Date: n.d.

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Sir James Simpson n.d.

The Conquest of Pain



"I at once agreed to submit to the operation, but asked a week to prepare for it, not with the slightest expectation that the disease would take a favorable turn in the interval, or that the anticipated horrors of the operation would become less appalling by reflection upon them, but simply because it was so probable that the operation would be followed by a fatal issue that I wished to prepare for death, and what lies beyond it, whilst my faculties were clear and my emotions were comparatively undisturbed.

The week, so slow and yet so swift in its passage, at length came to an end, and the morning of the operation arrived. The operation was a more tedious one than some which involve much greater mutilation. It necessitated cruel curing through inflamed and morbidly sensitive parts, and could not be despatched by a few strokes of the knife.

Of the agony it occasioned I will say nothing. Suffering so great as I underwent cannot be expressed in words, and thus fortunately cannot be recalled. The particular pangs are now forgotten; but the blank whirlwind of emotion, the horror of great darkness, and the sense of desertion by God and man, bordering close upon despair, which swept though my mind and overwhelmed my heart, I can never forget, however gladly I would do so. Only the wish to save others some of my sufferings makes me deliberately recall and confess the anguish and humiliation of such a personal experience, nor can I find language more sober or familiar than that which I have used to express feelings which, happily for us all, are too rare as matters of general experience to have been shaped in the household words.

During the operation, in spite of the pain it occasioned, my senses were preternaturally acute, as I have been told they generally are in patients under such circumstances. I watched all that the surgeon did with a fascinated intensity.

I still recall with unwelcome vividness the spreading out of the instruments, the twisting of the tourniquet, the first incision, the fingering of the sawed bone, the sponge pressed on the flap, the tying of the blood vessels, the stitching of the skin, and the bloody dismembered limb lying on the floor. Those are not pleasant remembrances. For a long time they haunted me, and even now they are easily resuscitated; and though they cannot bring back the suffering attending the events which gave them a place in my memory, they can occasion a suffering of their own, and be the cause of a disquiet which favors neither mental nor bodily health.


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Chicago: Sir James Simpson, ed., "The Conquest of Pain," Memoirs in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed February 25, 2024,

MLA: . "The Conquest of Pain." Memoirs, edited by Sir James Simpson, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 25 Feb. 2024.

Harvard: (ed.), 'The Conquest of Pain' in Memoirs. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 25 February 2024, from