Daguerreian Society

On this day (May 12) in the year 1845, James Russell Lowell wrote to his 
sister-in-law Louis [White Howe] about daguerreotypes of Maria (his 
wife) and himself:
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"The latest intelligence of any interest which I have to convey is that 
Maria and I have been sitting to the Sun for our portraits. It was not, 
however, at the request of that distinguished and useful luminary, but 
at that of a son of the Mr. Pennock with whom (you will recollect) we 
stayed a short time in the country. . . It is generally thought that Mr. 
Phoebus has made a decided hit; not that we either of us have received a 
stroke of the Sun, but the likenesses are excellent.  Portraits of this 
kind are generally satires upon their originals, and this (though the 
fact is not commonly known) is the origin of their name--a satire being 
usually, and in its primitive signification always, a dagger o' type 
with which a gentleman stabs at the reputation of another.  Maria's is 
so beautiful that I am very positive that your mother, in direct 
contravention of one of the Commandments. . . will covet it.  There were 
several taken before I was satisfied, and Mr. Langenheim (who holds the 
responsible office of assistant and brushcleaner to the erratic artist 
who took the likenesses--I have taken them since myself) requested 
permission to keep one of the rejected ones, which he will ornament with 
a background of clouds and place in his gallery.  The beauty of the 
sitter was assigned as the reason for this request.  He desired me also 
to sit for an additional portrait to be used for the same purpose.  You 
can draw your own inference from this last fact."

(When this was written, J.R. Lowell was rising in his prominence as a 
writer and poet. He figuratively describes the sun (Phoebus) as the 
artist, with Langenheim as the "assistant." This passage also 
illustrates the common effort of the gallery operator to add "notables" 
to the gallery collection.   --G. E.)

Cited from: Vernon, Hope Jillson, "The Poems of Maria Lowell" 
(Providence: Brown University, 1936, page 27)
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

Return to: DagNews 1997

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