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Bear (The)


Albert, margrave of Brandenburg. He was also called “The Fair” (1106–1170).

The bloody Bear, in Dryden’s poem called The Hind and Panther, means the Independents.

“The bloody bear, an independent beast,

Unlicked to form, in groans her hate expressed.”

Pt. i. 35, 36.

The Great Bear and Little Bear. The constellations so called are specimens of a large class of blunders founded on approximate sounds. The Sanskrit rakh means “to be bright;” the Greeks corrupted the word into arktos, which means a bear; so that the “bear” should in reality be the “bright ones.” The fable is that Calisto, a nymph of Diana, had two sons by Jupiter, which Juno changed into bears, and Jupiter converted into constellations.

“The wind-shaked surge, with high and monstrous mane,

Seems to cast water on the burning bear,

And quench the guards of thʹ ever-fixëd pole.”

“ʹTwas here we saw Calisto’s star retire

Beneath the waves, unawed by Juno’s ire.”

Camoens: Lusiad, book v.

France turns from her abandoned friends a fresh,

And soothes the bear that growls for patriot flesh.”

Campbell: Poland, stanza 5.

A Bridled Bear. A young nobleman under the control of a travelling tutor. (See Bear-leader.)

The Bear and Ragged Staff. A public-house sign in compliment to Warwick, the king-maker, whose cognisance it was. The first earl was Arth or Arthgal, of the Round Table, whose cognisance was a bear, because arth means a bear (Latin, ursʹ). Morvid, the second earl, overcame, in single combat, a mighty giant, who came against him with a club, which was a tree pulled up by the roots, but stripped of its branches. In remembrance of his victory over the giant he added “the ragged staff.”

The Bear and the Tea-kettle (Kamschatka). Said of a person who injures himself by foolish rage. One day a bear entered a hut in Kamschatka, where a kettle was on the fire. Master Bruin went to the kettle, and smelling at it burnt his nose, being greatly irritated, he-seized the kettle with his paws, and squeezed it against his breast. This, of course, made matters worse, for the boiling water scalded him terribly, and he growled in agony till some neighbours put an end to his life with their guns.


A bear sucking his paws. It is said that when a bear is deprived of food, it sustains life by sucking its paws. The same is said of the English badger. Applied to industrious idleness.

As savage as a bear with a sore (or scalt) head. Unreasonably ill-tempered.

As a bear has no tail, for a lion heʹll fail. The same as Ne sutor supra crepʹidam, “let not the cobbler aspire above his last.” Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, being a descendant of the Warwick family, changed his own crest, which was “a green lion with two tails,” for the Warwick crest, a “bear and ragged staff.” When made governor of the Low Countries, he was suspected of aiming at absolute supremacy, or the desire of being the monarch of his fellows, as the lion is monarch among beasts. Some wit wrote under his crest the Latin verse, “Ursa caret cauda non queat esse leo.”

“Your bear for lion needs must fail,

Because your true bears have no tail.”

To take the bear by the tooth. To put your head into the lion’s mouth; needlessly to run into danger.

You dare as soon take a bear by his tooth. You would no more attempt such a thing, than attempt to take a bear by its tooth.

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Entry taken from Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, edited by the Rev. E. Cobham Brewer, LL.D. and revised in 1895.

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