Monsey, Messenger (DNB00)

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MONSEY, MESSENGER (1693–1788), physician, born in 1693, was eldest son of Robert Monsey, some time rector of Bawdeswell, Norfolk, but ejected as a nonjuror, and his wife Mary, daughter of the Rev. Roger Clopton. (The family of Monsey or Mounsey is supposed to be derived from the Norman house of De Monceaux.) Monsey was educated at home, and afterwards at Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1714. He studied medicine at Norwich under Sir Benjamin Wrench, and was admitted extra licentiate of the College of Physicians on 30 Sept. 1723. He then settled in practice at Bury St. Edmund's, where he married. While at Bury Monsey had the good fortune to be called in to attend the Earl of Godolphin, who was taken ill on a journey, and recommended himself so well by his skill or by his wit that Godolphin induced him to come to London, and ultimately obtained for him the appointment of physician to Chelsea Hospital, at first without the obligation of residence. This post he held till his death.

Through Godolphin's influence Monsey was introduced to Sir Robert Walpole, Lord Chesterfield, and other members of the whig party, whose principles he warmly espoused. Among them he became so popular as to be considered the chief medical adviser of the politicians of that school. Always eccentric and rough in his manners, he treated his noble patrons with ostentatious familiarity. Walpole once asked how it was that no one but Monsey ever contradicted him. He also acquired connections of a literary kind with such people as Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu [q. v.] and Garrick. For many years he and the Earl of Bath were accounted rivals in a prolonged flirtation with Mrs. Montagu. Monsey's friendship with Garrick was broken off by an unfortunate quarrel, and he was never in favour with Dr. Johnson, who disapproved of his loose style of conversation. A specimen of his rhymed letters to Mrs. Montagu, in the manner of Swift, has been preserved, and shows him to have been a lively correspondent (J. Cordy Jeaffreson, A Book about Doctors; cf. Doran, Lady of the Last Century, pp. 70, 73, 132, 370).

In religion Monsey was a freethinker. Late in life his peculiarities became accentuated, till his coarse ribaldry and bearish demeanour made him the subject of innumerable anecdotes. It is reported that he was wont to receive with savage delight, in his old age, the expectants who were waiting for the reversion of his appointment at Chelsea Hospital, and came to inspect the place. The terrible old man used to prophesy to each that he would die before him, and in most cases his prediction proved true. He quarrelled with his colleagues, and lived the life of a lettered but morose hermit in Chelsea College. He had given directions that his body was to be dissected after death and the remnants thrown away. On 12 May 1787, when seriously ill, and thinking himself about to die, he wrote to W. C. Cruikshank, the anatomist, begging him to dissect his body after death, as he feared his own surgeon, Mr Forster, who was then at Norwich and had undertaken the duty, might return too late. He died at Chelsea College 26 Dec. 1788 The post-mortem examination was, it is said actually made by Mr. Forster before the students of Guy's Hospital.

Monsey was buried at Chelsea; but in 1868 a tablet was erected to his memory by his descendants, John Collyer and John Monsey Collyer, in the church of Whitwell, now Hackford, Norfolk, a small manor which he had inherited from his father, whom he commemorated in a similar manner.

He left an only daughter, who married William Alexander, elder brother of the first Earl of Caledon, and was grandmother of Robert Monsey Rolfe, the first lord Cranworth, lord chancellor.

The College of Physicians possesses a fine portrait in oils of Monsey, painted by Mary Black in 1764. A singular drawing of him in extreme old age, by Forster, was engraved by Bromley. A caricature portrait in colours, entitled 'Ornaments of Chelsea Hospital,' was published 19 Jan. 1789, without any artist's name, but with some irreverent verses by Peter Pindar, which have been wrongly attributed to Monsey himself. Some manuscript letters and verses by Monsey are in the library of the Royal College of Surgeons of England.

[Sketch of the Life and Character of the late Dr. Monsey, London, 1789, 8vo (anon.); J. Cordy Jeaffreson's Book about Doctors, partly from original documents; Munk's Coll. of Phys. 1878, ii. 84; information kindly supplied by J. B. Bailey, esq.]

J. F. P.