Webster Edgerly - the Magnetism Man

Webster Edgerly wrote more than 50 books, some still in print, which have been read by hundreds of thousands of people - so why is he almost completely unknown?

This site examines the strange case of the Magnetism Man.

The next Ralston Day is in 13 days: Tuesday, 6 May 2014.

Who was Webster Edgerly?

Albert Webster Edgerly was a self-help guru, a crank and a racist bigot. Possessed of seemingly boundless energy, from his twenties until his death he wrote and published many books and founded a series of organisations dedicated to health and self-improvement, mainly under his pseudonym "Edmund (or Edmonde) Shaftesbury". As the begetter of the "Ralston Health Club" he also used the name "Dr Everett Ralston".

In about 1900, William Danforth invited "Dr Ralston" to participate in his Purina Wholefood Company. At that time Edgerly's Health Club had a sizeable following and he was noted for his pronouncements on diet, which were compatible with Danforth's own philosophy. The company took a new name, Ralston Purina, under which it still traded until relatively recently, when it was acquired by Nestlé.

Edgerly attempted in 1905 to put his utopian ideas into practice when he founded a community of Ralstonites at "Ralston Heights". As is ever the case with such endeavours, it was not a success.

His most successful venture was probably the "Magnetism Club", whose key text, Instantaneous Personal Magnetism continues to be read today.

Update: now available to buy, my new edition of Edgerly's Lessons in Acting.

More at this site: a review of Edgerly's writings; Edgerly bibliography.

Comments

This is fantastic. I have a deep interest in Ralston, Edgerly and his IPM system as a historic reference of early self-development. I treasure two of his books. It would have been intriguing to meet the man himself. Perhaps a reforming of the Magnetism Club is in order for modern-day enthusiasts. - Simon Bignell

Simon, I don't think I'd like to have met Edgerly on the basis of what I know about him, though I would dearly loved to have seen him perform in his play about Columbus. I can't describe myself as an "enthusiast", either - more a fascinated yet horrified witness.

I live down the street from Ralston Castle and own some property on its grounds. It's a fascinating place and for what Edgerly's flaws may have been, he certainly designed a beautiful and unique home for himself and his followers. I just can't believe there is no record of what life was like for them in Ralston Heights, of what went on in that amazing and mysterious looking mansion!
Hello, my name is Morgan Yochem and i am responding to your comments about the Ralston Castle, back in the 1970s my friends father bought that mansion and i have lost contact with him, their last name is Roberts. would you happen to know of this family? Thank you Morgan Yochem 760-964-9444
I'd love to find out more about the man himself. Simon
I bought a whole set of these books 30 odd years ago at a thrift shop..studied them over and over till it made sence or worked...I have never come across a book that I belive everything,also being these books are dated early 1900's up to the late 20;s so there are many things outdated.I have learned so much that I khow it is time to pass some of it on.. if interested in this,
Where can one obtain the set of books you talk about??

Lawrence, many of Edgerly's books can be readily found in online second hand bookshops (try addall.com) or ebay.  I don't know which ones Terry is referring to, but I would guess it is the Magnetism series (Instantaneous Personal Magnetism, Advanced Magnetism, Mental Magnetism, Sex Magnetism and Universal Magnetism) as these were heavily promoted through magazine mail order ads throughout the 20th century.

If still interested, I can send the titles I have 10 from 1924 to 1927
Hi do you still have shaftburys books ? Please email me . Thanks. Hamish
I have a couple of Edgerly Webster Books and would love to study him more if you are interested in selling the books Yours Norman
I just came across your note on the net re an interest in buying books written by Edmund Shaftesbury on Magnetism etc. If that is still of interest, I have a set of 7 vol. from about 1929 and the early 30's. If interested kindly contact me. I'll give you the titles, condition etc. If interested in all or any one of them, just make an offer. David
hi there . do you still have any copies of edmund shaftesbury for sale ? thanks hamish
If you arer still sharing - I would love to learn more....
I'd be fascinated to hear from people that are keen on looking into these techniques from a modern day perspective and those interested in the personal growth climate of the period. The books are a product of the day in which they were written of course but there's also a quality to them that is unique. There’s also an obvious feel of merchandising about IPM as well. However, sceptical enquiry has led me to these and although usually repelled by bunkum and quackery something still remains about this system of personal growth that others fail to capture. I’m interested in the man and his followers. Perhaps it was his writing, or just that this system existed in the era it did. For me the exquisiteness remains regardless of the showmanship and unsupported claims. Simon Bignell
Hi Simon I say let's go for it I would love to put something together with you I personally have been studying this guy for over 30 years and I still find his work fascinating so please get in touch Norman Dixson
Websters work and his ideals didn't suit the Corporate face of Ralston Purina. As the father of PR, Edward Bernays vision of corporate America image took hold. Websters work because of the content and his manor was suppressed. Like many in history.. America's vision is a carefully constructed socially engineered image. The oligarchy doesn't like it when one of their own doesn't shine in a favorable light.. thus they tend to disappear in the pages of history written to create manufactured consent. Websters ultimate utopia health and well being was not the direction the oligarchy had in mind for the country, if they were.. I couldn't imagine the face of America today. but I'm sure it wouldn't be the one we now see.

Any relation, David?

I am no fan of corporate attitudes, but frankly, Webster Edgerly's idealism was tarnished from the start. His use of pseudonyms, his claim to a non-existent professorship, his dubious treatment of his acting school pupils, his racist tendencies, his misrepresentations of the origins of Ralstonism, his inconsistencies, exaggerations and baseless claims ... need I say more?

Anyone who could make a claim such as that in the preface of the nauseating Brain Tests that "it surpasses in importance the whole fabric of knowledge taught by the greatest universities" is either a megalomaniac or a conman. I think he was a bit of both.

It would be terrific if Purina would open their archives and tell the full story of the relationship with Webster Edgerly, but I can well understand why they would not want to do that.

I am the great-grandson of Webster Edgerly. I have a few books he inscribed to my grandmother and his wife, Edna. If I can help in any way with information about him I would like to. Please respond if you wish. Yours, David D. Bates II
Hello David, I have been very interested in your great-grandfather's books since I was in high school back in the 1960s. However, at first I didn't really understand what he meant by "glame" and tension energy. As it happened, our football coach had developed a high degree of glame (I'm sure it was by chance, as I don't think he knew of Webster Edgerly's books.) At times I could hear the magnetic power in his voice as he encouraged his football players to do their best, and it was then that I realized what glame and magnetism really meant. I would of course have developed glame myself, but I have been afflicted with diabetic and thyroid trouble since childhood, and my general health is not good. Do you have any thoughts on nerve tensing and glame? Thanks, George
George, My family has a large collection of books from the estate of Edna Edgerly. I have some of them and my family has what appears to be the bulk of the books published. The condition is wonderful and I hope that there is some way to share this information. I want to say firstly that I find the attitude of this man to be despicable regarding race and his views toward women. What I find interesting is how he found and grew his audience with this profoundly bigoted viewpoint. But I also think that this is Americana at its most audacious. I would be very interested in any information about the workings of the health club or how many people subscribed. Regards, David Bates
There is a modern twist to the magnetism series. A man out of Florida, Gil Magno, has read and edited Edgerly's work for modern audiences. Mr. Magno is a member of ( a founding member, I believe) of I AM - the International Association of Magnetists - Mr. Edgerly is alive and well thanks to Mr. Magno. I urge you to visit Gil Magno's page and have him send you the free first lesson via .PDF. I am not trying to "sell" anything, only suggesting that those who commented here that reforming the Magnetist Club may be in order for Modern Day - may enjoy this. I am paying for the series. It is extremely cheap, of course delivered over email, and is almost free it's that cheap. But again, I am not trying to sell anyone or any mindsets. Only bringing up that Mr. Edgerly's works have been re-edited/re-worked to drop the racism, drop the archaic quality, and re introduce it with taste.
I have come across a copy (Charter Edition) of "The Book of Mind and Thought Society" and can not find any other copies available anywhere. How would I determine the value of this? It is a cloth book dated 1911. Thank you
I have a couple of examples of his autograph which I will donate to someone who will give the book a good home. My grandmother died at 107 years of age. You can find her @ Philadelphia Ten if you search. She is there as Gladys Bates.
Hi David, I am Bee Macpherson's granddaughter, recently retired, and moved from CA to TX. I am going through our collection of photos and papers, and attending a genealogy workshop series at the local college to help me learn how to organize, catalogue and digitalize it all. I came across your post on a Google search, of all things! If you still have extras, I would definitely be interested in an example of Webster Edgerly's work and autograph. I have an extra copy of Bee's Ararat Cocktail if you would like one for your library. What am I... your first cousin once removed? Carol
I am just beginning my own research into Webster Edgerly. My grandmother, Gladys C. E. Bates died at the age of 107 in 2003. I was left many volumes of the family library including MANY that were given to her either by Webster or my great-grandmother, Edna. If I felt that someone would show proper respect (although much of my great-grandfather's beliefs, especially regarding his fellow man are reprehensible) to the family I would be happy to donate an example of his signature in one of the books in the library. Both of my grandparents Earl Kenneth Bates and my grandmother were noted New England artists with representation in many large permanent collections.
David, Could you contact me when you have a moment. It would be greatly appreciated. John Orlando II Saluda NC 28773 (864)804-7700 anvil2017@gmail.com
Hi David. I just came across this page, and you willingness to perhaps share some o the materials. I and a friend of mine are big fans of the Magnetism practices, and are working with them. We would be very interested in corresponding with you. I am at libertyson11@yahoo.com

David, I am not looking for information about Edgerly, but rather about Earl Kenneth Bates, in particular about his painting called "Fourteen," which may be of the artist's son (your father?). My email is rolined@gmail.com. Thanks, Robert

John, Sorry for delay, I am interested in learning more. I have many books from the Ralston Club and would like to hear what your interest is. David Bates Norwalk Ct
am black,and whatever you say about this man.He was great and ahead of his time each and every one of us has his share of weaknesses and strengths.his ideas work to some and am one of them
Dear Carol, This is a wonderful connection. I would be happy to send you examples of things signed by Webster (and Great-grandma Edna). I have quite a few of the Ralston books also and you are welcome to any of those. If you would send me your address I will send them (also would love to see Ararat Cocktail). I think we met in Mystic (late 50's) All the best, Dave Bates 188 Flax Hill Road #C3 Norwalk, CT 06854
Dear Mr. Bates; I live near the mansion your great-grandfather built, called "the Castle" by locals... my neighborhood is called Ralston Heights and I own what used to be the gardener's cottage to Ralston Castle. Some of the original plantings of the Ralstons still exist and bloom each spring and there are crumbling structures here and there from their "garden of Eden". Anyway, so many of us here theorize about what life was like in the Ralston community; I was wondering did he leave any papers or narratives about his personal life and the goings-on in the castle? Mary mdaniels@aptusdesigns.com
Hi David, I'm a family history researcher and I stumbled across this website while trying to find out more info about one of his many wives. I started with a woman named Cora who married a William Puffer in Oregon, and I had a hard time tracing her last name Edgerly. I inevitably determined her to be Albert's second wife Cora Burchstead who married him in 1883. Seems they had a daughter named Flora? in 1884. When I followed Florence to marriage it said her mother was Estella Pevear and she married John Pease. Seems Webster had a lot of issues with women. I assume Cora Burchstead either divorced Albert or simply left, but is she the true mother of Florence? Larry

I am following that same family line. Can you contact me privately?

Hi, Larry: Please contact me privately regarding the Puffer family line at edgerly11 at gmail. Thanks!

I just attended an excellent party at "The Castle" in Hopewell, NJ. The house looks great, and has many interesting architectural quirks based on Webster Edgerly's ideas about health and self-improvement. The present owners are delightful, and very supportive of the arts. The house has served many purposes over the years, with various ups and downs, but it is definitely in good hands now!

I came across a book " Shakespeare's midsummer night's dream" published 1885 with signature "Webster Edgerly" in the front of the book. I found this site looking for copy of signature for comparison. Does any body know where I might find it?

Kelly, I've never seen an Edgerly signature. He's not known for signing his own books. But some of his relatives have commented here before so one of them may be able to help.

I have a set of books from the 30's 4 sale.. if interested -- I am on facebook....

I have a diploma, dated1899,from the Shaftesbury College of Expression. Has "Edmund Shaftesbury, founder of the method" in lower left corner, along w/embossed seal stating college name + Baltimore Md. Have been unable to find information on school, any help would be appreciated.

Hi Lonnie, you might be able to find some information from the Baltimore papers of the period. I was able to find stories about his similar ventures in Washington by that method. The school will probably be found bearing various names as Edgerly had a tendency to market his enterprises under a variety of aliases. It won't have been as significant an institution as the diploma might lead one to believe: most likely this was simply a class taught by Edgerly single-handed. I wish I had been able to attend it, though: judging by the book he wrote on the same subject it would have been hilarious, consisting of him alternately making self-important pronouncements and pulling ridiculous faces.

Lonnie: I should be able to tell you a bit more about that school. I assume you might be able to see my email without me posting it?

Hi, if you posted your email here no one else can see it but me. But I can pass it on if you like.

Does anyone know if the Kennedys (as in JFK) were part of this Ralstonite group? They most definitely lived in the same area and with the emphasis on physical fitness(as well as the charismatic personalities) in the Kennedy clan, I find it an interesting idea.

I think you should be writing a book on the subject that would eventually end up on this site.

Been studying his books since 1976. By 1978 I had read about 15 of his books. Looking to leann something about Magnetism because I had something in The Sufi Message book that not to many people now about magnetism. Being I self improvement buff I was looking for information that would explain it. the first IPN was excellent. The book broke the subject down very well and I was very pleased with it. I read the book a fwe times. The second one I read was Advanced Magnetism was very interesting but it did contain a few racist comments. The third book I read was Sex Manetism which really teaches you all about life and did not have any racist comments, but the forth book Mental Magnetism was very racist but the information was very deep thought provoking. I knew what this man was a White Supremacist to the core. But I did not care about that I just wanted to learned what he was teaching about Mental Magnetism. I do not have to agree with everything a persons says in order for me to learn from them. After I read those first four books by Shaftesbury I went on to 12 more of his books and read them more than once.His drugless cure did go over with Big Pharma and his put down of all of the toxic chemicals put in the foods did not make the darling of the corporate food boys either. It was clear from the beginning that this mans words where only intended to be read by other White Supremacists. I wanted to know more about this man back in 1976 so I kept reading his books hoping he would drop some personal infor about himself. I learned the he was a newspaper man and in view very skilled in the art of propaganda. Being a student of the psychic world I was very interested in his books on Thought Transference , Future Seeing, and The Great Psychic. I guess you could say reading the Shaftesbury books was my way of going to college at home. to date I have read 16 of his book over the last 37 years and all of want to do is read his Life's Secret's Revealed and that would be my way of completing my course. In spite of his racist comments his way way ahead of his time and fantastic predictions in The Great Psychic about the coming of TV and other wireless devices that we take for granted today. His commenets about Blacks in Africa were not as racists as what he taught in his Yourself Behind Closed Doors and some parts of his Brain Tests. His commenets i Brain Tests about the white race coming out of the grround when the time is right because there was no way the white man could be the child of the Negro. But now we know because of the discovery of "Lucy" in East Africa and DNA science that all races did come out of East Africa. His book The Goal Of Creation he showed some growth on the race subject and was more objective about the races from Africa. I saw some growth. That one was published in 1928 two years after his death. I consder myself one his students and realized he was one of the great teachers in spite of his racists ideas. He eveb did some ground breaking work with Bell and the telephone and with Thomas Edision. One time by in the middle 80's I was talking to a Phd in Physics about some ideas from Future Seeing, and he told me I just gave him a philosophical breakdown Equals Mc squared. Then I realized why they had to suppress Shaftesbury. I

Hi Rickey, thanks for your comments. If you have evidence that Edgerly worked with Bell or Edison I'd be very interested to see it. By evidence I mean something other than what Edgerly himself may have claimed.

Hi Alfred, Yes he claimed that in his book The Great Psychic. He did not have a note on that page in an index in the back of the book indicating the specific papers. I re-called him making a self-doclosure of people being critical about his books not having bibliographies about his sources. Seems like people were asking that same question when he was alive. Today in 2013 it is still not resolved. If I find any outside proof of that claim I will pass it on.

Alfred Armstrong,
While your points in your opening are well taken I think the negativity (especially considering that you have published books on the subject) detour many people from offering points of interest and information that you may not even be aware of. I am in no way defending many of his diatribes but to make a cartoon-like characture of the man causes people who may well know even more than you on the subject to express their views. Many of the views you mention in your scathing opening were a product of crass commercialism and a time when we had just ended the practice on slavery in this country. Please understand that by taking my suggestion we could all increase the body of information about the man and his writings. I realize that your first entry was many years ago, and I would be curious to know your current feelings on the subject.

Remaining an interested party,
David Bates

David, Edgerly literally made a cartoon-like caricature of himself. Obtain if you can a copy of Lessons in the Art of Facial Expression and then try to take him seriously. Nothing I have read about the man has swayed me from my early opinion that he was a charlatan through and through. If you choose to believe otherwise, that's your prerogrative. Feel free to create your own website where you say so. On mine, I shall say what I like.

I was going through a very small box of little books from Edgerly's library and found a volume entitled (all old English type as it appears) "A METHOD TO LEARN TO PASSIONS"(from text)Proposed in a CONFERENCE on their general particular EXPRESSION. Written in French and iIIustrated with a great many Figures excellently defined by Mr. Le Brun, chief Painter to the French King, Chancellor and Director of the royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. By John Williams, Efq. This book contains a collection beautiful etchings in single page and fold-out pages of wonderful etchings showing the many facial positions and emotions that I think Webster used to create his drawings. He took no care in copying them and what you see are his takes on some truly beautiful etchings. The other thing I found is that I have only one complete autograph, the rest are either just Webster or Papa on books given as Christmas gifts.

Interesting, though Edgerly's book is actually composed of photographs of himself pulling faces, with timings as to how long it supposedly took him to achieve them. If there is a relationship between the two, it sounds like one of the sublime to the ridiculous. On which point, have you read the New York Times review of Christopher Columbus? If not, you should.

The book is dated 1734 printed in France. Measuring approx, 4" by 8"

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