Notes on bears, from the Wilkin edition

To accompany Pseudodoxia Epidemica Book III, Chapter VI: Of Bears

1. That a bear is informous The bearling, though blind like most other beastlings, is not informous.. It owes the discipline in question [i.e., being licked] to that instinct which secures to the young of all animals, on their first appearance, the same species of maternal attention. Cuvier describes the cub of the black bear as measuring six or eight inches, devoid of teeth, covered with hairs, and having the eyes closed.

2. Bears licking their paws. There is, however, another popular saying about the young of the bear which does not seem so easily disposed of — its deriving nutriment from sucking its paws. The following graphic passage explains the fact. Speaking of a cub of the Norway bear, in the French Menagerie, Cuvier says, it "was particular fond of sucking its paws, during which operation it always sent forth a uniform and constant murmur, something like the sound of a spinning-wheel. This appeared to be an imperious want with it, and it was surprising to observe the ardour with which it commenced the operation, and the enjoyment which it seemed to derive from it. The belief, which once so generally obtained, that these animals, during the season which they pass without eating, and surrounded by snows, support themselves by sucking their paws, seems not utterly without foundation. In truth, every natural action must have a tendency to some useful end, though it has not been observed that the bear extracts any thing from its paws by the act of suction. After all, it is more probable that bears lick their paws, as cats do, from a love of cleanliness, or merely in consequence of some pleasing sensation which nature has attached to the act, for inexplicable reasons, rather than for sustenance." — Cuvier's Animal Kingdom, by Griffiths, vol. ii, 220. — Wilkin

3. Another explanation? The following note occurs in Dr. Richardson's account of the quadrupeds and birds collected in Captain Parry's second voyage to the Arctic Regions, published in the Zoological Appendix to the journal of that voyage, p. 290. "The female black or brown bears conceal their retreats with such care that they are extremely rarely killed when with young. Hence the ancients had an opinion that the bear brought forth unformed masses, and afterwards licked them into shape and life. Sir Thomas Browne cites many facts in opposition to this notion, some of which are quoted in Shaw's Zoology, and similar and more recent facts are noted in Warden's Account of the United States, vol. i, p. 195. After numerous enquiries amongst the Indians of Hudson's Bay, only one was found who had killed a pregnant bear. He stated that the den she had constructed was smaller than that usually made by the unimpregnated female." — Brayley.

4. Miscellany on bears

John Donne: "Love is a bear-whelp born, if we o're lick
Our love, and force it new strange shapes to take,
We erre, and of a lump a monster make."

From : "During the second visit, the author asked several questions about using bear paws. The clerk first explained that the shop frequently sells bear paws: rarely does a pair go unsold for more than a few weeks. The clerk said she believes that the paws are taken from bears from northeastern China. She explained that bear paws can be prepared in a soup or a stew with a wide range of herbs. She was not familiar with specific medicinal uses, although like most Chinese, she believes a bear's front paws are more potent because bears lick them more. The Chinese also prefer front paws over rear paws because the front paws carry less of the animal's weight and are, as a result, more tender. The clerk also said she believes that because bears lick their left paw more than their right, the left paw is better."

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