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Document number: 4226
Date: 25 Mar 1841
Recipient: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Author: BUTLER George
Collection: British Library, London, Manuscripts - Fox Talbot Collection
Collection number historic: LA41-022
Last updated: 28th March 2010

Gayton, Northampton,
25 March, 1841.

My dear friend and most admired Magician,

Accept in the first place my best thanks for your very kind congratulations on my son George’s <1> success at Oxford. It does, indeed, appear to have been a great victory; amongst the 35 Competitors were 2 Etonian Newcastle Scholars, one of whom (Cotton) was the second at last years examination for this identical Scholarship (the Hertford.) It seems to have produced in the University a very strong impression in his favor.

But now, secondly, what a mass of wonders is contained in your Reprint from the Literary Gazette! <2> I am quite bewildered by the perusal. Latent pictures, really existing, but invisible! It is impossible to imagine, where this may end, or what immeasurable extent of subjects it may embrace. As for its operating as a discouragement to the art of drawing & painting, – has the art of drawing damaged that of writing? on the contrary are not Copper-plate engravings used with effect to teach Hand-writing? and is not good writing progressively extending itself throughout this and all other countries, in wh every modification of printing has most advanced?

What I should like to see, wd be a set of photogenic Calotype <3> drawings of Forest Trees, the oak, Elm, Beech, &c. taken, of course, on a perfectly calm day, when there should not be one breath of wind to disturb and smear-over the outlines of the foliage. This would be the greatest stride towards effective drawing & painting that has been made for a Century. One Artist has one touch for foliage, another has another; and we may from such characteristic touch devine the intended tree & perhaps name the Artist. But your photogenic drawing would be a portrait; it would exhibit the touch of the great Artist, Nature: And, by copying that touch, in a short time our modern artists wd acquire a facility & accuracy & decision in the characterizing of trees & delineating their respective foliage, as has never been surmised in all bygone Ages. What a beautiful Set of Studies of Trees, Shrubs, &c. might thus be prepared in a very short time! And what an extensive Sale must it obtain! Laporte, Burgess, &c. <4> wd be nothing to it, either in popularity or effect.

Try your hand at this, my dear Talbot: You may have to wait many weeks for a perfectly clear and calm day: but such days are sometimes to be met with: and then, remember, Fronto capilliatâ, post Est occasio calva. <5>

I beg most respectful Compts to Mrs Talbot, <6> & am ever My dear friend most faithfully & affecty Yours
Geo Butler

When shall you be able to fix the Colors of Nature? How mad Daguere [sic] <7> will be when he hears of your unrivalled success! H. F. Talbot Esq


1. George Butler (b. 1819), Hertford scholar and open scholar (1841) and fellow (1842–1852).

2. Possibly a reprint of Doc. No: 04195.

3. Butler was not as tangled in his phrasing as it might seem, for WHFT initially called his improved process Calotype (Photogenic) Drawing.

4. That is, others of the great Humanist works such as Joseph de Laporte, Le Voyageur Françoise ou la Connaissance de l’Ancien et du Nouveau Monde (Paris: L. Cettot, 1768–1795).

5. From Dionysius Cato, Disticha de Moribus, ‘Rem tibi quam nosces aptam dimittere noli; Fronte capillata, post est occasio calva’. Let nothing pass which will advantage you; Hairy in front, Occasion’s bald behind.

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

7. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor.

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