Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parkinson, John

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PARKINSON, JOHN (1567–1650), apothecary and herbalist, was born in 1567, probably in Nottinghamshire. Before 1616 he was practising as an apothecary, and had a garden in Long Acre (Theatrum Botanicum, p. 609) ‘well stored with rarities.’ He was appointed apothecary to King James I, and on the publication of his ‘Paradisus Terrestris’ in 1629 obtained from Charles I the title of ‘Botanicus Regius Primarius.’ In the second edition of the ‘Hortus Kewensis’ (1810–13) seven species of plants are recorded as introduced by Parkinson, and thirty-three as first mentioned by him as grown in England, half of these being recorded before 1629, and the other half before 1640. He also added thirteen species to the recorded flora of Middlesex (Trimen and Dyer, Flora of Middlesex, p. 372). His name was commemorated by Plumier in the Central American genus of leguminous trees (Parkinsonia). Among acquaintances mentioned by Parkinson are Thomas Johnson, the editor of Gerard's ‘Herbal,’ John Tradescant the elder, and Sir Theodore Mayerne [q. v.]

Parkinson died in 1650, and was buried on 6 Aug. at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields. There is a print of him, in his sixty-second year, by C. Switzer, prefixed to his ‘Paradisus,’ and a small oval one by W. Marshall in the title-page of his ‘Theatrum’ (1640). They have been several times reproduced, the latter in Richardson's ‘Illustrations to Granger.’

Mrs. Ewing founded in 1884 a Parkinson Society, the objects of which were to search out and cultivate old garden flowers, to plant waste places with hardy flowers, and to prevent extermination. Mrs. Ewing was president until her death, when she was succeeded by Professor Daniel Oliver. The society has now been dissolved.

Parkinson's first work was the ‘Paradisi in sole Paradisus Terrestris; or a garden of all sorts of pleasant flowers, which our English ayre will permit to be nursed up; with a kitchen garden … and an orchard,’ &c., London, 1629, pp. 612, fol. There is a second edition, published in 1656, professedly ‘corrected and enlarged,’ but in reality reprinted almost verbatim. The title is a pun on the author's surname. The work is dedicated to Queen Henrietta Maria, not, as Pulteney says (Sketches of the Progress of Botany, i. 140), to Queen Elizabeth. Among the commendatory verses prefixed to it are some by Thomas Johnson. Nearly a thousand plants are described under the three heads enumerated in the title, and of these 780 are figured on 109 plates, the wood-blocks for which, many of them copied from Clusius and Lobel, were specially cut in England. Pulteney styles this work the first which ‘separately described and figured the subjects of the flower garden.’ Parkinson's second great work was the ‘Theatrum Botanicum. The Theater of Plantes, or An Universall and Compleate Herball,’ London, 1640, pp. 1734, fol. The title states that ‘the chief notes of Dr. Lobel, Dr. Bonham, and others’ are ‘inserted;’ and on p. 1060 Parkinson says that he had purchased Lobel's works at his death. Dr. William How in 1655 published ‘Matthiæ de L'obel … stirpium illustrationes … subreptitiis Joh. Parkinsonii rapsodiis,’ &c., pp. 170, 4to, on pp. 164–165 of which work he roundly accuses Parkinson of appropriating Lobel's observations, ‘whose volumes were compleat, The Title! Epistle! and Diploma affix'd!’ Parkinson's ‘Theatrum,’ however, describes nearly 3,800 plants as against 2,850 in Johnson's Gerard published seven years previously; but his cuts, inferior English copies of those of Johnson, only number about 2,600 against 2,700 in his predecessor's work. Many of Parkinson's descriptions are new. He incorporates almost the whole of Bauhin's ‘Pinax,’ besides consulting the original authorities as to synonyms and properties; and though his classification into seventeen tribes, depending chiefly upon properties, is inferior to that employed by Lobel in 1605, the work is more original than those of Gerard and Johnson, and remained the most complete English treatise on the subject until the time of Ray.

[Pulteney's Sketches of the Progress of Botany, i. 138–54; Rees's Cyclopædia, life by Sir J. E. Smith; Journal of Horticulture, 1875, xxviii. 493; Mrs. Ewing's Mary's Meadow, 1885, Pref.]

G. S. B.