Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

in which he announced the discovery of the different functions of the nerves corresponding with their relations to different parts of the brain; his latest researches were described in The Nervous System of the Human Body (1830), a collection of papers read by him before the Royal Society. He discovered that in the nervous trunks there are special sensory filaments, the office of which is to transmit impressions from the periphery of the body to the sensorium, and special motor filaments which convey motor impressions from the brain or other nerve centre to the muscles. He also showed that some nerves consist entirely of sensory filaments and are therefore sensory nerves, that others are composed of motor filaments and are therefore motor nerves, whilst a third variety contains both kinds of filaments and are therefore to be regarded as sensory-motor. Furthermore, he indicated that the brain and spinal cord may be divided into separate parts, each part having a special function—one part ministering to motion, the other to sensation, and that the origin of the nerves from one or other or both of those sources endows them with the peculiar property of the division whence they spring. He also demonstrated that no motor nerve ever passes through a ganglion. Lastly, he showed, both from theoretical considerations and from the result of actual experiment on the living animal, that the anterior roots of the spinal nerves are motor, while the posterior are sensory. These discoveries as a whole must be regarded as the greatest in physiology since that of the circulation of the blood by William Harvey. They were not only a distinct and definite advance in scientific knowledge, but from them flowed many practical results of much importance in the diagnosis and treatment of disease. It is not surprising that Bell should have viewed his results with exultation. On the 26th of November 1807, he wrote to his brother George:—“I have done a more interesting nova anatomia cerebri humani than it is possible to conceive. I lectured it yesterday. I prosecuted it last night till one o’clock; and I am sure it will be well received.” On the 31st of the same month he wrote:—“I really think this new anatomy of the brain will strike more than the discovery of the lymphatics being absorbents.”

In 1807 he produced a System of Comparative Surgery, in which surgery is regarded almost wholly from an anatomical and operative point of view, and there is little or no mention of the use of medicinal substances. It placed him, however, in the highest rank of English writers on surgery. In 1809 he relinquished his professional work in London, and rendered meritorious services to the wounded from Coruña, who were brought to the Haslar hospital at Portsmouth. In 1810 he published a series of Letters concerning the Diseases of the Urethra, in which he treated of stricture from an anatomical and pathological point of view. In 1812 he was appointed surgeon to the Middlesex hospital, a post he retained for twenty-four years. He was also professor of anatomy, physiology and surgery to the College of Surgeons of London, and for many years teacher of anatomy in the school which used to exist in Great Windmill Street. In 1815 he went to Brussels to treat the wounded of the battle of Waterloo. In 1816, 1817 and 1818, he published a series of Quarterly Reports of Cases in Surgery; in 1821 a volume of coloured plates with descriptive letterpress, entitled Illustrations of the great operations of Surgery, Trepan, Hernia, Amputation and Lithotomy, and in 1824 Observations on Injuries of the Spine and of the Thigh Bone. On the formation of University College, Gower Street, he was for a short time head of the medical department. In 1832 he wrote a paper for the Royal Society of London on the “Organs of the Human Voice,” in which he gave many illustrations of the physiological action of these parts, and in 1833 a Bridgewater treatise, The Hand: its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as evincing Design. Along with Lord Brougham he annotated and illustrated an edition of Paley’s Natural Theology, published in 1836. The Royal Society of London awarded to him in 1829 the first annual medal of that year given by George IV. for discoveries in science; and when William IV. ascended the throne, Charles Bell received the honour of knighthood along with a few other men distinguished in science and literature.

In 1836 the chair of surgery in the university of Edinburgh was offered to him. He was then one of the foremost scientific men in London, and he had a large surgical practice. But his opinion was “London is a place to live in, but not to die in”; and he accepted the appointment. In Edinburgh he did not earn great local professional success; and, it must be confessed, he was not appreciated as he deserved. But honours came thick upon him. On the continent of Europe he was spoken of as greater than Harvey. It is narrated that one day P. J. Roux, a celebrated French physiologist, dismissed his class without a lecture, saying “C’est assez, messieurs, vous avez vu Charles Bell.” During his professorship he published the Institutes of Surgery, arranged in the order of the lectures delivered in the university of Edinburgh (1838); and in 1841 he wrote a volume of Practical Essays, two of which, “On Squinting,” and “On the action of purgatives,” are of great value. He died at Hallow Park near Worcester on the 28th of April 1842.

BELL, GEORGE JOSEPH (1770-1843), Scottish jurist, was born at Edinburgh on the 20th of March 1770. He was an elder brother of Sir Charles Bell. At the age of eight he entered the high school, but he received no university education further than attending the lectures of A. F. Tytler, Dugald Stewart and Hume. He became a member of the Faculty of Advocates in 1791, and was one of the earliest and most attached friends of Francis Jeffrey. In 1804 he published a Treatise on the Law of Bankruptcy in Scotland, which he subsequently enlarged and published in 1826 under the title of Commentaries on the Law of Scotland and on the principles of Mercantile Jurisprudence— an institutional work of the very highest excellence, which has had its value acknowledged by such eminent jurists as Joseph Story and James Kent. In 1821 Bell was elected professor of the law of Scotland in the university of Edinburgh; and in 1831 he was appointed to one of the principal clerkships in the supreme court. He was placed at the head of a commission in 1833 to inquire into the Scottish bankruptcy law; and in consequence of the reports of the commissioners, chiefly drawn up by himself, many beneficial alterations were made. He died on the 23rd of September 1843. Bell’s smaller treatise, Principles of the Law of Scotland, became a standard text-book for law students. The Illustrations of the Principles is also a work of high value.

BELL, HENRY (1767-1830), Scottish engineer, was born at Torphichen, Linlithgowshire, in 1767. Having received the ordinary education of a parish school, he was apprenticed to his uncle, a millwright, and, after qualifying himself as a ship-modeller at Bo’ness, went to London, where he found employment under John Rennie, the celebrated engineer. Returning to Scotland in 1790, he first settled as a carpenter at Glasgow and afterwards removed to Helensburgh, on the Firth of Clyde where he pursued his mechanical projects, and also found occasional employment as an engineer. In January 1812 he placed on the Clyde a steamboat (which he named the “Comet”) of about 25 tons, propelled by an engine of three horse power, at a speed of 7 m. an hour. Although the honour of priority is admitted to belong to the American engineer Robert Fulton, there appears to be no doubt that Fulton had received very material assistance in the construction of his vessel from Bell and others in Great Britain. A handsome sum was raised for Bell by subscription among the citizens of Glasgow; and he also received from the trustees of the river Clyde a pension of £100 a year. He died at Helensburgh on the 14th of November 1830. A monument to his memory stands on the banks of the Clyde, at Dunglass, near Bowling.

BELL, HENRY GLASSFORD (1803-1874), a Scottish lawyer and man of letters, was born at Glasgow on the 8th of November 1803. He received his education at the Glasgow high school and at Edinburgh University. He became intimate with “Delta” Moir, James Hogg, John Wilson (Christopher North), and others of the brilliant staff of Blackwood’s Magazine, to which he was drawn by his political sympathies. In 1828 he became editor of the Edinburgh Literary Journal, which was eventually incorporated in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle. He was admitted