The Prince of Quacks (and How He Captivated London)

Specimens of curious stones found by the author on Mount Vesuvius. Plate XLVIII in Sir William Hamilton, Campi Phlegraei, 1776 / Getty Iris

James Graham, founder of the Temple of Health, benefitted from his undeniable flair for showmanship and his talent for leaping on trends.

By Amelia Soth
Chicago-based Writer and Editor

Let me set the scene: In late eighteenth-century England, ladies and gentlemen flocked to exhibitions of solar microscopes. The miniature world of mites and polyps was blown up and cast on the wall like a magic lantern show. The ladies and gents might have witnessed Sir William Hamilton’s Vesuvian Apparatus, with its simulated flowing lava and drumbeat explosions.

It was the age of scientific entertainment, the rationalist ideals of the Enlightenment colliding with the passion of the Romantic spirit. These exhibitions demonstrated scientific control of nature at the same time that they overawed their viewers with the sublime grandeur of natural forces at play.




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