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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 va
ied. 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.

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.

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