The Daguerreian Society

From Scribner's Monthly, an Illustrated Magazine for the People. (New York: Scribner & Co.) Vol. 5, No. 5 (March 1873) pp. 579-589. This text should be used with caution; We have important notes on this text by Howard R. McManus.

(Selected text)

While Professor Morse was in Paris, in the spring of 1839, he formed an acquaintance with M. Daguerre, who, in connection with M. Niepce, had discovered the method of fixing the image of the camera obscura, which was then creating a great sensation among scientific men.

These gentlemen were then considering a proposition from the French government to make their discovery public, on condition of their receiving a suitable pension. Professor Morse was anxious to see the photographic results before leaving for home, and the American Consul (Robert Walsh) made arrangements for an interview between the two discoverers. The inventions of each were shown to the other; and Daguerre promised to send to Morse a copy of the descriptive publication which he intended to make so soon as the pension should be secured. Daguerre kept his promise, and Morse was probably the first recipient of the pamphlet in this country. From the drawings it contained he constructed the first daguerreotype apparatus made in the United states.
   From a back windows in the New York University Professor Morse obtained a good representation of the tower of the Church of the Messiah, on Broadway, and surrounding buildings, which possesses a historical interest as being the first photograph ever taken in America. It was on a plate the size of a playing card. He experimented with Professor J. W. Draper in a studio built upon the roof of the University, and succeeded in taking likenesses from the living human face. His subjects were compelled to sit fifteen minutes in the bright sunlight, with the eyes closed, of course. Professor Draper shortened the process and was the first to take portraits with the eyes open. Some of the original plates so photographed upon by Professor Morse were presented by him to Vassar College, of which he was a trustee. On the preceding page will be seen an engraving of part of one of these plates (which originally contained three figures),* in which the costumes almost mark the era of its production.

(The article later mentions, in discussing Morse's "Electro-Magnetic Recording Telegraph," the following refrain:)

"The infant of his conception, so ridiculed and distrusted, immediately gave signs of its divinity. The doubters were soon ready to bring garlanded bulls to sacrifice to it as a god; and a prophet wrote:

"What more, presumptuous mortals, will you dare?
   See Franklin seize the Clouds, their bolts to bury;
The Sun assigns his pencil to Daguerre,
   And Morse the lightening makes his secretary!"

(Remaining text not transcribed; contains no further daguerreian-related content of any consequence. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text.)

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