Collingwood. ^{<1>}

March 22. 1841

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your very interesting & numerous specimens of the new Process. Of the Portraits that done in the shade in 3^{m} in some lights & at proper distance has quite a real air. The Leaning figure is also very good. ^{<2>} Both are much superior in effect to the Daguerrotype portraits. Of the Landscapes the view at Clifton ^{<3>} – the snow scene ^{<4>} and the projecting window piece of Lacock Abbey strike me most & are very superior to any you have before produced.

You are quite right in patentizing the Calotype, ^{<5>} with the liberal interpretation you propose in exercising the patent right no one can complain. And I must say I never heard of a more promising subject for a __lucrative__ patent of which I heartily give you joy.

I see a M^{r} Wollcott has taken out a patent for photographic portraits in 25^{sec} by a “reflecting apparatus.” ^{<6>} He has opened rooms at the Polytechnic Institution Regent Street. I do not know the nature of his process. Probably some travestie or piracy of Daguerre’s. ^{<7>}

I was not a little amused to find my argument about the mutual distance of two bodies in a corporeal universe set you on the fidget. It did me at first, and though I think an opening remains to escape from a “finite universe,” yet it is easy to be puzzled, and the opening is a __very__ narrow one.

I cannot see what possibility of error there can be in the mere assertion to which I limit myself that the distance from the Earth to every individual body “in the universe” is finite. Surely what is true of ~~ea~~ any is true of __each__ and what is true of __each__ is true of __every__. Such is the nature of all general propositions. In a circle there are an infinite number of points. But yet we admit it to be true that __every__ point in a circle is at a given distance = Rad from the center.

Now However great or greater than any assignable be the number of bodies “in the universe” they can be grouped in pairs and any pair may be __particularized__ by an act of the mind fixing its attention on them. – But when two bodies are particularized, their distance is __ipso facto__ assigned since the assigning a distance is nothing other than declaring it to be that (or in some given ratio to that) which separates two given places in space. I say __assigned__ not concieved or imagined, or measured, for the mind can conceive first one body then the other of a pair without considering the distance between them as greater or less than any __standard__ length drawn from other bodies.

Now to assign a distance is to deny it to be __in__-finite. To be in-finite is to be not-limited but the distance between two __bodies__, (__real things__, not imaginative figments) __is__ limited by those bodies in the strictest possible sense of the words.

Whether the mind do or do not particularize to itself the bodies of “__the universe__“, does not alter their mutual relations __inter se__, nor their mutual distances which would be the same whether the recognizing mind existed or not. __Physical__ truth is independent of a recognizing mind. __Logical__ truth is not.

Perhaps all I have said may be summed up in saying (what I believe is no new discovery of mine) that “an infinite distance” is a contradiction in terms as is also “an infinite number”. But the “infinity of possible distance” involves no contradictions, any more than the infinity of conceivable numbers.

As regards the finiteness or infiniteness of the created universe, pray observe, I leave __that__ question untouched. For ought I know or can fancy demonstrable the Luminiferous æther may be enclosed in a huge adamantine orb which it may tend not to burst but to draw together into collapse – and that, by the mutual attraction not repulsion of its molecules, thus forming chords in all possible directions which when agitated may vibrate transversely. Or the limits of the corporeal “universe” though definite at each given instant may be in a continually progressive state of extension – or, a thousand other things – or the “universe” may be literally infinite provided __that__ be reconcilable with a demonstrably finite distance between every two of its members, about which reconcilability I would not be understood to maintain any opinion.

If I have not quite wearied you with the distance of the stars, I will just mention an odd remark made to me the other day when talking about it. “How do you know,” said my companion “ after all that there are stars? How do you know that what you call stars are not merely vanishing points of long parallel perspectives of light which traverse the universe in fixed directions.” [plane waves traversing æther]

Of course the only reply was that it seemed on the whole simpler to suppose stars to be stars. But the idea struck me as a very odd one and as one which some-how or other considered might present some meaning. Hitherto however I must confess to have been unsuccessful in extracting any from it.

Yours very truly

JFW Herschel

__corporeal universe__.

A.– “I have a bright idea. What is finite is not infinite.

B.– “Most luminous and worthy its promulgation.

A. “Don’t laugh. I am quite serious

B “That is the very reason why I cannot help laughing.

A. “Laugh or not laugh – what has two ends is finite

B. “Deaf calleth unto deaf! Hear the oracle!

A. “Scoffer! – Two material bodies are natural milestones terminating a distance in space

B. “I like your milestones – Proceed!

A. “Particularize any two bodies existing, their mutual distance is finite!

B. “Humph! I don’t quite like

__that__, but I dont know what to object.

__Pro tempore__agreed! Well

A I will

A “To be sure.

^{<8>}

B “Then let them be two outside ones on opposite sides.

A. “That is begging a question. Prove first that there are outside ones and opposite sides.

B.– “I do not quite see your drift. I thought at first you were going to prove the material universe

A. “I see no contradiction.

B. “Well to hear these logicians! However never mind. I am no logician but I think I can prove

__my__point. Let me see. There certainly may be

__opposite sides__– because we may divide space by a plane passing through the center in any given direction. As to outside ones that is a little more puzzling and yet – if every body

__above__such a plane be at a finite distance from every body

__beneath__that plane it seems to follow that two on opposite sides must be

__most__distant

A. “Who is Oracular now?

B. “Not I. What I say I can prove. Of Finite quantities some one must be greatest, or several equally great must be greater than the rest.

A. “Well!– And what then*

B “Why– let me see – then there must be two bodies on opposite sides of that plane more distant than any other two under that condition or at least several equidistant from each other, but more distant than the rest – and by

__most__distant bodies (or several if equidistant) at opposite sides of

__a__plane.

A. “Go on.

B. “The if what you assert be true it follows that the distance between the two

__most__distant existing bodies is finite. A strange conclusion! Is this your meaning

A “Certainly not – [illegible deletion]

B “Well then – What is?

A “Why – I don’t know – I thought I had a bright idea – but the old proverb says a fool’s bolt is soon shot –

^{<9>}and “the eyes of a fool are

__in the ends of the earth__“

^{<10>}– and

B. “Nay nay say no more or you will prove yourself a fool in so many ways I shall take you for a wise man at last

* [NB. A was hasty in admitting this]

PS. My “dialogue” has been declared inconclusive by high authority^{<11>}so perhaps you may get another in explanation.

*[Slightly variant copy, in another hand, most likely that of Margaret Brodie Herschel]*

H

__To. F. Talbot Esq.__

In reply to letter date Mar. 18. 21. ^{<12>}

[March 184__1__]

My dear Sir

Many thanks for your very interesting & numerous specimens of the new Process– Of the Portraits, that done in the shade in 3^{m} in some lights & at proper distance has quite a real air– The Leaning figure is also very good – Both are much superior in effect to the Daguerrèotype portraits– Of the Landscapes the view at Clifton – the snow scene & the projecting window piece of Lacock Abbey strike me most & are very superior to any you have before produced– You are quite right in patentizing the Calotype – With the liberal interpretation you propose in exercising the patent right, no one can complain– And I must say I never heard of a more promising subject for a __lucrative__ patent of which I heartily give you joy– I see a M^{r} Wollcott has taken out a patent for photographic portraits in 25^{sec} by a “reflecting apparatus” – He has opened rooms at the Polytechnic Inst^{n}, Reg^{t} S^{t}.– I do not know the nature of his process– Probably some travestie or piracy of Daguerrèotype.

I was not a little amused to find my argument about the mutual distance of two bodies in a corporeal universe set you on the fidget – It did me at first, and though I think an opening remains to escape from a “finite universe” yet it is easy to get puzzled, and the opening, is a __very__ narrow one –

I cannot see what possibility of error there can be in the mere assertion ~~of~~ to which I limit myself that the distance from the Earth to every individual body “in the universe” is finite – Surely what is true of any is true of __each__, & what is true of __each__ is true of __every__ – Such is the nature of all general propositions.

In a circle there are an infinite number of points. But yet we admit it to be true that __every__ point in a circle is at a given distance = Rad. from the center.

Now however great or greater than any assignable be the number of bodies “in the universe” they can be grouped in pairs & any pair can be particularized, the distance is ipso facto assigned, since the assigning a distance is nothing more than declaring it to be that (or in some given ration to that) which separates two given places in space. I say __assigned__, not conceived nor imagined, nor measured, for the mind can conceive first one body, then the other of a pair without considering the distance between them as greater or less than any __standard__ length drawn from other bodies –

Now to assign a distance is to deny it to be __in__-finite – To be in-finite is to be not-limited, but the distance between two __bodies__ (__real things__, not imaginative figments) __is__ limited by those bodies in the strictest possible sense of the words–

Whether the mind do or do not particularize to itself the bodies of “__the universe__”, does not alter their mutual relations __inter se__, nor their mutual distances which would be the same whether the recognizing mind existed or not – __Physical__ truth is independent of a recognizing mind. __Logical__ truth is not–

Perhaps all I have said may be summed up in saying (what I believe is no new discovery of mine) that “an infinite distance” is a contradiction in terms as is also “an infinite number”– But the “infinity of possible distance” involves no contradiction, any more than the infinity of conceivable numbers.

As regards the finiteness or infiniteness of the created universe, pray observe, I leave __that__ question untouched – For ought I know, or can fancy demonstrable the Luminiferous

æther may be enclosed in a ~~high~~ huge adamantine orb which it may tend not to burst but to draw together into Collapse– And that, by the mutual attraction not repulsion of its molecules, thus forming chords in all possible directions which when agitated may vibrate transversely– Or the limits of the corporeal “universe” though definite at each given instant may be in a continually progressive state of extension – Or, a thousand other things – or the “universe” may be literally infinite provided __that__ be reconcilable with a demonstrably finite distance between __every__ two of its members, ~~between~~ about which reconcilability, I would not be understood to maintain any opinion–

If I have not quite wearied you with the distance of the stars, I will just mention an odd remark made to me the other day when talking about it– “How do you know,” said my Companion “after all that what you call stars are not merely vanishing points of long parallel perspectives of light which traverse the universe in fixed directions”? [plane waves traversing æther]

Of course the only reply was that it seemed on the whole more simple to suppose stars to be stars– But the idea ~~seemed~~ struck me as a very odd one & as one which some-how or other considered might present some meaning. Hitherto however I must confess to have been unsuccessful in extracting any from it–

Yours very truly

signed JFW Herschel

PS. The following has occurred to me as a possible dialogue between two disputants on the finite extent of the “Corporeal universe.”A.– “I have a bright idea – What is finite is not infinite”

B.– “Most luminous & worthy its promulgation”

A. “Don’t laugh – I am quite serious”

B “That is the very reason why I can’t help laughing”

A. “Laugh or not laugh – What has two ends is finite”

B. “Deaf calleth unto deaf! Hear the oracle!”

A. “Scoffer!– Two material bodies are natural milestones – terminating a distance in space”

B. “I like your milestones – Proceed!”

A. “Particularize any two bodies existing – their mutual distance is finite!”

B. “Humph! I don’t quite like __that__, but I dont know what to object. __Pro tempore__ agreed! Well I will particularize. But may I really fix on which I like?”

A “To be sure.

B “Then let them be two outside ones on opposite sides.

A. “That is begging a question. Prove first that there are outside ones & opposite sides.”

B.– “I do not quite see your drift. I thought at first you were going to prove the material universe finite – Now you object as if you would prove it infinite. How do you reconcile your present objection with your original assertion?”

A. “I do not see the contradiction.”

B. “Well! to hear these logicians! However never mind. I am no logician, but I think I can prove __my__ point. Let me see. There certainly may be __opposite sides__ – because we may divide space by a plane passing through a centre in any given direction. As to outside ones that is a little more puzzling and yet – if every body __above__ such a plane be at a finite distance from every body __beneath__ that plane it seems to follow that two on opposite sides must be __most__ distant”

A. “Who is oracular now”?

B. “Not I. What I say I can prove. Of Finite quantities some one must be greatest, or several ~~greater~~ equally great must be greater than the rest.”

A. “Well!– And what then* * NB. A was hasty, in

[ admitting this ]”

B “Why– let me see – then there must be two bodies on opposite sides of that plane more distant than any other two under that condition or at least several equidistant from each other, but more distant than the rest – and by shifting our plane we must at last arrive at the two __most__ distant bodies (or several if equidistant) at opposite sides of __a__ plane.”

A. “Go on..”

B. “The if what you assert be true it follows that the distance between the two __most__ distant existing bodies is finite. A strange conclusion! Is this your meaning”

A “Certainly not –”

B “Well then – What is?–”

A “Why, I don’t know – I thought I had a bright idea – but the old proverb says a fool’s bolt is soon shot – and “__the eyes of a fool lie in the ends of the earth”__ – and”

B. “Nay nay nay – Say no more or you will prove yourself a fool in so many ways, that I will take you for a wise man at last–”

#### Notes:

**1**. Herschel family home in Hawkhurst, Kent.

**2**. This was a portrait of Nicolaas Henneman (1813–1898), Dutch, active in England; WHFT’s valet, then assistant; photographer, done in one minute on 23 February 1841; *Schaaf 2559*. Herschel’s print was donated to the Science Museum, London by his son, the Rev John Herschel and is now at the NMeM, Bradford (1943–33/5).

**3**. This is probably the view of a street of shops with the Rose Tavern at the left; it was referred to on 18 March 1841 in WHFT’s memorandum book and was most likely taken by Robert Hunt (1807–1887), scientist & photographic historian, and sent to WHFT. *Schaaf 3500*. This print is housed in the Herschel Collection at HRHRC (964:054:042).

**4**. WHFT titled this print ‘Country covered with Snow, Winter of 1840–41’, *Schaaf 2545*. It can be dated from the negative to 12 January 1841. Herschel’s print is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris (Eo56–15).

**5**. WHFT took a patent for the Calotype, entitled ‘Photographic Pictures’, U.K. number 8428, February 1841.

**6**. The American Alexander Wolcott (1804–1844), had taken a patent (U.S. number 15828, May 1840) for a camera that employed a speculum rather than a lens. One of a number of methods attempted to shorten daguerreotype exposures towards a practical application to portrait photography, this machine was combined with chemical advances. See Arthur T. Gill, ‘Wolcott’s camera in England and the bromine iodine process’, *History of Photography*, v.1 (July 1977), pp. 215–220.

**7**. On August 14, 1839 patent agent Miles Berry obtained a Writ of the Privy Seal for a *New or Improved Method of Obtaining the Spontaneous Reproduction of All the Images Received in the Focus of the Camera Obscura*, specification to be enrolled six months later. Berry was acting on behalf of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor, who wished to patent his invention in England, although he ws to be paid by the French government to give it freely to world. The patent was so general that it would have included improvements to photogenic drawing as well as the daguerreotype. For many months after this, attempts to patent daguerreotype improvements were treated with suspicion in Britain.

**8**. It appears that Herschel mistook his A for his B.

**9**. From Shakespeare, *Henry V*, III, vii.

**10**. *Proverbs* 17:24.

**11**. The ‘high authority’ was almost certainly his wife, Margaret ‘Maggie’ Brodie Herschel (1810–1884), and it is probably her hand that made the family copy.

**12**. See Doc. No: 04218.