Hall, Marshall (DNB00)

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HALL, MARSHALL (1790–1857), physiologist, was born at Basford, near Nottingham, on 18 Feb. 1790. His father, Robert Hall (1755–1827), a cotton manufacturer and bleacher, was the first who used chlorine for bleaching on a large scale, and received a prize from the Society of Arts for the invention of a new crane. He was a Wesleyan, and known for his benevolence. During the Luddite disturbances the rioters wrote to him promising not to injure him. His wife, a woman of great worth and intelligence, bore him eight children. The second was Samuel Hall [q. v.], a prolific inventor.

Marshall, the fourth son and sixth child, showed an early fondness for reading. After a non-classical education by the Rev. J. Blanchard of Nottingham he was placed at fourteen with a chemist at Newark, and studied chemistry and anatomy with great diligence. In October 1809 he entered as a medical student at Edinburgh University, and in 1811 he was elected senior president of the Royal Medical Society of Edinburgh. Some of his early chemical papers, printed in ‘Nicholson's Journal,’ showed much originality; he was a persevering dissector, and in medicine specially devoted himself to diagnosis. As a student he showed his characteristic tendency to think intently on phenomena deemed inexplicable or irrelevant to the experiments in hand. Having graduated M.D. in June 1812, Hall was appointed resident house physician to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. He gave a course of lectures on diagnosis in 1813. In 1814–15 he spent several months in visiting the medical schools of Paris, Göttingen, and Berlin, walking alone and on foot from Paris to Göttingen in November 1814. After six months' practice, at Bridgewater in 1816 Hall settled in Nottingham in February 1817, and published his well-known work on ‘Diagnosis,’ ‘comprehensive, lucid, exact, and reliable’ (Lancet, 15 Aug. 1857). Dr. Baillie, then president of the Royal College of Physicians, when Hall called upon him, mistook him for the son of the author of that ‘extraordinary work,’ and could scarcely credit such an achievement at twenty-seven. In 1818 Hall was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Gaining an excellent practice, Hall soon became widely known for his successes by diminished blood-letting. In 1824 his valuable paper on ‘The Effects of Loss of Blood’ was published in the ‘Medico-Chirurgical Transactions.’ In 1825 he was elected physician to the Nottingham General Hospital; but in 1826 he removed to London, and his Nottingham practice largely followed him. For two years he lived at 15 Keppel Street, Russell Square, with his friend Burnside (partner in the publishing house of Seeleys). His work on the ‘Diseases of Females,’ 1828, brought him much practice, and further studies and writings on blood-letting occupied much time. In November 1829 he married, and in 1830 removed to 14 Manchester Square, where he lived for twenty years.

With a view to the fellowship of the Royal Society, Hall now took up the subject of the circulation of the blood in the minute vessels, and read a succession of highly original papers to the society in 1831. They made known facts which are now the commonplaces of microscopical study, but then came upon students with remarkable fascination. His paper ‘On the Anatomy and Physiology of the Minute and Capillary Vessels,’ though read, was refused a place in the society's ‘Transactions,’ but the great Johannes Müller pronounced it to be of extraordinary interest. Hall published his views in a separate work. His paper ‘On the Inverse Ratio which subsists between Respiration and Irritability in the Animal Kingdom,’ read before the Royal Society 23 Feb. 1832, was published in the ‘Philosophical Transactions’ for that year. It was followed by an important paper on hybernation, and by his election as fellow on 5 April. He was now on the track of his greatest discovery, which was made during a study of the circulation in the newt's lung. The newt's head had been cut off. On touching the skin with the point of a needle muscular movements occurred in the dead body. On examining into the cause of these they were found to be excited through the cutaneous nerves of sensation, passing to the spinal marrow, and thence being reflected to the muscular nerves. On cutting either set of nerves, or on destroying the spinal marrow, the phenomenon ceased. Thus was laid the foundation of the theory of reflex action, first made known at a meeting of the Committee of Science of the Zoological Society on 27 Nov. 1832, and more fully in a paper on ‘The Reflex Function of the Medulla Oblongata and Medulla Spinalis,’ read before the Royal Society on 20 June 1833, and printed in its ‘Transactions’ for that year. Notwithstanding the interest excited by his discoveries, and their immediate translation into German by Johannes Müller, who at the same time announced nearly similar and independent discoveries, the author was denounced as the propagator of absurd and idle theories (see Le Gros Clark, Address at St. Thomas's Hospital, 21 Jan. 1852), and his next paper, ‘On the True Spinal Marrow and the Excito-Motor System of Nerves,’ read before the Royal Society in 1837, was refused publication. Hall vainly begged the council to appoint a commission to witness his experiments, although he offered to withdraw from practice for five years to devote himself to further research on the subject. In 1840 a series of papers on the subject by Hall appeared in Müller's ‘Archiv.’ In 1847 he once more offered to the Royal Society an experimental paper, detailing researches on the relation of galvanism and the nervous and muscular tissues; but it was refused publication. Against this he protested in a letter (privately printed) to the Earl of Rosse, then president of the Royal Society. In 1850, however, his name appeared on the list of the council of the society, but he never received any of its medals. Meanwhile, in the midst of active practice Hall spent every spare moment in study and writing, trusting mainly to future recognition. ‘I appeal,’ he said, ‘from the first half of the nineteenth century to the second.’ His practice grew very extensive, as his discoveries gave him insight into disorders of the nervous system which till then remained obscure. His two small volumes of ‘Practical Observations in Medicine,’ 1845 and 1846, were cordially received. His fame spread widely in Europe and America, and many marks of distinction were conferred upon him from abroad, though he received none at home. His works were reprinted in America and translated into French, German, Dutch, and Italian. On the continent students and doctors regarded him as the most eminent practitioner in England. In London he never was appointed physician to any hospital. He lectured to medical students from 1834 to 1836, at the Aldersgate Street School; and from 1836 to 1838 at Webb Street School and Sydenham College. In 1839 he could not complete his course owing to failure of voice. In 1842–6 he lectured on nervous diseases at St. Thomas's Hospital. He was not elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Physicians till 1841, but in 1842 he delivered the Gulstonian lectures there, and the Croonian in 1850–2. In these lectures he fully explained his discoveries and opinions on the nervous system, and on nervous diseases. He took a prominent part in the formation of the British Medical Association, and delivered the oration on medical reform in 1840. Every philanthropic movement in which bodily and mental health was concerned found in him a warm and active advocate. Open railway carriages, cruel flogging of soldiers (see his letters signed ‘Censor,’ Times, 27 and 31 July 1846), the sewage question (see his pamphlet, Suggested Works on the Thames, 1850, 1852, 1856), and slavery in the United States, were among the subjects on which he actively exerted himself. He advocated a system of gradual emancipation. His ‘Twofold Slavery of the United States’ was published in 1854, after a visit of fifteen months to the States, Cuba, and Canada in 1853, when he had finally given up practice, owing to a peculiar affection of the throat, handing over his patients to Dr. J. Russell Reynolds. During 1854–5 he travelled in Italy and France, and in the latter year was elected corresponding member of the French Institute. After this his chief work was in connection with the restoration of persons apparently drowned; he devised a system, and drew up rules for its application, which were soon adopted by the National Lifeboat Institution. In 1856 he recommended the use of the living frog as the most delicate test of the presence of strychnia in cases where poisoning was suspected, and proved that a young frog was strongly affected by one five-thousandth of a grain of strychnia. He continued to develop fresh applications of his discoveries and to publish them in the ‘Lancet;’ but his throat affection gained ground and prevented his taking sufficient food. He died at Brighton after a long and painful illness on 11 May 1857, and was buried at Nottingham. A ‘Marshall Hall’ fund was founded in 1873, and placed in the hands of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society, to encourage research in the anatomy, physiology, or pathology of the nervous system, by giving a prize every five years for the best work done and recorded in English during the previous five years; the prize-winners have been in 1878 Dr. Hughlings Jackson, in 1883 Dr. Ferrier, in 1888 Dr. W. H. Gaskell.

Hall's versatility is shown by his papers on the ‘Higher Power of Numbers’ and on the ‘Signs used in Algebra’ in the ‘Mechanic's Magazine’ for 26 Aug. and 30 Sept. 1848, by his ‘Suggestion of a National Decimal Pharmacopœia’ in the ‘London and Edinburgh Monthly Journal of Medical Science,’ 1849, and by his new forms of conjugation and declension for Greek verbs and nouns, printed for private circulation, and approved by Dr. Donaldson, author of the ‘New Cratylus.’ At Rome in 1854–5 he made rapid progress in Hebrew under a rabbi. His professional income rose from 800l. in 1826 to 2,200l. in 1833; his discoveries in physiology for some years diminished his practice, but it latterly increased to 4,000l. a year. In matters of professional etiquette he was very strict. He was calm and prompt in emergencies, straightforward in his moral treatment of patients, and he abhorred coaxing, wheedling, and cant.

A great part of his scientific work was done at night, after a day's hard work. Many of his works were written in his carriage between his visits. He always recorded results of experiments at once. His readiness to reply to attacks gave some offence, but he showed neither vanity nor petulance. He was a man of strong Christian faith.

By his discovery of reflex action Hall rescued an obscure class of convulsive affections from unintelligibility, and explained with remarkable ingenuity the mechanism of the convulsive paroxysm. The treatment of epilepsy was made rational by him; the use of strychnia in spinal diseases, the discouragement of excessive blood-letting, and the ready method in asphyxia, are among his most valuable achievements. He wrote tersely and well, in French as well as in English; Louis, the great French physician, said of his ‘Aperçu du Système Spinal:’ ‘De ce petit ouvrage tout plaît au premier abord, la forme et le fond. … Vous êtes un écrivain consommé, même en français.’

Hall was below the middle height, with strong well-made features, clear forehead, and bright keen eyes. He found a devoted helper in his wife, who afterwards compiled and wrote his ‘Memoirs,’ which, though laudatory, are attractive. Hall had an only child, a son Marshall, born 1831, now a barrister. Hall wrote the following separate works: 1. ‘The Diagnosis of Diseases,’ 1817; 2nd edition, 1834; 3rd edition issued in 1837, as part of 11. 2. ‘On the Mimoses; or a Descriptive, Diagnostic, and Practical Essay on the Affections usually denominated Bilious, Nervous, &c.,’ 1818; the second edition bore the title, ‘An Essay on Disorders of the Digestive Organs and General Health, and on their Complications.’ 3. ‘The Effects of Irritation and Exhaustion after Parturition, Abortion, &c.,’ 1820. 4. ‘On the Symptoms and History of Diseases,’ 1822. 5. ‘Medical Essays,’ 1824. 6. ‘Commentaries on the Diseases of Females,’ with plates, 1826; 2nd edit. 1830. 7. ‘Observations on Blood-letting, founded on researches on the Morbid and Curative Effects of Loss of Blood,’ 1830. 8. ‘An Experimental Essay on the Circulation of the Blood,’ 1831. 9. ‘Eupædia, or Letters to a Mother on the Watchful Care of her Infant,’ 1831. 10. ‘Lectures on the Nervous System and its Diseases,’ 1836. 11. ‘Principles of the Theory and Practice of Medicine,’ 1837. 12. ‘On the Functions of the Medulla Oblongata and Medulla Spinalis, and on the Excito-motory System of Nerves,’ 4to, with plates, 1837. 13. ‘Diseases and Derangements of the Nervous System,’ 1841. 14. ‘Gulstonian Lectures,’ 1842. 15. ‘New Memoir on the Nervous System,’ 4to, with plates, 1843. 16. ‘Practical Observations and Suggestions in Medicine,’ two series, 1845, 1846. 17. ‘Essays on the Theory of Convulsive Diseases,’ 1848. 18. ‘Six Essays on the Theory of Paroxysmal Diseases of the Nervous System,’ 1849. 19. ‘Synopsis of the Diastaltic Nervous System,’ 4to, with plates, Croonian Lectures, 1850. 20. ‘Synopsis of Cerebral and Spinal Seizures,’ 4to, Croonian Lectures, 1851. 21. ‘On the Threatenings of Apoplexy and Paralysis,’ 1851. 22. ‘Synopsis of Apoplexy and Epilepsy,’ 4to, Croonian Lectures, 1852. 23. ‘Suggested Works on the Thames,’ 1852. 24. ‘The Twofold Slavery of the United States,’ 1854. 25. ‘Aperçu du Système Spinal,’ Paris, 1855. 26. ‘Asphyxia; its Nature and its Remedy,’ 1856. 27. ‘Prone and Postural Respiration in Drowning, and other forms of Apnœa,’ 1857. The titles of forty memoirs by Hall are given in the ‘Royal Society's Catalogue of Scientific Papers;’ he also contributed many articles to the ‘Cyclopædia of Practical Medicine.’

[Memoirs of Marshall Hall, by his widow, 1861; Pettigrew's Medical Portrait Gallery, vol. iv.; Lancet, 8, 15, 29 Aug. 1846, 27 July 1850, 14 Aug. 1857; Medical Times and Gazette, 29 Aug. 1857; Edinb. New Phil. Journ. 1858; Athenæum, 3 Aug. 1861; J. F. Clarke's Autobiographical Recollections, p. 327.]

G. T. B.