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James Graham (1745-94)

James Graham ‘the Hygienist’ was a quack health philosopher. He was notorious for his extraordinary Temple of Hymen in Pall Mall, London. James Graham was born in Edinburgh, where he trained in medicine but failed to qualify. He emigrated and settled in Philadelphia, USA, where he took up science, learning about electricity and magnetism.

Graham returned to Britain and set up practice in Bath, specialising in therapies to improve sexual health. He became famous when one of his celebrity patients married his brother William, who was less than half her age. He opened his Temple of Health in the Adelphi, London, in 1780. Graham lectured large audiences on the virtues of sexual health and personal hygiene, accompanied by beautiful young ‘Goddesses of Health’, while promoting remedies such as his Electrical Aether and an ointment called Nervous Aetherial Balsam.

Graham opened the up-market Temple of Hymen in 1781, backed by several aristocratic women, including Nelson’s mistress Emma, Lady Hamilton. The temple featured the famous Celestial Bed, which could be hired at £50 a night and attracted many famous patients with marital problems, including Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The 12-foot-by-9-foot bed featured coloured glass columns, mirrors, erotic paintings, flashing electrical lights, organ music, and perfume - all designed to help couples with their sexual problems.

Graham went bankrupt in 1784, but was back in business in 1786 with a new hygienic therapy: ‘earth bathing’. This was a variation on water and air bathing. Patients were buried up to their necks, to recharge and cleanse their bodies through the earth. Graham gave his lectures whilst buried. He carried on his earth bathing lectures, but settled back in Edinburgh and became increasingly religious. He died suddenly in 1794 after a prolonged bout of fasting.

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Bibliography

L Hall & R Porter, The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain, 1650-1950 (New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 1995) pp 106-122

R Porter, ‘James Graham’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (OUP, 2004)

R S Porter, ‘The sexual politics of James Graham’, British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies, 5 (1982), pp 199–206

L Syson, Doctor of Love: Dr James Graham and His Celestial Bed (Richmond, Surrey: Alma Books, 2008)

Glossary:

Hygiene

The science of health and how to maintain it. A condition or practice which promotes good health. The definition varies widely and differs across cultures.