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At a stated meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, held Febmary 13, 
1862, after the announcement of the death of Dr. Luther V Bell, and remarks 
by Rev. Dr. Ellis and Hon. Ricuaed FaoTnuiOHAM, the following Resolution 
was unanimously adopted: — 

Besolvedj That the Massachusetts Historical Society have learned with deep 
regret the death of their esteemed and respected associate, Hon. Luther V Bell, 
while serving in the medical staff of the army of the United States ; and that Rev. 
George E. Elus, D.D., be requested to prepare the customary Memoir. 


Jteeording Seerelmy. 




Luther V Bell came of an honored parentage and a worthy 
ancestry. His immediate family, their kindred and associates, 
through several generations, were of a stock, which, while 
winning the bread of life by labor on the soil, contributes to 
society the healthful dnd vigorous element for all intellectual, 
professional, and public services. His ancestor in this country 
was John Bell, who was born in Ireland in 1678. The family 
were of the designation known among us as the." Scotch- 
Irish." They belonged to a colony which had migrated about 
the year 1612 from Argyleshire, in Scotland, to the city and 
neighborhood of Londonderry, the capital of the county of 
that name in the province of Ulster. The city was of ancient 
origin ; and, after having suffered almost to its destruction in 
the early distractions and revolutions of the country, it had 
been rebuilt by a company of adventurers from London, in 
the reign of James L, who prefixed the name of their own 
capital to the original Derry. The emigration of Scotch Pro- 
testants to that locality had been encouraged by the liberal 
offer of land, extending over nearly the whole of the six 
northern counties, made by James I. to invite settlers, after 
the suppression of the Roman-Catholic rebellion in those 
regions. The natural animosity which sprang up between 
the new-comers and the old proprietors, led, thirty years 
after the emigration, to the rebellion in the reign of Charles I. 


An addition was made, near, the close of the seventeenth 
century, to the Scotch colony in Ireland, by families who 
sought refuge from the sword of Claverhouse, and whose de- 
scendants united with those of the earlier emigrants in seek- 
ing a new home in our land. During the time of Cromwell, 
the colony enjoyed a temporary prosperity ; but the memora- 
ble " siege of Derry," in 1688 and 1689, has given to history 
one of the most heroic of its records, as an episode in the 
fearful strife which followed. Some of those with whom 
John Bell was associated in the emigration to this country had 
taken part in the defence of the city. So highly did King 
and Parliament appreciate their prowess, as to pass an act, 
exempting from taxation, throughout the British dominions, 
all who had, during the siege, borne arms in the city. The 
settlers in the New-Hampshire Londonderry shared the 
benefit of that act down to our own war of Independence, 
their farms being known as " exempt farms." * 

To secure for themselves, as Presbyterians, fuller civil and 
religious privileges than they enjoyed under English mo- 
narchical and Episcopal rule in Ireland, the thoughts of 
several comparatively thriving families in the North of Ire- 
land were turned towards this country. The arrangements 
for effecting their purpose were made early in 1718 by an 
agent whom they sent to Governor Shute, of Massachusetts ; 
and we find the settlement in progress in Londonderry, N.H., 
in 1719. 

John Bell, the great-grandfather of the subject of this 
Memoir, followed in the second company of emigrants. His 
name is found in a record of the distribution of lands, dated 
in 1720; which is supposed to have been the year of his 
arrival. Other lands were allotted to him in 1722 and after- 
wards. He was born in Ballymony, near Coleraine. He 
brought with him his wife (Elizabeth Todd) and children, 

* See History of Londonderry, N.H., by Rev. Edward L. Parker. Boston, 1851. 


and the means of making what was then regarded a com- 
fortable start for existence in a wilderness. He shared 
with his townsmen the responsibilities of trust and office in 
the settlement ; and died July 18, 1743, aged sixty-four years. 
His name descended to his youngest child, John Bell, born 
in Londonderry, Aug. 15, 1730. In this American scion of an 
Old-World stock were found the qualities needed for the 
stirring times in which he was himself to live, and for trans- 
mission to a posterity, which, like his own, has been called to 
service in the loftiest and most arduous tasks for the public. 
He was the father of two governors. He received the com- 
mon education of the place and time, — the training of the 
home, the school, the church, and the circumstances of a 
frontier life. He lived on the homestead as a farmer ; and 
married, Dec. 21, 1758, Mary Ann Gilmore, of the same 
Scotch-Irish stock as himself. At the age of forty-five, and 
then the parent of eight children, he found the Revolution 
opening upon him, and calling on him for service which he 
was ready to pay. With a strong, muscular frame, exceeding 
six feet in stature, and a stentorian voice, having been for 
twenty years the champion of the village wrestling-ring, he 
would still, notwithstanding his age and numerous family, 
have entered the ranks, had he not been needed in civil office. 
He was town-clerk, and a member of the Committee of Safety, 
when he was elected a member of the Provincial Congress 
which met at Exeter, Dec. 21, 1775 ; a body which, the next 
year, necessarily assumed the functions of independent go- 
vernment. He was frequently re-elected to the same repre- 
sentation. In 1776, he was appointed a muster-master; and, 
in 1780, colonel of the eighth regiment of militia. Prom 178j6 
to 1791, he was a senator under the new Constitution of the 
State. Besides being a Special Justice of the Court of 
Common Pleas, he, of course, bore the various trusts of 
moderator, selectman, justice of the peace, elder of the 
church, guardian and administrator. His fourth son, John, 


bom July 20, 1765, engaged in trade ; represented London- 
derry in the Legislature ; removed to Chester, where he spent 
the remainder of his life; and was successively senator, 
councillor, SheriflF of Rockingham County, and Governor of 
the State in 1828. He died in March, 1836. He was one 
of a family of twelve children, only three of whom outlived 
their parents. The mother died in 1822, aged eighty-six; the 
father, in 1825, aged ninety-five. The fifth son of John 
Bell, 2d, — Samuel, the father of our present subject, — 
was born Feb. 9, 1770 ; sharing a common-school education in 
the winter, and the labors of his father's farm in the summer. 
His strong entreaties and his own efforts obtained for him 
the privilege of a college course. He graduated at Dart- 
mouth in 1793 ; studied law with the Hon. Samuel Dana, of 
Amherst, N.H. ; and was admitted to the bar in 1796, rising 
at once to distinction. He married in November, 1797, 
Mehitable Bowen Dana, daughter of his law-tutor. She died 
in August, 1810 ; leaving four sons and two daughters. He 
practised law at Prancestown and at Amherst. Samuel Belh 
besides being appointed Attorney-General of the State (which 
office he declined), was successively a member and speaker 
of the House of Representatives, a member and president of 
the Senate, and one of the five Executive Councillors. A 
temporary release from public duties being necessary on 
account of declining health, he regained his vigor by spend- 
ing portions of several years in excursions on horseback. 
He was appointed an Associate Justice of the Superior Court 
on the re-organization of the State Judiciary in 1816, and 
discharged his duties with eminent ability till his election as 
Chief Magistrate of the State in 1819. He served as Gov- 
ernor four years, and then decKned re-election. In 1822, 
and again in 1828, Governor Bell was chosen to the Senate of 
the United States, and retired from public life in 1835. He 
had married a second time, in 1826, Lucy Smith, daughter of 
Jonathan Smith, Esq., of Amherst, and niece of his first wife ; 


and died at the farm in Chester, to which he had retired, 
Dec. 23, 1850, in his eighty-first year. He received the 
degree of LL.D. from Bowdoin College in 1821. 

Samuel Dana Bell, the eldest son of Governor Samuel Bell, 
and a graduate of Harvard College in 1816, is now Chief 
Justice of the State of New Hampshire. 

John Bell, second son of the Governor, graduated at Union 
College in 1818, pursued the study of medicine in Boston 
and Paris, and attended medical lectures at Harvard and 
Bowdoin Colleges, from the latter of which he received the 
degree of M.D. in 1823. In that year he commenced the 
practice of his profession in New York ; and, during the two 
years of his residence there, became one of the editors of 
"The Medical and Physical Journal." He was appointed 
Professor of Anatomy and Physiology in the University of 
Vermont ; but a disease of the lungs compelled him to seek a 
change of climate. After a temporary residence in Natchez, 
Miss., he removed to Louisiana ; where he died in 1830, at 
the age of thirty. 

Of two daughters of Governor Bell, the youngest died in 
infancy. The other, Mary Ann, married John Nesmith, Esq., 
afterwards Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts. 

James, the third son of Governor Bell, graduated at Bow- 
doin College in 1822, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 
1825, practised his profession in Exeter, was a senator of the 
United States, and died in 1857, aged fifty-three. 

Governor Bell left four sons by his second wife. The 
youngest member of the family of his first wife, whose 
virtues and honors we have thus briefly recorded, was 
Luther V Bell, the subject of this Memoir.* 

* In the commemoratiye tribute offered by the writer at the funeral of Dr. Bell in 
St. John's Church, Charlestown, Feb. 17, 1862, I spoke of him as Luther Virgil 
Bell ; haymg been informed by a cousin of his that such was his name in full. His 
brother, Chief-Justice Bell, writes me, "Until I heard your eulogy of him, I had 
never heard him so called. Fhad been to us all a Utter only.** I have since been told 
by an intimate friend of Dr. Bell, that he once pleasantly affirmed that the Fdid not 


He was born in Prancestown, Hillsborough County, N.H., 
Dec. 20, 1806. The family was broken up by the death of 
his mother in August, 1810. The father moved to Chester, 
N.H., near the close of 1812. The two youngest sons, James 
and Luther, had been placed under the care of their grand- 
parents in the native place of the father, Londonderry (now 
Derry) ; which was regarded as the home of the family until 
the removal of Governor Bell to Chester. Luther was fitted 
for college at the academies in Atkinson and Derry. His 
surviving brother writes to me, "He was a lovely boy, — 
kind-hearted, affectionate, generous, unselfish, eminently 
sincere and truthful, quick to learn, and of a very ready, 
retentive, and suggestive memory; and these traits have 
seemed to my partial eyes to mark his character through life, 
while years had developed in him great good sense and a 
sound judgment.'' 

He entered Bowdoin College in 1819 under a disadvantage 
of youth, still lacking some months of thirteen years of age. 
Among his classmates were Governor Crosby and Senator 
Fessenden. Among his associates and intimate friends in 
contemporaneous classes were Hon. Franklin Pierce, now Ex- 
President of the United States, who, one year the junior in 
standing of young Bell, was also his chum ; Prof Stowe, of 
Andover; Nathaniel Hawthorne, the novelist; and Long- 
fellow, the poet. The reverend President of Bowdoin informs 
me, that " the only entry which he finda against young Bell 
in the records of the college, during a period noted for dissi- 
pation, is a charge of twenty-five cents for playing at bowls 
in study-hours." Probably the slender student was perfectly 
willing to make that contribution to the college-funds for the 

represent any word, but that, when quite a lad, he adopted it from a boyish fancy, 
'* that he might show as many initials in his signature as other boys.** For particulars 
relating to the genealogy of the Bell Family, I am indebted to the *' History of London- 
derry;** to "Sketches of Alumni of Dartmouth College,** in the "New-Hampshire 
Repository,** vol. i. ; and to letters from Chief-Justice Bell, and J. M. Pinkerton, Esq., 
of Boston, brother-in-law of Dr. Bell. 


sake of the benefit which his chest derived from the exercise ; 
doubtless a full equivalent, especially if, as is altogether 
likely, he had a classmate to set up the pins. The mothers 
of Bell and Pierce were cousins, and their fathers had been 
close friends till the sharply drawn lines of political parties in 
1828 disturbed many personal relations. There is a pleasant 
reminiscence, so honorably fragrant of college friendship, and 
so characteristic of the manliness and magnanimity of our 
subject, that it deserves mention, though by anticipation, 
here. Dr. Bell was known in this neighborhood as a very 
earnest Whig. As such, he was a delegate from the Mid- 
dlesex District to the Convention at Baltimore in the exciting 
Presidential campaign of 1852 ; the Convention which, to the 
grievous disappointment of himself as of so many others, 
failed to nominate Daniel Webster, though it received their 
loyal acquiescence in its choice of General Scott. At a 
subsequent " ratification meeting " in Faneuil Hall, Dr. Bell 
appeared, with other delegates, as a speaker. General Pierce 
was at that time the candidate of the Democratic party ; and 
in a campaign Memoir of him, just put in circulation, the 
friendly relations between him and Dr. Bell had been referred 
to, while the usual defamatory representations had been made 
on the opposing side to the extent of blackening his character 
as a man and a soldier. Dr. Bell had expressed his intention 
of vindicating his old chum from such slanders, in his pro- 
posed speech. In spite of the remonstrance of a partisan, 
that it was " enough for each side to praise its own men," he 
fulfilled his own generous purpose, and paid " a warm and 
earnest tribute to the generosity, magnanimity, and courage 
of his character from his youth upwards, which drew down 
the applause of the vast assemblage, — Whigs, Democrats, 
and Pree-soilers." * 

* From an excellent Memoir of Dr. Lather V Bell which appeared in the Ameri- 
can Journal of Insanity in October, 1854, daring the lifetime of the sabject. (Utica, 



To go back from this anticipation of an event in Dr. BelPs 
later life to the college relations of his youth. He graduated 
in 1823. He at once commenced the study of medicine with 
his brother John, then in New York ; afterwards attended 
medical lectures at Hanover; and received his professional 
degree, Sept. 26, 1826, before he was twenty years of age. 
He returned to New York ; and, while seeking for occupation 
in his chosen profession as soon as he should pass his matu- 
rity, he engaged temporarily in mercantile business in con- 
nection with his brother-in-law, Mr. Nesmith. Mrs. Nesmith, 
being, like so many of the family, a victim of pulmonary dis- 
ease, was advised to undertake a sea-voyage. Her brother 
Luther accompanied her to St. Augustine, Fla., where her life 
closed. On his return, he yielded to the solicitations of his 
friends that he should pursue the practice of his profession in 
the neighborhood of his early home. He commenced that 
service at Derry in 1831, and continued in it till called to the 
charge of the M'Lean Asylum in 1837. He married, Sept. 1, 
1834, Frances Clark Pinkerton, daughter of James Pinkerton, 
Esq., of Derry. 

During the six years of his professional service in New 
Hampshire he won esteem and obtained eminence for his 
devotion, fidelity, and skill; for that afiectionate sympathy 
with sufferers which was so conspicuous a trait and so 
felicitous a qualification in his subsequent career of arduous 
labor ; and for that earnest spirit of investigation and philo- 
sophic research which made him a genius in his chosen 

The recent death of his brother, Dr. John Bell, and of his 
only sister, Mrs. Nesmith, had so reduced the family circle, as 
to make it doubly grateful to him and to his kindred that he 
could be near his surviving parent. The change of the habits 
and facilities of professional life to which he had been addict- 
ing himself, in our largest capital, to the exigencies of his 
new position as a "country doctor," must have been fully 


realized by him ; but his principles and qualities of character 
would bring him into easy conformity with the necessities of 
ihe case. His long rides over hilly highways and by-roads, in 
heat and cold and storm, by night and day, might balance 
their effects of danger or benefit on his constitutional tenden- 
cies. The sparsity and distance of professional brethren, 
whose counsel he might seek in cases of perplexity, would 
throw him more confidently on his own resources. As an 
agricultural population has its full share of fractures, maim- 
ings, dislocations, and other inflictions requiring surgical skill, 
the country doctor must be equally competent for the two 
chief branches of his profession, which in a city may engage 
the peculiar talent of two classes of practitioners. A signal 
instance of Dr. BelPs skill, and fertility of resource, is kept in 
vivid remembrance where it was exhibited. The scene was a 
country farm-house, several miles from his own home, and 
twenty miles from Lowell, — the nearest place at which the 
proper requisites for the occasion could have been obtained. 
The patient was a corpulent, elderly, and intemperate farmer, 
whose lower limb required amputation, having been crushed 
in a rocky rut by a heavy load passing over it. The first 
re-action of the system had taken place ; the delay of a few 
hours would be fatal : at once, or never, was the condition of 
the operation. The reputation of the young doctor and the 
life of the old patient were both at stake, however differently 
their value might have been estimated. Dr. Bell, witlfout a 
moment to lose, extemporized his instruments from the scanty 
resources of the farm-house. The patient's old razor well 
strapped, an antique tenon-saw freshly filed, and a darning- 
needle, with the temper taken out of it to admit of its being 
bent, as a tenaculum, served for the emergency. An inexpe- 
rienced assistant had the place for his pressure on the artery ^ 
indicated by a stain which the doctor had made with ink on 
the groin. The patient, thus beautifully dealt by, lived many 
years ; and the last report of him was as a working bricklayer. 


topping out a tall chimney, supported by a wooden leg carved 
out for him by the skill of the hand which had relieved him 
of his damaged member. 

In the year 1834, Dr. Bell was a successful competitor for 
the Boylston Medical Prize. His dissertation examined and 
opposed the theory of vegetarian diet, as revived under the 
advocacy of Dr. Sylvester Graham ; and argued that a far 
more substantial nutriment was adapted to the New-England 

In the year following, he wrote a dissertation on the " Ex- 
ternal Exploration of Diseases," with principal reference to 
the modern diagnosis of diseases of the chest. It was pub- 
lished by the Massachusetts Medical Society, and occupies a 
portion of the ninth volume of the Library of Practical Medi- 
cine. Dr. BelPs third contribution to the literature of his pro- 
fession was " An Attempt to investigate some Obscure and 
Undecided Doctrines in Relation to Small-pox and Varioliform 
Diseases." This essay will always be historically valuable. 
Its interest comes from its relation of experience gathered 
under peculiar local circumstances. Variolous diseases, rava- 
ging regions unprotected by inoculation, caused an intense 
panic over the wide neighborhood in which Dr. Bell had 
become known. He relates some very curious particulars of 
a sporadic case, as well as of infected and epidemic places 
and conditions. 

The attention of many public-spirited and philanthropic 
persons in his native State had been turned most earnestly to 
the demand for some public provision for the insane; and 
Governor Dinsmoor, in his message, June, 1832, had intro- 
duced the subject ; as did also Governor Badger in 1834, and 
Governor Hill in 1836. The institution then in such success- 
ful working in Worcester, Mass., with the wide dissemination 
of the frightful sufferings and abuses which the preliminary 
efforts for its establishment had exposed, engaged a like zeal 
in our border Commonwealth. General Peaslee, Hon. Frank- 


lin Pierce, Samuel E. Coues, Charles J. Fox, and others, were 
the devoted champions of this cause. They encountered 
much popular indilBFerence, and even opposition ; in part to be 
accounted to actual ignorance of the extent and misery of 
that class of maladies whose victims were hidden away or 
treated as only the evil spirits, who were once believed to 
possess them, might righteously be dealt by. But the arts of 
demagogues and of croakers, who foreboded intolerable public 
burdens from " fancy-philanthropy," were also used with great 
success to withstand for a long time, and greatly to embarrass, 
the generous eflforts of the humane. Dr. Bell, engaging with 
all his heart in these eflforts, allowed himself to be sent as the 
representative of his town to the General Court, for the sole 
and simple purpose of furthering the object. He was placed 
on a Special Committee to report on the subject of the number 
and condition of the insane in the State, and the means of 
providing for them. The report, which, by particular request, 
was drawn up by him, was printed for distribution by the 
Legislature, and reprinted in the Journals of both Houses. 
He proposed the establishment of an institution, the cost of 
which terrified the representatives of the people, as involving 
an immediate outlay equal to half the annual expenses of the 
State Government. The General Court transferred the de- 
cision of the great question to a popular vote by the constitu- 
ency.* Dr. Bell most laboriously followed up the advocacy of 
his project by writing a series of articles in the leading 
papers, and by delivering public addresses in various places. 
Circulars were addressed to proper persons in every town and 
village in the State, for the sake of obtaining accurate and 
exhaustive statistics and accounts of every existing case of 

* The question to be voted on was, **Is it expedient for the State to grant an 
appropriation to build an Insane Hospital? " — See " Reports of the Board of Visitors, 
&c., of the New-Hampshire Asylum for the Insane, June Session, 1862," for a detailed 
account of the persistency and the obstinacy of the respective parties in the legislation 
for this establishment. Less than one-half of the legal voters cast ballots, and these 
were about equally divided on the proposition. 


insanity ; an eminently noble and satisfactory enterprise, in a 
State then containing 300,000 widely distributed inhabitants. 
A final and full reward was realized, after six years of agita- 
tion, in the establishment of the New-Hampshire Asylum for 
the Insane in 1838 ; the edifice being erected in Concord in 

The published essays of Dr. Bell had given him fame, and 
his devoted labors in the cause just recognized had drawn 
attention to him as qualified for a special service. It was 
while he was attending a second session of his membership in 
the Legislature,* that, without any agency of his own, and 
quite to his own surprise, he was invited to become the Super- 
intendent of the McLean Asylum for the Insane, then in that 
part of Charlestown which has since been set off" as Somer- 
ville. This institution was, and is, a branch of the Massa- 
chusetts General Hospital. It was Dr. BelPs peculiar felicity, 
in assuming his most arduous trust, that he received his 
appointment to it, and all along obtained the most generous, 
cordial, and intelligent co-operation, from that select body of 
high-minded, highly cultivated men who administer this noble 
agency of benevolence. As the parent institution has had its 
treasury enriched by the lavish bequests of the merchant 
princes and the munificent Christian women of Boston, and its 

* When expressing to the writer, in grateful terms, his high appreciation of his 
membership of the Massachusetts Historical Society, at the time of his election, Dr. 
Bell remarked, in a humorous way, that he might venture to compare claims with some 
fellow-members on the score that he had once been instrumental in saying from de- 
struction a large mass of public documents of value of the State of New Hampshire. 
I cannot recall, if he then specified them, the particulars of this good service. It was 
doubtless performed while he was in the Legislature. The Hon. W. H. Y. Hackett, 
President of the New-Hampshire Historical Society, has kindly aided me in an attempt 
to discover the facts of the case by sending me a series of extracts from the Legislative 
Records. It appears from these, that Governor Hill, in his message of Nov. 28, 1886, 
called attention to the scattered, exposed, and imperfect files of the State documents ; that 
^he subject was referred to a Committee, of which Dr. Bell was a member; that, on 
Dec. 29, he made a report embracing a resolution (nominating John Farmer, Esq., to 
gather and arrange the public papers, &c.), and that this resolution passed. While 
serving on this Committee, our late associate probably found opportunity to save some 
precious documents. 


offshoot has equally shared in the splendid charities of that 
class of onr citizens who have given a world-wide honor to our 
capital ; so, in the oversight and management of Hospital and 
Asylum, our selected gentlemen have most devotedly engaged 
their heartiest zeal. It would have made an incalculable dif- 
ference, not only with the comfort but with the success of 
Dr. Bell, in the score of years of his intercourse and responsi- 
bility, had he been in any wise subjected to dependence upon 
incompetent or narrow-minded men. The class of gentlemen 
who were elected Trustees of the Hospital, and the terms and 
method of their service, — by routine visitation, — made his 
position eminently favorable for the trial of the experiments, 
and the testing of the measures, by which the Asylum, from 
simply empirical and tentative principles, has been developed 
to a scientific management confessedly unsurpassed over the 
world. Dr. Bell, in his Annual Reports to these trustees, 
seemed to take a hearty pleasure, beyond all formal recogni- 
tion, in acknowledging the sympathetic relations which en- 
gaged them with entire mutual respect and confidence in 
their exacting duties. He was wont to do this even more 
warmly in private and friendly conference outside the circle 
of the trustees. After he had resigned his office, he looked 
back gratefully upon his intercourse with them ; and used to 
refer his satisfactory conduct of the institution to the fact, 
that, instead of having been annoyed or thwarted by any petty 
dictation or niggardly restrictions, he had found, in those to 
whom he was to give and from whom he was to receive ad- 
vice, a company of high-toned and large-hearted men. The 
name of "William Appleton," which he gave to one of his 
children, was his tribute to one so long the President, and a 
munificeiit benefactor, of the Asylum. 

The M'Lean Asylum, the earliest institution for the insane 
in the northern part of our country, and ever since acknow- 
ledged to be without a superior, had a history of nineteen 
years when Dr. Bell assumed the charge of it. His honored 


predecessors, Drs. Wyman and Lee, had served it most faith- 
fully. At his accession, it had but seventy patients. It was 
laboring under many disadvantages, which only the most 
persevering pains and zeal could remove. Its humane 
objects, though of so exigent and manifest a need, were very 
imperfectly apprehended or estimated. Blind prejudice, 
stolid indiflFerence, hardened tolerance of abuses, and hope- 
lessness of any great good to be accomplished for them, cha- 
racterized the general feelings of our communities towards 
the victims of mental disease. And, strange to say, the well- 
meant and most essential conditions required in the wise and 
really merciful conduct of the institutions provided for their 
benefit called out severe reproach, and often even the 
foulest obloquy, upon their devoted managers. The natural 
friends of patients were, in some cases, the worst offenders 
of this sort. The simple truth is, that the science of this 
arduous and often baffling ministration was yet to be 
acquired. Ignorance, whose errors and blunders were not 
relieved by any amount of good intention, had first obtained 
the field. Empiricism, routine, legalized errors, traditional 
maxims, and ill-chosen authorities, were the next possessors 
and stragglers over it. The history of philanthropic and 
scientific inquiry and eflFort, in reference to the treatment of 
the insane, forms one of the most interesting episodes in the 
annals of humanity. The antagonism between the advocates 
of private and public institutions for the purpose was very 
intense ; as it was found, that, in the main, they represented, 
respectively, two very different theories as to the wisest way 
of dealing with such sulBFerers. As we read, at this day, 
some of the publications issued by the disputants in that 
controversy, we are rather impressed with a sense of the 
deficiencies and errors of knowledge and opinion in both 
parties, than with the feeling that the weight of demon- 
strative argument lay on the side of either of them. The 
necessities of the case, however, carried the decision in favor 


of very energetic and liberal public provision by legislation 
for the establishment and oversight of Insane Asylums. But 
so far as my own inquiries, extended yet not exhaustive, 
enable me to make an assertion in a matter covering so much 
ground, I will venture to affirm, that, with the exception of 
the asylums founded by the State of Massachusetts, at 
Worcester, Taunton, and Northampton, that in the city of 
Boston, and perhaps as many more in other States through 
the Union, private munificence has contributed far more than 
the public treasury to the establishing and endowment of all 
our existing institutions for the treatment of the insane. 

The death of the excellent and devoted Dr. Lee, after a 
short superintendency of the McLean Asylum, had subjected 
the trustees to a very serious exercise of their responsibility 
in the appointment of a successor. They felt that they 
needed just such a man as Dr. Bell proved to be, — constitu- 
tionally and naturally endowed with the special qualities, and 
trained to the exercise and culture of those special capa- 
cities of mind, which would adapt him to his work; and 
then engaged by a lofty and most conscientious sense of duty, 
amounting almost to fearfulness in its weight and burden. 
His deliberation and calmness and poise of judgment secured 
him most thoroughly from any excess of mere enthusiasm ; 
though the concentration and intensity of his interest in all 
the phases of the disease to which he ministered had in 
it the finest elements of enthusiasm. His sympathies were 
warm, deep, tender, but manifested, as they needed to be, 
under the restraints of a cautious discretion. He harmonized 
in his development and self-education those speculative and 
practical talents which so wonderfully adapted him to his 
new tasks of study and experiment. Even the cast of his 
features, the tones of his voice, the gentleness, courtesy, and 
dignity of his manners, would of themselves have suggested 
his fitness as a candidate for his trust, as in the discharge of 

it they did eminently and most graciously prove the wisdom 




of his appointment, and win him signal success in it. How 
many sufferers, recovered under his care, have deh'ghted in 
yielding themselves to grateful and ardent acknowledgments 
of the personal comfort and assurance which they derived, 
even under the excitements and fancies of their disease, from 
his " manners and ways," his looks and mild words, his quiet 
but searching eye, his wise sympathy 1 

Having had frequent occasions, during the period of Dr. 
BelPs official charge, to visit the institution and to confer 
with him, I never left it without feeling anew the deepening 
impression, that nature and grace had given him a most 
felicitous endowment for a service in which a single strongly 
marked personal deficiency would have neutralized many 
other positive qualifications. One incident illustrative of this 
remark is so strongly and alBFectingly impressed upon my 
memory, that I will yield to the impulse to record it. As I 
approached the entrance-door of the Asylum, on an occasion 
which called me there, a carriage drew up, from which issued 
the most distressing and heart-piercing screams, as of one in 
the intensest agony of body and mind. Three men, friendly, 
but not professional, attendants, had alighted from the 
carriage ; thus wholly disabling themselves from any power 
of control over their charge, whom they left in it. That 
charge was a woman suflFering jfrom extreme mania. She 
thought herself surrounded by flames, and blazing in torture. 
She threw herself wildly about in the carriage, lacerating 
herself with the broken glass, beating her dress as if to 
extinguish the fire, and screaming most piteously for "water ! 
water I" Surrounded by a group of paralyzed observers, who 
knew not what it was wise or safe to do, the suflferer was left 
to herself for a few minutes that seemed hours. Dr. Bell, 
summoned from some inner apartment, appeared, to give us 
all sweet relief; for we felt that we shared it with the patient. 
He approached the door of the carriage, fixed his gentle eye 
upon her, and, with mild tones of ordinary speech, said. 


"Madam, come with me, and you shall have water." The evil 
spirit seemed to have gone out of her at the look and word. 
She smiled pleasantly, took the proflFered arm, and passed 
into the Asylum as if bent on a stroll through its beautiful 

Dr. Bell, having been chosen to his joint office of physician 
and superintendent of the Asylum in December, 1836, assumed 
the charge at the opening of the new year; adopting, of 
course, the moral and medical system then accepted as the 
result of the experience of his predecessors. This he wisely 
made the basis, as they would have done, for such improve- 
ments as further experience should warrant. He at once 
identified his heart, mind, and every hope of honorable fame, 
with entire devotion to the institution. He had not served 
many years, however, before he found it essential to the 
healthfulness, cheerfulness, and vigor of his own frame and 
thoughts, while exposed to so many morbid and exhausting 
influences, to keep open some channel of intercourse with the 
outside world, and to interest himself in some wider converse 
with human improvement. 

I have before me a solid volume, arranged by himself, con- 
taining, besides other matters, his own copy of his successive 
Annual Reports to the Trustees, beginning with the first, 
which bears date Jan. 1, 1838 ; that being the twentieth 
offered of the institution. I had read most of these docu- 
ments, as, from time to time, he had put them into my hands ; 
and supposed I had a general apprehension of their contents. 
But while engaged upon this tribute to his memory, and 
holding his own book before me, I have found myself de- 
liberately reading in their order, and with abundant recom- 
pense, the whole series of his reports. And they belong toge- 
ther : they ought to be brought and kept together wherever 
they are to be found ; for they present the professional, and, in 
good part, the personal history of an eminent public servant 
and scientific man, as well as the history of many of the most 


important stages of progress in one of the most humane of 
all sciences. Competent as he was to undertake his office, 
he felt that he received it with most exacting demands 
upon him, a full and cheerful compliance with which alone 
could qualify him for it. Easily adapting himself to the 
conditions of residence, and of daily and almost hourly 
intercourse with his patients, ho conscientiously denied 
himself, for many years, all the relaxations and privileges 
of society which were so temptingly within his reach in the 
neighboring capital. He gave his great powers and his 
signal aptitudes of mind to philosophical observation and 
practical experiment upon all the facts and phenomena of 
mental disease. While it was of the very essence of his good 
sense, and clearness of understanding, to look hopefully for 
help and light towards improved methods and more correct 
views of the subject of his study, and while he most 
generously accepted the least contribution to any real 
advance in it, he was too cautious and well balanced in judg- 
ment either to invent any crotchets or fancies of his own, or 
to be influenced by those of others. The opportunity and 
the duty seemed equally to press and keep themselves before 
him, that he was to construct a science out of well-observed 
facts and phenomena for his own guidance, and to reduce its 
principles to practical trial; thereby testing and rectifying 
it. He gathered documentary materials and statistics from 
all accessible quarters. He found more to question, to doubt 
about, and to subject to rigid examination, than he did to 
approve or blindly follow, in the accepted theories and 
methods of treatment of insanity. As for the statistics of 
asylums from which were deduced the conclusions confided 
in, as he thought, too readily, by some of his professional 
brethren, the reader of his reports will be profoundly im- 
pressed with the shrewdness and sagacity with which he 
challenges their value, and indicates their utterly misleading 
influence when they fail in exhaustiveness of detail, in com- 


prehensiveness of conditions, or complete and exact parallel- 
ism of circumstances. 

In reading Dr. BelPs reports in their series, we note how 
he himself grew to the standard of true science, — how he 
felt and inquired his way on with equal caution and confi- 
dence. He invites the trustees and alternating visitors to 
weigh the value and to interpret the significance of the facts 
which he authenticates for them, as rectifying errors, or 
suggesting improvements, or favoring the trial of wise 
experiments, for the better conduct of the institution. He 
commits himself confidingly to their support in the adoption 
of any measure or regulation which withstood prejudice, or 
was likely to offend that watchful but not always wise class 
of persons, the friends of patients and the critical public. 
One of the most striking and grateful impressions derived 
from the perusal of these documents suggests itself from the 
relation in which Dr. Bell placed himself with all who, within 
the walls, shared with him in the anxious responsibilities of 
the daily conduct of the Asylum. Cordial tributes to them 
appear in all his reports. But these were not formal 
recognitions of perfunctory services. Far otherwise. Most 
of those who ministered there in any capacity had felt the 
influence of his mind, and were trained by his help to 
the prudence, fidelity, gentleness, and devotion so essential 
to their charge. A large number of attendants is there 
requisite, with an exact division of the duties of subordi- 
nates and helpers, . and strict fidelity in obeying regu- 
lations. The institution was most fortunate, and its 
superintendent was enviably favored, in the characters and 
qualities of those on whom he needed to rely for co-opera- 
tion. It would be wrong to omit, from a tribute to Dr. Bell 
himself, all mention of the names of some of those with whom 
he shared so much helpful and happy intercourse. His first 
assistant, Dr. Fox, had resigned, much to his regret. His 
assistant and successor, Dr. Booth, so soon snatched away 


from the office for which he was so admirably qualified and 
trained, had Dr. BelPs entire confidence and love. Mr. Tyler, 
the steward, and his wife, the honored matron, had both of 
them, by long years of service (still happily continued), by 
their genial manners, their zeal, fidelity, and experience, been 
recognized as ornaments and securities for the well-managed 
economies of the Asylum. And what shall we say of the 
excellent and devoted Miss Relief R. Barber, — the angel of 
light and peace, the sweet and patient and self-denying minis- 
trant of love and trust to hundreds of female patients ? I will 
crave the liberty to express as of my own opinion, from 
observation and the heart-eloquent testimony of many whom 
she has soothed and saved, — what I believe was literally 
the opinion of Dr. Bell, -^ that she is an especial provision of 
the Divine Love and Wisdom for an especial service. Her 
Christian name was prophetically chosen. 

The subjects to which Dr. Bell applied himself with chief 
interest were successively pressed upon his attention as he 
penetrated deeper into the materials for wise theory, and 
watched cautiously the trial-tests of experiment, in the treat- 
ment of the various forms and degrees of mental disease. 
Its causes and agencies, direct and indirect, constitutional 
and incidental, inherited or original ; conditions of treatment 
as depending upon stages of disease, — its aggravations, 
change of surroundings, the withdrawal of previous influ- 
ences, and the substitution of new influences ; the classifica- 
tion of patients, — to what extent possible and essential ; its 
effect upon the comfort of the patients, and as an aid to their 
recovery ; the use of physical restraints, — the question as to 
the possibility of absolutely dispensing with them ; the expo- 
sure of the uncandid and deceptive pretence, that, in some 
foreign institutions, such restraints had been wholly disused, 
when searching inquiry proved that there was equivocation 
about what really was signified by restraints ; the provision of 
relaxations and amusements, of opportunities and materials 


for manual labor, for garden and field work, for reading and 
for religious exercises ; the extent to which these appliances 
might wisely be availed of, and their influence upon patients ; 
the internal discipline of the institution, — its regulations 
respecting attendants, and the intercourse by visits or corre- 
spondence between patients and their friends ; arrangements 
for heating and ventilation, to secure the best conditions for 
physical health or comfort; the addition of new and commo- 
dious edifices for the sake of offering elegancies and luxuries 
to a class of patients whose habits and education had made 
such indulgences essential to them, and whose means would 
afford a proportionate compensation; careful revisions and 
rectifications of the statistics published by other institutions 
of like design, for the purpose of securing more accuracy in 
estimating comparative results and comparative methods, — 
these, and a multitude of incidental and subordinate topics, 
will be found to engage the well-rewarded attention even of 
an unprofessional reader, as he follows the progress of Dr. 
Bell, identical, in many respects, with the progress of 
science in a department of most melancholy but humane 

It has been already intimated, that, after a few years of 
entire absorption and concentration of time and thought in 
the care of the Asylum, Dr. Bell found some variation and 
enlargement of his mental occupation essential to him. There 
offers here a convenient opportunity for rehearsing some 
of his incidental employments and interests during the term of 
his service. These, however, for the most part, were strictly 
of a professional character. In 1840, he went abroad, by per- 
mission of the trustees, for four months, for the sake of health, 
and in order to gather information about foreign asylums. 
His report the next year is of very great interest, relating his 
observations on the structure and arrangements of insane 
hospitals, recent improvements introduced in them and in 
their management, the abuses of the "private madhouse" 


system, the employment and the nature of the physical 
restraints still practised, &o. 

In 1845, the Trustees of the projected Butler Institution for 
the Insane, at Providence, B.I., wishing to avail themselves 
of his helpful services, and under the most favorable circum- 
stances, asked of the Trustees of the Massachusetts General 
Hospital leave for Dr. Bell to repeat his foreign visit on their 
behalf Permission being granted, he undertook a wintry 
voyage; sailing from New York, Jan. 2, 1846, and spending 
two most diligent months in Europe. On his return, he 
addressed a letter from Sandy Hook to the Butler Trustees, 
that he was ready to give an account of his mission. His 
report, or rather an abstract of it, with plans and diagrams, 
especially full in reference to ventilation, was published ; and 
his suggestions were largely followed in the new edifices. 

In 1848, Dr. Bell delivered the discourse before the Annual 
Meeting of the Massachusetts Medical Society, choosing for 
his subject that on which he was then so earnestly engaged, 
the " Practical Methods of ventilating Buildings ; " which was 
published by the society, and also separately, with a valuable 
appendix. In 1857, the high compliment was paid him of an 
election as president of that society. He is regarded as a 
highly authoritative, though, of course, not an infallible expert 
on the structure, the warming and ventilating, of large edifices. 
Chief-Justice Bell writes me, " I remember to have heard him 
mention that he received a prize of a hundred guineas from 
the authorities of one of the West-India islands for the plan 
of a hospital edifice." On Aug. 13, 1850, Dr. Bell delivered 
a eulogy on President Taylor before the city authorities and 
people of Cambridge, which is in print. 

Deferring a reference to his participation in the aflfairs of 
party politics, his strictly oflScial employments call us back to 
his annual reports. The number of patients in the Asylum 
steadily increased, till the capacity of the spacious edifices, 
even though enlarged and made more commodious, interposed 


a limit. This fact was all the more significant of the admira- 
ble administration within the walls, when we remember, that, 
during the years we are reviewing, new asylums were estab- 
lished and old ones were extended over localities which had 
previously depended upon that in Somerville. It is observable, 
likewise, that public and private confidence was more heartily 
yielded to the institution, notwithstanding an increasing strict- 
ness in some parts of its discipline, and a decided position 
taken by its trustees on some points where popular prejudice 
still had sway. In the first year of Dr. BelPs superintendency, 
he had under his care 191 patients ; in 1838, he had 224 ; 
in 1840, he had 263 ; in 1842, he had 271 ; in 1844, he had 
292. The largest number given for any one year is that for 
1851, when there were 364 patients. During his whole term 
of service, he had had 2,696 ; of which number, sixty-two per 
cent had recovered. In his report for 1841, he recognizes 
the increasing interest then manifested in various parts of the 
country in provision for the insane and in the science of the 
subject. He dwells upon the necessity of close personal 
attention and acute observation, instead of relying on theory 
or tradition. In the report for 1842, he pays a fine tribute to 
the virtues and the professional qualities of the first incumbent 
of his oflSce, Dr. Rufus Wyman, then recently deceased. In 
the next report. Dr. Bell gives a cursory review of his seven 
years' experience, and introduces some very important hints 
upon the urgent necessity of a revision of the jurisprudence 
of insanity, with particular reference to English legislation on 
the subject. In his report for 1844, he refers to the provision 
which the Legislature had made in its last session for a Board 
of Commissioners for investigating the mental condition of 
convicts suspected of insanity. Of this commission he was 
afterwards a member, and performed in it some special service. 
He also makes mention of a newly formed " Association of 
Medical Superintendents of American Institutions for the 

Insane." Of this association he was for five years the pre- 



fiident, and always the leading spirit. At its first annual 
meeting after the decease of Dr. Bell, a discourse on bis life 
and character was read in Providence, R.I., June 10, 1862, 
by his friend Dr. Ray, of the Butler Asylum. This discourse, 
which is now in print, is a most just, eloquent, and appreciative 
tribute from one who was best qualified to render it. Dr. 
Bell read before this association, in 1849, a paper, which those 
competent to judge regard as indicating powers of most acute 
original investigation and scientific skill, given to a subject 
that would baffle ordinary powers. His theme was, "On a 
form of disease resembling some advanced stages of mania 
and fever, but so contradistinguished from any ordinarily 
observed or described combination of symptoms as to render 
it probable that it may be an overlooked and hitherto un- 
recorded malady ; " published in the " Journal of Insanity," 
vol. ii. This form of disease has since been known as " BelPs 
Disease." In Dr. BelPs report for 1845, we find his deliberate 
opinion, " that in this country the type of insanity is much 
more intense than in Europe." Some special suggestion or 
theme of interest will be found in each one of his reports, 
giving to it a value of its own, and helping towards the cumu- 
lative observations and experience which have won for their 
author the place of eminence and distinction in his professional 
service. His fellow-townsmen in Somerville regarded him as 
their most distinguished citizen; and in that relation his advice 
and aid were often sought in private ways, while it furnished 
the occasion and opportunity for some of his interminglings 
with political issues. Among the pamphlets from his own pen 
which he left bound together, I find two reports prepared 
by him as Chairman of the School Committee for the years 
1845-6 and 1846-7. In the same volume appears, as a "city 
document," a letter addressed by him, in answer to inquiries, 
to the Mayor of Boston, in 1845, on the construction, warming, 
and ventilation of the proposed new City Prison. 

Dr. BelPs name and reputation have been widely and 


closely, and to a great extent erroneously, associated with 
what goes by the name of " Spiritualism." Very many per- 
sons have adopted the impression, that he was a " believer " 
in it ; and several of his friends have expressed regrets that 
he afforded so much countenance to it as to be willing to be 
quoted for his known interest in it, and his patient devotion 
of so much valuable time to its investigation. Having very 
frequently and very deliberately discussed the subject with 
him, and been his companion — not without a measure of 
shamefacedness on the part of both of us, though in other 
good company — to the "sittings" and exhibitions of "medi- 
ums," the writer feels himself entitled and under obligation 
to speak with some confidence on this incidental topic, and on 
Dr. Bell's true position in reference to it. With full assurance, 
then, it may be affirmed, that Dr. Bell showed no further and 
no different interest in " Spiritualism " than the facts and the 
phenomena which it presented before this community not 
only warranted, but demanded of one in his professional 
position, and especially of one who had such a remarkable 
aptitude and skill for the inquisition as he possessed. And, 
further, it may as confidently be affirmed, that so far from 
indorsing the claims of any thing preternatural, miraculous, 
or even immaterial, in the phenomena, such as involved the 
supposed agency of beings or powers from " the other world," 
Dr. Bell, from first to last, positively and emphatically, in his 
speech and in what he has left in writing by his own hand, 
utterly discredited all such claims, as wholly unsupported. 
The simple fact that so many people, — as, at one time alleged, 
three millions in our own country, — embracing, too, all classes 
and grades, were interested in " Spiritualism," was one more 
likely to engage his inquisitive curiosity than any of the mere 
phenomena which were adduced as accounting for it. His 
natural and professional tastes for psychological investigations 
would attract him to it. The intelligent part of the commu- 
nity would look to him as under a peculiar obligation, as well 


as opportunely qualified, to investigate the subject, exposing 
the delusions and frauds connected with it, and instructing 
them by his own opinion as to whether any occult or unre- 
cognized or newly developed agency was disclosed in its 
workings. He opened the subject twice before the Associar 
tion of Medical Superintendents of Insane Asylums, and 
indicated the claims of the community on those especially 
qualified to investigate the alleged phenomena. He himself 
thought that the delusion or excitement had been unwisely 
dealt by, — unwisely, that is, considering the obligations which 
intelligent and cautious persons owe to the weak, the cre- 
dulous, the excitable, and the unsuspecting, who are the 
victims of the designing; unwisely, too, as regards the ends 
of true and pure science. He found thousands around him, 
including several worthy personal friends and neighbours, in 
a fervor of excitement and sympathy about a supposed 
new channel of communication opened with another world. 
Neither the fanatical nor the ludicrous aspects of the phe- 
nomena .were so interesting to him as were the simply psy- 
chological elements of the subject. He might have thought 
it, on the whole, a good thing, that those who had lost faith, 
or ardor or living experience of faith, in the solemn sanctities 
and the august secrecies of things spiritual and divine, should 
have their sluggish or clouded apprehensions vivified by any 
semblances which would represent such realities. If spirits 
are not entertained as angel visitants in the heart through 
their own tongues and tones of converse, better is it, than that 
they should not come at all, that they should be believed to 
play antics with household chairs and tables, and spell out 
names by a child's alphabet, and convince in any way that the 
dead are alive. But while Dr. Bell took note of the astound- 
ing sweep and extent of the excitement about " Spiritualism,'* 
and had patients brought to him crazed by its agency, he 
regretted that it was left, in the main, to be treated with 
blank indifference or with sarcasm by another class of the 


community, instead of receiving a rigidly critical and scientific 
investigation by the multiplied tests available for the purpose. 
He was himself a deeply and devoutly religious man, holding 
views more in sympathy with those of the Friends than of 
any other class of Christians. His tone, and cast of feeling, 
were, in the finest sense of the term, spiritual. He had a 
profound respect and a most catholic charity for all the work- 
ings of the sentiment of religion and all its manifestations in 
others. He argued, that, if the delusion of witchcraft had been 
subjected to the inquisition of even the imperfect science and 
philosophy of the age of its prevalence, thousands of lives 
would have been spared, and millions of hearts would have 
escaped the rack of intense suflFering. The persistency with 
which Dr. Bell pleaded for and engaged himself in an exami- 
nation of the phenomena of beliefs as well as of the phenomena 
which were the grounds of the belief, in " Spiritualism," was 
mistaken by many for a credence of it. It chanced that at 
each of several '* sittings " in a circle with a " medium," at 
which the writer was present with Dr. Bell, the spirits alleged 
to be offering a communication assumed the names of de- 
ceased members of his family, and sought conference with 
him. Touched and tender affections, without a ray of confi- 
dence in their agency in the scene, would explain the emotion 
which he manifested. So far as he reached, and felt disposed 
to give shape or definiteness to, any conclusion from his 
continued and numerous examinations of the phenomena of 
the subject, there are abundant means for fixing his position 
in reference to it. Utterly discrediting, and positively repu- 
diating, as before affirmed, all the supernaturalism or real 
spirituality of the phenomena, and knowing full well that the 
mixture of fraud, chicanery, artifice, and collusion, connected 
with them, would justify even legal proceedings against some 
of the adepts, he did recognize in many cases the proved 
agency of some mechanical or material or occult principle 
not yet brought under the terms of science. He thought he 


had reason to acknowledge the posRible existence and the 
working energy of some mesmeric or other force, by which 
one person might be told of something already knovm to hinij 
by another man or woman who was supposed not to have 
gained the information in the ordinary way. This was the 
extent of Dr. BelPs indorsement of " Spiritualism." 

Another service in which Dr. Bell turned his talents and 
professional acquisitions to important uses, for the benefit of 
individuals and for the security of public interests, was as an 
expert in his science before courts of justice. It was some- 
what remarkable, that during the years of his fullest expe- 
rience in the Asylum, and those which immediately followed 
his resignation, a number of very striking cases, involving 
principles of the jurisprudence of insanity, presented them- 
selves in the region over which his reputation was established. 
There were also circumstances of peculiar complication and 
embarrassment under which professional skill was called into 
exercise in some of these cases. One of the many forms of 
philanthropic zeal in our community engaged itself in behalf 
of prisoners and criminals. In the view of a sterner and less 
sentimental class of observers of this possibly exaggerated 
tenderness for convicts, the real safety and the rights of the 
public were perilled by this form of philanthropy. Felons 
were likely to be dealt with too leniently, if not even to be 
pitied as the victims of misfortune and of malignant social 
usages. Pleas were advanced, that quite a large percentage 
of what was punished as crime was referable to causes iden- 
tical with those which produce insanity ; and that probably 
quite a number of the sentenced convicts in all our prisons 
ought, by humane principles, to be transferred to asylums. No 
doubt, there was a basis of truth in these pleas ; and there is as 
little doubt that they were exaggerated and overplied. Of 
course,the reasonable apprehensions, as well as the jealousy and 
the ridicule, of the conservative portion of the community, 
were engaged against the so-called sentimentalists on this sub- 


ject ; and the opposition was, in its turn, in danger of running 
to excess. It was under such circumstances, intensifying the 
inherent diflSculties of the service, that Dr. Bell was fre- 
quently summoned to the cell and to the court-room to ex- 
amine convicts and to testify before juries. There were 
cunning culprits who undertook to simulate insanity. There 
were convicts who neither raised the plea themselves, nor had 
friends to raise it for them, who yet were entitled to the 
benefit of it, at least to the extent of a professional inquisition 
in reference to it. It required often rare and well-trained 
qualities in a professed expert to meet the demands of some 
special cases, and to stand the ordeal of judges, counsel, and 
jury, in the court. Very nice learning, very acute discrimina- 
tion, cool self-possession, and a command of all his professional 
skill, were needed in the witness ; and, even with all these 
qualifications and guaranties of his testimony, only one who 
felt sure of his ground would be g. match for the subtleties 
which a purchased or interested advocacy might ply against 
him. As if to give us a new illustration of the compensatory 
methods of Providence, legal processes, turning upon the 
question of the lack of wits or mental soundness of one person, 
have been the occasion of proving a marvellous amount of 
intellectual furniture in several other persons. 

Dr. Beirsecured high distinction and entire confidence in 
himself, ^nd gradually vindicated the application of rigid 
scientific principles to this branch of jurisprudence. In con- 
nection with his commissionership for the transfer of feeble- 
minded or irresponsible persons confined in prisons to the 
public hospitals, his appearance as an expert in the courts 
gave him an oflGicial as well as an eminent professional reputa- 
tion. He drew attention to the very different methods and 
tests relied upon in the English courts, and sought to reduce 
judicial proceedings on the subject to some degree of harmony. 
He was well aware of the perplexities and risks attendant 
upon the judicious and faithful use of the confidence reposed 


in him by individuals and by the community. The plea of 
insanity was not only the last shelter sought by some cunning 
criminals, whose hope from any other quarter was desperate, 
but it bore a mingled burden of dread and ridicule from the 
public, as likely to be, in many cases, the easy delusion of a 
morbid philanthropy. Our late honored associate, Chief-Jus- 
tice Shaw, one of the most critical and competent of the 
many clear-minded and acute listeners before whom Dr. Bell 
frequently appeared as an expert, — occasionally before the 
court, but more freely in private intercourse, — expressed his 
high appreciation of the dignity, the wisdom, the sagacity, 
and the professional ability, which Dr. Bell manifested when 
on the stand under oath. After he had sought the retirement 
of private life, his services were yet more constantly engaged, 
alike in civil as in criminal cases, before he courts, where 
many delicate questions, involving personal liberty or restraint 
for individuals, as well as large pecuniary interests, were un- 
der litigation. His opinion as an expert in the famous " Parish 
Will Case," before the Surrogate of the city of New York, 
covering sixty-eight pages in one of the published volumes of 
that most fertile matter for lawyers and printers, will richly 
repay the perusal by an unprofessional reader.* 

Many of the warmest friends of Dr. Bell regretted that he 
should have had any other concern with politics than in simply 
exercising his privileges and doing his duty as a private citi- 
zen. Not a few allowed themselves to express this regret 
very candidly to himself. More than one of those who enter- 
tained the loftiest admiration of his professional abilities re- 
monstrated with him against the division of his time and 
interest, or the diversion of his mind from a work in which he 
rendered service so highly appreciated, to any share in the 
political agitations which were peculiarly excited and imbit- 
tered when his name was associated with them. Probably he 

* In volume iv. Medical Opinions upon the Mental Competency of Mr. Parish. 


himself would have acknowledged, that his political episode 
appeared to him, near the close of his life, as the element in it 
from which he had derived least satisfaction. The high civic 
honors and the political distinctions which had been won and 
maintained by so many members of his family might seem to 
draw him by traditional and domestic influences to the dis- 
charge of his personal obligations in the same direction. He 
might be impelled by the loftiest motives to stamp the impress 
of his own convictions and influence upon the party issues of 
the day, and not feel bound to deny himself a participation in 
any of the measures, primary or matured, in the results of 
which he had all a citizen's interests at stake. As a member 
of the Executive Council of the State in 1850, under the 
chief-magistracy of Governor Briggs, whom he highly es- 
teemed,* he had an opportunity to perform public service well 
appreciated by all parties. Especially as a member of the 
Committee on Pardons, his professional skill, as well as his 
feelings as a man, and his responsibility as an arbiter in 
matters of life and death for others, were put to severe and 
painful tests. Among other cases that engaged his most con- 
scientious and rigid scrutiny was that of Professor Webster. 
His decision upon it was justified in its developments. 

Dr. Bell declined being a candidate for re-election on the 
Council ; finding that the amount and nature of its business 
made too heavy draughts upon his pre-occupied time. Re- 
ference has already been made to his having been a delegate 
from Middlesex District to the Whig Convention in Baltimore, 

• When intelligence of the shocking disaster visited upon Governor Briggs by the 
accidental discharge of a gun reached Dr. Bell, he referred to it as follows, in a letter 
to a friend, dated Camp Union, Bladensburg, Md., Sept. 17, 1861 : " What a strange, sad 
death was that of Governor Briggs ! The telegraph at first only said, * Governor 
Briggs shot!* Of course, imagination could scarce connect the idea of fire-arms or 
a violent death with him of all men. The speedy explanation demonstrated, that even 
that manner of death was not inconsisteqt with his life. I have known my share of the 
presumptively eminent men of our state of society. My intimate connection with him, 
officially and socially, in the eventful year 1850, places him the highest on my cata- 
logue of the truly great, -r- averaging intellect, moral and affective powers.'* 



in the Presidential campaign of 1852. If he had needed ini- 
tiation into the vexations, antagonisms, and disappointments 
of party warfare, of factions elements, and of decisions de- 
pending npon questions of availability, first and second 
choices, and the balancings of sectional strength with fixed 
preferences, and even with righteous principles, he would 
have received it there. But he was no novice in the arts and 
passions which have their play in such a scene ; still less in a 
knowledge of those human elements which lie behind them 
and work through them. We have learned, on no less satis- 
factory evidence than that of demonstrative experience, to 
assign a generally corrupting and malignant influence, if not 
to the essential, certainly then to the incidental, conditions of 
successful political life ; and we are far from admitting, that 
failure of success in political ambition or oflSce is to be ac- 
counted generally to the obstruction interposed by delicacy 
of sentiment or by severity of principle. Pliny learned and 
said, in his day, that " the Forum inspires the best men with 
some degree of malice." But, while we charge upon political 
life the burden of so demoralizing character, we ought to 
remember that something depends upon the sort and phase of 
the politics which from time to time puts its leaders and par- 
tisans to trials that may prove too severe for them. The cor- 
rupting quality in politics is a varying element in it ; and it 
never can reach such a degree and intensity as necessarily to 
exclude all honest men from engaging in it, or to inflict the 
stain of baseness upon all who entered into it with right 
hearts. If we repeat, as verified, the cynical saying, that 
*' every man has his price," we must be careful to guard our- 
selves against sharing in an original human plagiarism in the 
use of the maxim, by remembering that the first known au- 
thority for it was Satan, in the Book of Job: "Doth Job 
serve God for nought ? " Let us quote our author, and per- 
haps that will dissuade us from repeating the maxim. 

It happened that our politics, at the time when Dr. Bell 


was for a briisf season a participant in its strifes, was of a 
particularly poor character. He doubtless found in his own 
experience, that the existence of two, and even of three, par- 
ties, did not afford a good man an opportunity of choice, by 
however strong a preference, of identifying himself with the 
whole of the truth or the right in the espousal of either of 
them. Still less would he have acknowledged full sympathy 
with all the details of measures, and all the acts and opinions 
of men, of his own party. He was a strong and earnest 
Whig. He wrote in the newspapers, he attended and ad- 
dressed meetings, in the interests of that party. But it was 
at a time when that party had lost power, and was rapidly dis- 
integrating ; when its life, many of its best ornaments and 
champions, and, as the event proved, its former dominancy, 
were passing into a new organization on different issues, 
which steadily strengthened from a so-called faction into a dis- 
penser of state and national offices. Dr. Bell served the Whig 
party at a time when its honors were those of defeat, tradi- 
tion, and the surviving esteem and allegiance of many excel- 
lent men, who were again enjoying private life. fortunati 
si ndrinb I &c. He was the candidate of the Whig party of 
the Seventh Congressional District of Massachusetts in 1852, 
unanimously so designated by a convention at the first ballot- 
ing. At the first trial for an election, he received a plurality 
of fifteen hundred ballots ; so that, by the provisions of some 
of our States then, and of our own now, he would have ac- 
ceded to the office : but, as a majority of the ballots was then 
required here, he failed of it. On the second trial, by a coali- 
tion of the two opposing parties, he was defeated by some 
three hundred ballots. He was a working member of the 
State Convention in 1853 for revising the Constitution. His 
name was used against his will as the Whig candidate for 
Governor in 1856. 

Dr. Bell experienced many severe domestic bereavements, 
during his superintendency of the Asylum, in the loss of chil- 


dren ; and, finally, in the decease of his wife. He was a most 
affectionate and faithful husband and father. His own delicate 
health, and that of every member of his immediate family, 
made him thoughtful and watchful of all the risks and all the 
conditions of security attendant upon human life. He enjoyed 
very many of the attractions of a private home in the centre 
of such a circle of patients and professional assistants. The 
sumptuous and spacious mansion, erected on a commanding 
site by the late Joseph Barrell, Esq., with its extensive gar- 
dens and fields, had been the original edifice, and continued 
to be the centre of the many solid structures built in connec- 
tion with it for the uses of the institution. Architectural 
arrangements, greatly improved under Dr. BelPs supervision, 
gave easy access to all the parts of the' establishment. The 
site was unsurpassed for convenience and healthfulness ; and 
there was no drawback upon its local advantages or surround- 
ings, till the numerous railroad crossings in the neighborhood 
seemed for a time to threaten the necessity or expediency of 
a removal. The almost constant shriek of the steam-whistle 
was a sound certainly not favorable to jarred nerves and mor- 
bid sensibilities. Dr. Bell was for a time exceedingly dis- 
turbed by this increasing annoyance. Having given such 
zeal and fertile ingenuity of invention to the perfection of 
every external and internal arrangement of the institution, it 
was not strange that he should have feared great mischief 
from this evil, and have remonstrated with some warmth 
against the sacrifice of so much benevolent and scientific out- 
lay to the conveniences of engineering. He thought that the 
lines of radiation from the city might have laid the road-beds 
a little farther off from the grounds of the institution ; or, at 
least, that some provision might have been made for abating 
the nuisance of that shrieking discord from the engines, which 
sounded far more dismally to his sympathetic ears than any of 
those human outcries supposed by popular fancy to be the 
chief horror of an asylum for the mentally diseased. This 


passing reference to a subject of very natural apprehension to 
all who were interested in the institution has been made here, 
because Dr. Bell was personally at the time visited with some 
sharp censure from those who were prominently concerned in 
the arrangements against which he remonstrated. 

In the centre of such surroundings. Dr. Bell found his 
home for a score of years. All that his warm domestic attach- 
ments could do towards making it a happy place, and relieving 
any sombre associations with it for those whom he loved most 
tenderly, was done. But many clouds- came over that home, 
and broke in great sorrow upon the father and husband. 
Three of his seven children died there : viz., Mary, Aug. 22, 
1847; Henry James, Oct. 3 of the same year; and then his 
eldest son, Samuel John, a member of Harvard College, and a 
youth of great promise, Nov. 9, 1853. She who had shared 
these afflictions with him, his excellent and much-endeared 
wife, died in her confinement, March 1, 1855, aged forty-two 

Probably the severe trial of these afflictions, the exhaustive 
eflFects upon mind and body of so many years of the most 
exacting professional service, and the desire " to husband out 
life's taper " for some ends yet attractive and possible to him, 
were the occasions, as they certainly were satisfactory reasons, 
for his resignation of office, contemplated some time before it 
took effect. There were intimations in some quarters that his 
interest in his work had declined, or yielded to the attractions 
of political life. These intimations, so far as they touched his 
fidelity or implied ambitious aims, were simply idle. He had 
frequently intimated his wishes for relief; but the trustees 
felt the difficulty of finding a fit successor. At length, in his 
Report, presented Jan. 23, 1856, he avows his decision. We 
will now allow him to speak for himself: — 

" I communicated to your Board, several months since, my inten* 
tion not to be a candidate for re-election to the office which I have 


held by your appointment for so many years. Having made my 
arrangements to retire to a spot not far distant, where I shall have 
the happiness of opening my eyes each morning on this blessed insti- 
tution, and feeling that my own happiness will be intimately con- 
nected with witnessing its continued prosperity, I hope hereafter to be 
no stranger within its walls. Hence I feel that no melancholy valedic- 
tory is required, or would be in keeping with the occasion of my 
handing over this charge to another. Twill only say, that, as far as I 
know, I leave this Asylum prosperous in its own affairs, and amply 
possessed of the confidence of the community. I leave it with a 
heart grateful to that superintending Providence which shielded me 
for so many years from those bereavements and that ill health which 
have of late overwhelmed me, so that I have been enabled to do 
something for those placed under my care, as well as for the general 
cause of the insane over our country, — grateful for the uniform sup- 
port, the indulgent forbearance, the kind sympathy in my many trials, 
of the members of your Board, present and past ; grateful to the 
medical profession, whose cheerful and ready confidence and uniform 
courtesy are, and ever will be, very dear to my memory ; grateM to 
a community which has, in the various attacks to which this and all 
such institutions are ever liable, from the mistaken, the ungratified, 
and the malignant, sprung promptly to our relief, rendering explana- 
tions and defences superfluous ; grateful to a long line of recovered 
patients of both sexes, whose kindly recognition of our efforts has 
inspired new activity, and made labors pleasant, however in them- 
selves anxious and exhausting ; and, lastly, grateful to those associat- 
ed with me in various capacities, — most of them for many years, 
and some during my entire service, — in the discharge of our holy 
functions. I can mark the day of my leaving these walls, with a 
' white stone ; ' and enter again the world, without one feeling other 
than that of kindness and good-will to all mankind. 

" The experience of the nineteen years since I was called unexpect- 
edly to the superintendence of the McLean Asylum, without applica- 
tion on my own part, or knowledge that I was thought of for the 
office, an entire stranger to every member of the Board, and almost 
equally a stranger in the Commonwealth, has not passed, I trust, with- 
out adding something to the' common stock of knowledge of the treat- 
ment, moral and medical, of insanity. The experience of this 
institution — almost the earliest of the curative hospitals of the land 
— has been most freely shared with those which have been added sue- 


cessively to the long roll now extending from Maine to California. 
Christianity can hardly show a mightier triumph than the fact, that, 
since the brief date just named, the number of hospitals for the in- 
sane, in the United States, has increased from half a dozen to between 
forty and fifty ; and the accommodations for patients have risen from 
about five hundred to between ten and eleven thousand. Even the 
four larger British Provinces adjoining us have caught the influence 
of our zeal ; and each of them has, during that period, provided itself 
with a large and well-furnished institution essentially upon our 

" While the moral treatment of the insane, in its great principles, 
was as well established half a century since as at this hour, the means 
of carrying out the highest forms of such treatment have been con- 
stantly augmenting, because their necessity has been more and more 
recognized by those on whom hospitals depend for support. The only 
limit now seems to be in the ingenuity and industry of those who 
have the charge of applying those means. While many things, which 
promised well in words and in theory, have been tried, some of the 
most lauded have so far failed as to be abandoned by the wise and 
judicious. The character of the patients at different institutions ob- 
viously requires differences of moral treatment ; and this may change 
in the same institution. For example : mechanical and agricultural 
labor, which was foremost in the moral appliances of this Asylum, 
has long since been abandoned, because the class of sufferers has 
entirely changed since the establishment of so many hospitals around 

" The trial was made here, for several years, of the entire disuse 
of all forms of muscular restraint. Much was said and vaunted of 
this experiment elsewhere, and it was thought well to give it a full 
trial. The result was the conviction, that no such exclusive system 
was, here at least, compatible with the true interests of all patients. 

" The experiment was also made here, of allowing certain patients, 
in pretty large numbers, to go abroad on their parole. No accident 
occurred in consequence, and very rarely was the pledge broken. But 
instead of making the patient more contented, and adding to his hap- 
piness, the reverse was eminently the case ; and the conclusion was 
forced upon us, that almost every patient, who was so far disordered 
in mind as to justify detention at all, was too much disordered for 
even a qualified liberty. 

" The intermingling of patients of both sexes, under the eye and 


supervision of officers and attendants, both in daily religious exercises 
and in occasions of festivity, was very thoroughly tested in several 
years' exjKirieuce. Its inconveniences led, long ago, to its abandon- 
ment. ^Vhatever may be the case in other institutions, here such 
intcrminglings proved unprofitable and unwise. 

^^ Other elements of moral treatment have been verified in our 
experience, as in all the preceding history of the insane and the insti- 
tutions for their relief. The interdiction of the visits and correspond- 
ence of friends is ever one of the severest trials of those in charge 
of hospitals. As the indispensable necessity of such separation was 
one of the earliest of the recorded facts of medical observation, so it 
remains true and prominent in every day's experience of every asy- 
lum. If the head of an institution can be tempted in any point to 
yield or evade his convictions of duty, it will be here ; for such con- 
victions he must have with his first practical lessons, and they will 
keep strengthening with each year of experience. He will be pressed 
to abandon his duty by those who must be assumed to have a far 
nearer interest in the sufferer than he can have. After earnest and 
prolonged expositions of his grounds of action and the results of his 
often-repeated experimentings, and after the most earnest appeals that 
the welfare, and perhaps recovery, of his patient shall not be put in 
jeopardy by any feelings or false reasonings or capricious suspicions 
of friends, he will find fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, 
brothers and sisters, whose whole knowledge of the subject is bounded 
by the case in hand, willing and anxious to assume all responsibili- 
ties, and take all risks, for obtaining this strange gratification. The 
hospital superintendent who will the most readily yield to such impor- 
tunities, backed by perhaps the most degrading intimations as to the 
grounds of refusal, will be the most popular. Like the medical prac- 
titioner who allows his patient to have his own way as to diei and 
regimen, he will be deemed and loved as a very indulgent physician. 
The temptation of the selfish heart to yield after half a dozen or more 
pressing solicitations, connected with insinuations which the superin- 
tendent is naturally desirous to meet by the easy demonstration of 
their falsity, is very strong. This fact ought to be recognized by the 
friends of the patients ; and they should respect his judgment when he 
opposes their wishes at the cost of pain to himself. Yet probably not 
one person in fifty would ever have a pang at the reflection, that his 
pertinacity had destroyed or materially lessened the chances of restora^ 
tion to a loved relative. 


" After a life devoted thus far almost exclusively to this specialty, 
were there any one counsel which I would impress on any one who 
may be called to this trust, it would be to stand firm to his con- 
victions on this greatest item of moral treatment. Receive no patient 
where only a half confidence in your character as an honest and com- 
petent man is extended. Receive no patient whose friends are not 
fully cognizant of what duty demands of them in the way of co-opera- 
tion. Thus assuming a sacred trust, discharge it fully by resisting 
unreasonable demands, or return it to the responsible friends by a dis- 
missal of the patient. And should you live long enough, as I have 
done, to look over a catalogue of two or three thousand patients who 
have been under your care, you will be surprised to see how close a 
relation has obtained between recovery, and a full, cheerful, patient co- 
operation on the part of fi-iends. Such co-operation extends through- 
out every ward of an asylum. Each attendant, fit by intelligence 
and zeal for such duties, does not fail to perceive the waste of bestow- 
ing labor where the superstructure is at intervals to be dashed to the 
ground ; and it is not in human nature to re-engage with earnestness 
and spirit in a task sure to prove abortive. 

" An erroneous impression prevails as to this system of separation 
from old associations calculated to keep fresh the disease. That is 
spoken of, as a general rule, which, in fact, is only applicable and 
aj^lied to the probably recoverable classes of patients. Where a case 
is deemed beyond cure, or is here merely for custody and as much 
comfort as possible, no objection is made to the correspondence or 
visits of proper friends. If such visits obviously kindle up the fires 
of disease, and subject an institution to great disturbance and ex- 
pense, or, as is oft«n the case, re-awaken a suicidal propensity, and 
thus involve the necessity of watching night after night, for weeks or 
months, it is but just that a proper understanding with friends should 
be had, or ftirther care declined. 

" About closing my duties in this field, I shall be glad, by leaving 
a record of these solemn convictions of my best judgment and expe- 
rience, to strengthen the hands of those who may come after me, in 
this most perplexing, as it is one of the most momentous, of the inci- 
dents of the moral treatment of the insane." 

These paragraphs, crowded with the results of Dr. BelPs 

experience, may serve as the summary of his labors for the 

best years of his life. Any one, who would appreciatingly esti- 



mate their character and valae, mast aid whatever knowledge 
he may have upon their subject by large draughts on his ima- 
gination for following into details nearly three thousand cases, 
each of which made some special demand upon the skill and 
resources of the physician. Yet, probably, Dr. Bell would 
have said, if closely catechized upon the point, that what he 
did for his patients directly was but a moiety of the occupa- 
tion which engaged him from day to day. Intercourse and 
correspondence with their friends outside the walls was labor 
enough of itself to engross a single mind; and often the 
vexations connected with it were of a sort from which he 
might without impatience, and not unreasonably, have ex- 
pected that he might have been spared. Taken in the sum 
of all its requisitions and responsibilities, his t^sk was one 
than which all the manifold demands made by men and 
women upon a man exact none requiring a finer combination 
of talents, acquisitions, and virtues. To resign such an office 
with dignity, after discharging it with all fidelity and with 
eminent success, would have been the crowning honor of Dr. 
Bell's life, had he not yet a sacrifice reserved for him by Pro- 
vidence to be rendered to his country. The trustees, in their 
Report for the same year, make the following acknowledg- 
ment : — 

" It will be seen by Dr. Bell's Report, that he has resigned the 
superintendence of the McLean Asylum, which he has conducted with 
signal ability and success since his election in December, 1836. The 
number of patients has nearly trebled under his administration, and 
the institution has gained a high and wide-spread reputation. It is 
unnecessary for us to say how much the trustees regret to lose his 
services. His skill and kindness and care, his activity, decision, and 
fertility of resources, have been conspicuous in his management of 
the patients ; his quick perception and uniform courtesy have given 
him that influence over their friends which is one of the first requi- 
sites for the successful treatment of the insane ; while his weight of 
character has won the confldence of the community, and preserved 
the Asylum in a great measure from tho^t suspicion and obloquy to 


which such institutions are peculiarly exposed. In retiring ifrom his 
arduous and responsible post, we trust that he will find an opportu- 
nity to recruit his strength for new services to his fellow-men." 

Dr. Bell had provided for himself, in the proximity of his 
new place of residence, the privilege of frequent and ever- 
welcome visits to the Asylum, as one who, having dis- 
charged himself from the severity of such a service, takes 
pleasure in friendly overseership and sympathy with his suc- 
cessor. That successor, as already named, was Dr. Booth, 
who had been for so many years the assistant and hourly 
friend of Dr. Bell. " His devoted and useful labors," as the 
trustees characterized them, when " recognizing his merits 
as an officer, and deploring the loss which the institution has 
sustained in his early and lamented decease," were closed 
in less than two years. While he was wasting within the 
walls by pulmonary disease, the trustees called upon Dr. Bell, 
near the close of the year 1857, to assume temporarily the 
superintendency ; and he acceded to the request, preparing 
also the Eeport for that year. 

His own plans were carried out in the erection of a commo- 
dious dwelling-house on the north side of Monument Square, 
in Charlestown. He supervised its construction, and seemed 
to take great pleasure in the work ; having an opportunity to 
carry out his own theories of ventilating and warming, — 
more successfully, however, as some of his neighbor visitors 
in the winter thought, in the former than in the latter condi- 
tion. Surrounded by his books, he knew how to read them, 
how to value them, and how to add to them. He had with 
him his four surviving children, — Clara, Prances Pinkerton,* 
William Appleton, and Charles John, — between the ages of 
one and nine. His own tender care of them was shared by 
near female relatives residing with him. As a member of 
the Massachusetts Historical Society, and of the American 
Academy of Arts and Sciences, he highly enjoyed the occa- 
sions of their respective meetings. He had, in 1847, 


received the degree of D.C.L. from King's College, Nova 
Scotia; and, in 1855, that of LL.D. from Amherst College. 
His inquisitive cast of mind would have made him eminent 
in any walk of science, as it did interest him in experimental 
research in very many branches of it. Mr. Columbus Tyler, 
his daily intimate at the Asylum for twenty years, commu- 
nicates so mudh about him in a few words, that I will quote 
it from a note written to me by him two days after Dr. 
Bell's obsequies: — 

^' His character was pure and sincere, without selfishness or pride. 
Liberal in his religious views, he saw some good in every Christian 
sect : the good he adopted and secured ; the dogmas fell harmless at 
his feet. A just man, he utterly loathed any thing like cant or hypo- 
crisy. He was fond of architecture and the mechanic arts. With 
an eye quick to perceive, he had a wonderful power in the adaptation 
of means to ends. He had great skill in the rough drawing of 
beasts, birds, and men ; and, to please the children, by a few strokes 
of the pen would make otherwise natural figures most grotesquely 
ridiculous. He was always candid and merciful in his judgments of 
others ; and believed every man had an average^ which should be 
estimated before an opinion was formed of him. I have no doubt 
that he was the first person who passed communications over the 
electric telegraph. He declared such to be the fact. The communi- 
cations were fully and accurately established; but owing to some 
difficulty in the machinery for expressing the thoughts conveyed, and 
funds failing, the labor was for the time suspended; and, in the 
interim, his friend and associate died. He petitioned Congress for 
remuneration, and claimed himself to be the inventor. At the same 
time, he was interested in a loom, or gin, for the manufacture of flax ; 
which, I understood from him, was perfected, and is now in success- 
ful operation abroad. I was quite interested in a bed he made with 
his own hands to keep himself dry while in or out of camp. Taking 
two India-rubber sheets, he sewed them together on the sides and at 
one end, with blankets intervening, — leaving one end open like 
a great bag, into which he slipped ; reposing dry and warm, however 
damp the ground or atmosphere might be." 

Dr. BelPs occupancy of his new dwelling in Charlestown 
was attended at first by tokens of failing health, which, as in- 


terpreted by the experiences he had witnessed in members of 
his family, might well excite his intense anxiety, not for him- 
self, but for those over whom he exercised the fondest earthly 
guardianship. Some private papers have been intrasted to 
my perusal, which I have read with an interest and a sensi- 
biUty that may not be transferred by any attempted rehearsal 
of them to these pages. They are of so sacredly confidential 
a character, that I have hesitated whether even the existence 
of them, and still more any reference to their contents, might 
with propriety be introduced here. But I am writing a 
Memoir of Dr. Bell. Besides contributing to it the facts and 
dates of his life, to be set forth with the narrative and com- 
ments which they suggest, he is entitled to contribute some- 
thing of himself, — something that indicates the tone of his 
inner being, the outlook of his heart, and the bearing of his 
spirit, as he contemplated the loftiest responsibilities of exist- 
ence, and faced the grim realities drawn on this side of the 
veil that hides its mysteries. The image in which he is most 
likely to rise before the minds of his fellow-citizens, during 
the last five years of his life in Charlestown, is as a pensive, 
serious, and dignified man, leading two or three little chil- 
dren through the streets, or stopping with them to gaze at 
any thing that attracted them in the shop-windows or the 
highways. His tall form did not prevent his coming down to 
their familiarity in all things. At congenial seasons, he was 
seen with them, or alone, training or weeding the flowers in 
the garden-patch adjoining his house. Appointed a commis- 
sioner to superintend the erection of the State Insane Asy- 
lum at Northampton, and often summoned to a distance to 
attend courts as an expert, he was frequently absent at short 
intervals, when his health permitted. His skill was con- 
stantly enlisted for advice and prescriptions for patients, or 
the friends of patients calling at his dwelling. But his home 
— in one sense, a new experience; and, in a very serious 
sense, a place of profoundly realized responsibility to him — 


was the centre of his life. He had really never been a house- 
keeper, in the fullest sense of the term, until then. In con- 
nection with his first complete experience as such, under the 
burden of a doubled parental trust, he was called to contem- 
plate the reasonable probability that he was very soon to 
follow his deceased partner, and leave his children wholly 
orphaned. It was under such forebodings that he prepared 
some papers just referred to, a reserved notice of which may 
not only be allowable, but most appropriate, as revealing to 
us alike the tender and the solid qualities which entered into 
the composition and substance of the man. I must consider 
his cautioning presence near me as seeking to seal up again 
what he left to be read for only one eye, though not forbid- 
ding those who esteemed him to catch here and there a 
sentence of his secrets. In a closed package, addressed to 
his brother-in-law and executor, and most confidential friend, 
" John M. Pinkerton, — not to be opened until after I shall 
have ceased to live," — was found a document of five well- 
covered sheets, written in Dr. Bell's firm and legible style, 
not showing any tremulousness from disease, or from the 
contemplation of the themes with which it deals in a manly 
and Christian-hearted simplicity. It is dated " Charlestown, 
Sunday evening, April 11, 1858." Such extracts as we ven- 
ture to copy may be taken chiefly from the beginning of 

"Your dear sister left us on the Ist of March, 1855. Three 
years ago, perhaps to a day, on one of the early April days, a month 
after her departure, I came down to the house in which I am now 
writing this, with two of our children. I suppose we looked over its 
unfinished rooms, which, just in the same state, she and I had visited 
a few months before. By the wish of the children, we went out upon 
Monument Square, with one of them (Clara) in my hand, and 
Fannie in my arms. We walked around the Monument. As I was 
wearily and heavily turning across the path parallel to High Street, 
and facing my house, I felt an irritation and tickling about my throat, 
which resulted in the ejection of a small quantity of bloody expecto- 


ration. Having had no previous symptoms of pulmonary trouble, 
I tried to make myself believe that it was consequent upon some 
small exudition of blood in the nasal or pharyngeal passages. Yet, in 
the recollection of my brother John's first symptoms and my general 
acquaintance with the subject, I could not shut my eyes to the pro- 
bability of its having come from the lungs, and of its being the 
indication of tubercular disease awakened into action. I think I can 
say, without affectation (for of that you would not suspect me in a 
communication like this), that, in itself, this sudden and unexpected 
warning gave me no pain. It was only on the second instantly 
recurring idea of my four little children that I recoiled at this mission 
of the grim messenger. I returned home [to the Asylum] ; went 
about my duties ; and no human being ever heard of this first symp- 
tom of my illness imtil your eye now rests upon' it in this record." 

He then describeB, with particulars, a second attack, 
which, after riding from the Asylum to Boston and doing 
some errands, he experienced in the city on June 29 : — 

"As I drove up through Court Square to Bowdoin Square, I 
found myself raising pure blood ; evidently from my lungs, as it came 
with a light and easy cough, unlike nasal hemorrhage. After a few 
minutes, it abated and ceased. On my arriving at home, I was inter- 
nally agitated, externally calm. My brother's case, who died in 
some few weeks of an unchecked pulmonary hemorrhage, was before 
me. I sat myself at a drawer of private papers, and assorted and 
destroyed such as I thought best. About dinner-time, I felt another 
oppression and bleeding to be impending. I retired to my chamber ; 
sent for Dr. Booth and Mr. Tyler ; and, as the bleeding had com- 
menced, Dr. Wyman was called in at their suggestion. You know 
the subsequent history of my life. On my journey to the British 
Provinces the next July and August, I had no subsequent attack ; 
nor have I had any, up to this day, of hemorrhage, with an exception 
scarcely worth mentioning. On my way to Halifax, N.S., I had a 
sleepless night on board the miserable steamer 'Creole' (recently the 
property of Lopez and his wretched adventurers to Cuba) up the bay. 
Leaving my cold and offensive berth at early dawn, I sat myself in a 
chair, took up a Bible which was at hand, and read some of the 
Psalms. A slight irritation occurred, and an ejection of blood upon 
its page ! This was some three weeks after the turn of illness in 
which you will recall me as lying in Mr. Tyler's chamber, surrounded 


with ice, and in great distress. From the earliest of my expectora- 
tions of blood, I have felt that the question of my continuance in life 
was simply one of time. I had a perfect consciousness that pulmo- 
nary disease was present. I knew, that, at the age of nearly fifty, its 
progress might be more protracted ; but I think I can say, that, from 
that moment to this hour, the idea of a full recovery of health has 
never been before me. My highest hope has been, that the fatal 
event might be procrastinated as long as possible. I have already 
been blessed with the fruition of a portion of my hopes. The 
three years which have passed away have carried my dear children 
along through so much — so large a proportion, I may say — of 
the most anxious and difficult part of their career. • • . When 
I contemplate all that has been saved and secured us between the 
close of my life three years ago and the present time, I know not 
what terms of gratitude will express my obligations to the great 
Disposer of events. 

" In casting your eyes back over the events of the three past 
years, you may be ready to express your astonishment at my 
avowal, — sincere as you may be ready to receive it, — that I have 
never indulged the expectation of recovery. ' What I ' you will^ ex- 
claim : ' has he not been a candidate for office, made public speeches, 
been honored with promotions in the Medical Society, &c. ; been 
engaged in building a hospital, in buying and selling?' All ad- 
mitted. The uncertainty of the event, whether this year, or the 
next, or the next after, will account for much, if any, inconsistency. 
Anxiety to have things, both as to character and property, in a way 
to make my name and my memory dear to my children, may explain 
any indifference in my daily life to that impending event. Even 
habit does not fail of rendering the most solemn of human events 
familiar to the mind. 

" Still, I may say, in all candor and truth, that, while giving such 
attention as I have to the affairs of the world, I never have failed to 
realize the insignificance of the present. In the silence and quiet of 
the night, — such as this in which I am now writing, — I have pon- 
dered on the great questions, — ' If a man die, shall he live again ? \ 
and, ' How shall a man be just with God ? ' I have studied and 
thought, as a man may be presumed to study and think who has no 
motive to bias him beyond the hope of arriving at the great truth. 

" Few men have been more torn and distressed than I have been 
in this research. The truths of the Bible have, for many years, been 


fully accepted by me. The internal evidences of Christianity have 
been overpowering to my mind. A system, as compared with all 
that the world had dreamed of up to that day of the Saviour's 
appearance, so infinitely exalted, — a system so infinitely exalted 
above all that men have reached since, or which they ever can reach, 
could leave no room for doubt of its celestial origin on the part of 
any reasonably enlightened mind." 

What follows in this connection I refrain from transcribing. 
In snmmary, I may report, that in the same earnest and 
heart-revealing sincerity, characteristic of a profound piety 
and a manly independence of spirit. Dr. Bell attempts to 
define, not even to all his nearest friends, but to the most 
confidential of them, who knew his inner being through other 
sympathies, bis religious position and experience. It is sub- 
stantially the same as has been revealed to us by many 
devout yet thoroughly free-minded and deep-thinking men, 
whose reverent faith and allegiance were won to the essen- 
tials of Christian piety, but who were confounded by, and 
were conscious of dissenting from, the doctrinal standards 
and the recognized tests of sectarianism. The honored me- 
mories of the departed of his own lineage, especially of him 
whom he calls his "noble grandfather," of his "sainted wife," 
and the affectionate influence of his nearest friends, would 
have availed much to set for his personal aim — as his 
" yearnings " were for — their own standard of belief and 
experience. He says, — 

" For myself, I can only say, in my inability to reach, after many 
and prayerful hours, days, months, and years, any full, clear, satis- 
factory views as to what manner of Christian I am, — if worthy of 
that sacred name, in the language of my friend Dr. Brigham, cut 
off in sudden disease, instead of having the long opportunity indulged 
to me, — ' Lord, I believe : help thou mine unbelief.' I hope my 
friends will think of me with all charity as to my religious opinions. 
If it has not been in my power to accord my assent to any form of 
creed, I know nothing of pride, of conceit, of desire for eccentricity, 
to prevent my having done so." 



Those heart^revelations are the introductory matter of a 
document whose further contents have no place here. They 
are laden with the affectionate thoughtfulness and the wise 
planning and provision for an endeared little flock^ which any 
rising or setting sun might find wholly orphaned. Prudent 
planS; which provide for their needful modification, are laid 
down ; and the gradations of family affection are recognized 
as defining such requisitions as are to be made upon it. The 
father reads the character and traces the development of 
each of his children as the art of the phrenologist — making 
all account of brain, and none of heart — never can do. The 
Scotch-Irish and New-England factors, in the resultant esti- 
mate of the greater needs of humanity, are tersely embodied 
in a sentence, in which that father requires that the pur- 
chased or rented home for his children and their guardians 
should be " near to schools, churches, and good society." He 
left them means sufficient to meet their needs. 

Leaving the envelope to which he had committed this 
document unopened, on two occasions, at subsequent dates, 
this ever-thoughtful parent signified, in a similar way, his post- 
humous wishes. The first of these, dated "Evening of Dec. 
12, 1859," after gratefully expressing the thanks of the writer 
for his continuance in life, is, in the main, occupied with a 
reiteration of his desires, under some slight modifications, 
and with tender utterances of affection and confidence. The 
other paper, bearing date Jan. 22, 1861, is introduced as 
follows : — 

'' A day of unusually poor health has naturally again turned my 
thoughts upon that event, which, now for nearly six years, has never 
been absent from me. Not that I would allow you to think that I 
have looked the wrongfiilly termed ' grim messenger ' in the face 
with dread or trembling, but only as connecting my removal hence 
with the welfare of my dear children. ... I have not been unwill- 
ing to manifest to you the processes of my mind and sensibilities 
during the past years, wherein I have walked cheerful and composed, 


I think you will bear me witness, ' through the shadow of the valley 
of death.* With what mercy have I been spared since that hour, — 
six years ago next April, — when, while walking on the square oppo- 
site my house, with a too-heavy child in my arms, I discovered that 
my constitution, gradually failing since the death of my dear wife, 
gave me notice, in a moderate turn of haemoptysis, of that which my 
professional experience compelled me to accept was my inevitable 
fate ! I would have put the cup away from me, not, as far as I be- 
lieve, on my own account, for my own life was then ' played out ; * but," 
&c. ..." My prayers have been answered more fully than I dared 
ask or think," &c. 

The writer then indicates it as his testamentary wish, that 
his library and philosophical instruments should be given to 
the college at Amherst, Mass., which " had conferred on him 
its highest literary honor, without his knowledge or any out- 
side solicitation." 

On the anniversary of the fifth birthday of his youngest 
boy, and, soon after, for each of his other children, he who 
could recall " the feelings of a motherless boy," wrote, for the 
same posthumous uses, words of affectionate and wise counsel. 
Each of these autographs of him who would have fallen on 
his last sleep before they would be unsealed, was accompanied 
by a bound collection of most of the pieces which had been 
published from his pen. In all the private papers which have 
thus been partially communicated to eyes for which they never 
were designed, are found the most engaging evidences of a 
wealth of fine sentiment and lofty principle, veiled under the 
modest, and, as some thought, the too-reserved, or even moody, 
exterior of our subject. It is impossible but that the occu- 
pation in which an earnest and able man has been engaged 
for a score of years, should convey to his features and de- 
meanor some characteristic symbol of its nature and effect on 
himself. As his features settle into the mould which mature 
and repeated and continuous thought and occupation have 
applied to them, they become an index of his calling, and, to 
some extent, of the character which that calling has helped 


to develop. One can hardly conceive, that a man, who had 
been engaged in such labors and ministrations as had so tho- 
roughly tasked the qualities so congenial to them in Dr. Bell, 
should be a man of a light or gay aspect. The marvel, to be 
explained only by the wondrous resources of human nature, 
is, that such labors as his had been, leave the capacity of 
cheerfulness, or the ability of intercourse with the ordinary 
world of men and things, unimpaired. Not unfrequently, the 
question would be asked by those, who, having no personal 
acquaintance with Dr. Bell, drew an inference from his aspect, 
whether he was not a sad or melancholy man. He certainly 
was not a jovial or hilarious man. It would not have added 
to, it would rather have abated from, the esteem of his friends 
to have found him so. But he was far from being a man of a 
melancholy spirit. His brooding and introspective look indi- 
cated the cast and tone of thought and sympathy which he 
had so long engaged upon the graver elements of human life. 
But there was in him a capacity as well as an appreciation of 
humor. He was a very delightful, as well as most instructive, 
companion for a quiet country drive or an evening conference. 
He was a ready listener, and a very communicative, though a 
quiet and moderate, talker. His knowledge was various, and 
his resources extensive. His library, moderate in size, is curi- 
ously catholic and comprehensive in its contents ; the especial 
paucity of medical books being significant of his marked pro- 
fessional characteristic, of preferring observation to authority. 
His philosophical instruments show that he had used them. 
Every thing of his own that he left behind him — his tools of 
trade, correspondence, and unfinished work — indicates a mind, 
which, while its chief devotion had been given to a specialty, 
had reserved capacity and interest for a variety both of pro- 
found and of practical pursuits. The last theme of specu- 
lative study in which he was engaged, before the alarming 
state of national affairs wholly engrossed him, was that of the 
" Demoniacs of the New Testament." The noble collection 


of " Heath Papers/' then recently presented to the Massachu- 
setts Historical Society by Mr. Amos A. Lawrence, drew him 
often to the Library Rooms to spend some pleasant hours in 
their examination. He had a sense of obligation moving 
in him — accepting the hint given to the members of this 
Society by the bee-hive so prominent in its seal — to prove 
his right in its fellowship by some contribution in its service. 
Had his life been spared for peaceful labors, he would cer- 
tainly have left some other evidence of his membership than 
now appears in tributary honors in the publications of the 

The posthumous disclosures made by the private papers 
that have been referred to show to us that Dr. BelPs continu- 
ance in life, and especially with such a measure of bodily 
vigor as to qualify him for any active duties, was unexpected 
to himself. Of course, the longer the reprieve granted to him, 
the more hopeful would he be, — so human nature works in us, 
— that a disease which did not fulfil its first threats might 
indefinitely lengthen its truce, if not wholly yield the ground 
which it had gained in his constitution. His friends recog- 
nized his condition to be that of permanent invalidism. His 
intense sense of parental responsibility, and the conviction 
that nothing could supply, by substitution, his own personal 
oversight of his children, made him cling strongly to life, even 
if under limitations of its common enjoyments. He acqui- 
esced in the necessary restraints which his invalidism imposed. 
He seems to have been one of the few persons, under medical 
supervision, who can with safety allow themselves to feel 
their own pulse, and study the symptoms of their own mala- 
dies. Most of his chance acquaintance were surprised, when, 
at his decease, they came to learn that he was no older in 
years; for though the honors of his head, unthinned and 
unbleached, left him one token of youth, his stooping gait, 
and the thoughtfulness stamped on his unfurrowed features, 
gave him the aspect of more advanced age. 


It is possible that kindly home-narsing, easy circumstances, 
and the gentle bodily exercise on which Dr. Bell relied, might 
have given him a few more years, not so much for lengthen- 
ing his own life, as for leading his children, still under his eye, 
out of childhood to an appreciation of his wishes for them. 
But a service was in preparation for him, which, whether or 
not shortening his life, gave him an opportunity to discharge, 
in a conspicuous field, some of the noblest duties of a patriot 
and a Christian. The political party with which Dr. Bell was 
in full sympathy foreboded civil war, as the inevitable result 
of the agitations and measures in attempting to resist which 
it lost its own dominancy. This Memoir is no proper medium 
for the discussion of such themes, however the writer might 
be tempted to pause upon them in order to plead indirectly 
for his own convictions as in harmony or in opposition with 
those of Dr. Bell. Whatever judgment one may form of his 
party aflSnities, principles, or purposes, he belongs, by a noble 
self-consecration, to a better than any partisan fellowship. 
When the fearful strife which he had foreboded actually 
opened, he sought no immunity from self-sacrifice in falling 
back upon his despised prophecies, but owned the stem pre- 
sence of an occasion which spoke no longer to party, but 
to patriotism. Before the first flash of rebellion lit the 
Southern sky, he watched the omens of each passing hour 
with dismay. He read the papers, the speeches, the bulletins, 
with an intense avidity ; and with slender hope, because of 
overwhelming apprehension, waited for the catastrophe. He 
knew that what was left in him from the training of his life 
was a gift of merciful ministration for such scenes as battle- 
fields would crowd before him. It was reason enough for him 
to become a soldier, that he was skilled in all the direful tasks 
of high professional care. To the amazement of aU who 
knew him, he became a soldier. 

We follow Dr. Bell into his new field of service, — the 
doubtful convalescent or valetudinarian, the man of peace. 


habituated to all the comforts and refinements of a sheltered 
life, the father of four motherless children, the patriot 
soldier. He knew well what was before him. He probably 
fixed his eyes, with a gaze such as draws the heart out with 
it, upon the furnishings of his library, upon the children 
whom he was to leave to such faithful care as he had provided 
for them, and upon the rugged monumental shaft rising before 
his windows in the light of early spring-time, when he wrote 
the letter we are now to read. His correspondence with the 
department, official, indeed, but essentially private, — on file 
in the State House, — has been kindly submitted to me ; and I 
am allowed to make a discreet use of it. It may well be 
introduced by the following letter, the date of which was 
already historic when it was written ; and, unknown to the 
writer of it, was perhaps, while his pen was upon the paper, 
receiving a new consecration, at least for Massachusetts, by 
the tragedy transpiring in the streets of Baltimore, in the 
wild rage of a mob upon our soldiers marching to the defence 
of the nation's capital. " The nineteenth of April '* was the 
right day for a citizen of Middlesex County, living under the 
shadow of Bunker-hill Monument, to select for the date of 
this manly offer. 

Monument Square, Charlestown, April 19, 1861. 

To Adjatant-General Schouleb. 

Deab Sm, — We are at that point where every man who can 
devote himself to his country's service should come forward. 

I beg that you would put on file this my application for any 
position in the medical service of the Commonwealth in which I 
could be useful. 

I am aware of the law under which surgeons are appointed, and 
of course understand that you have no direct control of this matter. 
But there may be exigencies, from deaths, resignations, unusual de- 
mands, or unforeseen circumstances, when you may be called upon to 
advise or suggest. If such a call is made, be pleased to remember 
this application of your old personal and political.friend. 


I may be allowed to say, should this communication ever be 
brought up for consideration, that, while I am known mainly in 
another specialty, I was educated in the New-York hospitals for a 
surgeon ; and for some years, in a wide field, I was much engaged in 
that capacity. Inquiry in New Hampshire would show that there 
are few of the greater operations of surgery which I have not per- 

I am a little above fifty ; in health so good as not to have been 
confined to my house a day in the past three years, and entirely 
removed from all cares by easy personal circumstances. Of course, 
am ready, at the shortest notice, for any duty. 

As this application is for t^e, not show, may I beg of you that it 
may not reach the press, which, in its avidity for paragraphs, might 
be ready to put me unnecessarily before the public? 

With sincere regards, I am very truly yours, 

Luther V Bell. 

As the staff of the militia was full, immediately on the 
issuiDg of the President's proclamation, calling " for a volun- 
teer force to aid in the enforcement of the laws, and the 
suppression of the insurrection," Dr. Bell went to the Surgeon- 
General, Dr. William J. Dale, at the State House, and renewed 
his offer of service. Dr. Dale mounted to the Governor's 
room, and stated the wishes of the applicant. The Governor 
at once replied, " Tell Dr. Bell, I consider the State would be 
honored by a commission conferred upon him.* Ask him to 
step up here." After a few words of conversation, the Gov- 
ernor, expressing to Dr. Bell his high appreciation of his 
patriotism, directed that a commission should be made out for 
him as surgeon of the Eleventh Begiment of Massachusetts 
Volunteers, dated June 10, 1861. 

On the 1st of May following. Dr. Bell makes an official 
return of his examination of seventy-three recruits, of which 
he rejects four. On June 25, he makes a communication 
from Camp Cameron, North Cambridge, on hospital-stores. 
Every moment of his time was engrossed by anxious cares 
and wise provisions for his men, and by a general supervision 


reaching beyond his immediate province, to prepare for a 
hurried departure for the scene of war. A letter dated from 
New York, June 30, 1861, describes the transit of his regi- 
ment, and its arrival in that city. He refers cheerily to his 
extemporaneous discharge of the duty, shaken oflF on to him 
by his colonel, of responding, in front of the City Hall, to a 
welcome given to the regiment by the sons of Massachusetts, 
through their president, Richard Warren, Esq. After a few 
words of thoughtful professional and official wisdom, showing 
how faithfully his work would be done, he adds, " It is said 
by some, that Baltimore will begin with us in opposing Gene- 
ral Banks's recent sternly proper measure. Well, nHmporte. 
I had as lief begin service at that city as any other place." 
His regiment was stationed for a while at " Camp Sanford," 
Washington; whence he writes frequently in reference to 
what he finds necessary, as ambulances, stretchers, &c., 
giving the results of some already dear-bought experience, 
and drawing ingenious ink-sketches of proper beds and cots 
for the camp. It is evident, even from his briefest commu- 
nications, that Dr. Bell apprehended the nearness and the 
possibly disastrous results of a decisive engagement with the 
enemy. The records and descriptions of the awful scenes 
which followed are fearfully voluminous ; but we cannot re- 
frain from putting into print yet one more, in an intensely 
interesting letter from his pen. It is addressed to his friend 
Dr. Dale, and is dated, — 

At Our Former Camp, Near Alexandria, 
Wednesday, July 24, 1861. 

My Dear Doctor, — Knowing that you would feci an interest 
in my movements and fate during the past eventful week, I seize the 
earliest moment, after our regaining this place of safety, after the 
most terrible defeat of modem times, to give you a brief and crude 
narration of what concerns me personally; aware that you must 
already know vastly more of the general events than I have the 
means of doing. I will begin with last Tuesday week. After 



resting a day or two at this beautiful spot, whence I wrote you at a 
late hour before we left, the order came for us to march at two 
o'clock, P.M. 

With four or five regiments more, we set out in fine spirits for 
unknown regions, as not a whisper ever passes from those at the 
head as to the route or destination. Soon the column began to move 
at a snail's pace ; and, after many hours, in this way we reached 
Aquatink Creek, where the bridges were burned, and the whole 
division had to pass over a single plank, which explained the strange 
delay. The creek was at the bottom of the deepest ravine, and then 
the hill on the other side was to be surmounted over the most horrible 
obstructions. At half-past three, a.m., we lay on the ground for an 
hour. Recommencing, we dragged along all day, under a burning sun, 
and through paths cut in the forest, so as to avoid the trees cut down 
and masked batteries. At night, we bivouacked near what is called 
Sangster's Station. That afternoon, we again marched forward to 
Centreville. On entering this at nine or ten, p.m., the light of a 
thousand camp-fires shed their glow over a vast ravine, in which it 
was plain that the great division of the army was encamped, — forty 
or fifty thousand men, with batteries of artillery, baggage- wagons, 
&c. Here we bivouacked two nights. Dr. Josiah Curtis joined our 
camp here, and Mr. Henry Wilson was with us a night. At two 
o'clock, Sunday morning, the order to march was obeyed ; and, as the 
mighty mass moved forward, it was manifest that the hour for the 
great action was near. At nine or ten, we saw, away at the south- 
west, clouds of smoke and dust, with plain sounds of cannon, and 
volleys of musketry. We hurried on, and about noon turned down 
into a field, where there was a creek, to rest and drink. In about 
two minutes, the order came to form into line, and push forward, as 
we were wanted. At half-past one, we were at the verge of the 
battle-field. As I passed, I noted a pretty large, rough-stone church, 
— large for Virginia, — which I decided would be one of the depots 
for the wounded. Curtis and I went up to the field, and there were 
abundant proofs of the awful work going on, — hundreds of dead 
men, horses dead and half killed, wounded men, in all directions. I 
notified all the officers of the regiment where their wounded should 
be carried ; tried to aid some wounded, for whom I had carried my 
pocket full of tourniquets ; but found that there was no hemorrhage. 
The ambulances then came up, and were heaped with wounded: 
no attempt could be made to separate regiments, or even friends and 


enemies. Getting back to the church, I found work enough ; for, in 
an hour, the entire floor and gallery (pews torn up) were covered 
with wounded to the number of seventy-five or eighty. The wounds 
were awfully ghastly ; being made much with shell, Minie-balls, and 
rifled canon. We turned to with all our might (i.e., Dr. Foye, my- 
self, and Dr. Curtis, — to whose noble, fearless, volunteer devotion, 
too much honor cannot be given), and, until late in the afternoon, cut 
right hand and left hand. There were three or four other surgeons 
at the church ; and I recollect seeing Dr. Magruder, U.S.A., who 
was said to have some directing power ; although we all did as we 
saw fit. 

About six o'clock, we were informed that the mighty stampede of 
our panic-stricken columns, flying for life, approached its end. Curtis 
coolly asked me if I meant to risk assassination or capture. I re- 
plied, " that in no civilized country could a surgeon be injured with his 
badge in sight, his hospital-flag set, and about his duty of mercy. 
This is our post of duty : let us stand by it." Curtis and Foye both 
replied, " Doctor, we shall do just as you do." "We went to work 
again in full activity, though I was almost exhausted with fatigue. 
No water could be had : our dressings, chloroform, &c., were ex- 
hausted. A half-hour after, Curtis said, " Doctor, if you should 
decide to change your design, you have but a. moment to do it in. 
The enemy are just upon us. In hot blood, it is not likely they will 
spare us." I had a young man from New Hampshire on the board 
laid over the chancel-rail, just having applied a tourniquet ; and was 
about making my first incision to amputate the leg. I thought an 
hour in a moment. I felt I had no right to sacrifice men who thus 
relied upon me. I said, " Let us go ! " seized my coat and sash, 
and we rushed out. I had my valuable horse and equipments at 
hand ; but there was no time to save them. I lost all, — sword and 
belt, every surgical instrument, and some family tokens which I 
valued much, such as my son Samuel's (you recollect the boy) 
shawl and my brother James's revolver. 

We rushed through a creek, and took to the woods, making a few 
units of that vast, dilapidated, panic-stricken mass, crowding the 
road for five or eight miles, every now and then alarmed by the out- 
cry that the enemy was aftet us, when we would all rush out one 
side into the woods. A kindly cook, to whom I had shown some 
trifling kindness, and who had seized a horse, discovered me, and 
insisted on my riding, while he went on foot by my side, hurrying up 


my horse. After a while, we saw a Charlestown lieutenant (Sweet) 
much exhausted and sick, and got him up behind me. 

After riding so (and all the horses carried double ; a great many 
of them had been cut away from the cannons) for some six or 
eight miles, we approached a narrow, high bridge, over " Cub Run." 
In an instant, the bridge was a mass of artillery, wagons, cavalry, 
infantry, and ambulances, crushed together. The water-way at the 
side was equally jammed. At this instant, the incarnate fiends fired 
repeated charges of their rifled canon (doubtless planted by day-light 
for that range) into the mass, killing many. I was a few rods from 
the bridge ; but, on hearing the awful sounds of those missiles, I drove 
straight into the woods, then forward, hoping to cross the creek 
below. A second discharge struck the trees as if lightning had 
crushed them. I told Sweet we must abandon the horse. He 
thought so too, and slipped off, and made for the creek. At this 
moment, my faithful cook cried to me not to leave the horse ; for 
that the only crossing-place possible was at the bridge. He rushed 
back, seized the animal, forced him over a stone wall and into the 
water. Here the animal insisted on stopping to drink. Cook laid 
over him a naked sword, which he had picked up ; and one of our 
regiment urged him ahead with a bayonet. Just at this moment, a 
young negro was forced up into the deep water next the bridge, and 
was drowning ; when cook seized him, and pitched him up upon the 
bank. Cook then compelled my horse to rise the almost perpendicu- 
lar bank ; and on we went. At the top of the hill, by a strange 
Providence, we again encountered Sweet, and took him on. In this 
way we reached Centreville, whence we had set out in such brilliant 
array. My cook asked me if I could ride to Washington that 
night. I replied, that I could do so better than the next day. 
We started on, I riding and he walking, Sweet left behind, until we 
reached Fairfax Court House. Here I spied a wretched old lager- 
beer wagon bound to Arlington. I deputed cook (who said he 
could ride the horse, beat out as he seemed to me) to hire a ride at 
any price, as I happened to have some money left. He agreed for 
ten dollars ; and about eight, a.m., I reached the fortification at 
*' Columbian Springs," opposite Washington. Here I was compelled 
to stay the livelong day, useless, in the rain and mud, because I 
could not get a pass into the city. Towards night, I persuaded the 
colonel in command to give me one, and reached Willard's. Here 
I found my servant Prentiss, whom I had directed, by a sergeant 


flying to our old camps here, to bring up my baggage. I was soon 
dressed in clean and dry clothes, and soon encountered an old Charles- 
town friend (Captain Taylor, U.S.A.) there on ordnance duty. He 
took me to his boarding-house ; and I think I must have amazed him 
by the way I ate, for I had seen nothing but wretched hard bread 
and poor coffee since we left this place. He then gave me a beau- 
tiful bed ; and, having had six nights with nothing but earth and sky 
below and above me, I enjoyed it. Next morning, had a splendid 
breakfast, and bore away for Mr. William Appleton. Found him 
quite ill, but glad to see me, as it had been currently reported that 
I was among the slain. I told him some of my story, and said I 
wanted money. I had started with enough : but our staff and offi- 
cers are very poor, as a general thing ; and, having received no pay 
as yet, I was obliged to share with them. Of course, he put me at 
my ease cheerfully, and I left him happy. Got a ten-dollar gold- 
piece changed into quarters ; and, before I got to the Surgeon-Gencrars 
office to report the loss of all instruments, I met enough of our un- 
breakfasted stragglers to use it up. The next day (i.e., yesterday), 
we came back here in the baggage-wagons, and are again comfort- 
ably fixed in the old Virginia mansion of which I wrote you in a 
former letter. To-day, our pioneers have been cutting down the 
large trees of the pleasure-grounds, to allow a sweep for the big guns 
of Fort Ellsworth. Last night, we had an alarm that the enemy was 
upon us. I, with some half-dozen regiments encamped round about, 
turned out to arms. It was, of course, a false alarm. . . . 

Thus, doctor, I have given my share in those awful scenes. How 
much of life has been compressed in less than a month ! I have seen 
more gun-shot wounds, performed more operations, and had a harder 
experience, I fancy, than most army surgeons in a lifetime. 

I have enjoyed, from first to last, excellent health and spirits. I 
never, even when those cursed missiles were sent into my rear, felt 
one sentiment of regret at the step I had taken, or the slightest 
thought of receding. . . . 

To Dr. William J. Dale. 

Dr. Bell shared with his regiment the experience of 
various removals and camps; working with unabated zeal, 
and, evidently to his own surprise, enjoying, in spite of 
fatigue, and exposure to rough circumstances, a measure 


of health which he had not known for , years. He writes, 
Aug. 24, 1861, "My own health and spirits continue ex- 
cellent. Some of my friends have prognosticated, that, when 
my zeal had cooled, there would be a re-action, under which 
I should wilt. As I never experienced any enthusiasm, of 
which I was conscious, beyond a plain, simple, every-day 
desire to discharge what seemed a duty, I never accepted 
their theory, and see no reason to do so now." 

In this letter he announces his having learned through 
General Hooker, the commander of his division, his appoint- 
ment as an "acting brigade-surgeon.'' In this, as in other 
parts of his correspondence, he speaks in the loftiest terms of 
General Hooker ; admiring his manly and his military quali- 
ties. He also recognizes the personal friendliness and official 
courtesy which he himself receives from every one with 
whom he is brought in contact. On receiving official notice 
of his promotion in the medical service, he of course, in a 
letter to the State Department, resigns his commission in the 
Eleventh Regiment of Massachusetts. In accepting his 
resignation, the Governor makes a felicitous and just recog- 
nition of the fidelity and eminent quality of the patriotic and 
professional devotion which he had manifested. His new 
function, with its higher rank, was one to which Dr. Bell 
had every just claim ; for a subordinate place, however 
thoroughly and faithfully he might give himself to its duties, 
might properly be regarded, in a relation where rank ought 
as nearly as possible to correspond with merit, as limiting 
rather than exercising his full abilities. It is evident, from 
frequent references to his long-expected promotion in his 
letters, that Dr. Bell's self-respect, and consciousness of 
fitness for an advanced position, made him earnest to 
secure it. At the same time, the same promptings restricted 
him to a most scrupulously dignified way of pressing his 
claims amid the multitude of aspirants who were moving the 
springs of influence at Washington. His friends to whom he 


intrusted his advocacy have in their possession very striking 
evidences, that the first condition of honor attaching to any 
place that he could win, was, that it should have been 
honorably won. He was made acting brigade-surgeon in 
August, 1861 ; and his subsequent commission was dated 
from the third of that month. When Hooker was commis- 
sioned as major-general. Dr. Bell was again promoted to be 
" medical director of division.'' As such, he had under his 
supervision twenty-two medical officers and fifteen thousand 
men, scattered over a reach of six miles on the bank of the 
Potomac. Though it was mainly his duty to receive reports 
in his tent, he was in the habit of riding, on an average, a 
score of miles each day on visits of inspection. He acquired 
great skill in horsemanship over " detestable roads,'' which 
were in strange contrast with the granite highways once 
traversed by him as a country doctor in New Hampshire. 
We may be sure that he was a diligent observer of all those 
features of scenery, influences of climate, and various cir- 
cumstances of his new mode of life, as well as of the rich and 
diversified manifestations of human nature opened to his 
intelligent and appreciative view. There are among his 
papers some half-dozen manuscripts of " lyceum lectures," 
which he had written many years ago, and delivered to great 
acceptance when the epidemic craving for those entertain- 
ments had spread over this neighborhood. Their subjects, 
never trite or commonplace, but in themselves indicative 
of genius, show a bent of mind adapted to the conveyance of 
profitable instruction in a lively way. Not the least among 
the regrets that he should not have been spared to see the 
end'of the war, arises from the conviction of his friends, that 
he was eminently qualified to have made some valuable 
contribution by his pen to its literature. He prized chiefly 
among the prerogatives of his promotion his place on the 
staff of General Hooker, — of which he was the senior in 
rank as well as in age, — and the proximity of his tent and 


the privilege of intimate intercourse with an oflScer, between 
whom and himself there grew a warm friendship, founded on 
mutual regard. 

Dr. Bell must have been a most diligent writer of letters, 
even amid the distractions of a camp and the deprivation of 
ordinary conveniences. A large number of epistles, of great 
variety in form and contents, are now before me, addressed 
by him to his children. He exacted from them all, in person 
or by proxy, constant communications covering the affairs 
of home-life and their education. He set them the example of 
fidelity in this direction by an almost daily message from his 
pen. These letters of his are crowded with the proofs of 
his wise affection ; of his resolution to keep strong every tie 
of love, as a medium of tender regard, and of constant influ- 
ence in the formation of his children's characters ; and of his 
desire to communicate to them a conception of the nature of 
that struggle in which their father was daily risking his life. 
There is a vivacity in their tone and contents, such as make 
them the channels of lively amusement as well as of infor- 
mation. He tells the story of a valuable horse lost in 
the rout at Bull Run, and of his efforts to replace him ; and 
describes the tricks and short-comings of his new steed, 
which, though heinous and dangerous, were offset by the 
evidence of some undeveloped or untrained qualities of good 
and by some positive merits. The medical director does not 
fail to recognize the fact, that horses as well as men are 
affected by change of climate. As the damps and chills of 
autumn drew on, instead of allowing his horse to be tethered, 
as hundreds around him were, in the open night-air, he is 
careful to procure him a warm board shelter, while the owner 
sleeps under canvas only. He describes to his children the 
two costumes in which their father appears at different 
times, — one an undress of most primitive and scanty mate- 
rials, in which he runs down to a clay puddle, with a towel in 
his hand, for ablutions; the other, in which, tricked with 


stripes on his pantaloons, gold lace, epaulets, and a chapeau, 
he mounts his horse as a fierce warrior. His skill in 
draughting and caricature-etching serves him and his cor- 
respondents to good purpose here. He draws a sketch of 
his tent, as seen from outside ; and another, as disposed 
within, describing its parts and uses. One of these letters, 
dated " Away oflF five hundred miles from my infantines," 
addressed to his youngest boy, covers three pages printed 
by the pen with great beauty and regularity, so that the 
child may be able to read it as his own. It is adorned with 
an admirable sketch of a " contraband," — being a " side-view 
of Cupid, waiter to the mess,'' — preceded by an escort of 
very smaU chickens of a rather pensive expression. Some, 
who knew Dr. Bell in quite other relations, would hardly 
have recognized his identity, had they looked over his 
shoulder as he was engaged upon such an illustrated epistle, 
in a tent surrounded with clay a foot deep, and of a consist- 
ency which suggested brick-making. 

In January, 1862, Congress had before it a bill providing 
for a re-organization of the medical department of the army. 
The brigade-surgeons, in which class Dr. Bell stood as No. 10, 
were to be merged with the surgeons of the regular army : 
and certain " inspectors " were provided for, with rank and 
emoluments a little higher ; their duties being to exercise a 
supervision over the hospitals, the hygiene regulations, &c. 
Dr. Bell proposed applying for one of these places ; feeling 
confident that his pursuits and studies would make him more 
useful in such a position than in the ordinary line of duty. 
He well knew how earnest would be the struggle between 
competitors and their patrons in the political arena for these 
coveted places. He might be excused from all imputation of 
vanity or over self-estimate, if he had quietly assumed, that, 
were the question to turn simply upon an ordeal or inquisition 
that should proceed upon the fitness of candidates, one of the 

places would have sought him, without any effort of his own. 



He was well aware, however, that circumstances required him 
to stand as his own friend, and to rally others. Yet, as before, 
there was only one way in which he could seek or use patron- 
age. It must come to him, if at all, from competent men, 
his own neighbors, through direct channels, and with the 
sanction of the highest professional authority. The last in- 
terest, as it proved, which he had to engage his thoughts and 
feelings, apart from filling the range of his duties where he 
served, was given to this object. He sent to Massachusetts 
for proper testimonials for his fitness for one of the new 
" inspectorships." In two letters before me, the last which I 
received from him, he makes known his wishes, and indicates 
the way in which he would be aided. He did not decline 
having signatures set to his application by men holding poli- 
tical places. He had many warm friends among them, and 
they were ready to advance his purposes. " But," he writes, 
" it seems to me, that, for an oflSce requiring capacity for such 
duties and trusts as those suggested, if offices are ever be- 
stowed because of fitness, the appointing power should have 
the testimonials of some other than political names. I should 
be glad at least to oflFer something diflFerent," &c. 

He proceeds to express, in a modest and diffident way, his 
preference for such support as he would derive from the 
testimonials of some of his associates in the societies of which 
he was a member. Such testimonials were most grateftilly 
furnished him, and a professional man might well take pride 
in offering them on his own behalf. Among the signatures on 
one of the papers is that of Hon. William Appleton. Not 
satisfied with putting his name on a list with those of others, 
he felt that the relations in which he had stood for so many 
years with Dr. Bell warranted a special attestation. Mr. 
Appleton, therefore, paid the candidate this tribute : " I am 
not satisfied with simply signing the annexed ; but will add, 
that I, for many years, was intimately acquainted with Dr. 
Bell while I was acting as president and trustee in the McLean 


Asylum. I do not, nor did I ever, know the man I could so 
highly recommend for the office asked for." 

The most eminent members of the Massachusetts Medical 
Society and the Medical Faculty of Harvard University 
united in a special testimonial to the President of the United 
States and the Secretary of War in his behalf. The papers 
reached him on the day preceding his fatal illness. They 
were found among his files, and bear his indorsement. If 
they served no other use to him, they must at least have 
affi)rded him a generous gratification. Providence had ap- 
pointed that they should have no occasion to test their effi- 
ciency with those who dispense places of public trust and 
emolument; but they were a fitting expression to the re- 
ceiver of them, in his last days, of the high personal and pro- 
fessional estimation in which he was held by those who could 
put their names to such terms of confidence only in behalf of 
one whom they knew to be fully worthy. It is pleasant to 
think of our departed associate as enjoying in this form the 
last sympathetic pleasure of communion with many of his 
warmest friends at a distance from the scene where he was 
soon to loose his hold upon life.* 

In one of these two letters, whose main purport has just 
been referred to, Dr. Bell adds something concerning himself, 
especially confident as regards his health. Its date is Jan. 13, 
1862, — less than a month previous to his decease. 

^' It is some seven months since I left my home at what I then 
regarded, and still regard, to have been the call of duty. I have suc- 
cessively passed through the posts of regimental surgeon, brigade 
surgeon, and my present place. I have seen a vast amount of mala- 
rial disease ; and the whole volume of military surgery was opened 

* The writer's eye falls npon a casnally written sentence of his own, in a note dated 
Feb. 1, accompanying the transmission of certain papers to Dr. Bell, as follows: 
*' So many of those who have signed your papers have asked me to convey to yon their 
best wishes, that you must regard the enclosed fully as much in the light of a greeting 
to yourself as in that of an appeal to authorities.'* 


before me one Sunday afternoon, — July 21, — with illustrations horrid 
and sanguinary. ' Sudlcy Church,' with its hundred wounded victims, 
will form a picture in my sick dreams so long as I live. I never have 
spent but one night out of camp since I came into it ; and a bed and 
myself have been practically strangers these seven months. Yet I 
never have yet had one beginning of a regret at my decision to devote 
what may be left of life and ability to the great cause. I have, as you 
know, four motherless children. Painful as it is to leave such a 
charge, even in the worthiest hands, I have forced myself into recon- 
ciliation by the reflection, that the great issue under the stem arbitra- 
ment of arms is, whether or not our children are to have a country. 
My own health and strength have amazed me. I have recalled a 
hundred times your remark, that ^ a man's lungs are the strongest 
part of him.' It has so proved with me. Had I another page, I 
should run on into a narrative of my exploits in horseback excursions, 
reviews, &c. ; which sometimes make me question, whether, in the lan- 
guage of our ' spiritualistic ' friends, I have not * left the form^ and 
certainly I have entered on another ' sphere,^ 

" The general in whose staff it is my happiness to serve fills my 
highest idea of what a general officer should be. He was through the 
Florida and Mexican wars, and is said to have been ^ more times 
under fire' than any officer in the service. He is under ^j^ of 
splendid person, never had a sick day, and is a ' model man ' as to 
every high-bred and generous trait. He has the confidence of all who 
have been with him through the smnmer to this time." 

The last letter which Dr. Bell wrote was addressed to his 
friend Dr. J. W. Bemis, of Charlestown, and bears date Feb. 4, 
1862, — the day preceding the night when &tal disease came 
upon him. In this letter he writes, " I have no point fixed 
in my calculations for a visit homeward, beyond the idea, that 
if we prevail in the grand conflict on the other side, which all 
anticipate, I might, after the wreck is cleared off, solicit a 
month's leave of absence ; but I do not contemplate leaving 
the service (health of myself and children continuing) until 
this wicked Rebellion is for ever quelled.'' Thus his hope for 
the nation, and his self-devotion to insure its fulfilment, ani- 
mated him to the last. 


He retired that night in his usual health, save that he felt 
slightly the symptoms of a cold. His attendant, Prentiss, who 
had been for many years one of the most eflScient servants in 
the Asylum, and in whose intelligence and fidelity Dr. Bell 
reposed great confidence, — sharing his tent with him, — 
rose long before daylight to write a letter. About four o'clock 
on the wintry morning of Feb. 5, under his canvas shel- 
ter at Camp Baker, two miles from Budd's Ferry, on the 
Potomac, Dr. Bell very suddenly announced to him that he 
was sufiering in most severe distress, and must die if not soon 
relieved. He directed Prentiss to administer chloroform to 
him. His pain was in the lumbar region, and was so excru- 
ciating, that Dr. Bell was from the first convinced that his 
death was inevitable. He said he had never in his life before 
known what pain was. Prentiss proposed to go for Surgeon 
Foye, Dr. BelPs former assistant in the Eleventh Massachu- 
setts Regiment. " No,'' said the sufierer : " you can do for me 
all that any one can." To the further entreaty of his attend- 
ant, pleading that he did not like to be alone with him while he 
was in such distress. Dr. Bell gave him permission to send for 
the surgeon. His pains continued for the six following days, 
and were made endurable only through the constant use of 
chloroform. On Tuesday, Feb. 11, his disease had reached 
the vital parts, and resulted in metastasis. The patient 
retained his full consciousness, and saw the end of earth 
close upon him. He calmly directed to whom telegrams 
should be transmitted as soon as he had ceased to live. In 
the afternoon. General Hooker and stafi" were present in the 
tent, and showed their profound respect and sympathy for the 
sufierer. The Rev. Henry E. Parker, chaplain of the Second 
Regiment of New-Hampshire Volunteers, — to whom, as a 
true-hearted Christian and a most admired preacher. Dr. Bell 
often refers in his letters with warm approbation, — was with 
him for nearly two hours. He conversed freely on the sub- 
ject of the great change awaiting him, and upon his religious 


hopes. He closed the conversation by stretching ont his 
arm, taking hold of Mr. Parker's hand, and saying, '^ Now one 
word of prayer." Surrounded by this group of friends, ho 
calmly drew his last breath about nine o'clock in the even- 

His remains were transported homewards under the charge 
of Chaplain Parker, and rested for a while in the library- 
room of his dwelling in Charlestown. Monday, Feb. 17, was 
appointed for his funeral. His body — the casket contain- 
ing it being draped with his country's flag, and not with- 
out the gentle adorning of flowers — was followed by a long 
procession to St. John's Church, Charlestown. Many dis- 
tinguished and honored men had gathered there ; and friends 
and citizens, crowding the edifice, all united in their silent 
tribute of grateful respect to one who had crowned a well- 
spent and most devoted life by a peaceful death in the service 
of his country in its crisis of trial. The burial-rites of the 
church were conducted by the rector. Rev. T. R. Lambert ; 
and a brief commemorative address was made by the writer. 
The remains were interred at Mount Auburn. His life closed 
soon after he had entered upon his fifty-sixth year. 

Doubtless his one last earthly wish, not realized, would 
have been to have spoken his last words to his children. 
With only that one natural yearning of heart ungratified, the 
circumstances of his decease were in harmony with the tenor 
of his life, and must have been made familiar to his contem- 
plations as not only possible, but probable. He had lived 
longer than his reasonable anxieties had assigned as the span 
of his existence. His infirmities for the last seven years of 
his life, not exercising him with much severity of pain, had 
deepened the natural contemplativeness of his temperament, 
and allowed him to cast upon the problems of existence a 
study which is more searching and discerning than philoso- 
phy. He realized, if any man ever did, the length and depth, 
the sweep and compass, of the shadows which are thrown over 


hnman life. Materialism was no solution of those problems 
for him ; nor was science the highest light or guide which 
he recognized. The unknown was always, in its volume and 
its significance, the ocean of infinite possibilities and of tran- 
scendent realities to him. He had well learned the lesson 
commended by the highest sage of antiquity, — that the limi- 
tations of man's range and understanding divest even his 
best knowledge of all completeness and certainty. 

There is something whose suggestiveness is measured 
only by one's imaginative or appreciative powers for pursuing 
it, in contemplating the life-work of a man whose professional 
career was so peculiar as that of Dr. Bell. Any individual 
in the ordinary circumstances of life, who has had occasion to 
recognize the fact, knows that no more severe exaction could 
be made upon his judgment, his patience, or his afiections, 
than would be called for in the wise and proper management 
of a single person suflFering under mental malady. Never are 
the most intelligent and well-informed, and the capable for all 
other exigencies, so instantly and consciously driven to their 
own " wits' end " as when called upon to use their own "wits" 
as a substitute for those of another. The timid fear that they 
may catch the malady; the discreet are apprehensive, that, 
even with the best intentions, they may confirm and aggra- 
vate it. The responsible head of an insane asylum is tho- 
roughly educated in a lesson which has its most perfect illus- 
tration there, though familiar by other applications of it in the 
home, the school, and the fields of politics, — that, the less wise 
or reasonable the subjects of any man's oversight or sympa- 
thy, the more wise and reasonable must he be in order to 
discharge his trust. There probably are not less than five 
thousand legal voters in this Commonwealth who would feel 
no sense of unfitness for, or indisposition to accept the oflSce 
of, its Governor, after having encountered the first slight 
surprise of being nominated for it. But it is not likely that 
there are as many scores of persons who would hesitate in 


avowiDg, not only their present incompetence, but even the 
impossibility of their ever qualifying themselves, for the guar- 
dianship and the relief of those mentally diseased. When we 
summon before us the three thousand patients to whom, for 
longer or shorter periods. Dr. Bell ministered, we realize at 
once that some of the conditions of his service utterly ex- 
cluded the facility which is acquired in any merely routine 
work. Of course, he has much to say in his reports about the 
'^ classification " of patients. But he found that the most 
elaborate or the most simple classification still left a specific 
peculiarity attaching to every case. He had to do with indi- 
viduals as such, and not with groups. Every conceivable 
type and phase of mental malady presented itself before him 
in the course of his career ; and he found that there was a 
possibility of infinite combinations of simple morbid symp- 
toms. Gases of disease which manifested the least in amount 
of mere aberration, and which would have been regarded by 
one not an expert as the easiest to be dealt with, did, in fact, 
make the heaviest requisitions upon his science and skill. 

That he could put himself in communication with so many 
disordered minds in a way to win confidence, and to any 
hopeful purpose, — standing as he did, before the majority of 
the sufferers, as representing both the restraint which isolated 
them from home and liberty, and also the friend on whose 
skill and kindness they must depend for relief, — proves that 
he had qualities of mind and character rarely found together. 
No detail of particulars could add to the moral impression of 
that fact, taken in its completeness. He had to be the confi- 
dant of many secrets of heart and life that were willingly 
revealed, and to penetrate to many more that were disclosed 
simply by the over-jealousy and watchfulness which guarded 
them. That Dr. Bell could retain the exercise of his own 
heathful mental faculties during all this experience, was all 
but marvellous. Retaining their health, it was but natural 
that he should sharpen, stimulate, and increase the vigor of 


those faculties. He was wont to say to his intimate friends, 
that the severest demands made npon all his resources, espe- 
cially those of tenderness, sympathy, and heart-learning, were 
engaged by that large, but by no means homogeneous class 
of patients whose mental infirmities or delusions were connect- 
ed with religion. He had to be a master of the " inner philo- 
sophy " to communicate with such patients. Any harsh or 
unsympathetic, any impatient or unskilled, dealing with their 
scruples or fancies, their diseased sensibilities, or their occa- 
sionally almost inspired hallucinations and rhapsodies, would 
have thrown a barrier between him and them, which, once 
there, would be likely to be permanent. How far to indulge, 
and when to prohibit, the free outpourings of the sensibilities of 
his patients, was a diflScult question, whose wise decision, in 
each case, was sure to require in their guardian an apprecia- 
tion of all that is healthful, as well as a discrimination of all 
that is morbid, in the workings of the religious element of 
human nature. These qualifications, which are the finest 
results of spiritual insight and true culture in the profes- 
sional divine, are indispensable in the effective administration 
of an asylum, in which the consciences and spirits of its in- 
mates are often more grievously burdened by compunctions 
for imaginary sins, than are those of the physically healthful 
out of doors for actual guilt of the real offences. 

In reviewing Dr. Bell's professional career for the purpose 
of drawing from it an estimate of his talents, attainments, and 
character, the above hints must be accepted in place of any 
fuller attempt to delineate him. His last claim upon our 
respectful and grateful tribute addresses us through that 
self-offering, in the spirit of pure patriotism, which closed 
his mortal life. As these lines are written, the cause to which 
he gave himself with such entire devotion still suspends its 
issue. The hope and confidence that never failed in the heart 
of this not the least distinguished and beloved among the 

many noble and good whom it has already claimed as its vie- 



timS; still keeps alive in patriot hearts the same full assurance 
of success. It is not, then, in forgetfulness or depreciation of 
the soldierly qualities and services manifested by the subject 
of this Memoir, that the writer shrinks from closing it with a 
reference to the occasion in which he closed his life. That 
was simply an emergent occasion, a surprise, an uncongenial 
occupation in most of its conditions, even to one whom it 
found so ready to meet them. Our last words concerning 
him should recognize him as nobly and faithfully, with con- 
summate ability and a well-crowned success, discharging for 
a score of years one of the most exacting tasks required of 
the professional man and the Christian. There are words 
already in print better than the writer can choose or fill with 
meaning for that purpose. 

The following tribute was paid to Dr. Bell by Dr. John E. 
Tyler, his honored and accomplished successor in the Asylum 
at Somerville. The extract closes his Report to the Trustees, 
dated Jan. 1, 1863. The reference to Mr. Appleton has a 
peculiar appropriateness, as he died while the remains of Dr. 
Bell were awaiting burial. 

" Seldom does there come to any institution, in the experience of 
a single year, so sad a duty as that of chronicling the decease of two 
such men as the Hon. William Appleton and Dr. Luther V Bell. 
They were long and most harmoniously associated as officers of this 
institution, and were borne to their last resting-place within a few 
days of each other. . . . 

" For nearly twenty years, Dr. Bell held the position of Superin- 
tendent of the Asylum, identifying himself with all its interests, and 
directing its daily management with a comprehensive skill, sagacity 
and forecast, a purity and elevation of piu'pose, and a scrupulous 
faithfulness to every relation involved, which secured for him, for 
those intrusted to his care, and for the institution, the happiest and 
the most abundant results. The accuracy and variety of his know- 
ledge, the soundness of his judgment, and his remarkable faculty of 
adapting means to ends, meet one here at every step ; while the recog- 
nized method of treatment, the traditionary usages and rules of the 


house, bear the indelible stamp of his thorough and exact compre- 
hension of the needs of the insane, and his wonderful tact in provid- 
ing for them. His active and commanding intellect ; his extraordinary 
attainments as a scholar, philosopher, and psychologist ; his extensive 
knowledge of every thing pertaining to the phenomena, management, 
and history of insanity ; his able and long-continued efforts, and suc- 
cess, in diffusing and establishing correct views of the nature and 
treatment of the disease, — have justly caused him to be regarded as 
one of the most distinguished of the many great men who have ever 
adorned the medical profession. His inbred sense of honor; his 
entire removal from all meanness and duplicity ; his sterling integrity 
and inflexible moral courage ; his keen sense and ardent love of right, 
leading him to its defence, in utter disregard of any personal con- 
sideration and in the face of any obstacle, and qualifying and inspiring 
all his e very-day life, and yet with no touch of pharisaical exactness or 
pretension, — commanded the admiration and respect of all who knew 
him, and gave him an uncommon power of personal influence, while 
it made him of inestimable worth as a friend. His courteous and 
dignified bearing, his gentle manner and quiet humor, his inexhausti- 
ble store of anecdote and useful information, gave him a wonderful 
charm as a companion. Strong, though not demonstrative, in his 
feeling, warm in his attachments, he loved his home, his friends, 
and his daily associations, and devoted himself to their welfare. He 
loved his country, and felt the severity of her fiery trial ; and faithful 
as always to his convictions of right, and personal obligation, he gdve 
her as his last offering the rich accumulation of his experience, and 
his life ; a brilliant example of lofly Christian patriotism. 

"The influence of such men does not die when they step from the 
earth. 'They rest from their labors, and their works do follow 
them.' "