Geboren im November 1774 zu Doune in Monteith (Schottland), gestorben am 27. April 1842 zu Hallow Park bei Worcester. In Edinburg hatte er studiert, und wurde dort Chirurg. Von 1806 ist er in London, wo er sich bald mit dem Problem der Funktion der Rückenmarkswurzeln beschäftigt. Darüber berichtet er in den untenstehenden Briefen an seinen Bruder G. J. Bell. Das Jahr 1811 ist das Geburtsjahr des kleinen (36 Seiten, kl.80) Schriftchens von Charles Bell, betitelt: Idea of a new anatomy of the brain submitted for the observations of his friends, das als Privatdruck in 100 Exemplaren an einen auserwählten Freundeskreis verteilt wurde. In einem Exemplar hat es sich erhalten. Von mir mit Originaltext und Übersetzung (Leipzig 1911) neu herausgegeben und zum ersten Mal übersetzt. 1812 wurde Bell Leiter einer klinischen Schule und 1828 Professor der Chirurgie an der Universität in London. 1836 kehrte er an die Heimatuniversität Edinburg zurück, wo er bis zu seinem Tode blieb. Bereits 1821 hatte Bell den prophetischen Ausspruch getan, daß die »Idee« »will here after put me beside Harvey«, und in der Folge standen Magendie (1822) und Johannes Müller (1824–31) nicht nur in der Entdeckung des Grundsatzes aller Rückenmarksphysiologie, sondern auch in der Frage des Gesetzes der spezifischen Energie der Sinnesnerven auf den Schultern von Charles Bell.
An G. Jos. Bell:
26th Nov. 1807. – I have done a more interesting Nova Anatomia Cerebri than it is possible to conceive. I lectured it yesterday. I prosecuted it last night till one o'clock. And I am sure that it will be well received.
31st Nov. 1807. – My surgical books and lectures you will soon see eclipsed by my character as an anatomist and physiologist. I really think this new view of the Anatomy of the Brain will strike more than the discovery of the lymphatics being absorbents.
Dec. 5th, 1807. – My New Anatomy of the Brain occupies my head almost entirely. I hinted to you that I was ›burning‹, or, on the eve of a grand discovery. I consider the organs of the outward senses as forming a distinct class of nerves from the others. I take five tubercles within the brain as the internal senses. I trace the nerves of the nose, eye, ear, and tongue to these. Here I see established connection – there the great mass of the brain receives processes from the central tubercles. Again, the great masses of the cerebrum send down processes or crura, which, give off all the common nerves of voluntary motion, etc. I establish thus a kind of circulation, as it were. In this inquiry I describe many new connections – the whole opens up a new and simple light, and the whole accords with the phenomena, with the pathology, and is supported by interesting views. My object is not to publish this, but to lecture it, to lecture it to my friends, to lecture it to Sir Joseph Banks' cotery of old women, to make the town ring with it, as it is really the only new thing that hat appeared in anatomy since the days of Hunter; and, if I make it out, as interesting as the circulation, or the doctrine of absorption. But I must still have time: now is the end of a week and I will be at it again.
2d March, 1810. – I write to tell you that I am going to establish my Anatomy of the Brain on facts the most important that have been discovered in the history of the science.
You recollect that I have entertained the idea that the parts of the Brain were distinct in function; and that the cerebrum was in a particular manner the organ of mind; and this from other circumstances than what I am now to detail to you.
It occured to me that, as there were four grand divisions of the Brain so were there four divisions of the spinal marrow: first, a lateral division, then a division into the back and forepart. Next, it occured to me that all the spinal nerves had within the sheath of the spinal marrow two roots, one from the back part, another from before. Whenever this occured to me I thought that I had obtained a method of inquiring into the functions of the parts of the Brain.
Exp. 1. I opened the spine, and pricked and injured the posterior filaments of the nerves; no motion of the muscles followed. I then touched the anterior division, immediately the parts were convulsed.
Exp. 2. I now destroyed the posterior part of the spinal marrow by the point of a needle, no convulsive movement followed. I injured the anterior part and the animal was convulsed.
It is almost superfluous to say that the part of the spinal marrow having sensibility is what comes from the cerebrum; the posterior and insensible part belongs to the cerebellum.
Taking these facts as they stand, is it not most curious that there should be thus established a distinction in the parts of a nerve, and that a nerve should be insensible? But then, as the foundation of a great system, if I can but sustain them by repeated experiments, I am made; and a real gratification ensured for a large portion of my existence.