Marshall Hall Biography (1790-1857)

Physiology; clinical medicine

Marshall Hall has been referred to as the Father of Modern Neurology due to his discovery of the physiology of reflex function. He was born in England in1790 to Robert Hall, a successful cotton spinner and inventive chemist who was the first to use chlorine for bleaching fabrics. At the early age of 14, Hall completed his general education from Nottingham Academy, and began his studies of chemistry and anatomy at Newark. In 1812, after three years at the Edinburgh University Medical School, Hall graduated Doctor of Medicine with distinction. As a talented young physician, he was appointed to the revered postof resident medical officer at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for two years.In 1814, Hall left Edinburgh for a year to visit medical schools in Paris, Berlin, and Göttingen a standard sabbatical trip taken at this time referred to as the Continental tour.

After his educational sabbatical, Hall returned to Nottinghamshire in 1816 tobegin his practice as a rural physician. During the following decade, he built a practice and, in 1825 was voted an honorary physician to the NottinghamGeneral Hospital. Hall was known throughout this period for his work as an excellent clinician, and for his contributions to a book on diagnosis publishedin 1817. He also commended and practiced the work of French physician P. C.A. Louis which advocated diminished bleeding a procedure which would be applauded by his peers.

In 1826 Hall made his final professional move to London. Three years later hemarried and had a son, also named Marshall. Nominations to several positionsfollowed, including fellow of the Royal Society in 1832 and fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1841 where he lectured.

He is best known in the medical community for several contributions, including: identifying the physiological changes accompanying hemorrhage; reflex action as it applies to the arc of the spinal cord; and observations regarding the pre- and postcapillary vessels of the arterial and venous systems. Hall also examined the hibernation of mammals and amphibians, along with playing an active role in the founding of the British Medical Association. A method for resuscitating the drowned, known as the Marshall Hall method, was accepted asthe standard technique of restarting respiration until an alternative methodwas introduced by Henry R. Silvester and Edward Sharpey-Schafer. A biologicaltest for strychnine was also perfected by Hall.

Of all his contributions, the physiology of reflex function was Hall's most significant. It was believed at this time that the brain was not a key component for reflex action, but rather a human's soul that was responsible for allfunctions of the body. Hall overlooked spiritual beliefs, and began his search for the true science of the spinal cord structure essential to a physiological function a search that would span 25 years. By experimenting on animals he discovered what he believed to be an independent spinal cord system of nerves related only to reflex function. In Hall's terms this was "the excito-motory system," or the afferent-efferent nerves that carry impulses toward and away from the central nervous system.

Hall's discovery was the first to support the concept of a neural arc of thespinal cord. While his ideas were supported by distant admirers, such as Johannes Müller of Berlin, Hall was not received well in England. Immediateopposition appeared from theologians due to the absence of the soul in Hall'sconclusions, by his peers who claimed he plagiarized the work of Prochaska,and still by those who did not like his arrogant personality. As consideration of the soul in experimental medicine ended, the acceptance of Hall's work broadened throughout France and Germany. In 1850, a biographical sketch published in the Lancet commended Hall by stating: "he has, by inductive reasoning, clearly developed A NEW SYSTEM a system all-important in itself, andalmost equally so in relation to the other systems of the animal frame. On this splendid discovery this solid basis Dr. Marshall Hall's future fame will rest, and descend to posterity."

As a writer, Hall published over 150 papers and 19 books, beginning with hiscontributions on the Principles of Diagnosis as a resident physician,and including his Researches, Chiefly Relative to the Morbid and CurativeEffects of Loss of Blood on bloodletting, and his observations on blood circulation that were published in 1831. Hall's topics varied and ranged fromdiscussions on the eye and the larynx to the puerperal state (a pathologicalcondition following childbirth), diseases of women, and disposal of sewage inLondon. He also wrote extensively on slavery after visiting the United States.

After a long and prosperous practice from his home, Hall retired in 1853 anddied four years later from esophageal stricture. Several biographies followed, including the Memoirs of Marshall Hall written by his widow four years after his death. With numerous contributions to neurology, medicine, and physiology, Hall was never honored with a major hospital appointment throughout his career. Until 1911, The Marshall Hall Fund provided a prize every fiveyears to praise work on the anatomy, physiology, and pathology of the centralnervous system.

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