Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home


J. H. Fitzgibbon, "Hillotype,"
Daguerreian Journal, October 1851

We find the following in the Missouri Republican:—

The Hillotype—A discovery by which pictures of natural scenery can be taken in all their brilliant coloring. In a communication from J.H. Fitzgibbon to S.Waugh, Esq. New York,, August 2d, 1851.

Dear Sir—Aware of the deep interest which you take in every department of the Fine Arts, and of the pleasure which their advancement affords you, I shall avail myself of the privilege which your friendship allows me, and send you a slight sketch of a visit which I made to the discoverer of the process of taking views of scenery, in all their natural colors, brilliant as nature herself. This improvement in the Photographic Art is based upon the discovery of Daguerre, and the result will, in a very eminent degree, contribute to the perfection of the works of the pencil itself. I allude to the Hillotype, an invention or discovery which derives its name from the author—a process which is destined at no very distant day, to become an important agent in the diffusion and cultivation of a taste for legitimate art, not only in our own country, but throughout the world. Like the influence of the press in the spread of literature, this newly discovered art will soon create a love of the beautiful and true, and, as facilities in typography places books within the reach of the humblest citizen so will the Hillotype enable all men to become familiar with the poetry of form and color; in a word, it will be to the painter what printing is to the man of letters; but as the world will shortly be made acquainted with its operations, I will refrain from any remarks on the subject, and proceed to speak of my visit to the home of the inventor.

In company with the editor of the Daguerreian Journal, Mr. S.D. Humphrey, I took my seat in the cars of the Hudson River Railroad Co. for Poughkeepsie, where we arrived at about seven o'clock the same evening. At this place we took the boat for Kingston Point, and from thence the stage conveyed us to Kingston, where we stayed all night. Next morning, at half-past four, we set off in a buggy for Westkill. To the traveler along this route, the scenery is extremely interesting; and in the various windings of the road, some of the most beautiful views present themselves before you. About sixteen miles from Kingston, we halted at one of those old-fashioned taverns, now, alas, so rarely to be met with in our progressive day, where we procured a good substantial breakfast in the short space of fifteen minutes, and for the small charge of twenty-five cents. After all due attention to our own creature comforts, as well as seeing that our horse had his share of the good things in life, we were again en route, and traveling over a good plank road in first-rate style toward the Catskill Mountains, which, by the bye, were good enough to welcome us to their heights in a copious shower of rain; but being determined to go forward, regardless of their smiles and tears, our good steed was urged on with the persuader, until turning the angle of the Mountain, we saw the picturesque little village of Westkill, quietly reposing in the valley beneath us. "This secluded hamlet," said I, after contemplating its moral loveliness for some time; "this secluded hamlet will hereafter be known in history as the once abiding place of one of America's gifted sons." As I looked down on that sequestered vale, I could not help thinking how little its inhabitants were aware of the commotion in the scientific world now going on relative to one of their own neighbors—not dreaming that before long this otherwise quiet village would be the resort of artists, philosophers and statesmen—all classes and conditions anxious to see and speak with a man who is destined ere long to occupy a conspicuous pedestal in the temple of fame. Here I must remark, that this gifted individual, like most others whose genius has reflected glory on their native land, shares a like lot, and is looked upon by nine-tenths of his brethren as a visionary, if not an imposter. Nor is this to be wondered at when we come to reflect on the history of the past benefactors of the human family. Gallileo was imprisoned for saying the world was round, and our own Fulton met with sneers for his application of steam as a moving power for boats; yet, nevertheless, mankind now acknowledge the earth to be round, and the world is reaping the benefit of Fulton's philosophy. The bow of incredulous folly is the involuntary homage which ignorance pays to wisdom.

We drove through the village to its farthest extremity, and on the rise of a small hill, came to the residence of the great Hill himself. A small, neat cottage, opened its hospitable door to us, and its owner received us with an honest, hearty welcome, which at once made us feel at home. We were prepared, by previous accounts of Mr. Hill, to see a plain, unassuming gentleman, but we found him even plainer than we expected—a more unassuming fellow-being cannot well be found anywhere. There was an honest candor in his countenance, and in his conversation he seemed to take pleasure in attending to any ideas or suggestions which we might offer in reference to his profession. Mr. Hill informed us—as he has already told the public through the press—of the reasons he has had for not making the world acquainted with his discovery before this; it was, that the world might judge of his motives wrongfully, and impute to him designs foreign to his thoughts.

During our stay, he gave us a graphic description of his progressive discoveries, and the first colored Daguerreotype which he produced, and also of the effects it produced upon him, with its nearness of being his last and only one. He told us of the progress which he has since made, and how the world got knowledge of the existence of the art before it was ready for public inspection. He does not exhibit his pictures to every visitor who may call upon him; but hopes, now that his health is so much improved, to be able to make an exposition of his works early in September next. At present, he is framing his pictures—pictures which glow in all the rich coloring of nature—and says that he is willing to submit them to the judgment of the world, with a strong reliance on their merits. It is his intention to take out a patent, not only to protect himself from piracy, but to save this beautiful art from the degradation to which the Daguerreotypes have been subjected in the hands of quacks and charletans.

After spending a couple of days with this remarkable man, whose kindness enabled us to take some fine views of his mountain home and its neighborhood, we bid him adieu, fully satisfied that he has made one of the greatest discoveries of this wonderful age, and, as we turned from the valley, we felt that the small Hill we were leaving would soon attain an elevation in the moral world of greater altitude than the loftiest mountains which surround his humble dwelling. —Respectfully yours, J.H. Fitzgibbon.

To Alfred S. Waugh, St. Louis, Mo.

P.S.—I expect to be at home by the 15th or 20th of this month, when I will give you a verbal description of what I have seen.—J.H.F.


Back to: Nineteenth-Century Texts
Online Exhibitions | Helios | American Art Home