Lives of the fellows

James Parsons

b.March 1705 d.4 April 1770
MD Rheims(1736) FRS(1741) LRCP(1751)

James Parsons, M.D., was born in March, 1705, at Barnstaple, co. Devon, and received his early education in Dublin, his father having removed to Ireland on receiving the appointment of barrack-master at Bolton. When he had completed his general and classical education, he became tutor to lord Kingston; but ere long, turning his thoughts to medicine, relinquished that office, and proceeded to Paris, where he studied for several years. On the 11th June, 1736, he took the degree of doctor of medicine at Rheims. In the following month Dr. Parsons came to London, bringing with him from Paris letters of introduction and recommendation to Sir Hans Sloane, Dr. Mead, and Dr. James Douglas. He assisted the last-named physician in his anatomical pursuits; through his interest was appointed physician to the public infirmary of St. Giles’s, in 1738; and was introduced by him into extensive obstetric practice. He was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society in 1741, and was appointed its foreign secretary in November, 1751. Dr. Parsons was admitted a Licentiate of the College of Physicians 1st April, 1751. "He resided for many years in Red Lion-square, where he frequently enjoyed the company of Bishop Lyttleton, Dr. Stukeley, Mr. Henry Baker, Dr. Knight, and many other of the most distinguished members of the Royal and Antiquarian societies. He enjoyed also the literary correspondence of D’Argenville, Buffon, Le Cat, Beccaria, Bertrand, Valltravers, Ascanius, Turberville, 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 fulfil with propriety all the various duties in life." In 1769, finding his health impaired, he proposed to retire from business and from London. With that view he disposed of a considerable number of his books and fossils, and went to Bristol. But he returned soon after to his old house, and, dying in it, after a week’s illness, on the 4th April, 1770, in the sixty-sixth year of his age, was buried at Hendon, and in obedience to his special instructions, not until the 21st of that month. On his tomb is the following inscription:—
taken from his sorrowful family and friends,
by the common lot of frail humanity, rests
James Parsons, M.D.,
Member of the College of Physicians,
and F.R.S. and S.A.
A man,
in whom the most dignifying virtues were united,
with talents the most numerous and rare.
Firm and erect in conscious conviction,
no consideration could induce him to desert Truth
or acquiesce to her opponents.
Physic, Anatomy, Natural History, Antiquities,
Languages, and the Fine Arts,
are largely indebted to his skill and industry in each,
for many important truths discovered in their support,
or errors detected in which they were obscured.
Yet, though happy beyond the general
race of mankind in mental endowments,
the sincere Christian, the affectionate Husband,
the generous and humane Friend,
were in him superior to the Sage, Scholar, and Philosopher.
He died April 4, 1770,
in the 66th year of his age.

A portrait of Dr. Parsons, by Wilson, is in the British Museum.

He was the author of—
Elenchus Gynaicopathologicus et Obstetricarius. 8vo. Lond. 1741.
A Mechanical and Critical Inquiry into the nature of Hermaphrodites. 8vo. Lond. 1741.
The Croonian Lecture on Muscular Motion. 4to. Lond. 1745.
Microscopical Theatre of Seeds. 4to. Lond. 1745.
A Description of the Human Urinary Bladder and Parts belonging to it. 8vo. Lond. 1742.
Human Physiognomy explained in the Croonian Lectures on Muscular Motion. 4to. Lond. 1747.
Philosophical Observations on the Analogy between the Propagation of Animals and that of Vegetables, with Observations on the Polypus. 8vo. Lond. 1752.
Remains of Japhet, being Historical Inquiries into the Affinity and Origin of the European Languages.

William Munk

(Volume II, page 175)

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