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Document number: 04342
Date: 14 Oct 1841
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4889
Last updated: 9th December 2010

Dear Sir,

I was yesterday favoured with your most agreeable packet of Talbo-types, <1> which my friends insist upon calling them, not only from a desire of doing honour to the Inventor, but from a love of symmetry, and also to avoid the trouble of explaining the meaning of ęáëďň <2> which some of them cannot do. It must be Talbo-type and Daguerreo-type <3> whether you will or no; and you must put up with the affront the best way you can.

Major Playfair <4> Dr Adamson <5> and myself are quite enchanted with the new specimens, and all agree in opinion that in a short time The Talbotype will supplant the Daguerreotype. My two friends are wholly absorbed in the subject, & having got the finest Cameras ever made, both with single and double achromatic Lenses, they will never give up till they master the process.

As they distrust all their materials they are most anxious that you should desire your Chemist to send here, either to Major Playfair or me, a fair quantity of the materials including Paper, & request them to apply for payment to Mssrs Robert Small and Coy Old Jewry London. When you speak of the aperture of your Lens do you mean the diameter of the Stop, or the diameter of the Lens. In our Cameras the stop, for keeping back the bad rays is less than ˝ the diamr of the Lens.

In the Royal Society <6> affair I have only submitted the matter to the Revision of the Council, and will take no further step without consulting you.

If your plan, which I think good, of giving a privilege to those who have contributed three <7> acceptable papers, shd be considered reasonable, I who have contributed above 30 without one of them being challenged, & to which all the Medals given by the R.S. have been awarded, have certainly some claim to a favourable reception of my 31st Paper. – The part of my Paper objected to is the part supporting the view contained in my Papers of 1830 <8> to which the Royal Medals were awarded.

I have stated in the Ency. Brit. Art Optics that the fringes observed by you are identical with mine. My discovery was that when the Retarding plate was on the Red side of the Spectrum no fringes were produced, and I determined the general laws of the phenomena. These seemed to indicate a polarity in prismatic light or light refracted into its elements by Refraction.

Mr Airy <9> in his 2d Paper <10> decidedly concludes that my fringes are quite New & were not seen either by you or him, and he makes you say that your fringes were equally well seen whether the Retarding Plate was on the Red or the Violet side. You never said so, & your statement that you never tried the expt is precisely what I expected. – Since I wrote you I have completely discovered their origin. I can project them upon Paper & refer them all to known principles; – but I still cannot without assuming polarity give a good reason why they disappear under the circumstances; unless what is proble that they are developed by prismatic action in the same manner as the Newtonian rays See Newt. Opt. <11> Vl II Pt I Obs. 23 & 21 Pt II Expts of Feb. 7. The fringes in Question are the Intensive or white & Black ones formed in the shadow of the edge of the Retarding plate acting as a screen, & have nothing to do with Apertures of Telescopes or pupils. Their phenomena are most curious, & exceedingly perplexing in the investigation. Airy is in a most extraordinary predicament in having written two elaborate & triumphant Papers which describe something & explain nothing, his experimental being as bad as his non-theoretical Philosophy.

I am glad to be able to solve your difficulty regarding the Double line D, which greatly perplexed me in my former expts. The yellow light is not entirely homogeneous that is having one definite refrangibility. The rays coincide in part with the two lines of D, but they compose a spectrum like the Annexed which is a [illustration] most interesting sight. I discovered long ago a small black line mn in the Solar spectrum within the double line D, & it has its counterpart in a white line in the Salted wick Spectrum, but it is very difficult to recognise. There are other thin white lines at a, b, c, c being seen only in strong light. The Space between the two lines of D is dark, but the space Db is luminous tho' faint, and bc is extremely feeble.

I think I have discovered that similar lines & groups of lines recur in the spectrum; but the tracing of them is difficult. I have found two extraordinary groups of lines of the very same character on the less refrangible sides of Á and â thus [illustration]

The bands from b to a gradually widen from b to a, & give the spectrum the appearance of being scooped out at from a to b. At sunset the bright space between bb & A is absorbed and also the portion bâ , bâ , so that A is converted into a black band AââA. – on the left side of B there is also a bright Space, then a darkish band n, then a bright band oo, then about 13 equidistant & exceedingly sharp dusky lines. At present the whole space Bmnm is one dark line, oo being persistent and bright. I have discovered large & deep lines and bands beyond A , as far as B is from A and farther. I shall look immediately at your expt in the Phil Mag. v. IX p. 403. <12>

Believe me to be Ever Most Faithfully yrs
D Brewster

St Leonards
St Andrews
Octr 14th 1841

H.F. Talbot Esqr
Lacock Abbey
31 Sackville Street <13>


1. Calotypes. At the meeting of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society for 1 November 1841, ‘Sir David Brewster exhibited a great number of Photogenic Drawings executed by Mr Fox Talbot and stated that these are now known by the name of Talbotype instead of Calotype, the former name.’ Minutes, v.1, 1838–1861. Library, University of St Andrews.

2. Kalos: beautiful.

3. Although WHFT's mother and several of his close friends felt that he should impress his own name on the process, as did Daguerre, the inventor was reluctant to do so and did not employ the term Talbotype himself.

4. Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (1786–1861), military & provost of St Andrew’s University.

5. Dr John Adamson (1809–1870), physician and pioneer of photography. See A. D. Morrison-Low, ‘Dr John Adamson and Robert Adamson: An Early Partnership in Scottish Photography’, The Photographic Collector, v. 2, 1983, pp. 198–214.

6. Royal Society of London. For Brewster’s dispute with the Society, see Doc. No: 04291.

7. Written over ‘some’.

8. D. Brewster, ‘On the laws of the Polarization of Light by Refraction’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1830, pp. 69–84, 133–44; ‘On the action of the second surfaces of transparent plates upon light’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1830, pp. 145–52; ‘On the phenomena and laws of Elliptic Polarization, as exhibited in the action of metals upon Light’, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 1830, pp. 287–326.

9. Sir George Biddell Airy (1801–1892), Astronomer Royal. [See also Doc. No: 04339].

10. G. B. Airy, ‘On the theoretical explanation of an apparent new Polarity in Light’ [Bakerian Lecture], Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 1840, pp. 225–244.

11. Isaac Newton, Opticks, or A treatise of the reflexions, refractions, inflexions and colours of light ... (London: S. Smith & B. Walford, 1704).

12. W. H. F. Talbot, ‘Facts relating to Optical Science, No. IV’, Philosophical Magazine s. 3, v. 9, no. 56 (December 1836), pp. 401–407. The article includes [1] Experiments on the Interference of Light; [2] Experiments on Diffraction; [3] Remarkable Property of the Iodide of Lead.

13. 31 Sackville Street, London residence of the Feildings, often used as a London base by WHFT.