Lady Caroline Lamb, the mistress of Lord Byron, once described him as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’.
One must presume it was due to his numerous affairs, and even rumours of incest, that led her to formulate such harsh words to depict him. Yet according to a new book, the great poet’s true passion was animals and, in particular, dogs. Geoffrey Bond, the author of Lord Byron’s Best Friends, and one of the original experts on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme, concludes that despite his hedonistic style and his harem of women, animals were Byron’s best friends.
On one occasion, writes Bond, Byron was so infuriated by the rules at Trinity College, Cambridge that prevented him from keeping one of his dogs there, he instead kept a bear in his room. ‘Bryon found relationships with animals easier than with humans,’ said Bond, who lives in Burgage Manor, Nottinghamshire, one of Byron’s childhood homes. ‘Dogs, in particular, were always of great comfort.’
When his favourite dog, Boatswain, a Newfoundland, died, Byron had a large tomb built in the grounds of Newstead Abbey, his ancestral home in Nottinghamshire. On it was written Epitaph to a Dog, one of his better-known poems, which begins: ‘Near this spot are deposited the Remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity…’ Bond’s book, published by Nick McCann Associates, also prints, for the first time, The Wonderful History of Lord Bryon and his Dog, an illustrated poem by Elizabeth Pigot, a neighbour and friend of Byron’s.
The poet, who before his death in Greece in 1884 aged thirty-six, wrote narrative poems including Don Juan and Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage also owned mastiffs, bulldogs and Mutz, a smaller dog which he bought in 1816. In one letter he wrote: ‘Bought a dog – a very ugly dog, but trés méchant. He hath no tail and is called Mutz.’
Well, Brian Sewell’s brilliant book, Sleeping with Dogs, which Quartet has just published, will sit comfortably with Geoffrey Bond’s.
What a Christmas bonanza for book lovers who feel passionately about their dogs, to treat themselves to these titles and celebrate the festive season with two gems to remind them of their most loyal and loving companions!