The Daguerreian Society

From "Godey's Lady's Book, and Ladies' American Magazine" (Vol XXVII, 
October 1843, pages 176-179):


   Paris was the Daguerreotype's birth-place.  Here its first 
experiments were made; and now that it is spread all over Europe and 
America, this wonderful invention is carried on with all its original 
vigour at Paris, and seems to feel a sort of citizenship there.
   It is not the Parisians alone who have their likenesses taken.  All 
strangers who visit Paris, hasten to do likewise, before leaving the 
city; some, because they think every thing is better done in Paris than 
anywhere else; others, because they like to be able to say afterwards, 
"I had my Daguerreotype taken in Paris."  There are many people who will 
take your portrait by this new process.  A card of some size, at a door, 
announces the Daguerreotypist, for this is the title they give to this 
new sort of painter.  The real painter is the light which strikes on 
your face.
   At the corner of the Boulevard Montmartre, and the Rue Richelieu, in 
the new house, on the Frascati ground, a card announces that there you 
may have a Daguerreotype portrait taken and tells you the prices 
   For ten francs you may have a portrait of yourself as large as a 
miniature, and done by the sun, even when there is none.  Ten francs! is 
it not worth while to have it.  The sun is not dear.  You go up stairs, 
you enter a room which looks like a shop without goods, but this is a 
shop where it is not necessary to tempt you by displaying the wares.  A 
little enclosed space near the window, into which the aspiring subject 
goes, is all that is necessary.
   This little enclosure is never vacant; sometimes there is a long 
string of people, each waiting till his turn comes.
   Meanwhile, you may walk about, sit down, or even talk with the 
Daguerreotype people, choose the sized plate you wish, learn what 
numerous preparations are necessary before the sun will paint you, and 
what very great care is requisite during the operation; for to omit the 
smallest particular would destroy the success of the whole thing.
   There are very queer people that come here sometimes.  There you may 
observe a country-man and his wife, they wish to have their portraits 
taken to send to an old relation and they are inquiring about the price.  
They are told that the cheapest is ten francs.
   The man, who might pass for a cattle dealer, looks at his wife, who 
shrugs her shoulders, saying,
   "Ten francs for each of us? it is more than we are worth.--Draw us 
both, and take something off.  Will you do us both for six francs?"
   The proprietor, in reply, tells them to look at a picture near them, 
and begins to talk to some one else.
   The countryman and his wife consult together.  "It is too dear," says 
the wife.--"ten francs--that will be twenty francs for us both,--there 
is no colour in them either,--all black,--I would rather have a 
   "But this is done all at once.  You cannot have colours, as in a 
   "But look, are our faces as black as that; when we look at ourselves 
in the glass, don't we see the colour of our hair, and our eyes, and our 
nose and our clothes?"
   "But a looking-glass is not a painting."
   "And these black things--bah! let us go home;--but what is this 
   The rustic couple move away.  A gentleman, dressed with some 
pretension, and wearing large hoop ear-rings, which in Paris announces a 
white-washer or a man with sore eyes, appears with two ladies, one of 
them ugly, and the other pretty. These ladies want Daguerreotype 
portraits of themselves, and the gentleman has been kind enough to 
escort them hither.
   "My picture has often been taken," says the ugly lady, "but none have 
been likenesses.  All the painters say my expression is dreadfully hard 
to catch; I am curious to see what this proceeding will make of me."
   "But there can be no doubt," says the other lady, "for it is an exact 
production of nature, isn't it, Mr. Mouille?"
   Mr. Mouille (the gentleman with the hoop earings) shakes his head 
   "Yes, it is the reproduction, that is to say--you understand--it is 
the reproduction."
   "It is a very extraordinary thing," replies the ugly lady; "it is 
very extraordinary that your portrait should take itself by the action 
of the light on a plate.  Is not it the effect of the light, Mr. 
   "Madame, it is the effect of daylight and optics, acted upon 
chemically, all combined together--it is a very fine thing"
   "Were you ever taken, Mr. Mouille?"
   "No, Madame, they are too black for my taste, as my complexion is 
very good.  I am afraid I should lose by it."
   "It is very slow," says the pretty lady to one of the proprietors, 
who is rubbing a plate.  "Monsieur, can't you take a portrait at once by 
   "You need only sit fifty seconds, madame, but some time must elapse 
afterwards, before we can give it to you; and sometimes we fail entirely 
the first time."
   "Why so, monsieur?"
   "Madame, there are fifty different causes why it might fail: if we 
use too much of one thing, or too little of another."
   "Oh, monsieur, I don't want to know all that; but when the operation 
fails, what do you do then?"
   "We begin again, madame,--we begin again, until the impression is 
perfect, we never leave it defective."
   A young man who has been waiting an hour for his turn to come, now 
gets up, saying,
   "If that is the case, and since there are fifty causes to make the 
operation fail, I have had enough.  I shall take my leave."
   "A true Parisian," says the proprietor; "when you don't play the 
quack with them, they have no confidence in you.  This young man will go 
somewhere else, where they will tell him the operation never fails, and 
will present him a defective and ill-defined portrait.  Your turn now, 
   The countryman and his wife, who have again appeared, address 
themselves to the proprietor, saying,
   "Sir, will you take us two for eight francs?"
   "There is no bargaining here," is the reply.
   The young lady enteres the little enclosure.  She is made to sit 
down, and lean her head against a place behind her, and fix her eyes on 
a point in front of her.
   "We are going to begin now; you will not move."
   "No, monsieur."
   "Very well, we will begin."
   The pretty lady does not move or stir, she is so extremely anxious to 
have a good portrait; nevertheless, a minute seems very long, and her 
eyes are very tired of staring at the point indicated to her.  At last 
the operator closes the camera.
   "It is finished, madame."
   "Oh let me see it."
   "Not yet, madame; if you will rejoin your companions, I will let you 
know directly how it has succeeded."
   The young lady returns to her companions.
   "Well," says Mr. Mouille, "how did you like it: did it hurt you?"
   "How could it hurt me?"
   "Does it cause any emotion?"
   "A very great emotion of fatigue.  Oh, how I should like to see it."
   A few minutes afterward, the operator approches.
   "We have succeeded admirable, madame, your portrait is very 
   "Oh, how glad I am" where is it, monsieur?"
   "A few minutes more, madame; have patience."
   After waiting a quarter of an hour, the portrait is at last to be 
had; it is very like; but the lady sighs as she looks at it.
   "How mournful it is.  There is something in these portraits, which 
betrays that it is no mortal hand which has executed them; one would 
think that nature, to punish us for prying into her secrets, would 
injure us in revealing them."
   "It is my turn now," says the ugly lady, "let us see if nature will 
do any better for me."
   At the moment when this lady enters the enclosure, the country couple 
appear again.
   "Sir, we will put twent-four sous more; will that do?"
   The operator gives them no answer, but goes into the enclosure.
   "The ugly lady tries a number of positions; she cannot decide upon 
   "Are you ready, madame?"
   "Oh, monsieur, wait a moment.  Am I right, so?"
   "You will be right, if you will keep still."
   "Let me assume a more graceful attitude.  Will this do?--no--I like 
this better.  No, I was better before, where shall I look, sir?"
   "A this little point, madame; but then you will be obliged to 
maintain the same smile for fifty seconds."
   "Oh, monsieur, I have preserved a smile for a whole evening, often 
and often.  I smile so easily.  At the theatre, I never do any thing 
   "Are you ready now, madame."
   "I am ready, begin!"
   The operation is concluded, the operator, who is looking at his 
watch, does not observe that the sitter has constantly changed the 
expression of her face.
   It is over, and the lady goes back again, and says to Mr. Mouille:
   "I have an idea that it has succeeded admirably."
   After awhile, the operator announces that it has failed completely.
   "We will begin again, madame."
   "It is very astonshing--the light is very capricious."
   She again places herselfin the little tent, where she has the same 
indecision as to smiles and attitudes, sometimes she will take a 
rebellious air; then a tender one; then a melancholy, and, when at last 
one is fixed upon, the operator, upon raising his eyes, after a few 
seconds, discovers that she has changed the expression of her face, he 
calls out:
   "You move madame,--you change your expression,--it will be a failure 
   "You think so; I hardly moved at all.  Merely a graceful motion of 
the head--a very slight one."
   "It will not do to add any thing, madame; I am very much afraid you 
have injured you picture."
   The lady returns to her companion; the issue is impatiently awaited.  
The operator, when he appears, says,
   "A failure again, madame.  I was sure it would be so; you persist in 
moving; you shut your mouth and open it again, and show your teeth; it 
is impossible to obtain a representation in this manner; a fixed 
immovability is absolutely necessary.  Look
at it!"
   The lady looks at a plate, where several figures interfere with each 
other, and no one is distinguishable.
   "But there is a little of my smile, a little of my chin, and a little 
of my nose."
   "But is is all double.  I have seen people with double chin, and even 
with three; but I never say any one with three noses!" adds Mr. Mouille.
   "Well, monsieur, if you think it is my fault, let us try again; I 
will be as still as a statue."
   So she takes her seat again, as as she is really very anxious to have 
the picture, she is prevailed upon to kepp perfectly still.
   When the sitting is over, they burn with impatience to know the 
result.  The proprietor comes back with a satisfied air.
   "We have succeeded perfectly, madame; you sat so still this time that 
the picture will be very distinct."
   "Oh!  I am delighted; do let me see it."
   "In a few minutes, madame; wait a little."
   The time seems very long to the lady herself, especially as she is 
assured it is a good likeness.
   At last the long wished for plate is brought;--they all rush to look 
at it.  Mr. Mouille, who looks at it first, exclaims,
   "Oh, it is exactly like!"
   The pretty lady agrees with him; the original is very anxious to see 
it herself.
   As soon as she casts her eyes upon it, she exclaims with a voice of 
   "Monsiuer, what are you giving me.  It is a failure again--a total 
failure this time!"
   "I assure you, madame, it is excellent."
   "I don't know whether it has succeeded or not, but I know you are 
showing me a fright; you will never make me believe that that things is 
my likeness.  You must try it again."
   "It is of no use to attempt it again, madame; you can never have a 
better one."
   "You are very rude, sir.  I will not take that thing."
   And this lady, who is naturally ugly, finding herself made still 
uglier by the mournful expression of the Daguerreotype, insists that it 
is a failure, and goes away without taking it.
   After her, comes a gentleman, who has the tic douloureux, and twists 
one corner of his mouth, and who, nevertheless, is very anxious for a 
Daguerreotype.  Another, who winks his eyes,--an old lady who shakes her 
head continually.  And these people cannot understand that a good 
representation of their moving features is impossible.
   In point of fact, the greater proportion of those who go away with 
pictures, are not satisfied; and why not?  It is because the 
Daguerreotype does does not flatter, and it is very hard to satisfy 
people with the plain truth.

(End of text.)
Posted for your enjoyment.      Gary W. Ewer       

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