David Brewster’s Kaleidoscope caused a sensation in early nineteenth-century London and introduced a new and potent visual metaphor which still animates modern parlance. Yet the kaleidoscope’s considerable cultural impact has received scant critical attention, partly because it lacks the uncanny proto-cinematic verisimilitude of the diorama, the panorama, or the stereoscope. This article reconstructs this overlooked reception history, moving back in time from recent theoretical engagements with the kaleidoscope to David Brewster’s own account of his invention and its contemporary reception by both consumers and writers. This history reveals a sustained interrogation of the concept and experience of a unique form of visual transformation that never allows the eye to rest.
- visual culture
- literary history