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18th Century Medical Hoaxes
Lucina Sine Concubitu, 1750 (1750)In 1750 the British Royal Society received a curious report titled Lucina Sine Concubita, which translated means "Pregnancy without Intercourse".
In the letter the writer argued that women could become pregnant without having engaged in any sexual activity, due to the presence of microscopic "floating animalcula" present in the air. The author claimed to have isolated some of these animalcula using "a wonderful, cylindrical, catoptrical, rotundo-concavo-convex machine." When he examined these animalcula under a microscope he found them to be shaped like miniature men and women. This discovery, he suggested, would go a long way toward restoring the honor of women who could not otherwise explain their pregnancies. An engraving accompanying the letter showed a "floating animalcula" approaching a sleeping woman.
The author concluded by proposing that, for the purpose of experimentation, a royal edict should ban copulation for one year.
The letter was signed by Abraham Johnson, but this was a pseudonym of Sir John Hill. His intent was apparently to satirize the "spermist" theory, which held that sperm were actually little men (homunculi) that, when placed inside women, grew into children.
The letter proved very popular and was printed and distributed widely throughout Europe.
It is also said that Hill wrote the letter to revenge himself for having been denied membership to the Royal Society. (Needs confirmation)
Graham’s Celestial Bed, 1775 (1775-1784)James Graham was one of the more notorious medical quacks that worked in London during the eighteenth century. He called himself a doctor, even though he had never completed his medical studies. He promised customers he could cure them of a variety of ills (but in particular sterility and impotence) if they slept in his "celestial bed," for which he charged £50 a night.
The Celestial Bed was twelve-feet long by nine-feet wide, could be tilted so that it lay at various angles, and had a mattress filled with "sweet new wheat or oat straw, mingled with balm, rose leaves, and lavender flowers."
As lovers lay in the bed, they could stare up into the large mirror suspended above them on the ceiling. Behind them, electricity crackled across the headboard of the bed, filling the air with a magnetic fluid "calculated to give the necessary degree of strength and exertion to the nerves." The phrase "Be fruitful. Multiply and Replenish the Earth" was inscribed on the headboard. Hidden musicians played soft music.
In other words, a night in the bed probably was an unusual romantic experience. However, it had no curative powers.
In 1784 Graham moved to Edinburgh, where he took up the cause of mud baths, claiming that they were the secret to immortality. He died in 1794. More→
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