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A Tribute to James Parkinson

  • André Parent (a1)

Exactly 200 years ago, the London surgeon-apothecary James Parkinson (1755-1824) published a 66-page-long booklet entitled An Essay on the Shaking Palsy, which contains the first clear clinical description of the shaking palsy or paralysis agitans, which we now refer to as Parkinson’s disease. However, the value of this essay was not fully recognized during Parkinson’s lifetime, which spanned the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and the Napoleonic Wars. James Parkinson was one of the most singular figures of his time and place. He was successively or concomitantly a virulent political activist, a popular medical writer, a scholarly medical contributor, a highly appreciated parish doctor, a prominent amateur chemist, a devoted madhouse doctor, and a renowned paleontologist. It is that branch of geology that brought Parkinson fame during his lifetime. He was an insatiable collector of fossils, minerals, and shells that came to form the core of the museum that he set out at his home in Shoreditch, England. These specimens are beautifully illustrated in his Organic Remains of a Former World (1804-1811), a three-volume treatise that rapidly became a standard paleontology textbook. Parkinson was a founding member of the Geological Society of London, and in recognition of his contribution to the nascent field of paleontology his name was given to many fossils, particularly ammonites (e.g. Nautilus parkinsoni). Hence, we owe much to Mr. Parkinson, the Paleontologist, as he used to be referred to after his death, for such a vast and multifaceted contribution to natural science and medicine.

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Corresponding author
Correspondence to: André Parent, Centre de Recherche, Institut universitaire en santé mentale de Québec 2601, Chemin de la Canardière, Beauport, Québec, Canada, G1J 2G3. E-mail:
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1. Parkinson, J. An essay on the shaking palsy. London: Sherwood, Neely, and Jones; 1817.
2. Gardner-Thorpe, C. James, Parkinson (1755-1824). Exeter: Wheaton; 1987, 2nd ed. 1988.
3. Critchley, M. James, Parkinson (1755-1824). London: Macmillan; 1955.
4. Rowntree, LG. James Parkinson Bull. Johns Hopkins Hosp. 1912;23:33-45.
5. Morris, AD. James, Parkinson. His life and times. In: Clifford Rose F, editor. History of neuroscience. Boston: Birkhauser; 1989.
6. Roberts, S. James, Parkinson (1755-1824): from apothecary to general practitioner. London: The Royal Society of Medicine Press Ltd; 1997.
7. Lewis, C. 2013. James Parkinson’s ‘system of successive creations.’ In: Duffin CJ, Moody, RTJ, Gardner-Thorpe C, editors. A history of geology and medicine. London: The Geological Society; 2013 Special publication No. 375, p. 339-348.
8. Poirier, J. James, Parkinson (1755-1824) revisité. Gériatr Psychol Neuropsychiatr Vieil. 2013;11:65-72.
9. Vicq d’Azyr, F. Traité d’anatomie et de physiologie avec des planches coloriées représentant au naturel les divers organes de l’homme et des animaux. Paris: Didot; 1786.
10. Cuvier, G. Leçons d’anatomie comparée. Tome I: les organes du mouvement. Paris: Baudouin; 1805.
11. Aldini, G. An account of the late improvements in galvanism, with a series of curious and interesting experiments performed before the commissioners of the French National Institute, and repeated lately in the anatomical theatres of London, to which is added an appendix containing experiments on the body of a malefactor executed at Newgate, and dissertations on animal electricity, 1793 and 1794. London: Cuthell & Martin and J. Murray; 1803.
12. Mantell, GA. Pictorial atlas of fossil remains, consisting of coloured illustrations selected from Parkinson’s “Organic remains of a former world” and Artis’s “Antediluvian phytology”. London: HG Bohn; 1850.
13. Parkinson, JWK. Hunterian reminiscences … a course of lectures on the principles & practice of surgery. London: Sherwood, Gilbert & Piper; 1933.
14. Gardner-Thorpe, C. James, Parkinson (1755-1824). J Neurol. 2010;257:492-493.
15. Parkinson, J. The villager’s friend and physician; or a familiar address on the preservation of health, or the removal of disease, on its first appearance, 2nd ed. London: HD Symonds; 1804.
16. Parkinson, J. Some account of the effects of lightning. Memoirs of the Medical Society of London. 1789;2:493-503.
17. Parkinson, J. The chemical pocket-book; or memoranda chemica: arranged in a compendium of chemistry. London: N. P.; 1800. [2nd ed., 1801. London: Whittingham.]
18. Parkinson, J. Observations on the nature & cure of gout; on nodes of the joints; & on the influence of certain articles of diet, in gout, rheumatism, & gravel. London: HD Symonds; 1805.
19. Parkinson, J, Parkinson, JWK. A case of diseased vermiformis appendix. Medico-Chirurgical Transactions. 1812;3:57-58.
20. Parkinson, J, Parkinson, JWK. On the treatment of infectious or typhoid fever. London Medical Repository. 1824;1:197.
21. Parkinson, J. Observations on the act for regulating mad-houses. London: Whittingham and Rowland; 1811.
22. Parkinson, J. Organic remains of a former world. An examination of the mineralized remains of the vegetables and animals of the antediluvian world; generally termed extraneous fossils, 3 volumes. London: Whittingham 1804, 1808, 1811.
23. Weld, I. Jr. Travels through the states of North America, and the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada, during the years 1795, 1796 and 1779. London: J. Stockdale; 1799.
24. Parkinson, J. Outlines of oryctology. An introduction to the study of fossil organic remains, especially of those found in the British strata; intended to aid the student in his inquiries respecting the nature of fossils, and their connexion with the formation of the earth. London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones and W. Phillips and G. Yard; 1922.
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Canadian Journal of Neurological Sciences
  • ISSN: 0317-1671
  • EISSN: 2057-0155
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