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

On this day (September 10) in the year 1839, the following text appeared in the French humor paper, "Le Charivari." I'll preface this text with a comment made to me by R. Derek Wood regarding this item: "...I personally do not think it has any real relevance to the history of the daguerreotype, for the current news status of the daguerreotype was the only reason why the writer used it as a peg on which to hang the usual (what now seems heavy-handed) political satire of "Le Charivari," without the writer having any intrinsic interest in the daguerreotype. Any subject served the same purpose of "Le Charivari"...with its extremely minor relevance to the history of the daguerreotype, the "Charivari" piece opens up too big a minefield of misunderstanding to make it a satisfactory candidate for an uncomplicated reprinting for an audience of daguerreotype enthusiasts." Nevertheless, the text piqued my curiosity, and not being able to read the original French, I had the text translated and offer it to you today, in English, for the first time. With Wood's caution in mind, I invite you to enjoy today's post. - - - - - - - - - TWO NEW POLITICAL PARTIES THE DAGUERROTYPOPHILES (--lovers) AND THE DAGUERROTYPOPHOBES (--haters) Do you like photography? It has been put up everywhere. --Thus, sir, you do not love your country? --I love my country very much sir. --In that case, sir, why do you not love glory? --I love glory very much, sir. --In that case, sir, why do you not love all that can increase it? --I love all that can increase it very much sir. --In that case, why do you not appreciate M. Daguerre? --I appreciate M. Daguerre very much sir, although I do not know him. I appreciate very much, in general, all that I do not know. --In that case, sir, why do you not like the daguerreotype? --I like the daguerreotype very much, sir, even though I am familiar with it [know it]. --In that case, sir, you love therefore, everything? --By no means do I love everything, sir. And most of all I do not like fricandeau a l'oseille [meat & dough dish of the southwest of France]: it sets my teeth on edge. And, I do not like imbeciles like you: that gets on my nerves. I do not like fricandeau a l'os. . .but imbeciles are the only thing we are speaking about today. I do not like imbeciles who wish to turn a beautiful scientific discovery into a senseless trade. When viewed as a study on the play of light on the body, M. Daguerre's experiment represents immense progress, especially because of the new levels to which it carries human knowledge. When considered an art, it's a perfect silliness. --You therefore do not love your country, sir? --I have already had the honor of telling you that it was the fricandeau only that I did not love, sir. Nor imbeciles. Therefore, I continue. What is art? Do you know what art is? Art, sir, is harmony of depth and form, it is the adorned idea of a body, it is intelligence infused in the material, it is thought rendered palpable, sonorous, or visible: in a word, it is expression. Now, when you will have, not drawn, but traced the pavilions of the Tuileries, the buttes of Montmartre or the Montfaucon plain with an infinitesimal fidelity, do you believe quite simply that you have created art? Do you believe that you will have achieved a masterpiece because not a weather vane is missing on the Tuileries, not an ass on the Montmartre buttes, nor a carcass at Montfaucon? Do you believe that this is how veritable artists evolve? Auctioneers, maybe, but artists, no. The artist chooses, draws, arranges, idealizes. The daguerreotype brutally copies its subject, or more precisely, plagiarizes it. The beautiful and the ugly, the palace and the market stall, the flower and the cabbage stalk, it reproduces them all with the same scruple. And if by chance, within this framework, the chief of police's agents were to litter, do you believe the daguerreotype would abstain [from showing this]? Not in the least, the sun shines for everyone, for the asses of Montmartre as well as for imbeciles, for rubbish as well as for pearls, and you will have the pleasure of beholding here and there, in your masterpiece, asses, imbeciles, and rubbish, all admirably similar. --But sir, you do not love therefore the glory of your country? --I love very much, I repeat, the glory of my country, sir, but I do not love rubbish. Fricandeaux neither, and imbeciles even less. Let's continue. It's exactly this pure loyalty, this loyalty without choice, without taste, without thought, and finally without art, which produced this famous physiognomy [the daguerreotype] that has supposedly sunk all the sculptors, as it is said now, and which, in fact, has scarcely sunk anyone but its own shareholders. Why is that? It is because its products, so mathematically loyal, are nothing more than servilely reproduced materials, and there is not the slightest spark of life in these inert slabs of plaster. They admirably reproduce your wrinkles and warts, but not at all the expression on your face. The length and width of your nose is perfectly represented, but your countenance [physiognomy] not at all. Hence the immense affluence which is not pressing to get into the workshops of the rue Vivienne. This will be, believe me, the general applications of the daguerreotype. It is a classic example: this word signifies unhappiness. --In that case, sir, you therefore do not love what is capable of increasing the glory of your country? --I love very much, sir, what can increase the glory of my country, and that is precisely why I do not love what can lessen it. Now, it would be lessened horrifyingly if the artists, the Vernet, the Decamp, the Delacroix, the Leon Viardot, the Hemi Monnier, the Laurent Jan, the Granville, the Daumier, the Gavarni were henceforth suppressed and replaced by five or six more or less obscure, but hardly portable, boxes which create a daguerreotype. The fricandeau alone is enough for foreigners to reproach us about, without furnishing them with a further pretext for denigration. It is therefore very fortunate that the daguerreotype is a fairly impracticable instrument for the common amateur, without the assistance of three chemists, two mechanics [technicians/mechanistics] and four diverse scholars, assisted themselves by the inventor. The daguerreotype, with its four or five boxes, makes up therefore more volume than work. The public experiment that was recently conducted for the particular instruction of one hundred twenty-five persons, in the exhibitions on the platform of Orsay ['Quai d'Orsay'], once more showed, simultaneously, both admirable accuracy and insurmountable difficulty. One circumstance has especially struck us, independently of those which we have already singled out: "The plate, fixed in a small plank, we are told, is protected from the light of day by closing the windows, of a set place, etc." Thus, when you are in the middle of a field trying to capture a beautiful setting, you will need to be careful to shut all the countryside's windows. The precaution is strictly necessary. --But, sir. . . --But, sir, make machines which manufacture stockings, wigs, laws, fricandeaux, everything of this type that you wish: nothing better, without saying anything worse; but do not manufacture things of art. Machines can replace arms, but not the mind. What would you say to a machine that spun novels, wove epic poems, or carded [the firsts of] Paris? It was good to reward the inventor of the daguerreotype, as it was the profession's inventor, la Jacquart. All invention merits a salary, with the exception of the invention of the fricandeau. Honos et argentum[,] is good. But let us not go too far. Give to science what belongs to science; give to art what belongs to art. Leave mathematical exactitudes to science, its boxes, its iodines, its little stoves, its hyposulfites, its choiceless drawings, its asses of Montmartre, its carcasses of Montfaucon, its weather vanes of the Tuileries, its cabbage stalks, its closed widows, its imbeciles especially, and for the little that it matters, its fricandeaux. Oppositely, leave to art its nature of choice, its monuments, its beautiful settings, its greenery, its women, its flowers, its sky, its expression, its life. --But, sir... --Please, sir? --You know well, sir. . . --What, sir?. . . --That only a man bribed by foreign powers is pleased to denigrate things which contribute to the glory of France in such a way. --Yes, sir, yes, I confess, I am bribed by England to denigrate them; but you, sir, you seem to me bribed, on the contrary, to praise them. That is even more shrewd on the part of the perfidious Albion. As for me, I sell myself to the preference of the orchestra of l'Opera over the organs of Barbarism, and to the Museum over the daguerreotype. (Translated from a reprint of the text in Reynaud, Francoise. "Paris et le Daguerreotype" [Paris: Paris Musees, 1989.] Translation by Brigitte Alway.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 09-10-97

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