The Daguerreian Society

On this day (January 15) in the year 1840, the following article, 
authored by Edgar Allan Poe, appeared in "Alexander's Weekly Messenger" 
(page 2, columns 1-2):

                          THE DAGUERREOTYPE.

   This word is properly spelt Daguerre'otype, and pronounced as if 
written Dagauirraioteep.  The inventor's name is Daguerre, but the 
French usage requires an accent on the second e, in the formation of the 
compound term.
   The instrument itself must undoubtedly be regarded as the most 
important, and perhaps the most extraordinary triumph of modern science.  
We have not now space to touch upon the history of the invention, the 
earliest idea of which is derived from the camera obscura, and even the 
minute details of the process of photogeny (from Greek words signifying 
sun-painting) are too long for our present purpose.  We may say in 
brief, however, that a plate of silver upon copper is prepared, 
presenting a surface for the action of the light, of the most delicate 
texture conceivable.  A high polish being given this plate by means of 
steatitic calcareous stone (called Daguerreolite) and containing equal 
parts of steatite and carbonate of lime, the fine surface is then 
iodized by being placed over a vessel containing iodine, until the whole 
assumes a tint of pale yellow.  The plate is then deposited in a camera 
obscura, and the lens of this instrument directed to the object which it 
is required to paint.  The action of the light does the rest.  The 
length of time requisite for the operation varies according to the hour 
of the day, and the state of the weather--the general period being from 
ten to thirty minutes--experience alone suggesting the proper moment of 
removal.  When taken out, the plate does not at first appear to have 
received a definite impression--some short processes, however, develop 
it in the most miraculous beauty.  All language must fall short of 
conveying any just idea of the truth, and this will not appear so 
wonderful when we reflect that the source of vision itself has been, in 
this instance, the designer.  Perhaps, if we imagine the distinctness 
with which an object is reflected in a positively perfect mirror, we 
come as near the reality as by any other means.  For, in truth, the 
Daguerreotyped plate is infinitely (we use the term advisedly ) is 
infinitely more accurate in its representation than any painting by 
human hands.  If we examine a work of ordinary art, by means of a 
powerful microscope, all traces of resemblance to nature will disappear-
-but the closest scrutiny of the photogenic drawing discloses only a 
more absolute truth, a more perfect identity of aspect with the thing 
represented.  The variations of shade, and the gradations of both linear 
and aerial perspective are those of truth itself in the supremeness of 
its perfection.
   The results of the invention cannot, even remotely, be seen--but all 
experience, in matters of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in 
such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most 
largely.  It is a theorem almost demonstrated, that the consequences of 
any new scientific invention will, at the present day exceed, by very 
much, the wildest expectations of the most imaginative.  Among the 
obvious advantages derivable from the Daguerreotype, we may mention 
that, by its aid, the height of inaccessible elevations may in many 
cases be immediately ascertained, since it will afford an absolute 
perspective of objects in such situations, and that the drawing of a 
correct lunar chart will be at once accomplished, since the rays of this 
luminary are found to be appreciated by the plate.

(Source of citation: "Edgar Allan Poe's Contributions to Alexander's 
Weekly Messenger" by Clarence S. Brigham; (Worcester, Massachusetts: 
American Antiquarian Society, 1943; pp.20-22)
Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       

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