Enduring Influence of Elizabethan Ophthalmic Texts of the 1580s: Bailey, Grassus, and Guillemeau

Christopher T Leffler*, 1, Stephen G Schwartz 2, Byrd Davenport 1, Jessica Randolph 1, Joshua Busscher 1, Tamer Hadi 1
1 Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 401 N. 11th St., Box 980209, Richmond, VA 23298, USA
2 Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, 311 9th Street North, #100; Naples, FL 34102, USA

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© Leffler et al.; Licensee Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article licensed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted, non-commercial use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the work is properly cited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Ophthalmology, Virginia Commonwealth University, 401 N. 11th St., Box 980209, Richmond, VA 23298, USA; Tel: (804) 828-9315; Fax: (804) 828-1010; E-mail:


Three English ophthalmic texts of the 1580s were frequently republished: 1) Walter Bailey’s A Briefe Treatise Touching the Preseruation of the Eie Sight, 2) The Method of Phisicke, an adaptation of the medieval treatise of Benevenutus Grassus, and 3) A Worthy Treatise of the Eyes, a translation of Jacques Guillemeau’s treatise. Their history is intertwined through composite publications, some of which lacked clear attribution. At least 21 editions incorporated these texts. Although not previously realized, major elements of all 3 works are found in Two Treatises Concerning the Preseruation of Eie-sight, first published in 1616. To preserve eyesight, Bailey recommended eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis), fennel (Fæniculum vulgare), and a moderate lifestyle incorporating wine. In the works of Grassus and Guillemeau, cataracts were believed to lie anterior to the ‘crystalline humor,’ and were treated by the ‘art of the needle,’ or couching. Links are found between Grassus, Guillemeau, and eighteenth century glaucoma concepts. Although one of his students has traditionally received credit, it was English oculist John Thomas Woolhouse who first combined the early concepts and used the term glaucoma to describe the palpably hard eye in the early eighteenth century. The three primary ophthalmic texts of 1580s England influenced ophthalmic thought for over a century.

Keywords: Alcohol, cataract, couching, eyebright, glaucoma, ophthalmology.