Wealthy Georgians desperate to have a child in 1780 would have heard about Dr James Graham’s Grand Celestial bed with curiosity and hope. (Lord Cranston’s parents tried it without success.) Dr Graham rented a house in Pall Mall and constructed this contraption that he advertised as an aid to fertility. Patrons paid £50 a night for a chance to use it. In modern money given the fluctuating state of inflation one night would have cost over 4000£ (that’s about $7000 US dollars) for the privilege of spending one night in a bed, but this was no ordinary bed! Dr Graham (a real doctor who became known as the Doctor of Love) designed this bed himself as an aid to procreation. It was based on his previous experiments with electrocution and magnetism (and I assume his own fertile adventures).
His “wonder-working edifice” was twelve foot by nine foot, 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!”
If you think about it, it sort of makes sense; at least the clouds of incense make sense. If the husband stank like the weasel on his coat of arms what woman would be keen to let him near? Conversley, if the wife stank like an unwashed body what man with a nose would want to get near? Next to the smell of death the smell of unwashed bodies must be the most disgusting. It makes me heave. If you had the misfortune to pass a Stench-punk in the 90’s you’d know what I was talking about. That cloud of incense would have been celstial indeed!
Dr Graham was well known for his lectures and pamphlets on how to improve fertile-health. I suspect his patrons recieved a short personal lecture before being shown to the bed. If they did, his lecture probably included his advice to men to daily bathe the family jewels in ice water or as Dr Graham himself put it, “…certain parts which next morning after a laborious night would be relaxed, lank and pendulous, like the two eyes of a dead sheep dangling in a wet empty calf’s bladder by the frequent and judicious use of the icy cold water, would be like a couple of steel balls, of a pound apiece, inclosed in a firm purse of uncut Manchester velvet!” At least the man would smell better if nothing else and who knows…maybe all that tipping and music did the trick for a few desperate folk. For that price, I hope so!
The rest of the story is even more bizarre…of course…Dr Graham was bankrupted by his bed. He went back to Scotland where he (as Vic Gatrell writes) “…turned religious fanatic and manic advocate of mud baths, seeking longevity by starving himself for a fortnight while wearing around his naked body a suit of earthen turfs.” Needless to say, the Doctor of Love spent time in an asylum before he died. Perhaps he ran out of volunteers who’d submit to mild electric shocks while bathing and decided to be his own guinea pig? Did the Doctor of Love ever know love? I hope so.
If Dr Graham interest you Lydia Syson has written a book on the man called Doctor of Love! If you read her comment she answers some of my questions mentioned above! I hadn’t mentioned it before because I haven’t read it yet, but I definately want to read more!
Lydia Syson says
Hello… delighted to see you’ve picked up on my book “Doctor of Love: James Graham and his Celestial Bed” (Alma Books, 2008), though obviously very sorry not to see it mentioned in your blog. Do read it and you’ll find that far from being smelly, lovers who abided by Dr Graham’s rules for life were as fresh and fragrant as could be – he recommended washing the genitals in cold water morning and night and always after sex. Graham suggested sparkling water to ‘crimp and cabbage up afresh the rich purse of Venus’ or brace ‘the manly standard of love’, and sales went through the roof. For aristocrats like the Duchess of Devonshire, he even prescribed champagne douches to promote fertility.
As for Graham’s love life, he married a Yorkshire beauty called Mary Pickering at the age of 19. There were rumours of a dalliance with his patient Catharine Macaulay, the bluestocking historian, but gossip about any other extra-marital romances in Graham’s life is conspicuous by its absence. He was certainly a man of strong passions, and I suspect that his views on the sexual sublime he promoted were largely drawn from personal marital experience. Incidentally, by the time he invented earthbathing, he had renounced electricity.
Hello Lydia, I didn’t mention your book by name because I haven’t actually read it yet, but it is on my list. When I’m done here I’ll add a mention of it to the end of the blog entry because you’ve answered some of my questions and that’s very lovely of you!
I love the weird and bizarre and Dr Graham falls quite nicely into the category. I may write fiction, but when it comes to weird…nothing can compete with real people! I now want to read more of this man. If I were to come up with a character like this in my stories, most people would go…Oh please…no one’s that weird…Oh yes they are!
Lydia Syson says
Thank you – I do hope you enjoy it, and look forward to hearing your thoughts! By the way, you might also be interested in a new book by Wendy Moore called “Wedlock” – I guess you could call it an ‘anti-romance’. It’s about a couple of other eighteenth-century characters whose lives sound fictional – the Countess of Strathmore and her unutterably vile and scheming husband Andrew Stoney Robinson – immortalised by W.M. Thackeray as Barry Lyndon.
Cari you odd duck where on earth do you find these things?! Interesting as they are I think your genre of literature might deviate slightly from my own. Although I’m sure it’s a fascinating book about a very strange man… who would want to have sex with loud music announcing what one was doing? And how do you get in and out of a notorious building without catching notice? The guy kinda sounds like a creep.
Lydia: I shall definately get your book and let you know my thoughts. Graham sounds like a first rate ecentric and they always fascinate me.
I think I read a review about “Wedlock” I’ll have to look it up. I’m thinking it’s the one where her awful husband dies leaving her rich and then she stupidly marries this penniless jerk who tortures her and she has to petition a divorce from the courts? It caught my eye because the name Stathmore…One of my characters is the Duke of Strathmore and he’s quite wicked! I’ll look it up.
Charity-Esperity: You should know by now that I love the real weird and bizarre. You’ve met some of my family! I have to admit that image of the bed making noise during various stages of exertions has been haunting me as well…I have this image in my head of the men (to assuage their egos) jumping up and down on the bed to make the pipes play loud and long…and then exhausted make love on the floor or just fall exhausted into the bed and fall asleep…I mean what man would want it whispered abroad that when he used The Celestial Bed it whimpered and then faded with a short sickly moan?
Cari Hislop says
To Lydia, I’ve ordered your book as my birthday present! I look forward to reading it! 🙂
bruno mars says
Love your posts! But I was trying to add your RSS feed and your posts were coming up cut off. Know how I can fix that?