N S. Maskelyne Esq
Athenæum Club <1>
June 14/ 54
I am at present, very much against my inclination, engaged in some legal proceedings <2> with a person <3> who is infringing my patent right. But I cannot help it, since in justice to several photographic Artists who are taking portraits with my license, I must take the necessary steps for their protection –
Having presented my invention to the Public, with this sole reservation, <4> I might have expected that
they it would have been respected, but since it is not, I have no choice but to appeal to the law. The trial will probably come on about July 1st. I expect that Mr Robert Hunt <5> will be one of the chief witnesses against me, as he has made an affidavit <6> that he considers my invention to have possessed very little novelty, for that the principal parts of it were discovered long before by Daguerre <7> and Niepce <8> – Together with other assertions equally veracious –
As the Jury may be expected to know nothing of the subject beyond what they learn from the trial itself, as it proceeds, it is very Necessary for me to request scientific men to give me the aid and support of their testimony in order to show what the real opinion of the Scientific world respecting this invention is. I may even go so far as to say, that the interests of science are involved as well as my own in a true & just verdict being come to. May I therefore request you to be one of my witnesses <9> on this occasion? There are no particular facts which I could point out – We only want general testimony such as Your ample Knowledge of the subject would enable you readily to give –
I remain Dr Sir Yours very Truly
H. F. Talbot
1. The Athenæum and (London) Literary Chronicle, London.
2. In 1852 Talbot had thrown open his photographic patents as far as amateur photography was concerned, though he retained them regarding professional portraiture. He won several injunctions against professional portrait-photographers who infringed them, and in 1854 he sought to obtain another against James Henderson, photographer, London, a professional photographer who took portraits using the collodion process. Later in the same year, and before the Henderson case was concluded, he failed to obtain an injunction against another portrait-photographer, Martin Laroche, who, he claimed, had infringed two important elements of his patents. [For an account of these significant cases, and the opposition to Talbot’s patents, see H. J. P. Arnold, William Henry Fox Talbot: Pioneer of Photography and Man of Science (London: Hutchinson Benham, 1977), pp. 198–209.] Story-Maskelyne was one of the supporters of Talbot on the otherwise hostile council of the Photographic Society.
3. James Henderson.
4. Viz. that the patent should still apply in respect of professional portrait-photography.
5. Robert Hunt (1807–1887), scientist & photographic historian. Hunt was also to attack Talbot in print in his article ‘The Photographic Patents’, The Art-Journal, n.s., v. 6, 1 August 1854, pp. 236–38: ‘Reviewing Mr Fox Talbot’s labours as an experimentalist, we find him industriously working upon the ground which others have opened up. He has never originated any branch of inquiry; and, in prosecuting any, his practice is purely empirical. It is the system of putting this and that together to see what it will make. It is progress by a system of accidents, without a rule.‘
6. A sworn statement.
7. Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (1787–1851), French artist, showman & inventor.
8. Joseph Nicéphore Niépce (1765–1833), pioneer of photography.
9. Talbot made this request to a number of his scientific friends, such as Sir John Frederick William Herschel (1792–1871), astronomer & scientist and Sir David Brewster (1781–1868), Scottish scientist & journalist [who provided affidavits but did not appear in court].