Cataracts and Composers

Naomi Roseth reflects after undergoing cataract surgery

I was recovering from cataract surgery when I read in Limelight Magazine a story, which nearly caused me pass out.

The composing room of Handel’s House in Brook Street, London

Did you know that Bach and Handel whose life spanned over the same years, have never met each other?   But they shared a dubious eye surgeon.  His name was John Taylor.  He travelled across Europe in a coach adorned with paintings of eyeballs and the motto:  “He who gives sight, gives life”.  He often performed his operations in front of large crowds but unfortunately did not live up to his motto.

In 1750 Bach sought treatment from Taylor for what was recorded as a painful eye condition, likely to be cataracts.  The procedure involved poking a needle into the eye and pushing the clouded lens out of the field of vision.  Handel went through the same procedure under the hands of the same surgeon in 1758.

J S Bach

Sterilization and anaesthesia were unknown at the time.  Post-operative care was a dubious affair.  Patients were instructed to use eye drops consisting of blood from slaughtered pigeons and in case of serious inflammation large doses of mercury were prescribed.

Not surprisingly, neither great men benefited from the procedure.  It did not kill Handel, only blinded him.  It blinded Bach too but he also suffered incurable infections, which eventually killed him several months later.

I felt privileged listening to the great music of these two composers while recovering from cataracts operations performed in the care and comfort of a modern Sydney clinic.

From Limelight Magazine February 2015


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