Daguerreian Society

On this day (April 20) in the year 1839, the following account appeared as 
front-page news article in the New-York Observer, Vol. 17, No. 16 (20 April 
1839) This text, one of the most notable in the annals of photographic 
history, was widely reprinted and cited.
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                 THE DAGUERROTIPE.

   The following is an extract from a private letter of Professor S. F. B. Morse 
to the editor of the Observer, dated, Paris, March 9th.
   "You have perhaps heard of the Daguerrotipe, so called from the discoverer, 
M. Daguerre. It is one of the most beautiful discoveries of the age. I don't 
know if you recollect some experiments of mine in New Haven, many years ago, 
when I had my painting room next to Prof. Silliman's, experiments to ascertain 
if it were possible to fix the image of the Camera Obscura I was able to produce 
different degrees of shade on paper, dipped into a solution of nitrate of 
silver, by means of different degrees of light; but finding that light produced 
dark, and dark light, I presumed the production of a true image to be 
impracticable, and gave up the attempt. M. Daguerre has realized in the most 
exquisite manner this idea.
   "A few days ago I addressed a note to Mr. D. requesting, as a stranger, the 
favor to see his results, and inviting him in turn to see my Telegraph. I was 
politely invited to see them under these circumstances, for he had determined 
not to show them again, until the Chambers had passed definitely on a 
proposition for the Government to purchase the secret of the discovery, and make 
it public The day before yesterday, the 7th, I called on M. Daguerre, at his 
rooms in the Diorama, to see these admirable results.
   "They are produced on a metallic surface, the principal pieces about 7 inches by 
5, and they resemble aquatint engravings, for they are in simple chiaro oscuro, 
and not in colors. But the exquisite minuteness of the delineation cannot be 
conceived. No painting or engraving ever approached it. For example: In a view 
up the street, a distant sign would be perceived, and the eye could just discern 
that there were lines of letters upon it, but so minute as not to be read with 
the naked eye. By the assistance of a powerful lens, which magnified 50 times, 
applied to the delineation, every letter was clearly and distinctly legible, and 
also were the minutest breaks and lines in the walls of the buildings, and the 
pavements of the street. The effect of the lens upon the picture was in a great 
degree like that of the telescope in nature.
   "Objects moving are not impressed. The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a 
moving throng of pedestrians and carriages, was perfectly solitary, except an 
individual who was having his boots brushed. His feet were compelled, of course, 
to be stationary for some time, one being on the box of the boot-black, and the 
other on the ground. Consequently, his boots and legs are well defined, but he 
is without body or head because these were in motion.
   "The impressions of interior views are Rembrandt perfected. One of Mr. D.'s 
plates is an impression of a spider. The spider was not bigger than the head of 
a large pin, but the image, magnified by the solar microscope to the size of the 
palm of the hand, having been impressed on the plate, and examined through a 
lens, was further magnified, and showed a minuteness of organization hitherto 
not seen to exist. You perceive how this discovery is, therefore, about to open 
a new field of research in the depths of microscopic nature. We are soon to see 
if the minute has discoverable limits. The naturalist is to have a new kingdom 
to explore, as much beyond the microscope as the microscope is beyond the naked 
   "But I am near the end of my paper, and I have unhappily to give a melancholy 
close to my account of this ingenious discovery. M. Daguerre appointed yesterday 
at noon to see my telegraph. He came, and passed move than an hour with me, 
expressing himself highly gratified at its operation. But while he was thus 
employed, the great building of the Diorama, with his own house, all his 
beautiful works, his valuable notes and papers, the labor of years of 
experiment, were, unknown to him, at that moment becoming the prey of the 
flames. His secret indeed is still safe with him, but the steps of his progress 
in the discovery, and his valuable researches in science are lost to the 
scientific world. I learn that his Diorama was insured, but to what extent I 
know not. I am sure all friends of science and improvement will unite in 
expressing the deepest sympathy in M. Daguerre's loss, and the sincere hope that 
such a liberal sum will be awarded him by his Government, as shall enable him in 
some degree at least, to recover from his loss."
   In the same vessel which brought the above letter, the writer himself 
arrived. From him we have received some additional information respecting this 
very interesting discovery, which we cannot at present communicate. We have only 
room to say, that we are even more impressed with the value of the invention as 
a means of procuring, without labor or expense, perfect and satisfactory 
panoramas of all the most interesting places and scenery on the globe, and, if 
we apprehend its power correctly, perfect representations of the human 
countenance, than with its power to reveal the secrets of "microscopic nature." 
With what delight will the eye dwell on the panoramas of Jerusalem, Thebes, 
Constantinople, Rome, and other cities of the old world, delineated with the 
unerring fidelity of the Daguerrotipe? With what interest shall we visit the 
gallery of portraits of distinguished men of all countries, drawn, not with 
man's feeble, false, and flattering pencil, but with the power and truth of 
light from heaven! It may not be long before we shall witness in this city the 
exhibition of such panoramas and such portraits.

(With thanks to Nicholas M. and Marilyn A. Graver for providing a photocopy from
their original.)
Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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