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Political controversy was no stranger to Talbot’s day and in fact he was deeply caught up in the plight of the Chartists and the incredible disparity between the income of the common man and the enormous amount of wealth reserved by the ‘one %’ of his day.  And the relationship between Science and Religion was another common topic, with many of his colleagues, including his close friend Sir John Herschel, defending the right for a person to have deeply felt convictions at the same time that they found them to be in complete harmony with the measureable and undeniable facts that formed the basis of their love of science.

William Crookes, Science, salted paper print produced from a paper stencil

 

I can’t really say what this exhibition label was made for or even when it was made – it shares some characteristics with other similar ones, including the printed label ‘Q’.  The salted paper print was likely produced before  disbelieving eyes during a live audience demonstration by Talbot’s friend and ardent supporter,  Sir William Crookes (17 Jun 1832 – 4 Apr 1921), a chemist and physicist and editor of The Photographic News.  Indeed, it was Crookes who freely used his popular journal to illustrate Talbot’s critical contributions to the merger of Nature’s power of drawing with the versatility and permanence of printer’s ink.

But I would like to think that tomorrow, the anniversary of an Earth Day that was not even seen as necessary during Talbot’s lifetime, as a day when Talbot would have joined his fellow scientists in protest of anti-fact, anti-science sentiments.  Given his reverence for Nature’s facts and their smooth merger with his reverence for a Divine Being, I would not be in the slight surprised with Henry Talbot grabbing this poster and joining the masses of scientists worldwide who will be defending their beliefs on this Earth Day.

Larry J Schaaf

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• Questions or Comments? Please contact Prof Schaaf directly at larry.schaaf@bodleian.ox.ac.uk  • William Crookes, Science, salted paper print produced from a paper stencil, Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, 1995.206.661; Schaaf 5558.