Book review: The Enlightened Mr Parkinson

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As we near publication of the Life of William Nicholson by his son, I find myself scanning the shelves of every bookshop to see whether much, if any, space is given to Georgian biographies. I was delighted to come across this biography in prime position on the New Releases shelf: THE ENLIGHTENED MR. PARKINSON – The pioneering life of a forgotten English surgeon by Cherry Lewis.

Parkinson identified a specific type of shaking palsy and it is this mental health condition for which his name is recognised today, but the biography tells a broader story of his work in general medical practice, his involvement in social and political reform, and his interest in fossils and geology. He was one of the founders of the Geological Society in 1807.

I particularly enjoyed the way that the author has explained the background at a time of tumultuous and constant change occasioned by wars, political upheaval, societal advances, medical and scientific discoveries. This is done in a very accessible way which ensures that the book will be just as enjoyable for a reader who is not intimate with that period of his life, between 1755 and 1824.

Parkinson’s life coincided pretty well with William Nicholson (1753-1815). They would certainly have met at the Geological Society, which Nicholson joined on the suggestion of their mutual friend Anthony Carlisle, if not in the mid-1790s when Parkinson was a member of the London Corresponding Society with Nicholson’s good friend Thomas Holcroft.

Parkinson submitted four papers to Nicholson’s Journal:

October 1807 - Nondescript Encrinus, in Mr. Donovans Museum.

March 1809 - On the Existence of Animal Matter in Mineral Substances.

May 1809 - On the Dissimilarity between the Creatures of the present and former World, and on the Fossil Alcyonia.

January and February 1812 - Observations on some of the Strata in the Neighbourhood of London, and on the Fossil remains contained in them.

THE ENLIGHTENED MR. PARKINSON – The pioneering life of a forgotten English surgeon

By Cherry Lewis, published by ICON

http://www.iconbooks.com/ib-title/the-enlightened-mr-parkinson/

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The biography of William Nicholson 1753–1815

Exploring the life and publications
of William Nicholson 1753-1815