Famous Historical Statements, 1601-1800

Famous Historical Statements, 1601-1800

Over the past eight centuries there have been numerous statements recorded in history that are relevant to the topic of vision aids. From all of the reading that has gone into building this website, the following each stand out and are therefore presented for your enjoyment. After reading these you might agree that many examples are interesting and have much significance. Especially place yourself back in time and try to live the actual moment in history which is described.

Date Person Background History Where Image The Statement
1637 John Taylor, the Water Poet John Taylor (1580 – 1654) spent much of his life as a Thames waterman -- a member of the guild of boatmen that ferried passengers across the River Thames in London, in the days when the London Bridge was the only passage between the banks. He was a prolific, if rough-hewn, writer with over one hundred and fifty publications in his lifetime. Although his work was not sophisticated, he was a keen observer of people and styles in the seventeenth century, and as such his work is often studied by social historians.

From:  Drinke and Welcome John Taylor
by Thomas Cockson (Coxon), after Unknown artist
line engraving,1630
(National Portrait Gallery, UK)
"Ale is rightly called nappy, for it will set a nap upon a mans threed-bare eyes when he is sleepy.  It is called Merry-goe-downe, for it slides downe merrily; It is fragrant to the Sent.  It is most pleasing to the taste.  The flowring and mantling of it.  (like chequer worke) with verdant smiling of it, it is delightefull to the Sight, it is Touching or Feeling to the Braine and Heart; and (to please the senses all) it provokes men to singing and mirth, which is contenting to the Hearing.  The speedy taking of it doth comfort a heavy troubled minde; it will make a weeping widowe laugh and forget sorrow for her deceas's husband.  It will set a Bashfull Suiter a wooing;  It heates the chill blood of Aged; it will cause a man to speake past his owne or any other man's capacity, or understanding; It sets an Edge on Logick and Rhetorick; It is a friend to the Muses;  It inspires the poore Poet, that cannot compasse the price of Canarie or Gacoign; It mounts the Musican 'bove Eccla; It makes the Balladmaker Rime beyond Reason; It is a Repairer of a decaide Colour in the face; It puts Eloquence into the Oratour; It will make the Philosopher talke profoundly, the Scholar learnedly. and the Lawyer acute and feelingly.  Ale at Whitesontide, or at Whitsontide or a Whitson Church Ale, is a repairer of decayed Countrey Churches; It is a great friend to Truth; so they that drinke of it (to the purpose) will reveale all they know, be it never so secret to be kept; It is a Embleme of Justice, for it allowes, and veeds measure; It will put courage into a Coward, and make him swagger and fight;  It is a Seale to many a good Bargaine.  The Physittian will commend it; the Lawyer will defend it; It neither hurts or kils any but those that abuse it unmeasurably and beyond bearing; It doth good to as many as take it rightly; It is as good as a Paire of Spectacles to clear the Eyesight of an Old Parish Clarke; and in Conclusion, it is such a nourisher of Mankinde, that if my Mouth were as bigge as Bishopgaet, my Pen as long as a Maypole, and my Inke a flowing spring, or a standing fishpond yet I could not with my Mouth, Pen or Inke speake or write the truw worth and worthiness of Ale."
Circa 1660 Parson Robert Cross, Vicar of Chew Magna, Somersetshire Robert Crosse, (1605-1683) puritan divine, Fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford (1627), nominated to the assembly of Divines in 1643, declined regius professorship of divinity at Oxford in 1648. He was Vicar of Chew Magna, Somerset, from c.1648-1683. He entered into controversy with Joseph Glanvill on the Aristotelian philosophy. He also published a denial of reason in matters of faith in 1655.   Detail of Johann Kopetsky the Elder, self-portrait, Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
Telescope Room, Blythe House, Science Museum
“The newly invented optik glasses are immoral, since they pervert the natural sight and make things appear in an unnatural and false light……Society at large would become demoralized by the use of spectacles; they would give one man an unfair advantage over his fellows, and every man an unfair advantage over every woman, who could not be expected, on æsthetic and intellectual grounds, to adopt the practice.
1660s Samuel Pepys Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) a 17th century English civil servant, is most famous for his diary which is a fascinating combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. It gives a very detailed account of Pepys' daily personal life.  During the years when he was writing the diary, Pepys began to experience great pain in his eyes when reading and writing and from photophobia, which caused him to give up writing the diary. Pepys also had an ultimately unjustifiable fear of blindness. In his famous diary   Samuel Pepys, taken from the Samuel Pepys diary website
Leather-framed spectacles, green lenses, copyright British Optical Association, London

December 1666
               ...after candlelight they begin to be sore and run, so that I intend to get some green spectacles. 

             …my eyes are very bad, and will be worse if not helped, so my Lord Bruncker do advise as a certain cure to use green spectacles, which I will do.
            …this evening I did buy me a pair of green spectacles, to see whether they will help my eyes or no.                                                                                                                                             

May 1667
….. I did entertain myself with my perspective glass up and down the church, by which I had the great pleasure of seeing and gazing a great many very fine women; and what with that and sleeping, I passed away the time till sermon was done

October 1667
               ...several errands I did before I got home, and, among others, bought me two new pair of spectacles of Turlington, who, it seems, is famous for them;

November 1667

               ...I took a coach, and went to Turlington, the great spectacle maker, for advice, who dissuades me from using old spectacles, but rather young ones...

1676 Francesco Redi

Francesco Redi, originally from Arezzo  (1626 – 1697),  Italian Prof of Medicine, Scientist, Doctor, and Poet at the court of the Medici, possessed a Florentine manuscript (book) which he quoted in a 1676 letter:  ('Trattato di governo della famiglia di Sandro di Pippozzo, di Sandro cittadino fiorentino, fatto nel 1299, assemprato da Vanni del Busca, cittadino fiorentino suo genero'.   Spectacles are supposedly mentioned in the preface to this book, as something discovered at that time.

In a Florentine  manuscript Francesco Redi discusses history, notes a 1299 manuscript, ascribes their invention to Allesandro Spina, 1678, Bernard Becker Medical Library, St. Louis Francesco Redi, 1626-1697, from Wikipedia “I would not be able to read and write without glasses called spectacles ('okiali'), newly discovered for the convenience of poor old people (probably men!!) when their sight becomes weak.”

(Rosen, 1956, proved this all to be false and just an invention of Redi)

late 17th century, very early 18th century William Molyneux   Quoted in Benjamin Martin’s Essay on Visual Glasses Silver, double-hinge, blue lens, Martins Margins, first quarter 19th century “Were there no other use of DIOPTRICS than that of Spectacles for defective Eyes, I should think the Advantage that Mankind received thereby inferior to no other Benefit whatsoever, not absolutely requisite to the Support of Life. For as the Sight is the most noble and extensive of all our Senses, as we make the most frequent and constant Use of our Eyes in all the Actions and Concerns of human Life, surely that which relieves the Eyes when decayed, and supplies their Defects, rendering them useful when almost useless, must needs of all others be esteemed of the greatest Advantage. How melancholy is a the condition of Him, who only enjoys the Sight of what is immediately about him? With what disadvantage is he engaged in most of the Concerns of human life?  Reading is to him troublesome; War more that ordinary dangerous; Trade and Commerce toilsome and unpleasant. And so likewise on the other Hand, how forlorn would the latter part of most Men’s Lives prove, unless spectacles were at hand to help their Eyes, and a little formed Piece of Glass supplied the Decays of Nature?  The curious Mechanic, engaged in any Minute Work, could no longer follow his Trade than to the 50th or 60th Year of his Age. The Scholar no longer converse with his Books, or with an absent Friend in a Letter.  All after would be melancholy Idleness, or he must content himself to use another Man’s Eyes for every line. Thus forlorn was the State of most old Men, and many young, before this admirable Invention, which on this very Account cannot be praised too highly”
1756 Benjamin Martin Benjamin Martin (1704-1782) , an eighteenth century English instrument maker, is considered one the greatest designers and manufacturers of microscopes of his time. He had a significant influence on the development of the microscope and optical instruments in general. He developed Visual Glasses in 1756 in an attempt to reduce the supposed damage to the eyes from excessive light. The aperture of the lenses was reduced by a horn annulus placed inside the ordinary sized frame. They were described in his "Essay on Visual Glasses (Vulgarly called Spectacles)" and then remained popular during the Revolutionary War period. Martin felt that these smaller sized lenses were beneficial for the eyesight.

In his Essay on Visual glasses

Tortoiseshell folding English nose spectacles, last quarter 18th century, Brilmuseum, Amsterdam
Martin\'s Margins - in steel (collectible), silver (desirable), and tortoiseshell (rare)
Very rare Benjamin Martin makers mark, Science Museum
“It was better to make the size of the glasses more less, with the means of a margin made from horn or tortoiseshell, so that the most useful part of the glass was left and also less light came into the eyes”.
1763 Pablo Minguet Pablo Minguet é Irol, (1700 – died after 1775) Spanish writer, philosopher and engraver published a series of popular manuals on subjects ranging from religion to magic tricks. His writings urged an appreciation of the Fine Arts by the broader public. The famous Cologne-based Minguet Quartet is named after him. In his broadsheet Pablo Minguet broadside, 1763 The eyeglasses that have some color and that saves the sight more is the citron or the turquoise that is the color of the sky and the green. The yellow nor the red are not good.”

(The translation of the entire broadside can be found on our website)

1776 John Hancock John Hancock (1737-1793), American patriot and statesman,  was a member of the Continental Congress, serving as a presiding officer from 1775-1777. By virtue of this office, he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. Later he became the first governor of the state of Massachusetts, holding that office from 1780 to 1785 and from 1789 until his death. On signing the Declaration of Independence John Hancock, from UShistory.org website “I sign my name so large and so plain that George the Third may read it without his spectacles”………… (‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’)
1783 Addison Smith Addison Smith was a Mathematical, Optical and Philosophical Instrument Maker selling balances, barometers, hygrometers, and thermometers as well as spectacles. He initially joined the Guild of Spectacle Makers in 1763. In the first ever awarded spectacle patent #1359 Addison-Smith style spectacles, colored lenses, Poulet's Atlas
Addison Smith double-lenses as described in the first spectacle patent ever granted, 1783
…….in lieu, of applying and using a single spherical glass fitted to each eye, as is now practiced in the present method of making spectacles, they are to be made by applying and using two or more glasses fitted to each eye,( formed concave and convex figure or figures upon their different relative of respective surfaces, and the glasses of such spectacles to be of the same or of different refractive densities), and when applied as spectacles to relieve the sight the glasses to act either in contact or separate from each other, by which means, spectacles so varied in construction, their utility as a public benefit may be rendered more extensive by enabling me to give different sights as well as better relief to defective vision in the same spectacles, properties that will be found peculiarly advantageous by this mode of construction.
May 1783 General George Washington Peace talks between America and Great Britain began in April, 1782 and a preliminary peace treaty was signed seven months later. Although, the fighting of the Revolutionary War was now over a force had to still be maintained at Washington's main camp until a final peace treaty was signed. The soldiers stationed at New Windsor and nearby Newburg had gone without pay for a long time, and many men and their families were in desperate straits. Two anonymous letters were circulated among the officers at Newburg; condemning Congress for failure to honor its promises to the army and inciting the veterans to defy Congress if the accounts were not promptly and equitably settled. A revolt began to percolate which threatened to destroy a very new and fragile democracy.

Washington personally addressed a meeting of those officers at Newburgh. He stood before them, a commander-in-chief whose strength of personality had held together a rag tag army for eight years; a commander who, when the revolution seemed lost, had led them to improbable victories at Trenton and Princeton, rallied them at Monmouth, shared their misery at Valley Forge, and finally had led them to victory at Yorktown, and then independence. Washington advised moderation, patience, and promised expeditious congressional action on the salary and pension demands of the soldiers. He asked them to abandon their talk of rebellion, but their distresses were severe and dissatisfaction ran deep. A letter from Col. David Cobb recounts what occurred before the speech. Washington fumbled for his glasses to read a crumpled note which he said would show Congress's good faith to pay its soldiers. No one has ever seen Washington wear spectacles before on public occasions. He then spoke a few powerful words:

In his speech before his army officers The possible George Washington spectacles, MISSING, Independence National Historical Park

"Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.";

Further words choked in his throat and he turned and left. This humble statement brought shame to their souls and drew tears from many of the officers. The threat to democracy of a military coup (the Newburgh Conspiracy) evaporated thus guaranteeing the tradition that the military would remain subordinate to the civil authority.

August 1784 - May 1785 Benjamin Franklin As a printer, moralist, essayist, author, musician, economist. inventor, diplomat, and philosopher, Benjamin Franklin was a model for the national character. A true patriot who brought our youthful country forward, he served his nation as a statesman, scientist, and public leader.  One of the most extraordinary human beings the world has ever known, Franklin stands in the front rank of men who built the United States. He was the only man who signed all four of these key documents in American History: The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Treaty of Alliance with France (1778), The Treaty of Peace with Great Britain (1783), and the Constitution of the United States (1787).  Ben Franklin (1706-1790) is honored as a Founding Father and as one of America's greatest citizens.  He is also recognized for many important inventions, including devising the bifocal. The earliest ones were probably made by London opticians Sykes and also Dollond. In letters to London philanthropist George Whatley Franklin style bifocals, turn pin style sidearms, perhaps the earliest, steel, circa 1795
Franklin-style bifocals, silver, pin in slot adjustable sidearm, circa 1820, Science Museum, London
I therefore had formerly two pairs of spectacles, which I shifted occasionally, as in traveling I sometimes read, and often wanted to regard the prospects. Finding this change troublesome, and not always sufficiently ready, I had the glasses cut and a half of each kind associated in the same circle. By this means, as I wear my own spectacles constantly, I have only to move my eyes up or down, as I want to see distinctly far or near, the proper glasses being always ready."
Circa 1800 Members of French high society

There was a period of time just over 200 years ago in French high society when spectacles were considered not elegant and they were felt to be a negative attribute of old age.  It was not desirable to be a person who was dependent upon glasses.

Thanks to this vanity, fancy objects made to see with, were developed and were soon admired because of their craftsmanship. Ladies started to use optical devices which were incorporated into ornate fans, small watches, precious pendants, and crystal perfume bottles. Marie Antoinette hid her myopia in this manner. Men used canes fit with fancy spyglasses also.  “Les Encroyables” were living their lives in the merriest way. Basically vanity knew no bounds during this time period and all sorts of fancy objects were conceived.

Famous Expression from France Bonjour Lunettes, Adieu Filettes, circa 1800

Slide show of images

‘’Bonjour lunettes, adieu fillettes’’

“Buon giorno agli Occhiale, addio alle regazze” Translation - “Good Morning glasses, good-by girls”

In more modern times this would be stated by Dorothy Parker as:Men don’t make passes at girls who wear glasses”

1800 John McAllister, Sr. John McAllister, Sr. (1753-1830) arrived in America from Scotland in 1775 just before the Revolutionary War. He began selling hickory walking sticks (cane) in 1783 and, soon thereafter, riding whips. In 1799, he decided that spectacles might be an appropriate addition to these other wares so he established the first optical shop in America in Philadelphia. He began a dynasty of opticians and optometrists over 173 years and 5 generations. He is now recognized as the Father of opticianry and optometry in the US. McAllister's first newspaper ad John McAllister advertisement, 1800
"They mean always to keep a large assortment of spectacles, reading glasses, concave glasses, magnifiers, goggles, et cetera and put new glasses in old spectacle frames."

Famous Statements HomeBefore 1600 1601-1800 1801 to the present


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