Of the Bear.

THAT a Bear brings forth her young informous and unshapen, which she fashioneth after by licking them over, is an opinion not only vulgar, and common with us at present: but hath been of old delivered by ancient Writers. Upon this Foundation it was an Hieroglyphick with the Egyptians: Aristotle seems to countenance it; Solinus, Pliny, and Ælian directly affirm it,[1] and Ovid smoothly delivereth it:[2]

Nec catulus partu quem reddidit ursa recenti
Sed male viva caro est, lambendo mater in artus
Ducit, & in formam qualem cupit ipsa reducit.

Which notwithstanding is not only repugnant unto the sense of every one that shall enquire into it, but the exact and deliberate experiment of three Authentick Philosophers. The first of Mathiolus in his Comment on Dioscorides, whose words are to this effect. In the Valley of Anania about Trent, in a Bear which the Hunters eventerated[3] or opened, I beheld the young ones with all their parts distinct: and not without shape, as many conceive; giving more credit unto Aristotle and Pliny, then experience and their proper senses. Of the same assurance was Julius Scaliger in his Exercitations, Ursam foetus informes potius ejicere, quam parere, si vera dicunt, quos postea linctu effingat: Quid hujusce fabulæ authoribus fidei habendum ex hac historia cognosces; In nostris Alpibus venatores fœtam Ursam cepere, dissecta ea fœtus plane formatus intus inventus est. And lastly, Aldrovandus who from the testimony of his own eyes affirmeth, that in the Cabinet of the Senate of Bononia, there was preserved in a Glass a Cub taken out of a Bear perfectly formed, and compleat in every part.

It is moreover injurious unto Reason, and much impugneth the course and providence of Nature, to conceive a birth should be ordained before there is a formation. For the conformation of parts is necessarily required, not onely unto the pre-requisites and previous conditions of birth, as Motion and Animation: but also unto the parturition or very birth it self: Wherein not only the Dam, but the younglings play their parts; and the cause and act of exclusion proceedeth from them both. For the exclusion of Animals is not meerly passive like that of Eggs, nor the total action of delivery to be imputed unto the Mother: But the first attempt beginneth from the Infant: Which at the accomplished period attempteth to change his Mansion: and strugling to come forth, dilacerates[4] and breaks those parts which restrained him before.

Beside (what few take notice of) Men hereby do in an high measure vilifie the works of God, imputing that unto the tongue of a Beast, which is the strangest Artifice in all the Acts of Nature; that is the formation of the Infant in the Womb, not only in Mankind, but all viviparous Animals. Wherein the plastick or formative faculty, from matter appearing Homogeneous, and of a similary substance, erecteth Bones, Membranes, Veins, and Arteries: and out of these contriveth every part in number, place, and figure, according to the law of its species. Which is so far from being fashioned by any outward agent, that once omitted or perverted by a slip of the inward Phidias, it is not reducible by any other whatsoever. And therefore Mire me plasmaverunt manu tuae,[5] though it originally respected the generation of Man, yet is it applicable unto that of other Animals; who entring the Womb in bare and simple Materials, return with distinction of parts, and the perfect breath of life. He that shall consider these alterations without, must needs conceive there have been strange operations within; which to behold, it were a spectacle almost worth ones beeing, a sight beyond all; except that Man had been created first, and might have seen the shew of five days after.

Now as the opinion is repugnant both unto sense and Reason, so hath it probably been occasioned from some slight ground in either. Thus in regard the Cub comes forth involved in the Chorion, a thick and tough Membrane obscuring the formation, and which the Dam doth after bite and tear asunder; the beholder at first sight conceives it a rude and informous lump of flesh, and imputes the ensuing shape unto the Mouthing of the Dam; which addeth nothing thereunto, but only draws the curtain, and takes away the vail which concealed the Piece before. And thus have some endeavoured to enforce the same from Reason; that is, the small and slender time of the Bears gestation, or going with her young; which lasting but few days (a Month some say) the exclusion becomes precipitous, and the young ones consequently informous; according to that of Solinus, Trigesimus dies uterum liberat ursæ; unde evenit ut præcipitata fœcunditas informes creet partus. But this will overthrow the general Method of Nature in the works of generation. For therein the conformation is not only antecedent, but proportional unto the exclusion; and if the period of the birth be short, the term of conformation will be as sudden also.[6] There may I confess from this narrow time of gestation ensue a Minority or smalness in the exclusion; but this however inferreth no informity, and it still receiveth the Name of a natural and legitimate birth; whereas if we affirm a total informity, it cannot admit so forward a term as an Abortment, for that supposeth conformation. So we must call this constant and intended act of Nature, a slip or effluxion,7 that is an exclusion before conformation: before the birth can bear the name of the Parent, or be so much as properly called an Embryon.[8]


* [My or others' notes are in square brackets]; Browne's marginalia is unmarked; {passages or notes from unpublished material by Browne is in curly braces}. Ross deals with this subject in a typically peculiar section of Arcana Microcosmi, Book II, Chapter IV, sect. 4.

1 ["Hieroglyph": see Horapollon 133. Aristotle, more or less, in his History of Animals, VI.30:

The she-bear goes with young for thirty days. She brings forth sometimes one cub, sometimes two cubs, and at most five. Of all animals the newly born cub of the she bear is the smallest in proportion to the size of the mother; that is to say, it is larger than a mouse but smaller than a weasel. It is also smooth and blind, and its legs and most of its organs are as yet inarticulate. Pairing takes Place in the month of Elaphebolion, and parturition about the time for retiring into winter quarters; about this time the bear and the she-bear are at the fattest. After the she-bear has reared her young, she comes out of her winter lair in the third month, when it is already spring. The female porcupine, by the way, hibernates and goes with young the same number of days as the she-bear, and in all respects as to parturition resembles this animal. When a she-bear is with young, it is a very hard task to catch her.

Solinus, xxvi; in the 1587 translation of Golding, chapter xxxviii:

The time of their whelping is very swift for they goe not past thirtie daies, whereby it cõmeth to passe, that their overhastie littering maketh them bring forth deformed whelps.

The things that they bring forth are little lumps of flesh, of colour white, without eyes. And (by reason of the hastie comming foorth before it be ripe) it is nothing but a shapelesse matter, saving that it hath the proportion of nayles. These they fashion by little and little with licking, and sometimes they cherrish them by laying their warme breastes to them, to the intent that through the heate of their continuall rucking upon them, they may gather the breath of lyfe. All that while they fast.

Pliny, H.N. viii(126) (in Holland's English, VIII, Chap. 36) and x(176) (englished). Aelian, II.xix and VI.iii; see Aelian on Bears (in Latin).]

2 [Metamorphoses XV 379 ff]

3 [Disembowelled. OED suggests that this is a misprint for "exenterate". While it is perfectly plausible that the printers of Browne's day would make such a mistake, I see little reason to suppose it here, except that Browne also uses the word "exenterate" in Chap. XIII (where he uses as its coupled definition "dissect", a somewhat different procedure). All editions have eventerate. Johnson gives Browne as his only authority for the English use of the word. Its French cognate, however, is common (in French, of course). Hunting terms are not uncommonly French or derived therefrom.

The passage in Mattioli is from the end of Chap. XXXVII, "Des Poulmons", p. 223 in the edition of 1572 (here with a little more bear-related information thrown in):

Plusieurs autres parties des animaux des poulmons desquels Dioscor. parle en ce chap. sont boñes en medicine, desquelles on traittera en tems & lieu. Ces animaux sont si coneus à un chacun qu'il n'en faat tenir plus long propos. Ce neanmoins se dirai quant est de l'ourse, qu'elle ne fait ses petis avans les membres si confus, principalement les iambes, ne sans forme & figure comm'aucuns ont écrit, & cõme le populaire le croit. Aussi peu est il vrai qu'en les lechant les façonne, iusques a ce qu'ils aient forme d'ours. Car au val d'Ananie dessus Trente i'ai veu une grande ourse pleine que les veneurs éuentrerent, les petis estans encores au ventre, qui auoient tous leurs membres distingués & formés, non pas sans forme, comme plusieurs estiment, aioustans plus de foi à l'autorite d'Aristote & Pline, qui l'ont ainsi écrit, qu'à leurs propres sens & experience.]

4 [Or delacerate; to tear asunder.]

5 [Apparently a conflation of the Vulgate versions of Psalms 94:5, 118:73 and Job 10:8.]

6 [Although one might like to consider the kangaroo in this context.]

7 Ἔκρυσις.

8 [See also Notes on Bears.]

This page is dedicated to the memory of Boo the Cat.

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