The Daguerreian Society


In December of 1839, the following article appeared in "The 
Knickerbocker," (New York, Vol. XIV No. 6)
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  The 'Daguerreotype'--We have seen the views taken in Paris by the 
'Daguerreotype,' and have no hesitation in avowing, that they are the 
most remarkable objects of curiosity and admiration, in the arts, that 
we ever beheld. Their exquisite perfection almost transcends the bounds 
of sober belief. Let us endeavor to convey to the reader an impression 
of their character. Let him suppose himself standing in the middle of 
Broadway, with a looking-glass held perpendicularly in his hand, in 
which is reflected the street, with all that therein is, for two or 
three miles, taking in the haziest distance. Then let him take the glass 
into the house, and find the impression of the entire view, in the 
softest light and shade, vividly retained upon its surface. This is the 
Daguerreotype! The views themselves are from the most interesting points 
of the French metropolis. We shall speak of several of them at random, 
as the impression of each arises in the mind, and not in the order in 
which they stand in the exhibition. Take, first, the Vue du Pont Notre 
Dame, and Palais du Justice. Mark the minute light and shade; the 
perfect clearness of every object; the extreme softness of the distance. 
Observe the dim, hazy aspect of the picture representing the towers of 
Notre Dame, with Saint Jacques la Boucherie in the distance. It was 
taken in a violent storm of rain; and how admirably is even that feature 
of the view preserved in the tout ensemble! Look, again, at the view of 
the Statue of Henry the Fourth and the Tuilleries, the Point des Arts, 
Pont du Carousel, Pont Royal, and the Heights of Challot in the 
distance. There is not a shadow in the whole, that is not nature itself; 
there is not an object, even the most minute, embraced in that wide 
scope, which was not in the original; and it is impossible that one 
should have been omitted. Think of that! So, too, of the Tuilleries, the 
Champs Elyses, The Quay de la Morgue--in short, of all and every view in 
the whole superb collection. The shade of a shadow is frequently 
reflected in the river, and the very trees are taken with the shimmer 
created by the breeze, imaged in the water! Look where you will, Paris 
itself is before you. Here, by the silent statue of the great Henry, how 
often has Despair come at midnight, to plunge into eternity! By the Quay 
de la Morgue, remark the array of washing-boats, and the 'Ladies of the 
Suds' hanging out their clothes, which almost wave in the breeze. It was 
but a little below this point, that our entertaining 'American in 
Paris,' doubtful of the purity of the Seine water, bought a filter of 
charcoal, 'to intercept the petticoats, and other such articles,' as he 
might previously have swallowed. There is a view, now, which Mr. Irving 
has helped to render famous. It was across that very Pont Neuf, if we 
have not forgotten the story, one awful night in the tempestuous times 
of the French revolution, when the lightening gleamed, and loud claps of 
thunder rattled through the lofty, narrow streets, that Gottfried 
Wolfgang supported his headless bride. It needs no Victor Hugo, to tell 
us that this is the time-honored Notre Dame de Paris. Take the view into 
the strongest sunlight, by the window, and survey with a glass its 
minutest beauties. There is not a stone traced there, that has not its 
archetype in the edifice. Those square towers, those Gothic arches and 
buttresses; the rich tracery, and that enterprising tourists looking 
down upon Paris--there they were, and here they are! Look sharp, and far 
within, you may see the very bells. What an association! What tales have 
the bells of Notre Dame told to Paris and the Parisians, since Pope 
Alexander laid her corner stone! One cannot but feel, while gazing at 
this scene, as did an eloquent American on first encountering similar 
associations: 'Something strong and stately, like the slow and majestic 
march of a might whirlwind, sweeps around those eternal towers: the 
mighty processions of kings, consuls, emperors, and empires, and 
generations, have passed over that sublime theatre.' How those bells 
pealed, when Napoleon's sounding bulletins came in from Italy and 
Germany, from Egypt and Russia! How, more recently, they clamored at 
midnight, when the tocsin of revolt streamed upon the hoary towers, and 
the tri-color floated triumphant from their summits! But leaving the 
times that were, let us come down to the days that are. Near where you 
see that hopeful member of the sans culottides tribe musing on the 
bridge, is the spot where the renowned Mrs. Ramsbottom saw, for the 
first time, the 'statute of Henry Carter,' (Henri Quatre,) and marvelled 
'whether he could be any relation to the Carters of Portsmouth.' The 
very affiches then 'black-guarded against the walls' are still here. 
Close at hand, too, in another frame, are the 'Tooleries' and 'Penny 
Royal,' which so greatly delighted the old lady and her daughter 
Lavinia.
  We have little room to speak of the 'interior' views. We can only say, 
in passing, that they are perfect. Busts, statues, curtains, pictures, 
are copied to the very life; and portraits are included, without the 
possibility of an incorrect likeness. Indeed, the Daguerreotype will 
never do for portrait painting. Its pictures are quite too natural, to 
please any other than very beautiful sitters. It has not the slightest 
knack at 'fancy-work.' Matthews used to sing, in his 'Trip to Paris:'

     'Mrs. Grill is very ill!
         Nothing can improve her,
      Until she sees the 'Tooleries,'
         And waddles through the Louvre,

  This was truthful satire, in the great mime's day; but illness, with 
sea-voyage cures, must decline now; for who would throw up their 
business and their dinners, on a voyage to see Paris or London, when one 
can sit in an apartment in New-York, and look at the streets, the 
architectural wonders, and the busy life of each crowded metropolis? We 
recognized, without doubt, many Frenchmen of whom we had before heard. 
We distinctly saw, we are confident, in the door of a restaurant, in a 
white apron, with sleeves rolled up, the identical cook who brought our 
esteemed correspondent, Sanderson, the tough 'bifstek de mouton,' which 
the latter offered him five francs to eat, but which the functionary, 
after turning the matter over in his mind, reluctantly declined, on the 
ground that 'he had an aged mother, and another relation, dependent upon 
his exertions!'. . . M. Gouraud, the accomplished and gentlemanly 
proprietor of the 'Daguerreotype' and the only legitimate specimens of 
the art in this country, favored us with an examination of one or two 
views, which were accidentally injured in the process of being taken. 
But although imperfect, they were still wonderful in the general effect. 
The 'darkness visible,' the floods of light, the immensity of the space, 
and the far perspective, in their dim, obscure state, all reminded us of 
the English Martin. But our article is already too much extended; and we 
close by saying to all our metropolitan readers, 'Go and see the views 
taken by the Daguerreotype; and when M. Gouraud commences his lectures 
upon the art, fail not to hear him!

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Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       
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12-16-96


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