BELL, JOHN. Observations on Italy. Edinburgh: William Blackwood, and London: T. Cadell, 1825.
John Bell (1763-1820), notable surgical anatomist who was born and practiced in Edinburgh, Scotland, is considered, along with Desault and John Hunter, to be a founder of the modern surgery of the vascular system. A man of compassion, Bell made many enemies because he was outspoken about the unnecessary pain and suffering inflicted by incompetent surgeons practicing in Scotland. He blamed the medical education system for failing to adequately train practicing surgeons. Running a private school of anatomy in Edinburgh for a time, he also wrote several books, his most notable being Principles of Surgery. A skillful writer, Bell's works are characterized by their thoroughness: historical methods of treatment are reviewed, the surgical knowledge of the day is discussed, and an abundance of clinical descriptions are included. Bell was also a talented artist, and was one of the few medical men who illustrated his own works. As John Comrie states in his History of Scottish Medicine, Bell's aim was "not so much in correctness but in utility to the operating surgeon." Comrie adds that "it is no exaggeration to say that he founded the subject of Surgical Anatomy."
John Bell went to Italy in 1817 to recover from the effects of falling from a horse. As was his habit, Bell made thorough notes of his impressions. Making no mention of his ailment, or of the political upheaval brewing in Italy at the time, Bell confines his commentaries to scenes, buildings, paintings, and statues. While Bell is favorably impressed with buildings, his trained eye prevents him from being as favorable toward paintings and statues. He says of Michelangelo's Moses: "the largeness of the limbs and the length of the body hardly correspond with the size of the head" (page 386). Never regaining his health, Bell died in Rome in 1820. His wife, Rosine, who accompanied her husband, arranged his notes and had Observations on Italy published posthumously in 1825. Of the nine engraved illustrations included in the book, at least two are from Bell's own drawings.
John Bell, who pioneered the subject of surgical anatomy, said of Michelangelo's Moses: "the largeness of the limbs and the length of the body hardly correspond with the size of the head."