Yesterday we went to Newstead Abbey. I’d seen a post abut a home education meet up there and we’d never been so thought we’d have a look. The children don’t, yet, have the interest that I have in history but we still find something that we can talk about or research later, everywhere we go. This visit the topic for home was Boatswain.
The Abbey was founded as a monastic house in the late 12th century, and it still retains much of its medieval character. The most famous survival is the iconic West Front of the church that dates from the late 13th century and is now a scheduled ancient monument. Inside the house the medieval cloisters, Chapter House (now the Chapel) and a collection of medieval stone carvings and manuscripts enable visitors to discover the Abbey’s early history. We didn’t actually go inside the house this time but will in the future when Tom comes with us.
There was one very famous resident of the abbey, Lord Byron who lived at Newstead Abbey at various times from the autumn of 1808 to the autumn of 1814. The house contains many items which belong to Byron including furniture, letters, portraits and even his pistol.
One of the most interesting things to do with Byron for us was Boatswain. As animal lover’s the story of Boatswain was the one of the highlights of the visit. “Epitaph to a Dog” is a poem by the British poet Lord Byron. It was written in 1808 in honour of his Newfoundland, Boatswain, who had just died of rabies. When Boatswain contracted the disease, Byron reportedly nursed him without any fear of becoming bitten and infected. The poem is inscribed on Boatswain’s tomb, which, as a matter of interest, is larger than Byron’s, at the abbey. The tomb was intended for Byron and Boatswain but Byron was in fact buried at the family vault in Hucknall.
It’s difficult to read much of the poem on the monument now as you can see by the photo below. But I loved it so much so I’ve printed it below:
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
When some proud Son of Man returns to Earth,
Unknown to Glory, but upheld by Birth,
The sculptor’s art exhausts the pomp of woe,
And storied urns record who 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 labours, fights, lives, breathes for him alone,
Unhonoured 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 tongue hypocrisy, thy heart deceit!
By nature vile, ennobled but by name,
Each kindred brute might bid thee blush for shame.
Ye, who behold perchance this simple urn,
Pass on – it honours none you wish to mourn.
To mark a friend’s remains these stones arise;
I never knew but one — and here he lies.
The gardens were beautiful. The children particularly liked The Japanese Garden with all the water, see a couple of images of it above. Because of the amount of time spent in the Japanese Gardens we did run out of time before we had a chance to properly look around the rest of the gardens. I’m hoping to go back again in a few weeks.