A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ART

As in all cases of great and valuable inventions in science and art the English lay claim to the honor of having first discovered that of Photogenic drawing. But we shall see in the progress of this history, that like many other assumptions of their authors, priority in this is no more due them, then the invention of steamboats, or the cotton gin.

This claim is founded upon the fact that in 1802 Mr. Wedgwood recorded an experiment in the Journal of the Royal Institution of the following nature.

"A piece of paper, or other convenient material, was placed upon a frame and sponged over with a solution of nitrate of silver; it was then placed behind a painting on glass and the light traversing the painting produced a kind of copy upon the prepared paper, those parts in which the rays were least intercepted being of the darkest hues. Here, however, terminated the experiment; for although both Mr. Wedgwood and Sir Humphry Davey experimented carefully, for the purpose of endeavoring to fix the drawings thus obtained, yet the object could not be accomplished, and the whole ended in failure."

This, by their own showing, was the earliest attempt of the English savans. But this much of the principle was known to the Alchemists at an early date--although practically produced in another way--as the following experiment, to be found in old books, amply proves.

"Dissolve chalk in aquafortis to the consistence of milk, and add to it a strong solution of silver; keep this liquor in a glass bottle well stopped; then cutting out from a piece of paper the letters you would have appear, paste it on the decanter, and lay it in the sun's rays in such a manner that the rays may pass through the spaces cut out of the paper and fall on the surface of the liquor the part of the glass through which the rays pass will be turned black, while that under the paper remains white; but particular care must be observed that the bottle be not moved during the operation."

Had not the alchemists been so intent upon the desire to discover the far famed philosopher's stone, as to make them unmindful of the accidental dawnings of more valuable discoveries, this little experiment in chemistry might have induced them to prosecute a more thorough search into the principle, and Photogenic art would not now, as it is, be a new one.

It is even asserted that the Jugglers of India were for many ages in possession of a secret by which they were enabled, in a brief space, to copy the likeness of any individual by the action of light. This fact, if fact it be, may account for the celebrated magic mirrors said to be possessed by these jugglers, and probable cause of their power over the people.

However, as early as 1556 the fact was established that a combination of chloride and silver, called, from its appearance, horn silver, was blackened by the sun's rays; and in the latter part of the last century Mrs. Fulhame published an experiment by which a change of color was effected in the chloride of gold by the agency of light; and gave it as her opinion that words might be written in this way. These incidents are considered as the first steps towards the discovery of the Photogenic art.

Mr. Wedgwood's experiments can scarcely be said to be any improvement on them since he failed to bring them to practical usefulness, and his countrymen will have to be satisfied with awarding the honor of its complete adaptation to practical purposes, to MM. Niepce and Daguerre of France, and to Professors Draper, and Morse of New-York.

These gentlemen--MM. Niepce and Daguerre--pursued the subject simultaneously, without either, however being aware of the experiments of his colleague in science. For several years, each pursued his researches individually until chance made them acquainted, when they entered into co-partnership, and conjointly brought the art almost to perfection.

M. Niepce presented his first paper on the subject to the Royal Society in 1827, naming his discovery Heliography. What led him to the study of the principles of the art I have no means, at present, of knowing, but it was probably owing to the facts recorded by the Alchemists, Mrs. Fulhame and others, already mentioned. But M. Daguerre, who is a celebrated dioramic painter, being desirous of employing some of the singularly changeable salts of silver to produce a peculiar class of effects in his paintings, was led to pursue an investigation which resulted in the discovery of the Daguerreotype, or Photogenic drawing on plates of copper coated with silver.

To this gentleman--to his liberality--are we Americans indebted for the free use of his invention; and the large and increasing class of Daguerrean artists of this country should hold him in the most profound respect for it. He was not willing that it should be confined to a few individuals who might monopolise the benefits to be derived from its practice, and shut out all chance of improvement. Like a true, noble hearted French gentleman he desired that his invention should spread freely throughout the whole world. With these views he opened negociations with the French government which were concluded most favorably to both the inventors, and France has the "glory of endowing the whole world of science and art with one of the most surprising discoveries that honor the land."