Daguerreian Society

The following text is excerpted from "The United States Magazine and Democratic 
Review" (New York) Vol. 5, No. 17, (May 1839) pp. 517-518.
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                     NOTES OF THE MONTH.

                     PHOTOGENIC DRAWING.

   The most surprising invention of science since the time of Sir Humphrey Davy, 
is that of Photogenic, or, as we prefer calling it, Lucigraphic, Drawing, by 
means of the sun's rays, which his sagacious mind thought possible, but which he 
failed to perfect.  His experiments, nevertheless, became the seed of new 
attempts, which resulted, by a wonderful coincidence, in a simultaneous 
announcement of the new art in Paris and London.  The following particulars from 
the French and English papers will give some idea of this new discovery in the 
fine arts.

              [From a French Journal of February.]

    MR. DAGUERRE AND HIS NEW INVENTION.--For some time past, Mr. Daguerre's 
discovery has been the theme of much marvellous and contradictory report.  We 
are happy to be able to state some facts relative to this really wonderful 
discovery.  This artist, to whom the public is indebted for the splendid 
subjects of the Diorama, has for several years, been engaged in making 
investigations into the properties of light, which he has pursued with all that 
ardour and patient perseverance which are the true characteristics of genius.  
After a series of observations made during nearly fifteen years, he succeeded in 
collecting and retaining upon a solid surface the natural light, and to embody 
the fugitive and impalpable, reflected on the retina of the eye, in a mirror, or 
in the apparatus of the camera obscura.  Figure to yourself a glass, which, 
after having received your image, renders the portrait ineffaceable as a 
painting, with a resemblance, the most faithful to nature possible: such is the 
wonderful discovery of Mr. Daguerre.
   But what, it may eagerly be inquired, is the inventors secret? what is the 
substance possessed of such astonishing susceptibility, as not only to become 
penetrated by the luminous ray, but also to retain its impression, operating at 
once like the eye and the optic nerve, as the material instrument of sensation 
and the sensation itself?  With this we are unacquainted.  Messrs. Arago and 
Biot have made a report to the Academie des Sciences of the effects of Mr. D's 
discovery, but they have not defined the causes of the same; they have merely 
given descriptions.  We are indebted to the kindness of the inventor for a sight 
of a collection of master-pieces, designed by Nature herself; all we can do is 
to state our impressions.  As each successive picture met our view, it was a 
fresh burst of admiration.  What delicacy in the half-tints, what depth in the 
tone of the shadows! how rich and velvety the effect of the parts in high 
relief; how salient the alto-relievo!  One of the figures was a crouching Venus, 
seen under various points of view, each of which was a multiplied statue.-- 
Nothing could be more magical.  But, it may be asked--How do you know that this 
was not the work of some able artist?  The question is readily answered.  Mr. D. 
placed in our hands a magnifying glass of considerable power, and then could we 
perceive, as in the inimitable works of nature herself; all the finely blending 
lines, invisible to the naked eye.  There was a view of Paris, taken from the 
Pont des Arts; the minutest details, the interstices of pavements and brick 
work, the effects of humidity from falling rain--all were reproduced as in 
nature.  On viewing the same scene through an eye-glass, the inscription over a 
distant shop, altogether invisible on the model, was brought forward in its 
proper degree of perfection.  In the same manner, by the aid of solar 
microscope, the most minute objects were magnified several thousand fold; even 
gossamers floating in the air were rendered visible; and nebulae rendered with 
marvellous exactitude.  From what we have here stated, some idea may be formed 
of the immense importance of this discovery to the student of natural history.
   Professor Morse, of New York, well known to the scientific world as the 
inventor of the Elective Telegraph, having been in Paris when Daguerre's 
invention was announced, had en opportunity of examining his specimens of this 
new invention.  The following extract of a letter from Mr. Morse to one of the 
New York papers, gives some interesting particulars of the effects produced.
   "They are produced on a metallic surface, the principal pieces about seven 
inches by five, 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 rend with the naked eye.  By the assistance of a powerful lens, 
which magnified fifty times, applied to the delineation, every letter was 
clearly and distinctly legible, and so also were the minutest breaks and lines 
in the walls of the buildings and the pavements of the streets.  The effect of 
the lens upon the picture was in a great degree like that of the telescope in 
   "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 were 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 this solar microscope to the size of 
the palm of this hand, having been impressed on the plate, and examined through 
a lens, was farther 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 depth 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 more 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."
   Mr. Fox Talbot, an English gentleman, perfectly unconscious of Mr. Daguerre's 
operations, made the same discovery, and, after some years experiments, had 
succeeded in bringing it to even greater perfection than the other--when the 
announcement in Paris of the French invention astonished Europe. It was 
accompanied by the expression of Mr. Daguerre's determination to keep his 
process a secret until he should receive a national compensation.  Mr. Talbot 
immediately communicated to the Royal Society the results to which he had 
arrived, with a copious description of the experiments by which he had produced 
. . .[Remaining eleven paragraphs not transcribed]

Posted for your enjoyment.     Gary W. Ewer     

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