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Document number: 03971
Date: 15 Nov 1839
Recipient: HERSCHEL John Frederick William
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: Royal Society, London
Collection number: HS 17:298
Last updated: 2nd May 2015

Lacock Abbey, Chippenham
Novr 15. 1839

Dear Sir

In a letter received from M. Biot today<1> he sends you a message, which I will transcribe.

Veuillez exprimer à Sir J. Herschel mes remerciemens pour une lettre qu’il m’a écrite et dans laquelle il avait inclus quelques épreuves de ses expériences photogéniques – Cette lettre en contenait une de Lady Herschel à ma femme et le tout fut remis ici en notre absence, de sorte que nous ne l’avons trouvé qu’à notre retour. Nous sommes allés aussitot à la demeure des personnes qui avaient bien voulez nous apporter ce bon souvenir et qui étaient des amis de Sir John ainsi que de Lady Herschel; mais par malheur elles avaient quitté Paris, pour retourner en Angleterre. De sorte que nous n’avons pas pu leur exprimer l’empressement que nous aurions voulu leur temoigner. Veuillez bien donner ces explications à Sir John, quand vous aurez l’occasion de le voir, car je l’aime et je l’estime trop pour qu’il puisse douter du plaisir que j’aurais eu ainsi que ma femme à nous mettre en relation avec ses amis. <2>

I have continued at intervals my photographic experiments. I took advantage of the bright full moon in September to try the effect of the lunar rays upon my paper, <3> and I obtained a distinct impression in 10 minutes, by help of a condensing lens, altho’ the rays passed through 2 plates of glass besides the lens itself. The same paper is sensitive to lamplight. I think this paper, or some modification of it, will prove very useful for the Camera Obscura. I have made some pretty good camera pictures lately, which make good transfers & therefore a great number of Copies may be obtained of each. Considering the feebleness of the sunshine in November I think I may fairly reckon upon a decuple effect in June. The French government have sent a person lately from Brest to the Coast of Africa well supplied with Daguerotype, to bring home views of the African scenery. This will be very interesting to behold! Have you made any pictures by Daguerre’s method? I have not yet done so, but have procured his apparatus complete <4> from Paris. Mr Lubbock has been very successful in his attempts. <5>

One specimen of the art which I purchased from Mr Cooper of the Polytechnic Institution <6> presents two circumstances of which I should be glad to know the explanation.

(1) The outlines are in the opinion of everybody, sharper than in nature, in the case of buildings seen projected against the sky.

(2) There is an appearance of irradiation, or a luminous edge, as if the moon were behind the buildings. I would also observe that the relative illumination of the objects differs from nature, object really twice as luminous, appearing four times so. The sky, which is always the most luminous part of my photographic pictures on paper, is not so in the Daguerotype. It is much less luminous than the image of a sheet of white paper stuck against a wall; altho’ the brightness of the latter is the mere reflected brightness of the sky.

Some time ago, in September, I found out a way of fixing a picture on silver plate, which gives normal lights, i.e. lights for lights & shades for shades. I think it is very pretty, & is different in effect than Daguerre’s. The image of a piece of lace done so, is so perfect that when examined by a lens, it still remains doubtful to the eye weather it is not the real object. <7>

Believe me to remain Dear Sir Yours most truly
H. F. Talbot

One of the most singular photographic experiments is the following: A is a prepared paper, not sensitive to light. B. photographic paper of the usual kind. C. a kind of oil, not sensitive. If A is washed over with C, it becomes highly sensitive; but if B is so washed, its sensitivity is nearly destroyed.

Sir J. Herschel Bart


1. Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774–1862), French scientist, see Doc. No: 03970.

2. [translation:] When you see Sir John Herschel, please thank him for a letter which he wrote to me, and in which he enclosed several prints of his photogenic experiments. This Letter contained one of Lady Herschel for my wife, and it was delivered here in our absence, so that we only found it on our return. We immediately went to the house of the people who had been so kind as to bring us this memento and who were friends of Sir John and Lady Herschel. But, as luck would have it, they had left Paris in order to return to England, so that we could not thank them as we would have wished. You will greatly oblige me, Sir, if you would explain this to Sir John when you have the opportunity of seeing him. For I like and respect him too highly for him to doubt the pleasure which I and my wife would have had in making the acquaintance of his friends.

3. On his photogenic paper.

4. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor sold his complete Daguerreotype apparatus through Giroux. WHFT and Sir John William Lubbock, 3rd Baronet (1803–1865), mathematician & astronomer, ordered their complete daguerreotype kits together from that company. [See Doc. No: 03957]. François-Simon-Alphonse Giroux, of Alphonse Giroux et cie, stationers in Paris, was related to Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre's wife and in August 1839 secured the exclusive contract to market daguerreotype cameras and outfits manufactured under Daguerre's supervision. With no optical experience, Giroux turned to Charles Chevalier to make the lenses.

5. Sir John Lubbock was instrumental in obtaining daguerreotype plates and one of the Giroux cameras for Talbot. He tried WHFT’s photogenic paper, but found it less successful than the French process. [See his letter of 2 November 1839, Doc. No: 03968].

6. John Thomas Cooper (1790–1854), chemist. He was active in photography from the start. On 1 March 1839, he exhibited “numerous figures of Mosses and Ferns produced by the Photogenic process of Mr. Talbot” at a meeting of the Botanical Society of London; Annals of Natural History, v.4 no.23, November 1839, p. 212. Within a fortnight, he was advertising his prepared photogenic drawing paper for sale; Athenaeum, no. 94, 16 March 1839, p. 193. Cooper was “greatly and deservedly applauded” when he gave a demonstration and lecture on photogenic drawing before the Society of British Artists on 4 May 1839; The Mirror, v. 33 no. 948, 11 May 1839, p. 298. As soon as the details of the daguerreotype were released, Cooper, “Under a Licence from the Patentee,” began a series of public demonstrations and lectures on the new process, and offered examples for sale; see the Athenaeum, no. 623, 5 October 1839, p. 766. This whole plate view of All Souls Church (where WHFT was married), Langham Place, London, was likely taken by Monsieur Ste. Croix in the month of September and sold through Cooper. [Fox Talbot Collection, the British Library, no. 865].

7. WHFT developed what he termed ‘iotypes’, that is, photographic images printed by contact on a silver plate, and noted this in his notebook P from 11–16 September. [See Larry J Schaaf, Records of the Dawn of Photography: Talbot's Notebooks P & Q (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), P105–P115]. The silver plate was halogenized, to give a coherent deposit of silver halide then printed-out by heavy exposure, and then fixed, without the mercury development (and concomitant speed) of the daguerreotype. WHFT tended to halogenize the plates using solutions (such as iodine dissolved in ethyl alcohol or in potassium iodide solution) rather than the vapours that Daguerre employed. For fixing, the first case describes the effect given by heating a plate over a spirit lamp [See P109/P113 and Doc. No: 03969]– this retained the tonality, and “the lights are normal”.