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The Life of the Bee by Maurice Maeterlinck

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often through foreign circumstances she has not herself foreseen?
But is there anything she does foresee, anything she does intend to
preserve? Nature, some may say, is a word wherewith we clothe the
unknowable; and few things authorise our crediting it with
intelligence, or with aim. That is true. We touch here the
hermetically sealed vases that furnish our conception of the
universe. Reluctant, over and over again, to label these with the
inscription "UNKNOWN," that disheartens us and compels us to
silence, we engrave upon them, in the degree of their size and
grandeur, the words "Nature, life, death, infinite, selection,
spirit of the race," and many others, even as those who went before
us affixed the words "God, Providence, destiny, reward," etc. Let it
be so, if one will, and no more. But, though the contents of the
vases remain obscure, there is gain at least in the fact that the
inscriptions to-day convey less menace to us, that we are able
therefore to approach them and touch them, and lay our ears close to
them and listen, with wholesome curiosity.

But whatever the name we attach to these vases, it is certain that
one of them, at least, and the greatest--that which bears on its
flank the name "Nature"--encloses a very real force, the most real
of all, and one that is able to preserve an enormous and marvellous
quantity and quality of life on our globe, by means so skilful that
they surpass all that the genius of man could contrive. Could this
quantity and quality be maintained by other means? Is it we who
deceive ourselves when we imagine that we see precautions where
perhaps there is truly no more than a fortunate chance, that has
survived a million unfortunate chances?


That may be; but these fortunate chances teach us a lesson in
admiration as valuable as those we might learn in regions superior
to chance. If we let our gaze travel beyond the creatures that are
possessed of a glimmer of intellect and consciousness, beyond the
protozoa even, which are the first nebulous representatives of the
dawning animal kingdom, we find, as has been abundantly proved by
the experiments of Mr. H. J. Carter, the celebrated microscopist,
that the very lowest embryos, such as the myxomycetes, manifest a
will and desires and preferences; and that infusoria, which
apparently have no organism whatever, give evidence of a certain
cunning. The Amoebae, for instance, will patiently lie in wait for
the new-born Acinetes, as they leave the maternal ovary; being aware
that these must as yet be lacking their poisonous tentacles. Now,
the Amoebae have neither a nervous system nor distinguishable organs
of any kind. Or if we turn to the plants, which, being motionless,
would seem exposed to every fatality,--without pausing to consider
carnivorous species like the Drusera, which really act as
animals,--we are struck by the genius that some of our humblest
flowers display in contriving that the visit of the bee shall
infallibly procure them the crossed fertilisation they need. See the
marvellous fashion in which the Orchis Moris, our humble country
orchid, combines the play of its rostellum and retinacula; observe
the mathematical and automatic inclination and adhesion of its
pollinia; as also the unerring double seesaw of the anthers of the
wild sage, which touch the body of the visiting insect at a
particular spot in order that the insect may, in its turn, touch the
stigma of the neighbouring flower at another particular spot; watch,
too, in the case of the Pedicularis Sylvatica, the successive,
calculated movements of its stigma; and indeed the entrance of the
bee into any one of these three flowers sets every organ vibrating,
just as the skilful marksman who hits the black spot on the target
will cause all the figures to move in the elaborate mechanisms we
see in our village fairs.

We might go lower still, and show, as Ruskin has shown in his
"Ethics of the Dust," the character, habits, and artifices of
crystals; their quarrels, and mode of procedure, when a foreign body
attempts to oppose their plans, which are more ancient by far than
our imagination can conceive; the manner in which they admit or
repel an enemy, the possible victory of the weaker over the
stronger, as, for instance, when the all-powerful quartz submits to
the humble and wily epidote, and allows this last to conquer it; the
struggle, terrible sometimes and sometimes magnificent, between the
rock-crystal and iron; the regular, immaculate expansion and
uncompromising purity of one hyaline block, which rejects whatever
is foul, and the sickly growth, the evident immorality, of its
brother, which admits corruption, and writhes miserably in the void;
as we might quote also the strange phenomena of crystalline
cicatrisation and reintegration mentioned by Claude Bernard, etc.
But the mystery here becomes too foreign to us. Let us keep to our
flowers, which are the last expression of a life that has yet some
kinship with our own. We are not dealing now with animals or
insects, to which we attribute a special, intelligent will, thanks
to which they survive. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that the
flowers possess no such will; at least we cannot discover in them
the slightest trace of the organs wherein will, intellect, and
initiative of action, are usually born and reside. It follows,
therefore, that all that acts in them in so admirable a fashion must
directly proceed from what we elsewhere call nature. We are no
longer concerned with the intellect of the individual; here we find
the un conscious, undivided force in the act of ensnaring other
forms of itself. Shall we on that account refuse to believe that
these snares are pure accidents, occurring in accordance with a
routine that is also incidental? We are not yet entitled to such a
deduction. It might be urged that these flowers, had these
miraculous combinations not been, would not have survived, but would
have had their place filled by others that stood in no need of
crossed fertilisation; and the non-existence of the first would have
been perceived by none, nor would the life that vibrates on the
earth have seemed less incomprehensible to us, less diverse, or less

And yet it would be difficult not to admit that acts which bear all
the appearance of acts of intelligence and prudence produce and
support these fortunate chances. Whence do they issue,--from the
being itself, or from the force whence that being draws life? I will
not say "it matters but little," for, on the contrary, to know the
answer were of supreme importance to us. But, in the meantime, and
till we shall learn whether it be the flower that endeavours to
maintain and perfect the life that nature has placed within it, or
whether it be nature that puts forth an effort to maintain and
improve the degree of existence the flower has assumed, or finally
whether it be chance that ultimately governs chance, a multitude of
semblances invite us to believe that something equal to our loftiest
thoughts issues at times from a common source, that we are compelled
to admire without knowing where it resides.

There are moments when what seems error to us comes forth from this
common source. But, although we know very few things, proofs abound
that the seeming error was in reality an act of prudence that we at
first could not grasp. In the little circle, even, that our eyes
embrace we are constantly shown that what we regarded as nature's
blunder close by was due to her deeming it well to adjust the
presumed inadvertence out yonder. She has placed the three flowers
we mentioned under conditions of such difficulty that they are
unable to fertilise themselves; she considers it beneficial,
therefore, for reasons beyond our powers of perception, that they
should cause themselves to be fertilised by their neighbours; and,
inasmuch as she enhances the intelligence of her victims, she
displays on our right the genius she failed to display on our left.
The byways of this genius of hers remain incomprehensible to us, but
its level is always the same. It will appear to fall into
error--assuming that error be possible--thereupon rising again at
once in the organ charged to repair this error. Turn where we may,
it towers high over our heads. It is the circular ocean, the
tideless water, whereon our boldest and most independent thoughts
will never be more than mere abject bubbles. We call it Nature
to-day; to-morrow, perhaps, we shall give it another name, softer or
more alarming. In the meanwhile it holds simultaneous, impartial
sway over life and death; furnishing the two irreconcilable sisters
with the magnificent and familiar weapons that adorn and distract
its bosom.


Does this force take measures to maintain what may be struggling on
its surface, or must we say, arguing in the strangest of circles,
that what floats on its surface must guard itself against the genius
that has given it life? That question must be left open. We have no
means of ascertaining whether it be notwithstanding the efforts of
the superior will, or independently of these, or lastly because of
these, that a species has been able to survive.

All we can say is that such a species exists, and that, on this
point, therefore, nature would seem to be right. But who shall tell
us how many others that we have not known have fallen victim to her
restless and forgetful intellect? Beyond this, we can recognise only
the surprising and occasionally hostile forms that the extraordinary
fluid we call life assumes, in utter unconsciousness sometimes, at
others with a kind of consciousness: the fluid which animates us
equally with all the rest, which produces the very thoughts that
judge it, and the feeble voice that attempts to tell its story.



WE will now consider the manner in which the impregnation of the
queen-bee comes to pass. Here again nature has taken extraordinary
measures to favour the union of males with females of a different
stock; a strange law, whereto nothing would seem to compel her; a
caprice, or initial inadvertence, perhaps, whose reparation calls
for the most marvellous forces her activity knows.

If she had devoted half the genius she lavishes on crossed
fertilisation and other arbitrary desires to making life more
certain, to alleviating pain, to softening death and warding off
horrible accidents, the universe would probably have presented an
enigma less incomprehensible, less pitiable, than the one we are
striving to solve. But our consciousness, and the interest we take
in existence, must grapple, not with what might have been, but with
what is.

Around the virgin queen, and dwelling with her in the hive, are
hundreds of exuberant males, forever drunk on honey; the sole reason
for their existence being one act of love. But, notwithstanding the
incessant contact of two desires that elsewhere invariably triumph
over every obstacle, the union never takes place in the hive, nor
has it been possible to bring about the impregnation of a captive

*Professor McLain has recently succeeded in causing a few queens to
be artificially impregnated; but this has been the result of a
veritable surgical operation, of the most delicate and complicated
nature. Moreover, the fertility of the queens was restricted and

While she lives in their midst the lovers about her know not what
she is. They seek her in space, in the remote depths of the horizon,
never suspecting that they have but this moment quitted her, have
shared the same comb with her, have brushed against her, perhaps, in
the eagerness of their departure. One might almost believe that
those wonderful eyes of theirs, that cover their head as though with
a glittering helmet, do not recognise or desire her save when she
soars in the blue. Each day, from noon till three, when the sun
shines resplendent, this plumed horde sallies forth in search of the
bride, who is indeed more royal, more difficult of conquest, than
the most inaccessible princess of fairy legend; for twenty or thirty
tribes will hasten from all the neighbouring cities, her court thus
consisting of more than ten thousand suitors; and from these ten
thousand one alone will be chosen for the unique kiss of an instant
that shall wed him to death no less than to happiness; while the
others will fly helplessly round the intertwined pair, and soon will
perish without ever again beholding this prodigious and fatal


I am not exaggerating this wild and amazing prodigality of nature.
The best-conducted hives will, as a rule, contain four to five
hundred males. Weaker or degenerate ones will often have as many as
four or five thousand; for the more a hive inclines to its ruin, the
more males will it produce. It may be said that, on an average, an
apiary composed of ten colonies will at a given moment send an army
of ten thousand males into the air, of whom ten or fifteen at most
will have the occasion of performing the one act for which they were

In the meanwhile they exhaust the supplies of the city; each one of
the parasites requiring the unceasing labour of five or six workers
to maintain it in its abounding and voracious idleness, its activity
being indeed solely confined to its jaws. But nature is always
magnificent when dealing with the privileges and prerogatives of
love. She becomes miserly only when doling out the organs and
instruments of labour. She is especially severe on what men have
termed virtue, whereas she strews the path of the most uninteresting
lovers with innumerable jewels and favours. "Unite and multiply;
there is no other law, or aim, than love," would seem to be her
constant cry on all sides, while she mutters to herself, perhaps:
"and exist afterwards if you can; that is no concern of mine." Do or
desire what else we may, we find, everywhere on our road, this
morality that differs so much from our own. And note, too, in these
same little creatures, her unjust avarice and insensate waste. From
her birth to her death, the austere forager has to travel abroad in
search of the myriad flowers that hide in the depths of the
thickets. She has to discover the honey and pollen that lurk in the
labyrinths of the nectaries and in the most secret recesses of the
anthers. And yet her eyes and olfactory organs are like the eyes and
organs of the infirm, compared with those of the male. Were the
drones almost blind, had they only the most rudimentary sense of
smell, they scarcely would suffer. They have nothing to do, no prey
to hunt down; their food is brought to them ready prepared, and
their existence is spent in the obscurity of the hive, lapping honey
from the comb. But they are the agents of love; and the most
enormous, most useless gifts are flung with both hands into the
abyss of the future. Out of a thousand of them, one only, once in
his life, will have to seek, in the depths of the azure, the
presence of the royal virgin. Out of a thousand one only will have,
for one instant, to follow in space the female who desires not to
escape. That suffices. The partial power flings open her treasury,
wildly, even deliriously. To every one of these unlikely lovers, of
whom nine hundred and ninety-nine will be put to death a few days
after the fatal nuptials of the thousandth, she has given thirteen
thousand eyes on each side of their head, while the worker has only
six thousand. According to Cheshire's calculations, she has provided
each of their antennae with thirty-seven thousand eight hundred
olfactory cavities, while the worker has only five thousand in both.
There we have an instance of the almost universal disproportion that
exists between the gifts she rains upon love and her niggardly doles
to labour; between the favours she accords to what shall, in an
ecstasy, create new life, and the indifference wherewith she regards
what will patiently have to maintain itself by toil. Whoever would
seek faithfully to depict the character of nature, in accordance
with the traits we discover here, would design an extraordinary
figure, very foreign to our ideal, which nevertheless can only
emanate from her. But too many things are unknown to man for him to
essay such a portrait, wherein all would be deep shadow save one or
two points of flickering light.


Very few, I imagine, have profaned the secret of the queen-bee's
wedding, which comes to pass in the infinite, radiant circles of a
beautiful sky. But we are able to witness the hesitating departure
of the bride-elect and the murderous return of the bride.

However great her impatience, she will yet choose her day and her
hour, and linger in the shadow of the portal till a marvellous
morning fling open wide the nuptial spaces in the depths of the
great azure vault. She loves the moment when drops of dew still
moisten the leaves and the flowers, when the last fragrance of dying
dawn still wrestles with burning day, like a maiden caught in the
arms of a heavy warrior; when through the silence of approaching
noon is heard, once and again, a transparent cry that has lingered
from sunrise.

Then she appears on the threshold--in the midst of indifferent
foragers, if she have left sisters in the hive; or surrounded by a
delirious throng of workers, should it be impossible to fill her

She starts her flight backwards; returns twice or thrice to the
alighting-board; and then, having definitely fixed in her mind the
exact situation and aspect of the kingdom she has never yet seen
from without, she departs like an arrow to the zenith of the blue.
She soars to a height, a luminous zone, that other bees attain at no
period of their life. Far away, caressing their idleness in the
midst of the flowers, the males have beheld the apparition, have
breathed the magnetic perfume that spreads from group to group till
every apiary near is instinct with it. Immediately crowds collect,
and follow her into the sea of gladness, whose limpid boundaries
ever recede. She, drunk with her wings, obeying the magnificent law
of the race that chooses her lover, and enacts that the strongest
alone shall attain her in the solitude of the ether, she rises
still; and, for the first time in her life, the blue morning air
rushes into her stigmata, singing its song, like the blood of
heaven, in the myriad tubes of the tracheal sacs, nourished on
space, that fill the centre of her body. She rises still. A region
must be found unhaunted by birds, that else might profane the
mystery. She rises still; and already the ill-assorted troop below
are dwindling and falling asunder. The feeble, infirm, the aged,
unwelcome, ill-fed, who have flown from inactive or impoverished
cities, these renounce the pursuit and disappear in the void. Only a
small, indefatigable cluster remain, suspended in infinite opal. She
summons her wings for one final effort; and now the chosen of
incomprehensible forces has reached her, has seized her, and
bounding aloft with united impetus, the ascending spiral of their
intertwined flight whirls for one second in the hostile madness of


Most creatures have a vague belief that a very precarious hazard, a
kind of transparent membrane, divides death from love; and that the
profound idea of nature demands that the giver of life should die at
the moment of giving. Here this idea, whose memory lingers still
over the kisses of man, is realised in its primal simplicity. No
sooner has the union been accomplished than the male's abdomen
opens, the organ detaches itself, dragging with it the mass of the
entrails; the wings relax, and, as though struck by lightning, the
emptied body turns and turns on itself and sinks down into the

The same idea that, before, in parthenogenesis, sacrificed the
future of the hive to the unwonted multiplication of males, now
sacrifices the male to the future of the hive.

This idea is always astounding; and the further we penetrate into
it, the fewer do our certitudes become. Darwin, for instance, to
take the man of all men who studied it the most methodically and
most passionately, Darwin, though scarcely confessing it to himself,
loses confidence at every step, and retreats before the unexpected
and the irreconcilable. Would you have before you the nobly
humiliating spectacle of human genius battling with infinite power,
you have but to follow Darwin's endeavours to unravel the strange,
incoherent, inconceivably mysterious laws of the sterility and
fecundity of hybrids, or of the variations of specific and generic
characters. Scarcely has he formulated a principle when numberless
exceptions assail him; and this very principle, soon completely
overwhelmed, is glad to find refuge in some corner, and preserve a
shred of existence there under the title of an exception.

For the fact is that in hybridity, in variability (notably in the
simultaneous variations known as correlations of growth), in
instinct, in the processes of vital competition, in geologic
succession and the geographic distribution of organised beings, in
mutual affinities, as indeed in every other direction, the idea of
nature reveals itself, in one and the same phenomenon and at the
very same time, as circumspect and shiftless, niggard and prodigal,
prudent and careless, fickle and stable, agitated and immovable, one
and innumerable, magnificent and squalid. There lay open before her
the immense and virgin fields of simplicity; she chose to people
them with trivial errors, with petty contradictory laws that stray
through existence like a flock of blind sheep. It is true that our
eye, before which these things happen, can only reflect a reality
proportionate to our needs and our stature; nor have we any warrant
for believing that nature ever loses sight of her wandering results
and causes.

In any event she will rarely permit them to stray too far, or
approach illogical or dangerous regions. She disposes of two forces
that never can err; and when the phenomenon shall have trespassed
beyond certain limits, she will beckon to life or to death--which
arrives, re-establishes order, and unconcernedly marks out the path


She eludes us on every side; she repudiates most of our rules and
breaks our standards to pieces. On our right she sinks far beneath
the level of our thoughts, on our left she towers mountain-high
above them. She appears to be constantly blundering, no less in the
world of her first experiments than in that of her last, of man.
There she invests with her sanction the instincts of the obscure
mass, the unconscious injustice of the multitude, the defeat of
intelligence and virtue, the uninspired morality which urges on the
great wave of the race, though manifestly inferior to the morality
that could be conceived or desired by the minds composing the small
and the clearer wave that ascends the other. And yet, can such a
mind be wrong if it ask itself whether the whole truth--moral
truths, therefore, as well as non-moral--had not better be sought in
this chaos than in itself, where these truths would seem
comparatively clear and precise?

The man who feels thus will never attempt to deny the reason or
virtue of his ideal, hallowed by so many heroes and sages; but there
are times when he will whisper to himself that this ideal has
perhaps been formed at too great a distance from the enormous mass
whose diverse beauty it would fain represent. He has, hitherto,
legitimately feared that the attempt to adapt his morality to that
of nature would risk the destruction of what was her masterpiece.
But to-day he understands her a little better; and from some of her
replies, which, though still vague, reveal an unexpected breadth, he
has been enabled to seize a glimpse of a plan and an intellect
vaster than could be conceived by his unaided imagination; wherefore
he has grown less afraid, nor feels any longer the same imperious
need of the refuge his own special virtue and reason afford him. He
concludes that what is so great could surely teach nothing that
would tend to lessen itself. He wonders whether the moment may not
have arrived for submitting to a more judicious examination his
convictions, his principles, and his dreams.

Once more, he has not the slightest desire to abandon his human
ideal. That even which at first diverts him from this ideal teaches
him to return to it. It were impossible for nature to give ill
advice to a man who declines to include in the great scheme he is
endeavouring to grasp, who declines to regard as sufficiently lofty
to be definitive, any truth that is not at least as lofty as the
truth he himself desires. Nothing shifts its place in his life save
only to rise with him; and he knows he is rising when he finds
himself drawing near to his ancient image of good. But all things
transform themselves more freely in his thoughts; and he can descend
with impunity, for he has the presentiment that numbers of
successive valleys will lead him to the plateau that he expects.
And, while he thus seeks for conviction, while his researches even
conduct him to the very reverse of that which he loves, he directs
his conduct by the most humanly beautiful truth, and clings to the
one that provisionally seems to be highest. All that may add to
beneficent virtue enters his heart at once; all that would tend to
lessen it remaining there in suspense, like insoluble salts that
change not till the hour for decisive experiment. He may accept an
inferior truth, but before he will act in accordance therewith he
will wait, if need be for centuries, until he perceive the
connection this truth must possess with truths so infinite as to
include and surpass all others.

In a word, he divides the moral from the intellectual order,
admitting in the former that only which is greater and more
beautiful than was there before. And blameworthy as it may be to
separate the two orders in cases, only too frequent in life, where
we suffer our conduct to be inferior to our thoughts, where, seeing
the good, we follow the worse--to see the worse and follow the
better, to raise our actions high over our idea, must ever be
reasonable and salutary; for human experience renders it daily more
clear that the highest thought we can attain will long be inferior
still to the mysterious truth we seek. Moreover, should nothing of
what goes before be true, a reason more simple and more familiar
would counsel him not yet to abandon his human ideal. For the more
strength he accords to the laws which would seem to set egoism,
injustice, and cruelty as examples for men to follow, the more
strength does be at the same time confer on the others that ordain
generosity, justice, and pity; and these last laws are found to
contain something as profoundly natural as the first, the moment he
begins to equalise, or allot more methodically, the share he
attributes to the universe and to himself.


Let us return to the tragic nuptials of the queen. Here it is
evidently nature's wish, in the interests of crossed fertilisation,
that the union of the drone and the queen-bee should be possible
only in the open sky. But her desires blend network-fashion, and her
most valued laws have to pass through the meshes of other laws,
which, in their turn, the moment after, are compelled to pass
through the first.

In the sky she has planted so many dangers--cold winds,
storm-currents, birds, insects, drops of water, all of which also
obey invincible laws--that she must of necessity arrange for this
union to be as brief as possible. It is so, thanks to the
startlingly sudden death of the male. One embrace suffices; the rest
all enacts itself in the very flanks of the bride.

She descends from the azure heights and returns to the hive,
trailing behind her, like an oriflamme, the unfolded entrails of her
lover. Some writers pretend that the bees manifest great joy at this
return so big with promise--Buchner, among others, giving a detailed
account of it. I have many a time lain in wait for the queen-bee's
return, and I confess that I have never noticed any unusual emotion
except in the case of a young queen who had gone forth at the head
of a swarm, and represented the unique hope of a newly founded and
still empty city. In that instance the workers were all wildly
excited, and rushed to meet her. But as a rule they appear to forget
her, even though the future of their city will often be no less
imperilled. They act with consistent prudence in all things, till
the moment when they authorise the massacre of the rival queens.
That point reached, their instinct halts; and there is, as it were,
a gap in their foresight.--They appear to be wholly indifferent.
They raise their heads; recognise, probably, the murderous tokens of
impregnation; but, still mistrustful, manifest none of the gladness
our expectation had pictured. Being positive in their ways, and slow
at illusion, they probably need further proofs before permitting
themselves to rejoice. Why endeavour to render too logical, or too
human, the feelings of little creatures so different from ourselves?
Neither among the bees nor among any other animals that have a ray
of our intellect, do things happen with the precision our books
record. Too many circumstances remain unknown to us. Why try to
depict the bees as more perfect than they are, by saying that which
is not? Those who would deem them more interesting did they resemble
ourselves, have not yet truly realised what it is that should awaken
the interest of a sincere mind. The aim of the observer is not to
surprise, but to comprehend; and to point out the gaps existing in
an intellect, and the signs of a cerebral organisation different
from our own, is more curious by far than the relating of mere
marvels concerning it.

But this indifference is not shared by all; and when the breathless
queen has reached the alighting-board, some groups will form and
accompany her into the hive; where the sun, hero of every festivity
in which the bees take part, is entering with little timid steps,
and bathing in azure and shadow the waxen walls and curtains of
honey. Nor does the new bride, indeed, show more concern than her
people, there being not room for many emotions in her narrow,
barbarous, practical brain. She has but one thought, which is to rid
herself as quickly as possible of the embarrassing souvenirs her
consort has left her, whereby her movements are hampered. She seats
herself on the threshold, and carefully strips off the useless
organs, that are borne far away by the workers; for the male has
given her all he possessed, and much more than she requires. She
retains only, in her spermatheca, the seminal liquid where millions
of germs are floating, which, until her last day, will issue one by
one, as the eggs pass by, and in the obscurity of her body
accomplish the mysterious union of the male and female element,
whence the worker-bees are born. Through a curious inversion, it is
she who furnishes the male principle, and the drone who provides the
female. Two days after the union she lays her first eggs, and her
people immediately surround her with the most particular care. From
that moment, possessed of a dual sex, having within her an
inexhaustible male, she begins her veritable life; she will never
again leave the hive, unless to accompany a swarm; and her fecundity
will cease only at the approach of death.


Prodigious nuptials these, the most fairylike that can be conceived,
azure and tragic, raised high above life by the impetus of desire;
imperishable and terrible, unique and bewildering, solitary and
infinite. An admirable ecstasy, wherein death supervening in all
that our sphere has of most limpid and loveliest, in virginal,
limitless space, stamps the instant of happiness in the sublime
transparence of the great sky; purifying in that immaculate light
the something of wretchedness that always hovers around love,
rendering the kiss one that can never be forgotten; and, content
this time with moderate tithe, proceeding herself, with hands that
are almost maternal, to introduce and unite, in one body, for a long
and inseparable future, two little fragile lives.

Profound truth has not this poetry, but possesses another that we
are less apt to grasp, which, however, we should end, perhaps, by
understanding and loving. Nature has not gone out of her way to
provide these two "abbreviated atoms," as Pascal would call them,
with a resplendent marriage, or an ideal moment of love. Her
concern, as we have said, was merely to improve the race by means of
crossed fertilisation. To ensure this she has contrived the organ of
the male in such a fashion that he can make use of it only in space.
A prolonged flight must first expand his two great tracheal sacs;
these enormous receptacles being gorged on air will throw back the
lower part of the abdomen, and permit the exsertion of the organ.
There we have the whole physiological secret--which will seem
ordinary enough to some, and almost vulgar to others--of this
dazzling pursuit and these magnificent nuptials.


"But must we always, then," the poet will wonder, "rejoice in
regions that are loftier than the truth?"

Yes, in all things, at all times, let us rejoice, not in regions
loftier than the truth, for that were impossible, but in regions
higher than the little truths that our eye can seize. Should a
chance, a recollection, an illusion, a passion,--in a word, should
any motive whatever cause an object to reveal itself to us in a more
beautiful light than to others, let that motive be first of all dear
to us. It may only be error, perhaps; but this error will not
prevent the moment wherein this object appears the most admirable to
us from being the moment wherein we are likeliest to perceive its
real beauty. The beauty we lend it directs our attention to its
veritable beauty and grandeur, which, derived as they are from the
relation wherein every object must of necessity stand to general,
eternal, forces and laws, might otherwise escape observation. The
faculty of admiring which an illusion may have created within us
will serve for the truth that must come, be it sooner or later. It
is with the words, the feelings, and ardour created by ancient and
imaginary beauties, that humanity welcomes today truths which
perhaps would have never been born, which might not have been able
to find so propitious a home, had these sacrificed illusions not
first of all dwelt in, and kindled, the heart and the reason
whereinto these truths should descend. Happy the eyes that need no
illusion to see that the spectacle is great! It is illusion that
teaches the others to look, to admire, and rejoice. And look as high
as they will, they never can look too high. Truth rises as they draw
nearer; they draw nearer when they admire. And whatever the heights
may be whereon they rejoice, this rejoicing can never take place in
the void, or above the unknown and eternal truth that rests over all
things like beauty in suspense.


Does this mean that we should attach ourselves to falsehood, to an
unreal and factitious poetry, and find our gladness therein for want
of anything better? Or that in the example before us--in itself
nothing, but we dwell on it because it stands for a thousand others,
as also for our entire attitude in face of divers orders of
truths--that here we should ignore the physiological explanation,
and retain and taste only the emotions of this nuptial flight, which
is yet, and whatever the cause, one of the most lyrical, most
beautiful acts of that suddenly disinterested, irresistible force
which all living creatures obey and are wont to call love? That were
too childish; nor is it possible, thanks to the excellent habits
every loyal mind has today acquired.

The fact being incontestable, we must evidently admit that the
exsertion of the organ is rendered possible only by the expansion of
the tracheal vesicles. But if we, content with this fact, did not
let our eyes roam beyond it; if we deduced therefrom that every
thought that rises too high or wanders too far must be of necessity
wrong, and that truth must be looked for only in the material
details; if we did not seek, no matter where, in uncertainties often
far greater than the one this little explanation has solved, in the
strange mystery of crossed fertilisation for instance, or in the
perpetuity of the race and life, or in the scheme of nature; if we
did not seek in these for something beyond the current explanation,
something that should prolong it, and conduct us to the beauty and
grandeur that repose in the unknown, I would almost venture to
assert that we should pass our existence further away from the truth
than those, even, who in this case wilfully shut their eyes to all
save the poetic and wholly imaginary interpretation of these
marvellous nuptials. They evidently misjudge the form and colour of
the truth, but they live in its atmosphere and its influence far
more than the others, who complacently believe that the entire truth
lies captive within their two hands. For the first have made ample
preparations to receive the truth, have provided most hospitable
lodging within them; and even though their eyes may not see it, they
are eagerly looking towards the beauty and grandeur where its
residence surely must be.

We know nothing of nature's aim, which for us is the truth that
dominates every other. But for the very love of this truth, and to
preserve in our soul the ardour we need for its search, it behoves
us to deem it great. And if we should find one day that we have been
on a wrong road, that this aim is incoherent and petty, we shall
have discovered its pettiness by means of the very zeal its presumed
grandeur had created within us; and this pettiness once established,
it will teach us what we have to do. In the meanwhile it cannot be
unwise to devote to its search the most strenuous, daring efforts of
our heart and our reason. And should the last word of all this be
wretched, it will be no little achievement to have laid bare the
inanity and the pettiness of the aim of nature.

"There is no truth for us yet," a great physiologist of our day
remarked to me once, as I walked with him in the country; "there is
no truth yet, but there are everywhere three very good semblances of
truth. Each man makes his own choice, or rather, perhaps, has it
thrust upon him; and this choice, whether it be thrust upon him, or
whether, as is often the case, he have made it without due
reflection, this choice, to which he clings, will determine the form
and the conduct of all that enters within him. The friend whom we
meet, the woman who approaches and smiles, the love that unlocks our
heart, the death or sorrow that seals it, the September sky above
us, this superb and delightful garden, wherein we see, as in
Corneille's 'Psyche,' bowers of greenery resting on gilded statues,
and the flocks grazing yonder, with their shepherd asleep, and the
last houses of the village, and the sea between the trees,--all
these are raised or degraded before they enter within us, are
adorned or despoiled, in accordance with the little signal this
choice of ours makes to them. We must learn to select from among
these semblances of truth. I have spent my own life in eager search
for the smaller truths, the physical causes; and now, at the end of
my days, I begin to cherish, not what would lead me from these, but
what would precede them, and, above all, what would somewhat surpass
them." We had attained the summit of a plateau in the "pays de
Caux," in Normandy, which is supple as an English park, but natural
and limitless. It is one of the rare spots on the globe where nature
reveals herself to us unfailingly wholesome and green. A little
further to the north the country is threatened with barrenness, a
little further to the south, it is fatigued and scorched by the sun.
At the end of a plain that ran down to the edge of the sea, some
peasants were erecting a stack of corn. "Look," he said, "seen from
here, they are beautiful. They are constructing that simple and yet
so important thing, which is above all else the happy and almost
unvarying monument of human life taking root--a stack of corn. The
distance, the air of the evening, weave their joyous cries into a
kind of song without words, which replies to the noble song of the
leaves as they whisper over our heads. Above them the sky is
magnificent; and one almost might fancy that beneficent spirits,
waving palm-trees of fire, had swept all the light towards the
stack, to give the workers more time. And the track of the palms
still remains in the sky. See the humble church by their side,
overlooking and watching them, in the midst of the rounded lime
trees and the grass of the homely graveyard, that faces its native
ocean. They are fitly erecting their monument of life underneath the
monuments of their dead, who made the same gestures and still are
with them. Take in the whole picture. There are no special,
characteristic features, such as we find in England, Provence, or
Holland. It is the presentment, large and ordinary enough to be
symbolic, of a natural and happy life. Observe how rhythmic human
existence becomes in its useful moments. Look at the man who is
leading the horses, at that other who throws up the sheaves on his
fork, at the women bending over the corn, and the children at play.
. . . They have not displaced a stone, or removed a spadeful of
earth, to add to the beauty of the scenery; nor do they take one
step, plant a tree or a flower, that is not necessary. All that we
see is merely the involuntary result of the effort that man puts
forth to subsist for a moment in nature; and yet those among us
whose desire is only to create or imagine spectacles of peace, deep
thoughtfulness, or beatitude, have been able to find no scene more
perfect than this, which indeed they paint or describe whenever they
seek to present us with a picture of beauty or happiness. Here we
have the first semblance, which some will call the truth."


"Let us draw nearer. Can you distinguish the song that blended so
well with the whispering of the leaves? It is made up of abuse and
insult; and when laughter bursts forth, it is due to an obscene
remark some man or woman has made, to a jest at the expense of the
weaker,--of the hunchback unable to lift his load, the cripple they
have knocked over, or the idiot whom they make their butt.

"I have studied these people for many years. We are in Normandy; the
soil is rich and easily tilled. Around this stack of corn there is
rather more comfort than one would usually associate with a scene of
this kind. The result is that most of the men, and many of the
women, are alcoholic. Another poison also, which I need not name,
corrodes the race. To that, to the alcohol, are due the children
whom you see there: the dwarf, the one with the hare-lip, the others
who are knock-kneed, scrofulous, imbecile. All of them, men and
women, young and old, have the ordinary vices of the peasant. They
are brutal, suspicious, grasping, and envious; hypocrites, liars,
and slanderers; inclined to petty, illicit profits, mean
interpretations, and coarse flattery of the stronger. Necessity
brings them together, and compels them to help each other; but the
secret wish of every individual is to harm his neighbour as soon as
this can be done without danger to himself. The one substantial
pleasure of the village is procured by the sorrows of others. Should
a great disaster befall one of them, it will long be the subject of
secret, delighted comment among the rest. Every man watches his
fellow, is jealous of him, detests and despises him. While they are
poor, they hate their masters with a boiling and pent-up hatred
because of the harshness and avarice these last display; should they
in their turn have servants, they profit by their own experience of
servitude to reveal a harshness and avarice greater even than that
from which they have suffered. I could give you minutest details of
the meanness, deceit, injustice, tyranny, and malice that underlie
this picture of ethereal, peaceful toil. Do not imagine that the
sight of this marvellous sky, of the sea which spreads out yonder
behind the church and presents another, more sensitive sky, flowing
over the earth like a great mirror of wisdom and consciousness--do
not imagine that either sea or sky is capable of lifting their
thoughts or widening their minds. They have never looked at them.
Nothing has power to influence or move them save three or four
circumscribed fears, that of hunger, of force, of opinion and law,
and the terror of hell when they die. To show what they are, we
should have to consider them one by one. See that tall fellow there
on the right, who flings up such mighty sheaves. Last summer his
friends broke his right arm in some tavern row. I reduced the
fracture, which was a bad and compound one. I tended him for a long
time, and gave him the wherewithal to live till he should be able to
get back to work. He came to me every day. He profited by this to
spread the report in the village that he had discovered me in the
arms of my sister-in-law, and that my mother drank. He is not
vicious, he bears me no ill-will; on the contrary, see what a broad,
open smile spreads over his face as he sees me. It was not social
animosity that induced him to slander me. The peasant values wealth
far too much to hate the rich man. But I fancy my good corn-thrower
there could not understand my tending him without any profit to
myself. He was satisfied that there must be some underhand scheme,
and he declined to be my dupe. More than one before him, richer or
poorer, has acted in similar fashion, if not worse. It did not occur
to him that he was lying when he spread those inventions abroad; he
merely obeyed a confused command of the morality he saw about him.
He yielded unconsciously, against his will, as it were, to the
all-powerful desire of the general malevolence. . . . But why
complete a picture with which all are familiar who have spent some
years in the country? Here we have the second semblance that some
will call the real truth. It is the truth of practical life. It
undoubtedly is based on the most precise, the only, facts that one
can observe and test."


"Let us sit on these sheaves," he continued, "and look again. Let us
reject not a single one of the little facts that build up the
reality of which I have spoken. Let us permit them to depart of
their own accord into space. They cumber the foreground, and yet we
cannot but be aware of the existence behind them of a great and very
curious force that sustains the whole. Does it only sustain and not
raise? These men whom we see before us are at least no longer the
ferocious animals of whom La Bruyere speaks, the wretches who talked
in a kind of inarticulate voice, and withdrew at night to their
dens, where they lived on black bread, water, and roots.

"The race, you will tell me, is neither as strong nor as healthy.
That may be; alcohol and the other scourge are accidents that
humanity has to surmount; ordeals, it may be, by which certain of
our organs, those of the nerves, for instance, may benefit; for we
invariably find that life profits by the ills that it overcomes.
Besides, a mere trifle that we may discover to-morrow may render
these poisons innocuous. These men have thoughts and feelings that
those of whom La Bruyere speaks had not." "I prefer the simple,
naked animal to the odious half-animal," I murmured. "You are
thinking of the first semblance now," he replied, "the semblance
dear to the poet, that we saw before; let us not confuse it with the
one we are now considering. These thoughts and feelings are petty,
if you will, and vile; but what is petty and vile is still better
than that which is not at all. Of these thoughts and feelings they
avail themselves only to hurt each other, and to persist in their
present mediocrity; but thus does it often happen in nature. The
gifts she accords are employed for evil at first, for the rendering
worse what she had apparently sought to improve; but, from this
evil, a certain good will always result in the end. Besides, I am by
no means anxious to prove that there has been progress, which may be
a very small thing or a very great thing, according to the place
whence we regard it. It is a vast achievement, the surest ideal,
perhaps, to render the condition of men a little less servile, a
little less painful; but let the mind detach itself for an instant
from material results, and the difference between the man who
marches in the van of progress and the other who is blindly dragged
at its tail ceases to be very considerable. Among these young
rustics, whose mind is haunted only by formless ideas, there are
many who have in themselves the possibility of attaining, in a short
space of time, the degree of consciousness that we both enjoy. One
is often struck by the narrowness of the dividing line between what
we regard as the unconsciousness of these people and the
consciousness that to us is the highest of all."

"Besides, of what is this consciousness composed, whereof we are so
proud? Of far more shadow than light, of far more acquired ignorance
than knowledge; of far more things whose comprehension, we are well
aware, must ever elude us, than of things that we actually know. And
yet in this consciousness lies all our dignity, our most veritable
greatness; it is probably the most surprising phenomenon this world
contains. It is this which permits us to raise our head before the
unknown principle, and say to it: 'What you are I know not; but
there is something within me that already enfolds you. You will
destroy me, perhaps, but if your object be not to construct from my
ruins an organism better than mine, you will prove yourself inferior
to what I am; and the silence that will follow the death of the race
to which I belong will declare to you that you have been judged. And
if you are not capable even of caring whether you be justly judged
or not, of what value can your secret be? It must be stupid or
hideous. Chance has enabled you to produce a creature that you
yourself lacked the quality to produce. It is fortunate for him that
a contrary chance should have permitted you to suppress him before
he had fathomed the depths of your unconsciousness; more fortunate
still that he does not survive the infinite series of your awful
experiments. He had nothing to do in a world where his intellect
corresponded to no eternal intellect, where his desire for the
better could attain no actual good.'

"Once more, for the spectacle to absorb us, there is no need of
progress. The enigma suffices; and that enigma is as great, and
shines as mysteriously, in the peasants as in ourselves. As we trace
life back to its all-powerful principle, it confronts us on every
side. To this principle each succeeding century has given a new
name. Some of these names were clear and consoling. It was found,
however, that consolation and clearness were alike illusory. But
whether we call it God, Providence, Nature, chance, life, fatality,
spirit, or matter, the mystery remains unaltered; and from the
experience of thousands of years we have learned nothing more than
to give it a vaster name, one nearer to ourselves, more congruous
with our expectation, with the unforeseen.

That is the name it bears to-day, wherefore it has never seemed
greater. Here we have one of the numberless aspects of the third
semblance, which also is truth."




IF skies remain clear, the air warm, and pollen and nectar abound in
the flowers, the workers, through a kind of forgetful indulgence, or
over-scrupulous prudence perhaps, will for a short time longer
endure the importunate, disastrous presence of the males. These
comport themselves in the hive as did Penelope's suitors in the
house of Ulysses. Indelicate and wasteful, sleek and corpulent,
fully content with their idle existence as honorary lovers, they
feast and carouse, throng the alleys, obstruct the passages, and
hinder the work; jostling and jostled, fatuously pompous, swelled
with foolish, good-natured contempt; harbouring never a suspicion of
the deep and calculating scorn wherewith the workers regard them, of
the constantly growing hatred to which they give rise, or of the
destiny that awaits them. For their pleasant slumbers they select
the snuggest corners of the hive; then, rising carelessly, they
flock to the open cells where the honey smells sweetest, and soil
with their excrements the combs they frequent. The patient workers,
their eyes steadily fixed on the future, will silently set things
right. From noon till three, when the purple country trembles in
blissful lassitude beneath the invincible gaze of a July or August
sun, the drones will appear on the threshold. They have a helmet
made of enormous black pearls, two lofty, quivering plumes, a
doublet of iridescent, yellowish velvet, an heroic tuft, and a
fourfold mantle, translucent and rigid. They create a prodigious
stir, brush the sentry aside, overturn the cleaners, and collide
with the foragers as these return laden with their humble spoil.
They have the busy air, the extravagant, contemptuous gait, of
indispensable gods who should be simultaneously venturing towards
some destiny unknown to the vulgar. One by one they sail off into
space, irresistible, glorious, and tranquilly make for the nearest
flowers, where they sleep till the afternoon freshness awake them.
Then, with the same majestic pomp, and still overflowing with
magnificent schemes, they return to the hive, go straight to the
cells, plunge their head to the neck in the vats of honey, and fill
themselves tight as a drum to repair their exhausted strength;
whereupon, with heavy steps, they go forth to meet the good,
dreamless and careless slumber that shall fold them in its embrace
till the time for the next repast.


But the patience of the bees is not equal to that of men. One
morning the long-expected word of command goes through the hive; and
the peaceful workers turn into judges and executioners. Whence this
word issues, we know not; it would seem to emanate suddenly from the
cold, deliberate indignation of the workers; and no sooner has it
been uttered than every heart throbs with it, inspired with the
genius of the unanimous republic. One part of the people renounce
their foraging duties to devote themselves to the work of justice.
The great idle drones, asleep in unconscious groups on the
melliferous walls, are rudely torn from their slumbers by an army of
wrathful virgins. They wake, in pious wonder; they cannot believe
their eyes; and their astonishment struggles through their sloth as
a moonbeam through marshy water. They stare amazedly round them,
convinced that they must be victims of some mistake; and the
mother-idea of their life being first to assert itself in their dull
brain, they take a step towards the vats of honey to seek comfort
there. But ended for them are the days of May honey, the wine-flower
of lime trees and fragrant ambrosia of thyme and sage, of marjoram
and white clover. Where the path once lay open to the kindly,
abundant reservoirs, that so invitingly offered their waxen and
sugary mouths, there stands now a burning-bush all alive with
poisonous, bristling stings. The atmosphere of the city is changed;
in lieu of the friendly perfume of honey, the acrid odour of poison
prevails; thousands of tiny drops glisten at the end of the stings,
and diffuse rancour and hatred. Before the bewildered parasites are
able to realise that the happy laws of the city have crumbled,
dragging down in most inconceivable fashion their own plentiful
destiny, each one is assailed by three or four envoys of justice;
and these vigorously proceed to cut off his wings, saw through the
petiole that connects the abdomen with the thorax, amputate the
feverish antennae, and seek an opening between the rings of his
cuirass through which to pass their sword. No defence is attempted
by the enormous, but unarmed, creatures; they try to escape, or
oppose their mere bulk to the blows that rain down upon them. Forced
on to their back, with their relentless enemies clinging doggedly to
them, they will use their powerful claws to shift them from side to
side; or, turning on themselves, they will drag the whole group
round and round in wild circles, which exhaustion soon brings to an
end. And, in a very brief space, their appearance becomes so
deplorable that pity, never far from justice in the depths of our
heart, quickly returns, and would seek forgiveness, though vainly,
of the stern workers who recognise only nature's harsh and profound
laws. The wings of the wretched creatures are torn, their antennae
bitten, the segments of their legs wrenched off; and their
magnificent eyes, mirrors once of the exuberant flowers, flashing
back the blue light and the innocent pride of summer, now, softened
by suffering, reflect only the anguish and distress of their end.
Some succumb to their wounds, and are at once borne away to distant
cemeteries by two or three of their executioners. Others, whose
injuries are less, succeed in sheltering themselves in some corner,
where they lie, all huddled together, surrounded by an inexorable
guard, until they perish of want. Many will reach the door, and
escape into space dragging their adversaries with them; but, towards
evening, impelled by hunger and cold, they return in crowds to the
entrance of the hive to beg for shelter. But there they encounter
another pitiless guard. The next morning, before setting forth on
their journey, the workers will clear the threshold, strewn with the
corpses of the useless giants; and all recollection of the idle race
disappear till the following spring.


In very many colonies of the apiary this massacre will often take
place on the same day. The richest, best-governed hive will give the
signal; to be followed, some days after, by the little and less
prosperous republics. Only the poorest, weakest colonies--those
whose mother is very old and almost sterile--will preserve their
males till the approach of winter, so as not to abandon the hope of
procuring the impregnation of the virgin queen they await, and who
may yet be born. Inevitable misery follows; and all the
tribe--mother, parasites, workers--collect in a hungry and closely
intertwined group, who perish in silence before the first snows
arrive, in the obscurity of the hive.

In the wealthy and populous cities work is resumed after the
execution of the drones,--although with diminishing zeal, for
flowers are becoming scarce. The great festivals, the great dramas,
are over. The autumn honey, however, that shall complete the
indispensable provisions, is accumulating within the hospitable
walls; and the last reservoirs are sealed with the seal of white,
incorruptible wax. Building ceases, births diminish, deaths
multiply; the nights lengthen, and days grow shorter. Rain and
inclement winds, the mists of the morning, the ambushes laid by a
hastening twilight, carry off hundreds of workers who never return;
and soon, over the whole little people, that are as eager for
sunshine as the grasshoppers of Attica, there hangs the cold menace
of winter.

Man has already taken his share of the harvest. Every good hive has
presented him with eighty or a hundred pounds of honey; the most
remarkable will sometimes even give two hundred, which represent an
enormous expanse of liquefied light, immense fields of flowers that
have been visited daily one or two thousand times. He throws a last
glance over the colonies, which are becoming torpid. From the
richest he takes their superfluous wealth to distribute it among
those whom misfortune, unmerited always in this laborious world, may
have rendered necessitous. He covers the dwellings, half closes the
doors, removes the useless frames, and leaves the bees to their long
winter sleep. They gather in the centre of the hive, contract
themselves, and cling to the combs that contain the faithful urns;
whence there shall issue, during days of frost, the transmuted
substance of summer. The queen is in the midst of them, surrounded
by her guard. The first row of the workers attach themselves to the
sealed cells; a second row cover the first, a third the second, and
so in succession to the last row of all, which form the envelope.
When the bees of this envelope feel the cold stealing over them,
they re-enter the mass, and others take their place. The suspended
cluster is like a sombre sphere that the walls of the comb divide;
it rises imperceptibly and falls, it advances or retires, in
proportion as the cells grow empty to which it clings. For, contrary
to what is generally believed, the winter life of the bee is not
arrested, although it be slackened. By the concerted beating of
their wings--little sisters that have survived the flames of the
sun--which go quickly or slowly in accordance as the temperature
without may vary, they maintain in their sphere an unvarying warmth,
equal to that of a day in spring. This secret spring comes from the
beautiful honey, itself but a ray of heat transformed, that returns
now to its first condition. It circulates in the hive like generous
blood. The bees at the full cells present it to their neighbours,
who pass it on in their turn. Thus it goes from hand to hand and
from mouth to mouth, till it attain the extremity of the group in
whose thousands of hearts one destiny, one thought, is scattered and
united. It stands in lieu of the sun and the flowers, till its elder
brother, the veritable sun of the real, great spring, peering
through the half-open door, glides in his first softened glances,
wherein anemones and violets are coming to life again; and gently
awakens the workers, showing them that the sky once more is blue in
the world, and that the uninterrupted circle that joins death to
life has turned and begun afresh.




BEFORE closing this book--as we have closed the hive on the torpid
silence of winter--I am anxious to meet the objection invariably
urged by those to whom we reveal the astounding industry and policy
of the bees. Yes, they will say, that is all very wonderful; but
then, it has never been otherwise. The bees have for thousands of
years dwelt under remarkable laws, but during those thousands of
years the laws have not varied. For thousands of years they have
constructed their marvellous combs, whereto we can add nothing,
wherefrom we can take nothing,--combs that unite in equal perfection
the science of the chemist, the geometrician, the architect, and the
engineer; but on the sarcophagi, on Egyptian stones and papyri, we
find drawings of combs that are identical in every particular. Name
a single fact that will show the least progress, a single instance
of their having contrived some new feature or modified their
habitual routine, and we will cheerfully yield, and admit that they
not only possess an admirable instinct, but have also an intellect
worthy to approach that of man, worthy to share in one knows not
what higher destiny than awaits unconscious and submissive matter.

This language is not even confined to the profane; it is made use of
by entomologists of the rank of Kirby and Spence, in order to deny
the bees the possession of intellect other than may vaguely stir
within the narrow prison of an extraordinary but unchanging
instinct. "Show us," they say, "a single case where the pressure of
events has inspired them with the idea, for instance, of
substituting clay or mortar for wax or propolis; show us this, and
we will admit their capacity for reasoning."

This argument, that Romanes refers to as the "question-begging
argument," and that might also be termed the "insatiable argument,"
is exceedingly dangerous, and, if applied to man, would take us very
far. Examine it closely, and you find that it emanates from the
"mere common-sense," which is often so harmful; the "common-sense"
that replied to Galileo: "The earth does not turn, for I can see the
sun move in the sky, rise in the morning and sink in the evening;
and nothing can prevail over the testimony of my eyes." Common-sense
makes an admirable, and necessary, background for the mind; but
unless it be watched by a lofty disquiet ever ready to remind it,
when occasion demand, of the infinity of its ignorance, it dwindles
into the mere routine of the baser side of our intellect. But the
bees have themselves answered the objection Messrs. Kirby and Spence
advanced. Scarcely had it been formulated when another naturalist,
Andrew Knight, having covered the bark of some diseased trees with a
kind of cement made of turpentine and wax, discovered that his bees
were entirely renouncing the collection of propolis, and exclusively
using this unknown matter, which they had quickly tested and
adopted, and found in abundant quantities, ready prepared, in the
vicinity of their dwelling.

And indeed, one-half of the science and practice of apiculture
consists in giving free rein to the spirit of initiative possessed
by the bees, and in providing their enterprising intellect with
opportunities for veritable discoveries and veritable inventions.
Thus, for instance, to aid in the rearing of the larvae and nymphs,
the bee-keeper will scatter a certain quantity of flour close to the
hive when the pollen is scarce of which these consume an enormous
quantity. In a state of nature, in the heart of their native forests
in the Asiatic valleys, where they existed probably long before the
tertiary epoch, the bees can evidently never have met with a
substance of this kind. And yet, if care be taken to "bait" some of
them with it, by placing them on the flour, they will touch it and
test it, they will perceive that its properties more or less
resemble those possessed by the dust of the anthers; they will
spread the news . among their sisters, and we shall soon find every
forager hastening to this unexpected, incomprehensible food, which,
in their hereditary memory, must be inseparable from the calyx of
flowers where their flight, for so many centuries past, has been
sumptuously and voluptuously welcomed.


It is a little more than a hundred years ago that Huber's researches
gave the first serious impetus to our study of the bees, and
revealed the elementary important truths that allowed us to observe
them with fruitful result. Barely fifty years have passed since the
foundation of rational, practical apiculture was rendered possible
by means of the movable combs and frames devised by Dzierzon and
Langstroth, and the hive ceased to be the inviolable abode wherein
all came to pass in a mystery from which death alone stripped the
veil. And lastly, less than fifty years have elapsed since the
improvements of the microscope, of the entomologist's laboratory,
revealed the precise secret of the principal organs of the workers,
of the mother, and the males. Need we wonder if our knowledge be as
scanty as our experience? The bees have existed many thousands of
years; we have watched them for ten or twelve lustres. And if it
could even be proved that no change has occurred in the hive since
we first opened it, should we have the right to conclude that
nothing had changed before our first questioning glance? Do we not
know that in the evolution of species a century is but as a drop of
rain that is caught in the whirl of the river, and that millenaries
glide as swiftly over the life of universal matter as single years
over the history of a people?


But there is no warrant for the statement that the habits of the
bees are unchanged. If we examine them with an unbiassed eye, and
without emerging from the small area lit by our actual experience,
we shall, on the contrary, discover marked variations. And who shall
tell how many escape us? Were an observer of a hundred and fifty
times our height and about seven hundred and fifty thousand times
our importance (these being the relations of stature and weight in
which we stand to the humble honey-fly), one who knew not our
language, and was endowed with senses totally different from our
own; were such an one to have been studying us, he would recognise
certain curious material transformations in the course of the last
two thirds of the century, but would be totally unable to form any
conception of our moral, social, political, economic or religious

The most likely of all the scientific hypotheses will presently
permit us to connect our domestic bee with the great tribe of the
"Apiens," which embraces all wild bees, and where its ancestors are
probably to be found. We shall then perceive physiological, social,
economic, industrial, and architectural transformations more
extraordinary than those of our human evolution. But for the moment
we will limit ourselves to our domestic bee properly so called. Of
these sixteen fairly distinct species are known; but, essentially,
whether we consider the Apis Dorsata, the largest known to us, or
the Apis Florea, which is the smallest, the insect is always exactly
the same, except for the slight modifications induced by the climate
and by the conditions whereto it has had to conform.*

*The scientific classification of the domestic bee is as follows:

Class ....... Insecta

Order ....... Hymenoptera

Family ....... Apidae

Genus ....... Apis

Species....... Mellifica

The term "Mellifica" is that of the Linnaean classification. It is
not of the happiest, for all the Apidae, with the exception of
certain parasites perhaps, are producers of honey. Scopoli uses the
term "Cerifera "; Reaumur "Domestica "; Geoffroy "Gregaria." The
"Apis Ligustica," the Italian bee, is another variety of the

The difference between these various species is scarcely greater
than that between an Englishman and a Russian, a Japanese and a
European. In these preliminary remarks, therefore, we will confine
ourselves to what actually lies within the range of our eyes,
refusing the aid of hypothesis, be this never so probable or so
imperious. We shall mention no facts that are not susceptible of
immediate proof; and of such facts we will only rapidly refer to
some of the more significant.


Let us consider first of all the most important and most radical
improvement, one that in the case of man would have called for
prodigious labour: the external protection of the community.

The bees do not, like ourselves, dwell in towns free to the sky, and
exposed to the caprice of rain and storm, but in cities entirely
covered with a protecting envelope. In a state of nature, however,
in an ideal climate, this is not the case. If they listened only to
their essential instinct, they would construct their combs in the
open air. In the Indies, the Apis Dorsata will not eagerly seek
hollow trees, or a hole in the rocks. The swarm will hang from the
crook of a branch; and the comb will be lengthened, the queen lay
her eggs, provisions be stored, with no shelter other than that
which the workers' own bodies provide. Our Northern bees have at
times been known to revert to this instinct, under the deceptive
influence of a too gentle sky; and swarms have been found living in
the heart of a bush. But even in the Indies, the result of this
habit, which would seem innate, is by no means favourable. So
considerable a number of the workers are compelled to remain on one
spot, occupied solely with the maintenance of the heat required by
those who are moulding the wax and rearing the brood, that the Apis
Dorsata, hanging thus from the branches, will construct but a single
comb; whereas if she have the least shelter she will erect four or
five, or more, and will proportionately increase the prosperity and
the population of the colony. And indeed we find that all species of
bees existing in cold and temperate regions have abandoned this
primitive method. The intelligent initiative of the insect has
evidently received the sanction of natural selection, which has
allowed only the most numerous and best protected tribes to survive
our winters. What had been merely an idea, therefore, and opposed to
instinct, has thus by slow degrees become an instinctive habit. But
it is none the less true that in forsaking the vast light of nature
that was so dear to them and seeking shelter in the obscure hollow
of a tree or a cavern, the bees have followed what at first was an
audacious idea, based on observation, probably, on experience and
reasoning. And this idea might be almost declared to have been as
important to the destinies of the domestic bee as was the invention
of fire to the destinies of man.


This great progress, not the less actual for being hereditary and
ancient, was followed by an infinite variety of details which prove
that the industry, and even the policy, of the hive have not
crystallised into infrangible formulae. We have already mentioned
the intelligent substitution of flour for pollen, and of an
artificial cement for propolis. We have seen with what skill the
bees are able to adapt to their needs the occasionally disconcerting
dwellings into which they are introduced, and the surprising
adroitness wherewith they turn combs of foundation-wax to good
account. They display extraordinary ingenuity in their manner of
handling these marvellous combs, which are so strangely useful, and
yet incomplete. In point of fact, they meet man half-way. Let us
imagine that we had for centuries past been erecting cities, not
with stones, bricks, and lime, but with some pliable substance
painfully secreted by special organs of our body. One day an
all-powerful being places us in the midst of a fabulous city. We
recognise that it is made of a substance similar to the one that we
secrete, but, as regards the rest, it is a dream, whereof what is
logical is so distorted, so reduced, and as it were concentrated, as
to be more disconcerting almost than had it been incoherent. Our
habitual plan is there; in fact, we find everything that we had
expected; but all has been put together by some antecedent force
that would seem to have crushed it, arrested it in the mould, and to
have hindered its completion. The houses whose height must attain
some four or five yards are the merest protuberances, that our two
hands can cover. Thousands of walls are indicated by signs that hint
at once of their plan and material. Elsewhere there are marked
deviations, which must be corrected; gaps to be filled and
harmoniously joined to the rest, vast surfaces that are unstable and
will need support. The enterprise is hopeful, but full of hardship
and danger. It would seem to have been conceived by some sovereign
intelligence, that was able to divine most of our desires, but has
executed them clumsily, being hampered by its very vastness. We must
disentangle, therefore, what now is obscure, we must develop the
least intentions of the supernatural donor; we must build in a few
days what would ordinarily take us years; we must renounce organic
habits, and fundamentally alter our methods of labour. It is certain
that all the attention man could devote would not be excessive for
the solution of the problems that would arise, or for the turning to
fullest account the help thus offered by a magnificent providence.
Yet that is, more or less, what the bees are doing in our modern

*As we are now concerned with the construction of the bee, we may
note, in passing, a strange peculiarity of the Apis Florea. Certain
walls of its cells for males are cylindrical instead of hexagonal.
Apparently she has not yet succeeded in passing from one form to the
other, and indefinitely adopting the better.


I have said that even the policy of the bees is probably subject to
change. This point is the obscurest of all, and the most difficult
to verify. I shall not dwell on their various methods of treating
the queens, or the laws as to swarming that are peculiar to the
inhabitants of every hive, and apparently transmitted from
generation to generation, etc.; but by the side of these facts which
are not sufficiently established are others so precise and unvarying
as to prove that the same degree of political civilisation has not
been attained by all races of the domestic bee, and that, among some
of them, the public spirit still is groping its way, seeking perhaps
another solution of the royal problem. The Syrian bee, for instance,
habitually rears 120 queens and often more, whereas our Apis
Mellifica will rear ten or twelve at most. Cheshire tells of a
Syrian hive, in no way abnormal, where 120 dead queen-mothers were
found, and 90 living, unmolested queens. This may be the point of
departure, or the point of arrival, of a strange social evolution,
which it would be interesting to study more thoroughly. We may add
that as far as the rearing of queens is concerned, the Cyprian bee
approximates to the Syrian. And finally, there is yet another fact
which establishes still more clearly that the customs and prudent
organisation of the hive are not the results of a primitive impulse,
mechanically followed through different ages and climates, but that
the spirit which governs the little republic is fully as capable of
taking note of new conditions and turning these to the best
advantage, as in times long past it was capable of meeting the
dangers that hemmed it around. Transport our black bee to California
or Australia, and her habits will completely alter. Finding that
summer is perpetual and flowers forever abundant, she will after one
or two years be content to live from day to day, and gather
sufficient honey and pollen for the day's consumption; and, her
thoughtful observation of these new features triumphing over
hereditary experience, she will cease to make provision for the
winter.* In fact it becomes necessary, in order to stimulate her
activity, to deprive her systematically of the fruits of her labour.

*Buchner cites an analogous fact. In the Barbadoes, the bees whose
hives are in the midst of the refineries, where they find sugar in
abundance during the whole year, will entirely abandon their visits
to the flowers.

[103 ]

So much for what our own eyes can see. It will be admitted that we
have mentioned some curious facts, which by no means support the
theory that every intelligence is arrested, every future clearly
defined, save only the intelligence and future of man.

But if we choose to accept for one moment the hypothesis of
evolution, the spectacle widens, and its uncertain, grandiose light
soon attains our own destinies. Whoever brings careful attention to
bear will scarcely deny, even though it be not evident, the presence
in nature of a will that tends to raise a portion of matter to a
subtler and perhaps better condition, and to penetrate its substance
little by little with a mystery-laden fluid that we at first term
life, then instinct, and finally intelligence; a will that, for an
end we know not, organises, strengthens, and facilitates the
existence of all that is. There can be no certainty, and yet many
instances invite us to believe that, were an actual estimate
possible, the quantity of matter that has raised itself from its
beginnings would be found to be ever increasing. A fragile remark, I
admit, but the only one we can make on the hidden force that leads
us; and it stands for much in a world where confidence in life,
until certitude to the contrary reach us, must remain the first of
all our duties, at times even when life itself conveys no
encouraging clearness to us.

I know all that may be urged against the theory of evolution. In its
favour are numerous proofs and most powerful arguments, which yet do
not carry irresistible conviction. We must beware of abandoning
ourselves unreservedly to the prevailing truths of our time. A
hundred years hence, many chapters of a book instinct to-day with
this truth, will appear as ancient as the philosophical writings of
the eighteenth century seem to us now, full as they are of a too
perfect and non-existing man, or as so many works of the seventeenth
century, whose value is lessened by their conception of a harsh and
narrow god.

Nevertheless, when it is impossible to know what the truth of a
thing may be, it is well to accept the hypothesis that appeals the
most urgently to the reason of men at the period when we happen to
have come into the world. The chances are that it will be false; but
so long as we believe it to be true it will serve a useful purpose
by restoring our courage and stimulating research in a new
direction. It might at the first glance seem wiser, perhaps, instead
of advancing these ingenious suppositions, simply to say the
profound truth, which is that we do not know. But this truth could
only be helpful were it written that we never shall know. In the
meanwhile it would induce a state of stagnation within us more
pernicious than the most vexatious illusions. We are so constituted
that nothing takes us further or leads us higher than the leaps made
by our errors. In point of fact we owe the little we have learned to
hypotheses that were always hazardous and often absurd, and, as a
general rule, less discreet than they are to-day. They were unwise,
perhaps, but they kept alive the ardour for research. To the
traveller, shivering with cold, who reaches the human Hostelry, it
matters little whether he by whose side he seats himself, he who has
guarded the hearth, be blind or very old. So long as the fire still
burn that he has been watching, he has done as much as the best
could have done. Well for us if we can transmit this ardour, not as
we received it, but added to by ourselves; and nothing will add to
it more than this hypothesis of evolution, which goads us to
question with an ever severer method and ever increasing zeal all
that exists on the earth's surface and in its entrails, in the
depths of the sea and expanse of the sky. Reject it, and what can we
set up against it, what can we put in its place? There is but the
grand confession of scientific ignorance, aware of its knowing
nothing--but this is habitually sluggish, and calculated to
discourage the curiosity more needful to man than wisdom--or the
hypothesis of the fixity of the species and of divine creation,
which is. less demonstrable than the other, banishes for all time
the living elements of the problem, and explains nothing.


Of wild bees approximately 4500 varieties are known. It need
scarcely be said that we shall not go through the list. Some day,
perhaps, a profound study, and searching experiments and
observations of a kind hitherto unknown, that would demand more than
one lifetime, will throw a decisive light upon the history of the
bee's evolution. All that we can do now is to enter this veiled
region of supposition, and, discarding all positive statement,
attempt to follow a tribe of hymenoptera in their progress towards a
more intelligent existence, towards a little more security and
comfort, lightly indicating the salient features of this ascension
that is spread over many thousands of years. The tribe in question
is already known to us; it is that of the "Apiens," whose essential
characteristics are so distinct and well-marked that one is inclined
to credit all its members with one common ancestor.*

*It is important that the terms we shall successively employ,
adopting the classification of M. Emile Blanchard,--"APIENS, APIDAE
and APITAE,--should not be confounded. The tribe of the Apiens
comprises all families of bees. The Apidae constitute the first of
these families, and are subdivided into three groups: the Meliponae,
the Apitae, and the Bombi (humble-bees). And, finally, the Apitae
include all the different varieties of our domestic bees.

The disciples of Darwin, Hermann Muller among others, consider a
little wild bee, the Prosopis, which is to be found all over the
universe, as the actual representative of the primitive bee whence
all have issued that are known to us to-day.

The unfortunate Prosopis stands more or less in the same relation to
the inhabitants of our hives as the cave-dwellers to the fortunate
who live in our great cities. You will probably more than once have
seen her fluttering about the bushes, in a deserted corner of your
garden, without realising that you were carelessly watching the
venerable ancestor to whom we probably owe most of our flowers and
fruits (for it is actually estimated that more than a hundred
thousand varieties of plants would disappear if the bees did not
visit them) and possibly even our civilisation, for in these
mysteries all things intertwine. She is nimble and attractive, the
variety most common in France being elegantly marked with white on a
black background. But this elegance hides an inconceivable poverty.
She leads a life of starvation. She is almost naked, whereas her
sisters are dad in a warm and sumptuous fleece. She has not, like
the Apidae, baskets to gather the pollen, nor, in their default, the
tuft of the Andrenae, nor the ventral brush of the Gastrilegidae.
Her tiny claws must laboriously gather the powder from the calices,
which powder she needs must swallow in order to take it back to her
lair. She has no implements other than her tongue, her mouth and her
claws; but her tongue is too short, her legs are feeble, and her
mandibles without strength. Unable to produce wax, bore holes
through wood, or dig in the earth, she contrives clumsy galleries in
the tender pith of dry berries; erects a few awkward cells, stores
these with a little food for the offspring she never will see; and
then, having accomplished this poor task of hers, that tends she
knows not whither and of whose aim we are no less ignorant, she goes
off and dies in a corner, as solitarily as she had lived.

We shall pass over many intermediary species, wherein we may see the
gradual lengthening of the tongue, enabling more nectar to be
extracted from the cups of corollas, and the dawning formation and
subsequent development of the apparatus for collecting
pollen,--hairs, tufts, brushes on the tibia, on the tarsus, and
abdomen,--as also claws and mandibles becoming stronger, useful
secretions being formed, and the genius that presides over the
construction of dwellings seeking and finding extraordinary
improvement in every direction. Such a study would need a whole
volume. I will merely outline a chapter of it, less than a chapter,
a page, which shall show how the hesitating endeavours of the will
to live and be happier result in the birth, development, and
affirmation of social intelligence.

We have seen the unfortunate Prosopis silently bearing her solitary
little destiny in the midst of this vast universe charged with
terrible forces. A certain number of her sisters, belonging to
species already more skilful and better supplied with utensils, such
as the well-clad Colletes, or the marvellous cutter of rose-leaves,
the Megachile Centuncularis, live in an isolation no less profound;
and if by chance some creature attach itself to them, and share
their dwelling, it will either be an enemy, or, more often, a

For the world of bees is peopled with phantoms stranger than our
own; and many a species will thus have a kind of mysterious and
inactive double, exactly similar to the victim it has selected, save
only that its immemorial idleness has caused it to lose one by one
its implements of labour, and that it exists solely at the expense
of the working type of its race.*

*The humble-bees, for instance, have the Psithyri as parasites,
while the Stelites live on the Anthidia. "As regards the frequent
identity of the parasite with its victim," M. J. Perez very justly
remarks in his book "The Bees," "one must necessarily admit that the
two genera are only different forms of the same type, and are united
to each other by the closest affinity. And to naturalists who
believe in the theory of evolution this relationship is not purely
ideal, but real. The parasitic genus must be regarded as merely a
branch of the foraging genus, having lost its foraging organs
because of its adaptation to parasitic life."

Among the bees, however, which are somewhat too arbitrarily termed
the "solitary Apidae," the social instinct already is smouldering,
like a flame crushed beneath the overwhelming weight of matter that
stifles all primitive life. And here and there, in unexpected
directions, as though reconnoitring, with timid and sometimes
fantastic outbursts, it will succeed in piercing the mass that
oppresses it, the pyre that some day shall feed its triumph.

If in this world all things be matter, this is surely its most
immaterial movement. Transition is called for from a precarious,
egotistic and incomplete life to a life that shall be fraternal, a
little more certain, a little more happy. The spirit must ideally
unite that which in the body is actually separate; the individual
must sacrifice himself for the race, and substitute for visible
things the things that cannot be seen. Need we wonder that the bees
do not at the first glance realise what we have not yet
disentangled, we who find ourselves at the privileged spot whence
instinct radiates from all sides into our consciousness? And it is
curious too, almost touching, to see how the new idea gropes its
way, at first, in the darkness that enfolds all things that come to
life on this earth. It emerges from matter, it is still quite
material. It is cold, hunger, fear, transformed into something that
as yet has no shape. It crawls vaguely around great dangers, around
the long nights, the approach of winter, of an equivocal sleep which
almost is death. . . .


The Xylocopae are powerful bees which worm their nest in dry wood.
Their life is solitary always. Towards the end of summer, however,
some individuals of a particular species, the Xylocopa Cyanescens,
may be found huddled together in a shivering group, on a stalk of
asphodel, to spend the winter in common. Among the Xylocopae this
tardy fraternity is exceptional, but among the Ceratinae, which are
of their nearest kindred, it has become a constant habit. The idea
is germinating. It halts immediately; and hitherto has not
succeeded, among the Xylocopae, in passing beyond this first obscure
line of love.

Among other Apiens, this groping idea assumes other forms. The
Chalicodomae of the out-houses, which are building-bees, the
Dasypodae and Halicti, which dig holes in the earth, unite in large
colonies to construct their nests. But it is an illusory crowd
composed of solitary units, that possess no mutual understanding,
and do not act in common. Each one is profoundly isolated in the
midst of the multitude, and builds a dwelling for itself alone,
heedless of its neighbour. "They are," M. Perez remarks, "a mere
congregation of individuals, brought together by similar tastes and
habits, but observing scrupulously the maxim of each one for itself;
in fact, a mere mob of workers, resembling the swarrn of a hive only
as regards their number and zeal. Such assemblies merely result from
a great number of individuals inhabiting the same locality."

But when we come to the Panurgi, which are cousins of the Dasypodae,
a little ray of light suddenly reveals the birth of a new sentiment
in this fortuitous crowd. They collect in the same way as the
others, and each one digs its own subterranean chambers; but the
entrance is common to all, as also the gallery which leads from the
surface of the ground to the different cells. "And thus," M. Perez
adds, "as far as the work of the cells is concerned, each bee acts
as though she were alone; but all make equal use of the gallery that
conducts to the cells, so that the multitude profit by the labours
of an individual, and are spared the time and trouble required for
the construction of separate galleries. It would be interesting to
discover whether this preliminary work be not executed in common, by
relays of females, relieving each other in turn."

However this may be, the fraternal idea has pierced the wall that
divided two worlds. It is no longer wild and unrecognisable, wrested
from instinct by cold and hunger, or by the fear of death; it is
prompted by active life. But it halts once more; and in this
instance arrives no further. No matter, it does not lose courage; it
will seek other channels. It enters the humble-bee, and, maturing
there, becomes embodied in a different atmosphere, and works its
first decisive miracles.

The humble-bees, the great hairy, noisy creatures that all of us
know so well, so harmless for all their apparent fierceness, lead a
solitary life at first. At the beginning of March the impregnated
female who has survived the winter starts to construct her nest,
either underground or in a bush, according to the species to which
she belongs. She is alone in the world, in the midst of awakening
spring. She chooses a spot, clears it, digs it and carpets it. Then
she erects her somewhat shapeless waxen cells, stores these with
honey and pollen, lays and hatches the eggs, tends and nourishes the
larvae that spring to life, and soon is surrounded by a troop of
daughters who aid her in all her labours, within the nest and
without, while some of them soon begin to lay in their turn. The
construction of the cells improves; the colony grows, the comfort
increases. The foundress is still its soul, its principal mother,
and finds herself now at the head of a kingdom which might be the
model of that of our honeybee. But the model is still in the rough.

The prosperity of the humble-bees never exceeds a certain limit,
their laws are ill-defined and ill-obeyed, primitive cannibalism and
infanticide reappear at intervals, the architecture is shapeless and
entails much waste of material; but the cardinal difference between
the two cities is that the one is permanent, and the other
ephemeral. For, indeed, that of the humble-bee will perish in the
autumn; its three or four hundred inhabitants will die, leaving no
trace of their passage or their endeavours; and but a single female
will survive, who, the next spring, in the same solitude and poverty
as her mother before her, will recommence the same useless work. The
idea, however, has now grown aware of its strength. Among the
humble-bees it goes no further than we have stated, but, faithful to
its habits and pursuing its usual routine, it will immediately
undergo a sort of unwearying metempsychosis, and re-incarnate
itself, trembling with its last triumph, rendered all-powerful now
and nearly perfect, in another group, the last but one of the race,
that which immediately precedes our domestic bee wherein it attains
its crown; the group of the Meliponitae, which comprises the
tropical Meliponae and Trigonae.

[ 108 ]

Here the organisation is as complete as in our hives. There is an
unique mother, there are sterile workers and males. Certain details
even seem better devised. The males, for instance, are not wholly
idle; they secrete wax. The entrance to the hive is more carefully
guarded; it has a door that can be closed when nights are cold, and
when these are warm a kind of curtain will admit the air.

But the republic is less strong, general life less assured,
prosperity more limited, than with our bees; and wherever these are
introduced, the Meliponitae tend to disappear before them. In both
races the fraternal idea has undergone equal and magnificent
development, save in one point alone, wherein it achieves no further
advance among the Meliponitae than among the limited offspring of
the humble-bees. In the mechanical organisation of distributed
labour, in the precise economy of effort; briefly, in the
architecture of the city, they display manifest inferiority. As to
this I need only refer to what I said in section 42 of this book,
while adding that, whereas in the hives of our Apitae all the cells
are equally available for the rearing of the brood and the storage
of provisions, and endure as long as the city itself, they serve
only one of these purposes among the Meliponitae, and the cells
employed as cradles for the nymphs are destroyed after these have
been hatched.*

*It is not certain that the principle of unique royalty, or
maternity, is strictly observed among the Meliponitae. Blanchard
remarks very justly, that as they possess no sting and are
consequently less readily able than the mothers of our own bees to
kill each other, several queens will probably live together in the
same hive. But certainty on this point has hitherto been
unattainable owing to the great resemblance that exists between
queens and workers, as also to the impossibility of rearing the
Meliponitae in our climate.

It is in our domestic bees, therefore, that the idea, of whose
movements we have given a cursory and incomplete picture, attains
its most perfect form. Are these movements definitely, and for all
time, arrested in each one of these species, and does the
connecting-line exist in our imagination alone? Let us not be too
eager to establish a system in this ill-explored region. Let our
conclusions be only provisional, and preferentially such as convey
the utmost hope, for, were a choice forced upon us, occasional
gleams would appear to declare that the inferences we are most
desirous to draw will prove to be truest. Besides, let us not forget
that our ignorance still is profound. We are only learning to open
our eyes. A thousand experiments that could be made have as yet not
even been tried. If the Prosopes, for instance, were imprisoned, and
forced to cohabit with their kind, would they, in course of time,
overstep the iron barrier of total solitude, and be satisfied to
live the common life of the Dasypodae, or to put forth the fraternal
effort of the Panurgi? And if we imposed abnormal conditions upon
the Panurgi, would these, in their turn, progress from a general
corridor to general cells? If the mothers of the humble-bees were
compelled to hibernate together, would they arrive at a mutual
understanding, a mutual division of labour? Have combs of
foundation-wax been offered to the Meliponitae? Would they accept
them, would they make use of them, would they conform their habits
to this unwonted architecture? Questions, these, that we put to Very
tiny creatures; and yet they contain the great word of our greatest
secrets. We cannot answer them, for our experience dates but from
yesterday. Starting with Reaumur, about a hundred and fifty years
have elapsed since the habits of wild bees first received attention.
Reaumur was acquainted with only a few of them; we have since then
observed a few more; but hundreds, thousands perhaps, have hitherto
been noticed only by hasty and ignorant travellers. The habits of
those that are known to us have undergone no change since the author
of the "Memoirs "published his valuable work; and the humble-bees,
all powdered with gold, and vibrant as the sun's delectable murmur,
that in the year 1730 gorged themselves with honey in the gardens of
Charenton, were absolutely identical with those that to-morrow, when
April returns, will be humming in the woods of Vincennes, but a few
yards away. From Reaumur's day to our own, however, is but as the
twinkling of an eye; and many lives of men, placed end to end, form
but a second in the history of Nature's thought.


Although the idea that our eyes have followed attains its supreme
expression in our domestic bees, it must not be inferred therefrom
that the hive reveals no faults. There is one masterpiece, the
hexagonal cell, that touches absolute perfection,--a perfection that
all the geniuses in the world, were they to meet in conclave, could
in no way enhance. No living creature, not even man, has achieved,
in the centre of his sphere, what the bee has achieved in her own;
and were some one from another world to descend and ask of the earth
the most perfect creation of the logic of life, we should needs have
to offer the humble comb of honey.

But the level of this perfection is not maintained throughout. We
have already dealt with a few faults and shortcomings, evident
sometimes and sometimes mysterious, such as the ruinous
superabundance and idleness of the males, parthenogenesis, the
perils of the nuptial flight, excessive swarming, the absence of
pity, and the almost monstrous sacrifice of the individual to
society. To these must be added a strange inclination to store
enormous masses of pollen, far in excess of their needs; for the
pollen, soon turning rancid, and hardening, encumbers the surface of
the comb; and further, the long sterile interregnum between the date
of the first swarm and the impregnation of the second queen, etc.,

Of these faults the gravest, the only one which in our climates is
invariably fatal, is the repeated swarming. But here we must bear in
mind that the natural selection of the domestic bee has for
thousands of years been thwarted by man. From the Egyptian of the
time of Pharaoh to the peasant of our own day, the bee-keeper has
always acted in opposition to the desires and advantages of the
race. The most prosperous hives are those which throw only one swarm
after the beginning of summer. They have fulfilled their maternal
duties, assured the maintenance of the stock and the necessary
renewal of queens; they have guaranteed the future of the swarm,
which, being precocious and ample in numbers, has time to erect
solid and well-stored dwellings before the arrival of autumn. If
left to themselves, it is clear that these hives and their offshoots
would have been the only ones to survive the rigours of winter,
which would almost invariably have destroyed colonies animated by
different instincts; and the law of restricted swarming would
therefore by slow degrees have established itself in our northern
races. But it is precisely these prudent, opulent, acclimatised
hives that man has always destroyed in order to possess himself of
their treasure. He has permitted only--he does so to this day in
ordinary practice--the feeblest colonies to survive; degenerate
stock, secondary or tertiary swarms, which have just barely
sufficient food to subsist through the winter, or whose miserable
store he will supplement perhaps with a few droppings of honey. The
result is, probably, that the race has grown feebler, that the
tendency to excessive swarming has been hereditarily developed, and
that to-day almost all our bees, particularly the black ones, swarm
too often. For some years now the new methods of "movable"
apiculture have gone some way towards correcting this dangerous
habit; and when we reflect how rapidly artificial selection acts on
most of our domestic animals, such as oxen, dogs, pigeons, sheep and
horses, it is permissible to believe that we shall before long have
a race of bees that will entirely renounce natural swarming and
devote all their activity to the collection of honey and pollen.


But for the other faults: might not an intelligence that possessed a
clearer consciousness of the aim of common life emancipate itself
from them? Much might be said concerning these faults, which emanate
now from what is unknown to us in the hive, now from swarming and
its resultant errors, for which we are partly to blame. But let
every man judge for himself, and, having seen what has gone before,
let him grant or deny intelligence to the bees, as he may think
proper. I am not eager to defend them. It seems to me that in many
circumstances they give proof of understanding, but my curiosity
would not be less were all that they do done blindly. It is
interesting to watch a brain possessed of extraordinary resources
within itself wherewith it may combat cold and hunger, death, time,
space, and solitude, all the enemies of matter that is springing to
life; but should a creature succeed in maintaining its little
profound and complicated existence without overstepping the
boundaries of instinct, without doing anything but what is ordinary,
that would be very interesting too, and very extraordinary. Restore
the ordinary and the marvellous to their veritable place in the
bosom of nature, and their values shift; one equals the other. We
find that their names are usurped; and that it is not they, but the
things we cannot understand or explain that should arrest our
attention, refresh our activity, and give a new and juster form to
our thoughts and feelings and words. There is wisdom in attaching
oneself to nought beside.


And further, our intellect is not the proper tribunal before which
to summon the bees, and pass their faults in review. Do we not find,
among ourselves, that consciousness and intellect long will dwell in
the midst of errors and faults without perceiving them, longer still
without effecting a remedy? If a being exist whom his destiny calls
upon most specially, almost organically, to live and to organise
common life in accordance with pure reason, that being is man. And
yet see what he makes of it, compare the mistakes of the hive with
those of our own society. How should we marvel, for instance, were
we bees observing men, as we noted the unjust, illogical
distribution of work among a race of creatures that in other
directions appear to manifest eminent reason! We should find the
earth's surface, unique source of all common life, insufficiently,
painfully cultivated by two or three tenths of the whole population;
we should find another tenth absolutely idle, usurping the larger
share of the products of this first labour; and the remaining
seven-tenths condemned to a life of perpetual half-hunger,
ceaselessly exhausting themselves in strange and sterile efforts
whereby they never shall profit, but only shall render more complex
and more inexplicable still the life of the idle. We should conclude
that the reason and moral sense of these beings must belong to a
world entirely different from our own, and that they must obey
principles hopelessly beyond our comprehension. But let us carry
this review of our faults no further. They are always present in our
thoughts, though their presence achieves but little. From century to
century only will one of them for a moment shake off its slumber,
and send forth a bewildered cry; stretch the aching arm that
supported its head, shift its position, and then lie down and fall
asleep once more, until a new pain, born of the dreary fatigue of
repose, awaken it afresh.


The evolution of the Apiens, or at least of the Apitae, being
admitted, or regarded as more probable than that they should have
remained stationary, let us now consider the general, constant
direction that this evolution takes. It seems to follow the same
roads as with ourselves. It tends palpably to lessen the struggle,
insecurity, and wretchedness of the race, to augment authority and
comfort, and stimulate favourable chances. To this end it will
unhesitatingly sacrifice the individual, bestowing general strength
and happiness in exchange for the illusory and mournful independence
of solitude. It is as though Nature were of the opinion with which
Thucydides credits Pericles: viz., that individuals are happier in
the bosom of a prosperous city, even though they suffer themselves,
than when individually prospering in the midst of a languishing
state. It protects the hardworking slave in the powerful city, while
those who have no duties, whose association is only precarious, are
abandoned to the nameless, formless enemies who dwell in the minutes
of time, in the movements of the universe, and in the recesses of
space. This is not the moment to discuss the scheme of nature, or to
ask ourselves whether it would be well for man to follow it; but it
is certain that wherever the infinite mass allows us to seize the
appearance of an idea, the appearance takes this road whereof we
know not the end. Let it be enough that we note the persistent care
with which nature preserves, and fixes in the evolving race, all
that has been won from the hostile inertia of matter. She records
each happy effort, and contrives we know not what special and
benevolent laws to counteract the inevitable recoil. This progress,
whose existence among the most intelligent species can scarcely be
denied, has perhaps no aim beyond its initial impetus, and knows not
whither it goes. But at least, in a world where nothing save a few
facts of this kind indicates a precise will, it is significant
enough that we should see certain creatures rising thus, slowly and
continuously; and should the bees have revealed to us only this
mysterious spiral of light in the overpowering darkness, that were
enough to induce us not to regret the time we have given to their
little gestures and humble habits, which seem so far away and are
yet so nearly akin to our grand passions and arrogant destinies.


It may be that these things are all vain; and that our own spiral of
light, no less than that of the bees, has been kindled for no other
purpose save that of amusing the darkness. So, too, is it possible
that some stupendous incident may suddenly surge from without, from
another world, from a new phenomenon, and either inform this effort
with definitive meaning, or definitively destroy it. But we must
proceed on our way as though nothing abnormal could ever befall us.
Did we know that to-morrow some revelation, a message, for instance,
from a more ancient, more luminous planet than ours, were to root up
our nature, to suppress the laws, the passions, and radical truths
of our being, our wisest plan still would be to devote the whole of
to-day to the study of these passions, these laws, and these truths,
which must blend and accord in our mind; and to remain faithful to
the destiny imposed on us, which is to subdue, and to some extent
raise within and around us the obscure forces of life.

None of these, perhaps, will survive the new revelation; but the
soul of those who shall up to the end have fulfilled the mission
that is pre-eminently the mission of man, must inevitably be in the
front rank of all to welcome this revelation; and should they learn
therefrom that indifference, or resignation to the unknown, is the
veritable duty, they will be better equipped than the others for the
comprehension of this final resignation and indifference, better
able to turn these to account.


But such speculations may well be avoided. Let not the possibility
of general annihilation blur our perception of the task before us;
above all, let us not count on the miraculous aid of chance.
Hitherto, the promises of our imagination notwithstanding, we have
always been left to ourselves, to our own resources. It is to our
humblest efforts that every useful, enduring achievement of this
earth is due. It is open to us, if we choose, to await the better or
worse that may follow some alien accident, but on condition that
such expectation shall not hinder our human task. Here again do the
bees, as Nature always, provide a most excellent lesson. In the hive
there has truly been prodigious intervention. The bees are in the
hands of a power capable of annihilating or modifying their race, of
transforming their destinies; the bees' thraldom is far more
definite than our own. Therefore none the less do they perform their
profound and primitive duty. And, among them, it is precisely those
whose obedience to duty is most complete who are able most fully to
profit by the supernatural intervention that to-day has raised the
destiny of their species. And indeed, to discover the unconquerable
duty of a being is less difficult than one imagines. It is ever to
be read in the distinguishing organs, whereto the others are all
subordinate. And just as it is written in the tongue, the stomach,
and mouth of the bee that it must make honey, so is it written in
our eyes, our ears, our nerves, our marrow, in every lobe of our
head, that we must make cerebral substance; nor is there need that
we should divine the purpose this substance shall serve. The bees
know not whether they will eat the honey they harvest, as we know
not who it is shall reap the profit of the cerebral substance we
shall have formed, or of the intelligent fluid that issues therefrom
and spreads over the universe, perishing when our life ceases or
persisting after our death. As they go from flower to flower
collecting more honey than themselves and their offspring can need,
let us go from reality to reality seeking food for the
incomprehensible flame, and thus, certain of having fulfilled our
organic duty, preparing ourselves for whatever befall. Let us
nourish this flame on our feelings and passions, on all that we see
and think, that we hear and touch, on its own essence, which is the
idea it derives from the discoveries, experience and observation
that result from its every movement. A time then will come when all
things will turn so naturally to good in a spirit that has given
itself to the loyal desire of this simple human duty, that the very
suspicion of the possible aimlessness of its exhausting effort will
only render the duty the clearer, will only add more purity, power,
disinterestedness, and freedom to the ardour wherewith it still


TO give a complete bibliography of the bee were outside the scope of
this book; we shall be satisfied, therefore, merely to indicate the
more interesting works:--

1. The Historical Development of Apiarian Science:

(a) The ancient writers: Aristotle, "History of Animals "(Trans.
Bart. St. Hilaire); T. Varro, "De Agricultura," L. III. xvi.; Pliny,
"Hist. Nat.," L. xi.; Columella, "De Re Rustica; "Palladius, "De Re
Rustica," L. I. xxxvii., etc.

(b) The moderns: Swammerdam, "Biblia Naturae," 1737; Maraldi,
"Observations sur les Abeilles," 1712; Reaumur, "Memoires pour
servir a l'Histoire des Insectes," 1740; Ch. Bonnet, "OEuvres
d'Histoire Naturelle," 1779-1783; A. G. Schirach, "Physikalische
Untersuchung der bisher unbekannten aber nachher entdeckten
Erzeugung der Bienen-mutter," 1767; J. Hunter, "On Bees"
(Philosophical Transactions, 1732); J. A. Janscha, "Hinterlassene
Vollstandige Lehre von der Bienenzucht," 1773; Francois Huber,
"Nouvelles Observations sur les Abeilles," 1794, etc.

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