People in Victorian England were fanatical about kaleidoscopes

An illustration from 1818, titled “Human Nonsense.” (Photo: Public Domain/WikiCommons)

When the kaleidoscope was invented in 1816, it triggered a mania in England. People who couldn't afford their own would pay an enterprising street hustler a penny for a glimpse into the phantasmagorical mirror world. In the illustration above, a gentleman in the street is paying attention to his kaleidoscope instead of the street traffic and collides with a hobby horse rider. One writer of the time called the kaleidoscope one of the "most important inventions and discoveries of our time."

Atlas Obscura has an article about the Victorian kaleidoscope craze, which includes this paragraph about a man who felt betrayed by the device:

A playwright and philosopher in Victorian America, R.S. Dement, recalled the moment he discovered what was inside a kaleidoscope as a child. Writing 61 years after the kaleidoscope had initially been brought to market in the UK, Dement said that he was originally fascinated by the reflections of colors bouncing around in various symmetries; but upon taking the kaleidoscope apart, he discovered nothing but “numerous pieces of colored glass, without symmetry, unsightly in themselves, have no connection with each other and but very trifling value." He felt betrayed, “deceived into believing that what he saw was at least the shadow of something real and beautiful, when in truth it was only a delusion.”

Notable Replies

  1. So in essence, the predecessor of Instagram?

  2. Perhaps all websites could be improved with a 30 degree angle mirror.

  3. ugh says:

    I hate when that happens. We need more dedicated hobby horse lanes! Share the road.

  4. Welcome to life as a human being.

  5. The title of the illustration is 'Human Nonsense'. The joke is on the dandy on the hobby horse as well. (The hipster on the fixie.)

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