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Document number: 4349
Date: 27 Oct 1841
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4891
Last updated: 10th March 2012

St Leonards College
St Andrews
Octr 27th 1841

Dear Sir,

I write you thus quickly in reply to yours from Tunbridge Wells <1> to say that Mr Davidson <2> makes the most beautiful Portrait Cameras of which we have two here in constant operation. He has supplied all the Reflecting Cameras for the Polytechnic Institution in Regent Street, <3> & he would feel greatly honoured by making one for you. He is an admirable person of real knowledge, and charges less than half of London artists. I think a Portrait Camera about 12 or 13 inches long with two excellent achromatic lenses wd cost £5 or £6, but this is more a conjecture than a certainty.

I think I must have expressed myself ill in what I said about your new fringes. I of course never thought of telling you that they were the colours of thin plates; – (tho’ by the way they might have been of a difft class like those which I have discussed in the Edin. Trans. <4> produced by reflection from an achromatic object Glass) but I stated that they were those of thin plates for the purpose of directing you to Sir Isaac Newtons explanation of the very same phenomenon seen under very difft circumstances. I did not say or hint that Newton or body [sic] else ever described your Expt; but Newton has certainly and clearly explained what you justly consider to be so remarkable, the production of black and white fringes. I am entirely satisfied with Newton’s explanation, but I believe the Undulationists <5> will not be able to give any other than that of translating Newton into their own language.

I shall immediately look for the remarkable Red line in Nitrate of Potash &c; but you have not mentioned how the combination is effected in order to produce it.

By the Prism alone without my lens or Telescope I have discovered new lines in the Spectrum, <6> of course not by projection as in your Expt.

This I think is the headquarters (always excepting Lacock Abbey) of the Talbotype. <7> Our Chemical Profr’s <8> Assistant is now at work & successful, so that without counting myself you have three ardent disciples. Mr Furlong, <9> the gentleman I allude [to] executed an admirable portrait of a Relation in Ireland which I have seen.

By the way I observe in your Specification that you use ⅓ of acetic acid all your other accts say 1/6.

Mr Furlong, like Dr Adamson <10> has failed in fixing the Positive Talbotype. <11> He does not succeed by washing after the Gallo-nitrate.

I have made some progress in the R.S. affair <12> I am given to understand that if I will add my observations on atmospheric Polarisation my Paper will be printed. I of course will not add a word. In a few days I will send you the means of Judging in the matter.

I am Dear Sir Ever Most Truly yrs
D Brewster

H.F. Talbot Esqr


1. Where WHFT and his mother, Lady Elisabeth Theresa Feilding, née Fox Strangways, first m Talbot (1773–1846), WHFT’s mother, were staying for a week [see Doc. No: 04347]. WHFT’s letter has not been located.

2. Thomas Davidson (1798–1878), scientific instrument maker and Daguerreotypist. He was the author of The Art of Daguerreotyping, with the Improvements of the Process and Apparatus (Edinburgh, 1841). See Doc. No: 04163. For biographical details, see John Nicol, ‘Reminiscences of Thomas Davidson, a Weaver Lad’, British Journal of Photography, 15 August 1879, pp.390–391 and 22 August 1879, pp. 399–401.

3. The Royal Polytechnic Institution for the Advancement of the Arts and Practical Science, 309 Regent Street, London, founded in 1838.

4. David Brewster, ‘On a new species of Coloured Fringes, produced from reflexion between the Lenses of achromatic compound object glasses’, Transactions of the Royal Society, Edinburgh, v. 12, 1834, pp.191–196, originally published in Philosophical Magazine, v. 1, 1832, pp. 19–23.

5. The proponents of the wave theory of light.

6. One of Brewster’s major contributions to knowledge.

7. For remarks on the name, see Doc. No: 04342 and Doc. No: 04885.

8. Arthur Connell was Professor of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews. [See also Doc. No: 04315].

9. William Holland Furlonge, sometimes William Holland Furlong (1826-1881), Irish born chemist, photographer and Assyriologist. He continued to contribute to photography: On 23 April 1843 at a meeting of the St Andrews Literary and Philosophical Society, ‘Mr Adamson read a letter from Mr W. H. Furlong relative to a new mode of preparing iodised paper for the Calotype’, Minutes [Library of the University of St Andrews]. [See also Doc. No: 02393].

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

11. A positive printed from a negative, a process that had given the St Andrews group a great deal of trouble. [See Doc. No: 04317].

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