Doctor of Love: James Graham and his Celestial Bed by Lydia Syson - review by Frances Wilson

Frances Wilson

The Magnet of Love

Doctor of Love: James Graham and his Celestial Bed


Alma Books 331pp £20

‘Young, enterprising, impatient and eccentric’, as he described himself, Dr James Graham took pleasure seriously. But then, he reminded his patients, ‘I am not only a doctor of medicine, but a physician of the soul.’ The first sex therapist, Graham was also a consummate showman, brilliantly skilled, as Lydia Syson puts it in this fine biography, in ‘translating sexual knowledge into polite and rational entertainment’.

Aside from his striking appearance – Walter Scott described his hair as ‘most marvellously draped into a sort of double toupee, which divided upon his head like the two tops of Parnassus’ – there was nothing unusual about James Graham. Like the electrometers he displayed in his Temple of Health, he simply responded to what was going on around him. The eighteenth century was ‘stuffed with little men trying to make it big in a vibrantly commercial world’, and Graham, like the best of them, rose to vertiginous heights before falling to cavernous depths; he was briefly famous, then notorious, after which he died in poverty and was soon forgotten. 

After completing his medical training in Edinburgh, the Athens of the modern world, Graham left his young wife behind and joined the ‘wave of itinerant European culture-mongers’ crossing the Atlantic to hawk their expertise. In America he established himself as King of the Quacks at a time when, as one

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