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Sir Charles Bell


1774 - 1842

Anatomist and surgeon. Born in Edinburgh, the son of a clergyman, Bell was educated at the High School there before entering the University of Edinburgh to study anatomy and medicine. He published the well-received A System of Dissections in 1798 while still a student. In 1802, he published a series of fine anatomical drawings, gaining a reputation as an exceptional medical illustrator.

In 1804, Bell moved to London, where he worked for the next thirty years. His expertise led Bell to produce his Essays on the Anatomy of Expression in Painting (1806) which trained artists in the importance of anatomy to accurately portraying the human form.

A pioneer in neurology, Bell was able to distinguish between motor and sensory function in the nerves of the spine and determined that nerves were routed to specific functional regions of the brain. He identified the exterior respiratory nerve (known as Bell's Nerve), described the function of facial nerves and discovered the nervous basis for the facial paralysis known as Bell's Palsy.

In 1809, Bell went to the Haslar Hospital (Portsmouth) to study the wounded brought from the Battle of Corunna in Spain. He also tended the wounded after Waterloo (1815), taking charge of a hospital in Brussels. As a result of these experiences, Bell produced a famous series of oil paintings recording some of the wounds and these now hang in the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh.

Bell briefly took charge of the Medical Department of the newly founded University College London, and later worked with one of its founders, Henry Brougham (1778 - 1868) on an edition of Paleys Natural Theology. In 1830, Bell published The Nervous System of the Human Body and was knighted in the same year.

Bell returned to Scotland in 1836 to take up the Chair of Surgery at the University of Edinburgh. He died at Hallow Park (near Worcester, England). The surgeon Dr. Joseph Bell (1837 - 1911) was a remote relation.


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