The Daily Mirror of Empire
THE notion of telescopic vision long predates the telescope. The idea of a telescopic mirror emerged in literary and philosophical works of the medieval period, and there was an ongoing discussion of such mirrors in the early modern era. Many allusions to such mirrors are characterized by nostalgia: the wondrous devices of antiquity are always busted, rusted, or in some way defunct, and their disappearance often coincides with the end of an overstretched empire. Increasingly, however, writers began to suggest that these instruments were not the props of an irretrievable imperial past, but rather that various medieval figures—most typically, the Franciscan Roger Bacon—had deployed them, or that these devices were still working in regions remote from the reader, or, finally, that they were currently available to the more astute members of a European audience. This importation of the telescopic mirror into the present corresponds, but only rather roughly, to actual developments in natural philosophy and in the manufacture of glass and steel.