The Case of the Prolific Poet with a Crooked Foot

Albert B. Lowenfels, MD; Shevaun Mackie Doyle, MD

Disclosures

August 22, 2008

Summary

George Gordon, Lord Byron, one of the most famous poets in literary history, was born with a clubfoot, a common and now correctable orthopaedic birth defect. John Hunter, the leading 18th century surgeon, examined Byron soon after birth, made the diagnosis, and suggested corrective therapy. Perhaps because of poverty, Byron never received early treatment, and so he grew up with a permanent disability. If Byron were born today, his clubfoot would be easily correctable using a combination of manipulation, casting, and, if necessary, tenotomy of the Achilles tendon performed as an in-office procedure. Predictably his gait would have been normal, but would Byron have then become a famous poet?[13]

Adversity is often the stimulus leading to creativity, and we can only speculate about his life and the extent to which his artistic achievements owed to this common deformity. Mary Shelley, Byron's close friend and author of the novel Frankenstein,wrote: "No action of Lord Byron's life -- scarce a line he has written -- but was influenced by his personal defect."

In a poem entitled "The Deformed Transformed," Byron wrote:

Deformity is daring.
It is its essence to o'ertake mankind
By heart and soul, and make itself the equal --
Aye, the superior of the rest.

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