Monday, March 19, 2012

Last Words: Joseph Henry Green



Joseph Henry Green  (1791-1863), an English surgeon who became the literary executor of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The word was spoken upon checking his own pulse.

Joseph Henry Green, a surgeon and professor of anatomy, suffered from inherited gout and died of an acute seizure at his house in 1863.  

An account of his final moments has been given by Sir John Simon:
“I would show that not even the last sudden agony of death ruffled his serenity of mind, or rendered him unthoughtful of others. No terrors, no selfish regrets, no reproachful memories, were there. The few tender parting words which he had yet to speak, he spoke. And to the servants who had gathered grieving round him, he said, ‘While I have breath, let me thank you all for your kindness and attention to me’.
Next, to his doctor, who quickly entered – his neighbour and old pupil, Mr. Carter – he significantly, and pointing to the region of his heart, said – ‘congestion’. After which, he in silence set his finger to his wrist, and visibly noted to himself the successive feeble pulses which were but just between him and death. Presently he said – ‘stopped’. And this was the very end. It was as if even to die were an act of his own grand self-government. For at once, with the warning word still scarce beyond his lips, suddenly the stately head drooped aside, passive and defunct for ever. And then, to the loving eyes that watched him, ‘his face was again all young and beautiful’. The bodily heart, it is true, had become more pulseless clay; broken was the pitcher at the fountain, broken at the cistern the wheel; but, for yet a moment amid the nightfall, the pure spiritual life could be discerned, moulding for the last time into conformity with itself the features which thenceforth were for the tomb.”
You have to admire someone who takes his own pulse and pronounces himself dead.  Now that’s cool.

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