Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Atkinson, James (1759-1839)
ATKINSON, JAMES (1759–1839), surgeon and bibliographer, son of a medical practitioner and friend of Sterne in York, is chiefly known by his ‘Medical Bibliography,’ of which the dedication is thus worded: ‘To all idle medical students in Great Britain sit—,’ with a picture of that part of the human spinal column known as the ‘sacrum.’ The author's reason for attempting the work was: ‘Wanting better amusement, and through mere accident, I stumbled upon the dry, dusty, tedious, accursed, hateful bibliography (see p. 365).’ The subject undoubtedly deserves all these epithets, but Atkinson managed to write a book to which none of them can be truly applied. It is full of anecdote, humour, and out-of-the-way information. The scientific value is, however, small, the bibliography consisting of a simple list of editions arranged alphabetically under names of authors. The notes are merely excuses for the compiler's discursive and amusing remarks on things in general. The book is usually spoken of as unfinished, as it is only devoted to letters A and B; but there is nothing to show that it was the intention of Atkinson to go any further. Dibdin made his acquaintance in York in the course of his bibliographical tour, and speaks of him (p. 213) as ‘a gentleman and a man of varied talent: ardent, active, and of the most overflowing goodness of heart. … The heartiest of all the octogenarians I ever saw, he scorns a stretch and abhors a gape. … His library is suffocated with Koburgers, Frobens, the Ascensii, and the Stephens.’ On the title of his book Atkinson is described as ‘surgeon to H.R.H. the Duke of York, senior surgeon to the York County Hospital and the York Dispensary, and late V.P. to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.’ He was also an enthusiastic member of the Musical Society. He collected portraits of medical writers, and projected a catalogue with memoirs. For many years he was the chief medical man in York, and remained in practice to within a few years of his death, which took place at the age of eighty, at Lendal, in the city of York, on 14 March 1839. He was buried at St. Helen's, Stonegate, his great popularity causing his funeral to assume somewhat of a semi-public character. The ‘York Herald’ observes (16 March 1839): ‘Mr. Atkinson, throughout his long and useful life, has been highly and universally respected. Ever prominent with his aid at every benevolent institution, he possessed the blessing of the poor and afflicted whilst among them, and will live in their grateful remembrance beyond the grave.’
His works are ‘Medical Bibliography, A and B,’ London, 1834, 8vo. 2. ‘Description of the New Process of perforating and destroying the Stone in the Bladder, illustrated with Cases and a Drawing of the Instrument, in a Letter addressed to the Medical Board of Calcutta,' London, 1831 8vo.
[Notes and Queries, 5th series, x. 474; Dibdin's Bibliographical Tour; Index-Cat. of the Library of the Surgeon-General's Office, U.S. Army.]