Robert James (1703-1776) was a London physician and author. James was born in Staffordshire and educated at both Oxford and Cambridge. By the mid 1740s James owned a busy medical practice in London. He also established friendships with the literary elite, including John Newbery and Samuel Johnson. During his career James developed and patented several medicines. His most popular concoction was ‘Fever Powder’, a dangerous mix of antimony and calcium phosphate that was still being sold into the early 20th century. James also penned numerous medical guides, including his three-volume Medical Dictionary and a 1747 guide to medicines called Pharmacopoeia Universalis. The latter contains a section on the medicinal value of human by-products. One of the most versatile of these, writes James, is dried menstrual blood. Provided it is taken from the first flow of the cycle, menstrual blood can be of great benefit:
“Taken inwardly it is commended for the stone[s] and epilepsy… Externally used it eases the pains of gout… It is also said to be of service for the pestilence, abscesses and carbuncle… [It also] cleans the face from pustules.”
Women enduring difficult childbirth, writes James, can “facilitate the delivery” by sipping:
In 1691 Joseph de Arostegui of Calahorra, northern Spain, petitioned for divorce from his wife, Antonia Garrido, based on her alleged impotence. According to his testimony, there had been no consummation of their four-year marriage because his wife “does not have her parts like other women”. Antonia contested her husband’s claim for divorce, her lawyer asserting that Antonia’s genitals were fully functional but had been affected by “evil spells and witchcraft”. As was usual in early modern trials where impotence was alleged, Antonia was ordered to submit to at least two examinations by doctors and midwives. At the second of these examinations:
“…the [surgeon] Francisco Velez inserted into the said parts of the said Antonia Garrido a stem of cabbage in a shape similar to a virile member… and seeing that it entered with liberty…”
The examiners, content that penetration had been achieved, ruled that Antonia was capable of intercourse, and the church court turned down Joseph’s petition for divorce. The fate of their marriage after this is unknown.
Francois Chopart (1743-1795) was a French physician and surgeon. Born and trained in Paris, Chopart became professor of surgery at the Ecole Pratique before his 30th birthday. During his medical career, Chopart developed several new procedures, including facial surgery, skin grafts and partial amputations of the foot. He was best known, however, for his pioneering research into urology and urological disorders. Writing in his 1791 book Traité des Maladies des Voies Urinaires, Chopart described the strange case of a French shepherd, whose masturbatory habits led him to cleave his penis into two:
“A shepherd from Languedoc named Gabriel Gallien engaged in acts of onanism [masturbation] from the age of 15, sometimes as many as eight times each day. In time he would persevere for an hour without emission, sometimes only passing blood… He employed his hand for 11 years [but] by his 27th year could only induce a state of constant erection, which he attempted to resolve by introducing a piece of wood, six inches in length, into the urethra…”
Gallien found that inserting and gently pistoning this foreign object in his urethra enabled him to reach orgasm. He maintained this method for another six years until, according to Chopart, the inside of his urethra became “hard, insensitive and calloused”. Gallien was again reduced to a state of constant erection. Being “of total repugnance to women, which is often the case with masturbators” the frustrated shepherd had no means of sexual relief. It was then he took drastic measures:
“In utter despair he took a pocket knife and made an incision in the glans of the penis. This was accompanied by minimal pain but was followed by an agreeable sensation and orgasm and copious emission… Once again able to satisfy his venereal desires, he frequently performed the same operation, with the same result. After carrying out this shocking mutilation perhaps a thousand times, he at length failed. He then divided the penis, by a lengthways incision, into two equal halves, from the opening of the urethra to the symphysis pubis [base of the penis].”
Such a development might have concerned others but Gallien simply tied a ligature around his now two-pronged member. He also kept masturbating, “introducing a thin piece of wood into what remained of the urethra, titillating the seminal ducts and producing an ejaculation”. He persisted with this method for another ten years until the wood ended up lodged in his bladder, triggering an infection and requiring a hospital visit. Doctors found Gallien’s penis in two halves, both capable of erection. It was then that Gallien was questioned and recounted his tale of self-mutilation in search of self-pleasure. The dual-pronged shepherd from Languedoc died three months later from a chest abscess. Though probably unconnected, doctors attributed this abscess to almost 40 years of masturbation. Francois Chopart himself died of cholera in 1795.
Sir William Osler (1849-1919) was a Canadian-American doctor, academic and medical pioneer. The son of a British naval officer and a pious Christian woman, Osler was born in Ontario and educated in Toronto, Montreal and London. In the 1880s, Osler became chief of clinical medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and a founding member of the Association of American Physicians. In 1889 Osler relocated to Baltimore, becoming a co-founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital and School of Medicine. He remained at Johns Hopkins for 12 years, overseeing its rapid growth and evolution into one of America’s foremost medical research facilities. In 1905 Osler accepted the Regius Professorship at Oxford University. Just before embarking for England, he delivered a controversial farewell address to the Johns Hopkins alumni, suggesting the most important work was done by younger folk:
“The effective, moving, vitalising work of the world is done between the ages of 25 and 40, these 15 golden years of plenty, the anabolic or constructive period in which there is always a balance in the mental bank and the credit is still good.”
In contrast, Osler argued, people over 60 had outlived their usefulness and were only capable of producing “evil mistakes and drivel”:
“It can be maintained that all the great advances have come from men under 40, so the history of the world shows that a very large proportion of the evils may be traced to the sexagenarians… Nearly all the great mistakes, politically and socially, all of the worst poems, most of the bad pictures, a majority of the bad novels, not a few of the bad sermons and speeches.”
Osler’s solution drew on the writings of Anthony Trollope. Men (and only men – he considered elderly women a “good influence” on society) should be subject to compulsory Logan’s Run-style euthanasia once they hit the age of 60:
“The uselessness of men above 60 years of age and the incalculable benefit it would be in commercial, political and professional life [if they were to] stop work at this age… the plot hinges on the admirable scheme of a college into which, at 60, men retired for a year of contemplation, before a peaceful departure by chloroform.”
The popular press seized on Osler’s proposal and hounded him for the best part of a year. Great presidents, philosophers and inventors in their 60s were held up as potential victims of Osler’s program. “Oslerisation” and “Oslerising” became synonyms for euthanasia. Some newspapers queried whether Osler, who was 56 at the time, would volunteer to be first in line for compulsory chloroforming. Osler’s suggestion was tongue in cheek, of course, something he later pointed out – but his negativity about older people, their lack of productivity and resource-sapping uselessness was certainly well documented. Osler himself died in 1919, aged 70, from influenza and pneumonia. Ironically, he once described these diseases as “friendly” toward old people because of their capacity to deliver a relatively painless death.
James Graham (1745-94) was a Scottish-born quack physician, notorious for his alternative treatments and bizarre theories. Graham started a medical degree in his native Edinburgh but quickly dropped out of college. He lived in Yorkshire for a time, then spent several years travelling and working in North America and Europe before settling in London. Tall, handsome and eccentric, Graham became a popular figure in London society. As a physician, he specialised in sexual problems with ‘treatments’ that were sometimes highly unorthodox. Childless couples were told to make love on a mattress filled with stallion hair; barren women were advised to wash their genitals in champagne. In 1781, Graham scandalised and fascinated London by unveiling his new premises: the ‘Temple of Hymen’ in Pall Mall. The showpiece of this temple was Graham’s ‘Celestial Bed’, a gaudily decorated vibrating bed that promised great improvements in love-making and conception. Later in the 1780s, Graham promoted his theory of ‘earth bathing’, where patients were stripped naked and buried up to their necks in fertile soil:
According to Graham, these long stints in the “all-fostering bosom of our original mother” opened the pores and leached toxins from the body. ‘Earth-bathing’ was considered good for many ailments but was particularly effective for curing venereal disease, gout, scurvy, rheumatism, leprosy, cancer, insanity and numerous types of infection. ‘Earth-bathing’ also suppressed the appetite, claimed Graham, so the obese were urged to bury themselves up to the lips, for up to six hours on end. Graham himself ‘earth-bathed’ hundreds of times, usually as a public spectacle. Scores of Londoners handed over a shilling to watch Graham and an equally-naked female companion being interred in a garden bed. Graham’s ‘earth-bathing’ fad lasted until the early 1790s, by which time he had started to show signs of insanity, possibly the result of opium addiction. He returned to Scotland, where he died in 1794.