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THE PROGRESS OF THE RACE




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
evolution.

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
"Mellifica."

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
hives.*

*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.



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
parasite.

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.



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.,
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
seeks.






Previous: THE MASSACRE OF THE MALES



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