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Document number: 3875
Date: 09 May 1839
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: HERSCHEL John Frederick William
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4847
Last updated: 17th April 2010

My dear Sir,

Though much pressed for time I cannot resist writing to you first to say that I have this moment left Daguerre’s who was so obliging as to shew us all his Pictures on Silver saved from the fire which burned his house <1> and also one on glass. – It is hardly saying too much to call them miraculous. Certainly they surpass anything I could have conceived as within the bounds of reasonable expectation. The most elaborate engraving falls far short of the richness & delicacy of execution every gradation of light & shade is given with a softness & fidelity which sets all painting at an immeasurable distance.

His times also are very short. – In a bright day 3 m suffices for the full effect up to the point where the lights become excessive. In dull or rainy days & in the interior of an apartment (for copying sculptures and pictures) from 5 to 10 m are requisite.

The beautiful effect of the River Scenes in rain must be seen to be appreciated. Sculptures are rendered in their most minute details with a beauty quite inconceivable

In scenes of great detail, every letter in distant inscriptions – every chip in the corner of every stone in every building is reproduced & distinctly recognizable with a strong lens all the paving stones in distant chaussées <2> are faithfully rendered.

In short if you have a few days at your disposition I cannot command you better than to Come & See. Excuse this ebullition,

and believe me my dear sir Yours very truly
JFW Herschel

Paris. May 9. 1839.

We leave Paris tomorrow or next day.
PS. The pictures are on very thin sheets of plated copper, neither expensive nor very cumbersome. A traveller might easily carry in his trunk a sufficiency for all his purposes.

H. F. Talbot Esqr
Lacock Abbey
near Chippenham


1. The Diorama and laboratory of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor, on the Rue de Marais, burned 8 March 1839. Although Daguerre restricted the showing of daguerreotypes while awaiting a verdict on his government pension, still many notable scientists were able to view them.

2. It was a common test of daguerreotype images, to count window panes, chimney pots, or in this case, paving stones in the streets.

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