FAMOUS Hampshire author Jane Austen was almost blind when she died – and this may have been due to arsenic poisoning which may also have contributed to her early death, at the age of just 41.

The British Library have carried out tests on three pairs of Jane’s spectacles which showed that the author’s sight had deteriorated considerably by the time of her death..

Austen was known to have had rheumatism, and arsenic was often used treatment of the condition in the early 19th century.

Arsenic is known to cause cataracts.

The novelist, who lived Chawton died on July 18, 1817 and the cause of her death has been the subject of much speculation.

Her glasses were examined using a portable lens to gauge the strength of the lenses which are still in good condition 200 years on.

Tests showed they increased in strength from +1.75 in each eye from the first pair to +4.75 and +5.0 in the final pair – meaning she would have found it very difficult to see well enough to read or write in her final days.

However, it is not known whether the lenses were prescribed specially for Jane or whether she bought them ready made.

The British Library has invited optometrists to offer their opinions on the new theory.