J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, June 02, 2022

“A great part of my disease immediately gave way to your Chemical Essences”

When the historian Catharine Macaulay contacted Dr. James Graham, he was changing his field of medical practice.

In his advertisements in American newspapers, similar notices in Bristol, and his 1775 London pamphlet, Graham presented himself as a specialist in problems of the eyes and ears.

But in 1776 he published another pamphlet whose title suggested new treatments for many more ailments:
A Short Inquiry into the Present State of Medical Practice, in Consumption, Asthmas, Gout in the Head or Stomach, Hysterical, Spasmodic, or Paralytic Affections of the Nerves in Every Species of Nervous Weakness and in Cancerous and Other Obstinate Ulcers and a More Elegant Speedy and Certain Method of Cure by Means of Certain Chemical Essences, and Aërial, Ætherial, Magnetic, and Electric Vapours, Medicines, and Applications—Recommended.

To which is added an Appendix on the Management and Diseases of the Teeth and Gums
In this pamphlet Graham declared that the electrical lectures he had attended in Philadelphia had inspired him to develop new methods of curing people. (He also mentioned trips to Germany and Russia, which must have been very short because I have no idea when he fit them in.)

This essay may well have been what prompted Macaulay to consult with Graham. And she was pleased with the results. On 18 Jan 1777 she wrote to the doctor from the home she shared with the Rev. Dr. Thomas Wilson in Bath:
…I was unfortunately born with a very delicate constitution, and a weak system of nerves; that from my earliest infancy to the age of maturity, my health was continually disturbed with almost every species of fever, with violent colds, sore throats, and pains in the ears, attended with all the variety of symptoms which accompany a relaxed habit, and an irritable state of nerves.

In this very weak state of health, I undertook the writing the History of the Stewarts; and I do not know whether it is not impertinent to add, that seven years severe application reduced an originally tender frame to a state of insupportable weakness and debility: continual pains in the stomach, indigestion, tremblings of the nerves, shivering fits, repeated pains in the ears and throat, kept my mind and body in continual agitation; and marked, those which would otherwise have been the brightest of my days, with sorrow and despair.

In one of these fits of despair, your pamphlet came to my hands. Its contents awakened my curiosity; I sent for you; you undertook my cure with alacrity, and gave me the pleasing hope of a restoration of health, or rather a new state of constitution; and I have the happiness to declare, that a great part of my disease immediately gave way to your Chemical Essences, your Ætherial, Magnetic, and Electric Applications; the pains in my ears and throat subsided, the fevers and irritations of my nerves left me, and my spirits were sufficiently invigorated to break from a confinement of six weeks, and to exercise in the open air.
Macaulay told Graham that she gave him “full liberty to publish this declaration,” and he seized the opportunity. He included the letter in a second edition of his Short Inquiry pamphlet and put her name on its title page, twice.

For that 1777 edition Dr. Graham also added an effusive 31 March letter back to Macaulay that filled seven printed pages, addressed her as “Madam” nine times, and used fifteen exclamation points (as well as slipping in “most hearty acknowledgements” to “the Revd. Dr. Wilson”).

In April 1777, as I wrote before, Wilson organized a grand celebration of Macaulay’s birthday. As a gift he gave her a gold medal that Queen Anne had presented to one of her negotiators at the Treaty of Utrecht—a historical artifact for a historian. The published description of that event then went on:
Next advanced the ingenious Dr. GRAHAM, to whom the world is so much indebted for restoring health to the Guardian of our Liberties, and thereby enabling her to proceed in her inimitable History;—he with great modesty and diffidence presented her with a copy of his works, containing his surprising discoveries and cures…
Furthermore, one of the odes presented to the lady that day and then printed was titled “On reading Mrs. Macaulay’s Letter to Dr. Graham.” It described Clio, “Th’ HISTORIC MUSE,” worrying about the lady’s health, even seeing the statue of her Wilson sent to his church in Walbrook as a “marble tomb.” But finally the god of healing Apollo promises:
“To stop the ravage of the foe,
My GRAHAM instantly shall go,
And set thy Fav’rite free;
No more let sorrow still thine eye—
On GRAHAM’s skill secure rely,
For he was taught by me.”
Those two 1777 publications—the doctor’s pamphlet and the birthday odes—publicly linked Graham and Macaulay. As he always acknowledged, her celebrity helped his pioneering ideas about “Chemical Essences, and Aërial, Aetherial, Magnetic, and Electric Vapours, Medicines, and Applications” reach a wider audience.

Later in the year, however, Catharine Macaulay took ill again.

COMING UP: Search for a cure.

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