1902 Encyclopedia > William Henry Fox Talbot

William Henry Fox Talbot
English physicist and pioneer in photography

WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT (1800-1877), a discoverer in photography, was the only child of William Davenport Talbot, of Laycock Abbey, Wilts, and of Lady Elizabeth Fox Strangways, daughter of the second earl of Ilchester. He was born in February 1800, and educated at Harrow and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained the Porson prize in 1820, and graduated as twelfth wrangler in 1821. From 1822 to 1872 he frequently communicated papers to the Royal Society, many of them on mathematical subjects. At an early period he had begun his optical researches, which were to have such important results in connexion with photography. To the Edinburgh Journal of Science in 1826 he contributed a paper on "Some Experiments on Coloured Flame"; to the Quarterly Journal of Science in 1827 a paper on "Monochromatic Light "; and to the Philosophical Magazine a number of papers on chemical subjects, including one on "Chemical Changes of Colour." Before Daguerre exhibited in 1839 pictures taken by the sun, Talbot had obtained similar success, and as soon as Daguerre's discoveries were whispered communicated the results of his experiments to the Royal Society (see PHOTOGRAPHY, vol. xviii. p. 824). In 1841 he made known his discovery of the calotype process, but after the discovery of the collodion process by Scott Archer, with whom he had a lawsuit in reference to his patent rights, he relinquished this field of inquiry. For his discoveries, the narrative of which is detailed in his Pencil of Nature (1844), he received in 1842 the medal of the Royal Society. While engaged in his scientific researches he devoted a considerable portion of his time to archaeology, and this field of inquiry latterly occupied his chief attention. Besides reading papers on these subjects before the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Biblical 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 Hincks he shares the honour of having been one of the first decipherers of the cuneiform inscriptions of Nineveh. He was also the author of English Etymologies (1846). He died at Laycock Abbey, 17th September 1877.

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