Daguerreian Society

On this day (April 24) in the year 1840, Samuel F. B. Morse addressed 
the National Academy of Design.  The following text is extracted from 
M. A. Root, "The Camera and The Pencil: or the Heliographic Art" 
(Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1864) pages 390-392:
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   The following are extracts from the speech of Professor S. F. B. 
Morse, at the annual supper of the National Academy of Design, April 
24th, 1840:--
   "Gentlemen:--I have been requested to give my opinion of the 
probable effects to be produced, by the discovery of Daguerre, on the 
Arts of Design.  It is known to most of you, that, for many months, I 
have been engaged in experiments with the daguerreotype, more 
particularly for the purpose of forming an intelligent judgment on this 
   "The daguerreotype is undoubtedly destined to produce a great 
revolution in art, and we, as artists, should be aware of it and 
rightly understand its influence.  This influence, both on ourselves 
and the public generally, will, I think, be in the highest degree 
favorable to the character of art.
   "Its influence on the artist must be great.  By a simple and easily 
portable apparatus, he can now furnish his studio with fac-simile 
sketches of nature, landscapes, buildings, groups of figures, &c., 
scenes selected in accordance with his own peculiarities of taste;  but 
not, as heretofore, subjected to his imperfect, sketchy translations 
into crayon or Indian ink drawings, and occupying days, and even weeks, 
in their execution; but painted by Nature's self with a minuteness of 
detail, which the pencil of light in her hands alone can trace, and 
with a rapidity, too, which will enable him to enrich his collection 
with a superabundance of materials and not copies;--they cannot be 
called copies of nature, but portions of nature herself.
   "Must not such a collection modify, of necessity, the artist's 
productions?  Think how perspective, and, as a consequence, proportion 
also, are illustrated by these results.  How the problems of optics 
are, for the first time, confirmed and sealed by nature's own stamp!  
See, also, what lessons of light and shade are brought under the 
closest scrutiny of the artist!
   "To the architect it offers the means of collecting the finest 
remains of ancient, as well as the finest productions of modem 
architecture, with their proportions and details of ornament, executed 
in a space of time, and with an exactness, which it is impossible to 
compress in the ordinary modes of an architect's study.
   "I have but a moment to speak of the effect of the daguerreotype on 
the public taste.  Can these lessons of nature's art (if I may be 
allowed the seeming paradox), read every day by thousands charmed with 
their beauty, fail of producing a juster estimate of the artist's 
studies and labors, with a better and sounder criticism of his works?  
Will not the artist, who has been educated in Nature's school of truth, 
now stand forth pre-eminent, while he, who has sought his models of 
style among fleeting fashions and corrupted tastes, will be left to 
merited neglect?
   "I should feel, gentlemen, that I had been greatly deficient if I 
did not add a few words attesting my admiration for the genius of the 
great discoverer of this photogenic process.  I have for months been 
occupied with experiments, repeating those of Daguerre, and modifying 
both the apparatus and the process, by my own experience and the 
suggestions of scientific friends, and, as the result of all, I must 
say that, at every step of my progress, my admiration for his genius 
and perseverance has increased I could not but constantly reflect, if;  
with the details fully revealed, of a process, whereby a sure result 
could be obtained, so much to discourage be encountered, what must have 
been his discouragement, who, when one experiment after another failed, 
had only darkness, uncertainty, and doubt for his comforters!  And yet 
he triumphed over all, and in the lists of fame the name of Daguerre 
will deservedly stand by the side of Columbus and Galileo, and Papin 
and Fulton.
   "Gentlemen, in closing, I offer you the following sentiment:--Honor 
to Daguerre, who has first introduced Nature to us, in the character of 

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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