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The engraving is included in "Sketches of life and character" by Timothy Shay Arthur (Boston, L.P. Crown & Co., 1853), p.120-128
If our children and children's children to the third and fourth generations are not in possession of portraits of their ancestors, it will be no fault of the Daguerreotypists of the present day; for, verily, they are limning faces at a rate that promises soon to make every man's house a Daguerrean Gallery. From little Bess, the baby, up to great-grandpa', all must now have their likenesses; and even the sober Friend, who heretofore rejected all the vanities of portrait-taking, is tempted to sit in the operator's chair, and quick as thought, his features are caught and fixed by a sunbeam. In our great cities, a Daguerreotypist is to be found in almost every square; and there is scarcely a county in any state that has not one or more of these industrious individuals busy at work in catching " the shadow" ere the " substance fade." A few years ago it was not every man who could afford a likeness of himself, his wife or his children; these were luxuries known to those only who had money to spare; now it is hard to find the man who has not gone through the " operator's" hands from one to half-a-dozen times, or who has not the shadowy faces of his wife and children done up in purple morocco and velvet, together or singly, among his household treasures. Truly, the sunbeam art is a most wonderful one, and the public feel it is a great benefit!
If a painter's studio is a place in which to get glimpses of human nature, how much more so the Daguerreotypist's operating-room, where dozens come daily, and are finished off in a sitting of half a minute. Scenes ludicrous, amusing or pathetic, are constantly occurring. People come for their portraits who have never seen the operation, and who have not the most distant conception of how the thing is done. Some, in taking their places in the chair, get so nervous that they tremble like aspens; and others, in the vain attempt to keep their features composed, distort them so much that they are frightened at their own image when it is placed in their hands.
Some months ago, a -well-conditioned farmer from the interior of the state, arrived in Philadelphia, and after selling his produce and making sundry purchases, recollected that he had promised, on leaving home, that he would bring back his Daguerreotype. It was all a piece of nonsense, he had argued; but his argument was of no avail, for wife and daughters said that he must do as they wished, and so he had yielded an easy compliance. On inquiry, he was told that Root was the man for him; so one bright morning he took his way down Chestnut street to the gallery of the far-famed Daguerreotypist. Mr. Root was at home, of course, and ready to accommodate the farmer, who, after looking at sundry portraits, asking prices and making his own remarks on all he saw, was invited to walk up into the operating-room.
" Where ?" inquired the farmer, looking curious.
" Into the operating-room," replied Mr. Root, as he moved towards the door.
The farmer was not yet sure that he had heard correctly, but he did not like to ask again, so he followed on; but it sounded in his ears very much as if Mr. Root had said " operating"room, and the only idea he had of " operations" was the cutting off of legs and arms. However, up stairs he went, with his dog close behind him, and was soon introduced into a room in the third story.
" Now, sir," said Mr. Root smiling, as the farmer thought, a little strangely " we will see what we can do for you. Take a seat in that chair."
The farmer sat down, feeling a little uneasy, for he did not much like the appearance of things. Besides Mr. Root, there was another man in the room, and he felt that if any unfair play were attempted, they would prove too much for him. This idea, as it clearly presented itself, seemed so ridiculous that he tried to thrust it away, but he could not. There was a mysterious ticking in the room, for which he could not account. It was like the sound of a clock, and yet not like it. He glanced around, but could not perceive the source from whence it came. At one moment it seemed to be under the floor near his feet, then in tl. Ceiling, and next in a far corner of the room.
As he took his place in the chair that had been pointed out, Mr. Root drew a singular-looking apparatus into the middle of the floor, and directed towards him the muzzle of what seemed a small brass cannon. At the same time, the other man placed his hand upon his he.ad and drew it back into an iron clamp, the cold touch of which made the blood in his veins curdle to his very heart.
The farmer was a man who both took and read the newspapers, and through these he had become acquainted with many cases of " mysterious disappearance." Men with a few hundred dollars in their pockets such was then his own case had been inveigled among robbers and murderers, and he might now be in one of their dens of iniquity. This fear once excited, every movement of the two men, who were acting in concert, but confirmed his suspicions. Their mysterious signs, their evident preparation to act together at a particular moment, all helped to excite still further his alarm. It was more than human nature at least the farmer's human nature could stand; for, springing suddenly from the chair, he caught up his hat, and, escaping from the room, dashed down stairs as if a legion of evil spirits were after him, to the no small amusement of the two " operators," who, though they lost a customer, had a good joke to laugh over for a month.
The different impressions made upon sitters is curious enough. The most common is the illusion that the instrument exercises a kind of magnetic attraction, and many good ladies actually feel their eyes " drawn" towards the lens while the operation is in progress ! Others perceive an impression as if a draft of cold air were blowing on their faces, and a few are affected with a pricking sensation, while the perspiration starts from every pore. A sense of suffocation is a common feeling among persons of delicate nerves and lively fancies, who find it next to impossible to sit still; and on leaving the chair they catch their breath and pant as if they had been in a vacuum. No wonder so many Daguerreotypes have a strange, surprised look, or an air as if the original were ill at ease in his or her mind. Of course, these various impressions are all the result of an excited imagination and an effort to sit perfectly still and look composed. Forced ease is actual constraint and must appear so. In Daguerreotype portraits this is particularly apparent.
Among Friends, it is well known that there has existed a prejudice against having portraits taken. To some extent this is wearing off, and very many prominent members of this Society have, of late years, consented to sit for their likenesses, and in Daguerrean Galleries a goodly number of plain coats and caps may be seen among the specimens. But large numbers still hold out, and will not be tempted to enter a painter's studio or a Daguerreotypist's room. Some, firm enough in their resolution not to sit themselves, are at times induced to go with friends or children who intend having Daguerreotypes taken, and are, through a little stratagem, brought within range of the lens, when, before they dream of danger, their faces are caught and fixed ! Not long ago, a young lady, whose father was a Friend, induced him to go with her to Root's. For a long time, while there, she urged him to have his likeness taken, but the old man was as immovable as a rock. No inducement she could olTer had the least effect. When her turn came to go up into the operating-room, the old gentleman went along. The iron headrest troubled the young lady.
" Can't you take me without this machine ?" said she.
" Oh, yes," replied the operator; " but you will not be able to sit perfectly still, and the least movement will cause the picture to be defective."
There was a bright thought in the little lady's head, which was the real cause of its feeling so unpleasant about the innocent rest. She leaned it back once more, but ere the camera could be opened, she was in motion again, and said that it was no use, she couldn't sit in that way; it made her feel so nervous.
" I wish, father," said she, " you would stand at the back of my chair, and let me lean my head against you; I can sit much better."
" Certainly," replied the old gentleman, doing as he was desired .
"Oh, that will do exactly!" .cried the daughter, with illconcealed delight, giving the operator, as she spoke, a look so full of meaning that it was instantly comprehended. In half a minute the work was done, and the old man and his daughter went down stairs to wait in the gallery until the finished picture should be brought to them. The surprise of the former may well be imagined when, on receiving the Daguerreotype, he saw, not only the face and form of his daughter, but the likeness of himself standing up behind her!
On another occasion a member of the Society of Friends accompanied an acquaintance to the rooms of one of our Daguerreotypists, where they were politely shown the operator's instrument, and had the whole process explained to them. The Friend was one of those who had steadily refused to sit for a likeness, and this the Daguerreotypist knew very well; so, slipping a prepared plate into the instrument, he asked the Quaker's friend to sit down in a chair, look steadily at the lens, and mark the curious effect produced. The friend could see nothing.
" Let me look," said the Quaker, and down he sat in the chair; but, like his friend, he could see nothing worthy of notice. On the next day, however, he saw his own likeness, in a handsome morocco case, which he received with the compliments of the dexterous operator.
Not long since, a very beautiful young lady was rather surprised to learn that a certain gentleman, a professed admirer, had her Daguerreotype. The discovery was accidentally made, and puzzled her a good deal. She had never had her likeness taken but once, and then only a single picture was produced, which was in her own possession. The Daguerreotypist had taken two sittings, but in the first sitting, from some unknown cause, as was alleged, the impression on the plate proved to be bad, and was rejected. It was shown to her, but so very imperfect was it that only a part of the drapery could be seen. Had this rejected picture been even a tolerable one, the lady would have at once supposed that the Daguerreotypist had framed the plate as a specimen of his art, and thus brought it in the way of her admirer; but not a feature of the face being visible, this supposition was not entertained.
The fact that the young man was so much enamored of the lady as to secure her picture, operated favorably upon her mind. The mystery of the thing, too, had its effect. How had he obtained it ? That was the ever-recurring question. When next she met the gentleman, she felt a new interest in him. He was particularly attentive and looked at her in such a way as to make her feel some rather indescribable sensations about the heart. But the mystery of the Daguerreotype was not explained until after she had given him her hand. One day, soon after this event, she said to him " You've got my Daguerreotype."
" Me!" The young husband looked surprised.
" Yes, you. And what is more, you've had it these six months."
The gentleman seemed a little confused at this unexpected accusation, but owned to the fact, and forthwith produced a very handsome picture of the lady, who looked at it for/some moments. That it was not the rejected portrait was plainly enough to be seen, for it was even a more perfect picture than the one she already possessed.
" How did you get this ?" interrogated the lady.
" You wouldn't guess for a month," replied the husband; " so I suppose I must tell you. I learned by accident that you were going to a certain well-known Daguerreotypist to sit for your picture- Happening to know the gentleman very well, I told him to secure a likeness for me at the same time, which he did. That's the simple explanation of the whole mystery."
" He didn't take but two, and one of them he spoiled," said the lady.
" One of them you thought was spoiled, but in that you were deceived. The plate shown to you had never received an impression from your form or features. The real plate was dextrously laid aside."
The bride declared that the whole thing was an outrage; but while her pretty lips uttered the harsh word, a hearty forgiveness of all parties concerned in the matter beamed from her loving eyes. Not a few likenesses of gentlemen as well as ladies have been secured in this way.
Incidents more pathetic and painful in their character than those which are here related, are of frequent occurrence. Not a great while ago, one of our Daguerreotypists observed in his rooms an old lady in deep mourning. She was a stranger, and was looking with evident eagerness along the walls at the various portraits that were exhibited as specimens of the art. All at once she uttered a low exclamation, and then sunk, half fainting, upon a sofa. Water was brought to her, and after a little while she was restored to self-possession. She then stated, that news of the death of her only daughter, a resident in the west, had been received by her a few days before. Remembering that a likeness had been taken a short time previous to her going to the west, the faint hope had crossed her mind that there might ̣be a duplicate in the rooms of the Daguerreotypist. She had found it, and gazed once more into the almost speaking face of her child!
Another incident, quite as touching, occurred at the same establishment. A mother came with her first and only child, a bright little boy of four years, to sit for her likeness. The father was along, and, at his instance, the child was placed on the mother's lap. The image of the little boy was beautiful, but the mother's picture was not good. It was then decided that the mother should sit alone, and that they would have the child taken when he was a few years older. As they 'were going away, the operator tried to persuade them to take the other picture also, the likeness of the child being such an admirable on^ They hesitated, but finally concluded not to do so, saying that after he was a little older they would get his portrait taken; and so they went away. Three months afterwards the mother came again. She was in deep mourning. Her boy was dead ! She had come, hopeing that the picture of the child might still be in existence. But alas! It was not so. Search was made among old and rejected plates in the hope that it might not have been rubbed out, but after looking for a day or two, the mother coming frequently during the time, the search was abandoned as fruitless. The shadow, fixed in a wonderful and mysterious manner by a ray of light, had faded also, and the only image of the child that remained for the mother was on the tablet of her memory.
It is often a matter of surprise to some that two portraits of the same person by different Daguerreotypists should appear so unlike, it being supposed, at first thought, that nothing more than mechanical skill was required in the individual managing the instrument, and that it was only necessary for the image of the face to enter the lens and impress itself upon the chemicallyprepared plate, to have a correct likeness; but this is an error. Unless the Daguerreotypist be an artist, or have the educated eye of an artist, he cannot take good pictures, except by the merest accident; for, unless the sitter be so placed as to throw the shadows on his face in a certain relation to his prominent features, a distortion will appear, and the picture therefore, fail to give satisfaction. The painter can soften the shadows on the face of his sitter, so as to make tliem only serve the purpose for which he uses them, but the Daguerreotype exercises no discrimination, and reflects the sitter just as he presents himself. It was owing to bad positions and bad management of light that the earlier Daguerreotypists made such strange-looking pictures of faces, one side of which would be a dark shadow and the other a white surface, in which features were scarcely distinguishable. But great improvements have taken place, and some establishments are turning out pictures of remarkable beauty and excellence.
In order to obtain a good picture, it is necessary to go to a Daguerreotypist who has the eye and taste of an artist, or who employs such a person m his establishment; and it is also necessary to dress in colors that do not reflect too much light. For a lady, a good dress is of some dark or figured material. White, pink, or light blue must be avoided. Lace work, or a scarf or shawl, sometimes adds much to the beauty of the picture. A gentleman should wear a dark vest and cravat. For children, a plaid or dark-striped or figured dress is preferred by most Daguerreotypists. Light dresses are in all cases to be avoided.
The strong shadows that appear in Daguerreotype portraits are a sad annoyance to many who, like Queen Elizabeth, see no such blemish on their faces when they consult their mirrors. "Can't you take me a likeness without these dark places?" a*3ks a lady who sees, with surprise, a dirty mark under her nose, around her eyes, under her chin, or on the side of her cheek. " There is nothing like this on my face." " Why is my neck so black?" asks another; while another would like her picture well enough if the face were " not so smutty." A lady with a fair skin, upon which the sun has left some minute brown marks, which are almost hidden by the warm flush of health, is startled to find them faithfully recorded in her picture, and made so dark as to appear like serious blemishes. " What are these ? There is nothing like them on my face?" she inquires, with" a look of disappointment. The artist cannot tell her that her face is " freckled," and so makes some evasive excuse, and tries the experiment again; but with no better success, for the all discovering light will make no discrimination the little black specks are still there, and the lady goes away with a poor conceit of the Daguerreotypist, who, though he could make the light work for him, coujd not force it to record any thing but the truth.
It is curious to hear the various little suggestions, by way of improvement that certain persons will make when about sitting for a likeness. A stout, fat lady would like to be made a little smaller, as she is more " fleshy than common;" while a lean one, with a low-necked dress and bare arms, desires a full, handsome bust and round plump arms, as she is just now rather " thinner than common." Delicate hands are particularly desired, and these the artist who attends the instrument can give, by placing them so as to receive the light in a certain way. And, in fact, nearly all peculiarities of person that tend towards deformity may be modified by a skillful artist in ihe arrangement of his sitter though he cannot help cross eyes nor make a homely person beautiful while one who does not understand his business will, in all probability, distort and render them more unpleasant to look upon.
This wonderful art is yet in its infancy, and those engaged in it are so busily employed as to have little leisure for experiment and improvement; but ere long we shall, doubtless, have a higher and more perfect order of pictures than have yet been given. The art of preparing the plates, which is by depositing' silver by galvanism on a thin copper plate and then polishing it so exquisitely as to look almost like a mirror, has attained great perfection; but even here there is room for improvmenfcs that will be made. Still more artistic skill is needed by thdse who manage the instrument and arrange the sitter's position, for no matter how good the plate may be, nor how perfect all the manipulations, if the sitter be placed in a bad relation to the light, the picture cannot be good. All this is now understood by our best Daguerreotypists; and those who give mosl attention to the improvement of their art will, in the end, reap the richest reward.