Preservation of Sight: Georgian Rules for Accomplishing It

Before spectacles appeared in the late 1200s, eye problems had been around for a long time. In the Georgia Era, there were plenty of people who wore spectacles, such as Madame Tussaud, Benjamin Franklin, and Mrs. Antoine-Julien Meffre-Rouzan (shown) dressed in evening wear and wearing glasses.

Mrs. Antoine-Julien Meffre-Rouzan by Jean Joseph Vaudechamp. Public domain.

Besides improved eyesight, another reason for wearing spectacles, according to Georgian doctors, was to avoid further eye problems. This was supposedly achieved by wearing long focus glasses at the “first approaches of long-sightedness [as it was said it would bring back people’s] natural sight, and [result in people laying] aside their spectacles for years.”[1]

Georgian rules for the preservation of sight

Man wearing spectacles. Courtesy of Walpole Library.

However, despite the advice about wearing glasses there were some people who wanted to avoid spectacles all together because they found them uncomfortable or they didn’t like how they looked when they wore them. There were also those who didn’t need glasses. So, what did these people do to protect their eyesight? Here the advice given by the Freemason’s Magazine of the 1700s for the preservation of sight:

  1. Never sit for any length of time in absolute gloom or in blazing light. Supposedly, going from one extreme to the other was considered “improper for those whose sight [was] weak and tender.”[2]
  2. Watch the type of light you use to read. It was claimed a person should never read when light was minimal, such as at dusk, or, if eye problems were present, never by candlelight. Disobeying this rule, even by a quarter of hour, was said to have cost numerous people “the perfect and comfortable use of their eyes for many years: the mischief is effected imperceptibly, the consequence are inevitable.”[3]
  3. Never let your eyes dwell on glaring objects when waking. Because of this rule, Georgian people were advised to be careful about the color of their bedroom furniture. Two colors they were advised to avoid were white and red because both were said to be too bright and affect the preservation of sight. Moreover, if a person had weak eyes, green furniture was said to be the best. The reason why? “Nature confirms the propriety of the advice given in this rule: for the light of the day comes on by slow degrees, and green is the universal colour she presents to our eyes.”[4]
  4. Help improve your eyes. People who were “long-sighted” were to accustom themselves to read with less light and to read closer “than what they naturally like.”[5] If you were short-sighted, you were to read as far away as possible. By doing this it was said to “improve and strengthen … sight; while a contrary course will increase its natural imperfections.”[6]
  5. Read and write. Reading and writing were supposedly the best activities to preserve a person’s sight. However, the suggestion was to do these activities in moderate light: “too little [light] strains them, too great a quantity [of light] dazzles and confounds them.” It was also believed that “too little light never does harm … but too great … by its own power, destroy[s] the sight.”[7]
  6. Don’t go between dark and light too suddenly. This was another way preservation of sight was supposedly achieved. People reportedly lost their sight from “being brought too suddenly from an extreme of darkness into the blaze of day.”[8] Therefore, any change in light was to be accomplished slowly. Demonstrative of this is the following story. A lawyer lived in Pall Mall. The house he rented had front windows that exposed him to the full noon sun and the back room had no opening and was very dark. He would write in the back room and then go to the front room to dine or breakfast. Over time his sight grew weak and “he had constant pain in the balls of his eyes.”[9] He tried wearing spectacles and saw several eye doctors (oculists) but to no avail. The man then decided the sudden change from darkness to brightness was the cause of his disorder, and “he took new lodgings, by which, and forbearing to write by candle-light, he was very soon cured.”[10]
  7. Watch out for glare and bright luminous objects. To demonstrate this rule for the preservation of sight, the magazine related the following story: A woman moved from the country to St. James’s Square. Soon after she was “afflicted with a pain in her eyes and a decay of sight [as] she could not look upon stones when the sun shone upon them, without great pain.”[11] According to the magazine, what the woman did not realize was that was the cause of her disorder rather than a symptom. “Her eyes, which had been accustomed to the verdure of the country, and the green of the pasture-grounds … could not bear the violent and unnatural glare of light reflected from the stones.”[12] The solution suggested was that she place a number of small orange trees in the window so that the tops would hide the pavement and make her line of sight rest on the grass. Fortunately, she did. Disaster was averted and she fully recovered “without the assistance of any medicine, though her eyes were before on the verge of … blindness.”[13]

References:

  • [1] Freemason’s Magazine, or General and Complete Library, Vol. 4, 1795, p. 405.
  • [2] Ibid., p. 403.
  • [3] Ibid.
  • [4] Ibid.
  • [5] Ibid.
  • [6] Ibid.
  • [7] Ibid.
  • [8] Ibid., p. 403-404.
  • [9] Ibid, p. 404.
  • [10] Ibid.
  • [11] Ibid.
  • [12] Ibid.
  • [13] Ibid.

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