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  The research archive of Gary W. Ewer regarding the history of the daguerreotype

On this day (March 14) in the year 1898, the Hon. L. E. Chittenden took pen in hand and wrote this reminiscence that appeared in "Camera Notes" Vol. 2, No. 1 (1898). - - - - - - - - - - - - - An Historical Letter. It is not often that historical fact and humor are so happily combined as in the following interesting letter from our valued friend, the Hon. L. E. Chittenden, who vividly narrates his early experiences as a photographic sitter: My Dear Murphy: You ask for a confession of my first experience in the art of Daguerre, and since confession is good for the soul, you shall have it. In September, 1842, when I was eighteen years old, I had read Blackstone, and thought myself a greater lawyer than I have since supposed or claimed myself to be. I was at the Court of Franklin County in St. Albans, Vt. There I met two peripatetic artists from the great City of Boston, who were offering to make portraits of such accuracy that they were more like than the sitter, for five dollars each. They called them Daguerreotypes. They had not been able to secure a victim, for the mechanism was fearfully made and its operation awful to behold! They offered to give me my portrait if I would endure the trial. I was ambitious and did not wish to deprive the bar of the opportunity of securing my portrait so cheaply, and in a moment of weakness I consented. The operators rolled out what looked like an overgrown barber's chair with a ballot box attachment on a staff in from of it. I was seated in the chair and it Briarean arms seized me by the wrists, ankles, waist and shoulders. There was an iron bar which served as an elongation of the spine, with a cross bar in which the head rested, which held my head and neck as in a vice. Then, when I felt like a martyr in the embrace of the Nuremburg "Maiden," I was told to assume my best Sunday expression, to fix my eyes on the first letter of the sign of a beer saloon opposite, and not to move or wink on pain of "spoiling the exposure." One of the executioners then said I must not close my eyes or move for ten minutes, at the end of which he would signal by a tap on the ballot box. The length of that cycle was too awful for description. There was not such another in the "time, times and half," of the Prophet Daniel, or in the whole of "Pollock's Course of Time." It was a time of agony, and I supposed at first that it would come to an end, but I had to abandon that hope. I began to recall and review the tortures of which I had read, "Fox's Book of Martyrs," "The History of the Inquisition," and had nearly finished "Las Cases," "Tyranies and Cruelties of the Spaniards" when the tap came and the anguish ended. Some days afterward the portrait was produced. It was a portrait with a tremolo attachment of wavy lines, the eyes leaden, the nose too large, the expression dull and heavy. And yet it was regarded as a triumph of art. The printing of anything directly from the object was in itself so extraordinary that one scarcely thought of criticising the print. I myself thought it was the most wonderful advance in art that had ever occurred. Now when I recall the pitiful results of this experiment and mentally compare them with the exquisitely beautiful illustrations in the number of Camera Notes you have sent me, I cannot but feel that the world owes a larger debt to photography than to wood and line engraving and etching combined. I think I have never seen an etching which surpasses the "Lombardy Pastoral" in all the qualities that makes an etching attractive. Cordially yours, (Signed), L. E. CHITTENDEN. March 14, 1898. Cited from Goldberg, Vicki ed. "Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present" (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1981) p. 77-78. -------------------------------------------------------------- 03-14-98

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