The Daguerreian Society

(The following text has been converted to e-text by Gary W. Ewer.  8 
September 1995.  Source of the text is from an original volume in my 
collection.  Inquiries regarding this text may be made to or to my current address as listed in The 
Daguerreian Society directory.)

The following short story appeared in the September, 1862 issue of 
"Peterson's Magazine" (Philadelphia) Vol. XLIV, No. 3; pg 187-190.


     A   D A G U E R R E O T Y P E   I N   B A T T L E
                     BY ELLA RODMAN.

  A PILE of freshly-executed vignettes, just from the photographer's, 
lay on one of the pretty drawing-room tables, and were seized upon and 
commented upon by the group there assembled.  It was not a party--merely 
a dropping in, such as Miriam Lacy had every evening--three or four 
young ladies, and two gentlemen; as much of an even balance as one 
usually meets in "these troublous times."
   The ladies were cut out after a pattern, and had nothing in 
particular about them--the gentlemen were worthy of more special notice.  
The elder one--of middle height, inclining to corpulency and baldness--
had a fine face, rather supercilious in its expression, and 
characterized by a general air of knowing everything and believing 
nothing.  He was elegantly dressed, thoroughly self-possessed, answered 
to the name of Dr. Moynton, although he never practiced, had rooms at 
the Clarendon, abundant means, and did nothing in particular except 
lounge about among pictures, and talk "Art"--a subject very absorbing to 
those who appreciate it, and very bewildering to those who do not.  This 
man admired Miriam Lacy, a person who every one concurred in pronouncing 
just about right.
   The other gentleman was younger, not more than twenty-seven, had a 
tall, manly figure, and nothing else remarkable about him, except a pair 
of gray eyes, that looked up and at one with such a clear reflection of 
a great, honest, hero-soul, that they irradiated the whole face.  It was 
the beauty of expression, for in themselves they did not differ from 
bushels of other eyes.  Gilbert Fletcher was a distant cousin of 
Miriam's; and although he was as quiet and undemonstrative as gray-eyed 
people usually are, she knew, to her annoyance, that down in his inmost 
soul he cherished a wild hope that made him glad that the cousinship was 
so distant.
   "Miriam herself!"  exclaimed one of the young ladies, as the 
vignettes came to light, "Miriam to life!" and exclamations and 
criticisms fell fast and furious on the bits of pasteboard upon which 
had been left the impress of a living soul.
   Dr. Moynton never admired when other people did; and when some one 
addressed him enthusiastically with the remark; "Isn't it excellent?" He 
   "Yes--an 'excellent' likeness of Miss Lacy in one of her very worst 
moments.  Photographs were only invented for men--and any woman who will 
consent to be thus martyrized must be influenced by one of two reasons:  
She is either inexpressibly conceited, or she is quite superior to the 
weakness of caring how she looks."
   "Thank you," said Miriam, who had quietly glided in, "I am quite at a 
loss how to classify myself.  The 'inexpressibly conceited' division is 
not attractive--but the stern Angel of truth guards the entrance to the 
Paradise, where women are superior to the weakness of caring how they 
look.  I do care how I look, and always like to look my very best.
   "Gilbert, who had said nothing, blushed guiltily at Miriam's 
entrance--while the real criminal smiled a fascinating smile, and said 
with perfect composure, "Do you remember the scene in 'Peg Woffington, 
Miss Lacy, where Peg steps out of her own portrait-frame, and confounds 
the critics?  It is about the finest thing in the whole volume."
   These men were both in love with Miriam Lacy; and Miriam was piqued 
by Dr. Moynton's composure, and irritated by Gilbert Fletcher's want of 
   "About these photographs," continued the doctor, carelessly.  "What a 
vile invention they are!  If one has a glaring defect, they magnify it 
tenfold, and leave every mark of beauty to be guessed at.  As to 
expression, the very life and soul of a face, the wretched photograph 
tramples it to death, or clothes it in so hideous an aspect, that one 
wishes it were a blank.  Look at this caricature of Miss Lacy, now--why 
is she made to look dissatisfied, woe-be-gone, and desirous of making a 
face at somebody, all at one and the same time?"
   "That is only the perversity of human nature," replied Miriam, 
laughing. "the poor photographer, in despair at the benumbing gravity 
that always possesses one when required to call up a look that I know is 
to be stamped upon glass and copper, said suggestively, 'Could you think 
of something pleasant now, mum?' and I immediately felt a severe and 
awful expression settle on my feature.  Had he told me not to laugh as I 
valued my picture, the effect would have been what was desired.  But I 
am tired of the subject," she continued, imperiously, "let us talk of 
something else.  What are you studying there, Gilbert?"
   Miriam has not been described, and, to tell the truth, she was rather 
indescribably.  Her girl-admirers, and she had hosts of them, always 
said of Miriam, "Not pretty at all, you know, because she hasn't a 
single good feature;" and yet, in the aggregate, they pronounced her 
"lovely."  She was taller that the average height, and her finely-
moulded figure seemed to float along the streets, so that men would turn 
their heads, as she passed, and say, "By Jove! what a splendid figure 
that woman has!"  Her abundant dark hair, worn very low on her neck, had 
a classic sweep that carried a sort of fascination in it; and the cheek 
it shaded was so round and fresh that a cannibal could not have resisted 
the temptation to take a bite out of it.  Miriam was twenty-five, and 
owned to every day of it; and partly on account of this venerable age, 
partly on account of her superiority, people generally, who are very 
liberal with what does not belong to them, handed her over to Dr. 
Moynton.  Barkis was willin' but not quite satisfied of success.
   All this time, Gilbert Fletcher has been left bending over an old-
fashioned, somewhat faded daguerreotype.  Two girl-faces nestled closely 
together; the elder had long, drooping curls, and Miriam's eyes and 
mouth--the other was a chubby, little sister, long years since in 
Paradise.  That child-face of Miriam was very sweet, and Gilbert studied 
it intently.
   He did not hear Miriam's question; and she went and looked over his 
  "That old thing!" said she, half-sadly, "it does not look a bit like 
me now.  That was taken 'when I was nearer heaven in the days of long 
   "To me it looks very much like you," replied Gilbert, in a low tone.  
"I wish that you would give it to me, Miriam--I should like to take it 
away with me."
   "I would not give it to you for the world," said Miriam, in the same 
tone.  "When do you go?"
   "Oh, Mr. Fletcher!" exclaimed one of the young ladies, who wanted 
Gilbert to come and talk to her, "is it really true that you are going 
to the war?"
   "Gilbert bowed assent.  He never wasted words when he was not 
   "How many straps do you wear?" asked the doctor, in rather an 
unpleasant tone.
   "None," replied Gilbert, quietly.  "I go as a private."
   "As a private!" repeated the young ladies, under their breath.  
"Dear! they had always thought that privates were so common!"
   "They are rather uncommon, now-a-days," said Miriam, that clear, 
steady voice of hers trembling a little with emotion, "and unless 
Artemas Ward raises successive regiments of Brigadier-Generals, the 
ranks will scarcely be filled by men who do not seem to have souls above 
a bit of glittering tinsel."
   Miriam's cheeks glowed indignantly; but the doctor, although inwardly 
admiring, replied coolly, "You may just as well say that we are fighting 
for a bit of red, white, and blue bunting--it is not the tinsel for 
which they care, but what the tinsel symbolizes.  By-the-way, Fletcher, 
are you thoroughly in earnest?  I should think it would be rather 
unpleasant to take pot-luck with Tom, Dick, and Harry in that style.  
Privates' fare is not very tempting, I imagine."
   "Tom, Dick, and Harry," replied Gilbert, unmoved, "give up their 
time, their comfort, their lives to their country--I do no more.  Why 
then am I entitled to more than they?  In this great cause all should be 
brothers, and share alike."
   The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
  "You must allow me respectfully to differ from you," he began.  "My 
chief objection to the Declaration of Independence is, that it tells 
what the children calls 'a great, bug, naughty story.'"
   The young ladies gave a start of interest--a man who abused the 
Declaration of Independence was "so original."  All but Miriam, and she 
remained quietly gazing at the speaker.
   "The Declaration of Independence," continued Dr. Moynton, rather 
contemptuously, "asserts the palpable falsehood that 'all men are born 
free and equal,' in the very face of the fact that some are born to 
rosewood cradles, and purple, and fine linen, and others to pine boards 
and a fig-leaf.  Do you call that free and equal?  The man accustomed to 
scant food and rags, and the society of vagabonds, who goes as a 
private--and the man accustomed to well-dressed viands, elegant 
clothing, and intercourse with gentlemen, who accepts the same position, 
bring, in my opinion, very unequal fortunes into the concern."
   Gilbert was half-dreaming of Miriam and the future, and rather weary 
of the doctor's wordy argument--and saying, with a smile, "I am 
satisfied to go as a private," he turned to look at some prints.
   The visitors finally dropped off; the young ladies were taken home by 
the doctor; and Gilbert and Miriam were left alone in the drawing-room.  
The quiet young soldier seemed suddenly endowed with the power of 
  "Miriam," said he, abruptly, "I go to-morrow.  Will you give me this?"
   It was one of the photographs that he held in his hand; and Miriam 
took it from him with downcast eyes, turning away as she said,
   "Do not ask me for these things, Gilbert--I cannot break through my 
rule, which is to bestow then only on my lady friends."
   "Not even for a cousin?" asked Gilbert, beseechingly.
   "Not even for a cousin," she replied.
   But Miriam's head was turned aside, and Gilbert, yielding to 
temptation, committed an act of petty larceny of which she was happily 
unconscious.  The daguerreotype of Miriam in her childhood was hastily 
transferred to his pocket; and with an expression of not having been 
doing anything at all out of the way, that was quite marvelous 
considering what a neophyte he was in this sort of practice, Gilbert 
received the dismissal that his cousin speedily bestowed upon him.
   "It is late now," said she, extending her hand, "and I must go up to 
Lizzie.  I honor you, Gilbert--and you shall always have my warmest 
prayers for your preservation and happiness.  Good-night."
   And she was gliding rapidly out of the room; but Gilbert, suddenly 
gifted with a miraculous power of daring, folded her closely in his 
arms, and with a long, farewell kiss, said, "We may never meet again on 
earth, Miriam.  Good-by," and was gone.
   Miriam stood breathless with astonishment--half-indignant, and half-
admiring the audacity which had taken her so completely by surprise.  
For she knew that Gilbert loved her, and she knew that he knew that, if 
he had told her so that night, he would have been rejected.
   Very thoughtfully she walked up stairs to Lizzie, her brother's 
pretty, little wife, who was lying among a heap of laced pillows, lost 
in admiration of another heap of flannel and embroidery, which Miriam 
addressed as "Auntie's precious baby," and which seemed to be regarded 
generally as a very novel and striking production.  Miriam's brother, 
and that brother's wife and child, were to her objects of the warmest 
affection; and the pretty Lizzie, who was two or three years her junior, 
clung to her with a sort of adoring love that seemed to be Miriam's due.
   After talking an immense amount of nonsense to the baby, and kissing 
and petting the childish mother, Miriam went to her own room, and 
thought a great deal more about Gilbert than that modest lover would 
ever have imagined.  She did not wish to marry him--they were not suited 
to each other; she thought him too young, in the first place, and too 
timid--there was nothing to lean upon; in short, he was not at all her 
beau ideal, and she felt provoked that her thoughts turned upon so 
unprofitable a subject.
   Dr. Moynton, who, by a sort of instinct, had looked upon Gilbert as a 
powerful rival, now had the field to himself, and improved his 
opportunities to the best of his ability.  Herbert Lacy smiled 
approvingly upon his suit--Lizzie thought he "just the husband for 
Miriam"--and the doctor finally committed himself by a regular proposal.
   Somehow it troubled her to see this lofty man humbled; and she said 
as gently as she could, "If I ever love, it will be one who has shown 
himself willing to sacrifice everything for his country."
   "Even to enlisting as a private? asked the doctor, bitterly.
   A roseate color mounted to Miriam's forehead; but she answered 
steadily: "Yes, if that were clearly his duty."
   "What do you wish me to do?" said the lover, despairingly.  "Must I 
advertise myself as 'the celebrated and original able-bodied man between 
the ages of eighteen and forty-five years?"
   Miriam smiled in spite of herself, as she murmured: "Whatsoever thy 
hand findeth to do, do it with thy might," and Dr. Moynton retired 
   A fearful battle was raging, in which Gilbert Fletcher's  regiment 
had lost more than half of its men.  Bravely following the flashing 
sword that waved them up the hill, they pressed forward to victory, 
Gilbert's gray eyes dilating into strange beauty with the excitement of 
battle--when suddenly came a missile of death, dealing carnage and 
destruction on every side.  Gilbert fell, with several of his comrades, 

       "-------a private or two now and then
       Will not count in the news of the battle."

   Miriam read the name of "private Gilbert Fletcher" among the list of 
killed, and a strange feeling took possession of her.  She neither cried 
nor fainted; but all the sunshine had died out of her life, and she felt 
that she loved the dead private.  With her usual prompt energy, she took 
an instant resolution to devote herself to hospital work among the sick 
and wounded; and quietly made her preparations in spite of all 
   The stars came out and shed their soft light over the field of 
battle, and on a pale face that looked dead among the dead--but it was 
just waking up to life.  An obscure private lay there, with a shattered 
daguerreotype resting on his heart, and in imagination a vision of 
Miriam bending over him as his guardian-angel.  He smiled as he lay 
there; for something whispered confidently that Miriam would one day 
rest her bright dead on that very place, and then he fell wearily 
  When Gilbert Fletcher returned to Northern soil, it was with the rank 
of captain honorably earned by tried bravery, not bought with money; but 
he seemed to value a shattered daguerreotype more highly even than this 
commission; and Miriam probably changed her opinion of him, or, perhaps, 
as the lady said of her pertinacious lover, she married him to get rid 
of him.
   Dr. Moynton takes his luxurious dinners at the Clarendon, and 
pronounces Mr. Captain Fletcher " a very fine woman"--adding frankly 
that, if she had shown better taste, she might have been Mrs. Dr. 
Moynton; and that he should certainly be tempted to go as a private, if 
he could be sure of being as well paid as Gilbert Fletcher was.
   Summing up all the facts, I cannot help thinking that, had it not 
been for that daguerreotype, things would never have turned out as they 

(End of text)
Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       

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