Parkinson's Political and Social Writing

Parkinson’s publications in the first decade after beginning his medical career focused on politics.  In the climate of dramatic political changes, reforms, and revolutions occurring in France and England at the end of the 18th century, Parkinson espoused his political beliefs in multiple pamphlets written under the pseudonym of “Old Hubert.”  His political endeavors culminated in his role of witness before the Privy Council in a trial for High Treason regarding the Pop-Gun Plot in 1795.

Throughout his career, Parkinson remained active in social reforms, especially when intertwined with medical issues.  He comments on child abuse and parenting in The Villager’s Friend and Physician (1800).  Parkinson also served as visiting doctor for 30 years to a madhouse in Hoxton thereby gaining experience in mental health.  The case of Mary Daintree brought him back to the court of law in a trial in 1810 regarding the signing of a certificate of insanity.  The newspapers criticized Parkinson for his actions, but after the trial, he published his account of the case and views on the regulation of madhouses in Observations on the Act for Regulating Mad-Houses (1811).  He argued that only physicians and surgeons rather than apothecaries should sign confinement orders.  One should provide that “not merely that such person is a lunatic, but that such person is proper to be received into such house or place as a lunatic.”  He recognized that not all lunatics required confinement, and other mental illnesses such as delirium or dementia, apart from madness, necessitated confinement.  Other social reforms focused on education and working conditions of poor children as in Remarks on Mr. Whitbread’s Plan for the Education of the Poor (1807).  Even several of his medical writings as St. Leonard’s parish doctor on fever wards and trusses for poor laborers carry messages of social reform.

Adapted from an array of political pamphlets by Old Hubert.
Private Collection of MDS Member, Christopher G. Goetz, MD, Chicago, IL
and a gift from the late Dr. Robert Currier.

Political Pamphlets
Between 1793 and 1796, Parkinson wrote numerous political pamphlets under the pseudonym, “Old Hubert” that championed parliamentary reform, representation of the people, and universal suffrage.  Several notable works by “Old Hubert” included The Village Association of The Politics of Edley, The Budget of the People, An Address to the Honorable Edmund Burke from the Swinish Multitude, and, Pearls cast before Swine and Revolutions without bloodshed; or, reformation preferable to revolt.  Parkinson was influential in the political societies, Society for Constitutional Information (est. 1780) and the London Corresponding Society (est. 1792), that promoted these political reforms.

Private Collection of MDS Member, Christopher G. Goetz, MD, Chicago, IL
and a gift from the late Dr. Robert Currier.

Pop Gun Plot
The Pop Gun plot of 1794 implicated five members of the London Corresponding Society in an attempted assassination on King George III with an air-gun.  Parkinson was examined under oath before the Privy Council regarding his role in the Pop Gun Plot.  Leery of incriminating himself in his radical political roles, Parkinson initially refused to take oath until he was assured that all questions would concern only the plot and the four society members, Smith, Higgins, Le Maitre, and Upton.  However, when questioned about an anonymously written pamphlet, A Vindication of the London Corresponding Society, he eventually confessed to being “Old Hubert,” the mysterious political pamphlet author.

Thomas Paine (1737-1909)

Edmund Burke (1729-1797)

Private Collection of MDS Member, Christopher G. Goetz, MD, Chicago, IL
and a gift from the late Dr. Robert Currier.   

Political Figures of the late 18th Century:
Edmund Burke and Thomas Paine
The late 18th century witnessed revolutionary changes in France and England.  The French revolution was much debated by opposing political writers in Britian.  Among those against the revolution and parliamentary reform was Edmund Burke, author of Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790).  He was greatly criticized by Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man (1791 and 1792), who supported the revolution.  Works by “Old Hubert,” Pearls cast before Swine (1793) and An Address to the Honorable Edmund Burke from the Swinish Multitude (1793), refuted Burke’s anti-reform beliefs and cleverly attacked his reference to the common people as the “swinish multitude.”

The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes ca. 1891.

Child Abuse
In The Villager’s Friend and Physician (1800), Parkinson writes of child abuse as another cause of “Dropsy of the brain, or watery head”:  

Parents too often forget the weight of their hands and the delicate structure of a child. You must excuse the digression – it was but yesterday I passed the cottage of one you all know to have always neglected his children; I heard the plaintive and suppliant cries of a child, and rushed into the cottage; where I saw the father, whose countenance was dreadful, from the strong marks of passion and cruelty which it bore, beating most unmercifully his son, about ten years old.

Holly House, commonly known as Burrow's Madhouse in Hare Street, Hoxton

Figure 4, page 20 from Morris, A.D. (1989) James Parkinson His Life and Times
Rose, C.F. (ed.).  Boston:  Birkhäuser.  With kind permission
of Springer Science and Business Media.

Mad Houses
In the late 17th and early 18th centuries, three private madhouses in Hoxton housed many of the lunatics in London and its surroundings, and conditions were often squalid.  For at least 30 years, Parkinson served as the visiting doctor at Holly House, a madhouse in Hoxton kept by the Burrows family.  This private asylum was comprised of two sections, one for those who could pay the full cost of maintenance and one for poor patients sent by the Guardians of the Poor that was supported by taxes of their own parish.

Adapted from documents from Private Collection of MDS Member, Christopher G. Goetz, MD, Chicago, IL and a gift from the late Dr. Robert Currier.   

A Case of Mania
By Ambroise Tardieu
1838

Court Case
Parkinson appeared in court for the case of Mary Daintree in 1810.  He had signed a certificate of insanity confining Mary Daintree to Holly House, but she later charged that her relatives conspired to confine her illegally.  Parkinson was accused of declaring her insane based on her relatives’ testimony rather than the patient’s arguments of sanity.  In response to the case, Parkinson published Observations on the Act for Regulating Mad-Houses (1811) which proposes guidelines regarding signing of confinement orders and discusses the challenges of obtaining direct evidence of insanity solely from patient encounters.

The first workhouse in the parish of St. Leonard's, Shoreditch.
Built in 1777, demolished in 1863.

Figure 1, page 4 from Morris, A.D. (1989) James Parkinson His Life and Times.
Rose, C.F. (ed.).  Boston:  Birkhäuser.  With kind permission
of Springer Science and Business Media.

Other Reform Measures
Other reform measures by Parkinson included the creation of a Register Book for St. Leonard’s Church with demographics, qualifications, and behaviors of children educated in Sunday School who were willing and fit for service.  Parkinson supported the monitoring of working conditions with meetings and visitations since often the unprotected, poor children apprenticed in the parish were “left to almost the unrestrained caprice of their masters, no law existing by which the duties of the master are defined, or any inspectors of his conduct appointed.”  

Adapted from documents from Private Collection of MDS Member,
Christopher G. Goetz, MD, Chicago, IL and a gift from the late Dr. Robert Currier.

Education - Remarks on Mr. Whitbread’s Plan for the Education of the Poor; with Observations of Sunday School, and on the State of the Apprenticed Poor
In Remarks on Mr. Whitbread’s Plan for the Education of the Poor; with Observations of Sunday School, and on the State of the Apprenticed Poor (1807), Parkinson opposes a bill in the House of Commons to establish parochial schools for the education of poor children in the countryside.  As secretary to St. Leonard’s Sunday school, he worries that attendance and therefore, religious and moral education at the Sunday Schools would suffer. He discusses the dilemma of eliminating a day of the child’s labor, and thus, family’s income, for the purpose of education and argues that Sunday School is a superior alternative. Since Sunday School - prevents no labour, nor the obtaining of the necessary earning, so it does not break in upon nor destroy those habits, on the powerful influence of which chiefly depends the prosperity of the possessor. The varied employments of the Sunday School, the change of scene, and the visit to the church, all excite sufficient interest to make the return of the day of instruction wished for through the succeeding week; whilst, as it opposes not useful habits, it throws no obstacles in the way of industrious exertions.


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