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

On this day (May 12) in the year 1845, James Russell Lowell wrote to his sister-in-law Louis [White Howe] about daguerreotypes of Maria (his wife) and himself: - - - - - - - - - "The latest intelligence of any interest which I have to convey is that Maria and I have been sitting to the Sun for our portraits. It was not, however, at the request of that distinguished and useful luminary, but at that of a son of the Mr. Pennock with whom (you will recollect) we stayed a short time in the country. . . It is generally thought that Mr. Phoebus has made a decided hit; not that we either of us have received a stroke of the Sun, but the likenesses are excellent. Portraits of this kind are generally satires upon their originals, and this (though the fact is not commonly known) is the origin of their name--a satire being usually, and in its primitive signification always, a dagger o' type with which a gentleman stabs at the reputation of another. Maria's is so beautiful that I am very positive that your mother, in direct contravention of one of the Commandments. . . will covet it. There were several taken before I was satisfied, and Mr. Langenheim (who holds the responsible office of assistant and brushcleaner to the erratic artist who took the likenesses--I have taken them since myself) requested permission to keep one of the rejected ones, which he will ornament with a background of clouds and place in his gallery. The beauty of the sitter was assigned as the reason for this request. He desired me also to sit for an additional portrait to be used for the same purpose. You can draw your own inference from this last fact." (When this was written, J.R. Lowell was rising in his prominence as a writer and poet. He figuratively describes the sun (Phoebus) as the artist, with Langenheim as the "assistant." This passage also illustrates the common effort of the gallery operator to add "notables" to the gallery collection. --G. E.) Cited from: Vernon, Hope Jillson, "The Poems of Maria Lowell" (Providence: Brown University, 1936, page 27) -------------------------------------------------------------- 05-12-97

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