William Henry Fox Talbot - Encyclopedia

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WILLIAM HENRY FOX TALBOT (1800-1877), English discoverer in photography, was the only child of William Davenport Talbot, of Lacock Abbey, Wilts, and of Lady Elizabeth Fox Strangways, daughter of the 2nd earl of Ilchester. He was born on the 11th of February 1800, and was 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 L. J. M. Daguerre exhibited in 1839 pictures taken by the sun, Talbot had obtained similar success, and as soon as Daguerre's discoveries became known communicated the results of his experiments to the Royal Society. In 1841 he made known his discovery of the calotype or talbotype process, and after the discovery of the collodion process by Frederick Scott Archer in 1851 he devised a method of instantaneous photography. For his discoveries, which are detailed in his Pencil of Nature (1844), he received in 1842 the Rumford medal of the Royal Society. While engaged in his scientific researches he devoted much time to 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 Edward 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 Lacock Abbey on the 17th of September 1877.

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