09 December 2011

Bach and Handel were blinded by the same man

From a publication two years ago by the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health:
A University of Wisconsin-Madison ophthalmologist says both Handel and Bach underwent eye surgery at the hands of an "oculist" called the Chevalier John Taylor.

"Taylor was the poster child for 18th century quackery," says Daniel Albert, MD, MS, the author of "Men of Vision," a history of ophthalmology. The book has a chapter on Taylor's colorful, if gruesome, career...

Albert describes him as "the most infamous of all ophthalmic quacks." His arrival into town would be heralded by placards and handbills, and his coach was decorated with paintings of eyeballs and the motto: "Qui dat videre dat viver" (He who gives sight, gives life.)

"He practiced in the most flamboyant way, drawing crowds to watch procedures in the town square - and then getting out of town before the patients took their bandages off"...
In Bach's case, not only did his surgery and a second one fail, but he developed a painful post-operative infection and was treated with laxatives and the favorite cure of his day: bleeding. He was blind when he dictated his final work, and died a few months later.

Handel also underwent the cataract procedure known as "couching," in which a needle was poked into the eye and the cataract-clouded lens pushed into the rear, out of the field of vision. He had the surgery several times, probably the last one at the hands of Taylor. None of the surgeries worked and he grew blind. The lyrics to "Samson" - "Total eclipse. No sun, no moon, all dark." - were written as Handel's eyesight failed.
Via Futility Closet.

1 comment:

  1. Bach himself deprived even worse. Dr. Taylor caused him so deep harms that he could not survive the interaction, left his main work (Art of Fuge) incomplete.


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