James Graham (sexologist)
Dr James Graham (1745–1794) was a pioneer in sex therapy with a genius for spectacle, best known for his electro-magnetic musical Grand State Celestial Bed. It was designed to make the barren fertile, the impotent virile, and to produce perfect babies. For centuries Graham was dismissed as a quack, but he is better understood as a medical entrepreneur. Quackery, in the context of largely ineffective eighteenth-century medicine, is best defined by a practitioner’s advertising techniques and geographical mobility rather than by his medical skills or success. Graham was certainly an expert in “puffing” himself, but he also genuinely believed in the efficacy of his unusual treatments.
James Graham, son of a saddler, was born on 23 June 1745 in Edinburgh, where he trained in medicine. Like 90% of medical students of his time, he left medical school without taking a degree. Probably with the help of William Buchan, future author of the best-seller Domestic Medicine, Graham set up as an apothecary in Doncaster, Yorkshire, and in 1764 he married Mary Pickering of Ackworth. In 1770 James Graham left England for America, travelling around the middle colonies as an oculist and aurist before settling in Philadelphia. Here he learned the principles of electricity from Ebenezer Kinnersley, Benjamin Franklin's friend and collaborator, and began to develop the prototype of his Celestial Bed. Leaving America around the time of the first rumblings of the American Revolution, Graham worked briefly in Bristol and then Bath before setting up practice in London, where Horace Walpole consulted him about his gout. After travelling in Holland, Germany and Russia in 1776, Dr Graham set up practice in Bath. Graham’s persuasive advertisements promoting cures using "Effluvia, Vapours and Applications ætherial, magnetic or electric" attracted his first celebrity patient, the famous bluestocking historian Catharine Macaulay. She became the subject of scandal in 1778 when she married James Graham’s 21-year-old brother William, who was less than half her age. Dr Graham was instantly propelled to national fame.
Temple of Health
During a research tour of Europe in the summer of 1779 Dr Graham acquired a new patron in Lady Spencer, mother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. In May 1780, Graham opened his first Temple of Health, housed in a magnificent building in the centre of the Adam brothers’ speculative development at the Adelphi. Here he displayed his extraordinarily elaborate electro-magnetic apparatus, treated patients with musical therapy and pneumatic chemistry as well as electricity and magnetism, published marriage guidance material, gave medical lectures and sold medicines such as “Electrical Aether” and “Nervous Aetherial Balsam.” He performed with the help of a succession of Goddesses of Health, displayed as models of physical perfection. The young Emma Hamilton (then known as Emy Lyon), who eventually became Lord Nelson's mistress, is thought to have been employed as the goddess Vestina. His gigantic porters were quickly nicknamed Gog and Magog, after the Guildhall Giants. The Temple of Health was a huge success and Graham became the talk of London, featuring in satirical plays, poems, prints and newspaper skits. During the 1780s he was publicly associated with well-known society figures such as Charles James Fox, John Wilkes, the Duke of Richmond, Admiral Keppel, the Duchess of Devonshire, leading courtesans such as Mary Darby Robinson ("Perdita") and Elizabeth Armistead, and other borderline showmen including Gustavus Katterfelto, Philip Astley and Philip de Loutherbourg.
In June 1781 Graham launched the Temple of Hymen in new premises at Schomberg House, in Pall Mall, designed to house the newly-built Celestial Bed. His "wonder-working edifice" was 12 by 9 feet (37 by 27 dm), and canopied by a dome covered in musical automata, fresh flowers, and a pair of live turtle doves. Stimulating oriental fragrances and "aethereal" gases were released from a reservoir inside the dome. A tilting inner frame put couples in the best position to conceive, and their movements set off music from organ pipes which breathed out "celestial sounds", whose intensity increased with the ardour of the bed's occupants. The electrified, magnetic creation was insulated by 40 cut glass pillars. At the head of the bed, above a moving clockwork tableau celebrating Hymen, the god of marriage, and sparkling with electricity, were the words:
"Be fruitful, multiply and replenish the earth!"
At Schomberg House, Graham gave his famous Lecture on Generation, a frank explanation of how to conceive which saw sex as a patriotic act and procreation as a national duty. Cold water washing of the genitals was recommended as essential to good sexual health, and prostitution and masturbation were castigated. Graham gave more discreet marriage guidance in a pamphlet called "A Private Advice."
Graham’s excessive spending soon got him into financial difficulties. He vacated the Adelphi Temple of Health in July 1781, and concentrated on trying to recoup his costs at Schomberg House. He found it hard to keep out of debt, however, and although he made a succession of spectacular comebacks, by March 1784 he was forced to sell most of his possessions. He returned to Edinburgh, his reputation ruined, to display the remains of his apparatus in a temporary Temple of Health on South Bridge Street.
Earthbathing and religion
In 1786, Graham gave public exhibitions of earthbathing in Panton Street in London, and lectured buried up to the neck in earth.
In July 1788, Graham was "born again." He renounced his past, including his electrical treatments. Graham founded a new church in his home in Lochend’s Close in Edinburgh's Old Town, but was soon overcome by a form of religious mania (later identified by Freud as the Messiah Complex) that seems to have dogged him for some time.
Graham travelled widely around Britain exhibiting his earthbathing therapy, and at the end of 1792, he began to experiment with extended fasting to prolong his life.
Graham died very suddenly at his home in Edinburgh in 1794, his death recorded in Old Parish Records as having taken place on 24 December, although other sources suggest he died on his birthday, 23 June.
James Graham published his first medical tract in 1775, and continued to promote his ideas in print throughout his life. His publications were distinguished by their flowery and hyperbolical rhetoric, and their humane and progressive views on war, slavery, women’s education, farming, religious tolerance and diet. (He was a passionate vegetarian.) Although he was regarded as an eccentric, most of his opinions on these subjects are now taken for granted, and Graham was amazed that his efforts to improve the human species were not better appreciated.
James Graham is the subject of the novel The Temple of Hymen by Jacqui Lofthouse (London: Penguin Books, 1996).
- Daily Mail, 20th Sept 2008, Doctor of love: A new book tells the tale of Dr James Graham whose sex clinic scandalised 18th century society
- Davenport, John. Aphrodisiacs and Love Stimulants. Kessinger Publishing, 2003. p. 59
- Book review in The Guardian Weekly of 21 November 2008, p.37
- Lydia Syson, Doctor of Love: Dr James Graham and His Celestial Bed, (London: Alma Books, 2008)
- Lesley Hall & Roy Porter, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950. (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1995)
- Peter Otto "The Regeneration of the body: Sex, Religion and the Sublime in James Graham's Temple of Health and Hymen". Romanticism on the Net 23 (September 2001)