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Ever wondered why sailors’ wives retain their youthful looks for so long, or why giants have low sexual energy? ‘Professor’ R. B. D. Wells has the answers…

Curmudgeons who moan about bloggers and Wikipedia argue that the democratic nature of the web has allowed ill-informed, ordinary people to flood the internet with their half-baked ideas. The age of the expert is behind us. We now live in a pseudo-democratic, dumbed-down world in which everyone’s opinion has value (“And Colin from Nuneaton has texted us to say that he thinks that the way to stop sexual offences is for women to dress less provocatively.”)

I disagree. I’ve tried spreading my half-baked ideas and discovered that there’s always some smart alec out there who is ready to correct me. As for Wikipedia, if I dare to edit any articles without copious references to source material, it’s altered within a couple of days by someone in Canada. Why Canada?

The late Victorian era was the true age of the charlatan, when anyone with a passing interest in phrenology and an impressive beard could make sweeping pronouncements about any subject that took their fancy.

Not long ago I found a wonderful book called “Vital Force, or Evils and Remedies of Perverted Sexuality” by “Prof” R. B. D. Wells, the “Practical Phrenologist” and proprietor of a “hydropathic establishment” in Scarborough. It is an utterly mad book.

The book begins with a brief description of Mr Wells’ establishment which could be “reached with facility in a few minutes’ walk from the Railway Station”. We are told that this building has a”commanding view of the surrounding scenery” and can accomodate 250 patients and visitors. “Those ordering Mr Wells’ books should make postal orders and cheques payable to R. B. D. Wells. The telegraphic and postal address is Professor Wells, Scarborough.”

What sort of people did Professor Wells treat? Certainly not this gentleman:

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In my day, these people were called students. In the Professor’s time, louche characters like this were beyond his help, as were these sorry specimens from the underclass:

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However, Professor Wells was able to offer treatment to paying gentlemen like these:

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It’s not all mad. In his more enlightened moments the Professor encourages men to ensure that their wives also experience sexual pleasure and he argues that scolding and hitting small children is counter-productive. But these moments of sanity are few and far between.

Here is a random selection of the wisdom of Professor Wells:

  • Novel reading is stimulating and should be avoided inasmuch as it excites the imagination and fills the mind with voluptuous ideas
  • Fat women have inflamed passions, but the sexual act has not so electrifying an effect on them as it has upon those who are more naturally constituted
  • An effeminate man should marry a masculine woman; but it would not be advisable for this contrast to be carried to an extreme, by a very effeminate man marrying a large, stately, fleshy and masculine woman.
  • Has the reader ever thought how it is that sailors’ wives so long retain their youthful charms of good looks? It is because they have long periods of rest during their husband’s absence, which enables them to recruit their sexual energies.
  • Men and women of strong sexual natures have generally powerful and deep voices. It is a sign of impaired or disturbed sexual vigour when the voice becomes husky and rough, or shrill and piping.
  • Men who have thick, full necks and penetrating eyes are generally strong in their sexual nature.
  • Extra large men are not so well sexed, which accounts for the fact that giants have very little sexual power.
  • When we look around us we find that strong, robust men, who are full of life and vigour, usually become parents of sons rather than daughters, especially at the commencement of their married life; and as their life advances and vigour decreases there will generally be found a preponderance of daughters.
  • It is the bounden duty of every man to marry before he is thirty years of age; especially considering that there are so many women in the land whose hearts yearn for sympathy, and who need the protection and advice of the masculine gender.

Nine sweeping statements that seem utterly absurd to the modern reader. But I will finish with one very sane and forward-thinking statement from Professor Wells:

Husbands too frequently consider that the marriage ceremony gives them a free license to indulge as frequently as they like in sexual enjoyment. Many a married man has virtually committed rape upon his wife, and although the crime may be unrecogised as such by the law, it is none the less a fact.

I wouldn’t be at all surprised if many Victorian readers found the concept of marital rape one of the more fanciful ideas, compared to the sound, commonsense statements that arose from the “science” of phrenology. But I couldn’t back-up my opinion with facts.

Like Professor Wells, I’m not an expert.

Steerforth is a gentleman bookseller from East Sussex, who blogs at The Age of Uncertainty.

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  1. malty on Monday 28, 2014

    An effeminate man should marry a masculine woman. funny that, that Wellsian edict, casting around in an, admittedly, none professional researchers manner, he may well be right although personally I have lost the ability and indeed, the will, to distinguish between effeminate men and Geordies, my once golden rule, now cast asunder, that they (the effeminate men) began at the southern end of the Doncaster bypass.

  2. Peter on Monday 28, 2014

    Novel reading is stimulating and should be avoided inasmuch as it excites the imagination and fills the mind with voluptuous ideas

    I assume he wasn’t referring to Vanity Fair.

  3. Steerforth on Monday 28, 2014

    Becky Sharp certainly excited me when I read Vanity Fair. A wonderful creation.

  4. Worm on Monday 28, 2014

    phwoar! voluptuous ideas!

  5. Gaw on Monday 28, 2014

    Part of that reads like the Twitter stream of a UKIP candidate.

    Incidentally, I wish the exhaustion of my vital force could be put down to carnality.

    • Peter on Monday 28, 2014

      Perhaps it can indirectly, Gaw. Those naive, repressed Victorians thought sex depleted their vitality, but we enlightened moderns know it’s a high-octane super-fuel.

      • Gaw on Monday 28, 2014

        Thanks for that Peter – it certainly intrigued the female colleague that sits next to me.