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An Essay on the Shaking Palsy
James Parkinson, Member of the Royal College of Surgeons


The advantages which have been derived from the caution with which hypothetical statements are admitted, are in no instance more obvious than in those sciences which more particularly belong to the healing art.

IIt therefore is necessary, that some conciliatory explanation should be offered for the present publication: in which, it is acknowledged, that mere conjecture takes the place of experiment; and, that analogy is the substitute for anatomical examination, the only sure foundation for pathological knowledge.

When, however, the nature of the subject, and the circumstances under which it has been here taken up, are considered, it is hoped that the offering of the following pages to the attention of the medical public, will not be severely censured.

The disease, respecting which the present inquiry is made, is of a nature highly afflictive. Notwithstanding which, it has not yet obtained a place in the classification of nosologists; some have regarded its characteristic symptoms as distinct and different diseases, and others have given its name to diseases differing essentially from it; whilst the unhappy sufferer has considered it as an evil, from the domination of which he had no prospect of escape.

The disease is of long duration: to connect, therefore, the symptoms which occur in its later stages with those which mark its commencement, requires a continuance of observation of the same case, or at least a correct history of its symptoms, even for several years.

Of both these advantages the writer has had the opportunities of availing himself, and has hence been led particularly to observe several other cases in which the disease existed in different stages of its progress.

By these repeated observations, he hoped that he had been led to a probable conjecture as to the nature of the malady, and that analogy had suggested such means as might be productive of relief, and perhaps even of cure, if employed before the disease had been too long established. He therefore considered it to be a duty to submit his opinions to the examination of others, even in their present state of immaturity and imperfection.

To delay their publication did not, indeed, appear to be warrantable. The disease had escaped particular notice; and the task of ascertaining its nature and cause by anatomical investigation, did not seem likely to be taken up by those who, from their abilities and opportunities, were most likely to accomplish it.

That these friends to humanity and medical science, who have already unveiled to us many of the morbid processes by which health and life is abridged, might be excited to extend their researches to this malady, was much desired; and it was hoped, that this might be procured by the publication of these remarks.

Should the necessary information be thus obtained, the writer will repine at no censure which the precipitate publication of mere conjectural suggestions may incur: but shall think himself fully rewarded by having excited the attention of those, who may point out the most appropriate means of relieving a tedious and most distressing malady.


Shaking Palsy (Paralysis Agitans)

Involuntary tremulous motion, with lessened muscular power, in parts not in action and even when supported; with a propensity to bend the trunk forwards, and to pass from a walking to a running pace: the senses and intellects being uninjured.

The term Shaking Palsy has been vaguely employed by medical writers in general. By some it has been used to designate ordinary cases of Palsy, in which some slight tremblings have occurred; whilst by others it has been applied to certain anomalous affections, not belonging to Palsy.

The shaking of the limbs belonging to this disease was particularly noticed, as will be seen when treating of the symptoms, by Galen, who marked its peculiar character by an appropriate term.

The same symptom, it will also be seen, was accurately treated of by Sylvius de la Boë. Juncker also seems to have referred to this symptom: having divided tremor into active and passive, he says of the latter, "ad affectus semiparalyticos pertinant; de qualibus hic agimus, quique tremores paralytoidei vocantur."

Tremor has been adopted, as a genus, by almost every nosologist; but always unmarked, in their several definitions, by such characters as would embrace this disease.

The celebrated Cullen, with his accustomed accuracy observes, "Tremorem, utpote semper symptomaticum, in numerum generum recipere nolem; species autem a Sauvagesio recensitas, prout mihi vel astheniae vel paralysios, vel convulsionis symptomata esse videntur, his subjungam."*

Tremor can indeed only be considered as a symptom, although several species of it must be admitted. In the present instance, the agitation produced by the peculiar species of tremor, which here occurs, is chosen to furnish the epithet by which this species of Palsy, may be distinguished.


So slight and nearly imperceptible are the first inroads of this malady, and so extremely slow its progress, that it rarely happens, that the patient can form any recollection of the precise period of its commencement.

The first symptoms perceived are, a slight sense of weakness, with a proneness to trembling in some particular part; sometimes in the head, but most commonly in one of the hands and arms.

These symptoms gradually increase in the part first affected; and at an uncertain period, but seldom in less than twelvemonths or more, the morbid influence is felt in some other part. Thus assuming one of the hands and arms to be first attacked, the other, at this period becomes similarly affected.

After a few more months the patient is found to be less strict than usual in preserving an upright posture: this being most observable whilst walking, but sometimes whilst sitting or standing.

Sometime after the appearance of this symptom, and during its slow increase, one of the legs is discovered slightly to tremble, and is also found to suffer fatigue sooner than the leg of the other side: and in a few months this limb becomes agitated by similar tremblings, and suffers a similar loss of power.

Hitherto the patient will have experienced but little inconvenience; and befriended by the strong influence of habitual endurance, would perhaps seldom think of his being the subject of disease, except when reminded of it by the unsteadiness of his hand, whilst writing or employing himself in any nicer kind of manipulation.

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