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Parkinson of the disease

A sketch, by Old Hubert

The four-page pamphlet shown in the gallery below, appeared during a period of rising wheat prices and consequent hunger and distress. This was caused by the outbreak of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars in 1793, and was exacerbated by harvest failures, poor distribution practices and the adulteration of bread.

The pamphlet’s heading - ‘Whilst the honest poor are wanting bread’ - addresses the issue of poverty and hunger amidst the plenty of the rich. As so often in his political writings, Parkinson uses personal experience to reinforce his point. The heading of the pamphlet is an exclamation that has excited the curiosity of the author. ‘[T]hrough the trees’ he has spied a man and his son reading aloud from a newspaper, ‘distress and want strongly displayed on their countenances.’ The father is clearly suffering from hunger, which his son attempts to ameliorate by fetching fistfuls of dandelions for him to eat, which elicits ‘tears of paternal affection and gratitude.’

This Sketch followed other pamphlets by Old Hubert, the pseudonym under which Parkinson published his political pamphlets of the 1790s, addressing the corrupt and exploitative practices of those in power (see An address to Edmund Burke).  Its iteration of ‘Honest poor’ and ‘Wanting bread’ brings home vividly the crisis which food shortages posed for the poor. The pamphlet’s setting – an overheard outdoor exchange between father and son - heralds Parkinson’s keen interest in outdoor observations. This interest later finds expression in his descriptions not only of fossils but of human shaking, posture and gait on London streets, which feature in An essay on the shaking palsy.

The images shown below are displayed under a Creative Commons licence and are courtesy of the Wellcome Library, London.

James Parkinson. A sketch, by Old Hubert. [London]: printed for and sold by J Birks, [1795?] Wellcome Library, London

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