Monro, Alexander, M. D.

, an eminent anatomist, and the father of the medical school of Edinburgh, was descended both by his paternal and maternal parents from distinguished families in the north of Scotland. He was born in London, in September 1697, where his father, then a surgeon in the army of king William in Flanders, resided upon leave of absence in the winter. On quitting the army, Mr. Monro settled in Edinburgh; and perceiving early indications of talent in Alexander, he gave him the best instruction which Edinburgh then afforded, and afterwards sent him to London, where he attended the anatomical courses of Cheselden, and while here, laid the foundation of his most important work on the bones. He then pursued his studies at Paris and Leyden, where his | industry and promising talents recommended him to the particular notice of Boerhaave. On iiis return to Edinburgh, in the autumn of 1719, he was appointed professor and demonstrator of anatomy to the company of surgeons, the joint demonstrators having spontaneously resigned in his favour, and soon after began also to give public lectures on anatomy, aided by the preparations which he had made when abroad; and at the same time Dr. Alston, then a young man, united with him in the plan, and began a course of lectures on the materia medica and botany. These courses may be regarded as the opening of that medical school, which has since extended its fame, not only throughout Europe, but over the new world. Mr. Monro suggested this plan; and by the following circumstance, probably, contributed to lead his son into a mode of lecturing, which subsequently carried him to excellence. Without the young teacher’s knowledge, he invited the president and fellows of the College of Physicians, and the whole company of surgeons, to honour the first day’s lecture with their presence. This unexpected company threw the doctor into such confusion, that he forgot the words of the discourse, which he had written and committed to memory. Having left his papers at home, he was at a loss for a little time what to do: but, with much presence of mind, he immediately began to shew some of the anatomical preparations, in order to gain time for recollection; and very soon resolved not to attempt to repeat the discourse which he had prepared, but to express himself in such language as should occur to him from the subject, which he was confident that he understood. The experiment succeeded: he delivered himself well, and gained great applause as a good and ready speaker. Thus discovering his own strength, he resolved henceforth never to recite any written discourse in teaching, and acquired a free and elegant style of delivering lectures.

In the same year, 1720, a regular series of medical instruction was instituted at Edinburgh, through the interest of Dr. Monro’s father: these two lectureships were put upon the university establishment, to which were soon, after added those of Drs. Sinclair, Rutherford, Innes, and Plummer. This system of medical education was, however, incomplete, without affording some opportunity to the students of witnessing the progress and treatment of diseases, as well as of hearing lectures. A proposal was, | therefore, made to erect and endow an hospital by subscription; and Dr. Monro published a pamphlet, explaining the advantages of such an institution. The royal infirmary was speedily raised, endowed, and established by charter; and the institution of clinical lectures, which were commenced by Dr. Monro on the surgical cases, and afterwards by Dr. Rutherford, in 1748, on the medical cases, completed that admirable system of instruction, upon which the reputation and usefulness of the medical school of Edinburgh have been subsequently founded.

Dr. Monro, who was indefatigable in the labours of his office, soon made himself known to the professional world by a variety of ingenious and valuable publications. His first and principal publication was his “Osteology, or Treatise on the Anatomy of the Bones,” which appeared in 1726, and passed through eight editions during his life, and was translated into most of the languages of Europe. To the later editions of this work he subjoined a concise neurology, or description of the nerves, and a very accurate account of the lacteal system and thoracic duct.

Dr. Monro was also the father and active supporter of a society, which was established by the professors and other practitioners of the town, for the purpose of collecting and publishing papers on professional subjects, and to which the public is indebted for six volumes of “Medical Essays and Observations by a Society at Edinburgh,” the first of which appeared in 1732. Dr. Monro was the secretary of this society; and after the publication of the first volume, when the members of the society became remiss in their attendance, the whole labour of collection and publication was carried on by himself; “insomuch that after this,” says his biographer, c< scarce any other member ever saw a paper of the five last volumes, except those they were the authors of, till printed copies were sent them by the bookseller.“Of this collection, many of the most valuable papers were written by Dr. Monro, on anatomical, physiological, and practical subjects: the most elaborate of these is an” Essay on the Nutrition of the Foetus,“in three dissertations. Haller, speaking of these volumes as highly valuable to the profession, adds,” Monrous ibi eminet."

After the conclusion of this publication, the society was revived, at the suggestion of the celebrated mathematical professor, Colin Maclaurin, and was extended to the | admission of literary and philosophical topics. Dr. Monro a<yain took an active part in its proceedings, as one of its vice-presidents, especially after the death of Maclaurin, when two volumes of its memoirs, entitled “Essays Physical and Literary,” were published, and some materials for a third collected, to which Dr. Monro contributed several useful papers. The third was not published during his life. His last publication was an “Account of the Success of Inoculation in Scotland,” written originally as an answer to some inquiries addressed to him from the committee of the faculty of physicians at Paris, appointed to investigate the merits of the practice. It was afterwards published at the request of some of his friends, and contributed to extend the practice in Scotland. Besides the works which he published, he left several Mss. written at different times, of which the following are the principal viz. A History of Anatomical Writers An Encheiresis Anatomica; Heads of many of his Lectures; A Treatise on Comparative Anatomy; A Treatise on Wounds and Tumours; and, An Oration de Cuticula. This last, as well as the short tract on comparative anatomy, has been printed in an edition of his whole works, in one volume quarto, published by his son, Dr. Alexander Monro, at Edinburgh, in 1781. This tract had been published surreptitiously in 1744, from notes taken at his lectures; but is here given in a more correct form.

In 1759, Dr. Monro resigned his anatomical chair, which he had so long occupied with the highest reputation, to his son, just mentioned; but he still continued to lecture as one of the clinical professors on the cases in the infirmary. His life was also a scene of continued activity in other affairs, as long as his health permitted. For he was not only a member, but a most assiduous attendant, of many societies and institutions for promoting literature, arts, sciences, and manufactures in Scotland; he was also a director of the bank of Scotland, a justice of the peace, a commissioner of high roads, &c. and was punctual in the discharge of all his duties. His character in private life was as amiable and exemplary as it was useful in public. To the literary honours, which he attained at home, were added those of a fellow of the royal society of London, and an honorary member of the royal academy of surgery, at Paris. | Dr. Monro was a man of middle stature, muscular, and possessed of great strength and activity; but was subject for many years to a spitting of blood on catching the ieast cold, and through his life to frequent inflammatory levers. After an attack of the influenza, in 1762, he was afflicted with symptoms of a disease of a painful and tedious nature, which continued ever after, until it terminated his existence. This was a fungous ulcer of the bladder and rectum, the distress of which he bore with great fortitude and resignation, and died with perfect calmness, on the 10th of July, 1767, at the age of seventy.

Two of his sons became distinguished physicians: Dr. Alexander, his successor, and who has filled his chair since his death, is well known throughout Europe by his valuable publications. It was not until 1801 that to relieve himself from the fatigues of the professorship, he associated with himself, his son, the third Alexander Monro, who bids fair to perpetuate the literary honours of his family. Dr. Donald Monro, the other son of the first Alexander, settled as a physician in London, became a fellow of the royal college of physicians, and senior physician to the army. He wrote, besides several smaller medical treatises, “Observations on the Means of preserving the Health of Soldiers,1780, 2 vols. 8vo; a treatise on medical and pharmaceutical chemistry, and the Materia Medica, 1788, 4 vols. 8vo and the life of his father, prefixed to the edition of his works published by his son, Alexander, 1781, 4to. He died in July 1802, aged seventy one. It is from this life of the first Dr. Monro, that the preceding account is taken. 1


Life as above. —Rees’s Cyclopædia,