The Daguerreian Society


On this day (March 7) in the year 1839, the following news item appeared 
in the "Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D. C., Vol. 27, No. 
8131):
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          THE NEW ART; OR, "THE PENCIL OF NATURE."
                         ------
   There has been published an account from a French paper of a 
wonderful discovery made recently by M. DAGUERRE--that of transferring 
the picture of any object to paper, by the action of the solar light 
acting by means of the camera obscura; which paper, being prepared and 
endowed with certain chemical properties, will retain the impression for 
an indefinite length of time; and thus a perfect copy from Nature may be 
produced.  This discovery, it is obvious, will be of the greatest 
advantage to the arts; and, unless the accounts which we have received 
from abroad are grossly exaggerated, it has already been brought to very 
great perfection.
   The London Literary Gazette of 2d February contains a long and very 
interesting account of a similar discovery, which has recently been made 
in England by H. Fox Talbot, a gentleman of great scientific 
acquirements.  It appears that Mr. Talbot, a gentleman of great 
scientific acquirements.  It appears that Mr. Talbot has for some years 
devoted much labor and attention to the perfection of this invention, 
and having brought it to a point deserving the notice of the scientific 
world, and while actually engaged in drawing up an account of it to be 
presented to the Royal Society, the same invention has been announced by 
M. Daguerre in France!  Who is entitled to the honor of the original 
discovery, is a grave question to be settled by scientific men.
   Mr. Talbot has produced a number of exquisite specimens, which mark 
his progress and demonstrate his success--from which it appears that 
there is a very considerable difference between the materials employed 
by Mr. Talbot, the means used, and the results obtained, and those of M. 
Daguerre.  At the Royal Institution, a variety of specimens were 
exhibited by M. Talbot, which differed from those of M. Daguerre, 
especially in this, that Mr. Talbot reverses the natural effect--
representing dark objects light and light objects dark.  Different 
preparations of silver are supposed to be used to effect this singular 
result; and Mr. Talbot has succeeded admirably in devising a method of 
fixing his drawings so that the sun can affect or alter them no more.  
He copies from engravings, by first getting them with the lights and 
shades reversed, and then again copying from the reversed impression.
   Mr. Talbot, in a letter which is published in the Literary Gazette, 
after speaking of various instruments which have been devised at various 
times to abridge the labor of the artist in copying natural objects , 
and showing that, after all, all that they can do is to guide his eye 
and correct his judgment, but that they do not work for him, goes on to 
say:  "From all these prior ones, the present invention differs totally 
in this respect, viz. that, by means of this contrivance, it is not the 
artist who makes the picture, BUT THE PICTURE MAKES ITSELF!  All that 
the artist does is to dispose of the apparatus before the object whose 
image he requires; he then leaves it for a certain length of time, at 
the end of which he returns, takes out his picture and finds it 
finished!  The agent in this operation is solar light, which, being 
thrown by a lens on a sheet of prepared paper, stamps upon it the image 
of the object, whatever that may chance to be, that is placed before 
it."
   Again, Mr. Talbot says, in another part of his communication, "No 
matter whether the subject be large or small, simple or compound; 
whether the flower-branch you wish to copy contains one flower or a 
thousand; you set the instrument in action, the allotted time elapses, 
and you find the picture finished in every point, and in every minute 
particular."
   In a paper relating to the transactions of the Royal Society, it is 
stated that pictures which Mr. Talbot has had in his possession for 
years are now as vivid as when they were first produced.  The image 
obtained is white; but the ground is beautifully colored, and readily 
obtainable, either sky-blue, yellow, rose-color, or black--green is 
excluded.  Objects the most minute are obtained--the delineations of the 
leaves of plants, the most minute and tiny bivalve calynx--nay, even a 
shadow, is followed by the spell of the inventor, and remains perfect 
and permanent long after it has been given back to the sunbeam which 
produced it--in short, the picture is "ended as soon as begun."
   It appears that Sir Humphrey Davy made some unsuccessful attempts to 
bring about this great result, but fortune did not smile upon his 
undertaking, and he abandoned it.  By laying the nitrate of silver on 
paper, he succeeded, by means of the camera obscura and the solar rays, 
in obtaining perfect impressions of any object, but on exposure to the 
light they faded, and after a while totally disappeared.
   The French call this instrument by the name of its inventor the 
Dagueroscope.  It is also called, in poetical language; the Pencil of 
Nature.  Mr. Talbot calls the process the art of Photegenic Drawing.  
But, whatever it may be called, it is certainly one of the most 
wonderful inventions in this inventive age.  Henceforward, travellers 
who have never taken lessons in drawing may bring home the most finished 
and accurate sketches.  They may even multiply them on the spot to an 
indefinite extent.  Hence-forward, every man may be his own 
draughtsman.--Boston Mercantile Journal.

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Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       
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03-07-96


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