Beale, Lionel Smith

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Beale, Lionel Smith

(b, London, England, 5 February 1828; d. London, 28 March 1906)


Beale’s father, Lionel John Beale (1796–1871), was a prominent London surgeon and medical author; his mother was Frances Smith. After attending Highgate, a private school, Beale entered King’s College School, London, in 1840. From then on, his life and career were intimately connected with institutions under the direction of the council of King’s College. He studied at King’s College School until 1844, and during the last three years was also apprenticed to an apothecary-surgeon, Joseph Ross, of Islington. In 1845 Beale entered the medical department of King’s College, University of London, and two years later matriculated with honors in chemistry and zoology. He then spent two years at Oxford as assistant to Henry Acland (1815–1900) in the Anatomical Museum.

Beale was licensed by the Society of Apothecaries in 1849, and in 1851 he graduated M.B. from the University of London, having already served (1850–1851) as resident physician at King’s College Hospital. In 1852 he established a private laboratory in Carey Street, near the hospital, where he pioneered in teaching the use of the microscope in pathological anatomy. In 1853, at the age of twenty-five, he succeeded Robert Bentley Todd as professor of physiology and general and morbid anatomy at King’s College, sharing the duties for two years with William Bowman, who had been Todd’s assistant Beale later served King’s College as professor of pathological anatomy (1869–1876) and as professor of the principles and practice of medicine (1876–1896). Upon his retirement in 1896, he was nominated professor emeritus and honorary consulting physician to King’s College Hospital.

Conspicuous among the many honors conferred upon Beale were those of the Royal College of Physicians: membership (1856), fellowship (1859), the Baly Medal (1871), and the post of Lumleian lecturer (1875). Elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1857, he delivered the Croonian lecture for 1865. He also was president of the Microscopical Society from 1879 to 1880.

In 1859 Beale married Frances Blakiston: their son, Peyton Todd Bowman Beale, served as assistant surgeon to King’s College Hospital. Beale’s death, in his seventy-eighth year, was attributed to pontine hemorrhage.

Beale’s contemporary reputation derived primarily from his practical books on the microscope and from his vocal opposition to the mechanistic interpretation of life. The books are basic laboratory manuals, a natural and useful outgrowth of the Carey Street course on the use of the microscope. Beale’s opposition to T. H. Huxley and the other “physicalists” commanded attention because his scientific credentials were impressive. He had, in fact, been elected to his first teaching position at King’s College despite Huxley’s candidacy.

The high quality of Beale’s histological studies is demonstrated by his series of lectures, “On the Structure of the Simple Tissue of the Human Body,” delivered before the Royal College of Physicians in April and May 1861, and published in book form later that year under the same title. These lectures reveal a careful microscopist at work and demonstrate Beale’s mastery of the recently introduced techniques of vital staining. Like most of his works, they are illustrated by excellent plates executed by Beale himself. To a great extent, his plates and conclusions confirmed the work of Ferdinand Cohn, Max Schultze, and others who were working toward a redefinition of the cell and a deemphasis of the cell wall. But Beale, a strong-willed and independent figure, proposed a unique terminology, insisting upon an absolute distinction between what he called “germinal matter” (essentially equivalent to protoplasm) and “formed matter” (all other tissue constituents). Germinal matter was the living substance; formed matter had ceased to live.

Beale was also committed to a special interpretation of the living substance, and after Huxley had in 1868 delivered a mechanistic manifesto on the nature of protoplasm,1 Beale countered with Protoplasm, a polemical work in which he asserted that a vital force was necessary for life. Generally regarded as the defender of religion and morality against the inroads of the mechanistic heresy, he wrote often, especially near the end of his life, on religious and moral considerations.

Beale seems to have been polemical by nature. Besides his spectacular attack against Huxley, he was also suspicious of Darwinian evolution, and was involved in an extended controversy with the German histologists Wilhelm Kühne and Rudolf von Kölliker over the termination of the nerve endings in voluntary muscles. Beale denied their belief that the nerves terminate in ends, insisting instead that the cells and fibers of each nervous apparatus form a continuous loop, “an uninterrupted circuit.” In his book On Disease Germs (1870), Beale attacked both those who believed that the agents of contagion were bacteria (i.e., plants) and those who believed that disease germs did not exist; he proposed instead the unique theory that disease germs are minute particles of degraded protoplasm derived by direct descent from the normal protoplasm of the diseased organism. It is typical of Beale that he attacked Darwin’s now discredited hypothesis of pangenesis “with much acerbity and some justice,”2,

Beale was an amazingly prolific writer, but many of his works cover essentially the same ground. Between 1857 and 1870 he edited a periodical called Archives of Medicine. Two eponyms were awarded to Beale: “Beale’s solution,” carmine in ammonia, is an effective histological stain, and “Beale’s cells” are the pyriform nerve ganglion cells.


1. T. H. Huxley, “On the Physical Basis of Life,” in Fortnightly Review, 5 (1869), 129–145, Later published in his Lay Sermons, Addresses, and Reviews (London, 1870), pp. 132–161.

2. Charles Darwin, The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication,, auth. ed. (New York. 1899), p. 339, n. 1.


I. Original Works. Among Beale’s writings are The Microscope, and Its Application to Clinical Medicine (London, 1854; 4th ed., 1878), later editions varying slightly in title; How to Work With the Microscope. A Course of Lectures on Microscopical Manipulation, and the Practical Application of the Microscope to Different Branches of Investigation (London, 1857; 5th ed., 1880); “Some Points in Support of Our Belief in the Permanence of Species,” in Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal, 11 (1860), 233–242; “Remarks on the Recent Observations of Kühne and Kölliker Upon the Terminations of the Nerves in Voluntary Muscle,” in Archives of Medicine, 3 (1862), 257–265; Kidney Diseases, Urinary Deposits, and Calculous Disorders; Their Nature and Treatment, 3rd ed., enl. (London, 1869), earlier eds. (1861, 1864) under somewhat different titles; Protoplasm; or Life, Matter, and Mind, 2nd ed., rev. (London, 1870; 4th ed., 1892); and On Slight Ailments; Their Nature and Treatment (London, 1880; 4th ed., 1896). Nearly all of Beale’s scientific papers are listed in the Royal Society Catalogue of Scientific Papers, I, 221–222; VII, III–112; IX, 152; and XIII, 370.

II. Secondary Literature. Sketches of Beale’s life and work can be found in Bulletin de l’Académie royale de médecine de Belgique, 4th ser., 20 (1906), 348–351; Dictionary of National Biography, Supp. 2, I, 118–120; Journal of the American Medical Association, 46 (1906), 1392; Lancet (7 Apr. 1906), 1004–1007; Medical History, 2 (1958), 269–273: Nature, 73 (1905–1906), 540; and proceedings of the Royal Society, 79B (1907), Ivii-Ixiii.

Gerald L. Geison