Monro, Alexander (1697-1767) (DNB00)

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MONRO, ALEXANDER, primus (1697–1767), physician, was son of John Monro, a surgeon in William Ill's army, whose father, Sir Alexander Monro, fought in the battle of Worcester on the royalist side. His mother was a Miss Forbes of the family of Culloden. His father, while the army was in winter quarters, annually obtained leave to reside in London, where his son Alexander was born 8 Sept. 1697. John Monro afterwards settled in Edinburgh as a surgeon, and his son studied at the university and there graduated M.D. He then went to London and attended lectures by Hawksbee and Whiston on experimental philosophy and dissected under Cheselden. He sent home many anatomical specimens prepared by himself, and thus began to establish an anatomical reputation in Edinburgh. After some months in Paris be went in 1718 to Leyden and studied under Boerhaave. In the autumn of 1719 he returned to Edinburgh, where he was appointed professor of anatomy and surgery to the Surgeons' Company, and began to lecture in the winter of 1720. Up to that time there had been no professors of anatomy or of medicine in the university of Edinburgh, and in 1720 Monro was appointed the first university professor of anatomy, but was not formally inducted till 1725. Thenceforward he gave a course of lectures every year from October to May for thirty-nine years, beginning always with the history of the subject, then treating of osteology, then of the soft parts, then of the relation of the anatomy of animals to that of man, then of surgical operations, and finally of general physiology. In 1725 he married Isabella, second daughter of Sir Donald MacDonald of the Isle of Skye. In 1726 he published 'Osteology, a Treatise on the Anatomy of the Human Bones,' which went through several editions, to the sixth of which, 1758, is added an account of the nerves. He begins with an account of the periosteum, thence proceeds to the structure of bone and of joints, and then to the detailed description of the several bones. A medico-chirurgical society was formed in Edinburgh of which he was secretary, and he edited in 1732 its first volume of 'Transactions,' and subsequently five other volumes, writing in them many original papers, all of which are reprinted in the collected edition of his 'Works,' published in Edinburgh in 1781. After the battle of Prestonpans in 1745 he attended the wounded on the field, and while firmly attached to the house of Hanover did all in his power to obtain a pardon for Dr. Cameron the Jacobite. In 1764 he resigned his professorship, but continued to give clinical lectures at the hospital, and in that year he published 'An Account of the Inoculation of Small-pox in Scotland.' His separate papers, fifty-three in number, are on a great variety of medical subjects. He had observed the results of the falling of solid bodies into the appendix vermiformis, and shows much sagacity in an argument establishing the modern view that jaundice is very rarely, if ever, due to any cause but obstruction of the common bile duct. He knew a great deal of comparative anatomy and was well read in authors, especially admiring Wiseman among the older surgeons. He was a muscular man of middle stature, and was in the habit of being bled twice a year. In 1762 he had influenza with severe vesical catarrh, and he once fractured his heel tendon, and has written (Collected Works, p. 661) an account of his own case and cure. He died of a pelvic cancer 10 July 1767, after a long and painful illness, the chief symptoms of which are described in a letter to his son, Dr. Donald Monro [q. v.], dated 11 June 1766. A portrait of Monro, painted by Allan Ramsay, is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh. It was engraved by Basire and prefixed to the collected edition of his 'Works,' published by his son Dr. Alexander Monro secundus [q. v.], Edinburgh, 1781.

[Memoir by Dr. Donald Monro prefixed to Works, 1781; Works.]

N. M.