Sight in Savages, by W. H. Hudson

In Patagonia [Footnote: Patagonia: the southern part of Argentine Republic.] I added something to my small stock of private facts concerning eyes—their appearance, color, and expression—and vision, subjects which have had a mild attraction for me as long as I can remember. When, as a boy, I mixed with the gauchos [Footnote: Gauchos: these people are of Spanish-American descent. They are the native inhabitants of the pampas, and live chiefly by cattle-raising.] of the pampas, [Footnote: Pampas: vast plains in the southern part of South America, chiefly in the Argentine Republic.] there was one among them who greatly awed me by his appearance and character. He was distinguished among his fellows by his tallness, the thickness of his eyebrows and the great length of his crow-black beard, the form and length of his "facon," or knife, which was nothing but a sword worn knife-wise, and the ballads he composed, in which were recounted, in a harsh tuneless voice to the strum-strum of a guitar, the hand-to-hand combats he had had with others of his class—fighters and desperadoes—and in which he had always been the victor, for his adversaries had all been slain to a man. But his eyes, his most wonderful feature, impressed me more than anything else; for one was black and the other dark blue. All other strange and extranatural things in nature, of which I had personal knowledge, as, for instance, mushrooms growing in rings, and the shrinking of the sensitive plant when touched, and Will-o'-the-wisps, and crowing hens, and the murderous attack of social birds and beasts on one of their fellows, seemed less strange and wonderful than the fact that this man's eyes did not correspond, but were the eyes of two men, as if there had been two natures and souls in one body. My astonishment was, perhaps, not unaccountable, when we reflect that the eye is to us the window of the mind or soul, that it expresses the soul, and is, as it were, the soul itself materialized.

Some person lately published in England a book entitled "Soul-Shapes," treating not only of the shapes of souls but also of their color. The letter-press of this work interests me less than the colored plates adorning it. Passing over the mixed and vari-colored souls, which resemble, in the illustrations, colored maps in an atlas, we come to the blue soul, for which the author has a very special regard. Its blue is like that of the commonest type of blue eye. This curious fancy of a blue soul probably originated in the close association of eye and soul in the mind. It is worthy of note that while the mixed and other colored souls seem very much out of shape, like an old felt hat or a stranded jelly fish, the pure colored blue soul is round, like an iris, and only wanted a pupil to be made an eye.

Here again I recall an incident of my boyhood, and am not sure that it was not this that first gave me an interest in the subject.

One summer day, at home, I was attentively listening, out of doors, to a conversation between two men, both past middle life and about the same age, one an educated Englishman, wearing spectacles, the other a native, who was very impressive in his manner, and was holding forth in a loud authoritative voice on a variety of subjects. All at once he fixed his eyes on the spectacles worn by the other, and, bursting into a laugh, cried out, "Why do you always wear those eye-hiding glasses straddled across your nose? Are they supposed to make a man look handsomer or wiser than his fellows, or do you, a sensible person, really believe that you can see better than another man because of them? If so, then all I can say is that it is a fable, a delusion; no man can believe such a thing."

He was only expressing the feeling that all persons of his class, whose lives are passed in the semi-barbarous conditions of the gauchos on the pampas, experience at the sight of such artificial helps to vision as spectacles. They look through a pane of glass, and it makes the view no clearer, but rather dimmer—how can the two diminutive circular panes carried before the eyes produce any other effect? Besides, their sight as a rule is good when they are young, and as they progress in life they are not conscious of decadence in it; from infancy to old age the world looks, they imagine, the same; the grass as green, the sky as blue as ever, and the scarlet verbenas in the grass just as scarlet. The man lives in his sight; it is his life; he speaks of the loss of it as a calamity great as the loss of reason. To see spectacles amuses and irritates him at the same time; he has the monkey's impulse to snatch the idle things from his fellow's nose; for not only is it useless to the wearer, and a sham, but it is annoying to others, who do not like to look at a man and not properly see his eyes and the thought that is in them.

To the mocking speech he had made, the other good humoredly replied that he had worn glasses for twenty years, that not only did they enable him to see much better than he could without them, but they had preserved his sight from further decadence. Not satisfied with defending himself against the charge of being a fantastical person for wearing glasses, he in his turn attacked the mocker. "How do you know," he said, "that your own eyesight has not degenerated with time? You can only ascertain that by trying on a number of glasses suited to a variety of sights, all in some degree defective. A score of men with defective sight may be together, and in no two will the sight be the same. You must try on spectacles, as you try on boots, until you find a pair to fit you. You may try mine, if you like; our years are the same, and it is just possible that our eyes may be in the same condition."

The gaucho laughed a loud and scornful laugh, and exclaimed that the idea was too ridiculous. "What, see better with this thing!" and he took them gingerly in his hand, and held them up to examine them, and finally put them on his nose—something in the spirit of the person who takes a newspaper twisted into the shape of an extinguisher, and puts it on his head. He looked at the other, then at me, then stared all round him with an expression of utter astonishment, and in the end burst out in loud exclamations of delight. For, strange to say, the glasses exactly suited his vision, which, unknown to him, had probably been decaying for years. "Angels of heaven, what is this I see!" he shouted. "What makes the trees look so green—they were never so green before! And so distinct—I can count their leaves! And the cart over there—why, it is red as blood!" And to satisfy himself that it had not just been freshly painted, he ran over to it and placed his hand on the wood. It proved hard to convince him that objects had once looked as distinct, and leaves as green, and the sky as blue, and red paint as red, to his natural sight, as they now did through those magical glasses. The distinctness and brightness seemed artificial and uncanny. But in the end he was convinced, and then he wanted to keep the spectacles, and pulled out his money to pay for them there and then, and was very much put out when their owner insisted on having them back. However, shortly afterwards a pair was got for him; and with these on his nose he galloped about the country, exhibiting them to all his neighbors, and boasting of the miraculous power they imparted to his eyes of seeing the world as no one else could see it.