Rose-Colored Glasses

Some people see the world through rose-colored glasses. I do not. But, recently, when the phrase came to mind for unknown reason, I decided to explore its origin. Early in my search, I found reference to Labyrinth of the World and Paradise of the Heart, a satirical allegory in book form by Jan Amos Komenský, also known as John Amos Comenius,  a Czech philosopher and theologian. I may expose my ignorance and embarrass myself by saying I was utterly unfamiliar with Komenský who, I subsequently learned, many people consider the father of modern education. He was born in 1592 and died at age seventy-eight in 1670. In the book, a pilgrim wandering the world was given a pair of glasses “ground from assumption and habit,” which distorts the pilgrim’s perception of the world. Reading more in various places online, I learned that some people claim Czech language and literature is littered with references to rose-tinted lenses.

The first English reference I found was this, from a book entitled Slight reminiscences of the Rhine, Switzerland, and a corner of Italy, Volume 2, by Mrs. Mary Boddington, who wrote:

What a delicious thing it is to be young, and to see everything through rose-coloured glasses ; but with a wish to be pleased, and a certain sunniness of mind, more in our power than we imagine, we may look through them a long time.

I then read that a French version of the phrase,”l’optimiste souriant qui regarde la vie à travers des lunettes roses” (the smiling optimist who looks at life through pink glasses) was included in a book published in 1841. Perhaps it was Komenský’s writing that gave rise to the both the English and the French phrases. Two years later, in 1843, Godey’s Magazine published a piece (in English), entitled The Ideal and the Real, by Miss Mary Davenant. She wrote:

A man in love is easily deceived. I have seen more of life than you have, my dear, simply because I look at people with my own eyes, instead of through rose-coloured glasses as you do, and I never see a woman who appears so very soft and gentle that she cannot raise her voice much above a whisper, and whose every word and look betrays a studied forethought of the effect they are to produce, that I do not mistrust her sadly.

Somewhere along the line as I read about rose-colored glasses, I recall references to lenses tinted pink were at one time prescribed for physical maladies. In one reference that I can no longer find, at least not without work I am unwilling to invest again, colored lenses were prescribed as a means of curing or, at least, treating, jaundice. As I consider that, it seems to me that the lenses would be best prescribed not for the person with jaundice, but for the people looking at him.

I have few perceptions about the world that could be effectively  treated with lenses. My perceptions of the world are not afflictions but, rather, sore realities best addressed by changes in the world, not by changes in the way I see it. Is that arrogant? Is that delusional? Is that a jaundiced view? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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