link to Talbot Project home page link to De Montfort University home page link to Glasgow University home page
Project Director: Professor Larry J Schaaf

Back to the letter search >

Document number: 3864
Date: 22 Apr 1839
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: HERSCHEL John Frederick William
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4845
Last updated: 8th March 2012

April 22. 1839

My dear Sir,

Many thanks for your photographs fixed by iodine. <1> It is curious that I had tried Alcoholic Solution of Iodine without success. – Neither have I ever been able to fix on nitrated paper, with common salt in any proportion. Total or at least destructive obliteration has always been the consequence. – Even the salt in our spring water is deleterious, to an extraordinary degree of which more presently.

I wish I were learned enough to thank you duly for your work on the antiquity of Genesis. <2> Eve = Pandora especially with the “ìåãá ðù[ì?]” <3> is very good. Sybilline books and Phrygian Judaism – Why in such a reassembling of faint & feeble echoes of Scriptural literature & tradition among the heathen, omit Noah = Deucalion?†

To return to our Photographs – Having had not 3 good days of late I have made one or two good hits

1st a capital improvement in the mode of transferring, in which two, 3, or 4 printed photogrd surfaces [illegible deletion] are made to conspire in their action on the light as it transverses them, before it gets to the paper. The exact superposition is accomplished by fiducial pin holes. To save the passage of light through more papers than necessary, I photograph both surfaces of each paper, taking care to operate a semi-inversion as to right and left, which is easy.

2d A new and perfect process of fixing. <4> – I have already mentioned fixing by water. But on further trials [missing text], <5> without my being able to say why.– But [missing text] on as I found how very minute a proportion of Muriate of Soda spoils the Picture, I understood the whole affair, and on trying pure water (Snow-water at least, having no means of distilling) the success was complete. The fixation is complete – the picture perfectly uninjured red and unaltered in colour. To ensure success the picture must soak for 3 or 4 hours in 3 waters, draining and absorbing by blotting paper at each change of water. If the paper be very thick the last water may have a dash of hyposulphite in it, but it is better to avoid this.

3dly A new mode of preparing paper. It is highly sensitive though less so than your wonderful Bromide paper but the change of tint progresses more steadily passing from pink to rich crimson and finally to perfect blackness. I observe that in your paper the tint first impression is very sudden after which it seems to relax in rapidity of change. In some respects this is inconvenient as a photograph unfixed cannot be exposed a moment without damage.– I annex a specimen of the paper so prepared but as I am still employed in “perfectionizing” it – in varying its tints – and in “approfounding” its chemical nature, I mean to keep it yet a while a secret. I will only say further of it that it is no chance discovery. I found it where I looked for it, and where I know I shall find something better worth looking for.–

Meanwhile I send you a few specimens (unfixed) of my progress in the Copying of Engravings – but as I am soon going to Paris (May 1) (where I shall be happy to convey anything for you – I must beg the favor of you to return them to me soon. address your packet (of any magnitude. ie. in reason) to [missing text] under cover to Capt. Beaufort R.N. <6> Hydrographer to the Admiralty.– And put that again under cover to Chas Wood Esq <7> Sec to the Admiralty. I have not time now to prepare fresh ones for the Frenchmen. –

Yours very truly
J. F. W. Herschel

† Why also omit the direct occurrence of the most sacred name both in Greek & Latin – Zeus, Ju-piter or Zeu-pater pronounced no doubt [missing text] – Genitive Jovis or zhovis, Jehovah!


1. Photographs not located.

2. WHFT, The Antiquity of the Book of Genesis, Illustrated by Some New Arguments (London: Longman, Orme, Green, Brown and Longman, 1839).

3. He probably means the upper case P.

4. Herschel had been after a better method of fixer for some time. By using uncontaminated or distilled water, he could restrict his emulsions to water soluble silver salts. After exposure, he could then wash the print with water to remove the remaining unexposed, and still soluble salts, rendering the print permanent.

5. A portion of this letter torn away at one corner.

6. Sir Francis Beaufort R.N. (1774–1857); naval officer, explorer/surveyor, inventor of the Beaufort wind scale.

7. Sir Charles Wood, 1st Viscount Halifax (1800–1885).