The Daguerreian Society

During this month (June), in the year 1846, the following article 
appeared in the monthly publication "Littell's Living Age" (Boston;
Vol. IX, No. 110, 20 June 1846) pp. 551-2:


                                          From the Christian Watchman.


  "God hath given you one face, and you make yourselves another."--

   Lord Bacon unquestionably saw as far into futurity as any other 
philosopher.  When rapt in the contemplation of the wonderful results 
that were to follow the adoption of the great inductive system of 
reasoning, he doubtless beheld, dimly figured forth, a long train of 
brilliant discoveries and inventions.  But we do not believe that he 
ever dreamed of daguerreotypes; nor do we think ourselves guilty of any 
reflection on the wisdom and sagacity of that illustrious sage, in 
asserting this incredulity.  As for the bewildered schoolmen before his 
time--it is not worth while to conjecture what they did or did not 
   The above we consider to be a sufficient introduction to a few 
remarks on daguerreotypes.  It has, it is true, no particular connexion 
with the subject; but this, we flatter ourselves will not be deemed an 
objection, since it is notorious that your best orators and preachers 
write their introductions long before they have fixed upon a subject of 
discourse.  The only rule which now obtains, (in practice at least,) 
with regard to this species of rhetorical ornament, is to place the 
introduction, whatever it may be, at the beginning.  And this leads us 
to observe that daguerreotypes are not now what they once were.  They 
have emerged from the rude into the polished state--from the chrysalis 
into the butterfly form.  We can very well recollect the first specimens 
that we ever saw.  We then supposed that they were finely, admirably 
done.  But this was a delusion; they were merely rude, unfinished 
experiments.  The lily white hand of a fair lady, in the old style 
daguerreotype, had exchanged its lily whiteness for a gloomy tinge of 
pale green, or an intense sky-blue.  White bosoms that we positively 
know to have been of extraordinary whiteness, by the daguerrian process 
were villanously bronzed and smutched as by the over-heated iron of an 
unthrifty huswife.  We judge everything by comparison, else we never 
could have tolerated such productions of art.  Daguerreotypes now-a-
days, thought still light, are by no means so trifling affairs.  A pale 
or blooming cheek, a gentle or flashing eye, a smooth or wrinkled brow, 
are each fairly and faithfully imprinted.  By enlarging the dimensions 
of the plate, great accuracy and beauty have been conferred.  In a three 
by four inch likeness the projecting features are ridiculously out of 
proportion;  thus a very modest, retiring nose, assumes the gigantic 
dimension of the nasal organ of the Duke of Wellington, or of ex-
President Tyler;  and a chin, the fartherest possible form double, 
astonishes you with its more that alderman obesity.  All these errors 
have been corrected; and now, so perfect is the "counterfeit 
presentiment," that you recognize your friends at a glance, and find 
yourself stretching out your hand to their daguerreotypes.
    For our own part we are unable to conceive any limits to the 
progress of this art.  On the contrary it tasks the imagination to 
conjecture what it will not accomplish.  Already the daguerreotypes of 
the most important public characters adorn the saloons of noted artists.  
You have only to enter and you find yourself in a miniature President's 
levee.--We anticipate the establishment of a society for obtaining 
daguerreotypes.  Said society will employ a number of experienced 
professors, (every art now has its professors,) who shall visit foreign 
parts, the courts of Europe, the palaces of the pashaws, the Red Sea and 
Holy Land, and the pyramids of Geza, and bring home exact 
representations of all the sublime and ridiculous objects which it now 
costs so much to see.  Stationary professors may be maintained at each 
of the most passionate volcanoes--at favorable positions in the Arctic 
regions when the Aurora Borealis is most excited--and others, in 
substantial edifices in the West India Islands, will note the exact 
appearance and effects of a terrific hurricane or ravenous earthquake.  
Popular vocalists will be taken in the very act and attitude of 
vocalizing, wordy demagogues in the attempt to hood-wink the 
sovereignty, and government defaulters at the critical moment of 
absconding.  Apparatus so extensive will doubtless be constructed that a 
whole assembly may be taken at once.  By this improvement the tax-paying 
millions of this free and enlightened republic, may be furnished with an 
accurate picture of the appearance and occupation of their worthy 
official organs in the halls of the house and senate.  (This 
anticipation, however, is rather fanciful, than real, as we are 
persuaded that such a project would be unanimously voted down at the 
first reading.)  On the same plate may be represented the preacher and 
his hearers; and thus a curious spectator will obtain a bird's-eye-view 
of a whole congregation as they appear in the various stages of 
listening, half-gone, sound asleep, and waking up.  Indeed, it will be 
impossible for a tree to bud and blossom, a flower to go to seed, or a 
vegatable to sprout and come up, without executing at the same time an 
exact photograph of the wonderful process on the skilfully prepared 
plates of some agricultural, botanical, or horticultural photographic 
society.  A man cannot make a proposal, or a lady decline one--a steam-
boiler cannot explode, or an ambitious river overflow its banks--a 
gardener cannot elope with an heiress, or a reverend bishop commit an 
indiscretion, but straightway, an officious daguerreotype will proclaim 
the whole affair to the world.  There will be no safety for rogues.  
Every apple-orchard, store-house, and coat-pocket, will contain a self-
regulating photographic machine faithfully performing its functions, 
while the depredator is executing his.
    But we turn from contemplating the anticipated achievements of the 
future, to dwell for a moment on the brilliant triumphs of the past.  
For we are of the opinion that the daguerrian art has not received the 
attention which it deserves;  and that its principles, when fully 
analyzed and developed, will fill an important place in some never-to-be 
surpassed encyclopedia.
    It is slowly accomplishing a great revolution in the morals of 
portrait painting.  The flattery of countenance delineators, is 
notorious.  No artists of eminence ever painted an ugly face, unless 
perchance, now and then a fancy sketch, or a copy of some antique, so 
antique that it is impossible ever to trace the original.  Everybody who 
pays, must look handsome, intellectual, or interesting at least--on 
canvass.  These abuses of the brush the photographic art is happily 
designed to correct.  Your sun in no parasite.  He pours his rays as 
freely and willingly into the cottage of the peasant, as into the palace 
of the peer; and he vouchsafes no brighter or purer light to the 
disdainful mistress that to her humble maid.  Let it once become the bon 
bon for plain-looking, homely, and ugly people to sit for likenesses 
that are likenesses--let a few hideous men and women of distinction 
consent to be daguerreotyped--in fine, let nature and art in their 
combined efforts be suffered to have fair play, and "it must follow as 
the night the day," that this moral revolution will be achieved.  There 
are gratifying proofs that the custom is rapidly advancing into general 
favor; as any one may convince himself by examining the numerous 
daguerreotypes exposed to public view.
    But of the advantages resulting from this novel art, the aid which 
it affords to the successful study of human nature, is among the most 
important.  Daguerreotypes properly regarded, are the indices of human 
character.  Lavater judged of men by the physiognomies; and in 
voluminous treatise has developed the principles by which he was guided.  
The photograph, we consider to be the grand climacteric of the science.  
Lord Chesterfield assures his son that everybody has a weak point, which 
if you are fortunate enough to touch or irritate delivers him into your 
power at once.  It has been said that the inhalation of exhilarating gas 
is a powerful artificial agent for disclosing these weaknesses of human 
nature.  In reality, however, the sitting for a daguerreotype, far 
surpasses all other expedients.  There is a peculiar and irresistible 
connection between one's weaknesses and his daguerreotype; and the 
latter as naturally attracts the former as the magnet the needle, or 
toasted cheese, the rat.  The ultimate causes of this relation lie 
deeply imbedded in the elementary principles of mental philosophy which 
we have not now sufficient space to explore.  That such a relation 
exists is beyond question, to quote the very forcible, but very 
tautological expression of the Hon. Caleb Cushing, "a fixed fact."  
Hence positions, attitudes, and expressions of countenance, are so many 
exponential signs of disposition, desire, character.  The genera of 
these weaknesses are as numerous, and admit of as many subdivisions as 
the famous classification of plants, by the immortal Charles Von 
    There is a literary weakness.  Persons afflicted with this mania are 
usually taken with a pile of books around them--or with the fore-finger 
gracefully interposed between the leaves of a half-closed volume, as if 
they consented to the interruption of their studies solely to gratify 
posterity with a view of their scholarlike countenances--or in a 
student's cap and morning robe, with the head resting on the hand, 
profoundly meditating on--nothing.  Thus a young woman whose leisure 
hours are exclusively devoted to the restoration of dilapidated male 
habiliments, appears in her daguerreotype to intensely absorbed in the 
perusal of a large octavo.  What renders the phenomenon the more 
remarkable is, that the book was upside down, which necessarily implies 
the possession of a peculiar mental power.--There is the musical 
weakness which forces a great variety of suffering, inoffensive flutes, 
guitars, pianos, to be brought forward in the company of their cruel and 
persecuting masters and mistresses.  One young lady, whose ear had been 
pronounced utterly incapable of detecting discords, sat with a sheet of 
Beethoven's most difficult compositions, in her delicate dexter hand.  
Some amusing caricatures are produced by those who attempt to assume a 
look which they have not.  Timid men, at the critical juncture, summon 
up a look of stern fierceness, and savage natures borrow an expression 
of gently meekness.  People appear dignified, haughty, mild, 
condescending, humorous, and grave, in their daguerreotypes, who 
manifestly never appeared so anywhere else.  Jewelry is generally deemed 
indispensable to a good likeness.  Extraordinarily broad rings--gold 
chains of ponderous weight and magnitude, sustaining dropsical headed 
gold pencils, or very yellow-faced gold watches, with a very small 
segment of their circumference concealed under the belt--bracelets, 
clasps, and brooches--all of these, in their respective places, attract 
attention, and impress the spectator with a dazzling conception of the 
immense and untold riches of those favored beings whose duplicate 
daguerreotypes he is permitted to behold.
    But, having arrived at that point where an illimitable field of 
speculation and remark stretches out before us--having in a certain 
sense sharpened our appetite for the enjoyment of a number of tempting 
tit-bits for gossip, which render this department of our subject so 
attractive--we shall practise upon the advice of the Stoic to the 
Epicurean, and bring the whole matter to an easy and harmonious--

(Original spelling has been maintained -- G.E.)
Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       

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