Daguerreian Society

A somewhat lengthy "March" item today:

The following text appeared in "The Museum of Foreign Literature,
Science and Art." (Philadelphia; Whole Number-Vol. XXXV
[Vol. VII-New Series,] March 1839, pp. 341-3)

                    From the Spectator.


                      The Daguerotype.

  An invention has recently been made public in Paris that seems more 
like some marvel of a fairy tale or delusion of necromancy than a 
practical reality: it amounts to nothing less than making light produce 
permanent pictures, and engrave them at the same time, in the course of 
a few minutes.  The thing seems incredible, and, but for indisputable 
evidence, we should not at first hearing believe it; it is, however, a 
fact: the process and its results have been witnessed by M. Arago, who 
reported upon its merits to the Academie des Sciences.  To think of 
Nature herself reflecting her own face, though but as "in a glass, 
darkly," and engraving it too, that we may have copies of it!  This 
looks like superseding Art altogether; for what painter can hope to 
contend with Nature in accuracy or rapidity of production?  But Nature 
is only become the handmaid to Art, not her mistress.  Painters need 
not despair; their labours will be as much in request as ever, but in a 
higher field: the finer qualities of taste and invention will be called 
into action more powerfully; and the mechanical process will be only 
abridged and rendered more perfect.  What chemistry is to manufactures 
and the useful arts, this discovery will be to the fine art; improving 
and facilitating the production, and lessening the labour of the 
producer; not superseding his skill, but assisting and stimulating it.  
The following particulars of this beautiful and extraordinary invention 
are gleaned principally from fragments of the report of M. Arago, 
quoted in the communications of the foreign correspondents of the 
Athenaeum and the Literary Gazette, and partly from private 
  The apparatus consists of a camera obscura with the superaddition of 
an engraving power: in lieu of the white disc on which the moving 
picture of external objects is reflected by the rays of light, a metal 
plate is substituted, covered with a particular coating, on which the 
light forms the image by its action thereon.  M. Daguerre, the 
inventor, "has found a substance," says M. Arago, "more sensible to 
light than the chlorure of silver, which is altered in an inverse 
manner-that is to say, it leaves on the several parts of the plate, 
corresponding to the several parts of the object, dark tints for the 
shadowy, half-tints for the light parts, and no tint whatever for the 
tints that are luminous."  When this action of the light on the 
different parts of the plate has produced the desired effect, it is 
arrested at once by a particular process, and the plate may be exposed 
to the full light of day without undergoing any change.  The appearance 
of the monochrome picture has been compared to mezzotint engravings, 
deep-toned aquatint, or the etchings of Rembrandt.  The length of time 
required for the process varies with state of the atmosphere and the 
quality of the light; moonlight is slower in its operation than 
sunlight; and on a dark day the engraving-or, to speak more correctly, 
the etching-requires a longer time; but twenty minutes seems to be the 
maximum under unfavourable circumstances: in ordinary weather eight or 
ten minutes is the average, "but under a pure sky like that of Egypt," 
says M. Arago, "perhaps one minute might suffice to execute the most 
complex design."
  As it is the continued stream of light that acts upon the metal, 
fixed objects only can be delineated:  "the foliage of trees," again to 
quote M. Arago, "from its always being more or less agitated by the 
air, is often but imperfectly represented.  In one of the views, a 
horse is faithfully portrayed, except the head, which the animal had 
never ceased moving: in another, a decrotteur (shoe-black), all but the 
arms which were never still."  The slight or occasional motion of 
objects does not, however, invalidate the process; for, says the 
Athenaeum correspondent, "in one view of the Boulevard du Temple, taken 
from M. Daguerre's own residence, a coach and horses are introduced 
with the most literal and lineal exactness."  But it is obvious that 
the views produced by these means will only be pictures of still-life, 
inanimate objects, buildings, mountains, rocks, and tracts of country, 
under settled aspects of the atmosphere, whether it be the bright glare 
of noon, the even-down pour of rain, or the cold moonlight, will be 
pictured with an accuracy of form and perspective, a minuteness of 
detail, and a force and breadth of light and shade, that artists may 
imitate but cannot equal.  The precision and exactness of the effect of 
the pictures may be judged of from these facts: the same bas-relief in 
plaster and in marble are differently represented, so that you can 
perceive which is the image of the plaster and which of the marble; you 
may almost tell the time of the day in the out-door scenes.  Three 
views of the Luxor Obelisk were taken, one in the morning, one at noon, 
and the other in the evening, and the effect of the morning light is 
distinctly discernible from that of the evening, though the sun's 
altitude, and consequently the length of the shadows, are the same in 
both.  But what the lifeless, monotonous, and cold reflections of the 
camera, when applied to motionless objects are to the living reality, 
with all its magic harmonies of colour, will be the monochromes 
produced by the graphic camera to the glowing pictures which by the 
combined operation of skill and genius, arrest and fix on the canvas 
the evanescent beauties and ever-varying forms of animated nature as 
seen through the medium of the painter's imagination.  We have not seen 
one impression of these light-created monochromes, but we venture to 
predict that they will present an appearance of shadowy 
insubstantiality combined with the rigidity and fixedness of a model, 
which will, after the first blush of novelty, fall upon the eye, and 
render them only valuable as models for the painter's use: as it is, 
they require his touch to vivify, and, in some instances, to complete 
them.  The reflection of a head in the camera lucida looks like an 
exquisite miniature in wax-work; and sketches taken with the camera 
have a fixedness peculiarly unpleasant; because they are deprived of 
the ethereal medium of the atmosphere, the want of which is so sensibly 
felt in the pictures of some clever but mechanical-minded painters.  We 
make these remarks not to disparage the value of a discovery the most 
remarkable in the history of art, nor, assuredly, to depreciate the 
ingenuity and perseverance of the inventor; but for the twofold purpose 
of calming the apprehensions of the more humble class of artists, who 
may fancy that their occupation's gone, and of preparing our readers 
not to expect the beauties of Rembrandt's chiaroscuro in the engravings 
produced by the Daguerotype.  The process is simple, and readily 
available to all persons; and the machine is so compact, that M. 
Daguerre has stood upon the bridges of Paris using it without 
attracting much notice from the passengers.  Its utility to travellers, 
in delineating any curious objects of architecture, machinery, costume, 
and furniture, is at once apparent.
  The influence of this invention on painting will be very great, and 
(we think) beneficial also: the increased exactitude of delineation of 
living forms and moving objects: pictures will become more true and 
more animated, for every artist will be eager to escape the reproach of 
a mere copyist of the Daguereotype.  We hail this important discovery, 
therefore, as one equally valuable to art as the power-loom and steam-
engine to manufactures, and the drill and steam-plough to agriculture.
  M. Daguerre is well known as the collaborateur of M. Bouton in the 
production of the beautiful illusory pictures of the Diorama; and it 
was in the course of his experiments in producing their effects of 
light and shade, that he made the wonderful discovery he as matured 
with such complete success.  It has occupied his attention during 
fifteen years, and its progress to perfection has been very gradual; 
owing principally, we understand, to the difficulty of procuring such 
an amalagam of metal as would be operated on by the rays to remain for 
a few seconds, then he was enabled to retain them for half a minute, 
next for a minute, and so on until a few years ago he fixed them for 
ten minutes.  "The earlier sketches, or reflections rather," says the 
Athenaeum, "which he made some four years since, have a slight degree 
of haziness: this defect he has now entirely overcome."
  M. Daguerre's pursuit of this discovery has been the talk of the 
ateliers in Paris for several years; but no artist having seen any 
results, it was regarded as a delusion, like the search for the 
philosopher's stone, or perpetual motion; and the indefatigable 
inventor, who neglected his painting and looked more like a blacksmith 
than an artist, was compared to the alchemists of old: he may now turn 
the laugh against the incredulous.  It is said that he has offered his 
invention to the French Government for 300,000 francs; and, pending the 
result of the negotiation, he does not of course make his secret known.  
He has, however, an agent in London who is receiving subscriptions for 
the machine.
  Contemporaneous with this chemical process of picturing and 
engraving, other self-acting machines of mechanical operation have been 
invented, and by Frenchmen also, that may be opportunely mentioned 
here.  The process of M. Collas for medallic engraving...

(Remaining three paragraphs not transcribed; no content related to the 
daguerreotype. Original errors of spelling/grammar maintained, 
including the spelling of "daguerotype." --G.E.)
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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