Anne here, back from the Australian Romance Readers Convention, where this picture was taken: it's the historical romance panel. Yes, very serious we all were.
The convention was followed by a week-long writing retreat. And as it sometimes does, when you're away and sleeping in strange rooms, my mind turned to… beds.
I confess I love my bed. I bought it some years back, after a stay in a fabulous hotel (for a conference) where the beds, for once, were amazingly comfortable — so comfortable in fact that I slept well every night I was there, an unusual thing for me at a conference because my mind is usually spinning from the stimulation of the company. So I bought the exact same bed. But I digress.
Beds are on the one hand, amazingly simple things, but increasingly they are becoming technological marvels. But whether it's scientifically designed coils and springs, adjustable beds, beds that sense and provide the right position for all your spinal (and other) needs, there is nothing available in the modern bed that is anywhere near the marvel that was The Celestial Bed that was invented and available for use in the eighteenth century.
It was the invention of one James Graham, a Scotsman born in 1745, the son of a saddler. An ambitious lad, Graham entered the world renowned Edinburgh Medical School at the tender age of sixteen. He left it three years later, unqualified (though this was not uncommon at the time) and set up shop as an apothecary (pharmacist,) though still craving fame and fortune.
It was a visit to America that gave him the inspiration he needed. It was a time of scientific marvels; electricity was in its infancy and all kinds of experiments were being made with it — including Benjamin Franklin's famous kite-flying-in-thunderstorm venture— and the whole notion of electricity fired the imaginations of many — including that of James Graham.
Graham decided that there might be parallels between electrical energy and sexual energy (he called them both fluids) and he theorized that 'the pleasure of the venereal act might be exalted if performed under the glowing, accelerating, and most genial influences of that heaven born, all animating element, the electrical or concocted fire.'
At the first rumblings of the American Revolution, he returned to England and took up work as a doctor in Bath — though he was not your everyday doctor. Bath was a fashionable city, a draw card for rich people of delicate health — real or imaginary. And Graham was an ambitious man with a charismatic personality.
Graham’s persuasive advertisements promoting cures using "Effluvia, Vapours and Applications ætherial, magnetic or electric" attracted his first celebrity patient, the famous bluestocking historian Catharine Macaulay. She became the subject of scandal in 1778 when she married James Graham’s 21-year-old brother William, who was less than half her age. Dr Graham was instantly propelled to national fame.
In 1779 Dr Graham acquired a new patron in Lady Spencer, mother of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and made plans for his great dream — a Temple of Health. In May 1780, Graham found suitable premises in an exciting new development between The Strand and the Thames River — the Adelphi Buildings — and opened the first Temple of Health.
Graham's original intention was to use electricity to treat all sort of ailments and he borrowed money to set up all kinds of electro-magnetic machines for 'throwing by force of electricity ethereal essences, vivifying air and magnetic effluvium through the whole body, and which could draw visible sparks from any designated part of the body.' He treated patients with musical therapy, and pneumatic chemistry, published marriage guidance tracts gave medical lectures and sold medicines, such as “Electrical Aether” and “Nervous Aetherial Balsam.” People could even take "electrical baths" which produced a mild shock and a prickling sensation over the skin.
His Temple of Health was staffed with a succession of so-called Goddesses of Health, displayed as models of physical perfection and scantily clad in flimsy white robes. (The young Emma Hamilton, later to become the mistress of Admiral Nelson, is thought to have been one of them.) The Temple of Health was a huge success and Graham became the talk of London and the acquaintance of many famous people.
Several years later Graham moved premises and set up a new kind of temple, which he called the Temple of Hymen, after the Greek and Roman god of marriage, where the properties of electricity were to be devoted entirely to the enhancement of marriage and fertility. It featured his most famous invention yet — the Celestial Bed. (Finally, you say, she gets to the point!)
The bed was enormous —12 feet long and 9 feet wide (about 3.6 by 2.7 metres) — supported by 40 pillars of richly colored glass of exquisite workmanship together with brass pillars wrapped in purple satin. The mattress was stuffed with oats, flowers and the tails of fine English stallions and beneath it were about 15 hundredweight (about 680 kilograms) of magnetic fluid to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves (ie to relieve male erectile dysfunction.) The bed had a specially designed frame to align its occupiers in the best position to conceive, and any movement caused stimulating oriental fragrances and "aethereal" gases to be released and "celestial sounds" to waft from concealed organ pipes. The more vigorous the mattress’ movements, the more energetic the music.
My own bed has, sadly, none of these features.
Unfortunately there seems to be no contemporaneous illustrations of the Celestial Bed, but here's a modern interpretation of it. Of course, the Celestial Bed was not for naughty or prurient activities, no no — it was all for the sake of marriage and procreation. In the bedhead, chiselled into the woodwork and sparkling with electrical fire, were the words 'Be Fruitful, Multiply and replenish the Earth.' A night in the Celestial Bed would set you back fifty pounds, a huge sum in those days.
Extravagance found Graham's Temple of Hymen closed after a few years, and the man himself deep in debt. But he was a true eccentric, and if you're a lover of eccentricity (as I am) it's worth looking him up. Some gems of his career: he founded the The New Jerusalem Church; its membership never exceeded one. He became a passionate advocate of "earth bathing" and gave public exhibitions of it in Panton Street in London, lecturing while naked and buried up to the neck in earth. Graham's final book, How to Live for Many Weeks or Months or Years Without Eating Anything Whatsoever, surprisingly did not sell well and is, strangely, now out of print.
So what about you? Do you love your bed? Do you hanker after a wonderful, exotic bed? If you could magic up a bed, what would be your specifications? And have you tried any interesting, "alternative" treatments? How did they go?