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Bungey, edited by Andrew Lang

From Jesse’s British Dogs.

During the reigns of Queen Elizabeth and James, there lived a brave and accomplished knight called Sir John Harington, who had been knighted on the field of battle by the famous Earl of Essex, and had translated into English a long poem, by an Italian called Ariosto. But busy though he was in so many ways, Sir John still had time to spare for his ‘raw dogge’ Bungey, and in the year 1608 he writes a long letter to Prince Henry, elder brother of Charles I., full of the strange doings of his favourite. Bungey seems to have been used by Sir John as a sort of carrier pigeon, and he tells how he would go from Bath to Greenwich Palace, to ‘deliver up to the cowrte there such matters as were entrusted to his care.’ The nobles of the court made much of him, and sometimes gave him errands of their own, and it was never told to their ‘Ladie Queen, that this messenger did ever blab ought concerning his highe truste, as others have done in more special matters.’ More wonderful even than this was his behaviour concerning two sacks of wheat which Bungey had been commissioned by Sir John’s servant Combe, to carry from Bath to his own house at Kelston, a few miles distant. The sacks were tied round the dog’s body by cords, but on the way the cords got loose, and Bungey, clever though he was, could not tie them up again. However he was not to be beaten, and hiding one ‘flasket’ in some bushes that grew near by, he bore the other in his teeth to Kelston, and then returning, fetched the hidden one out of the rushes and  arrived with it in good time for dinner. Sir John is plainly rather afraid that Prince Henry may not quite believe this instance of sagacity, for he adds, ‘Hereat your Highnesse may perchance marvell and doubte; but we have living testimonie of those who wroughte in the fields, and espied his work, and now live to tell they did muche long to plaie the dogge, and give stowage to the wine themselves, but they did refraine, and watchede the passinge of this whole business.’

As may be well guessed, the fame of Bungey’s talents soon spread, and then, as now, there were many dog stealers in the country. On one occasion, as Sir John was riding from Bath to London, Bungey was tempted to leave his side by the sight of a pond swarming with wild duck or mallard. Unluckily other people besides Bungey thought it good sport to hunt wild fowl, and did not mind seizing valuable dogs, so poor Bungey was caught and bound, till it could be settled who would give the highest price for him.

At last his captors decided that they would take him to London, which was not very far off, and trust to chance for finding a buyer. As it happened, the Spanish Ambassador was on the look out for a dog of that very kind, and he was so pleased with Bungey, that he readily agreed to give the large sum asked by the men who brought him. Now Bungey was a dog who always made the best of things, and as Sir John tells the Prince, ‘suche was the courte he did pay to the Don, that he was no lesse in good likinge there than at home.’ In fact, everybody grew so fond of him, that when after six weeks Sir John discovered where he was and laid claim to him, no one in the house could be prevailed on to give him up. Poor Sir John, who, as we know, was very much attached to Bungey, was at his wit’s end what to do, when it suddenly occurred to him to let the dog himself prove who was his real master. So, having the Ambassador’s leave to what he wished in the matter, he called all the company together at dinner-time  and bade Bungey go into the hall where dinner was already served, and bring a pheasant from the dish. This, as Sir John says, ‘created much mirthe; but much more, when he returned at my commandment to the table, and put it again in the same cover.’ After such a proof there was no more to be said, and Sir John was allowed to be the dog’s master. But Bungey’s life was not destined to be a very long one, and his death was strange and sudden. As he and his master were once more on the road from London to Bath on their return journey, he began jumping up on the horse’s neck, and ‘was more earneste in fawninge and courtinge my notice, than what I had observed for time backe; and after my chidinge his disturbing my passinge forwardes, he gave me some glances of such affection as moved me to cajole him; but alas! he crept suddenly into a thorny brake, and died in a short time.’

Bungey carries a pheasant to his master


It is impossible to guess what kind of illness caused the death of poor Bungey, but it is pleasant to think that  Sir John never forgot him, and also loved to talk of him to his friends. ‘Now let Ulysses praise his dogge Argus,’ he writes to Prince Henry, ‘or Tobit be led by that dogge whose name doth not appear; yet could I say such things of my Bungey as might shame them both, either for good faith, clear wit, or wonderful deedes; to say no more than I have said of his bearing letters to London and Greenwich, more than a hundred miles. As I doubt not but your Highness would love my dogge, if not myselfe, I have been thus tedious in his storie; and again saie, that of all the dogges near your father’s courte, not one hathe more love, more diligence to please, or less paye for pleasinge, than him I write of.’