Controversy among Several
(Parisian Society of Spiritist Studies)
The spirit Lamennais spontaneously gave the following dissertation at
the Society on July 19th 1861, about Buffon’s aphorism: The style is
the man, received by the medium Mr. A. Didier. Considering that his
point of view was being attacked, Buffon replied a few days later through
Mr. d’Ambel. Then, in succession, the Viscount of Delaunay (by Mrs.
Delphine de Girardin) and Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, along with others,
joined into the conversation. This is a curious and instructive controversy
that we fully reproduced here. It must be noted that the controversy was
neither premeditated nor provoked and that each spirit participated spontaneously.
Lamennais started the discussion that was then followed by the
Lamennais’ dissertation – medium Mr. A. Didier
There is a strange phenomenon in the human being, that’s what I call the
phenomenon of contrasts; we are speaking here of particularly elite natures;
here is a fact: you will find in the spirit world that influential works strangely contrast with the private lives and habits of their authors. Mr.
Buffon had said: the style is the man.
Unfortunately the master of style and elegance saw people through
his own personal lenses. He saw what could be perfectly applied to him
but hardly to other writers. The word style here is used in its broader sense
and wider application. In our opinion the style is the more prominent and
the purest form which the human being will present his ideas. All human
genius is here before us and at a glance we can contemplate all the works
of human intelligence: elegance in the Arts, Literature and Sciences. Far
from stating like Buffon: The style is the man, we say perhaps a less concise
less formulated way that the human being, due to his changing nature
which can be vague, maddening and rebellious, often writes unlike his first
nature and original inspirations; I would even say, contrary to his beliefs.
Often when we read the great works from one of the great geniuses
of this century or another we say: What purity! What sensitivity! What
a profound belief in progress! What greatness! We learn later that the
author was not actually the moral author but the physical author, full of
prejudice and preconceived ideas. That is an example of a grand phenomenon
not only human but also spiritist. Hence, it is more common that
the human being is not exactly the mirror image of his work. We also say:
how many worn out poets, half-wits and disillusioned artists suddenly
feel a divine spark illuminating their intelligence! Ah! Fact is that they
hear another voice, not theirs. The human being hears what the Prophet
Isaiah called the “breath of the lips”, and that we call spirits. Yes, they hear
that sacred voice but forget God and His light and attribute the merit to
themselves. They receive grace in their art as others receive in their faith,
and it sometimes affects those who want to deny it.
(Medium Mr. D’Ambel)
You must know that it is said that I was a gentleman of letters, and that
my style was one of prim and properness, and I smelled of gunpowder
and Spanish tobacco. Isn’t that the perfect confirmation of this truth: The
style is the man? Although somewhat exaggerated they represented me
with a sword on my side and a pen in my hand and I must confess that I
enjoyed nice things, bright clothes with their laces and flamboyant jackets,
in a word everything that was elegant and delicate. Hence it is natural
that I was always elegant and that is why my style carries with it, the
stamp of good form, this fragrance of good company was equally found
in our grand home of Sévigné. What would you want? I always preferred
the alleyways and ladies bedrooms to the cabarets and low class crowds.
Allow me, therefore, despite the opinion expressed by your contemporary
Lamennais, to maintain my wise adage, supporting it with some examples
collected from your modern authors and philosophers. One of the misfortunes
of your time is that many people use the pen as their source for
revenue; but let us forget these types of artisans that write aimlessly for or
against an idea, according to the compensation they shall receive and who
shouts the loudest, according to the moment: God save the King! God
save the League (the Holy League of the Duke of Guise - 1590)! Leave them
be, those to me are not serious authors.
So you see, Father, do not be offended if I use you as an example.
Weren’t your bad foundations always mirrored in your work? From your
religious essay ‘Indifference’ to your publication ‘The words of a believer’,
what a contrast as you say! Yet, your scholarly style is as sharp in one
publication as it is in the other. You are ill-tempered, Father, you must
agree, and you distil that anger in the bitter sorrow of every beautiful page
you left us. With your button frock coat as well as your Priest’s cassock,
you remain downgraded, my poor Lamennais, now do not get angry, but
agree with that the style is the man. From Lamennais I move on to Scribe,
the happy man that is reflected in the calm and peaceful sitcoms. He is
joyful, happy and sensible. He spreads usefulness, joy and happiness in his
work. Neither drama nor blood is present in his works, just a few harmless
duels to punish the traitor. Next comes Eugène Sue, the author of the
Mysteries of Paris. He is as strong as his prince Rudolph, holding the callous
hand of a worker in his worn out gloves. Like him, he is the advocate
of popular causes. Look at your Dumas, a vagabond that dissipates his life and intelligence; he moves from the South Pole to the North as easily
as his famous musketeers; with Garibaldi he is a conqueror; he enjoys
the company of the Duke of Orleans and then to the intimacy of the
Neapolitan beggars; creating romances with History and using History
in his romances.
Look at the proud publications of Victor Hugo, with his embodied
pride. ‘I, me’ says Hugo the poet; ‘I, me’, says Hugo on his Jersey rock. Look at Murger, that easy life singer, consciously playing his own role in
the bohemia of his lyrics. Look at Gérard de Nerval with his strange and
colorful style, fantasizing his life as he did in his writings. How many
more have I left out that are even better! Like Soulié and Balzac, whose
lives and work follow parallel paths! However, I believe these examples are
enough for you not to deny in such absolute terms my maxim: the style
is the man!
Dear Father, haven’t you confused the form with the substance, the
style with the thought? In any case it is all interconnected.
Questions to Buffon regarding his communication
Q – Thank you for the spiritual communication you have kindly given us.
There is one thing that really surprises us, is that you are so aware of every
detail of our literature, enjoying with remarkable accuracy, the works and
the authors.. Do you still read everything that is published? Kindly give us
an explanation that will certainly be useful to our instruction.
A – We don’t need much time to read and enjoy, at one glance we
can perceive all the works that attract our attention. We are all involved
with matters of your interest and look forward to your dear little group,
and you would not believe how many of those that you call notable
people, that follow with benevolence the progresses of Spiritism. So,
you have to think how happy I was to have my name mentioned by one
of your faithful spirits, Lamennais, and also my pleasure in having the
opportunity to communicate with you. In fact, when I was questioned during your last session I received something similar to the after-effects
or repercussions from your thoughts; and not wanting the truth that I
proclaimed in my writing to be reversed without being defended, I then
prayed that Erastus would lend me his medium so that I could respond
to Lamennais’ argumentation. On another hand you must understand
that each one of us remains loyal to his Earthly preferences. That is
why we are attentive to the progress achieved by the incarnate writers
the same as other incarnated authors are; or to what they intend to
achieve with their works. Like Jouffroy, Laroque and la Romiguière are
concerned with what happens to Philosophy, and Lavoisier, Berzelius
and Thénard with Chemistry, each one cultivating their pastime and
cherishing the memories of their own works, attentively following what
their successors are doing.
Q – You provided in a few words an assessment of contemporary authors,
dead and alive. We would really appreciate if you elaborate on your
appreciation of some of them. It would be a methodic and very useful
work to us. To begin with, we would like you to comment on the work of
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, in particular his Paul and Virginia, condemned
by you but that became one of the most popular works.
A – I cannot develop here a critical analysis of the works by Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre. Nonetheless, with respect to my previous assessment of
the past I must now confess: Like Mr. Josse, I was a little too much of a
craftsman; in short, I was faithful to the spirit of literary fraternity, thus
criticizing my most unwelcome and best competitor. Later I will give you
my true appreciation of this renowned author if a really critique spirit like
Merle or Geoffrey do not offer so.
Lamennais’ defense by the Viscount Delaunay
(Medium Mr. D’Ambel)
NOTE: Mrs. Girardin’s name was mentioned in the conversations that
took place at the Society about the current issue, although the spirits did not mention it. This explains the intervention of a new responder in the
• You invited me, spiritists ladies and gentlemen, to the subject in
your last sessions and I believe I have the right to intervene, as
they say in the Palace. It was not without pleasure that I heard
the profound dissertation by Lamennais and the lively response
given by Mr. Buffon. There is, however, the need for a conclusion
of the debate. Hence, I intervene and nominate myself the referee,
in my own right. As a matter of fact, you requested a critic. I respond:
‘prenez mon ours’ * since you may remember I was famed
and feared for my confrontational criticism. I am really pleased to
be able to go back to that much loved terrain. Thus, once upon
a time… no, no, let us leave aside the trivialities and go directly
to the matter at hand. Mr. Buffon, you wielded the maxims
very well. It is obvious that you had value from a great century.
Nevertheless, however a good a writer you may be, a Viscount of
my likes is not afraid of taking the gloves on and crossing the pen
with you. Now, my good man! You were very hard on our poor
Lamennais, treating him as a downgraded man! Is it his fault
of this misled genius, that after masterfully writing his splendid
study that you criticized, he turned to other fields and changed
his beliefs? In terms of religion the pages of ‘Indifference’ would
have been signed by the best scholars of the Church. However, if
those pages stood while the priest fell wouldn’t you recognize the
cause, you who are so strict? Ah! Look at Rome and remember its
degenerate habits and you will find the key to that turnaround.
Now! Rome is so far away from Paris!
The Philosophers, the scientists of thoughts, all these harsh diggers of
my psychological state must never be confused with the writers of pure form; they write to entertain the public, the latter, write to push the barriers
of Science. These are concerned with the truth; the others don’t care
about logic, they flee from consistency. In short what they want is what
you were looking for yourself, my handsome Sir, that is, fame, popularity,
and success, which can be summarized as a good tottering shield.
As a matter of fact, with this exception, your witty response is very true
and I applaud it with all my heart. The only difference is that you point
to the individual while I point to the social. Finally I had to defend my
contemporary who, you know well, has never been of habit to frequent
cabarets, alleyways or dressing rooms of the ladies, or even suspicious gatherings
of low level. From his mansard roof all he did was to feed the noisy
sparrows that came to visit him in his cell at Rue de Rivoli. His supreme
happiness was to sit at his modest table with a pencil and a notebook at
hand with its blank pages. Oh! The sorrow and regrets of that great soul
were justifiable since he married the Catholic Church to run away from
the filthiness of a materialistic century, just to find it again sitting at the
steps of the altar. Is it his fault if he could not probe the depth of the abyss
to which he was thrown by the hands of the clergy? Yes, he is right in his
bitter cries, as you say. Isn’t he the living image of a misguided education
and an imposed vocation?
Renegade Father! Do you know how many inept bourgeois threw such
scorn on his face because he obeyed his conscience and convictions? Ah!
Believe me happy naturalist; while you sought the beauties and the pen,
praised by lovely sinners and applauded by perfumed hands, he painfully
climbed his own Calvary! Like Christ, he drank his chalice to the end and
hideously carried his cross! And you, lord of Buffon, don’t you offer your
own face to criticism, just a little? Let us see! Your style is flashy, like you, all
dressed in tacky attire! And also, what an intrepid traveler you were! Have
you visited countries… no, unknown libraries? What a tireless pioneer!
Have you crossed forests!… no, unreleased and unpublished manuscripts!
I agree that you covered your opulent body of works with a glaring varnish,
very much like your. But from all those bulky volumes what is it that is actually yours, from your own study, your own contribution? The story of
the dog, the cat or perhaps the horse? Ah! Lamennais wrote less than you
did but it is all his, lord of Buffon: the form and the bottom line. The other
day you were accused of not recognizing the works of the good Bernardin
de Saint-Pierre. You excused yourself a little bit ‘Jesuitically’ (hypocritical)
but you did not say if you had denied vitality to Paul and Virginia, that is
this kind of work, being that you remain still at the great Scudery, or at
the great Cyrus, or the land of Tendre **, and finally in all that sentimental
rubbish that sells so well today at all the bouquinistes (booksellers at rail stations),
the clothing shops of literature!. Ah! Mr. Buffon, those gentlemen
no longer think much of you while the utopist Bernardin kept his prestige.
Universal peace, a utopia! Paul and Virginia, a utopia! Your judgment was
crushed by public opinion. Let us not talk about it anymore, well, too bad!.
You put the pen in my hand, I use it and abuse it. This will teach you, dear
spiritists, to be concerned with a retired soldier of the pen like myself, asking
for news about me. That Mr. Scribe was stunned with his latest halfsuccesses;
he wanted us to establish him at the Academy; but he still lacked
the palme verte (Academy recognition award-NT) he was so happy on Earth
that he still hesitates to take his new position. Bah! He will be comforted by
watching the continuation of his plays and in a few weeks, it will be gone..
Not long ago you were given a charming fantasy not yet finished by
Gérard de Nerval. Will that whimsical spirit finish it? Who knows! He
wanted to conclude, however, that since the truth of the scholar is not
in the true, the beauty of the painter is not in the beautiful and that the
courage of the child is hardly rewarded, he did well by following the deviations
of his dear fantasy.
Viscount Delaunay (Delphine de Girardin)
NOTE: See Fantasia by Gérard de Nerval below
* An expression from the vaudeville style comedy, L’Ours et le Pacha by Eugene SCRIBE,
meaning: to press somebody to get rid of something or somebody annoying (or cumbersome.)
** From the works by Madeline de Scudery.
Buffon’s response to the Viscount de Launay
You invite me back to a debate in which I had a short participation in
order to avoid repeating myself. I confess that I would rather stay in the
peaceful environment where I was than to be exposed to this kind of agitation.
In my day, we used to exchange some pleasantries like Athenians
but today, nuisance! You are bludgeoned with whipping blows. Thank
you! I retire. I’ve had more than enough for me; because I am stilled
marked by the blows from the Viscount. You must agree that although
applied by the kind hand of a lady, they are not less painful. Ah! Madam,
you remind me of charity in a not much charitable way. Viscount! You
are too strong. I lay my weapons and humbly acknowledge my mistakes.
I agree that Bernardin de Saint-Pierre was a great Philosopher. What am
I saying? He found the philosophical stone and I am as I have been an
indigestible compiler! Are you happier now? Now, be kind and no longer
humiliate me like that or you will force a kind-man, friend of our Parisian
group, to leave his post, something that he would do with great sadness
for he insists on learning from the spiritist teachings and to follow with
interest what happens here.
And look: Today I heard the report of phenomena that was so strange,
that in my time the players or even the reporters of the events would have
been burnt at the stake. Between us, are they really spiritist phenomena?
How about the influence of their imagination on one side and some interests
on the other? I would not bet on it. What is the opinion of the witty
Viscount? As for myself, I wash my hands. In fact, if I believe in my sense
of Naturalist, regardless of how much I am called an office of Naturalist,
phenomena of that kind may only occur very rarely. Do you want my
opinion about the Havana case? Well! There is a gang of bad guys there
interested in discrediting the property so that it can be sold for nothing,
and also some coward and shy owners who are scared of a well plotted
phantasmagoria. Regarding the lizard, I remember well having written
about it but I must confess that I have never found any of them graduating at the medical school. That is a weak medium influenced by his imagination
about events that were not real.
NOTE: This last paragraph refers to two events that were reported during
the same session, to be published in another issue of The Review for lack
of space. Buffon gave his spontaneous opinion about them.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre’s answer
(Medium Mrs. Costel)
I, Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, come to take part in a debate in which my
name was cited, discussed and defended. I cannot agree with my witty
defender. Buffon is more than just an eloquent compiler. Never mind the
literary and subtle mistakes about things of nature lost in the rivalry and
professional jealousy. Yet, my views are very much opposed to his and as
Lamennais said: ‘No, the style is not the man’. I am an eloquent proof
of that, me whose sensibility was entirely mental and who invented what
others felt. Earthly things are analyzed without emotions from the other
side of life. I do not deserve the literary reputation that was granted to
me. Had Paul and Virginia been published today and it would be washed
out by so many other delightful productions that go unnoticed. It is because
progress of your time is big, bigger than you can assess. Everything
evolves: Science, Literature, Social Arts; they all rise like the ocean tides
that are not noticed by the seaman that is offshore. You are offshore.
I return to Mr. de Buffon whose talent I acknowledge and whose
criticism I forget, and also to my witty defender that can uncover the
spiritual meanings of all truths, giving them a paradoxical color. Hoping
to have demonstrated to you that we the dead scholars do not keep any
hard feelings, I thank you and remain available to help in any way I can
be useful to you.
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre
Lamennais to Buffon
Medium Mr. A. Didier
One must be careful Mr. de Buffon. My conclusion was not absolutely
human and literary. I looked at the issue in a very different way and here
is what I inferred: ‘Human inspiration is often divine inspiration’. There
was nothing controversial about that. I no longer write with that intent as
you can readily see from my reflections about the influence of art upon
our hearts and brains. I avoided the world and personalities. Let us not
go back to the past. Let us look forward to the future. It is up to people
to judge and to discuss our work. It is up to us to provide them with new
work, all stemming out from this fundamental principle: Spiritism. As for
ourselves, good-bye to the world!
by Gérard de Nerval
(Medium Mr. A. Didier)
NOTE: We must remember that when Buffon spoke about the contemporary
writers he said: Look at Gérard de Nerval with his strange and colorful
style, fantasizing his life as he did in his writings. Instead of arguing he
spontaneously dictated the following article that he called Fantasia. The
text was written in two sessions and in the interim Viscount Delaunay
responded to Buffon. That is why he said that he did not know if that
capricious spirit would finish the work, then offering the likely conclusion.
This message was purposely left out of the chronological order to
avoid interruption in the series of comments and replicas since Gérard de
Nerval did not take part in the debates but by this Philosophical allegory.
• One day in one of my fantasies I was near the sea, not knowing
how I ended up there by this small and unknown harbor.
Never mind! I got separated from my traveling companions for a few hours so that I could indulge myself in the most turbulent
Fantasia, the term used in my mental appreciations.
One must not believe, however, that every fantasy is like a crazy
girl surrendered to the eccentricities of her own thoughts. It is
common to see the poor little one smiling to hide her tears and
dreaming to avoid her deception. Her heart is sometimes taken
by love and curiosity, lost in her clouded thoughts. It might be
perhaps an excess of love, lack of imagination.
Leave her alone with her love and contemplation. That is how
one day I had her by my side, looking at the sea surrounded by
the horizon when in our own solitude I saw this old honorable
man, my word! He seemed worn out but fortunately he had
had his time; his exhausted nerves and muscles replaced by
the wisdom and harmony visible in his gestures; he showed a
very positive attitude. He sat down and examined the terrain
around, checking to make sure that he would not be stung by
one of the little creatures that thrive under the sand of the sea;
his walking stick with its golden handle was left aside. You can
only imagine my surprise when he put his glasses on. Glasses!
To see the vastness!
Fantasia stood up in astonishment, wishing to throw herself at him.
I was hardly able to calm her down. I sneaked from behind a rock
and listened to him saying: ‘There you are, the mirror image of our
lives! The great whole, there you are! Profound truth! There you have
our lives, superior and inferior, profound and petty, troubled and calm!
Oh! Waves! Waves! Great universal journey!’
The little old man then murmured the words to himself only. Up
until that moment Fantasia was quiet and listening respectfully,
but she couldn’t help it anymore and then she laughed out loud!
All I could do was to take her in my arms and leave the man
‘In reality’, said Fantasia, ‘he must be a member of some scholarly
society.’ After running for some time we saw a canvas with a
painting showing the tip of a rock kissed by the first waters of the
ocean. We both observed it. The painter would certainly be looking
around, trying to find another site. I looked at the painting
and to the sea, and again to the painting and to the sea, alternatively.
Fantasia wanted to tear off the painting into pieces. It was
hard to hold her back. – ‘How come!’ she said. ‘It is 7 am and I see
in this painting an anonymous effect!’ I understood perfectly well
what Fantasia was telling me.
It does really make sense, that crazy girl, I told myself, and I
wanted to get away. Alas! The hidden artist had followed every
single subtlety of my facial expression; when his eyes met mine
there was a terrible shock, an electrical shock. He gave me one
of those looks as if saying: ‘You little worm.’ This time Fantasia
was stunned by such an insolence, watching him returning to
his palette. ‘You do not have one of Lorrain’s palettes’, she said
with a smile on her face. She then turned to me and said: ‘We
have seen the true and the beautiful. Let us now try to find the
Then, climbing the rocks I saw the child of a fisherman,
about thirteen or fourteen years old; he was playing with a dog,
one running after the other, the dog barking, the boy laughing.
All of a sudden I heard some screams that seemed to have come
from the bottom of the cliff; the boy then dashed through a trail
that led to the beach; Fantasia could hardly follow him, despite
her energy; when I got to the bottom of the cliff I saw a terrifying
scene; the boy struggling against the waves and bringing ashore a
wretched man who was resisting the rescue; I tried to rush in support
but the child shouted back asking me not to do that; bruised,
trembling and tired, the boy successfully took the man out of the water after some time. Apparently it was a swimmer who had
ventured too far, falling into and dragged by a current.
I will continue another time.
Gérard de Nerval
NOTE: The communication of Viscount Delaunay given above
was produced in this interval.
A little while later the wretched came gradually back to life, but
just to say: ‘That is incredible! How could it be since I swim so well!
He knew perfectly well who had saved him and yet he looked at
me and said: ‘Wow! That was close! You know, there are times when
we lose it. It is not our strength that fails us but…but…’ I knew
he could not go on hence I quickly said: ‘Fortunately thanks to
this brave young man you are safe.’ He looked at the boy who
observed him indifferently and resting his hands on his waist he
added: ‘True, really.’ He then said farewell. Fantasia wanted to go
after him. ‘Now, then!’ she said holding her horses, ‘in fact it is
very natural.’ The boy saw him leaving and returned to his dog.
This time Fantasia cried.
Gérard de Nerval
Following a remark from a member of the Society indicating
that the conclusion was still missing Gérard added the following
words: ‘I am prepared with all my heart to write another essay.
Regarding this one, Fantasia tells me to stop here. She might be
wrong. She is so whimsical!’
The conclusion had been given in anticipation by the Viscount
After the literary and philosophical tournament that took place
over the last sessions of your Society, followed with satisfaction
by us, I find it necessary to give you some thoughts from a purely
spiritist point of view, and that came to mind after that interesting
debate in which I didn’t want to intervene by no means.
Before anything else you must know that your animated sessions
were nothing compared to the animation that surrounded the
large groups of eminent spirits attracted by the academic debates.
Ah! If you were a clairvoyant medium you would have been surprised
and confused by that superior entourage! However, my intention
today is not to unveil what took place among us. My only
objective is to bring you a few words about the benefit that can
be taken away from the discussion from the point of view of your
You know Lamennais very well and you certainly appreciate
how much that Philosopher remains attached to abstract ideas. You know how closely and with which talent and persistence – I
must say – he has been following your philosophical and religious
theories. From that you must deduce that the thinking individual
even beyond the grave, his studies and works, and that means that
that awareness is the special prerogative of the spirits, he must
remove every material element that used to obfuscate him when
comparing his spiritual to his human thoughts. Behold, what is
true to Lamennais is equally true to the others, each one keeping
their own skills and originality in the vast domain of the spiritual
world. Buffon, Gérard de Nerval, the Viscount Delaunay,
Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, they all keep their remarkable tastes
and literary styles as Lamennais does. It seems proper to call your
attention to the fact that in our world beyond the grave, the spirits
do not abandon their inclinations, tendencies and passions just
because they left their human layer behind.
The spirits are like prisoners on Earth to be freed by death but
similarly to someone in jail that keeps the same individuality and
tendencies when freed. It is the same with the spirits regarding
their personality and skills on arriving here among us, with the
only exception of those who did not lead a life of work and trials but one of punishment, like the mentally challenged. For those,
their intelligent faculties are kept in a latent state, awakening
when they leave their Earthly prison. This, as you know, applies
to the inferior or to the intermediate spiritual world but not to the
more elevated spirits that are free from the influence of matter.
Take your vacation, dear members of the Society. Allow me a
few friendly words before we go our own ways. I do believe that
the reassuring Doctrine that we came to teach you counts on serious
followers. Since it is of the essence that each and everyone be
submitted to the law of progress, I advise you to search in the bottom
of your hearts and inquire about the actual benefit that you
personally found in our spiritist works and what kind of moral
improvement has resulted from that. You must understand that it
is not enough to say: ‘I am spiritist’, keeping that belief to yourself.
All that you need to know is if your actions comply with the prescriptions
of your new faith that is, which can never be repeated
enough: love and charity. May God be with you!