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Beryl McMullen

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Boatswain the lamented One
by Beryl McMullen   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Friday, February 16, 2007
Posted: Friday, February 16, 2007

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I've not learned much in my life with those lassies, but I made this rule: Never compare a woman to a dog.

Personally, I don't know why women should be so sensitive. Dogs are loving, honest, intelligent creatures. They give us much, and expect little back. Robbie Burns


Lord Byron

But words are things, and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew, upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think;
'Tis strange, the shortest letter which man uses
Instead of speech, may form a lasting link
Of ages; to what straits old Time reduces
Frail man, when paper - even a rag like this - ,
Survives himself, his tomb, and all that's his.
from Don Juan


Boatswain the lamented One

George Gordon Byron. Though born with a club foot managed to distinguish himself in school sports. He went on to a dissolute youth, drinking wildly and bedding every woman who was attracted to his brooding nature and elegant limp (there was an extraordinary number of those young ladies). He inherited a title spoke quite passionately in the House of Lords in defense of workers long before it was fashionable to do so , and became one of England’s greatest poets. He was tough minded and cynical and wrote about stormy emotions and great lovers,(one of which was considered to be by many people, including himself) He was of course Lord Byron, author of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and Don Juan and a notorious rakehell,

A magnificent Newfoundland born in Newfoundland in 1801 became Byron's dog. It was said that it had once saved his life, but it is certain that the splendid dog, called Boatswain got through Byron’s defenses to his affection and loyalty as no other women ever did. The dog died of some kind of fit in 1808 and a friend reported that a distraught Byron wiped the dog’s saliva away with his bare hands during the paroxysm

When the dog died Byron was inconsolable – and enraged that anyone should find it default to understand his grief over a mere dog. The result of this grief and anger is a startling monument to Boatswain, placed over the dog's remains at Newstead Abbey in England. There is a long inscription on the tomb which has been scorned by some as to flowery, rococo and ridiculously overstated. To think so is to miss the anger. The bittersweet and above all the intense grief that Byron felt, expressed through a nature which never cared for moderation in any form. This that angry poem:

When some proud son of man returns to earth
Unknown to glory, but upheld by birth
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of view
And storied urns record who rest below
When all is done, when on 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 labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone
Unhonour’d 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 the 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!
Thy nature vile, ennobled but by name
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush with shame
Ye! Who perchance behold this simple urn.
Pass on - it honours no one you wish to mourn
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one and there he lies.

Having called any reader of this inscription an insect, a vile lusting and deceitful hypocrite. Byron gets down to his grief with the following and most powerful epitaph:

Near this spot are deposited the Remains of One
Who possessed Beauty without Vanity,
Strength with Insolence
Courage with Ferocity
And all the Virtues of man without Vices
This Praise which would be unmeaning Flattery
Inscribed over Human Ashes
Is but a Tribute to the Memory Of
BOATSWAIN, A DOG

One could be excused for wondering what – if that is on his dog's grave – is on Byron’s? Very little he was so disgusted with mankind, including himself, that he left instructions in, not one but two separate wills that he should be buried beside his beloved dog and that his own grave marker should contain nothing but his initials and date of death.

True to his suspicions of human unreliability, his family went against he wishes and had him interred in the family vault at Hucknall Parish Church, they did not respect his other wish, though, and to this day a simple stone marker shows the last resting place of one of England’s greatest poets in a small parish church and, a short walk away a magnificent monument in Newstead Abbey carries a soaring tribute to his dog giving Boatswain a lasting place in history!

Beryl McMullen














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Reviewed by m j hollingshead
well done
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