I HAVE given considerable space in this Journal to articles by the Misses Scarlett, dealing with the preservation of eyesight and with the cure of the various diseases and disorders of the eye, such as weakness of sight, inflammation, pink eye. I have give so much room to these articles for a number of reasons. The eyesight of nation, and indeed of all Western nations, has badly deteriorated in my lifetime. I am over seventy. When I was a little boy proportion of people who wore glasses was extremely small.
Nearly only the middle-aged and the old people wore spectacles. It was most anomalous to see young men women and children with spectacles. From year to the proportion of spectacle wearers has increased. Now if one goes into a club, reading room, railways carriage, etc., one finds that the great majority of you people wear glasses and this condition is getting worse from year to year.
Hitherto, the treatment of defective vision and of the various diseases and disorders of the eye has been the monopoly of the opticians and oculists who, to some extent, work in partnership. If an individual wishes to obtain glasses and goes to an optician he be fitted with glasses, but many cases the opticians will recommend him to an oculist. Every optician has his favourite oculist and every oculist has favourite optician. They work in partnership, but I do not l know whether there is a financial nexus between the two.
This is immaterial. In any case the connection between the oculist and optician has resulted in making the provision of glasses very expensive to these who can afford to pay high fees. The average oculist in the West End of London charges from three to five guineas for examining the eyes and prescribing glasses, and high-class opticians make similar charges for glasses. So the individual who wishes to have his eyesight improved by way of the oculist and optician has to pay from six to ten guineas, and he is urged to have his eyes re- examined every six months because the glasses may need strengthening.
The way in which this business is managed may be described as a ramp. On a Saturday afternoon I was in Brighton and met there a very wealthy lady friend. She is an elderly women, and she suddenly exclaimed with dismay that she has forgotten her glasses. She had left them in london and was very distressed as she could not see without them. She drove about from place to place but could not find an oculist open and all the opticians shops were closed.
She wanted to go back to London to fetch glasses, I persuaded her to go to one of the popular multiple shops where spectacles can be bought for six pence. She was horrified at the suggestion, for her glasses has cost her ten guineas. Still, she went to the shop I recommended, found it open, and proclaimed that the glaces sold to her for six pence were better than the glasses prescribed by the London specialist, and she bought six pairs for the noble sum of three shillings. Ever since she has worn shop spectacles at six pence a pair.
I do not mean to recommend everyone to get six penny spectacles, because that would be risky, but still if there is an ordinary weakness of sight which can be rectified by magnifying glasses, there is no need to spend from six to ten guineas on a single pair of spectacles.
The provision of glasses is an expensive luxury in this country for al those who can afford to pay, but the expensiveness of glasses is not by any means the worst aspect of the problem. The combined interest of the oculist and optician makes the nation of spectacle wearers. As soon as a patient complains about a slight weakness of sight or some other trivial eye trouble, he is urged to obtain glasses, and if he has once induced to wear glasses he will have to wear glasses for the rest of his life.
The oculist and optician will take good care that is the case. Glasses are not an ornament, they are a disfigurement and they are a nuisance and in the majority of cases, practically in the majority of cases, they are quite unnecessary and harmful.
The combined oculists and opticians have not the slightest desire to improve eyesight by natural means. On the contrary they ridicule any alternative method of improving eyesight, and yet an alternative method exists.
Some decades ago very eminent orthodox oculist in America, the late Dr. Bates, did what Hahnemann did one hundred and fifty years ago for Homoeopathy. Although brought up in the orthodox way he abandoned the usual method of the oculist and endeavored to improve eyesight by carefully devised methods of eye gymnastics, eye exercises and so forth, and he enabled thousands of people to discard their spectacles. Bates found numerous pupils in every country. Some of his disciples are efficient and capable and others are less competent, or less fortunate.