From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Sir Charles Bell (November 1774, in Doun in Monteath, Edinburgh - April 28, 1842, in North Hallow, Worcestershire) was a Scottish anatomist, surgeon, physiologist and natural theologian. He was the younger brother of John Bell (1763-1820), also a noted surgeon and writer. He is the author of Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting (1806).
Bell lived and studied in Edinburgh, where he got his medical degree in 1799. He and his brother had extraordinary drawing talents, and together they taught anatomy and illustrated and published two volumes of A System of Dissection Explaining the Anatomy of the Human Body.
Soon after his graduation he was admitted to the Royal College of Surgeons, where he operated and taught anatomy. He and his brother published two additional volumes of their anatomical treatise in 1802 and 1804. His success, however, led to jealous opposition of local physicians, and he was barred from practice at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He then moved to London in 1804, where he held a private surgery and school of anatomy. From 1812 to 1825, he ran, with his brother, the Great Windmill Street School of Anatomy, which had been founded by the great anatomist William Hunter (1718-1783). He also served as a military surgeon and famously documented his experiences at Waterloo in words and drawings. In 1835 he was instrumental in the creation of the Middlesex Hospital Medical School, and became, in 1824, the first professor of anatomy and surgery of the College of Surgeons in London. In 1829, the Windmill Street School of Anatomy was incorporated to the new King's College London. Bell was invited to be its first professor of physiology, but resigned shortly afterwards.
Bestowed with honors and national and international recognition (he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1826, was knighted in 1831 and was elected a foreign member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in 1841), Bell wished to return to Scotland. So, in 1836 he accepted the position of professor of surgery at the University of Edinburgh. He died in his homeland six years later, in 1842.
Charles Bell was a prolific researcher and author. He first published detailed studies of the nervous system and brain in 1811, in his book An Idea of a New Anatomy of the Brain. He described his experiments with animals and how he was the first to distinguish between sensory and motor nerves. This book is considered by many the founding stone of clinical neurology.
He was one of the first physicians to combine the scientific study of neuroanatomy with clinical practice. He described in 1821 the trajectory of the facial nerve and a disease which led to the unilateral palsy (paralysis) of facial muscles, in one of the classics of neurology, a paper to the Royal Society entitled On the Nerves: Giving an Account of some Experiments on Their Structure an Functions, Which Lead to a New Arrangement of the System.
He also combined his many artistic, scientific, literary and teaching talents in a number of wax preparations and detailed anatomical and surgical illustrations, paintings and engravings in his several books on these subjects, such as in his beautiful book Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy (1821). He wrote also the first treatise on notions of anatomy and physiology of facial expression for painters and illustrators, titled Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting (1806). In 1833 he published the fourth Bridgewater Treatise, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design.
A number of discoveries received his name:
- Bell's (external respiratory) nerve: The [long thoracic nerve.
- Bell's palsy: a unilateral idiopathic paralysis of facial muscles due to a lesion of the facial nerve.
- Bell's phenomenon: An upward movement of the eye and the eyelid which occurs when a person affected with Bell's paralysis tries to close the eye.
- Bell's spasm: Involuntary twitching of the facial muscles.
- Bell-Magendie law or Bell's Law: States that the anterior branch of spinal nerve roots contain only motor fibers and the posterior roots contain only sensory fibers.