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Document number: 8434
Date: 17 Jan 1849
Recipient: MALONE Thomas Augustine
Author: TALBOT William Henry Fox
Collection: PRINTED
Last updated: 30th July 2012

[The original of this letter has not been located - the following transcription was published in The Index, A Weekly Repertory of the Results of Modern Progress, v. 1 no. 5, 20 January 1849, p. 68. The three asterisks at the end indicate that it was a partial transcription. The letter was in response to Malone's article on photography.<1>]

Lacock, 17th January, 1849.

Dear Sir, - I am obliged to you for the two numbers of The Index, containing a portion of your lecture, which is very well done. Although Daguerre's original process was more sensitive than my original process, yet I discovered the improvement which I called the calotype, before Mr. Goddard discoved the means of accelerating the Daguerreotype; <2> the consequence was, that I obtained a good portrait from the life, in October, 1840,<3> while no Daguerreotype portrait is of earlier date than 1841.<4> I sent a portrait which I took in February, 1841, to the French Academy, and I received a letter from M. Biot, saying that it was received with astonishment and admiration, and with "applause from the public in the galleries;"<5> which shows that at that date the French could not produce any example of the kind.

* * *

H. F. Talbot."


1. Malone’s lecture was given in the newly-refurbished lecture room of the Western Literary & Scientific Institution in London's Leicester Sququre. “On the Chymical Action of Light on Paper, Illustrated by Experiments,” was mentioned in The Times, 11 December 1848, p. 1. A form of this lecture was published under the title, “Photography, or, Drawings Produced by the Chemical Action of Light; with Reference More Especially to Those on Paper, by the Process Known as the Talbotype.” The first part of this article has not been located, but the second installment was published in the Institute's journal, The Index: A Weekly Repertory of the Results of Modern Progress, v. 1, no. 5, 20 January 1849, pp. 66-68. In 1845, WHFT had loaned some calotypes to the Institute's conversazione - see Doc. No: 05247.

2. John Frederick Goddard (1797-1866) shared many interests with WHFT, including polarised light before the introduction of photography. Goddard went to work for the London Daguerreotypist, Richard Beard, and in 1840 discovered the applicability of bromine in sensitising Daguerreotype plates; this immediately made portraiture practical. In 1842, Goddard visited Lacock Abbey and photographed with Talbot and Nicolaas Henneman. Goddard returned to London brimming with enthusiasm for the paper negative process, fitting out a special room at the Western Establishment to conduct further experiments. Although few details of this period are known, something did not work out, and Goddard wound up being a Daguerreotypist in the provincial town of Ryde. His contributions to the early success of the Daguerreotype were recognised by the photographic community with a subscription to provide him with an annuity in his old age. See Larry J. Schaaf, Sun Pictures Catalogue 9: William Henry Fox Talbot, Friends & Relations (New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Inc., 1999), pp. 22-29.

3. Three portrait negatives from October 1840 are known to have survived, all of WHFT's wife, Constance; 6 October (Schaaf 2493); 8 October (Schaaf 2497); and 13 October (Schaaf 2506). The 8 October one was taken "without sun" with a five minute exposure in the evening; the negative and a salt print of this are reproduced as item 2 in Larry J. Schaaf, Sun Pictures Catalogue Nine: William Henry Fox Talbot: Friends and Relations, (New York: Hans P. Kraus, Jr., Inc., 1999). The 13 October one was taken in Lacock Abbey's garden with a 3 second exposure and is reproduced in Gail Buckland, Fox Talbot and the Invention of Photography (Boston: David R. Godine, 1980), p. 64.

4. WHFT was obviously unaware of the several experiemental daguerreotype portraits taken in 1839 and 1840, primarily in America. None were practical before Goddard's acceleration.

5. This was a portrait of WHFT's valet and assistant, Nicolaas Henneman (1813–1898), done in one minute on 23 February 1841. For this image see ‘Nicolaas Henneman in the Cloisters of Lacock Abbey’, Schaaf 2559, reproduced in Larry J. Schaaf, The Photographic Art of William Henry Fox Talbot (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000), p. 112. [See also Doc. No: 04365] Jean-Baptiste Biot (1774-1862), French scientist. Although the applause is not mentioned specifically, this might be Biot's letter of 16 March 1841: Doc. No: 04212.

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