I had begun to get very uneasy at not hearing from you, and was delighted to see again the outward indications of your pen. <1>
Mr Adamson, <2> who is now established in Edinr with crowds every day at his Studio, <3> will be very grateful for your kindness. He will send you specimens of his progress which I think will surprise and delight you.
You may probably have heard, tho’ only as a dying Echo, of the great moral event in Scotland, <4> of 500 Ministers quitting their manses & Glebes & Stipends <5> for Conscience sake, and forming a Free Church, unshackled by secular interferences. A grand historical picture is undertaken by a first rate Artist, to represent the first General Assembly of the Free Church. <6> I got hold of the Artist – showed him the Calotype, & the eminent advantage he might derive from it in getting likenesses of all the principal characters before they dispersed to their respective homes. He was at first incredulous, but went to Mr Adamson, and arranged with him the preliminaries for getting all the necessary Portraits.
They have succeeded beyond their most sanguine expectations. – They have taken, on a small scale, Groups of 25 persons in the same picture all placed in attitudes which the Painter desired, and very large Pictures besides have been taken of each individual to assist the Painter in the completion of his Picture.
Mr D.O. Hill the Painter is in the act of entering into Partnership with Mr Adamson, and proposes to apply the Calotype to many other general purposes of a very popular kind, & especially to the execution of large pictures representing difft bodies & classes of individuals.
I think you will find that we have, in Scotland, found out the value of your invention not before yourself, but before those to whom you have given the privilege of using it. I have seen one of the groups of 25 persons with our distinguished Moderator Dr Chalmers <7> sitting in the heart of them, and I have never seen any thing finer.
I shall be very thankful for specimens of your Calotype labours in France, <8> and indeed of as many specimens, whether by English or French Suns as you can spare. I have the largest collection in Scotland, and whenever I go to Edinr, I carry a series along with me to delight the dilettantes there.
The Daguerreotype is considered infinitely inferior, for all practical purposes, notwithstanding it’s beauty and sharpness.
I send you a sight of a newspaper, which, as it is one of a series which I preserve, I will thank you to return.
It contains on p. 3 Col. 2d an Article entitled “The Two Prints” <9> written by the Editor Hugh Miller an Eminent Geologist, & one of the finest writers of the present day. Excuse this hurried scrawl,
& believe me to be Ever Most Truly yrs
St Leonards’ College
July 3d 1843
1. WHFT’s letter has not been traced.
2. Robert Adamson (1821–1848). His professional partnership with the painter David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer, which began in May 1843, established – at the dawn of photography – the art of photographic portraiture at the highest level. See Sara Stevenson, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1981), and The Personal Art of David Octavius Hill (New Haven & London: Yale UP, 2002).
3. Rock House, Calton Stairs, the highest private house on Calton Hill, with a south-facing garden to take advantage of all available sunlight for photographic purposes.
4. The Disruption of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, in protest against the right of a patron to impose his choice of minister upon a congregation. The dispute had been going on for a number of years. [See Doc. No: 04258].
5. The house provided for a Church of Scotland minister; the land provided for his support; and his salary.
6. David Octavius Hill finished the painting, The Signing of the Deed of Demission, depicting the signing of the Act of Separation on 23 May 1842 in the Tanfield Hall, 24 years later.
7. Dr Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847).The image referred to is one of those depicting the Edinburgh Presbytery. See Sara Stevenson, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1981), pp. 182–183.
8. In May and June of 1843, WHFT made a month-long calotyping tour of sites in France, accompanied by Nicolaas Henneman (1813–1898), Dutch, active in England; WHFT’s valet, then assistant; photographer.
9. Hugh Miller (1802–1856), man of letters and geologist, ‘The Two Prints’, The Witness, v. 4 no. 365, 24 June 1843. This compares a print by David Allan of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1783 and Hill’s planned engraving of the Disruption scene.