Friday 12 August 2022

Eye Marvels - Joan Lennon

The last year or so I've been eye obsessed, as my cataracts got thicker and my outlook got blurrier. Two operations later (plus some months of having to be patient while my sight settled down) and I am thoroughly enjoying my shiny new eyes. But don't worry if you are squeamish - I'm not going to post a history of cataract surgery, fascinating (and toe-curling) though that is. Instead, I'd like to share with you J. H. Brown's fabulously-titled book Spectropia: or, Surprising Spectral Illusions, Showing Ghosts Everywhere, and of any Colour, published in 1865 by Griffith and Farran, whose offices were to be found in the Corner of St Paul's Churchyard (Entered at Stationers' Hall). 

It is a book about seeing ghosts.

To see the spectres, it is only necessary to look steadily at the dot, or asterisk, which is to be found on each of the plates, for about a quarter of a minute, or while counting about twenty, the plate being well illuminated by either artificial or day light. Then turning the eyes to the ceiling, the wall, the sky, or better still to a white sheet hung on the wall of a darkened room (not totally dark), and looking rather steadily at any one point, the spectre will soon begin to make its appearance, increasing in intensity, and then gradually vanishing, to reappear and again vanish ; it will continue to do so several times in succession...

J.H. Brown created his book to speak out against the 'mental epidemic' of such 'absurd follies' as 'spirit-rapping and table-turning'. He goes on to explain the wonderful mechanics of the eye and its heightened deceivability. And then, on with the show!  

Thanks to The Public Domain Review it's possible for us to have a go at experiencing these surprising spectral illusions ourselveshere, even if we don't own a physical copy of the book - which, though it may not have been a absolute best seller, was still popular enough to go into a 4th edition.


(I would love to have a read of some of Griffith and Farran's other publications, such as the New and Popular Books for the Young advertised on the back cover, including The Headlong Career and Woful Ending of Precocious Piggy and the slightly dodgy sounding The Loves of Tom Tucker and Little Bo-peep.)

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