In my forays of photographic historical research, I often have to try and understand the language of mid-19th century Britain, which also helps to see the way certain experimenters are thinking. I thought the following a bit of a gem and worthy of an APUG post. It not only shows Talbot’s brilliant thinking of foreseeing a practical application for a process, not developed at that time, but also the way his thoughts are expressed.
Talbot writing in his Pencil of Nature proposed the following experiment and speculation.
‘I have never tried it, yet I think it is one which, if properly managed, must inevitably succeed. When a ray of solar light is refracted by a prism and thrown upon a screen, it forms there the very beautiful coloured band known by the name of the solar spectrum. Experimenters have found that if this spectrum is thrown upon a sheet of sensitive paper, the violet end of it produces the principal effect: and, what is truly remarkable, a similar effect is produced by certain invisible rays which lie beyond the violet, and beyond the limits of the spectrum, and whose existence is only revealed to us by this action which they exert. Now, I would propose to separate these invisible rays from the rest, by suffering them to pass into an adjoining apartment through an aperture in a wall or screen of partition. This apartment would thus become filled (we must not call it illuminated) with invisible rays, which might be scattered in all directions by a convex lens placed behind the aperture. If there were a number of persons in the room, no one would see the other: and yet nevertheless if a camera were so placed as to point in the direction in which any one were standing, it would take his portrait, and reveal his actions. For, to use a metaphor, the eye of the camera would see plainly where the human eye would find nothing but darkness. Alas! That this speculation is somewhat too refined to be introduced with effect into a modern novel or romance; for what a dénouement we would have, if we could suppose the secrets of the darkened chamber to be revealed by the testimony of the imprinted paper.’