James E. R. McDonagh

James E. R. McDonagh (1881–1965), English surgeon, Alexander’s doctor and friend, and a pupil of Alexander.


In 1909 McDonagh became Fellow of the Royal College of Surgery, and in 1916 he was elected Hunterian Professor at the Royal College of Surgeons. His research into venereal diseases, the common cold, influenza and corresponding infections in animals led him in 1929 to found and become director of The Nature of Disease Institute. From then onwards he dedicated his research to studying the underlying factors common to different kinds of diseases.[1] [2] Over the years and in 15 tomes he developed a cosmology of disease and health. He maintained that there is “only one disease,” common to all living organisms. What are called diseases are only manifestations of that one disease.[3] [4] The one disease – underlying all disease – is damage suffered by the protein in the blood, either hydration or dehydration of ‘protein particles in the plasma’. Health depends on the harmonious threefold activity of protein which he proposes to be radiation, attraction and storage.[5] [6] Treatment consists of restoring the protein to its normal state.[7] His books attempted to develop a unitary theory of medicine. In his last book, The Nature of the Universe, Health and Disease (1963), he makes connections between the behaviour of astral material at an atomic level and that of biological processes.

He narrowed down his treatment to “placing the patient upon the proper diet, . . . washing out the large intestine, . . . correcting the osteopathic lesions to which the intestinal toxæmia had given rise, . . . employing F. M. Alexander’s re-educative method to help maintain the corrections made, . . . restoring the rhythm to its normal course in the cycles it describes in the protein, and . . . immunising the patient against the activity of the micro-organisms which help to keep the intestinal toxæmia active.”[8] He advocated a varied diet consisting mainly of fresh vegetables, fish and chicken.

His work is largely forgotten today.

Connection with F. M. Alexander

McDonagh first had lessons in 1925. McDonagh makes references to Alexander’s technique in several of his works, notably in the second volume of his three-part major work, The Nature of Disease (1924, 1927, 1931). In The Universe Through Medicine (1940), when discussing various treatment options McDonagh lists ‘Alexander’s re-educationary method when this treatment is practicable’. He goes on to recommend osteopathic treatments and writes that any practitioner of the healing arts should be conversant with every other parts of healing so that ‘true correlative work can be done’. He then writes:

This statement applies also to Alexander’s re-educationary method of treatment aiming at inculcating in the patient’s mind the value of inhibiting over-doing, which through custom has become to be wrong-doing. The treatment assists materially in helping the patient to maintain the good which osteopathy has done. But the full value of Alexander’s work comes in the field of prevention, in the education of infants and children, where it can be used to prevent the mal-co-ordination which is playing an ever-increasing part in what I believe to be an ever-widening sphere of disease.[9]

Despite Alexander’s denouncement of contemporary osteopathy in UCL,[10] McDonagh and Alexander remained friends, at least as far as Alexander was aware. However, according to Francis Mott who met McDonagh in 1937, McDonagh admired Alexander’s work, but had considerable reservations about Alexander the man to the point of being ‘a little ashamed of his association with Alexander.’[11]

James Eustace Radclyffe McDonagh *1881–†1965.


[1] Entry in Who Was Who 1961–1970 (A. & C. Black, 1979), p. 712.
[2] Obituary in the British Medical Journal, 27 February 1965, p. 594.
[3] A Further Study in the Nature of Disease by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1954), p. 1.
[4] The Universe Through Medicine by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1940), p. 2.
[5] A Further Study in the Nature of Disease by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1954), pp. 1–3.
[6] A Final Study in the Nature of Disease by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1959), p. vii.
[7] A Further Study in the Nature of Disease by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1954), p. 367.
[8] The Nature of Disease Up to Date by James E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1946), p. 56.
[9] The Universe Through Medicine by J. E. R. McDonagh (William Heinemann, 1940), pp. 327, 328.
[10] The Universal Constant in Living by F. Matthias Alexander (Mouritz, 2000), p. 146.
[11] The Little History vol. II by Francis J. Mott (Mark Beech Publishers, 1972), pp. 558–60.