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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Dr. Alexander Munro, Secundus, Professor of Anatomy


The father of this celebrated anatomist was the first efficient professor of the science in tbe University of Edinburgh, and may be considered as the founder of the medical school for which it has been subsequently so justly famed. He was a descendant of the Munros of Milntoun, and grandson of Sir Alexander Monro of Beerscroft—a strenuous opponent of Oliver Cromwell.

Monro, secundus, was born in this city in 1732; and, although the youngest son, bis father early designed that he should be his successor, and no exertion was spared to initiate him in the practice as well as the theory of his profession. That his whole time and attention might be devoted to the science, his father—presuming on the strength of thirty years' devotion to the medical chair, and emboldened by the fame which the seminary bad acquired under his professorship— ventured to memorialise the Town Council on the subject of appointing his son assistant and successor. Among other motives which urged the professor to this step, it is stated in the memorial, that the acquisition of so much knowledge of an extensive science as a teacher ought to have, cannot be obtained without some neglect of tbe other branches; and, therefore, a prospect of suitable advantage from that one branch must be given, to induce any person to bestow more time and pains on it than on others.

The memorial thus proceeds:—"That the professor's youngest son has appeared to his father, for some years past, to have the qualifications necessary for a teacher; and this winter be has given proof, not only dissecting all the course of his father, but prelecting in most of it. That he is already equal to the office; for testimony of which, it is entreated that inquiry may be made at the numerous students who were present at his lectures and demonstrations." It was farther stated, that if "the patrons agreed to the proposition, the education of the young professor should be directed, with a view to that business, under the best masters in Europe. He should have all his father's papers, books, instruments, and preparations, with all the assistance his father can give in teaching, while he is fit for labour."

This document throws great light upon the history of the young anatomist, and of the profitable manner in which he had spent his time. It contains also a plain but sensible statement of his father's sentiments concerning his proficiency. There was likewise produced to the patrons certificates from the different Professors of Latin and Greek, of Philosophy and Mathematics, and of the Professors of Medicine in the University of Edinburgh, under whom he had studied; together with attestations from a great number of the students who had attended his demonstrations and lectures. Evidence was also produced that he was above twenty-one years of age. These papers were laid before the patrons in June, 1754, and the prayer of the petition was granted.

Mr. Monro did not immediately repair to the Contineut, but remained in Scotland for a year. The reason of this was probably a wish that he might graduate at the University of Edinburgh. This he accordingly did upon the 20th October, 1755. He chose as the subject of his thesis "De Testibus et Semine in varus Animalibus." He could hardly have selected one more difficult to discuss. It is fully twice the size of ordinary theses, and is accompanied with plates, in order to explain the situation of the parts, their functions, and his reasoning concerning them. It is long siuce it became very scarce. Such as have examined it, uniformly concur iu opinion that it possesses great merit, and affords an excellent specimen of what was to be expected from him as a professor of anatomy.

When he went abroad, it was with the view principally of studying anatomy under the best masters in Europe. At Berlin he attended Professor Meckel's lectures, whose reputation as an anatomist stood very high. He now and then referred to him in his own lectures, and spoke of his old master in very high terms. He was for some time at Leyden ; but whether he ever visited Paris we are not informed. Upon his return to Scotland, he was admitted a licentiate of the Edinburgh Eoyal College of Physicians on the 2nd of May, 1758, and elected a fellow on the 1st May, 1759.

His character as a lecturer on anatomy stood very high during the long period that he discharged its duties. As an anatomist he was well known, not only throughout the British dominions and in America, but over the whole Continent of Europe; and he contributed most essentially to spread the fame of the University of Edinburgh as a medical school. He was not only a skilful anatomist, but an enthusiast in the study of it; and was constantly employed in exercising his mechanical genius in inventing and improving surgical instruments. Neither he nor his father read any of their lectures. His elocution was distinct—slow, but somewhat formal—and he generally detained the students more than an hour at lecture. The following, notice of his death occurs in the Scots Magazine :

"Oct. 22 [1S17]. At Edinburgh, in the eighty-fifth year of his age, Alexander Monro of Craiglockhart, Esq., M.D., Professor of Medicine, Anatomy, and Surgery, in the University of Edinburgh. This distinguished physician was admitted joint Professor with his father, 12th July, 1754 ; and, during more than half a century, shone as one of the brightest ornaments of that much and justly celebrated seminary ; his elegant and scientific lectures attracting students from all quarters of the globe."

He was succeeded by his son, the present and third Dr. Alexander Monro in lineal succession, who have reputably held the professorship upwards of a hundred years.

The print of Dr. Monro was executed in 1790, and is said to be extremely faithful; indeed, the present Professor thinks it one of the best representations ever given of any individual.


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