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

On this day (October 12) in the year 1852, the following article appeared on the front page of the "Boston Daily Evening Transcript": - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - THE HILLOTYPE DISCOVERY. [To the editors of the National Intelligencer.] Gentlemen: I have just read in a letter of your Paris correspondent some remarks on the subject of "Colored Daguerreotypes," in which allusion is made to Mr. Hill, of Westkill, New York, and in which it is stated that Mr. Hill has as yet exhibited no specimens of his discovery, while "M. Niepce St. Victor, nephew of the celebrated discoverer of photography in France, has made the grand discovery, and showed his pictures to the world." It was also stated that "M. Becquerel had produced colored pictures, but he was never able to fasten the colors." On this subject allow me a few remarks in justice to the American discoverer of colored photographs. I received a letter from Mr. Hill a few days since, desiring to see me. He was under the apprehension that he could not live long, having suffered from a violent hemorrhage, which he supposed was from the lungs, and brought on by his untiring devotion to the perfection of his discovery. On the 1st inst. I visited him, some sixty miles from this place. I found him so far recovered as to be again able to resume his labors, and I am happy to say to induce the belief that the hemorrhage was not from the lungs. On a previous visit, a year since, he showed me no specimens of his discovery, but, from the character of the man, and his manner, I then believed him to be strictly truthful and honest, and I was satisfied either that he had made the discovery which he claimed, or was under an honest delusion in respect to it; but I could not then testify to its actuality from personal knowledge. On the evening of the 1st and morning of the 2d inst, however, all doubt of the substantial fact that a great discovery in photography had been made by Mr. Hill was dispelled, by his showing me some twenty specimens of his results. The most of these were like all those of M. St. Victor, "copies of colored engravings." They were taken by the camera, and not, as has been reported, "mere transfers of colored prints;" but all were not "copies of colored engravings." Two were exquisitely beautiful portrait heads from life, and one a full-length of a child from life. One a landscape view from nature, principally buildings, which, although imperfect in parts, served, from that very circumstance, to verify to me the geniuneness of the discovery. The conclusions to which I came, from what I say, are these: First. Mr. Hill has made the discovery of a process for fixing the colors of the camera image, and, although not so perfected in all its complicated parts as to be equally true in the color of the various objects, is sufficiently developed in its results to give assurance of its ultimate perfection. Second. Mr. Hill, in delaying hitherto to impart to the public a discovery of such importance, while he has any hope of making it more perfect, has acted with a wisdom and propriety which will be appreciated by the public, and by none more than by the most distinguished and honorable of the Daguerreotype professors. Third. None by the most skilful and taste-endowed practitioners of the present photography may expect to succeed in developing the full excellence of Mr. Hill's discovery. It must be in the hands of no ordinary man, but will require for the production of a perfect picture the taste, the skill, the feeling of thorough and accomplished artists. Fourth. Mr. Hill's process cannot be like M. Becquerel's, for it is stated that M. Becquerel "was never able to fix the colors," while the colors in Mr. Hill's process are so fixed that the most severe rubbing with a puffer only increases their brilliancy, and no exposure to light has as yet been found to impair their brightness. Nor can it be like M. Niepce St. Victor's; for "fifteen minutes," it seems, is the least time in which some of results were obtained, while ordinarily "it takes two hours of exposure," to produce them. Mr. Hill's, on the contrary, are produced in twenty seconds at most, and the most brilliant and most beautiful specimens he showed me were obtained in TWO SECONDS! I also learn that the specimens exhibited by M. Niepce at the Great Exhibition were so evanescent that they perished before the exhibition closed. Fifth. I could not but reflect on the different positions of those who are engaged in Europe and American in unfolding this great scientific mystery. The experiments of Europe have around them, and at command, all the appliances of art, all the compounds, the products of the chemical labors of the world's best scientific minds, with ample pecuniary means to pursue their researches; they are further encouraged by the sympathy of the world of art, and a national patriotism further rallies to the protection of their country's claim to the honor of such a discovery. But how is it with the American experimenter? Shut up in a sequestered valley of the Catskill Mountains, with no appliances of art at his command, and purchasing and transporting at an expense almost ruinous to him the scanty stock of chemicals with which he is to operate, with comparatively few about him to sympathize with him in his labors but a devoted wife, willingly sharing in his privations; with feeble health and most limited means, he untiringly pursues his researches at the hazard of all he has in the world, even of life itself, that he may be give to the world his perfected discovery. But at least such a man has the sympathy of those to whom his discovery will be of the deepest interest? The professors of the Daguerreotype art will hail it with delight, and award to the discoverer the highest meed of honor? Americans, too, will feel a pride in sustaining their country's claim to the discovery? What shall I say in answer to these questions? Yes, it is true; the most skilful, the most honorable of the Daguerreotype professors do hail Mr. Hill's discovery with enthusiasm, and honor the discoverer. But, alas! it is also true that there are in the Daguerreotype profession some who are not only a disgrace to their profession, but to human nature itself. Some of these have been the most prominent in intruding on his privacy, in throwing before the public insulting innuendoes as well as positive falsehoods, harrassing him with diabolical threats, &c. But I forbear at present. There is a chapter in the history of this discovery which, for the honor of humanity, I will hope may not be required to be given, but, if necessary, shall be given, for the purpose at least of showing the nature of the trials to which our American discoverer has been subject. Mr. Hill has made a great discovery. It is not perfected. There is much yet to be done to make it perfect, but he is in advance of all others, and has within the year successfully overcome two of his difficulties. Both yellow and white were defective in quality and truth a year ago, both are now comparatively obtained. There are other colors which, in order to make them so true as to satisfy an artist's mind, will require yet further experimenting. Is not this reason enough for not at present giving his process to the public? Who has a right to demand him to reveal it to the public now? Who, indeed, has a right to demand it at any time? I trust his life will be spared, not only to perfect his process, but that he may reap some reward, both in honor and in profit, for his labors before death shall take him from us. With respect, gentlemen, Your most obedient servant, SAM'L F. B. MORSE. Poughkeepsie, New York, Oct. 4, 1852 ----------------------------------------------------------------- 10-12-96

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