Daguerreian Society

On this day (March 14) in the year 1898, the Hon. L. E. Chittenden took pen in 
hand and wrote this reminiscence that appeared in "Camera Notes"  Vol. 2, No. 1 
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An Historical Letter.

It is not often that historical fact and humor are so happily combined as in the 
following interesting letter from our valued friend, the Hon. L. E. Chittenden, 
who vividly narrates his early experiences as a photographic sitter:

My Dear Murphy:
   You ask for a confession of my first experience in the art of Daguerre, and 
since confession is good for the soul, you shall have it.
  In September, 1842, when I was eighteen years old, I had read Blackstone, and 
thought myself a greater lawyer than I have since supposed or claimed myself to 
be.  I was at the Court of Franklin County in St. Albans, Vt.  There I met two 
peripatetic artists from the great City of Boston, who were offering to make 
portraits of such accuracy that they were more like than the sitter, for five 
dollars each.  They called them Daguerreotypes.  They had not been able to 
secure a victim, for the mechanism was fearfully made and its operation awful to 
   They offered to give me my portrait if I would endure the trial.  I was 
ambitious and did not wish to deprive the bar of the opportunity of securing my 
portrait so cheaply, and in a moment of weakness I consented.  The operators 
rolled out what looked like an overgrown barber's chair with a ballot box 
attachment on a staff in from of it.  I was seated in the chair and it Briarean 
arms seized me by the wrists, ankles, waist and shoulders.  There was an iron 
bar which served as an elongation of the spine, with a cross bar in which the 
head rested, which held my head and neck as in a vice.  Then, when I felt like a 
martyr in the embrace of the Nuremburg "Maiden," I was told to assume my best 
Sunday expression, to fix my eyes on the first letter of the sign of a beer 
saloon opposite, and not to move or wink on pain of "spoiling the exposure."  
One of the executioners then said I must not close my eyes or move for ten 
minutes, at the end of which he would signal by a tap on the ballot box.  The 
length of that cycle was too awful for description.  There was not such another 
in the "time, times and half," of the Prophet Daniel, or in the whole of 
"Pollock's Course of Time."  It was a time of agony, and I supposed at first 
that it would come to an end, but I had to abandon that hope.  I began to recall 
and review the tortures of which I had read, "Fox's Book of Martyrs," "The 
History of the Inquisition," and had nearly finished "Las Cases," "Tyranies and 
Cruelties of the Spaniards" when the tap came and the anguish ended.
   Some days afterward the portrait was produced.  It was a portrait with a 
tremolo attachment of wavy lines, the eyes leaden, the nose too large, the 
expression dull and heavy.  And yet it was regarded as a triumph of art.  The 
printing of anything directly from the object was in itself so extraordinary 
that one scarcely thought of criticising the print.  I myself thought it was the 
most wonderful advance in art that had ever occurred.  Now when I recall the 
pitiful results of this experiment and mentally compare them with the 
exquisitely beautiful illustrations in the number of Camera Notes you have sent 
me, I cannot but feel that the world owes a larger debt to photography than to 
wood and line engraving and etching combined.  I think I have never seen an 
etching which surpasses the "Lombardy Pastoral" in all the qualities that makes 
an etching attractive.

                               Cordially yours,
                              (Signed), L. E. CHITTENDEN.
March 14, 1898.

Cited from Goldberg, Vicki ed. "Photography in Print: Writings  from 1816 to the 
Present"  (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981) p. 77-78.
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1998

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