CodeDS/UK/35
Person NameMonro; Alexander (1697-1767); Professor; primus; anatomist
Dates1697-1767
TitleProfessor
Epithetprimus; anatomist
HistoryMonro, primus was born in London on 8 September 1697. When his father resigned from the army in1700 he moved his family to Edinburgh. Alexander Monro attended the University of Edinburgh between 1710 and 1713 but did not obtain a degree. Early in 1717 he travelled to London where he remained for about a year, attending the natural philosophy lectures of Francis Hawksbee the younger and William Whiston, and the anatomy course of William Cheselden. From London, Alexander Monro went on to Paris in the spring of 1718, where he attended various courses at the Jardin du Roi and the Hotel-Dieu. In November 1718 Monro enrolled as a medical student at the University of Leiden, where he remained for another year, studying chemistry and clinical medicine with Herman Boerhaave.

Monro returned to Edinburgh in September 1719 and soon after passed the examinations for admission to the Incorporation of Surgeons. On 21 January 1720 the joint professors of anatomy, Adam Drummond and John McGill, resigned their professorship in favour of Monro. While Monro's talents were evident, his rapid rise owed much to the efforts of his father and the patronage of George Drummond, a dominant figure on the town council.

Monro began his first course of anatomy in the autumn of 1720 with fifty-seven students. He offered a yearly course from that date until 1758, when he retired (except for his clinical course) in favour of his son, Alexander Monro secundus. The lecture course, which ran from October to April, began each year with the history of anatomy and went on to human anatomy. He employed only one or two cadavers for this part of the course, an indication of the continuing shortage of bodies for dissection. This was followed by comparative anatomy, physiology, and surgical operations. While generally inclining toward mechanical explanations, Monro subscribed to no particular school of thought, and carefully outlined competing theories to his students, offering often pungent opinions on their fallacies. He did not hesitate to admit his own lack of conclusive knowledge on controversial points. He lectured in English rather than Latin.

Meanwhile, in 1722 Monro petitioned the town council to make his professorship a life appointment, which was granted. On 27 June 1723 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of London, but he never travelled to London to be admitted.

Monro's move to a university site in 1725 led to his formal inauguration as a university professor with an inaugural lecture De origine et utilitate anatomiae. In 1729 Monro rented a house in Robertson's Close, off Cowgate, with six beds for the sick poor to provide clinical training for medical students. This was the origin of the Edinburgh Infirmary, one of a number of voluntary hospitals in eighteenth-century Britain. It was chartered by George II as the Royal Infirmary in 1736, and a large new building, designed by William Adam, opened for patients in 1741.

In 1726 Monro published his first and only major book, The Anatomy of the Humane Bones, an unillustrated text intended as a commentary on his demonstrations. The majority of his published work, some of it anonymous, was contained in the six volumes of Medical Essays and Observations (1732-44) which he edited as secretary of the Society for the Improvement of Medical Knowledge, which he had helped found in 1731. This society was a predecessor of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Monro died at his house in Covenant Close, Edinburgh, on 10 July 1767.

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