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Lord Byron and his Newfoundland dog Boatswain


Lord Byron (1788-1824), born George Gordon Byron was a an Anglo-Saxon poet. He was a flamboyant, eccentric character, reviled and revered at the same time.  He was regarded as one of the greatest European poets and remains greatly read.

One of Lord Byron's best known works, "Epitaph to a dog" was written for his Newfoundland dog 'Boatswain', pictured at right.

Image of Boatswain:  Lord Byron's 'Newfoundland'
Portrait reproduced Courtesy of Nottingham City Museums and Galleries, Newstead Abbey


Boatswain's Urn and monument at Newstead Abbey.
Photo courtesy of Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire, England.

Lord Byron, inherited Newstead Abbey, in Nottinghamshire, England, from his great-uncle. (It had been the Byron family home since 1540 when Sir John Byron acquired it from Henry Vlll.)  Byron lived there only infrequently until 1814, when due to financial pressures, the Abbey was sold.

 Boatswain (1803-1808), Lord Byron's Newfoundland dog, died of rabies while Byron was living at Newstead, and it is here that Boatswain lays buried.

  Lord Byron wrote the following epitaph in honor of his faithful friend.


 Boatswain's monument reads as follows:

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
who was born in Newfoundland May 1803,
and died at Newstead Nov 18th, 1808.

When some proud son of man returns to earth,
Unknown by glory, but upheld by birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And stories urns record that rests below.
When all is done, upon the tomb is seen,
Not what he was, but what he should have been.

But the poor dog, in life the firmest friend,
The first to welcome, foremost to defend,
Whose honest heart is still his master’s own,
Who labors, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonored falls, unnoticed all his worth,
Denied in heaven the soul he held on earth –

While man, vain insect! hopes to be forgiven,
And claims himself a sole exclusive heaven.
Oh man! thou feeble tenant of an hour,
Debased by slavery, or corrupt by power –
Who knows thee well must quit thee with disgust,
Degraded mass of animated dust!
Thy love is lust, thy friendship all a cheat,
Thy smiles hypocrisy, thy words deceit!
By nature vile, ennoble but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.

Ye, who perchance behold this simple urn,
Pass on – it honors none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one – and here he lies.

Lord Byron’s tribute to “Boatswain,” on a monument in the garden of Newstead Abbey.


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