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Significant Scots
Benjamin Bell


BELL, BENJAMIN, a distinguished surgical author, was born in Dumfries in 1749. He received an excellent classical education at the grammar-school of that town, under Dr Chapman, the rector. The property of Blackett House, in Dumfriesshire, having devolved to him on the death of his grandfather, he gave a remarkable instance of generosity by disposing of it, and applying the proceeds in educating himself and the younger branches of the family, fourteen in number.

Mr Bell had early made choice of medicine as a profession, and accordingly he was bound apprentice to Mr Hill, surgeon in Dumfries, whose practice was in that quarter very extensive. It was a distinguishing feature in Mr Bell’s character, that whatever he had once engaged in was prosecuted with extreme ardour and assiduity. He therefore went through the drudgery and fatigue necessarily connected with the detail of a surgeon apothecary’s shop, with the greatest spirit. He, by degrees, materially assisted his master, by attending his patients; to whom his correct behaviour, unfailing good humour, and agreeable manners recommended him in the most powerful manner. He repaired to Edinburgh in 1766, entered himself as a member of the university, and set himself, with the most serious application, to the prosecution of his medical studies. The Edinburgh medical school had just sprung into notice, and was beginning to make very rapid strides to its present eminence. The first and second Monro had already given evident tokens of the most distinguished genius. The first had now relinquished, in favour of his equally skilful son, the business of the anatomical theatre, and only occasionally delivered clinical lectures in the infirmary. Mr Bell’s ardour in the study of anatomy, in all its branches, was unabated. As he proposed to practise surgery, he was well aware that eminence in that department of the profession could only be arrived at by persevering industry. He was appointed house-surgeon to the royal infirmary, which afforded him every opportunity of improvement. It was here that he laid the foundation of that superior adroitness and dexterity which so peculiarly characterized him in the many hazardous but successful operations which he was called to perform.

Though Mr Bell was more particularly designed for the profession of a surgeon, there was no department of medicine neglected by him. Dr Black, whose discoveries formed a new era in the science of chemistry, had been removed from Glasgow to Edinburgh during the year in which Mr Bell entered the university. His lectures and experiments proved generally attractive, and powerfully interested the mind of Mr Bell. Dr Cullen was professor of the Institutes of Medicine, and his original genius excited the greatest ardour amongst the students. The practice of medicine was taught by Dr John Gregory, and Botany by Dr John Hope. These were the professors whom Mr Bell attended, and it must be confessed, that they were men of distinguished talents, whose lectures no diligent student could listen to without deriving very great advantage.

Mr Bell had resolved, in 1770, to visit Paris and London, the two great schools for surgical practice. Before doing so, however, he passed the examinations at Surgeon’s Hall, and was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, Edinburgh. In those great cities he remained nearly two years, assiduously improving himself in surgery. Returning to his native country in 1772, he commenced business in Edinburgh. Few came better prepared than he did for the practice of surgery. His education was liberal and extensive. His appearance was much in his favour. His address was good, his manner composed and sedate. Mr Bell had early formed the plan of composing a system of surgery, and this he at last accomplished. He did not publish the whole work at once; but in the year 1778, about six years after he had finally settled in Edinburgh, and become established in practice, the first volume was given to the world. The remaining volumes appeared from time to time until the work was completed in six volumes 8vo. in 1788. In 1793, appeared his "Treatise on Gonorrhea," and in 1794, another "Treatise on Hydrocele," which is understood to be the least popular of his works.

Mr Bell married, in 1776, Miss Hamilton, daughter of Dr Robert Hamilton, professor of divinity in the University of Edinburgh, by whom he had a numerous family. He died, April 4, 1806.


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