Childe, Henry Langdon (DNB00)

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CHILDE, HENRY LANGDON (1781–1874), inventor of dissolving views, born in 1781, is chiefly known in connection with the magic lantern,’ a piece of apparatus which he was largely instrumental in advancing from a mere toy to a valuable means of recreation and scientific research. At the time when Childe made his first lantern—somewhere near the close of the last century—no real advance had been made in the construction of that instrument since its invention by Kircher, a century earlier. By the use of achromatic lenses and an improved oil-lamp, a considerable improvement was soon effected; but when the lime-light (then known as the ‘Drummond’ light, from its inventor) was made to replace the oil-lamp, the increase in size and brillianc of the pictures exhibited was so great that the lantern could be used as a means of entertainment in the largest halls. In addition to the practical construction of magic lanterns Childe learned, while still quite a young man, to paint on glass with great skill and effect. In this way he was able to prepare slides for his lantern, and the series illustrating astronomy, natural history, costumes of all nations, &c., which he painted and exhibited in his improved lantern, caused his name to stand high as a popular exhibitor during the early years of the present century. Among other places we read of Childe’s exhibitions with his magic lantern at the Sanspareil Theatre, which stood on or near the site of the present Adelphi Theatre; and when the latter was built in 1806 Childe frequently took part in the entertainments given there.

In exhibiting pictures by the aid of a single lantern, the change from one picture to the next is made abruptly; and one slide is seen to push the other out of the way, or else there is an interval of darkness. To obviate these objections, Childe invented, in 1807, his famous method of ‘dissolving views,’ by which one picture appeared gradually to fade away, while another as gradually took its place. This method requires the use of two lanterns, which are slightly inclined toward each other, so that their discs of light coincide upon the screen. Each lantern is provided with a thin metallic shutter, terminating in comb-like teeth, by which the light can be gradually cut off from one lantern while it is being turned on in the other; and in this way by turning a handle the operator causes one picture to melt, insensibly as it were, into another. Childe improved and completed this invention in 1818, and it has continued to hold high popularity down to the present time. The taste for popular lectures on scientific and general subjects set in early in the present century, and we read of the queen (then the Princess Victoria) with her mother, the Duchess of Kent, attending Childe’s entertainment of dissolving views at the Adelphi. During Lent of the years 1837-40 Childe was engaged with his lanterns to illustrate a series of lectures on astronomy given at Her Majesty’s Theatre by Mr. Howel. After the opening of the Colosseum in 1824 Childe was a frequent exhibitor there, and remained connected for a number of years with that institution, which was finally taken down in 1875. It is in connection with the Polytechnic that Childe’s name will be best remembered. That well-known building was opened with his ‘grand phantasmagoria’ in 1838, and he, or his pupils, took an active part in its management until it closed in 1882. It was here that he introduced the ‘chromatro,’ a lantern slide by which very beautiful effects of colour are produced upon the screen. It consists simply of two painted circles of glass, which are caused to revolve in opposite directions. Childe also frequently travelled in the provinces, and his lantern exhibitions at Manchester and most of the large provincial towns were very successful. He lived to the great age of ninety-three, dying in 1874, but retained to the last an active interest in the instrument which he had taken so conspicuous a part in perfecting and using.

[Information from private friends of Henry Langdon Childe; contemporary newspapers; Chadwick's Manual of the Magic Lantern.]

W. J. H.