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

On this day (December 8) in the year 1839, the following text accompanied the well-known lithograph illustration, "La Daguerreotypomanie" in the Parisian publication, "La Caricature": - - - - - - - - - La Daguerreotypomanie: Here is drawn the prospectus of this admirable invention that has been so lauded, so admired, and so paid for; a discovery worthy of national compensation, under the simple pretext that the nation can afford it. But, thanks to the stars of the Academy of Sciences, thanks to the zealous protector of the famous dep[uty] . . .; no, excuse me! of an illustrious scholar; no, excuse me! of a famous astronomer; the quality is perhaps not very exact. But wait, we must finish. This sublime commercial traveler of the Academy,* this editor of science, having directed his rhetorical efforts toward the discovery of the daguerreotype, it happens that, with the help of some true merit, this instrument was declared necessary to everyone, and it was decided that it should be paid for by everyone, although it is useful to absolutely no one. O grand nation, to whom necessities are not appropriated, but who is made to pay for the superfluous! Now, therefore, let us review our picture-prospectus. In the foreground, you see a reversed proof or rather you see nothing (absolutely), as if it were taken from the good side. Then we have a victim of the likeness placed in the mechanical portrait machine, a machine which delightfully contradicts its own purpose and whose perfection does not exist. An artist [is seen] carrying with the greatest difficulty the simplified travel apparatus, which one can use alone, provided that one is accompanied by several servants. The crowd seizes the invention; they dance before the instruments, they encircle them in procession. Two parties are present; the daguerreotype-lovers and the daguerreotype-crazed; which is reasonable? Neither one. Incidents multiply: extraordinary sales, considering that no one buys; windows for rent for experiments; municipal guards made up of consumers. Here a tight rope walker is suspended in air in a singular position, one that the daguerreotype- crazed execute without trying to balance. A balloon, fitted with an apparatus, catches birds in flight. Then, the steam carries the incomprehensible French instrument to foreign nations. But here is the best part of the entire business: the engravers, the unhappy engravers, who produced enough good things, and who after all were not lacking a certain success, well! You see: the sublime discovery arrives, the famous Susse himself went over to the enemy; he, the Maecenas [art patron] of statuettes; and desperation kills these poor artists. They hang themselves, you see, hung! . . . in the print. Fortunately they are perfectly well at home and work as they did in the past. Finally we have the sun, this reflective star, which uses a reflector to light up the divine mechanism and make it function the best it can: but its expression is a bit mocking: it undoubtedly takes vengeance, since the enterprise's failure if often its fault. It should be on guard, for if the famous scholar who claims himself the hero of the daguerreotype raises his head, this impertinent sun could well be manhandled; because l'Observatoire (the Observatory) should be taken seriously, and, all the sun that it is, it could well be proved one day that it is only a star, and a bad one. The Academy has already wanted to prove a good many things to us, such that we could well finish by swallowing this. J. . . *Reference to Arago (English language translation provided by Bridget Always. The original French text, along with my article "Theodore Maurisset's 'Fantaisies': La Daguerreotypomanie" appears in "The Daguerreian Annual 1995" pg. 134-147.) -------------------------------------------------------------- 12-08-97

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