Early days

Introductory Parentage Flight from Paris Childhood and Youth at Charton Early days in London Art Castings from Natural Objects Copper-coated Medallions Acquaintance with Dr. Ure Lost Wax Castings Dies for Stamping Cardboard

For many years past my most intimate friends have urged on me the desirability of giving to the world an authentic account of the origin and progress of the several inventions which together constitute what has, by common consent, been called the "Bessemer Steel Process;" thus tracing back to their earliest inception the various ideas and incidents which have led, by almost imperceptible degrees, to the development and practical working of that great steel industry, which, in so short a period, has spread itself over the whole of the continents of Europe and North America.

If we contemplate the rise and progress of almost all the great industries of the world, we find their origins lost in the mist of ages, with but few indications remaining of their gradual progress and development, or even of the names of those persons to whom we are indebted for their discovery.

This difficulty in tracing the origin of inventions is not less marked at the present day, when the increased rate of progress in all things brings about, in a few short years, a succession of changes, which, in olden times, centuries were required to effect; for the inventor of to-day is to-morrow overshadowed by the accumulated mass of improvements that follow in the wake of every new discovery.

I well remember how the world was startled by the great discovery of Daguerre;*1 how few minds could, at the first moment of its announcement, realise the wondrous fact that by the aid of chemistry combined with knowledge, he had seized upon and trapped the fleeting shadow on his silver plate and held it there immovable for ever.

The mind had scarce time to grasp the importance of this marvellous discovery before there commenced that ceaseless flow of inventive talent which, growing with years, has wholly submerged the original invention of Daguerre. Process succeeded process with immense rapidity. At every step new ground was covered; more beautiful and more permanent effects were almost daily produced by scientific investigators whose name was legion; until at last the glorious orb of day has taken over the business of the engraver, and daily produces its hundreds of deeply-etched blocks from which our common printing machines throw off their thousands of printed sheets with the same facility with which they print a page of common type. In the midst of these marvels of modern invention we look around and exclaim, "Where is now Daguerre?" and echo answers "Where?" Simply buried beneath the huge monument which, instead of being raised to his fame, has placed him out of sight and out of memory.

I have referred thus prominently to this great discovery of Daguerre and its subsequent marvellous developments, not only because it made a deep impression on my youthful imagination at the time, but because I purpose making a somewhat extensive use of photography in illustrating the following pages, where its absolute truthfulness will afford indisputable evidence of some facts which would otherwise have been altogether omitted, rather than allow them to rest on the uncorroborated testimony of the writer. At the same time this beautiful art will serve to illustrate many existing objects, an equally realistic idea of which the most elaborate description would fail to impart.

It is to the rapid passing into oblivion of great inventions like that of Daguerre that I attribute the pressure of my kind friends who ask me to give them some account of my early life and its relation to the more immediate past, while yet the process which bears my name remains an existing fact among us, and has not been engulfed in that ever-advancing tide of scientific knowledge and commercial enterprise which sweeps away the past and leaves us face to face only with the present.

So energetic in this matter was my friend, Mr. Price Williams, that some years ago he called on me with Mr. Samuel Smiles, LL.D., whose well-known talent as a biographer had all but tempted me to commit this task to him. We had a long consultation on the subject, but I could not feel that my life and its labours were a theme which could be treated in such a way as to make them interesting to the general reader, even when clothed in the beautiful language and charming style of that eminent writer. There were none

  By PanEris using Melati.

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