Daguerre’s Last Words

by Marty Murphy ©2019

Boulevard_du_Temple_by_Daguerre
“Boulevard du Temple” – 1838/39 Louis Daguerre

My Dearest Princess,

The date is July 10, 1851. It’s Thursday, the morning is turning out to be fine and hot, and there is just enough of a breeze to keep away the stench of those living across the way, in their shanty towns, popping up like razor stubble on the face of some unwelcomed guest. A good, hard rainstorm would most assuredly be a welcomed guest this evening when they all gather about the village square to debate. They are miserable, and I am tired of hearing all their stories about how France and Britain wrecked this, France and Britain wrecked that. Nobody has any idea how I was gutted by tariffs imposed by France and Britain! How Daguerre was just cast aside! It cost me everything to ship materials from the outlying territories. Besides, going bankrupt once was enough!

As I was saying, the weather is pleasant, for now. I am writing to you from my modest apartment in the Bry-sur-Marne. My dear, you would love it here; there are mice everywhere. The Templar Priory has furnished me all that I require in exchange, rather insistence, I use that which I require to paint dioramas for each convent and church that has requested as much for their altarpieces and prayer halls. The Priory claims this to be a divine contract; my penance for confessional revelations. The irony does not go unnoticed in that living among the purveyors of crime dramas for many years makes me guilty by association in the eyes of the Priory; they continue to entertain the notion of my direct involvement in the death of my dear friend, and partner, Nicéphore Niépce. They think I had something to do with the fire that destroyed my home, my business, all my records, my supplies and materials . . . all those notes; books and notes and papers of Niepce’s, and mine too, of course! It’s all very convenient, as they say. A pension, in exchange for the secret to capturing details that are now free for the asking.

In fact, if it weren’t for my pension, I’d be dead. Maybe I should have listened to my father and become an architect; I could have been a designer for the royal court. It really was wonderful all those years ago when I was the apprentice, such frivolity, so care-free; the parties were famous. That experience led me to where I am now, comfortably painting my dioramas inside these godforsaken churches and convents. They really do need divine imagery to change the attitudes of their flock, and my dioramas are just the thing; it’s not like those people are living here against their will, and, my paintings will gladden their spirit, dispelling the trivial absurdities to which they have burdened themselves. This is my legacy to those truly in need of salvation; Daguerre and his Diorama of the Fantastique Paradis!

Honestly though, if it weren’t for Isadore’s constant grievances about the smallness of his pension when he need only look down for some perspective, and, Delacroix’s perpetual insults labeling me a cur, a mountebank, and a tricheor, I’d have nothing to live for – Talbot ruined everything. Fortunately, his process literally pales in comparison to the details of Daguerre. Thankfully though, I have Delacroix to consider as it pertains to your well-being; he was just going to toss you out his studio window when he finished drawing you, and quite a superb drawing if I must say so – you never looked more radiant, or lovely. Curse him, and his words: “Paint a picture, it will last longer”, bah, amateur. I told him; “Everyone admires his sketches of you more than all his paintings combined.” He really captured your playful nature, the intensity of your eyes, and your whiskers. As for Talbot, his interloping proved my point. Now everyone just wants to record images of their pets, or how much food they are about to consume.

Oh, my dearest Princess, I don’t mean to bother you with all these boring details. The real reason I am writing is to tell you that I was asked, again, to describe my first Daguerreotype image, you know the one of the house across the street at Boulevard du Temple; it’s just criminal! This must the hundredth instance I have to recall this moment. Perhaps I should tell the truth this time, that I was just trying to apprehend the miscreant child plotting to steal the bread and milk deliveries again; the little bastard. You can see him looking out the third-story window at the throng of people milling about. The police, as usual didn’t care, and, this time I had evidence! All they are curious about is who the person is getting their shoes shined! That actor, Jean E. Fromage. Nobody will ever remember him. His acting is so bad. I am sure there will be a sub-class rating for the kind of dramas those people flock around. Like Bees to flowers they are; Bee dramas.

Sadly, I must end this letter as I feel a bit light-headed. Perhaps my breakfast is causing me some discomfort as there is a tightness in my chest I have never felt. It would do me good to have you sitting here in my lap while I gently stroke you from head to tail. I would welcome your scratches as I miss you greatly.

Yours Truly,

Louis

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