Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Dr. James Graham, Edinburgh

Dr. James Graham was born at the head of the Cowgate, Edinburgh, 23rd June, 1745. His father, Mr. William Graham, saddler in Edinburgh, was born in Burntisland in 1710. He married, in 1738, in Edinburgh, Jean Graham (born 1715), an English lady; they had issue three daughters and two sons. The eldest daughter was married to a Mr. Smith; the second to the celebrated Dr. Arnold of Leicester, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh ; and the third to Mr. Begbie, town smith. James was the eldest son ; both he and his younger brother William studied medicine. The two brothers, in their early years, were not unfrequently mistaken for one another, from their strong family likeness, and from following the same profession. "William, after practising some time as physician, abandoned medicine entirely, and entered into holy orders. He was an Episcopalian, and married the celebrated writer, Mrs. Catherine Macaulay, sister to Alderman Sawbridge; she died at Binfield, in June, 1791. Mr. William Graham was alive in July, 1836, being eighty-one years of age. He then resided in Leicestershire, where he was deservedly held in high estimation.

Dr. James Graham, after having finished his studies in Edinburgh, went to England, and began business in Pontefract, where in the year 1770 he married Miss Mary Pickering, daughter of a gentleman of that place, by whom he had a son and two daughters. His eldest daughter was married to the late Mr. Stirling, minister of Dunblane, a very accomplished lady, who is still alive. The other daughter died in the apartments of the Observatory on the Calton Hill, of consumption, about four years before her father; his son is still alive.

After residing some time in England, Dr. Graham went to America, where he figured as a philanthropic physician, travelling for the benefit of mankind, to administer relief, in the most desperate diseases, to patients whose cases had hitherto puzzled the ordinary practitioners. Having the advantage of a good person, polite address, and agreeable conversation, he got into the first circles, particularly in New England, where he made a great deal of money. He then returned to Britain; and, after making an excursion through England, during which, according to his own account, he was eminently successful in curing many individuals, whose cases had been considered desperate, he visited Scotland, and was employed by people of the first quality, who were tempted to put themselves under his care by the fascination of his manner, and the fame of his wondrous cures. So popular was he, that he might have settled in Edinburgh to great advantage, but he preferred returning to England. He fixed his abode in the metropolis, where he set on foot one of the most original and extravagant institutions that could well be figured, the object of which was for " preventing barrenness, and propagating a much more strong, beautiful, active, healthy, wise, and virtuous race of human beings, than the present puny, insignificant, foolish, peevish, vicious, and nonsensical race of Christians, who quarrel, fight, bite, devour, and cut one another's throats about they know not what."

The "Temple of Health," as he was pleased to term it, was an establishment of a very extraordinary description, and one in which all the exertions of the painter and statuary—all the enchantments of vocal and instrumental music—all powers of electricity and magnetism— were called into operation to enliven and heighten the scene. In a word, all that could delight the eye or ravish the ear—all that could please the smell, give poignancy to the taste, or gratify the touch, were combined to give effect to hib scheme—at least, such was his own account.

Of his numerous puffs on the subject, one may be selected by way of a specimen :—


"If there be one human being, rich or poor, male, female, or of the doubtful gender, in or near this great metropolis of the world, who has not had the good fortune and the happiness of hearing the celebrated lecture, and of seeing the grand celestial state bed, the magnificent electrical apparatus, and the supremely brilliant and unique decorations of this magical edifice, of this enchanting Elysiau palace !—where wit and mirth, love and beauty—all that can delight the soul, and all that can ravish the senses—will hold their court, this, and every evening this week, in chaste and joyous assemblage ! let them now come forth, or for ever afterwards let them blame themselves, and bewail their irremediable misfortune."
In this way his numerous auditors were properly prepared for his lectures, which were delivered in the most elegant and graceful manner. The following letter—his own production, perhaps, from a periodical work of the time—descriptive of his Temple and lectures, is curious:—

"Audi alteram partem.

"Sir,—I have heard many persons exclaim against Dr. Graham's Hymeneal Lectures, and reprobate him in the most oprobrious terms ; but having not been myself to see his Temple of Hymen, I thought it unjust to censure, or join in condemning that which I had never seen, or him whom I had never heard. Curiosity (a passion remarkable in the people of England) prompted me to go with an intimate friend and pay a visit to the Doctor, whom I found attended by about forty gentlemen, who were intent on listening to his connubial precepts. I gave attention, and determined to judge impartially of what I heard as well as saw, and the following is the result of my unprejudiced observations :—

"His rooms are fitted up in a very elegant and superb manner, far beyond anything I ever saw, and must have cost him a very considerable sum of money. A statue of Beauty, or Venus de Medicis, is the only object that appeared to me censurable, as likely to excite unchaste ideas. His lecture is well adapted to the subject he treats on, and is interspersed with many judicious remarks, well worthy the attention of the Legislature, to prevent prostitution and encourage matrimony. The nature of the subject naturally obliges him to border on what is generally termed indelicacy; but he always endeavours to guard his audience against imbibing sentiments in any respect repugnant to virtue, chastity, and modest deportment; he earnestly recommends marriage as honourable in all, and as strongly execrates prostitution and criminality; wherein then is he to blame?


"December, 1781."

In Spring 1783, Dr. Graham again paid a visit to his native city, and for the first time gave his fellow-citizens a lecture, which the Magistrates of Edinburgh deemed improper for public discussion, and accordingly endeavoured to suppress by the arm of power. The Doctor immediately published "an appeal to the public," in which he attacked the Magistrates, and particularly the Lord Provost, John Grieve, Esq. For this, the Procurator-Fiscal raised a criminal complaint in the Bailie Court against him, and as his real prosecutors were his judges—the result was, his being mulcted in ,£20, and imprisoned till the fine was paid. He suffered, however, no very tedious imprisonment, as his supporters collected the money amongst themselves. He also continued to give his eccentric lectures as long as the public curiosity lasted; and to induce people to hear his lectures, the admission being three shillings, he promised each person a book worth six shillings—viz., a copy of his lectures ! The admission was reduced subsequently to two shillings, and lastly to one. The following advertisement was circulated by him in December 1783 :—

"DOCTOR GRAHAM desires to inform the Ladies and Gentlemen of Edinburgh, that at the earnest desire of many respectable persons, he proposes to favour them on Monday evening next, the 27th instant, and the three following evenings, with A LECTURE on the simplest, most rational, and most effectual means of preserving uninterrupted bodily Health, and the most delightful mental sunshine or serenity to the very longest period of our Mortal Existence : Teaching them how to build up the human Body into a fair and firm Temple of Health, and to repose the Soul on the all-blessing Bosom of that pure, temperate, rational, and Philosophical Religion!—which alone is accepted of God !!! and truly useful to all his Creatures. The Lecture being therefore at once Medical, Moral, and Religious; the Technical Terms and nonsensical jargon of the followers of the Medical Trade or Farce being avoided, and the whole treated in a plain, practical, and useful manner, Dr. Graham trusts it will prove perfectly satisfactory, and of the highest importance to the health and happiness, temporal and eternal, of every sober and intelligent person who honours him with their company; as the precepts and instructions proposed to be delivered in this long and pathetic Lecture cannot fail, if duly practised, to preserve them in health, strength, and happiness, through the course of a long, useful, and truly honourable life here; and to prepare them for the enjoyment of eternal felicity hereafter.

"The Lecture will be delivered on MONDAY EVENING next, the 27th, and the three following evenings, precisely at Seven o'clock, in St. Andrew's Chapel, foot of Carrubber's Close, next to the New Bridge.

"Admission only One Shilling.

"Ladies are requested to come early, in order to be agreeably accommodated with seats, as the Lecture will begin exactly at Seven o'clock.

"N.B. Dr. G. has not the least intention of lecturing any more for several years in Edinburgh than the above four nights; and if the Chapel is not pretty full the two first nights, he will not repeat the lecture as proposed the two last nights, viz. on Wednesday and Thursday ; and as the shilling paid for admission can only defray the various expenses, Dr. G. hopes that the inhabitants of Edinburgh will esteem these lectures as very great and important favours conferred upon them.

"December, 1783.

"All Dr. G.'s books and pamphlets are to be had at the Doctor's house, and at Mr. Brown's, bookseller, Bridge Street."

While his Temple of Health was in its glory, it cannot be doubted that such an exhibition, lauded as it was on all hands in the most extravagant terms, must have produced a great deal of money in such a city as London, where every species of quackery is sure to meet with support and encouragement; but Doctor Graham, instead of realising a fortune, deeply involved himself by the great expense he was put to in maintaining the establishment in proper splendour. In his own expenditure he was very moderate; for he not only abstained from wine, spirits, and all strong liquors, but even from animal food—and, consistently with this mode of life, he recommended the same practice to others ; and whilst confined in the Jail of Edinburgh, for his attack on the civic authorities, he preached—Sunday, August 17, 1783—a discourse upon Isaiah, xl. 0, " All flesh is grass; " in which he strongly inculcates the propriety of abstinence from animal food. In this odd production, of which two editions were afterwards published, he says, " I bless God! my friends! that he has given me grace and resolution to abstain totally from flesh and blood—from all liquors but cold water and balsamic milk—and from all inordinate sensual indulgences. Thrice happy! siipremely blessed is the man who, through life, abstains from these things; who, like me, washes his body and limbs every night and morning with pure cold water—who breathes continually, summer and winter, day and night, the free open cool air—and who, with unfeigned and active benevolence towards everything that hath life, fears and worships God in sincerity and in truth."

In addition to the peculiarities pointed out by the Doctor in his discourse, he dissented in many other respects from the ordinary usages of mankind. He wore no woollen clothes; he slept on a hair-mattress, without feather-bed or blankets, with all the windows open; he said, and perhaps with some degree of truth, that most of our diseases are owing to too much heat:—and he carried his cool regimen to such an extent, that he was in terms with the tacksman of the King's Park, for liberty to build a house upon the top of Arthur's Seat, in order to try how far he could bear the utmost degree of cold that the climate of Edinburgh affords ; but, though the tacksman was willing, the noble proprietor would not listen to the project.

Amongst other eccentric plans recommended to his patients was that of earth-bathing,—which was neither more or less than burying them alive up to the neck in the earth, in which position they were to remain for ten or twelve hours. He tried this extraordinary remedy upon himself and one of his daughters, and actually induced his brother-in-law to follow their example. Other persons were also found simple enough to submit to this uew species of temporary sepulture.

In 1787, this singular being appeared in a new character, as a special delegate from Heaven to announce the Millennium. He not only styled himself "The Servant of the Lord, O. W. L." i.e., "Oh, Wonderful Love," but attempted to begin a new chronology—dating his bills such a day of the first month of the New Jerusalem Church ; but before the coming of the second month the prophet was, by order of the Magistrates, put under restraint, not indeed in prison, but in his own house, from whence he, some months afterwards, removed to the north of England. His religious frenzy appears to have lasted some time ; and we learn from the following extract, copied from the Whitehaven Packet, that a year afterwards his mind still wandered :—

"Whitehaven.—Tuesday morning, Dr. James Graham was sent off to Edinburgh in the custody of two constables. This unfortunate man had, for some days past, discovered such marks of insanity as made it advisable to secure him."—August 22, 1788.

Whether he ever got entirely quit of his religious fancies, is uncertain ; and in a very complete and curious collection of tracts, advertisements, &c., by, or relative to, Dr. Graham, occurring in the late Mr. John Stevenson's sale catalogue for 1825, there is a "manuscript written expressly for Dr. Graham, regarding his religious concerns, by Benjamin Dockray, a Quaker at Newtoun, near Carlisle, in 1790," which would seem to indicate that his mind, on that head, was not at that date entirely settled.

His death took place somewhat suddenly, in his house, opposite to the Archer's Hall, upon the 23d June, 1794—it was occasioned by the bursting of a blood vessel. He was buried in the Greyfriars' churchyard, Edinburgh. His widow survived him about seven years, and died at Ardwick, near Manchester, in the year 1801.

His circumstances, during the latter period of his existence, were far from affluent. To one of his publications, however, he was indebted for an annuity of fifty pounds for life; for it happened that a gentleman in Geneva, who had perused it, found his health so much improved by following the advice of its author, that, out of gratitude, he presented him with a bond for the yearly payment of that sum.

With all his eccentricities, he had a benevolent and charitable disposition, and his conduct towards his parents was exemplary. Even when in his "high and palmy state," he paid them every attention. Whilst in Edinburgh, he took them every morning in his carriage, which was one of the most splendid description, for an airing, attended by servants in gorgeous liveries; and these worthies—old-fashioned Presbyterian Whigs of the strictest kind—were infinitely gratified by the " pomp and vanities" with which they were surrounded.

It would be very difficult to give an exact catalogue of Dr. Graham's works. Such as we have seen are annexed. The list is far from complete.

I. The General State of the Medical and Chirurgical Practice exhibited; shewing it to be inadequate, ineffectual, absurd, and ridiculous. London, 1779. 12mo. This passed through several editions; and an abstract was published at the small charge of sixpence.—II. Travels and Voyages in Scotland, England, and Ireland—including a Description of the Temple of Health, and Grand Electrical Apparatus, &c, which cost upwards of £12,000. London, 1783. 12mo.—III. Private Medical Advice to Ladies and Gentlemen—to those especially who are not blessed with Children—sealed up, price One Guinea, alone, at the Temple of Health and of Hymen. The whole comprised in eight large folio pages.—IV. The Christian's Universal Prayer—to which are prefixed a Discourse on the Duty of Praying, and a Short Sketch of Dr. Gi-aham's Keligious Principles and Moral Sentiments.—V. Hebe Vestina's Celebrated Lecture; as delivered by her from the Electrical Throne, in the Temple of Health, in London. Price 2s. 6d.—VI. A Discourse delivered on Sunday, August 17, 1783, in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, by Dr. James Graham, of the Temple of Heath in London, while he was, by the most cruel and most unlawful stretch of power, imprisoned there for a pretended libellous Hand-bill and Advertisement, which was said to be published by him, against the Magistrates of that City. Isaiah, chapter xl., verse 6—"All flesh is grass." Edinburgh, 1783, 4to.—VII. The Principal Grounds, Basis, Argument, or SOUL, of the New Celestial Curtain (or Eeprehensory) Lecture, most humbly addressed to all Crowned Heads, Great Personages, and Others, whom it may concern. By James Graham, M.D. London, 1786.—VIII. A New and Curious Treatise of the Nature and Effects of Simple Earth, "Water, and Air, when applied to the Human Body: How to Live for many Weeks, Months, and Years, without Eating anything whatever, &c. By James Graham, M.D. London, 1793.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus