Daguerreian Society

On this day (September 10) in the year 1839, the following text appeared
in the French humor paper, "Le Charivari." I'll preface this text with a
comment made to me by R. Derek Wood regarding this item:
   "...I personally do not think it has any real relevance to the
    history of the daguerreotype, for the current news status of the
    daguerreotype was the only reason why the writer used it as a
    peg on which to hang the usual (what now seems heavy-handed)
    political satire of "Le Charivari," without the writer having
    any intrinsic interest in the daguerreotype. Any subject served
    the same purpose of "Le Charivari"...with its extremely minor
    relevance to the history of the daguerreotype, the "Charivari"
    piece opens up too big a minefield of misunderstanding to make
    it a satisfactory candidate for an uncomplicated reprinting for
    an audience of daguerreotype enthusiasts."
Nevertheless, the text piqued my curiosity, and not being able to read
the original French, I had the text translated and offer it to you
today, in English, for the first time. With Wood's caution in mind, I
invite you to enjoy today's post.
- - - - - - - - -



Do you like photography? It has been put up everywhere.

--Thus, sir, you do not love your country?
--I love my country very much sir.
--In that case, sir, why do you not love glory?
--I love glory very much, sir.
--In that case, sir, why do you not love all that can increase it?
--I love all that can increase it very much sir.
--In that case, why do you not appreciate M. Daguerre?
--I appreciate M. Daguerre very much sir, although I do not know him. I
appreciate very much, in general, all that I do not know.
--In that case, sir, why do you not like the daguerreotype?
--I like the daguerreotype very much, sir, even though I am familiar
with it [know it].
--In that case, sir, you love therefore, everything?
--By no means do I love everything, sir. And most of all I do not like
fricandeau a l'oseille [meat & dough dish of the southwest of France]:
it sets my teeth on edge. And, I do not like imbeciles like you: that
gets on my nerves. I do not like fricandeau a l'os. . .but imbeciles are
the only thing we are speaking about today. I do not like imbeciles who
wish to turn a beautiful scientific discovery into a senseless trade.
When viewed as a study on the play of light on the body, M. Daguerre's
experiment represents immense progress, especially because of the new
levels to which it carries human knowledge. When considered an art, it's
a perfect silliness.
--You therefore do not love your country, sir?
--I have already had the honor of telling you that it was the fricandeau
only that I did not love, sir. Nor imbeciles. Therefore, I continue.
What is art? Do you know what art is? Art, sir, is harmony of depth and
form, it is the adorned idea of a body, it is intelligence infused in
the material, it is thought rendered palpable, sonorous, or visible: in
a word, it is expression. Now, when you will have, not drawn, but traced
the pavilions of the Tuileries, the buttes of Montmartre or the
Montfaucon plain with an infinitesimal fidelity, do you believe quite
simply that you have created art? Do you believe that you will have
achieved a masterpiece because not a weather vane is missing on the
Tuileries, not an ass on the Montmartre buttes, nor a carcass at
Montfaucon? Do you believe that this is how veritable artists evolve?
Auctioneers, maybe, but artists, no. The artist chooses, draws,
arranges, idealizes. The daguerreotype brutally copies its subject, or
more precisely, plagiarizes it. The beautiful and the ugly, the palace
and the market stall, the flower and the cabbage stalk, it reproduces
them all with the same scruple. And if by chance, within this framework,
the chief of police's agents were to litter, do you believe the
daguerreotype would abstain [from showing this]? Not in the least, the
sun shines for everyone, for the asses of Montmartre as well as for
imbeciles, for rubbish as well as for pearls, and you will have the
pleasure of beholding here and there, in your masterpiece, asses,
imbeciles, and rubbish, all admirably similar.
--But sir, you do not love therefore the glory of your country?
--I love very much, I repeat, the glory of my country, sir, but I do not
love rubbish. Fricandeaux neither, and imbeciles even less. Let's
continue. It's exactly this pure loyalty, this loyalty without choice,
without taste, without thought, and finally without art, which produced
this famous physiognomy [the daguerreotype] that has supposedly sunk all
the sculptors, as it is said now, and which, in fact, has scarcely sunk
anyone but its own shareholders. Why is that? It is because its
products, so mathematically loyal, are nothing more than servilely
reproduced materials, and there is not the slightest spark of life in
these inert slabs of plaster. They admirably reproduce your wrinkles and
warts, but not at all the expression on your face. The length and width
of your nose is perfectly represented, but your countenance
[physiognomy] not at all. Hence the immense affluence which is not
pressing to get into the workshops of the rue Vivienne. This will be,
believe me, the general applications of the daguerreotype. It is a
classic example: this word signifies unhappiness.
--In that case, sir, you therefore do not love what is capable of
increasing the glory of your country?
--I love very much, sir, what can increase the glory of my country, and
that is precisely why I do not love what can lessen it. Now, it would be
lessened horrifyingly if the artists, the Vernet, the Decamp, the
Delacroix, the Leon Viardot, the Hemi Monnier, the Laurent Jan, the
Granville, the Daumier, the Gavarni were henceforth suppressed and
replaced by five or six more or less obscure, but hardly portable, boxes
which create a daguerreotype. The fricandeau alone is enough for
foreigners to reproach us about, without furnishing them with a further
pretext for denigration. It is therefore very fortunate that the
daguerreotype is a fairly impracticable instrument for the common
amateur, without the assistance of three chemists, two mechanics
[technicians/mechanistics] and four diverse scholars, assisted
themselves by the inventor. The daguerreotype, with its four or five
boxes, makes up therefore more volume than work. The public experiment
that was recently conducted for the particular instruction of one
hundred twenty-five persons, in the exhibitions on the platform of Orsay
['Quai d'Orsay'], once more showed, simultaneously, both admirable
accuracy and insurmountable difficulty. One circumstance has especially
struck us, independently of those which we have already singled out:
"The plate, fixed in a small plank, we are told, is protected from the
light of day by closing the windows, of a set place, etc." Thus, when
you are in the middle of a field trying to capture a beautiful setting,
you will need to be careful to shut all the countryside's windows. The
precaution is strictly necessary.
--But, sir. . .
--But, sir, make machines which manufacture stockings, wigs, laws,
fricandeaux, everything of this type that you wish: nothing better,
without saying anything worse; but do not manufacture things of art.
Machines can replace arms, but not the mind. What would you say to a
machine that spun novels, wove epic poems, or carded [the firsts of]
Paris? It was good to reward the inventor of the daguerreotype, as it
was the profession's inventor, la Jacquart. All invention merits a
salary, with the exception of the invention of the fricandeau. Honos et
argentum[,] is good. But let us not go too far. Give to science what
belongs to science; give to art what belongs to art. Leave mathematical
exactitudes to science, its boxes, its iodines, its little stoves, its
hyposulfites, its choiceless drawings, its asses of Montmartre, its
carcasses of Montfaucon, its weather vanes of the Tuileries, its cabbage
stalks, its closed widows, its imbeciles especially, and for the little
that it matters, its fricandeaux. Oppositely, leave to art its nature of
choice, its monuments, its beautiful settings, its greenery, its women,
its flowers, its sky, its expression, its life.
--But, sir...
--Please, sir?
--You know well, sir. . .
--What, sir?. . .
--That only a man bribed by foreign powers is pleased to denigrate
things which contribute to the glory of France in such a way.
--Yes, sir, yes, I confess, I am bribed by England to denigrate them;
but you, sir, you seem to me bribed, on the contrary, to praise them.
That is even more shrewd on the part of the perfidious Albion. As for
me, I sell myself to the preference of the orchestra of l'Opera over the
organs of Barbarism, and to the Museum over the daguerreotype.

(Translated from a reprint of the text in Reynaud, Francoise. "Paris et
le Daguerreotype" [Paris: Paris Musees, 1989.] Translation by Brigitte
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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