Daguerreian Society

The following text is excepted from an article in the January 1872 issue 
of "The Philadelphia Photographer" (Vol. IX, No. 97, pp 1-4.) The 
article appears opposite the title page portrait of Samuel F. B. Morse.
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             Our Picture 

  Last summer we asked the privilege of putting his picture in our 
magazine, together with that of the first camera he used in photography.  
He at once gave us the promise that he would do so, and ask his "old 
friend," Mr. Bogardus, to make the negatives for us as soon as he 
returned to his city residence, in the fall.  He was then in 
Poughkeepsie, at his summer residence, "Locust Grove."
  In October he made good his promise, and sat for three double 
negatives, as immovably as any one possibly could.
  We wrote him our thanks, and stated that there was one more favor to 
ask in order to complete the gratification of our readers and us in the 
matter, namely, his own account of his connection with photography.  He 
promptly responded in his own handwriting, as follows:

                                         New York,  Nov. 18th 1871
Edward L. Wilson, Esq.

  DEAR SIR: In your letter of the 10th instant, you ask of me a sketch 
of my connection with the photographic art.  I cheerfully comply with 
your request.
  In 1838, I visited Europe with my telegraphic invention, and early in 
the spring of 1839, in Paris, I formed the acquaintance of M. Daguerre, 
whose discovery, of fixing the image of the camera obscura, in 
connection with M. Niepce, was creating a great sensation in the 
scientific world.
  A proposition at that time was before the French Chamber of Deputies 
to grant Messrs. Daguerre and Niepce a pension, on condition that their 
process was given to the public.  M. Daguerre had very freely shown to 
high officials the results of his process, but by the advice of the 
distinguished Arago, who had charge of the pension proposals in the 
Chambers, he abstained from any publicity of his formula until his 
pension should be secured.
  At this same time my telegraph was exciting in the French capital a 
similar sensation.  I had made my arrangements to leave Paris for home 
in March of 1839, and one morning, in conversation with our eminent and 
worthy Consul, Robert Walsh, Esq., I lamented the necessity of leaving 
Paris without seeing these photographic results.  He at once entered 
into my feelings and said, "I think you will find no difficulty in 
obtaining a sight of them.  Drop a note to M. Daguerre, and invite him 
to see the telegraph, and I have no doubt he will return the compliment 
by inviting you to see his results."  The plan was successful.  M. 
Daguerre invited me to see his results at his diorama, where he had his 
laboratory, and the day after, accepted my invitation to witness the 
operation of my telegraph; and it is a noticeable incident that during 
the two hours in which he was with me, his diorama and laboratory, and 
the beautiful results I had seen the day before, were consumed by fire.  
In my interview with him, however, I requested him, as soon as his 
pension bill was passed, and the publication of his process was made, to 
send me a copy of his work, which he courteously promised to do, and 
accordingly in the summer of 1839 I received from him probably the first 
copy that came to America.  From this copy, in which, of course, were 
the drawings of the necessary apparatus, I had constructed the first 
daguerreotype apparatus made in the United States.  My first effort with 
it, was on a small plate of silvered copper, about the size of a playing 
card, procured from a hardware store; but defective as it was, I 
obtained a good representation of the Church of the Messiah in Broadway, 
taken from a back window in the New York University.  This was, of 
course, before the construction of the New York Hotel.  This I believe 
to have been the first photograph ever taken in America.  Perceiving in 
its earliest stages that photography was an invaluable and incalculable 
aid to the arts of design, I practiced it for many months, taking 
pupils, many of whom, at this day, are among the most prosperous 
photographers.  I early made arrangements to experiment with my eminent 
friend and colleague in the University, Prof. John W. Draper, building 
for the purpose a photographic studio upon the top of the University.  
Here I believe were made the first successful attempts by Dr. Draper, in 
taking photographic portraits with the eyes open, I having succeeded in 
taking portraits previously with the eyes shut, for it was considered at 
that date, that the clear sunlight upon the face was necessary to a 
result.  And here it should be stated, that in reply to the a question 
which I put to M. Daguerre, Cannot you apply this to portraiture? he 
gave it as his opinion that it would be impracticable, because in 
obtaining his results on still objects, the time necessary was from 
fifteen to twenty minutes, and he believed it impossible for any one to 
preserve an immovable position for that length of time.  The quick of 
instantaneous processes were not then discovered.  Thus you have in 
brief my connection with the art, which owes its existence to Messrs. 
Daguerre and Niepce, and in which I profess to be only a humble 
follower.  The wonderful improvements which have since been made by 
scores of ingenious men in various countries, have established the 
photographic art as one of the most useful, as well as beautiful, 
discoveries of the age.
  As to a sketch of my life, I would refer you to a biography in 
Harper's Monthly of January, 1862, which, so far as facts are concerned, 
is the best I have seen.
      With respect, your obedient servant,
                           Sam'l F. B. Morse.

  We regret that we cannot reproduce the letter in his own handwriting, 
but a facsimile of his signature will be found on the mount.  His 
writing is bolder and clearer than that of most men half his age.
  Our best and united thanks are assuredly due him for the pleasure and 
gratification he has given us, and for the early befriending of our art.  
When photography was a tender infant, holding up its tiny hands crying 
for some one to take it up and nurture it in this country, the artistic 
feelings of Prof. Morse were touched, and he brought the infant 
carefully across the ocean to its native home, where it has thrived and 
grown immeasurably.  For this we honor Prof. Morse, and his memory shall 
be perpetuated in our minds as the Father of American Photography.

(This letter varies slightly from the letter Abraham Bogardus says he 
received from Morse [also in 1871] which Bogardus published in his 
article, "The Daguerreotype." in the "St. Louis and Canadian 
Photographer" (Vol. 11, No. 12, December 1893; page 534-8.  --G.E.) 
Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       

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