Some Thoughts on the Medical Milieu in the Last Quarter of the Eighteenth Century as Reflected in the Life and Activities of James Parkinson (1755–1824)

  • Christopher Gardner-Thorpe

Many contributed to the advances in science and the arts during the latter part of the eighteenth century and prepared the way for thoughts and apparatus that would change the lifestyle of those who followed. Among those thinkers and practical persons was the apothecary James Parkinson (1755–1824). He was an accomplished doctor, well liked in his area of east London, and he contributed in several fields of medicine.

Parkinson is best known now for his An Essay on the Shaking Palsy (Parkinson, 1817) published in 1817. Essentially his contribution to neuroscience was just this one publication, one of the most famous in the whole of medicine. The description was clinical, based upon his observation of six persons, three being patients of his and the other three passers-by in the street. His classical description has stood the test of time – involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured. This description of the shaking illness that was to be named after him by Jean-Martin Charcot (1825–1893), the famous Parisian neurologist, is his best-known medical contribution although he did publish on rabies, the prevention of head injury in children and other topics.

However, his medical work is far from his only claim to fame. Like others before and after him, Parkinson contributed in many fields – in his case his interests lay in science, politics, the church and geology. This was not so unusual at the time and many enquiring minds roamed the fields of natural philosophy, expanding into various fields of science – physics, chemistry, biology, geology and more – as the decades passed. He was a polymath among other contemporaries.


Eighteenth Century London Hospital Organic Remains Muscular Power Privy Council 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher Gardner-Thorpe
    • 1
  1. 1.The Coach HouseUK

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