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Document number: 04291
Date: 01 Jul 1841
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4883
Last updated: 1st May 2012

Dear Sir,

I almost rejoice in your Martyrdom, for I am myself a Martyr in the very same cause, and thro' the agency of the same Inquisition. The Royal Society <1> has rejected my Paper on the " Compensation of Polarised Light <2>" one of the most original and Important that I ever wrote, and absolutely necessary to understand another which I am just engaged in drawing up on The Polarising Structure of the Atmosphere <3>. I have remonstrated with the Secretary, <4> & with Sir John Lubbock. <5> I ascribe my fate either to personal feeling, or to very gross ignorance; - and I am entitled to feel strongly, as the Royal Society in the days of Young, <6> Davy <7> and Wollaston <8> made a point of printing every one of the Communications I sent them. They have printed two Papers of mine on the Diamond, <9> & on the Colours of thin plates, <10> neither of which can bear any comparison with the unfortunate Victim.- I conceive the Society entitled to reject a Paper that is not original,- that is too long, or requires too expensive illustrations; but I think that nothing can justify the rejection of a paper in the circumstances in which you and I stand.- The reason for rejecting yours <11> is absolutely frivolous, & I have not heard what objections are entertained against mine, and who are the parties that have made them. I suppose Whewell <12> and Airy. <13> I dislike greatly the predominance of Cambridge influence in the Council, tho' I am puzzled to conceive how it could be hostile to you.

We must add a volume to Babbages Decline of Science. <14> I shall complain to the President <15> in the first instance, after I have learnt the history of the Transaction. I shall like to know your intentions.

I shall wait anxiously for your Calotype Instructions. <16> We need the very Alphabet of the Art.

I am, Dear Sir, Ever Most Faithfy yrs
D Brewster

St Leonards
St Andrews
July 1st 1841

Henry Fox Talbot Esqr
31 Sackville Street <17>


1. Royal Society of London.

2. There was, however, something of a change of heart, as the paper was accepted for the Proceedings: D. Brewster, 'On the compensations of polarized light, with the description of a Polarimeter for measuring degrees of polarization', Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, n. 4, 1841, pp. 306-307.

3. Not traced.

4. Dr Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), scientific writer, who was Secretary of the Royal Society of London 1827-1849.

5. Sir John William Lubbock, 3rd Baronet (1803-1865), mathematician & astronomer.

6. Dr Thomas Young (1773-1829), physicist & Egyptologist.

7. Sir Humphry Davy (1778-1829), chemist

8. William Hyde Wollaston (1766-1828), physicist

9. D. Brewster, 'On a remarkable property of the Diamond', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1841, pp. 41-42.

10. D. Brewster, 'On the phenomena of thin plates of solid and fluid substances exposed to Polarized Light', Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1841, pp. 43-58.

11. For WHFT's account of what happened (that the Royal Society of London claimed the paper had been published elsewhere), see Doc. No: 04293. The paper was W. H. F. Talbot, 'The Process of Calotype Photogenic Drawing. Communicated to the Royal Society, June 10th, 1841' (London: J. L. Cox & Sons, 1841).

12. Rev William Whewell (1794-1866), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, Professor and natural philosopher.

13. Sir George Biddell Airy (1801-1892), Astronomer Royal.

14. Prof Charles Babbage (1792-1871), mathematician & inventor, Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, and on some of its Causes (London: B. Fellowes, 1830).

15. Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), President of the Royal Society of London (1838-1848).

16. See Doc. No: 04276.

17. 31 Sackville Street, London residence of the Feildings, often used as a London base by WHFT.