Lives of the fellows

Messenger Monsey

b.1693 d.1788
AB Cantab(1714) Ex LRCP(1723)

Messenger Monsey, A.B., was born in 1693, and was the son of the Rev. Robert Monsey, one of the non-juring clergy, by his wife Mary, a daughter of the Rev. Roger Clopton, rector of Downham. After an excellent education at home, he was sent to Pembroke college, Cambridge, as a member of which he proceeded bachelor of arts in 1714, and then removed to Norwich, where for some time he studied physic under Sir Benjamin Wrench, M.D. He was admitted an Extra-Licentiate of the College of Physicians 30th September, 1723. He settled at Bury St. Edmund’s, and whilst there was called to the assistance of lord Godolphin, the son of queen Anne’s lord treasurer, and grandson of the great duke of Marlborough, who had been seized on his way to Newmarket with an attack of apoplexy. The nearest medical aid was at Bury, and Monsey was summoned. He was successful in the treatment of his lordship, who was so fascinated with the conversational powers of his Suffolk, doctor, that he invited him to London; and eventually inducing him to relinquish his country practice, and accompany him to town, obtained for him, on the death of Dr. Smart, the appointment of physician to Chelsea hospital. Lord Godolphin introduced Monsey to many persons of great eminence and rank, among others to sir Robert Walpole, who assiduously cultivated his acquaintance; and the earl of Chesterfield, who acknowledged with gratitude the benefit he derived from Monsey’s medical assistance. Dr. Monsey continued in his office at Chelsea for half a century, and died at his apartments in the hospital in 1788, aged ninety-six.

Of this eccentric man Mr. Wadd writes thus :—" A medical oddity, with a considerable share of mental acuteness and literary endowments. He began business at Bury, where he experienced the common fate of country practice—constant fatigue, long journeys, and short fees; and in a rusty wig, dirty boots, and leather breeches, might have degenerated into a hum-drum provincial doctor, his merits not diffused beyond a county chronicle, and his medical errors concealed in the country churchyard—but for an accidental attendance on the earl of Godolphin, in which nature, or Monsey, was successful; and the grateful earl procured for him the appointment at Chelsea, and ultimately left him a handsome legacy. From the narrow, unvaried rural circle he was suddenly transplanted into a land of promise and politeness, with the earls of Chesterfield and Bath, sir Robert Walpole, and Garrick, as his companions and friends. Even in such society Monsey maintained his original plainness of manners, and with an unreserved sincerity sometimes spoke truth in a manner that gave offence; and as old age approached, he acquired an asperity of behaviour and a neglect of decorum that subjected him to the odium of being considered as a cynic and misanthropist. As a physician he adhered to the tenets of the Boerhaavian school, and despised modern improvements in theory and practice, uniformly prescribing contrayerva and ptisan, and adhering to rules and systems merely because they were sanctioned by sixty years’ experience. In his politics he was a Whig, in his religion a latitudinarian. But unfortunately, when he shook off the manacles of superstition, he fell into the comfortless bigotry of scepticism, which, like religious bigotry, narrows the intellect and hardens the heart. He left his body for dissection; and a few days before he died wrote to Mr. Cruikshanks, the anatomist, begging to know whether it would suit his convenience to do it, as he felt he could not live many hours, and Mr. Forster, his surgeon, was then out of town. He died as he predicted, and his wishes with respect to his body were strictly attended to." A very fine portrait of Monsey has been presented to the College within a few weeks, by Mr. Frederick Walford, of Bolton-street, Piccadilly. Monsey’s portrait when over ninety years of age, was engraved by Bromley, from a sketch by Forster.

William Munk

(Volume II, page 84)

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