Sunday, June 26, 2011
Sunday, June 26, 2011
There's nothing like a devoted dog to bring out the best in people. Queen Victoria could be chilly and distant with her human subjects, but her dogs always received considerable affection. The poet George Gordon Noel, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) was better known more his many lovers than for his faithfulness – except when it came to his dog Boatswain, left.
Byron loved animals. As a student at Cambridge, he famously rebelled against a rule forbidding pet dogs in lodgings by keeping a pet bear instead. Throughout his life, he kept an ever-changing menagerie of pets that included cats, horses, peacocks, a badger, a goat, geese, a heron, a fox, a parrot, and four monkeys.
But Boatswain was his favorite. A black and white Newfoundland (though in paintings he looks more like a modern border collie), Boatswain was equally devoted to Byron. When Boatswain was tragically attacked and bitten by a rabid dog, Byron insisted on nursing Boatswain himself, heedless of the risk, and grieved deeply at the dog's inevitable death. "Boatswain is dead!" he lamented to a friend. "He expired in a state of madness...after suffering much, yet retaining all the gentleness of his nature to the last, never attempting to do the least injury to anyone near him."
Though in dire financial straits, Byron erected a costly marble monument over Boatswain's grave on the grounds of Newstead Abbey, and drew the inscription from his poem Epitaph to a Dog.
Near this Spot
Are deposited the Remains of one
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity
Strength without Insolence
Courage without Ferocity
And all the virtues of Man without his Vices
This praise which would be unmeaning Flattery
if inscribed over human Ashes
is but a just tribute to the Memory of
BOATSWAIN a DOG,
Who was born in Newfoundland May 1803
And died at Newstead Nov. 18 1808
The romantic painting, right, by Ford Madox Brown was completed long after the deaths of both Byron and Boatswain. Inspired by Byron's semi-autobiographical poem The Dream (1816), it shows Byron with his first lover, Mary Chaworth. While she represents lost love and thwarted dreams, it's ever-faithful Boatswain who stands for loyalty.
Above: Lord Byron's Dog Boatswain (1803-1808) by Clifton Tomson, 1808
Below: Byron's Dream by Ford Madox Brown, 1874