Text: Edgar Allan Poe (?), “The Daguerreotype [parts I & II],” Alexander's Weekly Messenger, vol. 4, no. 3, January 15, p. 2, col. 1 and vol. 4, no. 19, May 6, 1840, p. 2, col. 2


[January 15, 1840]

[page 2 column 1, continued:]


This word is properly spelt Daguerréotype, and pronounced as if written Dagairraioteep. The inventor's name is Daguerre, but the French usage requires an accent on the second e, in the formation of the compound term.

The instrument itself must undoubtedly be regarded as the most important, and perhaps the most extraordinary triumph of modern science. We have not now space to touch upon the history of the invention, the earliest idea of which is derived from the camera obscura, and even the minute details of the process of photogeny (from Greek words signifying sun-painting) are too long for our present purpose. We may say in brief, however, that a plate of silver upon copper is prepared, presenting a surface for the action of the light, of the most delicate texture conceivable. A high polish being given this plate by means of a steatitic calcareous stone (called Daguerreolite) and containing equal parts of steatite and carbonate of lime, the fine surface is then iodized by being placed over a vessel containing iodine, until the whole assumes a tint of pale yellow. The plate is then deposited in a camera obscura, and the lens of this instrument directed to the object which it is required to paint. The action of the light does the rest. The length of time requisite for the operation varies according to the hour of the day, and the state of the weather — the general period being from ten to thirty minutes — experience alone suggesting the proper moment of removal. When taken out, the plate does not at first appear to have received a definite impression — some short processes, however, develope it in the most miraculous beauty. All language must fall short of conveying any just idea of the truth, and this will not appear so wonderful when we reflect that the source of vision itself has been, in this instance, the designer. Perhaps, if we imagine the distinctness with which an object is reflected in a positively perfect mirror, we come as near the reality as by any other means. For, in truth, the Daguerreotyped plate is infinitely (we use the term advisedly) is infinitely more accurate in its representation than any painting by human hands. If we examine a work of ordinary art, by means of a powerful microscope, all traces of resemblance to nature will disappear — but the closest scrutiny of the photogenic drawing discloses only a more absolute truth, a more perfect identity of aspect with the thing represented. The variations of shade, and the gradations of both linear and ærial perspective are those of truth itself in the supremeness of its perfection.

The results of the invention cannot, even remotely, be seen — but all experience, in matters [column 2:] of philosophical discovery, teaches us that, in such discovery, it is the unforeseen upon which we must calculate most largely. It is a theorem almost demonstrated, that the consequences of any new scientific invention will, at the present day exceed, by very much, the wildest expectations of the most imaginative. Among the obvious advantages derivable from the Daguerreotype, we may mention that, by its aid, the height of inaccessible elevations may in many cases be immediately ascertained, since it will afford an absolute perspective of objects in such situations, and that the drawing of a correct lunar chart will be at once accomplished, since the rays of this luminary are found to be appreciated by the plate.



[May 6, 1840]

[page 2, column 2, continued:]


The New York Sunday Mercury, one of the very best papers we receive in every respect, has a good article on the Fifteenth annual Exhibition of the National Academy of Design. Its observations one the Daguerreotype are especially excellent. It observes, however, that, until the transcript can be produced on paper, its use can never prove detrimental to the interests of the engraver. This is true in part, but then the production of the Daguerreotype effects on paper is likely to be soon accomplished. In France some very successful attempts have been made in this way. We agree fully, nevertheless, with the Mercury, that the invention will prove, upon the whole, highly beneficial to the interests of the fine arts. By the way, why is it that Americans persist in mispelling the word Daguerreotype. The accent should be placed upon the second e as we give it, and the word thus becomes one of five instead of four syllables.




These notices were first attributed to Poe by Clarence S. Brigham in Edgar Allan Poe's Contributions to Alexander's Weekly Messenger, 1943, pp. 20-22 and 82.

Originals of both issues may be found in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society and the Koester Collection of the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. The present text has been verified against copies from both of these institutions. For the second item, the period at the end of the next to last sentence, between “the word Daguerreotype” and “The accent should” is just barely visible in the copy at the HRCL, and has entirely vanished in the copy at the Am. Antiquarian Society, although the space for it remains intact.

Poe also wrote a brief comment about the Daguerreotype for Burton's Gentleman's Magazine, April 1840, as part of his series “A Chapter on Science and Art.”


[S:1 - AWM, 1840] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Misc. - The Daguerreotype (parts I & II)