A line from the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley(1849-1903). Henley suffered tuberculosis of the bone and had one leg amputated when he was a teenager. The other leg was also targeted for amputation, but Henley wouldn’t allow this and remained in hospital for three years, supervised and assisted by a young Joseph Lister.
Henley wrote ‘Invictus’ in hospital and it was published in 1875, the year he was discharged.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed
The poem’s equally famous final line is:
‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.’
Robert Louis Stevenson later became a close friend of Henley’s. His red beard, massive shoulders, jovial rolling laugh and one-legged gait with his crutch was the inspiration for Stevenson’s character Long John Silver. In a letter to Henley after the publication of Treasure Island in 1883, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession: It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot Long John Silver … the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”