Today is the birthday (1755) of James Parkinson FGS, an English surgeon, apothecary, geologist, paleontologist, and political activist, who is best known 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. World Parkinson’s Day is held each year on this date.
James Parkinson was born in Shoreditch, London, England. He was the son of John Parkinson, an apothecary and surgeon practicing in Hoxton Square in London. He was the eldest of five siblings. In 1784 Parkinson was approved by the City of London Corporation as a surgeon. On 21 May 1783, he married Mary Dale, with whom he subsequently had eight children, two of whom did not survive past childhood. Soon after he was married, Parkinson succeeded his father in his practice in 1 Hoxton Square. He believed that any worthwhile surgeon 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 marked 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 and universal suffrage.
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 and the Society for Constitutional Information. 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 Popgun 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 gave up his tumultuous political career, and between 1799 and 1807 published several medical works, including a work on gout in 1805. He was also responsible for early writings on ruptured appendix. He was 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. Parkinson was the first person to systematically describe six individuals with symptoms of the disease that bears his name. In his An Essay on the Shaking Palsy he reported on three of his own patients and three persons whom he saw in the street. He referred to the disease that would later bear his name as “paralysis agitans,” (shaking palsy). He distinguished between resting tremors and the tremors with motion. Jean-Martin Charcot coined the term “Parkinson’s disease” 60 years later. Parkinson erroneously suggested that the tremors in these patients were due to lesions in the cervical spinal cord.
Parkinson’s interest gradually turned from medicine to natural philosophy, specifically the relatively new fields of geology and paleontology. He began collecting specimens and drawings of fossils in the latter part of the 18th 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 colored some of the plates. The plates were later re-used by Gideon Mantell. In 1822 Parkinson published the shorter “Outlines of Oryctology: an Introduction to the Study of Fossil Organic Remains, especially of those found in British Strata”.
Parkinson also contributed several papers to 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. He wrote a single volume Outlines of Oryctology in 1822, a more popular work. On 13 November 1807, Parkinson and other distinguished scholars met at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London. The gathering included Sir Humphry Davy, Arthur Aikin and George Bellas Greenough. This was to be the first meeting of the Geological Society of London.
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 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 than 24 hours, perhaps lasting tens of thousands of years.
Parkinson died on 21st December 1824 after a stroke that interfered with his speech. His collection of organic remains was given to his wife and much of it went on to be sold in 1827, a catalogue of the sale has never been found. He was buried at St. Leonard’s Church, Shoreditch.
Parkinson’s life is commemorated with a stone tablet inside the church of St Leonard’s, Shoreditch, where he was a member of the congregation; the exact site of his grave is not known, and his body may lie in the crypt or in the churchyard. A blue plaque at 1 Hoxton Square marks the site of his home. Several fossils were named after him. There is no known portrait of him: a photograph, sometimes published and identified as of him, is of a dentist of the same name, but this James Parkinson died before photography was invented.
I came across THE ART OF COOKERY MADE EASY AND REFINED; COMPRISING AMPLE DIRECTIONS FOR PREPARING EVERY ARTICLE REQUISITE FOR FURNISHING THE TABLES OF THE NOBLEMAN, GENTLEMAN, AND TRADESMAN. By JOHN MOLLARD, Cook (Lately one of the Proprietors of Freemasons’ Tavern, Great Queen Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields) (1802). Freemasons’ Tavern was where the Geological Society of London first met, so the dishes in this collection represent ones Parkinson would have eaten. By and large they are nothing out of the ordinary until you get to Olios. He claims (in the middle) to have seen this being cooked. Unless it was cooked in a cauldron the size of a swimming pool, I doubt it. Read on – the second part is more sane.
Olios, or a Spanish Dish.
The articles that are wanted consist of the following: viz.
Leg of mutton of ten pounds.
Leg of veal ditto.
Chuck beef ditto.
Lean ham six pounds.
Best end of a neck of mutton.
Breast of veal, small.
Two pieces of bouillie beef of one pound each.
Two pair of pigs feet and ears.
A bologna sausage.
Two ruffs and rees.
Two stags tongues.
One quart of burgonza peas.
The Olio to be made as follows:
Take the beef, veal, mutton, and ham; cut them into pieces, put them into a pot, cover with water, and when it boils skim clean; then add carrots, celery, turnips, onions, leeks, garlick, parsley, and thyme, tied in a bunch; allspice, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, mace, and a little ginger, put in a cloth. Boil all together till it becomes a strong stock, and strain it. Then cut the breast of veal into tendrons, and best end of neck of mutton into steaks, and half fry them; pigs feet and ears cleaned; hare cut into joints and daubed with bacon; bouillie beef tied round with packthread; poultry trussed very neat, with the legs drawn in close; the tongues scalded and cleaned; and the rabbits cut into pieces. When the different articles are ready, blanch and wash them, then braise each in a separate stewpan, with the stock that was strained. When the different things are braised enough, pour the liquors from them into a pan, leaving a little with each to preserve from burning. When they are to be served up, skim the liquor very clean, and clear it with whites of eggs; then cut turnips and carrots into haricots, some button onions peeled, and heads of celery trimmed neat; after which blanch them, cut the bologna sausage into slices, boil the burgonza peas till three parts done, then mix all together, add some of the cleared liquor, and stew them gently till done. The remainder of the liquor to be coloured with a little saffron, and served up in a tureen with a few burgonza peas in it.
When the olio is to be served up, take a very large deep dish, make several partitions in it with slips of fried bread dipped in whites of eggs, and set it in a slow oven or before a fire; then lay the tendrons, birds, beef, mutton, fowls, &c. alternately in the partitions, and serve up with the haricot roots, &c. over. The whole of the liquor to be seasoned to the palate with cayenne pepper and lemon juice.
[This receipt for a Spanish olio is only written to shew how expensive a dish may be made, and which I saw done. As a substitute I have introduced the following english one, which has been generally approved; and I think, with particular attention, it will exceed the former in flavour.]
Hodge Podge, or English Olio.
Take four beef tails cut into joints, bouille beef two pieces about a quarter of a pound each, and two pieces of pickle pork of the same weight. Put them into a pot, cover with water, and when it boils skim clean, and add half a savoy, two ounces of champignons, some turnips, carrots, onions, leeks, celery, one bay leaf, whole black pepper, a few allspice, and a small quantity of mace. When the meats are nearly done, add two quarts of strong veal stock, and when tender take them out, put them into a deep dish, and preserve them hot till they are to be served up; then strain the liquor, skim it free from fat, season to the palate with cayenne pepper, a little salt, and lemon juice, and add a small quantity of colour; then have ready turnips and carrots cut into haricots, some celery heads trimmed three inches long, and some whole onions peeled. Let them be sweated down, till three parts tender, in separate stewpans, and strain the essences of them to the above liquor; clear it with whites of eggs, strain it through a tamis cloth, mix the vegetables, add the liquor to them, boil them gently for ten minutes, and serve them over the meats.