions, might have secured a fortune for his family, had he been more anxious for the morrow, but he died in a state bordering upon poverty.
Here a great trial awaited him--a trial which wrecked his musical career, but was a decided gain for his genius. He had been placed in the vocal classes, and in consequence of faults in method and direction, he lost his voice. He was inconsolable, but, without making light of his sorrow, we may count that loss happy, which gave the world its first law-giver in the art of oratory.
The young student refused to accept this calamity without making one final effort to retrieve it. He presented himself at the musical contest of His impaired voice rendered success impossible, but kind words from influential friends in a great measure compensated for defeat. The celebrated Nourrit said to him: "I have given you my vote for the first prize, and my children shall have no singing-master but you.
But Delsarte knew that without a voice he must renounce the stage, and yielding to the inevitable, he gave up the role of the actor to assume the functions of the professor. After his own shipwreck upon a bark without pilot or compass, he summoned up courage to search into the laws of an art which had hitherto subsisted only upon caprice and personal inspiration.
He had numerous pupils, many of whom have become distinguished in various public careers--in the pulpit, at the bar, on the stage, and at the tribune. Madame Sontag, when she wished to interpret Gluck's music, chose Delsarte for her teacher. Rachel drew inspiration from his counsels, and he became her guardian of the sacred fire. Madame de Giradin Delphine Gay , surnamed the Muse of her country, welcomed him gladly to her salon, then the rendezvous of the world of art and letters, and regretted not seeing him oftener.
He was more than once invited to the literary sessions of Juilly college, and, under the spell of his diction, the pupils became animated by a new ardor for study. Monseigneur Sibour had great esteem and affection for Delsarte, and made him his frequent guest. It was in the salon of this art-loving archbishop that Delsarte achieved one of his most brilliant triumphs.
All the notable men of science had gathered there, and the conversation took such a turn that Delsarte found opportunity to give, without offence, a challenge in these two lines of Racine:. All reflected, sought out and then gave, each in turn, his chosen word. Every word was selected save the conjunction et and. No one thought of that. Delsarte then rose, and in a calm and modest, but triumphant tone, said: "The significant, emphatic word is the only one which has escaped you.
It is the conjunction and , whose elliptic sense leaves us in apprehension of that which is about to happen. One day, when the great master of oratorical diction had recited to him the Dies Irae , the illustrious philosopher, in an access of religious emotion, begged that this hymn might be chanted at his funeral.
Delsarte promised it, and he kept his word. When invited to the court of Louis Philippe, he replied: "I am not a court buffoon. I shall be the only singer; 2d. I shall have no accompaniment but the opera chorus; 3d. I shall receive no compensation. The king paid him such marked attentions that M.
Ingres felt constrained to say: "One might declare in truth that it is Delsarte who is king of France. Delsarte's reputation had passed the frontier. The king of Hanover committed to his instruction the greatest musical artiste of his realm, and was so gratified with her improvement that, wishing to recompense the professor, he sent him the much prized Hanoverian medal of arts and sciences, accompanied by a letter from his own royal hand.
Delsarte afterwards received from the same king the cross of a Chevalier of the Guelph order. Delsarte's auditors were not the only ones to sound his praises.
The learned reviews extolled his merits. Posterity will perpetuate his fame. Laurentie writes: "I heard Delsarte recite one evening ' Iphigenia's Dream ,' which the audience had besought of him. The hall remained thrilled and breathless under this impaired and yet sovereign voice. All yielded in rapt astonishment to the spell. There was no prestige, no theatrical illusion. Iphigenia was a professor in a black frock coat; the orchestra was a piano, giving forth here and there an unexpected modulation.
This was his whole force; yet the hall was mute, hearts beat, tears flowed from many eyes, and when the recital ended, enthusiastic shouts arose, as if Iphigenia in person had just recounted her terrors. After Delsarte had gathered so abundant a harvest of laurels, fate decided that he had lived long enough.
When he had reached his sixtieth year, he was attacked by hypertrophy of the heart, which left his rich organization in ruins. He was no longer the artist of graceful, supple, expressive and harmonious movements; no longer the thinker with profound and luminous ideas.
But in the midst of this physical and intellectual ruin, the Christian sentiment retained its strong, sweet energy. A believer in the sacraments which he had received in days of health, he asked for them in the hour of danger, and many times he partook of that sacrament of love whose virtue he had taught so well.
Finally, after having lingered for months in a state that was neither life nor death, surrounded by his pious wife, and his weeping, praying children, he rendered his soul to God on the 20th of July, Delsarte never could be persuaded to write anything upon themes foreign to those connected with his musical and vocal work.
He dares promise to be a faithful interpreter. If excuse be needed for undertaking a task so delicate, he replies that he addresses himself to a class of readers who will know how to appreciate his motives.
The merit of Delsarte, the honor of his family, the gratification of his numerous friends, the interests of science, the claims of friendship, demand that this light should not be left under a bushel, but placed upon a candlestick--this light which has shed so brilliant a glow, and enriched the arts with a new splendor.
Orators, you are called to the ministry of speech. You have fixed your choice upon the pulpit, the bar, the tribune or the stage. You will become one day, preacher, advocate, lecturer or actor; in short, you desire to embrace the orator's career. I applaud your design. You will enter upon the noblest and most glorious of vocations. Eloquence holds the first rank among the arts.
While we award praise and glory to great musicians and painters, to great masters of sculpture and architecture, the prize of honor is decreed to great orators. Who can define the omnipotence of speech? With a few brief words God called the universe from nothingness; speech falling from the glowing lips of the Apostles, has changed the face of the earth. The current of opinion follows the prestige of speech, and to-day, as ever, eloquence is universal queen.
We need feel no surprise that, in ancient times, the multitude uncovered as Cicero approached, and cried: "Behold the orator!
Would you have your speech bear fruit and command honor? Two qualities are needful: virtue and a knowledge of the art of oratory. Cicero has defined the orator as a good man of worth: Vir bonus, dicendi peritus.
Then, above all, the orator should be a man of worth. Such a man will make it his purpose to do good; and the good is the true end of oratorical art. In truth, what is art?
Art is the expression of the beautiful in ideas; it is the true. Plato says the beautiful is the splendor of the true.
What is art? It is the beautiful in action. It is the good. According to St. Augustine, the beautiful is the lustre of the good. Finally, what is art? It is the beautiful in the harmonies of nature. Galen, when he had finished his work on the structure of the human body, exclaimed: "Behold this beautiful hymn to the glory of the Creator! What, then, is the true, the beautiful, the good?
We might answer, it is God. Then virtue and the glory of God should be the one end of the orator, of the good man. A true artist never denies God.
Eloquence is a means, not an end. We must not love art for its own sake, that would be idolatry. Art gives wings for ascent to God. One need not pause to contemplate his wings. Art is an instrument, but not an instrument of vanity or complaisance. Truth, alas! Since it is an art, it is also a power which must produce its effect for good or evil.
It has been said that the fool always finds a greater fool to listen to him. We might add that the false, the ugly and the vicious have each a fibre in the human heart to serve their purpose. Then let the true orator, the good man, armed with holy eloquence, seek to paralyze the fatal influence of those orators who are apostles of falsehood and corruption. Poets are born, orators are made: nascuntur poetae, fiunt oratores.
You understand why I have engraved this maxim on the title-page of my work. Men are poets at birth, but eloquence is an art to be taught and learned. All art presupposes rules, procedures, a mechanism, a method which must be known. We bring more or less aptitude to the study of an art, but every profession demands a period more or less prolonged.
Delsarte System of Oratory