Epitaph to a Dog

George Gordon Byron, known as Lord Byron, was unlucky in love, but found great comfort in the companionship of animals. Byron’s estate resembled a zoo — he owned horses, dogs, monkeys, cats, peacocks, guinea hens, geese, a parrot, an eagle, a crow, a falcon, a badger, a heron, a goat, and of course — not to to outdone — a crocodile. But of all his animals, Boatswain, his Newfoundland, was the dearest to him. In his fifth year, Boatswain contracted rabies and Byron nursed him until the dog passed away in 1808. Boatswain is buried in Newstead Abbey (in Nottinghamshire, England) in a tomb that is located adjacent to Lord Byron’s tomb. Interestingly, the dog’s tomb is larger than the poet’s tomb — a fitting testament to a true friend with “all the virtues of Man without his Vices.”

There is an inscription of an epitaph that appears at the top of a stone vault panel, right above a 26-verse poem, Epitaph to a Dog. Because Byron wrote the poem, most readers assume that he also wrote the epitaph that precedes the poem. The epitaph was actually written by Lord Byron’s good friend, John Cam Hobhouse, a British statesman and memoirist. Biographers found the draft of a letter written by Hobhouse in 1830 that explained that Byron chose to use Hobhouse’s eloquent epitaph rather than the last two lines of the poem that he had written for Boatswain.

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. 18th 1808.

Read Byron’s poem here

For further reading:
The Late Lord Byron by Doris Moore, Melville House (2011)
Byron: Child of Passion, Fool of Fame by Benita Eisler, Vintage (2000)

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