James Graham, one of the best-known quack sex
doctors (of whom there were many) of the late Enlightenment
era in England
, was born in Edinburgh
in 1745. It is true that he studied medicine at his home university, but despite his own claims to the contrary, he never graduated. This didn't stop him from calling himself a doctor anyway, or attracting scores of followers who swore by the efficacy of his "electric
Before achieving fame and notoriety in London during the 1780's, Graham had travelled to America, where he met Benjamin Franklin and consequently became enamoured with electricity, believing that it would be the cure of all ills. After returning to Europe, he set himself up in London and opened his famous Temple of Health ('Templum Aesculapio Sacrum') at Adelphi, just off the Strand.
Temple of Health proved to be an initial success and attracted a rich and famous clientele. Some of its success may be attributed to numerous scantily clad ladies posing as 'Goddesses of Health', but they were by no means the only sights to behold: there were libido-rousing paintings, scented wax candles and above all, various awe-inspiring electrical treatments. In the Temple, patients could be treated with complex electrical machines with such ominous names as the 'magnetic throne' and the scariest of them all, 'electric bath tub'. Most of his treatments seem to have consisted of delivering electrical shocks to the patients by various collars, crowns and mantles. To make ends meet, Graham was also selling an elixir which, he claimed, would grant immortality to the imbiber.
The rest of the Temple of Health, however, paled to insignificance when compared to its magnificent centerpiece, the Celestial Bed. This wonder of science was hired out at the staggering price of £50 a night as a specific cure against impotence and sterility. So great were its "magical influences" that according to Graham, they
are now celebrated from pole to pole and from the rising to the setting of the sun. The Celestial Bed is 12ft. long by 9ft. wide, supported by forty pillars of brilliant glass ... in richly variated colours. The super-celestial dome of the bed, which contains the odoriferous, balmy and ethereal spices, odours and essences, which is the grand reservoir of those reviving invigorating influences which are exhaled by the breath of the music and by the exhilarating force of electrical fire, is covered on the other side with brilliant panes of looking-glass.
The dome was topped by no less than three gods: Cupid
on the front, with a figure of Hymen
behind, with a torch "flaming with electrical fire in one hand and with the other, supporting a celestial crown , sparkling over a pair of of living turtle dove
s, on a little bed of roses
And just as you thought it couldn't get any better, the Celestial Bed would suddenly emit a concert of flutes, guitars, violins, clarinets, trumpets, oboes, kettle drums and god knows what else, all played by another group of animated figures on top of the dome. In addition, there was an automatic organ placed under the headboard, with "a fine landscape of moving figures, priest and bride's procession entering the Temple of Hymen." As the lovers lay on the bed listening to the music and hopefully getting aroused, they could stare at a large mirror suspended from the ceiling while behind them, electricity crackled across the headboard of the bed, filling the air with a magnetic fluid "calculated to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves." The phrase "Be fruitful. Multiply and Replenish the Earth" was inscribed on the headboard.
The mattress was filled with sweet-smelling flowers and hair from the tails of "fine English stallions". The finishing touch were the numerous magnets sewn onto the fabric and "continually pouring forth in an everflowing circle".
Far from being intimidated by the cacophony of sounds, smells and unpredictable movements of the bed, Graham maintained that
...Any gentleman and his lady desirous of progeny may experience the superior ecstacy which the parties enjoy in the Celestial Bed, and which is really astonishing and never before thought of in this world: the barren must certainly become fruitful when they are powerfully agitated in the delights of love."
Despite the success of the Temple of Health, Graham was knee-deep in debt by 1784 and had to move back to Edinburgh. Here he had a new revelation. Renouncing his old electrical theories, he took up the cause of mud bath
s, claiming that they were the secret to immortality. He argued that people could absorb all the nutrient
s necessary to sustain life simply by bathing in mud. He swore that he himself had survived two weeks immersed in mud with no nourishment except for a few drops of water.
As he got older, Graham become increasingly eccentric. Eventually he was gripped by religious fervour and founded what he called the New Jerusalem Church (he was its leader as well as the only member). He began signing all his letters "Servant of the Lord, O.W.L." (Oh, Wonderful Love), and would engage in bizarre behavior such as stripping off all his clothes as he walked down the street in order to give it to the poor. This kind of behavior led to an arrest in 1794, after which he died of a ruptured blood vessel in the age of 49.
Despite being an obvious quack, some of Graham's less adventurous ideas about health are commonly accepted today, such as maintaining a diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, undertaking moderate daily exercise and of course, enjoying an occasional mud bath ever now and then.
Porter & Hall, The Facts of Life - The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950. Yale University Press, London, 1995.