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Document number: 4213
Date: 16 Mar 1841
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: HERSCHEL John Frederick William
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4873
Last updated: 26th April 2010

Collingwood <1>
March 16/41.

My dear Sir

I really cannot express the surprise and delight with which I read your Circular <2> redd this morning giving an account of the Kalotype (to which however I doubt not all the rest of the world will assign the name of Talbotype). I always felt sure you would perfect your processes till they equalled or surpassed Daguerre’s <3>, but this is really magical. Surely you deal with the naughty one. Das kommt nicht mit rechten Dingen <4> as the Germans say.

I wish I had a sheet of it here at this moment where I am sitting in a warm summer house on the edge of what we call our lake with the brightest sunshine sparkling on the water and the reflexions of the Oak trees in all the Bays and creeks touched out most delicately in the most heavenly sky and temperature it is possible to conceive. Never was surely such a succession of Blue Skies and Photographic weather since Britain was an Island as we have had since this time 12 months, and finely indeed you have availed yourself of it.

Have any particulars of Daguerre’s new process <5> transpired? I have heard none.

As almost all our chemical processes have been hitherto performed in the light, there is no doubt that all the cases of excessively rapid photogenic action have on that account hitherto escaped notice. There are many cases where precipitates are seen to acquire colour very rapidly (as in those which happen when Nitrate of Silver in excess is dropped into hyposulphite of soda very dilute) being first merely white clouds and it would be worth while to execute a series of experiments of mixtures precipitations &c in total darkness.

But to mention such notions to you is like conveying coals to Newcastle. Only as bodies in the nascent state are sensible to influences which they resist when fully aggregated, and as it is barely possible that as your papers have been prepared expressly for keeping, you may have operated without regard to this condition, its mention may possibly strike upon some link of association that may lead you to yet further improvements of a process already most wonderful.

Believe me My dear Sir Yours very truly
JFW Herschel


1. Hawkhurst, Kent.

2. WHFT published two articles in February on the Calotype: ‘Calotype (Photogenic) Drawing’, The Literary Gazette and Journal of belles lettres, science and art, no. 1256, 13 February 1841, p. 108; and ‘Fine Arts: Calotype (Photogenic) Drawing’, The Literary Gazette and Journal of belles lettres, science and art, no. 1258, 27 February 1841, pp. 139–140. The circular mentioned was a private reprint of both letters, Two letters on Calotype Photogenic Drawing. Reprinted from the Literary Gazette. See Larry J. Schaaf, Sun Pictures Three: The Harold White Collection (New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr, Inc, 1987) p. 83, item 113.

3. That is, the daguerreotype.

4. He means the German expression “Das geht nicht mit rechten Dingen zu” – This does not come by means of nature alone, that is, magic must be involved.

5. In Doc. No: 04185, Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774–1862), French scientist, told WHFT of a new and faster process announced by Dominique François Jean Arago (1786–1853), French physicist, astronomer & man of science, on behalf of Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor. Details of the process were never published, and there is no evidence that it was shown to the public.