Troubador A Bear’s Diary

Released: 28/07/2020

ISBN: 9781838594626

eISBN: 9781838598617

Format: Hardback/eBook

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A Bear’s Diary

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In 1805 the young Lord Byron, a new undergraduate at Cambridge University, was annoyed to find that he was not allowed to keep a dog in his rooms. So he bought a bear instead. And that might have been the end of it – except that Daisy was no ordinary bear. 


Three years later, thanks entirely to her unsparing efforts, the idle and dissolute young poet left Cambridge with a Master of Arts degree under his belt, and Daisy set out on a career as a scholar, entertainer, navigator and statesbear. As Napoleon’s armies swept over Europe, it was a time when history was being made. She fought beside the future Duke of Wellington, gave wise advice to the Tsar of Russia and Sir Stamford Raffles, unfortunately rescued John Bellingham who was later to shoot the British Prime Minister, and in company with an eccentric Russian aristocrat took a ship through the icy Northeast Passage for the first time. 

This is her diary, written over seven momentous years that shaped the modern world.

I puchased A Bear's Diary as an ebook.

This is a very enjoyable book, with a lovable cast of characters, humans and bears alike. It mixes history, animal tale, travels, and adventure, half historical novel, half adventure thriller.

Starring Lord Byron's pet bear at Cambridge, Daisy, a lovable animal character who mixes wit, charm, intelligence, and a great classical education, the reader is taken through a worldwide trip in the company of the novel's unlikely heroes, a troup of bears (including two polar bears) and a crew of humans of several nationalities and not always reputable professions. From the Peninsular War to the North-East Passage, from Imperial Russia to Batavia, Ceylon and the Americas in the XIXth century, wherever they go the crew of bears and humans keeps finding adventures and meeting intriguing characters that turn out to be key eyewitnesses to epochal historical events.

This is a story that will be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

Adults will certainly find plenty to enjoy not only in the plot, full of adventure, narrow escapes, sea voyages, death sentences narrowly avoided, prison-breaking, guerrilla parties, ruses, and pitched battles, but also in the wealth of historical learning that is unobstrusively and deftly woven into the plot (I learned many historical anecdotes and events that I was unaware of).

Children on their part will adore the lovable bear characters, the thrilling adventures, redolent of old adventure books we miss so much, and the fairy-tale atmosphere pervading the story.

There is also a well-wrought, uplifting ending that brings the story to a satisfyingly happy conclusion. I sincerely recommend reading this book.

by Miryam L.


When an author versed in Classical and modern languages, computer programming, and bird watching, and with wide knowledge of esoterica and an endless curiosity about the world, decides to write a book, it must be difficult to find a suitable genre. Ralph Hancock has found the perfect way to serve up vast learning and tidbits of information by offering them to the reader in the form of a journal, “A Bear’s Diary.” As Horace so aptly and succinctly put it, “pueris olim dant crustula blandi/doctores, elementa velint ut discere prima,” “kind teachers often give cookies to children so that they will wish to learn their abcs.”
As our diarist, and one who sometimes actually does give us recipes for good-tasting nourishment as well as refreshing our memories with retellings of history and challenging our minds with new information about far-flung places and peoples, we have Daisy, a dancing bear familiar with life on the road with a kind master. It is not clear how she obtained her introduction to the Liberal Arts, but the humane and ursine female becomes extremely well educated when going on to live at Cambridge University with no less than Lord Byron as her sponsor. She sits his exams and earns him a First, but in reality she herself becomes a Bachelor of Arts--as she says, “a strange distinction for a matron, not to mention a bear.”
After college Daisy takes readers from London across Europe and through the Northeast Passage, recounting her amazing adventures along the way. She and her human and ursine companions fight against the French in the Napoleonic Wars, spring an unjustly accused member of their band out of prison, and escape into travels that eventually involve a wealthy Russian count who was brought up by an English nursemaid and speaks a peculiar dialect. His conversation as written down by Daisy represents part of Hancock’s keen ear, which allows him to consistently echo various dialects and even the song of chaffinches for the reader’s amusement and instruction. Though the travels of Daisy take her far from home before returning her to a more settled family life in England, the reader is not allowed to forget how British she is, even being told to render “Wiveliscombe” as “Wilscum.”
Much of Daisy’s experience with human and bear friends is obtained on the sea, and there are excellent accounts of ice-breaking in the Arctic, smoother sailing in the South Seas, and multiple crossings of the equator. The routine of daily life is sprinkled with quotations from Greek and Roman authors, giving the reader a veritable Bartlett’s of the ancient world, or in keeping with the time frame of the diary, a Poor Richard’s Almanac (the latter even more pertinent if the reader has been told elsewhere that Napoleon himself translated the Almanac). Like fruit bits in a pudding --Guess who invented the “pudding cloth”!-- there are also factoids or bytes in Daisy’s account, such as the details of rituals like a Russian Orthodox wedding ceremony, and even mythic lore, such as reference to Ipmil, the creator god of the Sami.
The cover of this remarkable book reminds the reader of an actual journal of the early nineteenth century, and the pen and ink illustrations throughout are suitable to the time and places in the narrative. Hancock and his publishers offer a volume in which form and content complement each other perfectly. After seven years of entries in the journal, a reader feels replete with facts, but hungry for a sequel to this delightful book, perhaps one to be written by a daughter-in-law or bear descendent of the formidable Daisy.

by Martha Davis


This book was everything it says it is, and more. It literally is a bear's diary.

The book is written from the prospective of Daisy, a dancing bear who is somehow extremely erudite. Right at the beginning of the book, she is bought by Lord Byron, an idle Oxford student who is told he cannot have a dog with him at school. Through daily sporadic entries, she tells us about her life at Oxford - how she helps her owner with academic assignments, and even how she aids him in his graduation.

We then follow her though her pilgrimages in Portugal, the Indies and Russia, of which I will not say much as it would spoil the novel.

This book is perfect for who used to love Winnie the Pooh or Paddington Bear as a child. Although it has little to no direct parallels to those stories, the feeling of a bear who is your friend is pretty comforting and absolutely interesting.

A Bear's Diary is also perfect for fans of the dark academia aesthetic, and lovers of greek and latin classics.

In conclusion, I loved this book and I am surely going to purchase a physical copy of it.

by Caleb


I was intrigued from beginning to end, and enjoyed the reading experience. I was interested in the characters, and looked forward to learning where their stories would lead.

by Kirsty


I love a ripping yarn and "A Bear's Diary" is a ripping yarn.
It is a great story and it's well researched and beautifully told.
The illustrations are dreams of delight.
All in all a wonderful story.
Well done.

by Frances


I love a ripping yarn and "A Bear's Diary" is just that but the author's gift of melding his knowledge, research, the history and just the joy of Daisy's journey, is a dream of delight. I'm buying it for my friends as it's so good..

by Frances M


This is a very fresh approach to an historical tale. It will definitely take a sense of whimsey as well as suspension of disbelief to accept the diary of a bear that reads Greek and Latin and managed to complete Lord Byron's final university exams for him, but accepting all that, I marched on and enjoyed Daisy's adventures.

In the tradition of picaresque tales, Daisy moves from city to country, dancing to war, and manages to have a very philosophical outlook on her life and times. If a reader is looking for a book that doesn't make them feel like they have "been there, done that," this might just be the perfect choice.

by NetGalley review


What an exceedingly erudite and learned individual Daisy is. Well versed in Latin and ancient Greek, she is able to quote the great philosophers at length.
She has no problem in passing the end of year Cambridge exams which she surreptiously took in place of the great Lord Byron. Of course no female would have been allowed to sit them at that time.
In addition to her remarkakable attributes, she is also an accomplished professional dancer. There is one other thing that distinguishes Daisy, she is a bear.

Based on the true story of Lord Byron's bear at Cambridge University, the book consists of Daisy's diary written over seven years.

Her adventures include fighting against Napoleon's armies, travelling around the world and giving prophetic advice to the Tsar of Russia.

Amusing, whimisical and showing a good deal of historic reseach, this was an enjoyable if somewhat different read.

Once the initial absurdity of the premise is accepted, the reader becomes more attuned to Daisy's mindset and character as the book progresses. By the end one can almost believe that this actually happened.

by NetGalley review


Ralph Hancock

Ralph Hancock has never had what you could call a career. But he has been the editor of a technical magazine, designs computer fonts for ancient languages, and writes a daily birdwatching blog.


At Rainham Marshes RSPB reserve

Photo by Petteri Hautamaa
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