“The plates of the present work are impressed by the agency of Light alone, without any aid whatever from the artist’s pencil. They are the sun-pictures themselves, and not, as some persons have imagined, engravings in imitation.”
W.H.F. Talbot, “Notice to the Reader,” The Pencil Of Nature, 1844-46
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“Now the whole earth had one language and few words. And as men migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.’ And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the sons of men had built. And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language; and this is only the beginning of what they will do; and nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.’ Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.”
“Etymology is the history of the languages of nations… it explains their manners and customs, and throws light upon their ancient migrations and settlements. It is the lamp by which much that is obscure in the primitive history of the world will one day be cleared up. At present much that passes for early history is mere vague speculation: but in order to build a durable edifice upon a firm foundation, materials must be carefully brought together from all quarters and submitted to the impartial and intelligent judgement of those who are engaged in similar enquiries.”
W.H.F. Talbot, English Etymologies, 1847
“It was during these thoughts that the idea occurred to me… how charming it would be if it were possible to cause these natural images to impress themselves durably and remain fixed upon the paper. And why should it not be possible? I asked myself.”
W.H.F. Talbot, Brief Historical Sketch of the Invention of the Art, The Pencil of Nature 1844
The Invention of the Calotype Process
Talbot said he engaged his photographic experiments beginning in early 1834, well before 1839, when Louis Daguerre exhibited his pictures taken by the sun. After Daguerre’s discovery was announced (without details), Talbot showed his five-year-old pictures at the Royal Institution on 25 January 1839. Within a fortnight, he freely communicated the technical details of his photogenic drawing process to the Royal Society. Daguerre would not reveal the manipulatory details of his process until August. In 1841, Talbot announced his discovery of the calotype, or talbotype, process.
Whilst engaged in his scientific researches, he devoted much time to archaeology. He published Hermes, or Classical and Antiquarian Researches (1838-39), and Illustrations of the Antiquity of the Book of Genesis (1839). With Sir Henry Rawlinson and Dr Edward Hincks he shares the honour of having been one of the first decipherers of the cuneiform inscriptions of Nineveh.
“The most transitory of things, a shadow, the proverbial emblem of all that is fleeting and momentary, may be fettered by the spells of our ‘natural magic’, and may be fixed forever in the position which seemed only destined for a single instant to occupy… Such is the fact, that we may receive on paper the fleeting shadow, arrest it there and in the space of a single minute fix it there so firmly as to be no more capable of change.”
William Henry Fox Talbot