Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Graham, James (1745-1794)

GRAHAM, JAMES (1745–1794), quack doctor, son of a saddler, was born in the Cowgate, Edinburgh, on 23 June 1745 (see Old and New Edinburgh). He studied medicine in the university of Edinburgh under Monro primus, Cullen, Black, and Whytt. He acknowledged himself much indebted to the professors, although he denounced some of their stuffy lecture-rooms. It is doubtful whether he qualified at Edinburgh, where, in 1783, he was described as 'the person calling himself Dr. Graham.' He settled in Pontefract, and there married in 1770. He then travelled in America as a doctor, and specially practised as an oculist and aurist. About 1772 he lived for two years in Philadelphia, and became acquainted with Franklin's discoveries. In 1774 he returned to England, practised at Bristol, and advertised his wonderful cures. In 1775, after spending a short time in Bath, he removed to London, and established himself in Pall Mall, nearly opposite St. James's Palace. In January 1777 he began to practise at Bath, where he met Catherine Macaulay [q. v.], who afterwards married his younger brother, William; he gained, as he admits, his first start by his treatment of her. He declared that his remedies could only be taken with advantage under his own eye, and therefore on payment of fees for his attendance. He placed his patients on a 'magnetic throne' or in a bath, into which electrical currents could be passed. He also applied what he called ætherial and balsamic medicines, milk baths, and dry friction. Though attacked as a quack, he became fashionable. In the winter of 1778-9 he visited Newcastle to superintend the construction of some glass-work he required for his next venture in London. In the summer of 1779 he met Franklin at Paris, and visited Aix-la-Chapelle, where he received high testimonials from many aristocratic patients, including Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire. In the autumn he settled in an elaborately decorated house (the 'Temple of Health') on the Royal Terrace, Adelphi, facing the Thames, and advertised his nostrums, including earth-bathing (pamphlet 5). In pamphlet 7 he gave a high-flown description of his house and apparatus, which is said to have cost him at least 10,000l. His entrance hall was adorned with crutches and so forth disused by his patients. In upper rooms were large, highly decorated electrical machines, jars, conductors, and an 'electrical throne,' insulated on glass pillars, together with chemical and other apparatus. Sculpture, paintings, stained glass windows, music, perfumes, and gigantic footmen were among the attractions. The 'great Apollo apartment' contained 'a magnificent temple, sacred to health, and dedicated to Apollo.' Here he gave lectures at high prices, opened his rooms as an expensive show to non-patients, and sold his medicines. He promised relief from sterility to those who slept on his 'celestial bed' (a gorgeous structure made by one Denton, a tinman of great mechanical skill). His fame attracted Horace Walpole, who says (Letters, Cunningham, 1858, vii. 427), on 23 Aug. 1780, that Graham's is 'the most impudent puppet-show of imposition I ever saw, and the mountebank himself the dullest of his profession, except that he makes the spectators pay a crown apiece.' On 2 Sept. 1780 George Colman the elder produced at the Haymarket Theatre an extravaganza, the Genius of Nonsense,' in which John Bannister appeared as the Emperor of the Quacks, mimicking Graham's absurdities. Graham was not allowed to buy the stage bill (a burlesque on his own handbill), on which he desired to found an action for libel. The farce was played for the twenty-second time on 2 July 1781. In 1781 Emma Lyon is said to have been exhibited by Graham as the Goddess of Health [see under Hamilton, Emma, Lady]. In the spring of 1781 he was forced by the expensiveness of his Adelphi establishment to move to Schomberg House, Pall Mall, which he called the 'Temple of Health and of Hymen.' His prices were lower, but in pamphlet 9 he states that he charges 50l. for the use of his 'celestial bed.' On 5 Nov. 1782 his property was seized for debt, and was advertised for sale on 20 Dec. and following days. He stimulated curiosity by artful advertisements, and was able to buy in a considerable portion of his goods. His advertisements are curious illustrations of his quackery. On 6 Jan. 1783 he advertised in the 'Public Advertiser' that he would that day pay twenty shillings in the pound on all his just debts, and stated that he was about to prosecute the 'Rambler's Magazine' for publishing 'an incorrect, mutilated, and nonsensical farrago, which they impudently and falsely call Dr. Graham's celebrated lecture on Generation, &c.' In March 1783 we are informed that the 'High Priestess' at his temple read lectures to ladies, and that 'the rosy, athletic, and truly gigantic goddess of Health and of Hymen, on the celestial throne,' assisted during the reading of the lecture.

On 29 July 1783 Graham lectured at Edinburgh in Mary's Chapel, Niddry's Wynd (see Caledonian Mercury, July and August 1783). A public repetition being prohibited, he delivered it for some days in his rooms, and published an 'Appeal to the Public,' libelling the magistrates. On 5 Aug. he published a letter approving his lecture, which was at once denounced as a forgery by the alleged author, Professor Hope. On 6 Aug. he was committed to the Tolbooth to be tried for 'his late injurious publications in this city.' He retorted by 'A Full Circumstantial and most Candid State of Dr. Graham's Case, giving an account of Proceedings, Persecutions, and Imprisonments, more cruel and more shocking to the laws of both God and man than any of those on record of the Portuguese Inquisition.' He preached in the Tolbooth to the prisoners, 10 Aug. (see pamphlet 10), and entertained his audience and the chaplain of the prison, who had also preached, with 'a mellow bottle and a flowing bowl' (Caledonian Mercury, 11 Aug. 1783). On 19 Aug. he was set free on bail of three hundred merks Scots, and the conduct of the magistrates was approved by the lords of session (ib. 20 Aug. 1783). Graham continued to lecture in a large room in Bailie Fyfe's Close, and on 22 Aug. he was sentenced to a fine of 20l. sterling, which was paid by his hearers. Shortly after this Graham left Edinburgh and lectured in various towns, with occasional prohibitions. In the autumn of 1783 Mrs. Siddons's youngest sister, Mrs. Curtis, read lectures on the state and influence of woman in society at his house in London, his own lectures following hers. In December he advertised that he could impart the secret of living to at least 150 years old. In 1786 he was in Paris and afterwards at Newcastle; he was again at Edinburgh, and in 1788 in the Isle of Man. In 1789 he told the public of Bath that he regretted the extravagances of youth and a warm imagination uncurbed by Christianity, but was now passing into 'the mild serenity of an evening natural, and of an autumn intellectual sun.'

In 1790 he describes his earth-bathing. He had been naked in the earth for eight successive days, six hours each time, and twelve on the ninth day. In a periodical of 1791 (quoted in Notes and Queries, 2nd ser. ii. 233) we are told that he and a young lady at Newcastle 'stripped into their first suits,' and were each interred up to the chin, their heads beautifully dressed and powdered, appearing not unlike two fine full-grown cauliflowers. In the same year Graham states that upon the illness of George III he had posted from Liverpool to Windsor and given his opinion to the Prince of Wales, who he said would suffer in the same way unless he married a certain princess (meaning evangelical Christianity). Graham became in his later years a religious enthusiast. In 1787 he styled himself 'the Servant of the Lord O. W. L.' (Oh, Wonderful Love), and dated his publications 'In the first year of the New Jerusalem Church.' At Edinburgh he was for some time confined in his own house as a lunatic. His last pamphlet opens with an affidavit made on 3 April 1793, that from the last day of December 1792 to 15 Jan. 1793 he neither ate, drank, nor took anything but cold water, sustaining life by wearing cutup turfs against his naked body, and by rubbing his limbs with his own nervous æthereal balsam. He died suddenly at his house opposite the Archer's Hall, Edinburgh, on 23 June 1794.

Graham, though a quack, and possibly a madman, was not without some knowledge. He was against flesh-eating and excess in alcohol, and believed in cold bathing, open windows, sleeping on mattresses, and other points of severe hygiene; at one time he states that he never ate more than the worth of four or six pence per day. He asserted that all diseases were caused by wearing too much clothing, and he wore no woollen clothes. Southey saw this 'half knave, half enthusiast' twice, once in his mud-bath. He says that latterly Graham 'would madden himself with opium, rush into the streets, and strip himself to clothe the first beggar he met' (Commonplace Book, iv. 360).

Graham married Miss Mary Pickering of Pontefract, and had three children. A son and a daughter survived him. His second sister married Dr. Thomas Arnold (1742-1816) [q. v.] A print of Graham's portrait is mentioned as in William Wadd's Collection (Nugæ Chirurgicæe, 1824). Kay (Edinburgh Portraits) depicts him in his usual white linen clothes and black silk stockings, as he attended a funeral in 1786, and also represents him lecturing.

Graham published: 1. 'An Address to the Inhabitants of Great Britain, particularly to those residing in the Great Metropolis of the British Empire,' containing his professions and promises as an oculist and aurist, with accounts of cures in America, Bristol, and Bath; London, 1775. 2. 'The Present State of Practice in Diseases of the Eye and Ear,' 1775. 3. ' A Short Inquiry into the Present State of Medical Practice in Consumptions, Asthmas,' &c., London, 1776. 4. 'The General State of Medical and Chirurgical Practice exhibited, showing them to be inadequate, ineffectual, absurd, and ridiculous,' 6th edit., Bath, 1778. This book contains 'The Christian's Universal Prayer,' composed by Graham. 5. 'A Treatise on the All-Cleansing, All-Healing, and All-Invigorating Qualities of the Simple Earth, when long and repeatedly applied to the Human Body,&c.…' London, 1779. 6. 'A clear, full, and faithful Portraiture … of a certain most beautiful and spotless Virgin Princess to a certain Youthful Heir Apparent,' London, 1779; dedicated to the Prince of Wales, and recommending merely the 'Wisdom of Solomon.' 7. 'A Sketch or Short Description of Dr. Graham's Medical Apparatus, erected about the beginning of the year 1780, in his house on the Royal Terrace, Adelphi,' pp. 92, London, 1780. An appendix contains a description of his three great medicines: the electrical ether, the nervous æthereal balsam, and the imperial pills, London, 1782. 8. 'The Guardian Goddess of Health,' n.d. (1780-3). 9. 'Il Convito Amoroso, or a Serio-comico-philosophical Lecture on the Causes, Nature, and Effect of Love and Beauty … as delivered by Hebe Vestina at the Temple of Hymen,' 1782. 10. 'A Discourse delivered on Sunday, 17 Aug. 1783, to his fellow-prisoners in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh on the Resurrection of the Body and the Immortality of the Soul,' 1783. 11. 'An Appeal to the Public, containing the full account of the ignorant, illegal, and impotent Proceedings of the contemptible Magistrates of Edinburgh, …' 1783. 12. 'A Lecture on the Generation, Increase, and Improvement of the Human Species …' 4to, pp. vi and 22 in small type, 1783. 13. 'Travels and Voyages in Scotland, England and Ireland, &c.,' 1783. 14. 'The Principal Grounds, Basis, Argument, or Soul of the New Celestial Curtain (or Reprehensory) Lecture …' London, 1786 (on p. 3 Graham subscribes himself ' Formerly a Physician, but now a Christian Philosopher'). 15. 'Proposals for the Establishment of a New and True Christian Church,' Bath, 1788. 16. 'A New, Plain, and Rational Treatise on … the Bath Waters,' Bath, 1789. 17. 'A Short Treatise on the All-Cleansing, All-Healing, and All-Invigorating Qualities of the Simple Earth,' Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1790 (a new pamphlet). 18. 'The Guardian of Health, Long Life, and Happiness,' &c., Newcastle, 1790. 19. 'Address to the Diseased, Weak, and Lame,' Newcastle, 1790. 20. 'A New and Curious Treatise on the Nature and Effects of Simple Earth, Water, and Air when applied to the Human Body; How to Live for many weeks, months, or years without Eating anything whatever; with the Extraordinary Histories of many Heroes, Male and Female, who have so subsisted,' London, 1793.

[Graham's Writings; Kay's Edinburgh Portraits, i. 30-6; London and Edinburgh newspapers, especially 1780-4; Scots Magazine, xlv. 502, 503; Walpole's Letters (Cunningham), vii. 427; Southey's Commonplace Book, iv. 360; Pettigrew's Nelson, ii. 597; Old and Now Edinburgh, ii. 242; Sampson's History of Advertising, pp. 411-21; Timbs's Doctors and Patients, pp. 157, 454; Jeaffreson's Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson, i. ch. iii.]

G. T. B.