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Parkinson of the disease

Hunter's lectures

Title page of James Parkinson’s Notes on John Hunter’s 1785 lectures: fair copyTitle page of James Parkinson’s Notes on John Hunter’s 1785 lectures: fair copyDuring 1785 and 1786 Parkinson attended the lectures of the eminent surgeon and anatomist John Hunter. He made ‘copious notes’ in shorthand, which he later transcribed.

After Parkinson’s death in 1824, William Clift, the conservator at the museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, who was anxious to preserve as much knowledge of Hunter’s work as possible, gained permission to make a copy of these notes and had them bound.

John William Keys Parkinson (JWKP), who had taken over his father’s practice, published the original manuscript, now lost, under the title: Hunterian reminiscences, being the substance of a course of lectures on the principles and practice of surgery, delivered by the late Mr. John Hunter, in the year 1785.

Transcript of a page detailing John Hunter’s interest in a case of universal palsyTranscript of a page detailing John Hunter’s interest in a case of universal palsyThe preface to this edition, written by JWKP, claimed Hunter to have been the Newton of surgical studies and the intellectual founder of the Royal College of Surgeons, and dedicated the volume to Clift.

He added appendices, in order to update the information conveyed in the lectures, so that they would remain useful for contemporary medical students.

The Reminiscences convey Hunter’s understanding of medicine and physiology. The subjects which he covered included: the properties of animal and vegetable matter; fermentation; living, dead and dying tissues; and the actions of specific organs, such as the stomach, brain and nerves. They also record Hunter’s interest in constitutional and local medical conditions, illustrated by clinical case descriptions.

One case is that of a woman, aged 71, with universal palsy, every part of whose body shook ‘when supported’, (meaning at rest), a note that may mark the beginning of Parkinson’s interest in the disorders of shaking.

From the Archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of England​

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