Letters on double spectacles. By Benjamin Franklin.

Links:  Ophthalmic Texts in English from Before 1800.   Christopher T. Leffler, MD, MPH.


 Passy, 21 August, 1784.


I received your kind letter of May 3d, 1 783. I am ashamed that it has been so long unanswered. The indolence of old age, frequent indisposition, and too much business are my only excuses. I had great pleasure in reading it, as it informed me of your welfare.

[Here we omit paragraphs on: Tract on the Principles of Trade and the FoundlingHospital.]

Your eyes must continue very good, since you can write so small a hand without spectacles. I cannot distinguish a letter even of large print; but am happy in the invention of double spectacles, which, serving for distant objects as well as near ones, make my eyes as useful to me as ever they were. If all the other defects and infirmities were as easily and cheaply remedied, it would be worth while for friends to live a good deal longer, but I look upon death to be as necessary to our constitution as sleep. We shall rise  refreshed in the morning. Adieu, and believe me ever yours most affectionately,



London, 15 November, 1784.


[We are omitting paragraphs on Principles of Trade, and FoundlingHospitals.]

I have spoken to Dolland about your invention of double spectacles, and, by all I can gather, they can only, serve for particular eyes, not in general. Dolland was to furnish me gratis with spectacles, thirty years ago, in virtue of my disinterested purchases of telescopes, for no small sums, for conjurers abroad. He has now done it, as I find spectacles are of use ; though I can do without them tolerably, and part of this letter was wrote so. They, as I said, give ease, and that is what we ought to covet and desire.

[We are omitting paragraphs on Powers of Congress, and Toleration.]

Your grandson, upon my insinuating to him you were so desirably situated as not to leave Paris, tells me, you thought you would be more pleased and happy in America, where you might prosecute your philosophical studies. All I can say to this is, what I have read somewhere ; ” Happy only is he, who in mind lives contented ; and he most of all unhappy, whom nothing that he hath can content.” I am sure you cannot have more health, happiness, and contentment, than I sincerely wish you ; and I shall ever be happy in having opportunities of showing with what respect and regard I am, dear Sir,

your very affectionate friend,


Passy, May 23, 1785.

To George Whatley.

. . . I must agree with you, that the Gout is bad, and that the Stone is worse. I am happy in not having them both together, and I join in your Prayer, that you may live till you die without either. . . .

. . . By Mr. Dollond’s Saying, that my double Spectacles can only serve particular Eyes, I doubt he has not been rightly informed of their Construction. I imagine it will be found pretty generally true, that the same Convexity of Glass through which a Man sees clearest and best at the Distance proper for Reading, is not the best for greater Distances. I therefore had formerly two Pair of Spectacles, which I shifted occasionally, as in travelling 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 half of each kind associated in the same Circle.  By this means, as I wear my 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. This I find more particularly convenient since my being in France, the Glasses that serve me best at Table to see what I eat, not being the best to see the Faces of those on the other Side of the Table who speak to me; and when one s Ears are not well accustomed to the Sounds of a Language, a Sight of the Movements in the Features of him that speaks helps to explain, so that I understand

French better by the help of my Spectacles. . . .


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