Since completing my dissertation I have found an interesting pre-photographic reference to a Quaker using the camera lucida as an aid in drawing portraits, in 1821:
Richard Low Beck is said to have possessed:
a skill in drawing likenesses by the aid of the camera
lucida. These were greatly valued by relatives and intimate friends for their
truthfulness and delicacy of execution, in which Richard greatly hoped to share
by having a representation of his beloved one made during his Uncle's visit to
Hitchin in the spring of 1821. To this he alludes when he writes—"Now, Rachel,
I am going to renew a request that thou wilt let Uncle Joseph take a likeness of
thee by the camera lucida. He takes some cardboard to draw it and he will use my
camera which I left with thee. It strikes me that the snug little room upstairs
where you sometimes write will be the best place to sit in as least likely to
interruptions, but of that thou wilt be the best judge." Probably some
hesitation felt on her part occasions the following a few days later:- "I shall
feel grievously disappointed if Uncle does not take a likeness of thee. His
kindness will, I quite believe, induce him to try if no obstacle is thrown in
his way, and this, I flatter myself, will not be the case, for I quite hope
every objection is removed from thy
Some two weeks after it is evident that the wish has been gratified, for Richard writes—"Uncle has brought home a treasure with him, richer and more valuable to me than a present from the Indies. I think it is a most admirable likeness, and it seems now and then when I gaze upon it to soften a little the pain of absence."
As thou serenely silent art,
By Heaven and love was taught to blend
A milder solace to the heart,
The sacred image of a friend.
Rachel's observations in reply are—"I hope Cousin Joseph has imparted to thee the charge he received respecting not showing the likeness he took when here. I did not intend him to have spent his time over it, but yielded against my will. I am glad thou thinks it like as Cousin J. took a great deal more pains to make it so than it was worth, and I should have felt sorry if it had not given satisfaction."
In a letter to her two days after the receipt of this injunction her lover observes—"I have not passed over unnoticed thy remarks upon the likeness Uncle was so kind as to take for me, but surely thou wouldst not deny me the pleasure of showing it to my particular friends and near relatives. However it is too late to ask permission, it must be excuse instead, if thou consider it a fault, for so much has been already done. I should be sorry though, I believe, even in the most minute thing to hurt thy feelings, so tell me plainly whenever I do it, to prevent a repetition. Let us carry such a rule as this into life, let us endeavour to please each other as much as we can and jealously guard against any occasion of exciting contrary feeling."
The likeness was put into a fifteen shilling frame a few months later, and remains alike a specimen of the kind Uncle's painstaking skill and a much valued memorial to her family of their Mother's s personal appearance before her marriage when she was but little more than eighteen. (1)
1. Beck, William, ed. (1897), Family Fragments respecting the ancestry, acquaintance and marriage of Richard Low Beck and Rachel Lucas, Gloucester, privately printed, pp. 120-1. The full text of this book can be found online at http://www.lib.byu.edu/fhc/.
© 2006–2023 Benjamin S. Beck