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Document number: 4005
Date: 27 Jan 1840
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: DOWNING Charles Toogood
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Collection number historic: LA40-009
Last updated: 8th February 2010

29. Cary St Lincoln’s Inn
Jany 27 1840 –

My dear Sir

I have to return your sincere thanks for your kindness in forwarding the specimens of Photogenic Drawing. They are extremely beautiful and were much admired, not only as being your productions, but from their intrinsic merit. In those branches of the art to which you have devoted your attention, it must be confessed you are eminently successful. A large collection of sketches by various amateurs were on the table but it was easy to perceive that those by yourself were preferred. The copies of lace <1> and litho graphs are decidedly the best I have yet seen, but I was still more struck with the views taken by the Camera, especially that one representing the interior of one of your rooms, in which a bust is delineated.<2>. This is very extraordinary, and shows that much may yet be done with sensitive paper prepared with chloride of silver. It is the nearest approach to the perfection of the French pictures yet made by the English – and I believe in process of time it will have the advantage. The interest of the public in this wonderful discovery is effectually roused, so that we may expect that great excelious will be made when the season is further advanced to improve the various processes. On the two evenings on which I lectured the rooms were well filled, one half at least of the audience being ladies.<3>. I have since been solicited to give the same course at other Institutions, so that I trust I may be the means of spreading a knowledge of the subject among all classes of the people – The useful purposes to which I am persuaded it may be applied and the great insight that may be afforded by its means into the arcana of nature, make me regret but little the time necessarily devoted to the purpose – During the latter part of last summer I endeavoured to simplify the art of Sun-painting, by trying to discover a plan for taking copies of objects with the lights and shadows in their proper places – at once, and not as at present by a double process, which as you are well aware has many disadvantages. For this purpose I wished to take advantage of the well-known bleaching properties of light. Want of leisure prevented me working out this idea, so that the experiments remain yet to be completed – The tendency of the direct solar rays to reduce metallic oxides enabled me to succeed in an imperfect manner and I forward you one of the specimens – The plan is simply this – when a piece of well-prepared sensitive paper is completely blackened by exposure to feeble daylight, it is placed in a frame with an engraving or botanical specimen –and allowed to remain in the sun for some little time – when removed the picture is completed and requires no process of fixing whatever – The one I send you has been lying about my room for some months and is not in the least altered in its appearance – In some instances the silver was partially reduced to the metallic state making the contrast between the tints much more perfect but the coating was not uniform – I shall be glad to have your opinion as to the probability of this process being turned to advantage – It has not yet been made known to any one, but hopefully may in your hands be rendered available –.<4>.

I am My dear Sir Your most obedient Servt
Toogood Downing

H. Fox Talbot Esqr
Lacock Abbey
31. Sackville Street
Prepaid paid –


1. See Doc. No: 03772, for references to WHFT sending photogenic drawings of lace to scientific friends. [Also see Larry J Schaaf, The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), pp. 46, 62].

2. The reduced light of interiors posed great difficulties for photography, particularly in the dreary year of 1839. WHFT possibly sent a view of his Bust of Patroclus just inside the Oriel Window, a negative he took on 23 November 1839; Schaaf 2317. It is illustrated (but in a brown rather than its purple colour!) in see Larry J. Schaaf, Out of the Shadows: Herschel, Talbot, & the Invention of Photography (London: Yale University Press, 1992), plate 51.

3. The venue of the lectures has yet to be traced.

4. Downing had published an early and fairly technical analysis of photographic processes in a letter of 8 April 1839 to The Literary Gazette, no. 1160, 13 April 1839, p. 236.