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James Parkinson (11 April 1755 – 21 December 1824) was an English surgeon, geologist, paleontologist, and political activist. He is most famous for his 1817 work, An Essay on the Shaking Palsy in which he was the first to describe "paralysis agitans", a condition that would later be renamed Parkinson's disease by Jean-Martin Charcot.
James Parkinson was born in Shoreditch, London, England. He was the son of John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon practising in Hoxton Square in London. In 1784 Parkinson was approved by the City of London Corporation as a surgeon. He never became a physician, as many mistakenly call him.
On 21 May 1783, he married Mary Dale, with whom he subsequently had six children. Soon after he was married, Parkinson succeeded his father in his practice in 1, Hoxton Square. He believed that any worthwhile physician should know shorthand, at which he was adept.
In addition to his flourishing medical practice, Parkinson had an avid interest in geology and paleontology, as well as the politics of the day.
Parkinson was a strong advocate for the under-privileged, and an outspoken critic of the Pitt-government. His early career was marred by his being involved in a variety of social and revolutionary causes, and some historians think it most likely that he was a strong proponent for the French Revolution. He published nearly twenty political pamphlets in the post-French Revolution period, while Britain was in political chaos. Writing under his own name and his pseudonym "Old Hubert", he called for radical social reforms.
Parkinson called for representation of the people in the House of Commons, the institution of annual parliaments, and universal suffrage. He was a member of several secret political societies, including the London Corresponding Society. In 1794 his membership in the organization led to his being examined under oath before William Pitt and the Privy Council to give evidence about a trumped-up plot to assassinate King George III. He refused to testify regarding his part in "The Pop-Gun Plot", until he was certain he would not be forced to incriminate himself. The plan was to use a poisoned dart fired from a "pop gun" to bring the king's reign to a premature conclusion. No charges were ever brought against Parkinson but several of his friends languished in prison for many months before being acquitted.
Parkinson turned away from his tumultuous political career, and between 1799 and 1807 published a number of medical works, including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for the earliest writings on the subject of peritonitis in English medical literature.
Parkinson was the first person to systematically describe 6 individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. He did not formally examine these patients but observed them on daily walks, and in some cases obtained from them their disease-symptom histories by simple inquiry. It was Jean Martin Charcot who coined the term "Parkinson's disease" over 60 years later.
Parkinson was also interested in improving the general health and well-being of the population. He wrote several medical doctrines that exposed a similar zeal for the health and welfare of the people that was expressed by his political activism. He was a crusader for legal protection for the mentally ill, as well as their doctors and families.
In 1812 Parkinson assisted his son with the first described case of appendicitis in English, and the first instance in which perforation was shown to be the cause of death.
[[File:Fossils that helped develop the first geological map.jpg|thumb|On the left: Parkinson's fossils. This large cut and polished ammonite, Parkinsonia parkinsoni is named after James Parkinson. He formed a fine collection of fossils described in his book Organic Remains of a Former World, which gave detailed accounts of vast periods of geological time. It provided a key reference for later authors. Parkinson's interest gradually turned from medicine to nature, specifically the relatively new field of geology, and paleontology. He began collecting specimens and drawings of fossils in the latter part of the eighteenth century. He took his children and friends on excursions to collect and observe fossil plants and animals. His attempts to learn more about fossil identification and interpretation were frustrated by a lack of available literature in English, and so he took the decision to improve matters by writing his own introduction to the study of fossils.
In 1804 the first volume of his Organic Remains of a Former World was published. Gideon Mantell praised it as "the first attempt to give a familiar and scientific account of fossils". A second volume was published in 1808, and a third in 1811. Parkinson illustrated each volume and his daughter Emma coloured some of the plates. The plates were later re-used by Gideon Mantell. In 1822 Parkinson published the shorter "Elements of Oryctology: an Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of those found in British Strata".
Parkinson also contributed several papers to the chemist William Nicholson’s "A Journal of Natural Philosophy, Chemistry and the Arts", and in the first, second, and fifth volumes of the "Geological Society’s Transactions".
Parkinson belonged to a school of thought, Catastrophism, that concerned itself with the belief that the Earth's geology and biosphere were shaped by recent large-scale cataclysms. He cited the Noachian deluge of Book of Genesis as an example, and he firmly believed that creation and extinction were processes guided by the hand of God. His view on Creation was that each 'day' was actually a much longer period, that lasted perhaps tens of thousands of years in length.
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- (Sep 1955). James Parkinson; 1755-1824. Nature 176 (4482): 580–1.
- (Sep 1958). Surgeon and palaeontologist, James Parkinson. The Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association 51 (9): 521–3.
- (Oct 1958). James Parkinson. The New England journal of medicine 259 (14): 686–7.
- (Jan 1964). James Parkinson. Medical science 15: 95.
- (May 1971). The history of James Parkinson and his disease. Australian and New Zealand journal of medicine 1: Suppl 1:1–6.
- (Jun 1973). James Parkinson, 1775-1824. British medical journal 2 (5866): 601–3.
- (Aug 1976). The man behind the name: James Parkinson, 1755-1824. Nursing times 72 (31): 1201.
- (Apr 1978). A physician for all seasons. James Parkinson 1755-1824. Archives of neurology 35 (4): 185–8.
- (Feb 1986). The secret life of James Parkinson (1755-1824): the writings of Old Hubert. Neurology 36 (2): 222–4.
- (1987). Dr James Parkinson. Clinical and experimental neurology 24: 221–3.
- (Feb 2000). James parkinson (1755-1824). Journal of medical biography 8 (1): 59.
- (Apr 1996). Did John Hunter give James Parkinson an idea?. Archives of neurology 53 (4): 377–8.
- Information sheet about James Parkinson published by Parkinson's UK.
- Biography of James Parkinson from Who Named It?
- Project Gutenberg text of An Essay on the Shaking Palsy
- A text reprinted version of An Essay on the Shaking Palsy with original spelling
- European Parkinson's Disease Association
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