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

On this day, May 4, the following two items appeared in their respective publications. In both cases, the writer has taken opportunity to use the nature of the daguerreotype to construct a moral lesson. Allow me to self-indulge in a phrase from a lecture I gave a couple years back: "If we are to understand the daguerreotype, we must not be afraid of its language." Although this sort of moralizing is rather foreign to us today, yet passages such as these help us to understand the "language of the daguerreotype." - - - - - - - - - - - - - - in the 1840 "Essex Register" (Salem, Vol. XL No. 36): From the Churchman. L I N E S AT THE DAGUERREOTYPE EXHIBITION. Apples of gold in pictures of silver.--Prov XXV ii. I. O what if thus our evil deeds Are blazoned in the sky; And every scene of our wild lives Daguerreotyped on high! II. I know some angel chronicleth Each living mortal's name; But what if thus our vital breath Be painting out our shame! III. O lowly live on earth, and let Thine alms, unseen as air, Be golden fruitage in the skies, And silver pictures there! (-from the files of Chris Steele. The "exhibition" likely refers to the Boston exhibition/lectures of Francois Gouraud.) * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * (more...) from the 1844 "New-York Observer" (Vol. 22, No. 18): For the New York Observer. T H E D A G U E R R O T Y P E. The philosopher fixes his plate in the camera, and by the aid of chemistry, and the light of heaven, a most faithful resemblance of the object before it is fixed upon the polished plate. Does a smile play upon the lip of the sitter, it is faithfully transferred to the likeness. Does a frown becloud the brow! With the same unerring truthfulness it is fixed forever on the portrait. The winking of an eye is a risk to the picture, the moving of a feature blurs it to its ruin. No flattering pencil gives fire to an inanimate eye, or supplies a bright tint to the faded cheek. No friendly touch half hides the faults, and makes the lion seem the lamb; but the daguerrotype, like the faithful historian, takes us--just as we are. And it is equally true that our moral image is sitting for its portrait to the great daguerrotype of Heaven, and on that page which will be unfolded hereafter, will we behold the very workings of our hearts, the actions of our lives, as they have transpired from day to day, each thought, each deed, whether good or evil, transferred with fearful faithfulness to the great portrait gallery of eternity. And it will be very easy to discover in these pictures a most striking family likeness. To which ever of two great personages it will nearest assimilate, will mark the family to whom each belongs. Is the foul filled with love of rapine and murder? It is one of the family of that "roaring lion who goeth about seeking whom he may devour." Is it filled with ambition, malice, deceit, deceiving and being deceived." It is a child of the arch deceiver, the father of lies. Is it filled with an overpowering love for fiches and joys and favor of this world! He too is a son of the 'God of this world,' of the "prince of the power of the air." And has that soul been "just and devout" in its course on earth! Has strict equity been the rule of his business hours, and ardent devotion the delight of his leisure moments! Has that heart yearned with compassion for the distressed and needy; that soul, been filled with care for dying souls, and with self-denying love, put forth an energetic hand to relieve and save the miserable! Ah! This bears the likeness of the elder Brother, yes, this soul belongs to the family of the Father of our spirits, and reflects the very image of Him who died for lost and ruined man. ---------------- M. C. (original spelling of "daguerrotype" maintained. - G.E.) ----------------------------------------------------------------- 05-04-96

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