Parsons, James

, an excellent physician and polite scholar, was born at Barnstaple, in Devonshire, in March 1705. His father, who was the youngest of nine sons of colonel Parsons, and nearly related to the baronet of that name, being appointed barrack-master at Bolton, in IreJand, removed with his family into that kingdom *


In the Preface to the “Memoirs of Japhet,” he says, “I spent several years of my life in Ireland, and there attained to a tolerable knowledge in the


very ancient tongue of that country, which enabled me to consult some of their manuscripts, and become instructed in their grammatical institutes. Afterwards I became acquainted with several gentlemen from Wales, well versed in their own history and language; men of sense and liberal learning; who, in many conversations upon such subjects, gave me snch satisfaction and light, in matters of high antiquity, as to occasion my application to the study of the Welsh tongue also; in which I had equal pleasure and surprise, when, the more I inquired, the more nearly related the Irish and Welsh languages appeared. When I was sent abroad to study the medicinal art, I frequently conversed with young gentlemen from most parts of Europe, who came to Paris, and followed the same masters, in every branch of the profession, with me; and my surprize was agreeably increased in finding that, in every one of their native tongues, I could discover the roots of most of their expressions in the Irish or Welsh."

soon | after the birth of his then only son, James, who received at Dublin the early part of his education, and, by the assistance of proper masters, laid a considerable foundation of classical and other useful learning, which enabled him to become tutor to lord Kingston. Turning his attention to the study of medicine, he went afterwards to Paris, where (to use his own words) " he followed the most eminent professors in the several schools, as Astruc, Dubois, Lemery, and others; attended the anatomical lectures of the most famous (Hunaud and Le Caf); and chemicals at the king’s garden at St. Come* He followed the physicians in both hospitals of the Hotel Dieu and La Charite, and the chemical lectures and demonstrations of Lemery and Bonlduc; and in botany, Jussieu. Having finished these studies, his professors gave him honourable attestations of his having followed them with diligence and industry, which entitled him to take the degrees of doctor and professor of the art of medicine, in any university in the dominions of France. Intending to return to England, he judged it unnecessary to take degrees in Paris, unless he had resolved to reside there; and as it was more expensive, he therefore went to the university of Rheims, in Champaign, where, by virtue of his attestations, he was immediately admitted to three examinations, as if he had finished his studies in that academy; and there was honoured with his degrees June 11, 1736. In the July following he came to London, and was first employed by Dr. James Douglas to assist him in his anatomical works, but after some time began to practise. He was elected a member of the royal society in 1740; and, after due examination, was admitted a licentiate of the college of physicians, April 1, 1751.

On his arrival in London, by the recommendation of his | Paris friends, he was introduced to the acquaintance of Dr. Mead, sir Hans Sloane, and Dr. James Douglas. This great anatomist made use of his assistance, not only in his anatomical preparations, but also in his representations of morbid and other appearances, a list of several of which was in the hands of his friend Dr. Maty; who had prepared an eloge on Dr. Parsons, which was never used, but which, by the favour of Mrs. Parsons, Mr. Nichols has preserved at large. Though Dr. Parsons cultivated the several branches of the profession of physic, he was principally employed in midwifery. In 1738, by the interest of his friend Dr. Douglas, he was appointed physician to the public infirmary in St. Giles’s. In 1739 he married miss Elizabeth Reynolds, by whom he had two sons and a daughter, who all died young. Dr. Parsons resided for many years in Red Lion-square, where he frequently enjoyed the company and conversation of Dr. Stukeley, bishop Lyttleton, Mr. Henry Baker, Dr. Knight, and many other of the most distinguished members of the royal and antiquarian societies, and that of arts, manufactures, and commerce; giving weekly an elegant dinner to a large but select party. He enjoyed also the literary correspondence of D’Argenville, Button, Le Cat, Beccaria, Amb. Bertrand, Valltravers, Ascanius, Turberville Needham, Dr. Garden, and others of the most distinguished rank in science. As a practitioner he was judicious, careful, honest, and remarkably humane to the poor; as a friend, obliging and communicative; cheerful and decent in conversation; severe and strict in his morals, and attentive to fill with propriety all the various duties of life. In 1769, finding his health impaired, he proposed to retire from business and from London, and with that view disposed of a considerable number of his books and fossils, and went to Bristol. But he returned soon after to his old house, and died in it after a week’s illness, on the 4th of April, 1770, much lamented by his family and friends. By his last will, dated in October 1766, he gave his whole property to Mrs. Parsons; and, in case of her death before him, to miss Mary Reynolds, her only sister, “in recompence for her affectionate attention to him and to his wife, for a long course of years, in sickness and in health.” It was his particular request that he should not be buried till some change should appear in his corpse; a request which occasioned him to be kept unburied 17 days, and even then scarce the slightest | alterution was perceivable. He was buried at Hen don, in a vault which he had caused to be built on the ground purchased on the death of his son James, where his tomb had a very commendatory inscription. A portrait of Dr. Parsons, by Mr. Wilson, is now in the British Museum; another, by Wells, left in the hands of his widow, who died in 1786; with a third unfinished; and one of his son James; also a family piece, in which the same son is introduced, with the doctor and his lady, accompanied by her sister. Among many other portraits, Mrs. Parsons had some that were very fine of the illustrious Harvey, of bishop Burnet, and of Dr. John Freind; a beautiful miniature of Dr. Stukeley; some good paintings, by her husband’s own hand, particularly the rhinoceros which he described in the “Philosophical Transactions.” She possessed also his Mss. and some capital printed books; a large folio volume entitled “Figure quaedam Miscellaneae qu0e ad rem Anatomicam Historiamque Naturalem spectant quas propria adumbravit manu Jacobus Parsons, M. D. S S. R. Ant.” &c. another, called “Drawings of curious Fossils, Shells,” &c. in Dr. Parsons’s Collection, drawn by himself;" &c. &c. Mrs. Parsons professed herself ready to give, on proper application, either to the royal or antiquarian society, a portrait of her husband, and a sum of money to found a lecture to perpetuate his memory, similar to that established by his friend Mr. Henry Baker.

Dr. Parsons left the following works 1. “A mechanical and critical Enquiry into the nature of Hermaphrodites,1741, 8vo, which was principally a compilation. 2. “A description of the Urinary Human Bladder, and the parts belonging to it, with figures,1742, which was intended to disprove the reported utility of Mrs. Stephens’ s medicines for the stone. 3. “Philosophical Observations on the analogy between the Propagation of Animals and that of Vegetables,1752, 8vo. As an antiquary, Dr. Parsons distinguished himself by an elaborate publication, eotitled “Remains of Japhet being historical inquiries into the affinity and origin of the European languages,1767, 4to. This is a performance of great erudition and research. Besides these separate publications, Dr. Parsons was the author of several papers, printed in the Philosophical Transactions; viz. “Croonian Lectures on Muscular Motion,1745, in which he considers the muscular fibres as tubes; “Huomu Physiognomy explained,” in the Appendix to | the Philos. Trans, for 1746; and several other papers on anatomical and physiological subjects, especially an account of the dissection of a rhinoceros, which is valuable, and illustrated by good figures.

We shall close this article with an extract from Dr. Maty’s eulogium: “The surprising variety of branches which Dr. Parsons embraced, and the several living as well as dead languages he had a knowledge of, qualified him abundantly for the place of assistant secretary for foreign correspondences, which the council of the royal society bestowed upon him about 1750. He acquitted himself to the utmost of his power of the functions of this place, till a few years before his death, when he resigned in favour of his friend, who now gratefully pays this last tribute to his memory. Dr. Parsons joined to his academical honours those which the royal college of physicians of London bestowed upon him, by admitting him, after due examination, licentiate, on the first day of April, 1751. The diffusive spirit of our friend was only equalled by his desire of information. To both these principles he owed the intimacies which he formed with some of the greatest men of his time. The names of Folkes, Hales, Mead, Stukeley, Needham, Baker, Collinson, and Garden, may be mentioned on this occasion; and many more might be added. Weekly meetings were formed, where the earliest intelligence was received and communicated of any discovery both here and abroad; and new trials were made, to bring to the test of experience the reality or usefulness of these discoveries. Here it was that the microscopical animals found in several infusions were first produced; the propagation of several insects by section ascertained; the constancy of nature amidst these wonderful changes established. His ‘ Remains of Japhet, being historical inquiries into the affinity and origin of the European Languages,’ is a most laborious performance, tending to prove the antiquity of the first inhabitants of these islands, as being originally descended from Gomer and Magog, above 1000 years before Christ, their primitive and still subsisting language, and its affinity with some others. It cannot be denied that there is much ingenuity as well true learning in this work, which helps conviction, and often supplies the want of it. But we cannot help thinking that our friend’s warm feelings now and then mislead his judgment, and that some at least of his conjectures, rest‘ | ing upon partial traditions, and poetical scraps of Irish filids and Welsh bards, are less satisfactory than his tables of affinity between the several northern languages, as deduced from one common stock. Literature, however, is much obliged to him for having in this, as well as in many of his other works, opened a new field of observations and discoveries. In enumerating our learned friend’s dissertations, we find ourselves at a loss whether we should follow the order of subjects, or of time; neither is it easy to account for their surprising variety and quick succession. The truth is, that his eagerness after knowledge was such, as to embrace almost with equal facility all its branches, and with equal zeal to ascertain the merit of inventions, and ascribe to their respective, and sometimes unknown, authors, the glory of the discovery. Many operations which the ancients have transmitted to us, havebeen thought fabulous, merely from our ignorance of the art by which they were performed. Thus the burning of the ships of the Romans at a considerable distance, during the siege of Syracuse, by Archimedes, would, perhaps, still continue to be exploded, had not the celebrated M. Buffon in France shewn the possibility of it, by presenting and describing a model of a speculum, or rather assemblage of mirrors, by which he could set fire at the distance of several hundred feet. Inthe contriving, indeed, though not in the executing of such an apparatus, he had in some measure been forestalled by a writer now very little known or read. This Dr. Parsons proved in a- very satisfactory manner; and he had the pleasure to find the French philosopher did not refuse to the Jesuit his share in the invention, and was not at all offended by the liberty he had taken. Another French discovery, I mean a new kind of painting fathered upon the ancients, was reduced to its real value, in a paper which shewed ouv author was possessed of a good taste for the fine arts: and I am informed that his skill in music was by no means inferior, and that his favourite amusement was the flute. Richly, it appears from these performances, did our author merit the honour of being a member of the antiquarian society, which long ago had associated him to its labours. To another society, founded upon the great principles of humanity, patriotism, and natural emulation, he undoubtedly was greatly useful.*


The society for the encouragement of arts, manufactures, and commerce. He likewise was associated to the Oeeonomical society at Berne* Dec. 26, 1763,

| He assisted at most of their general meetings and committees and was for many years chairman to that of agriculture always equally ready to point out and to promote useful improvements, and to oppose the interested views of fraud and ignorance, so inseparable from very extensive associations. No sooner was this society* formed, than Dr. Parsons became a member of it. Intimately convinced of the nobleness of its views, though from his station in life little concerned in its success, he grudged neither attendance nor expence. Neither ambitious of taking the lead, nor fond of opposition, he joined in any measure he thought right; and submitted cheerfully to the sentiments of the majority, though against his own private opinion. The just ideas he had of the dignity of our profession, as well as of the common links which ought to unite all its members, notwithstanding the differences of country, religion, or places of education, made him bear impatiently the shackles laid upon a great number of respectable practitioners; he wished, fondly wished, to see these broken; not with a view of empty honour and dangerous power, but as the only means observing mankind more effectually, checking the progress of designing men and illiterate practitioners, and diffusing through the whole body a spirit of emulation. Though by frequent disappointments he foresaw, as well as we, the little chance of a speedy redress, he nobly persisted in the attempt; and, had he lived to the final event, would undoubtedly, like Cato, still have preferred the conquered cause to that supported by the gods. Afier having tried to retire from business and from London, for the sake of his health, and having disposed of most of his books with that view, he found it inconsistent with his happiness to forsake all the advantages which a long residence in the capital, and the many connexions he had formed, had rendered habitual to him. He therefore returned to his old house, and died in it, after a short illness, April 4, 1770. The style of our friend’s compositions was sufficiently clear in description, though in argument not so close as could have been wished. Full of Lis ideas, he did not always so dispose and connect them together as to produce in the minds of his readers that conviction which was in his own. He too much despised those additional graces which command attention when

A medical society instituted by Dr. Fothergill, and other respectable physicians, licentiates, in vindication of their privileges where, it should seem, this eulogy was intended to be pronounced.

| joined to learning, observation, and sound reasoning. Let us hope that his example and spirit will animate all his colleagues; and that those practitioners who are in the same circumstances will be induced to join their brethren, sure to find amongst them those great blessings of life, freedom, equality, information, and friendship. As long as these great principles shall subsist in this society, and I tVust they will outlast the longest liver, there is no doubt but the members will meet with the reward honest men are ambitious of, the approbation of their conscience, the esteem of the virtuous, the remembrance of posterity.” 1

Nichols’s Bowyer.