Lord Byron's Poems

Health and appearance

Character and psyche

I am such a strange mélange of good and evil that it would be difficult to describe me.[82]

As a boy, Byron's character is described as a "mixture of affectionate sweetness and playfulness, by which it was impossible not to be attached", although he also exhibited "silent rages, moody sullenness and revenge" with a precocious bent for attachment and obsession.[59]

Birth defect

From birth, Byron suffered from a deformity of his right foot. Generally referred to as a "club foot", some modern medical experts maintain that it was a consequence of infantile paralysis (poliomyelitis), and others that it was a dysplasia, a failure of the bones to form properly.[83] Whatever the cause, he was afflicted with a limp that caused him lifelong psychological and physical misery, aggravated by painful and pointless "medical treatment" in his childhood and the nagging suspicion that with proper care it might have been cured.[84]

He was extremely self-conscious about this from a young age, nicknaming himself le diable boiteux[85] (French for "the limping devil", after the nickname given to Asmodeus by Alain-René Lesage in his 1707 novel of the same name). Although he often wore specially-made shoes in an attempt to hide the deformed foot,[27] he refused to wear any type of brace that might improve the limp.[3]

Scottish novelist John Galt felt his oversensitivity to the "innocent fault in his foot was unmanly and excessive" because the limp was "not greatly conspicuous". He first met Byron on a voyage to Sardinia and didn't realise he had any deficiency for several days, and still could not tell at first if the lameness was a temporary injury or not. But by the time he met Byron he was an adult and had worked to develop "a mode of walking across a room by which it was scarcely at all perceptible".[11] The motion of the ship at sea may also have helped to create a favourable first impression and hide any deficiencies in his gait, but Galt's biography is also described as being "rather well-meant than well-written", so Galt may be guilty of minimising a defect that was actually still noticeable.[86]

Physical appearance

Byron's adult height was 5 feet 8.5 inches (1.74 m), his weight fluctuating between 9.5 stone (133 lb; 60 kg) and 14 stone (200 lb; 89 kg). He was renowned for his personal beauty, which he enhanced by wearing curl-papers in his hair at night.[87] He was athletic, being a competent boxer and horse-rider and an excellent swimmer. He attended pugilistic tuition at the Bond Street rooms of former prizefighting champion John ‘Gentleman’ Jackson, and recorded these sparring sessions, with the man he called ‘the Emperor of Pugilism’, in his letters and journals.[88]

Byron and other writers, such as his friend Hobhouse, described his eating habits in detail. At the time he entered Cambridge, he went on a strict diet to control his weight. He also exercised a great deal, and at that time wore a great number of clothes to cause himself to perspire. For most of his life he was a vegetarian, and often lived for days on dry biscuits and white wine. Occasionally he would eat large helpings of meat and desserts, after which he would purge himself. Although he is described by Galt and others as having a predilection for "violent" exercise, Hobhouse suggests that the pain in his deformed foot made physical activity difficult, and his weight problem was the result.[87]

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