Byron’s lapdog

In the department of hitherto-unnoticed nineteenth-century antecedents to indie-hipster pop songs of the early twenty-first century, today we consider the fetching and puzzlingly mild Swedish rocker Jens Lekman.

Lekman sings a song titled “When I Said I Wanted to Be Your Dog,” on an album of the same name, in which he imagines a relationship with his beloved somewhat like the elegiac, cross-species love in David Garnett’s novel Lady into Fox (which you should drop everything in order to read, if you haven’t already):

You can take me for a walk in the park
I’ll be chasing every single lark
I’ll be burying all the skeleton bones
Peeing on every cold black stone

As it happens, this trope has been deployed elsewhere—notably, in the out-of-control screed that Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote in the Atlantic in 1869, when she heaped shovelful after shovelful of sexual condemnation onto Byron and championed his wife. In Stowe’s narrative, after Lady Byron concludes that her husband is not only incest-prone but also insane, she has a moment of regret before she leaves him—and his sister—forever:

On the day of her departure she passed by the door of his room, and stopped to caress his favorite spaniel, which was lying there; and she confessed to a friend the weakness of feeling a willingness even to be something as humble as that poor little creature, might she only be allowed to remain and watch over him. She went into the room where he and the partner of his sins were sitting together, and said, “Byron, I come to say good by,” offering at the same time her hand.

Note that sometime in the course of the intervening century and a half, the Romantic poet-figure went from having the dog to being the dog.

Note: Peter adds that I ought also to have referenced Iggy Pop’s “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”