A Tribute to James Parkinson

Can J Neurol Sci. 2018 Jan;45(1):83-89. doi: 10.1017/cjn.2017.270.


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.

Keywords: 19th century neurology; Parkinson’s disease; hypokinesia; neurodegenerative disorders; neuroscience history; paralysis agitans; rigidity; shaking palsy; tremor.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • England
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Illustration / history
  • Parkinson Disease / history*
  • Physicians / history*

Personal name as subject

  • James Parkinson