'A vivid picture of the peculiarities of the time' – Mail on Sunday
'A fine, informative read' – Prospect
'A well-written, comprehensive biography of a genuine polymath' – Tablet
The Enlightened Mr Parkinson
One person in every 500 has Parkinson’s disease. That’s about 127,000 people in the UK alone. But despite the widespread awareness of this neurological disorder, few know anything about the man after whom it is named.
In 1817 James Parkinson (1755–1824) published his ‘Essay on the Shaking Palsy’. In doing so he became the first person to identify the disease as a distinct medical condition, writing about it so clearly and precisely that today we still diagnose the condition from the symptoms he identified. Now, 200 years later, Cherry Lewis tells the story of the life and work of this remarkable man, revealing how through his three passions – medicine, politics and fossils – he made significant contributions to ‘an age of miracles where anything could be achieved’. As one contemporary put it, the light that Parkinson shone on science would benefit mankind until ‘the end of time’.
An inveterate observer and recorder of the human and natural worlds, Parkinson experimented with electricity in an effort to bring a dead man back to life; mixed salt with the blood of a young girl and made her drink it in one of the first successful attempts at aversion therapy; and recommended the rare practice of performing autopsies to establish cause of death. And as author of the three-volume work Organic Remains of a Former World, he put palaeontology on the scientific map of Britain while making fossil collecting the nation’s favourite pastime.
Throughout he was a friend of the people, dedicated to improving the lives of the poor. He was a public health reformer who abhorred child labour, campaigned for reform of the acts regulating the madhouses, and helped Edward Jenner to set up smallpox vaccination stations across London. He was also a political radical who put his loyalty to his acquaintances before his own life: during his interrogation in the trial over a plot to kill King George III, he was forced to reveal that he was the author of several anti-government pamphlets, a crime for which many others had been transported to Australia.
In 1912, an admirer of Parkinson’s work said of him: ‘English born and bred... forgotten by the English and the world at large – such is the fate of James Parkinson’. This book aims to restore Parkinson to his rightful place in history.