Monro, Alexander (1733-1817) (DNB00)

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MONRO, ALEXANDER, secundus, M.D. (1733–1817), anatomist, younger son of Alexander Monro primus [q. v.], by Isabella, second daughter of Sir Donald MacDonald, bart., of the Isle of Skye, was born at Edinburgh 20 May 1733. He was sent with his elder brother Donald [q. v.] to the school of Mr. Mundell, and in 1752 entered the university of Edinburgh. He occasionally lectured for his father from 1753. and on 12 July 1755 was formally appointed professor of anatomy and surgery as coadjutor to his father. He took the degree of M.D. 17 Oct. 1755, the subject of his inaugural dissertation being ' De Testibus et Semine in variis Animalibus.' It is dedicated to his father, and shows that he had worked diligently at minute anatomy. Soon after graduation he went to London, where he attended William Hunter's lectures, and afterwards to Paris, Leyden, and Berlin. At Leyden University he matriculated 17 Sept. 1757 (Peacock, Index, p. 70). He resided at Berlin in the house of Professor Meckel (Johann Friedrich, the elder), and worked under that distinguished anatomist, his obligations to whom he used to acknowledge in nearly every course of lectures which he delivered. In 1758 he returned to Edinburgh, was admitted a licentiate of the College of Physicians of Edinburgh, and 1 May 1759 was elected a fellow. He became secretary of the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh in succession to his father. This society pub- lished three volumes of essays. The first, which appeared in 1754, contains 'a description of the vesiculse seminales' and 'observations on gravid uteri' by him; the second, issued in 1756, 'a description of a monster without head, arms, heart, or legs,' and 'the history of a genuine volvulus;' while in the last, in 1771, he wrote a paper on the effect of drugs on the nervous system. He published two controversial 'observations' on the lymphatics in 1758, maintaining that he, in a short essay printed at Berlin in 1758, and reprinted in 1761 and 1770, 'De Venis Lymphaticis Valvulosis,' and not William Hunter, had first correctly described the general communications of the lymphatic system. Frederick Hoffman had, however, preceded both Monro and Hunter in the description. In 1783 he published in Edinburgh 'Observations on the Structure and Functions of the Nervous System,’ dedicated to the Right Hon. Henry Dundas [q. v.], and it is in consequence of the description in this book of the communication between the lateral ventricles of the brain that his name is known to every student of medicine at the present day. The opening now always spoken of as the ‘foramen of Monro’ is very small in the healthy brain, but when water on the brain is present may be as large as a sixpence. It was this morbid condition that drew Monro's attention to the foramen, and he first described it in a paper read before the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh in 1764, but gives a fuller account in this work on the nervous system (Nervous System, tab. iii. and iv.).

He had always paid much attention to comparative anatomy, and published in 1785 ‘The Structure and Physiology of Fishes explained and compared with those of Man and other Animals.’ In 1788 he published an account of seventy pairs of bursæ under the title, ‘Description of all the Bursæ Mucosæ of the Human Body, their Structure, Accidents, and Diseases, and Operations for their Cure,’ which is stated by several anatomical writers to be the first full description of the bursæ. In 1793 he published ‘Experiments on the Nervous System with Opium and Metalline Substances, to determine the Nature and Effects of Animal Electricity.’ These experiments led him to the conclusion that nerve force was not identical with electricity. His last book, ‘Three Treatises on the Brain, the Eye, and the Ear,’ was published at Edinburgh in 1797. Manuscript copies of notes of his lectures on anatomy delivered in 1774 and 1775 are preserved in the library of the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London, and some ‘Essays and Heads of Lectures on Anatomy, Physiology, Pathology, Surgery,’ very imperfectly arranged, were printed by his son Alexander [q. v.] in 1840.

Monro, who in 1777 successfully resisted the appointment of a separate professor of surgery, gave a full course of lectures every year from 1759 to 1800. From 1800 to 1807 he delivered part of the course, his son Alexander completing it, and in 1808 gave the introductory lecture only. This was his last lecture, and after it his faculties gradually decayed. He became drowsy after dinner, and his nose used to bleed from time to time. In 1813 he had an apoplectic attack, and he died 2 Oct. 1817. He attained extensive practice as a physician, but never allowed his practice to interrupt the regularity of his lectures. He was fond of gardening, and bought the estate of Craiglockhart on the Leith water, where he had a cottage, and cultivated many kinds of fruit. He would have no bedroom in the cottage, as he thought that a physician in practice should always spend the night in his town-house. He enjoyed the theatre, was a warm admirer of Mrs. Siddons, and was proud of having been consulted by her about her health. He was a popular member of the Harveian Society of Edinburgh, a convivial as well as learned society, and at its meetings, according to Dr. Duncan, the father of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, ‘without transgressing the bounds of the most strict sobriety, he afforded us demonstrative evidence of the exhilarating power of wine.’ He was certainly the ablest of the three professors of his family. His portrait was painted by Kay, by Seton, and by Sir H. Raeburn, and an engraving of his head from the picture of the last is prefixed to his son's memoir of his life; a bust by an unknown sculptor is in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

[A. Monro's (tertius) Memoir, Edinburgh, 1840; Dr. Andrew Duncan's Account of the Life, Writings, and Character of the late Dr. Alexander Monro secundus, Edinb. 1818; Works.]

N. M.