John Libbey Eurotext

Gériatrie et Psychologie Neuropsychiatrie du Vieillissement


James Parkinson (1755-1824) revisited Volume 11, issue 1, Mars 2013


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Professeur honoraire, Université Pierre et Marie Curie - Paris VIII, France

The name of Parkinson is universally famous because of the eponymous disease. But as a man, James Parkinson (1755-1824), is poorly known. He was born, married and passed away in his St-Leonard parish in Shoreditch (London). After having studied Latin, Greek, natural philosophy, and stenography (shorthand), which he considered as the basic tools of any doctor, he studied for six months at the London Hospital Medical College, and served his apprenticeship as an apothecary-surgeon with his father for six years. Then he was qualified as a surgeon in 1784 at the age of 29 years. His activity has been deployed in three areas: 1) medicine, 2) political activism and social reformism, 3) paleontology and oryctology. As a physician, Parkinson has published several books, the most important concerned paralysis agitans (future Parkinson's disease), gout, complications of lightning (future Lichtenberg figures and keraunoparalysis), acute appendicitis (with his son John Parkinson) and hernias (diagnosis, development, dangers of hernia ruptures, and design of a simple truss). Its ideological and political commitment was manifested by joining two secret societies and publishing numerous pamphlets, many of which are signed by the pseudonym Old Hubert; he campaigned for a better representation of the people in Parliament, for greater social justice, for the defense and recognition of the rights of the poor, the insane, the children, and against children abuse. He published a small compendium of chemistry, he was one of the thirteen members who create the British Geological Society and is recognized as one of the founders of paleontology; as was Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), he remained a strong supporter of creationism and catastrophism. Distinguished oryctologist, he gave his name to several fossils, mainly molluscs.