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Document number: 4583
Date: 20 Aug 1842
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4909
Last updated: 10th May 2010

St Leonards College
St Andrews< Augt 20th 1842
Dear Sir,

I am sorry that you have occasion to set any value upon fresh air; but very glad that you think of seeking for it in the Highlands where you cannot fail to find it. Even in the Lowlands here at St Andrews the Air is singularly fresh and salubrious in the months of July August & Septr, when we have none of the East Winds which infest the East Coast at other seasons.

After spending two months among the woods of Warwickshire, <1> the exhalations from its damp meadows, & its Green & sluggish streams, we felt on our return here as if we really breathed the breath of Life. I was never before sensible that one external air differed from another.

You must of course come to St Andrews the Headquarters of the Calotype <2>; and I trust you will take up your quarters with us while you are here.

We would rather have seen you under our Roof on the banks of the Tweed, <3> than among the Ghostly ruins of St Leonard’s College, for there are classical scenes in Roxburghshire that you would enjoy; but we must hope to have that pleasure on some future day. – I beg you will let me know when you have resolved to come North, as I can give you some information about travelling that may be useful, especially if Mrs Talbot <4> accompanies you.

Mr Adamson <5> has now resolved to practise the Calotype in Scotland, and is making preparations for beginning it.

The enclosed Paper from Major Playfair <6> speaks for itself.

Ever Most Truly yrs
D Brewster


1. The Brewsters had spent part of the Summer of 1842 at Royal Leamington Spa, near Warwick, southwest of Birmingham, for Lady Brewster’s health.

2. St Andrews, with its concentration of scientific men, and direct connection between WHFT and Sir David Brewster, had become a centre for early experiments in photography.

3. Allerly, near Melrose on the River Tweed, Roxburghshire.

4. Constance Talbot, née Mundy (1811–1880), WHFT’s wife.

5. 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).

6. Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair (1786–1861), military & provost of St Andrew’s University. His communication was in manuscript, ‘Calotype as attempted at St Andrews up to 15 August 1842’, which detailed all the steps of their manipulations. Brewster also enclosed Playfair’s covering note to him: ‘… If your friend Mr Talbot will condescend to peruse these notes & give us any new light on the subject – we may go on – but with the present light we cannot advance one step & I regret to say that the Daguerreotype must have infinitely the ascendancy unless this art is more easily attainable – with the other I never have a single failure – with this I never have any thing else.’ [NMFPT 1937–4906 and 1937–4907]