Paper tubes taken up by Pepys in 1668 to help him see while working. From ‘The Big Brown Eyes of Samuel Pepys’ by Graham A. Wilson, Amanda P. Field and Susannah Fullerton in Archives of Opthamology, vol. 120, July 2002:

There was still room for hope, and Pepys became excited when he heard of “the late printed experiment of paper Tubes” (July 31, 1668). He was quick to try these tubes: “mightily pleased with a little trial I have made of the use of a Tubespectacall of paper, tried with my right eye” (August 11, 1668). These paper tubes were 3 inches long with a small orifice at the lower end. They worked by eliminating binocular vision and glare.

They gave transient relief and proved to be his favored visual aid (August 23, 1668):

After dinner to the office, … to examine my letter to the Duke of York; which to my great joy, I did very well by my paper tube, without pain to my eyes.

But they were not comfortable to use, did not completely resolve the problems and did not prevent the abandonment of the diary soon afterward.

The tubes are described in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, available online at (date unclear):

The inventor of this method was about 60 years of age, but his sight much decayed ; and I seemed, says he, always to have a kind of thick smoke or mist about me, and some little black balls dancing in the air about my eyes, and to be in such case as if I came into a room suddenly from a long walk in a great snow. I could not distinguish the faces of my acquaintance, nor men from women, in rooms that wanted jio[?] light. I could not read the great and black English print in the church bibles, nor keep the plain and trodden paths in fields or pastures, except I was led or guided. I received no benefit by any glasses, but was in the case of those whose decay by age is greater than can be helped by spectacles. The fairest prints seemed through spectacles like blind prints, little black remaining.

Being in this sad plight, what trifle can you think has brought me help more valuable than a great sum of gold ? Truly, no other than this : I took spec-tacles that had the largest circles ; taking out the glasses, I put black Spanish leather taper-wise into the emptied circles, which widened enough, took in my whole eye at the wider end ; and presently I saw the benefit through the lesser taper-end, by reading the smallest prints, which thus seem as if they had been a large and fair character. I coloured the leather on the inside with ink, to take off the glittering. Finding that the smaller the remote orifice was, the fairer and clearer the smallest prints appeared ; and the wider that orifice was, the larger object it took in, and so required the less motion of my hand and head in reading ; I therefore cut one of these tapers a little wider and shorter than the other, and the wider I use for ordinary prints, and the longer and smaller for smallest prints: these without any trouble I alter as is necessary. I can only put the very end of my little finger into the orifice of the lesser, but the same finger somewhat deeper, yet not quite up to the first joint, I can insert into the orifice of the wider. Sometimes I use one eye, sometimes another, for ease by the change ; for you must expect that the visual rays of both eyes will not meet for mutual assistance in reading, when they are thus far divided by tubes gi[?] that length. The lighter the stuff is, the less it will encumber. Remember always to black the inside with some black that has no lustre or glittering. And you should have the tubes so moveable, that you may draw them longer or shorter, allowing also the orifice wider or narrower, according to circumstances.

I have not tried what glasses will do if settled in these tubes, having no need of them. Probably they may be more proper for some that are squint-eyed, whose eyes interfere. Certainly it will ease those that cannot well bear the light; and perchance it will preserve the sight for a longer time. In another letter the same person adds:

I see now, by these taper tubes, as well as the youngest in my family, and can read the smallest and most confused prints through them as well as ever I could from my childhood, though my sight be almost lost. And having used these empty holes for spectacles little more than a week, I can now use them without trouble all the day long; and I verily believe, that by this little use of them, my sight already is much amended. For I now see the greenness of the garden, and pastures in a florid verdure, whereas very lately dark colours, blue and green, had the same hue to my eye.

If you ask me, how this device came in my head, I shall tell you all I know. Some years ago I was framing one of Hevelius’s polyscopes; as I was trying the tube, without the dioptric glasses, I perceived that though the tube took in very little, and seemed scarce serviceable for any considerable purpose; yet the object appeared to me more distinct and clear through the tube, than through the open air. This I recollected, and thereupon made the trial, and found the effect fully answer to my case.

As for your trial of the tubulous spectacles, the tubes may be of paper, only coloured black and pasted on, and with the inner folds drawn out from one inch to three; some of the folds to be taken out, that the orifice may be wider or narrower, as best fits to every degree of defect.

1893 text

An account of these tubulous spectacles (“An easy help for decayed sight”) is given in “The Philosophical Transactions,” No. 37, pp. 727,731 (Hutton’s Abridgment, vol. i., p. 266). See Diary, August 12th and 23rd, post.

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

3 Annotations

Second Reading

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

In 2020 David James Harries contacted Phil Gyford about a paper he had written for The Journal of Dry Eye and Ocular Surface Disease, entitled ‘Pepys’s Eyes: A Modern Answer to an Old Conundrum?’.

Well worth your time:…

San Diego Sarah  •  Link

On Wednesday, 12 August, 1668 Pepys notes that he goes to see Mr. Drumbleby -- 'A maker of flageolets, "the best in [London] town" opined Pepys in February 1667.' He was making the mouths for Pepys' paper tubes. Maybe he was an expert in carving small ivory pieces?

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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.