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Spring 2014
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Brown University Library’s History of Science Collection is full of rare old treasures that beg to be paged through with reverence and white gloves. But one of the most charming pieces is a slim blue book from 1944 that is almost Amish in its plainness. Your Eyes, by Dr. Sidney A. Fox, is exactly as straightforward and accessible as its title. It is part of the Sidney Fox collection on ophthalmology, which Fox donated to the

In his book, Fox, an ophthalmologist and 1919 Brown graduate, sets out “to lay before the reader the commonly accepted facts that he ought to know about the eye.” His tone is kind, even avuncular, especially when discussing “tots” and “youngsters.” On the necessity of wearing spectacles he writes, with endearing sensitivity: “The highly myopic child presents a special human problem. He or she must not be made to
feel inferior to the other children or different from them. The child should not be deprived of associations and games with playmates. The active child must play. Let it—with glasses.”

Another volume from the collection reveals Fox’s feistier side. The book is The Art of Seeing, by Aldous Huxley. In it, Huxley praises the work of Dr. W. H. Bates, whose 1920 book Perfect Sight Without Glasses maintained that poor eyesight was caused by strain and that glasses were harmful. Huxley, who had become nearly blind following an attack of keratitis punctata at 16, credited the Bates method with the recovery of his sight. Fox’s penciled notes in the margins reveal incredulity and indignation, and constitute a sort of heated dialogue.“The fact that there is a grain of truth in his discussion does not alter the essential wrongness of his argument,” he writes on one page. Elsewhere he dismisses a paragraph as “an effort to forestall criticism.” Next to a section called Reasons for fear of light, Fox writes “I am grateful, at least, for his admitting the danger of watching an eclipse … Nowhere is the old adage about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing more clearly illustrated.” The more agitated he is the more laconic he becomes,sometimes scribbling “Whaddayouno!” “Have never seen it!” or simply “!!”

In 1975 Fox received an honorary DMS from Brown, and in 1982 his estate established an eponymous professorship (the Sidney A. Fox and Dorothea Doctors Fox Professorship in Ophthalmology and Visual Science). Though he died in 1983, reading these pages you can almost hear his voice.
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