Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Parry, Caleb Hillier

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PARRY, CALEB HILLIER (1755–1822), physician, born at Cirencester, Gloucestershire, on 21 Oct. 1755, was eldest son of Joshua Parry [q. v.], by his wife, daughter of Caleb Hillier of Upcott, Devonshire. He was educated first at a private school in Cirencester, and in 1770 entered the dissenters' academy at Warrington, Lancashire, where he remained three years. In 1773 he became a student of medicine at Edinburgh, and continued his studies for two years in London, where he lived chiefly in the house of Dr. Denman, the obstetric physician. Returning to Edinburgh in 1777, he graduated M.D. in June 1778, with an inaugural dissertation ‘De Rabie Contagiosa,’ and was admitted licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians of London in September of the same year. In November 1779 he settled down as a physician at Bath, and hardly quitted that city for a day during the remainder of his life. He became physician to the Bath General Hospital, and practised with success for many years, till, in the midst of a career of great activity and prosperity, he was seized in October 1816 with a paralytic stroke, which took away the use of the right side and impaired the faculty of speech. Notwithstanding these disabilities Parry's mental activity and power never deserted him through the remaining six years of his life, and he was continually occupied in reading, dictating his reminiscences, or superintending his farm and gardens. He died on 9 March 1822, and was buried in Bath Abbey, where a monument was erected to his memory by the medical profession of Bath. In 1778 he married the daughter of John Rigby of Manchester, a lady of great beauty. He left four sons, of whom the eldest, Dr. Charles Henry Parry [q. v.], and the youngest, Sir William Edward Parry [q. v.], are separately noticed.

Parry, a man of fine and elevated character, possessed great personal charm of manner and a handsome presence. His social connections were extensive and distinguished. Burke, Windham, Lord Rodney, Dr. Jenner, and other eminent men were among his friends and correspondents. He was elected in 1800 a fellow of the Royal Society, and received marks of distinction from many other public bodies. Few physicians of his time, whether in London or the provinces, enjoyed or deserved a higher reputation. Parry's independent researches in medical and scientific subjects were of considerable importance. Throughout his professional life he was an indefatigable note-taker, and preserved records of a large number of cases which were intended to form the basis of an elaborate work on pathology and therapeutics. The first part of this only (‘Elements of Pathology’) was completed by himself before he was disabled by illness, and published in 1815. It was republished by his son, with an unfinished second volume, as ‘Elements of Pathology and Therapeutics,’ London, 1825. This treatise, like all systematic works, has lost its importance. Parry's researches on special subjects possess more permanent value. The first was an ‘Inquiry into the Symptoms and Causes of the Syncope Anginosa, called Angina Pectoris,’ Bath, 1799. This important memoir, which contains some observations privately communicated by Edward Jenner, forms a landmark in the history of that disease. His memoir on ‘Cases of Tetanus and Rabies Contagiosa, or Canine Hydrophobia,’ Bath, 1814, is also valuable. But his most original production was a tract on ‘The Nature, Cause, and Varieties of the Arterial Pulse,’ Bath, 1816, which was largely based on experiments on animals, and established certain facts relating to the pulse which are now generally accepted. His views were defended and expanded by his son, Dr. C. H. Parry, in ‘Additional Experiments on the Arteries,’ London, 1819. After Parry's death his son brought out ‘Collections from the Unpublished Writings of Dr. Parry,’ 2 vols. London, 1825, which contain some valuable observations.

Parry also contributed to the ‘Philosophical Transactions,’ the ‘Transactions of the Medical Society of London,’ and other medical publications.

Parry also devoted a great deal of attention to the improvement of agriculture, and studied the subject experimentally on a farm he had acquired near Bath. He was especially interested in improving the breeds of sheep, and obtaining finer wool by the introduction of the merino breed. He wrote in 1800 a tract on ‘The Practicability and Advantage of producing in the British Isles Clothing-wool equal to that of Spain,’ and in 1807 an ‘Essay on the Merino Breed of Sheep,’ which obtained a prize from the board of agriculture, and was praised by Arthur Young. Several papers by him appeared in the ‘Transactions of the Bath and West of England Society of Agriculture,’ from 1786 onwards, and in the ‘Farmers' Journal’ for 1812, on such subjects as the cultivation of English rhubarb, the crossing of animals, observations on wool, &c.

Parry was also interested in natural history, especially in minerals and fossils, and projected a work on the fossils of Gloucestershire. He was a man of wide reading, and his special fondness for books of travel may have given an impulse in the direction of geographical research to his distinguished son, Sir William Edward Parry.

[The authority for Parry's life is the memoir (anonymous, but by his son, Dr. W. C. Parry) in Lives of the British Physicians (Murray's Family Library, 1830). See also Munk's Coll. of Phys. ii. 385, 2nd ed. 1878.]

J. F. P.