A view of Gourock-on-Clyde

On the back of a 3 August 1857 letter, Robert Napier sketched the point of Gourock-on-Clyde just before noon on the day after writing the text. A few verticals by the shoreline give the impression of a harbor, and one tall ship makes for a right-of-center focal point of the sketch.



Michel-Eugène Chevreul

Photograph of Michel-Eugène Chevreul (Wikimedia Commons)

Writing to Paget on 5 February 1888, Charles Edward Brown-Séquard enclosed something extra.

The drawing, in ink, is a “Sketch of Monsieur Chevreul (back view), on his chair at the Academy of Sciences, taken by Professor J. M. Charcot December 1887.” The gentleman in question is balding, with a mad-scientist’s ruff of hair ringing his head.

I find “taken” an odd choice of words: one takes photographs but makes a sketch. Photography can seem—can be, in the case of amateur snapshots, with little thought given to composition or technical requirements, beyond (maybe) flash/no flash—a more passive thing. A real image is preserved. “Taken.” Almost like “stealing,” a lucky seizure of something to which one has no particular claim. A certain degree of accuracy is assumed, which need not be the case with a sketch, created from nothing (even if inspired by reality).


There are two sketches by William Whewell, dated August 1838: Captain Back (perhaps—the name is a bit unclear) and the President of the British Association. The Captain, wearing a cloak and broad-brimmed hat, surveys the barren landscape of Great Slave Lake: a blasted tree, a distant rock formation and looming clouds. The President is also looking off into the distance, with only ear and jawline visible. He holds a plumed hat in one hand; the other rests on the hilt of his sword. His cloak is quite classical in its drapiness; he is apparently wearing tights which reveal the precise contours of his legs. All in all, quite the heroic figure, set to do civilized battle with the forces of ignorance.