The Daguerreian Society

From, Oliver Optic [pseud. William Taylor Adams], Indoors and Out: or, Views from the Chimney Corner (Boston: Brown, Bazin & Co. 1854) pp. 31-39.

We also have introductory comments on this text from John Wood. This text is also available as a PDF file.

The Two Daguerreotypes.



   JIM SCROGGINS, though in the main an honest, peaceable, quiet, harmless fellow, had a beastly habit of getting drunk whenever a fit opportunity presented itself; and, unfortunately, because “where there’s a will there’s a way,” the opportunities were both fit and frequent.
   Jim owned a little farm in country, which, by his own industry and economy, he had almost paid for. Mrs. Scroggins was a “real worker,’ and, no doubt did her full part in buying the homestead. She was endowed with a great deal of energy, good judgment, and people were so malicious as to say she was smartest man of the twain. Be this as it may, Mrs. Scroggins was an industrious woman, and took a good deal of pride in the little place, which had been bought by their mutual industry and economy, and the thought of having it wrested from them by a cold-hearted creditor was in the highest degree disagreeable; but to such a calamity her husband’s infirmity, as the good minister of the village called it, seemed to point.
   The habit grew upon him, as it almost always does upon those who are in the habit of imbibing too freely. The miseries of the drunkard’s wife had been too often presented to the good woman’s understanding, to be regarded as simply creations of imagination, and she looked forward with alarm to the prospect of enduring them and losing the little place.
   But what could be done? She had exhausted her eloquence upon the infatuated man, without producing anything but a temporary effect. She pointed out to him, kindly, the inevitable consequences of his indulgence, and Jim promised to amend; but—alas, for the vanity of human expectations! — he got tipsy the very next day.
   Then she appealed to his love of money—to his sense of satisfaction in being the owner of a cottage and ten acres of land. She assured him that he would certainly lose it all, and warming up with the importance of the subject, declared that she would not enslave herself any longer to pay for the place, and then have it taken from them to pay a rum bill.
   Jim listened patiently and without speaking a word to the indignant dame’s eloquence, and, as usual, promised to do better; but, also, as usual, he came into the house the very next day tight as a fiddlestring.
   Mrs. Scroggins was in despair; “what to do she didn’t know,” as she expressed it to Parson Allwise, who was a sincere sympathizer with her in distress. She had entreated, she had scolded, she had threatened, and all to no purpose. “What could a body do?”
   Parson Allwise himself, though he made it a point never to interfere in the domestic affairs of his parishioners, was at last moved to try his powers of persuasion on the poor fellow. But Jim, unfortunately for the success of the appeal, had but a poor opinion of ministers in general, and of Parson Allwise in particular, and as good as told the worthy pastor that he had better mind his own business.
   Mrs. Scroggins was shocked at the boldness of her spouse in answering a minister of the gospel in such a pointed manner, and was led to believe that the case was now hopeless, indeed.
   But women’s wits are equal to almost any emergency; and though she had professedly given Jim over to the tender mercies of the devil, she could not help thinking it would be a good thing if he could only be saved from himself.
   One day circumstances seemed to conspire in favor of an experiment, which had suggested itself to her fertile brain, and she immediately carried it into effect with the most happy success, as the sequel will show.


   JIM had been cleaning out the pig pen, and as the operation was rather a disagreeable one, he had fortified his olfactories by drinking an inordinate quantity of vile New England rum.
   The filthy stuff happily did not take effect on his brain till the job was done. The pig pen was cleaned out, but Jim was in a condition which better fitted him to occupy it, than the neat, white-floored kitchen of his cottage. But Jim did not realize this unpleasant truth, and leaving his shovel and hoe in the sty, staggered to the house.
   “He was a sight to behold,” as Mrs. Scroggins told the minister. The job he had just performed was eminently a nasty one, and Jim, as we have just remarked, being a prudent, had prepared himself to perform it, without any detriment to the neat garments he ordinarily wore.
   He was dressed in a suit of ragged clothes, and on his head rested a “shocking bad hat,” with the crown stove in and the brim half torn off. As the liquor began to fuddle him, he had moved it over from its perpendicular position, so that it rested quite jantily on one side of his head.
   Jim settled himself heavily in a chair by the cooking stove, looked silly, and seemed disposed to address himself to slumber, his usual resort when inebriated.
   Mrs. Scroggins was mad at first; for it was only the day before that Jim, for the hundred and first time, had promised never to drink another drop, not even in case of sickness.
   But what was the use of being mad at such a poor, silly, imbecile being as he was at that moment? He was not in a condition to appreciate a regular matrimonial “blow up,” and she wisely resolved to reserve the vials of her wrath to be poured out at a more convenient season.
   She looked at him, and thought of losing the little place, of penury, degradation, misery, and the poorhouse. A lucky thought arose, like the phoenix from the flames, out of the contemplation of the dark picture; and after a few minutes deliberation, she put on her bonnet and cloak, and hurried over to the village, not half a mile distant.
   During the previous week, a young daguerreotypist, with a portable saloon—a kind of overgrown omnibus—had been delighting the villagers by giving them the semblance of their faces at prices varying from nine shillings to three dollars a head, depending on the value of the case.
   All the people in the town had been daguerreotyped, and the omnibus man was the most popular person in the village. All the dames and maidens had been taken, and every Jonathan and Jehial who could boast of a Susan, a Ruth, or a Sally, was taken, with her by his side in the picture, his arm lovingly thrown around her neck, and looking unutterably affectionate.
   But Mrs. Scroggins was not sentimental; she had gotten over all that long before Jim took to drinking. She proposed to put the skill of the daguerreotypist to a more practical use than that of propitiating a lover.
   She entered the saloon, and though her heart did beat a little at the degradation of exposing her domestic matters to an entire stranger, she demeaned herself with all the firmness necessary for the trying occasion.
   Fortunately for her, all the people in town “had been taken,” and it was a dry time with the artist. In as few words as possible, she stated the case to him, and the young gentleman readily promised coöperation.
   Taking his apparatus under his arm, he accompanied Mrs. Scroggins to the cottage, where Jim was sleeping off the effects of the villainous “New England.”
   The inebriate sat in precisely the same position in which his wife had left him. He was asleep in a high-backed chair, which kept his head up so that everything was favorable to the sitting.
   In a trice Jim Scroggins, old hat, ragged clothes, long beard, dozy, drunken expression and all, were transferred to the plate.
   But the picture did not suit the artist; he thought one taken when the sitter was awake would be a more correct representation. Mrs. Scroggins thought so too, and after the daguerreotypist had put in a new plate, she waked him up.
   “What d’ye want?” growled Jim.
   “Wake up!” and the lady gave him a smart pinch, which opened his eyes, thus completing the expression of the drunkard.
   The artist was prompt, and in an instant the second edition of Jim Scroggins was on the plate.
   The original, not being required for further use, was suffered to sink away and complete his nap.
   The pictures were put into a frame, and Mrs. Scroggins produced her money.
   “Nothing, ma’am, I shall not charge you any thing.”
   “But, sir, I am able to pay.”
   The artist shook his head, and resolutely refused to touch her money.
   Of course Mrs. Scroggins was grateful, and gave the artist an invitation to take tea with her, which he accepted. In the course of the meal—the table being laid in the little front room—the daguerreotypist told the story of his own life; how he had been brought up in the midst of intemperance, and knew all about it. His father had died a drunkard, leaving his mother penniless, he had supported her from the profits of his portable saloon. Mrs. Scroggins, of course, sympathized with the young man, and readily understood why he would not take pay for the pictures.
   But what was better than all, the young artist took quite a fancy to Jim’s only daughter, a pretty girl of eighteen, and after tea insisted upon taking her daguerreotype. And the sly rogue pretended that the first was not a good one, and took another, which he took away with him, professedly for a show specimen, though, to my certain knowledge, he never exhibited it.
   The tea things were cleared away, and still the young gentleman lingered, and talked a great deal with the pretty little Susan. But when he did go, the poor girl’s heart followed him, and half the night she lay awake to think of him.


   JIM SCROGGINS recovered from his debauch; but the first thing he saw when he came into the kitchen, in the morning, was the case containing the two daguerreotypes, which lay open on the table.
   He picked it up, and started back in confusion, when he recognized his own distorted features in one of the pictures.
   He examined the other. It was the countenance of the first, with the eyes open, looking ten times more hideous than the sleeping picture.
   “Good gracious!” exclaimed he; “did I ever look so infarnal homely as that?” and he proceeded to scrutinize the pictures a second time.
   “Hang me! if I thought I ever looked so cussed mean as that, I’d go down and jump into the river.”
   “I have seen men though, that looked just like that ‘ere,” continued he; “but them was drunkards. Now I an’t a drunkard, though I sometimes git a little sizzled. I never lit my pipe at the pump, though. Howsomever, them was taken for me, though when or where I’ve no kind o’ notion. There’s the old hat, and that’s the old coat—no mistake.”
   The footsteps of his wife caused him to drop the pictures, and he hastened out of the house to avoid the tempest which he thought his wickedness would call down upon his head.
   It is a notable fact that he omitted his morning dram on this occasion, and his wife took courage. Like a prudent woman, as she was, she did not say a word about the occurrences of yesterday, and permitted him to eat his breakfast in peace.
   He got through the day without drinking a drop, but on the following day the old appetite clamored for the usual dram, and in the afternoon, while his wife was in the sitting room, he went to the closet where he kept the bottle.
   But the first thing that met his gaze was the two daguerreotypes resting against the black bottle. There was Jim Scroggins drunk asleep, and Jim Scroggins drunk awake.
   Jim stopped to think. He fully resolved never again to be the loathesome being they represented him to be. Taking the black bottle, he went to the door with it, and with right good will hurled it on the door stone, where it was smashed into a thousand fragments, and the delectable stuff irretrievably lost.
   “Halloo! what are you about?” said a young man, entering the yard.
   “Smashing my rum bottle,” said Jim with admirable coolness.
   “You are the dogerytype man, an’t you?” said Jim.
   “I am.”
   “Walk in, if you please;” and Jim ushered Mr. Shadow into the sitting-room, where his wife and daughter were.
   “Wife,” said he, “you had them picters taken?”
   “I did, James.”
   “I’ve broke the bottle; and as to looking like them cretures, I never will again.”
   “Thank God! James; I hope you never will.”
   “Here is the pledge,” said Mr. Shadow, who was a temperance man in theory as well as practice.
   “I’ll sign it, by mighty!” and Jim did sign it.
   “Now, wife, will you rub them things out?”
   “Certainly, James;” and Mrs. Scroggins went for the pictures.
   “And now, Mr. Scroggins, if you will walk over to my saloon, I shall be happy to take the real man as God made him.”
   “I’ll do it; and Betsey, you shall come, too; and Susey.”
   Susey went with her father and mother, though her picture had been taken. On the way Mr. Shadow walked by her side, and said a great many silly things, with which I will not trouble the reader.
   The daguerreotypes were taken, and Jim was surprised to see the difference between the picture of a drunken man and that of a sober man.
   He drank no more liquor; and though this incident happened three years ago, he is still a sober and reputable man in the village. The little place is all paid for, and Mrs. Scroggins is superlatively happy.
   Susan, in less than a year, became the wife of Mr. Shadow, who, notwithstanding his name, is a man of substance, and loves his wife all the more because he was instrumental in saving her from the degradation of being a drunkard’s daughter.

(End of text. Please refer to our textnote regarding this text.)

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