link to Talbot Project home page link to De Montfort University home page link to Glasgow University home page
Project Director: Professor Larry J Schaaf

Back to the letter search >

Document number: 4897
Date: 18 Nov 1843
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BREWSTER David
Collection: National Science and Media Museum, Bradford
Collection number: 1937-4928
Last updated: 15th July 2010

Dear Sir,

I had almost begun to think that you had forgotten me, or, what was more probable, that you were unwell, or upon your travels. I was therefore delighted nearly as much with the sight of your handwriting, as with the beautiful Calotypes <1> which accompanied it.

The Gate of University College, Wadham & St Peters Church, <2> are particularly beautiful. The inky blackness in the last of these is remarkable. Both Dr Adamson <3> and I produced the same tint accidentally, & we think it, in many cases, preferable to the brown. We conceived it to be produced by letting the positive lie long in water that had ammonia in it, after the Calotype had been fixed by the Hyposulphite. Perhaps you can explain it better.

You promised me some of those you had executed in France. Does the brighter Sun improve or deteriorate the picture.

I wish I could send you some of the fine Calotypes of ancient Church yard Monuments, <4> as well as modern ones taken by Mr Adamson, <5> and also specimens of the fine groups of Picturesque personages which Mr Hill <6> and he have arranged and photographed. Those of the Fishermen & women of Newhaven <7> are singularly excellent. They have been so overwhelmed with work that they have not been able to send me a Collection which they have promised.

I enclose what I hope you will admire a picture taken from the top of St Regulus’s Tower <8> here, 130 feet high. The Steeple is that of St Salvator’s College in North Street. The building in the centre is our New College. Over it is St Andrews Bay, & over that the Mouth of the Eden. The negative was taken by Mr Furlong <9> & the positive by me. It is too dark, but I have no better copy.

I have been doing very little this Summer. We have had little Sun for Solar Spectrum Expts and the little I have done has been on binocular vision, <10> and the polarisation of the Atmosphere. <11>

We are now fighting a great battle of civil & religious liberty in Scotland, <12> and, as a part & parcel of it, that of University Reform. The enclosed resolutions will explain this latter point to you. We are building 800 Chambers and 500 Schools, and as I feel a deep interest in all these matters, I, of course, take an active part, and have thus been withdrawn, to a certain extent, from my usual and more peaceful occupations.

The next step in the Calotype is to make Paper sensitive to objects illuminated with Gas <13>. I hope you are making the attempt & will succeed.

Mr. M.P. Edgeworth <14> shewed me, and indeed has left me with one of Sir John Herschels <15> Cyanotypes <16> made by Sir John. It is taken from an engraving; & is tolerably sharp but by no means pleasing.

Ever Most Faithfy yrs
D Brewster

St Leonards’ College
St Andrews
Novr 18th 1843

H.F. Talbot Esqr


1. WHFT's family had complained for years that he was sometimes very tardy in answering correspondence or in revealing his movements.

2. University College and Wadham College; St Peter’s church (now part of St Edmund Hall), all University of Oxford. WHFT had had a productive visit to Oxford in September 1843. [See Doc. No: 04875].

3. 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.

4. Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh. For examples, see Sara Stevenson, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: National Galleries of Scotland, 1981), pp. 191–94.

5. Robert Adamson (1821–1848). His professional partnership with the painter David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer, which began in May 1843 because of Hill’s desire to record the momentous Disruption of the Church of Scotland, established – at the dawn of photography – the art of photographic portraiture at the highest level. It was Brewster who introduced the photographer to the painter [see Doc. No: 04839]. 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 University Press, 2002).

6. David Octavius Hill (1802–1870), Scottish painter & photographer.

7. See Sara Stevenson, The Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1991).

8. John Ward and Sara Stevenson, The Scientific Art of William Henry Fox Talbot and David Octavius Hill with Robert Adamson (Edinburgh: Scottish National Portrait Gallery, 1986), p. 129; the image discussed here might well have been taken by Furlong and be the one referred to by Brewster. For a discussion of Furlong, see Graham Smith, ‘W. Holland Furlong, St Andrews and the Origins of Photography in Scotland’, History of Photography, v. 13 no. 2, April–June 1989, pp. 139–143.

9. William Holland Furlonge, sometimes William Holland Furlong (1826-1881), Irish born chemist, photographer and Assyriologist.

10. D. Brewster, ‘On the law of visible position in Single and Binocular Vision, and on the representation of solid figures by the union of dissimilar plane pictures on the Retina’, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Transactions, v. 15, 1844, pp. 349–368 [read 1843]; ‘On the knowledge of distance given by Binocular Vision’, Royal Society of Edinburgh, Transactions, v. 15, 1844, pp. 663–675.

11. D. Brewster, ‘Sur la polarisation de la lumière atmosphérique’, Comptes Rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’ de l’Académie des Sciences, v. 20, 1845, pp. 801–802.

12. See Doc. No: 04839.

13. See Doc. No: 04898.

14. Michael Pakenham Edgeworth (1812–1881). Brewster had visited the Edgeworth family in Ireland ca. 1827 [see Doc. No: 03433] and M. P. Edgeworth was a friend of Brewster’s son Henry [see Doc. No: 05201].

15. Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792–1871), astronomer & scientist.

16. Herschel’s cyanotype process consisted of making a contact print on paper impregnated with iron salts, from a translucent object, a drawing on tracing-paper, or a paper negative. The resulting insoluble Prussian Blue image was fixed by washing in water. The process remained in use until the second half of the 20th century to copy architectural plans, hence the term ‘blueprint’.