King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
Parkinson of the disease

Medical admonitions

Title page of Medical admonitionsTitle page of Medical admonitionsParkinson’s intention in writing Medical admonitions was to provide laypeople with medical advice concerning symptoms, diagnosis and therapeutics of common diseases. There is a bias towards the diseases suffered by the middle classes, such as those arising from an imbalanced diet, as they were most likely to read this book. It is clear that Parkinson had kept abreast of the latest thinking on specific diseases, as is apparent in the sections on smallpox and resuscitation.

He was also in some areas, such as the causation of gout and the advisability of bleeding and emetics as therapeutic practices, somewhat ahead of conventional medical opinion. However, he did not intend to provide laypeople with more knowledge so that they could avoid consulting medical practitioners (the aim of William Buchan's popular Domestic medicine, 1769) but rather to alert them to the necessity of seeking such advice at the earliest appearance of a disease. 

Parkinson was more than aware of the extent of ‘self-medication’. Many educated middle class people, such as Samuel Johnson, attended medical and anatomical lectures, and took it upon themselves to pass on medical advice to their friends. Clergymen still performed certain medical operations, such as bleeding, in some parts of the country. Parkinson did not regard this situation with equanimity. In addition, the economic and professional situation of surgeon-apothecaries was becoming somewhat beleaguered after the 1780s, as competition from unqualified druggists and chemists eroded their hard-won status and respect. 

Although the status and prospects of his own profession were by no means the only incentives for Parkinson to write this treatise, they cannot have been entirely absent, as his polemic The hospital pupil demonstrates. Laypeople often avoided seeking advice partly because of cost (practitioners did not charge on a sliding scale based on income), but also because they lacked confidence in the skill of practitioners to diagnose and treat diseases, suspected them of non-altruistic motives, and had more trust in accumulated medical folklore.

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