Byron was severely anorexic

THE ROMANTIC poet Lord Byron suffered from the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, driven by his "fear of fatness and self-loathing" according to psychiatrists.

An examination of his correspondence revealed that his Body Mass Index - a table used to assess weight and fat - ranged from 30 (obese) to 19 (underweight), and might have fallen even further. But Professor Arthur Crisp, emeritus professor of psychiatric medicine at St George's Hospital Medical School in London, said the stigma of mental illness meant that biographers had not acknowledged Byron's problem with food.

Speaking at the Royal College of Psychiatrists yesterday, Professor Crisp said he believed that Byron suffered from "severe anorexia nervosa and was only creative at these times" and that this should be recognised.

George Gordon Byron, author of Childe Harold's Pilgrimage and Don Juan, was once described as "mad, bad and dangerous to know", mainly for his habit of seducing almost anything with a pulse.

But his appetite problems were not merely sexual. A paper by Dr JH Baron in the British Medical Journal last year described Byron's weight as varying from 14st 6lb down to 9st 11lb. It pointed out Byron's joy in losing weight: "Don't you think I get thinner?" Byron said to one correspondent. "I am as thin as a skeleton - thinner than you saw me at my first arrival in Venice and thinner than yourself."

Dr Baron also revealed that Byron asked for just "hard biscuits and soda water" when dining out. When these were not available he ate potatoes drenched in vinegar. By 1821 he said he could not eat more than once a day, took quantities of vinegar to lessen his appetite and dosed himself with Epsom salts, magnesia and strong laxatives.

In a commentary to this paper, Prof Crisp suggested the "devastating family history of severe psychiatric morbidity" including childhood obesity, apparent childhood abuse and bisexual promiscuity in adolescence were "common recognisable antecedents" of severe eating disorders.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments