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HERE let us close our hive, where we find that life is reassuming

its circular movement, is extending and multiplying, to be again

divided as soon as it shall attain the fulness of its happiness and

strength; and let us for the last time reopen the mother-city, and

see what is happening there after the departure of the swarm.

The tumult having subsided, the hapless city, that two thirds of her

children ha
e abandoned for ever, becomes feeble, empty, moribund;

like a body from which the blood has been drained. Some thousands of

bees have remained, however; and these, though a trifle languid

perhaps, are still immovably faithful to the duty a precise destiny

has laid upon them, still conscious of the part that they have

themselves to play; they resume their labours, therefore, fill as

best they can the place of those who have gone, remove all trace of

the orgy, carefully house the provisions that have escaped pillage,

sally forth to the flowers again, and keep scrupulous guard over the

hostages of the future.

And for all that the moment may appear gloomy, hope abounds wherever

the eye may turn. We might be in one of the castles of German

legend, whose walls are composed of myriad phials containing the

souls of men about to be born. For we are in the abode of life that

goes before life. On all sides, asleep in their closely sealed

cradles, in this infinite superposition of marvellous six-sided

cells, lie thousands of nymphs, whiter than milk, who with folded

arms and head bent forward await the hour of awakening. In their

uniform tombs, that, isolated, become nearly transparent, they seem

almost like hoary gnomes, lost in deep thought, or legions of

virgins whom the folds of the shroud have contorted, who are buried

in hexagonal prisms that some inflexible geometrician has multiplied

to the verge of delirium.

Over the entire area that the vertical walls enclose, and in the

midst of this growing world that so soon shall transform itself,

that shall four or five times in succession assume fresh vestments,

and then spin its own winding-sheet in the shadow, hundreds of

workers are dancing and flapping their wings. They appear thus to

generate the necessary heat, and accomplish some other object

besides that is still more obscure; for this dance of theirs

contains some extraordinary movements, so methodically conceived

that they must infallibly answer some purpose which no observer has

as yet, I believe, been able to divine.

A few days more, and the lids of these myriad urns--whereof a

considerable hive will contain from sixty to eighty thousand--will

break, and two large and earnest black eyes will appear, surmounted

by antennae that already are groping at life, while active jaws are

busily engaged in enlarging the opening from within. The nurses at

once come running; they help the young bee to emerge from her

prison, they clean her and brush her, and at the tip of their tongue

present the first honey of the new life. But the bee, that has come

from another world, is bewildered still, trembling and pale; she

wears the feeble look of a little old man who might have escaped

from his tomb, or perhaps of a traveller strewn with the powdery

dust of the ways that lead unto life. She is perfect, however, from

head to foot; she knows at once all that has to be known; and, like

the children of the people, who learn, as it were, at their birth,

that for them there shall never be time to play or to laugh, she

instantly makes her way to the cells that are closed, and proceeds

to beat her wings and to dance in cadence, so that she in her turn

may quicken her buried sisters; nor does she for one instant pause

to decipher the astounding enigma of her destiny, or her race.

The most arduous labours will, however, at first be spared her. A

week must elapse from the day of her birth before she will quit the

hive; she will then perform her first "cleansing flight," and absorb

the air into her tracheae, which, filling, expand her body, and

proclaim her the bride of space. Thereupon she returns to the hive,

and waits yet one week more; and then, with her sisters born the

same day as herself, she will for the first time set forth to visit

the flowers. A special emotion now will lay hold of her; one that

French apiarists term the "soleil d'artifice," but which might more

rightly perhaps be called the "sun of disquiet." For it is evident

that the bees are afraid, that these daughters of the crowd, of

secluded darkness, shrink from the vault of blue, from the infinite

loneliness of the light; and their joy is halting, and woven of

terror. They cross the threshold and pause; they depart, they

return, twenty times. They hover aloft in the air, their head

persistently turned to the home; they describe great soaring circles

that suddenly sink beneath the weight of regret; and their thirteen

thousand eyes will question, reflect, and retain the trees and the

fountain, the gate and the walls, the neighbouring windows and

houses, till at last the aerial course whereon their return shall

glide have become as indelibly stamped in their memory as though it

were marked in space by two lines of steel.

A new mystery confronts us here, which we shall do well to

challenge; for though it reply not, its silence still will extend

the field of our conscious ignorance, which is the most fertile of

all that our activity knows. How do the bees contrive to find their

way back to the hive that they cannot possibly see, that is hidden,

perhaps, by the trees, that in any event must form an imperceptible

point in space? How is it that if taken in a box to a spot two or

three miles from their home, they will almost invariably succeed in

finding their way back?

Do obstacles offer no barrier to their sight; do they guide

themselves by certain indications and landmarks; or do they possess

that peculiar, imperfectly understood sense that we ascribe to the

swallows and pigeons, for instance, and term the "sense of

direction"? The experiments of J. H. Fabre, of Lubbock, and, above

all, of Romanes (Nature, 29 Oct. 1886) seem to establish that it is

not this strange instinct that guides them. I have, on the other

hand, more than once noticed that they appear to pay no attention to

the colour or form of the hive. They are attracted rather by the

ordinary appearance of the platform on which their home reposes, by

the position of the entrance, and of the alighting-board. But this

even is merely subsidiary; were the front of the hive to be altered

from top to bottom, during the workers' absence, they would still

unhesitatingly direct their course to it from out the far depths of

the horizon; and only when confronted by the unrecognisable

threshold would they seern for one instant to pause. Such

experiments as lie in our power point rather to their guiding

themselves by an extraordinarily minute and precise appreciation of

landmarks. It is not the hive that they seem to remember, but its

position, calculated to the minutest fraction, in its relation to

neighbouring objects. And so marvellous is this appreciation, so

mathematically certain, so profoundly inscribed in their memory,

that if, after five months' hibernation in some obscure cellar, the

hive, when replaced on the platform, should be set a little to right

or to left of its former position, all the workers, on their return

from the earliest flowers, will infallibly steer their direct and

unwavering course to the precise spot that it filled the previous

year; and only after some hesitation and groping will they discover

the door which stands not now where it once had stood. It is as

though space had preciously preserved, the whole winter through, the

indelible track of their flight: as though the print of their tiny,

laborious footsteps, still lay graven in the sky.

If the hive be displaced, therefore, many bees will lose their way;

except in the case of their having been carried far from their

former home, and finding the country completely transformed that

they had grown to know perfectly within a radius of two or three

miles; for then, if care be taken to warn them, by means of a little

gangway connecting with the alighting-board, at the entrance to the

hive, that some change has occurred, they will at once proceed to

seek new bearings and create fresh landmarks.

And now let us return to the city that is being repeopled, where

myriad cradles are incessantly opening, and the solid walls even

appear to be moving. But this city still lacks a queen. Seven or

eight curious structures arise from the centre of one of the combs,

and remind us, scattered as they are over the surface of the

ordinary cells, of the circles and protuberances that appear so

strange on the photographs of the moon. They are a species of

capsule, contrived of wrinkled wax or of inclined glands,

hermetically sealed, which fills the place of three or four workers'

cells. As a rule, they are grouped around the same point; and a

numerous guard keep watch, with singular vigilance and restlessness,

over this region that seems instinct with an indescribable prestige.

It is here that the mothers are formed. In each one of these

capsules, before the swarm departs, an egg will be placed by the

mother, or more probably--though as to this we have no certain

knowledge--by one of the workers; an egg that she will have taken

from some neighbouring cell, and that is absolutely identical with

those from which workers are hatched.

From this egg, after three days, a small larva will issue, and

receive a special and very abundant nourishment; and henceforth we

are able to follow, step by step, the movements of one of those

magnificently vulgar methods of nature on which, were we dealing

with men, we should bestow the august name of fatality. The little

larva, thanks to. this regimen, assumes an exceptional development;

and in its ideas, no less than in its body, there ensues so

considerable a change that the bee to which it will give birth might

almost belong to an entirely different race of insects.

Four or five years will be the period of her life, instead of the

six or seven weeks of the ordinary worker. Her abdomen will be twice

as long, her colour more golden, and clearer; her sting will be

curved, and her eyes have seven or eight thousand facets instead of

twelve or thirteen thousand. Her brain will be smaller, but she will

possess enormous ovaries, and a special organ besides, the

spermatheca, that will render her almost an hermaphrodite. None of

the instincts will be hers that belong to a life of toil; she will

have no brushes, no pockets wherein to secrete the wax, no baskets

to gather the pollen. The habits, the passions, that we regard as

inherent in the bee, will all be lacking in her. She will not crave

for air, or the light of the sun; she will die without even once

having tasted a flower. Her existence will pass in the shadow, in

the midst of a restless throng; her sole occupation the

indefatigable search for cradles that she must fill. On the other

hand she alone will know the disquiet of love. Not even twice, it

may be, in her life shall she look on the light--for the departure

of the swarm is by no means inevitable; on one occasion only,

perhaps, will she make use of her wings, but then it will be to fly

to her lover. It is strange to see so many things--organs, ideas,

desires, habits, an entire destiny--depending, not on a germ, which

were the ordinary miracle of the plant, the animal, and man, but on

a curious inert substance: a drop of honey.*

*It is generally admitted to-day that workers and queens, after the

hatching of the egg, receive the same nourishment,--a kind of milk,

very rich in nitrogen, that a special gland in the nurses' head

secretes. But after a few days the worker larvae are weaned, and put

on a coarser diet of honey and pollen; whereas the future queen,

until she be fully developed, is copiously fed on the precious milk

known as "royal jelly."

About a week has passed since the departure of the old queen. The

royal nymphs asleep in the capsules are not all of the same age, for

it is to the interest of the bees that the births should be nicely

gradationed, and take place at regular intervals, in accordance with

their possible desire for a second swarm, a third, or even a fourth.

The workers have for some hours now been actively thinning the walls

of the ripest cell, while the young queen, from within, has been

simultaneously gnawing the rounded lid of her prison. And at last

her head appears; she thrusts herself forward; and, with the help of

the guardians who hasten eagerly to her, who brush her, caress her,

and clean her, she extricates herself altogether and takes her first

steps on the comb. At the moment of birth she too, like the workers,

is trembling and pale, but after ten minutes or so her legs become

stronger, and a strange restlessness seizes her; she feels that she

is not alone, that her kingdom has yet to be conquered, that close

by pretenders are hiding; and she eagerly paces the waxen walls in

search of her rivals. But there intervene here the mysterious

decisions and wisdom of instinct, of the spirit of the hive, or of

the assembly of workers. The most surprising feature of all, as we

watch these things happening before us in a hive of glass, is the

entire absence of hesitation, of the slightest division of opinion.

There is not a trace of discussion or discord. The atmosphere of the

city is one of absolute unanimity, preordained, which reigns over

all; and every one of the bees would appear to know in advance the

thought of her sisters. And yet this moment is the gravest, the most

vital, in their entire history. They have to choose between three or

four courses whose results, in the distant future, will be totally

different; which, too, the slightest accident may render disastrous.

They have to reconcile the multiplication of species--which is their

passion, or innate duty--with the preservation of the hive and its

people. They will err at times; they will successively send forth

three or four swarms, thereby completely denuding the mother-city;

and these swarms, too feeble to organise, will succumb, it may be,

at the approach of winter, caught unawares by this climate of ours,

which is different far from their original climate, thatthe bees,

notwithstanding all, have never forgotten. In such cases they suffer

from what is known as "swarming fever;" a condition wherein life, as

in ordinary fever, reacting too ardently on itself, passes its aim,

completes the circle, and discovers only death.

Of all the decisions before them there is none that would seem

imperative; nor can man, if content to play the part of spectator

only, foretell in the slightest degree which one the bees will

adopt. But that the most careful deliberation governs their choice

is proved by the fact that we are able to influence, or even

determine it, by for instance reducing or enlarging the space we

accord them; or by removing combs full of honey, and setting up, in

their stead, empty combs which are well supplied with workers'


The question they have to consider is not whether a second or third

swarm shall be immediately launched,--for in arriving at such a

decision they would merely be blindly and thoughtlessly yielding to

the caprice or temptation of a favourable moment,--but the

instantaneous, unanimous adoption of measures that shall enable them

to issue a second swarm or "cast" three or four days after the birth

of the first queen, and a third swarm three days after the departure

of the second, with this first queen at their head. It must be

admitted, therefore, that we discover here a perfectly reasoned

system, and a mature combination of plans extending over a period

considerable indeed when compared with the brevity of the bee's


These measures concern the care of the youthful queens who still lie

immured in their waxen prisons. Let us assume that the "spirit of

the hive "has pronounced against the despatch of a second swarm. Two

courses still remain open. The bees may permit the first-born of the

royal virgins, the one whose birth we have witnessed, to destroy her

sister-enemies; or they may elect to wait till she have performed

the perilous ceremony known as the "nuptial flight," whereon the

nation's future depends. The immediate massacre will be authorised

often, and often denied; but in the latter case it is of course not

easy for us to pronounce whether the bees' decision be due to a

desire for a second swarm, or to their recognition of the dangers

attending the nuptial flight; for it will happen at times that, on

account of the weather unexpectedly becoming less favourable, or for

some other reason we cannot divine, they will suddenly change their

mind, renounce the cast that they had decreed, and destroy the royal

progeny they had so carefully preserved. But at present we will

suppose that they have determined to dispense with a second swarm,

and that they accept the risks of the nuptial flight. Our young

queen hastens towards the large cradles, urged on by her great

desire, and the guard make way before her. Listening only to her

furious jealousy, she will fling herself on to the first cell she

comes across, madly strip off the wax with her teeth and claws, tear

away the cocoon that carpets the cell, and divest the sleeping

princess of every covering. If her rival should be already

recognisable, the queen will turn so that her sting may enter the

capsule, and will frantically stab it with her venomous weapon until

the victim perish. She then becomes calmer, appeased by the death

that puts a term to the hatred of every creature; she withdraws her

sting, hurries to the adjoining cell, attacks it and opens it,

passing it by should she find in it only an imperfect larva or

nymph; nor does she pause till, at last, exhausted and breathless,

her claws and teeth glide harmless over the waxen walls.

The bees that surround her have calmly watched her fury, have stood

by, inactive, moving only to leave her path clear; but no sooner has

a cell been pierced and laid waste than they eagerly flock to it,

drag out the corpse of the ravished nymph, or the still living

larva, and thrust it forth from the hive, thereupon gorging

themselves with the precious royal jelly that adheres to the sides

of the cell. And finally, when the queen has become too weak to

persist in her passion, they will themselves complete the massacre

of the innocents; and the sovereign race, and their dwellings, will

all disappear.

This is the terrible hour of the hive; the only occasion, with that

of the more justifiable execution of the drones, when the workers

suffer discord and death to be busy amongst them; and here, as often

in nature, it is the favoured of love who attract to themselves the

most extraordinary shafts of violent death.

It will happen at times that two queens will be hatched

simultaneously, the occurrence being rare, however, for the bees

take special care to prevent it. But whenever this does take place,

the deadly combat will begin the moment they emerge from their

cradles; and of this combat Huber was the first to remark an

extraordinary feature. Each time, it would seem that the queens, in

their passes, present their chitrinous cuirasses to each other in

such a fashion that the drawing of the sting would prove mutually

fatal; one might almost believe that, even as a god or goddess was

wont to interpose in the combats of the Iliad, so a god or a

goddess, the divinity of the race, perhaps, interposes here; and the

two warriors, stricken with simultaneous terror, divide and fly, to

meet shortly after and separate again should the double disaster

once more menace the future of their people; till at last one of

them shall succeed in surprising her clumsier or less wary rival,

and in killing her without risk to herself. For the law of the race

has called for one sacrifice only.

The cradles having thus been destroyed and the rivals all slain, the

young queen is accepted by her people; but she will not truly reign

over them, or be treated as was her mother before her, until the

nuptial flight be accomplished; for until she be impregnated the

bees will hold her but lightly, and render most passing homage. Her

history, however, will rarely be as uneventful as this, for the bees

will not often renounce their desire for a second swarm. In that

case, as before, quick with the same desires, the queen will

approach the royal cells; but instead of meeting with docile

servants who second her efforts, she will find her path blocked by a

numerous and hostile guard. In her fury, and urged on by her fixed

idea, she will endeavour to force her way through, or to outflank

them; but everywhere sentinels are posted to protect the sleeping

princesses. She persists, she returns to the charge, to be repulsed

with ever increasing severity, to be somewhat roughly handled even,

until at last she begins vaguely to understand that these little

inflexible workers stand for a law before which that law must bend

whereby she is inspired.

And at last she goes, and wanders from comb to comb, her unsatisfied

wrath finding vent in a war-song, or angry complaint, that every

bee-keeper knows; resembling somewhat the note of a distant trumpet

of silver; so intense, in its passionate feebleness, as to be

clearly audible, in the evening especially, two or three yards from

the double walls of the most carefully enclosed hive.

Upon the workers this royal cry has a magical effect. It terrifies

them, it induces a kind of respectful stupor; and when the queen

sends it forth, as she halts in front of the cells whose approach is

denied her, the guardians who have but this moment been hustling

her, pushing her back, will at once desist, and wait, with bent

head, till the cry shall have ceased to resound. Indeed, some

believe that it is thanks to the prestige of this cry, which the

Sphinx Atropos imitates, that the latter is able to enter the hive,

and gorge itself with honey, without the least molestation on the

part of the bees.

For two or three days, sometimes even for five, this indignant

lament will be heard, this challenge that the queen addresses to her

well protected rivals. And as these in their turn develop, in their

turn grow anxious to see the light, they too set to work to gnaw the

lids of their cells. A mighty disorder would now appear to threaten

the republic. But the genius of the hive, at the time that it formed

its decision, was able to foretell every consequence that might

ensue; and the guardians have had their instructions: they know

exactly what must be done, hour by hour, to meet the attacks of a

foiled instinct, and conduct two opposite forces to a successful

issue. They are fully aware that if the young queens should escape

who now clamour for birth, they would fall into the hands of their

elder sister, by this time irresistible, who would destroy them one

by one. The workers, therefore, will pile on fresh layers of wax in

proportion as the prisoner reduces, from within, the walls of her

tower; and the impatient princess will ardently persist in her

labour, little suspecting that she has to deal with an enchanted

obstacle, that rises ever afresh from its ruin. She hears the

war-cry of her rival; and already aware of her royal duty and

destiny, although she has not yet looked upon life, nor knows what a

hive may be, she answers the challenge from within the depths of her

prison. But her cry is different; it is stifled and hollow, for it

has to traverse the walls of a tomb; and, when night is falling, and

noises are hushed, and high over all there reigns the silence of the

stars, the apiarist who nears these marvellous cities and stands,

questioning, at their entrance, recognises and understands the

dialogue that is passing between the wandering queen and the virgins

in prison.

To the young princesses, however, this prolonged reclusion is of

material benefit; for when they at last are freed they have grown

mature and vigorous, and are able to fly. But during this period of

waiting the strength of the first queen has also increased, and is

sufficient now to enable her to face the perils of the voyage. The

time has arrived, therefore, for the departure of the second swarm,

or "cast," with the first-born of the queens at its head. No sooner

has she gone than the workers left in the hive will set one of the

prisoners free; and she will evince the same murderous desires, send

forth the same cries of anger, until, at last, after three or four

days, she will leave the hive in her turn, at the head of the

tertiary swarm; and so in succession, in the case of "swarming

fever," till the mother-city shall be completely exhausted.

Swammerdam cites a hive that, through its swarms and the swarms of

its swarms, was able in a single season to found no less than thirty


Such extraordinary multiplication is above all noticeable after

disastrous winters; and one might almost believe that the bees,

forever in touch with the secret desires of nature, are conscious of

the dangers that menace their race. But at ordinary times this fever

will rarely occur in a strong and well-governed hive. There are many

that swarm only once; and some, indeed, not at all.

After the second swarm the bees, as a rule, will renounce further

division, owing either to their having observed the excessive

feebleness of their own stock, or to the prudence urged upon them by

threatening skies. In that case they will allow the third queen to

slaughter the captives; ordinary life will at once be resumed, and

pursued with the more ardour for the reason that the workers are all

very young, that the hive is depopulated and impoverished, and that

there are great voids to fill before the arrival of winter.

The departure of the second and third swarms resembles that of the

first, and the conditions are identical, with the exception that the

bees are fewer in number, less circumspect, and lacking in scouts;

and also that the young and virgin queen, being unencumbered and

ardent, will fly much further, and in the first stage lead the swarm

to a considerable distance from the hive. The conduct of these

second and third migrations will be far more rash, and their future

more problematical. The queen at their head, the representative of

the future, has not yet been impregnated. Their entire destiny

depends on the ensuing nuptial flight. A passing bird, a few drops

of rain, a mistake, a cold wind--any one of these may give rise to

irremediable disaster. Of this the bees are so well aware that when

the young queen sallies forth in quest of her lover, they often will

abandon the labours they have begun, will forsake the home of a day

that already is dear to them, and accompany her in a body, dreading

to let her pass out of their sight, eager, as they form closely

around her, and shelter her beneath their myriad devoted wings, to

lose themselves with her, should love cause her to stray so far from

the hive that the as yet unfamiliar road of return shall grow

blurred and hesitating in every memory.

But so potent is the law of the future that none of these

uncertainties, these perils of death, will cause a single bee to

waver. The enthusiasm displayed by the second and third swarms is

not less than that of the first. No sooner has the mother-city

pronounced its decision than a battalion of workers will flock

around each dangerous young queen, eager to follow her fortunes, to

accompany her on the voyage where there is so much to lose, and so

little to gain beyond the desire of a satisfied instinct. Whence do

they derive the energy we ourselves never possess, whereby they

break with the past as though with an enemy? Who is it selects from

the crowd those who shall go forth, and declares who shall remain?

No special class divides those who stay from those who wander

abroad; it will be the younger here and the elder there; around each

queen who shall never return veteran foragers jostle tiny workers,

who for the first time shall face the dizziness of the blue. Nor is

the proportionate strength of a swarm controlled by chance or

accident, by the momentary dejection or transport of an instinct,

thought, or feeling. I have more than once tried to establish a

relation between the number of bees composing a swarm and the number

of those that remain; and although the difficulties of this

calculation are such as to preclude anything approaching

mathematical precision, I have at least been able to gather that

this relation--if we take into account the brood-cells, or in other

words the forthcoming births--is sufficiently constant to point to

an actual and mysterious reckoning on the part of the genius of the


We will not follow these swarms on their numerous, and often most

complicated, adventures. Two swarms, at times, will join forces; at

others, two or three of the imprisoned queens will profit by the

confusion attending the moment of departure to elude the

watchfulness of their guardians and join the groups that are

forming. Occasionally, too, one of the young queens, finding herself

surrounded by males, will cause herself to be impregnated in the

swarming flight, and will then drag all her people to an

extraordinary height and distance. In the practice of apiculture

these secondary and tertiary swarms are always returned to the

mother-hive. The queens will meet on the comb; the workers will

gather around and watch their combat; and, when the stronger has

overcome the weaker they will then, in their ardour for work and

hatred of disorder, expel the corpses, close the door on the

violence of the future, forget the past, return to their cells, and

resume their peaceful path to the flowers that await them.

We will now, in order to simplify matters, return to the queen whom

the bees have permitted to slaughter her sisters, and resume the

account of her adventures. As I have already stated, this massacre

will be often prevented, and often sanctioned, at times even when

the bees apparently do not intend to issue a second swarm; for we

notice the same diversity of political spirit in the different hives

of an apiary as in the different human nations of a continent. But

it is clear that the bees will act imprudently in giving their

consent; for if the queen should die, or stray in the nuptial

flight, it will be impossible to fill her place, the workers' larvae

having passed the age when they are susceptible of royal

transformation. Let us assume, however, that the imprudence has been

committed; and behold our first-born, therefore, unique sovereign,

and recognised as such in the spirit of her people. But she is still

a virgin. To become as was the mother before her, it is essential

that she should meet the male within the first twenty days of her

life. Should the event for some reason be delayed beyond this

period, her virginity becomes irrevocable. And yet we have seen that

she is not sterile, virgin though she be. There confronts us here

the great mystery--or precaution--of Nature, that is known as

parthenogenesis, and is common to a certain number of insects, such

as the aphides, the lepidoptera of the Psyche genus, the hymenoptera

of the Cynipede family, etc. The virgin queen is able to lay; but

from all the eggs that she will deposit in the cells, be these large

or small, there will issue males alone; and as these never work, as

they live at the expense of the females, as they never go foraging

except on their own account, and are generally incapable of

providing for their subsistence, the result will be, at the end of

some weeks, that the last exhausted worker will perish, and the

colony be ruined and totally annihilated. The queen, we have said,

will produce thousands of drones; and each of these will possess

millions of the spermatozoa whereof it is impossible that a single

one can have penetrated into the organism of the mother. That may

not be more astounding, perhaps, than a thousand other and analogous

phenomena; and, indeed, when we consider these problems, and more

especially those of generation, the marvellous and the unexpected

confront us so constantly--occurring far more frequently, and above

all in far less human fashion, than in the most miraculous fairy

stories--that after a time astonishment becomes so habitual with us

that we almost cease to wonder. The fact, however, is sufficiently

curious to be worthy of notice. But, on the other hand, how shall we

explain to ourselves the aim that nature can have in thus favouring

the valueless drones at the cost of the workers who are so

essential? Is she afraid lest the females might perhaps be induced

by their intellect unduly to limit the number of their parasites,

which, destructive though they be, are still necessary for the

preservation of the race? Or is it merely an exaggerated reaction

against the misfortune of the unfruitful queen? Can we have here one

of those blind and extreme precautions which, ignoring the cause of

the evil, overstep the remedy; and, in the endeavour to prevent an

unfortunate accident, bring about a catastrophe? In reality--though

we must not forget that the natural, primitive reality is different:

from that of the present, for in the original forest the colonies

might well be far more scattered than they are to-day--in reality

the queen's unfruitfulness will rarely be due to the want of males,

for these are very numerous always, and will flock from afar; but

rather to the rain, or the cold, that will have kept her too long in

the hive, and more frequently still to the imperfect state of her

wings, whereby she will be prevented from describing the high flight

in the air that the organ of the male demands. Nature, however,

heedless of these more intrinsic causes, is so deeply concerned with

the multiplication of males, that we sometimes find, in motherless

hives, two or three workers possessed of so great a desire to

preserve the race that, their atrophied ovaries notwithstanding,

they will still endeavour to lay; and, their organs expanding

somewhat beneath the empire of this exasperated sentiment, they will

succeed in depositing a few eggs in the cells; but from these eggs,

as from those of the virgin mother, there will, issue only males.

Here we behold the active intervention of a superior though perhaps

imprudent will, which offers irresistible obstruction to the

intelligent will of a life. In the insect world such interventions

are comparatively frequent, and much can be gained from their study;

for this world being more densely peopled and more complex than

others, certain special desires of nature are often more palpably

revealed to us there; and she may even at times be detected in the

midst of experiments we might almost be warranted in regarding as

incomplete. She has one great and general desire, for instance, that

she displays on all sides; the amelioration of each species through

the triumph of the stronger. This struggle, as a rule, is most

carefully organised. The hecatomb of the weak is enormous, but that

matters little so long as the victors' reward be effectual and

certain. But there are cases when one might almost imagine that

nature had not had time enough to disentangle her combinations;

cases where reward is impossible, and the fate of the victor no less

disastrous than that of the vanquished. And of such, selecting an

instance that will not take us too far from our bees, I know of no

instance more striking than that of the triongulins of the _Sitaris

colletes._ And it will be seen that, in many details, this story is

less foreign to the history of man than might perhaps be imagined.

These triongulins are the primary larvae of a parasite proper to a

wild, obtuse-tongued, solitary bee, the Colletes, which builds its

nest in subterranean galleries. It is their habit to lie in wait for

the bee at the approach to these galleries; and then, to the number

of three, four, five, or often of more, they will leap on her back,

and bury themselves in her hair. Were the struggle of the weak

against the strong to take place at this moment there would be no

more to be said, and all would pass in accordance with universal

law. But, for a reason we know not, their instinct requires, and

nature has consequently ordained, that they should hold themselves

tranquil so long as they remain on the back of the bee. They

patiently bide their time while she visits the flowers, and

constructs and provisions her cells. But no sooner has an egg been

laid than they all spring upon it; and the innocent colletes

carefully seals down her cell, which she has duly supplied with

food, never suspecting that she has at the same time ensured the

death of her offspring.

The cell has scarcely been closed when the triongulins grouped round

the egg engage in the inevitable and salutary combat of natural

selection. The stronger, more agile, will seize its adversary

beneath the cuirass, and, raising it aloft, will maintain it for

hours in its mandibles until the victim expire. But, while this

fight is in progress, another of the triongulins, that had either no

rival to meet, or already has conquered, takes possession of the egg

and bursts it open. The ultimate victor has therefore this fresh

enemy to subdue; but the conquest is easy, for the triongulin, deep

in the satisfaction of its pre-natal hunger, clings obstinately to

the egg, and does not even attempt to defend itself. It is quickly

despatched; and the other is at last alone, and possessor of the

precious egg it has won so well. It eagerly plunges its head into

the opening its predecessor had made; and begins the lengthy repast

that shall transform it into a perfect insect. But nature, that has

decreed this ordeal of battle, has, on the other hand, established

the prize of victory with such miserly precision that nothing short

of an entire egg will suffice for the nourishment of a single

triongulin. So that, as we are informed by M. Mayet, to whom we owe

the account of these disconcerting adventures, there is lacking to

our conqueror the food its last victim consumed before death; and

incapable therefore of achieving the first stage of its

transformation, it dies in its turn, adhering to the skin of the

egg, or adding itself, in the sugary liquid, to the number of the


This case, though rarely to be followed so closely, is not unique in

natural history. We have here, laid bare before us, the struggle

between the conscious will of the triongulin, that seeks to live,

and the obscure and general will of nature, that not only desires

that the triongulin should live, but is anxious even that its life

should be improved, and fortified, to a degree beyond that to which

its own will impels it. But, through some strange inadvertence, the

amelioration nature imposes suppresses the life of even the fittest,

and the Sitaris Colletes would have long since disappeared had not

chance, acting in opposition to the desires of nature, permitted

isolated individuals to escape from the excellent and far-seeing law

that ordains on all sides the triumph of the stronger.

Can this mighty power err, then, that seems unconscious to us, but

necessarily wise, seeing that the life she organises and maintains

is forever proving her to be right? Can feebleness at times overcome

that supreme reason, which we are apt to invoke when we have

attained the limits of our own? And if that be so, by whom shall

this feebleness be set right?

But let us return to that special form of her resistless

intervention that we find in parthenogenesis. And we shall do well

to remember that, remote as the world may seem in which these

problems confront us, they do indeed yet concern ourselves very

nearly. Who would dare to affirm that no interventions take place in

the sphere of man--interventions that may be more hidden, but not

the less fraught with danger? And in the case before us, which is

right, in the end,--the insect, or nature? What would happen if the

bees, more docile perhaps, or endowed with a higher intelligence,

were too clearly to understand the desires of nature, and to follow

them to the extreme; to multiply males to infinity, seeing that

nature is imperiously calling for males? Would they not risk the

destruction of their species? Are we to believe that there are

intentions in nature that it is dangerous to understand too clearly,

fatal to follow with too much ardour; and that it is one of her

desires that we should not divine, and follow, all her desires? Is

it not possible that herein there may lie one of the perils of the

human race? We too are aware of unconscious forces within us, that

would appear to demand the reverse of what our intellect urges. And

this intellect of ours, that, as a rule, its own boundary reached,

knows not whither to go--can it be well that it should join itself

to these forces, and add to them its unexpected weight?

Have we the right to conclude, from the dangers of parthenogenesis,

that nature is not always able to proportion the means to the end;

and that what she intends to preserve is preserved at times by means

of precautions she has to contrive against her own precautions, and

often through foreign circumstances she has not herself foreseen?

But is there anything she does foresee, anything she does intend to

preserve? Nature, some may say, is a word wherewith we clothe the

unknowable; and few things authorise our crediting it with

intelligence, or with aim. That is true. We touch here the

hermetically sealed vases that furnish our conception of the

universe. Reluctant, over and over again, to label these with the

inscription "UNKNOWN," that disheartens us and compels us to

silence, we engrave upon them, in the degree of their size and

grandeur, the words "Nature, life, death, infinite, selection,

spirit of the race," and many others, even as those who went before

us affixed the words "God, Providence, destiny, reward," etc. Let it

be so, if one will, and no more. But, though the contents of the

vases remain obscure, there is gain at least in the fact that the

inscriptions to-day convey less menace to us, that we are able

therefore to approach them and touch them, and lay our ears close to

them and listen, with wholesome curiosity.

But whatever the name we attach to these vases, it is certain that

one of them, at least, and the greatest--that which bears on its

flank the name "Nature"--encloses a very real force, the most real

of all, and one that is able to preserve an enormous and marvellous

quantity and quality of life on our globe, by means so skilful that

they surpass all that the genius of man could contrive. Could this

quantity and quality be maintained by other means? Is it we who

deceive ourselves when we imagine that we see precautions where

perhaps there is truly no more than a fortunate chance, that has

survived a million unfortunate chances?

That may be; but these fortunate chances teach us a lesson in

admiration as valuable as those we might learn in regions superior

to chance. If we let our gaze travel beyond the creatures that are

possessed of a glimmer of intellect and consciousness, beyond the

protozoa even, which are the first nebulous representatives of the

dawning animal kingdom, we find, as has been abundantly proved by

the experiments of Mr. H. J. Carter, the celebrated microscopist,

that the very lowest embryos, such as the myxomycetes, manifest a

will and desires and preferences; and that infusoria, which

apparently have no organism whatever, give evidence of a certain

cunning. The Amoebae, for instance, will patiently lie in wait for

the new-born Acinetes, as they leave the maternal ovary; being aware

that these must as yet be lacking their poisonous tentacles. Now,

the Amoebae have neither a nervous system nor distinguishable organs

of any kind. Or if we turn to the plants, which, being motionless,

would seem exposed to every fatality,--without pausing to consider

carnivorous species like the Drusera, which really act as

animals,--we are struck by the genius that some of our humblest

flowers display in contriving that the visit of the bee shall

infallibly procure them the crossed fertilisation they need. See the

marvellous fashion in which the Orchis Moris, our humble country

orchid, combines the play of its rostellum and retinacula; observe

the mathematical and automatic inclination and adhesion of its

pollinia; as also the unerring double seesaw of the anthers of the

wild sage, which touch the body of the visiting insect at a

particular spot in order that the insect may, in its turn, touch the

stigma of the neighbouring flower at another particular spot; watch,

too, in the case of the Pedicularis Sylvatica, the successive,

calculated movements of its stigma; and indeed the entrance of the

bee into any one of these three flowers sets every organ vibrating,

just as the skilful marksman who hits the black spot on the target

will cause all the figures to move in the elaborate mechanisms we

see in our village fairs.

We might go lower still, and show, as Ruskin has shown in his

"Ethics of the Dust," the character, habits, and artifices of

crystals; their quarrels, and mode of procedure, when a foreign body

attempts to oppose their plans, which are more ancient by far than

our imagination can conceive; the manner in which they admit or

repel an enemy, the possible victory of the weaker over the

stronger, as, for instance, when the all-powerful quartz submits to

the humble and wily epidote, and allows this last to conquer it; the

struggle, terrible sometimes and sometimes magnificent, between the

rock-crystal and iron; the regular, immaculate expansion and

uncompromising purity of one hyaline block, which rejects whatever

is foul, and the sickly growth, the evident immorality, of its

brother, which admits corruption, and writhes miserably in the void;

as we might quote also the strange phenomena of crystalline

cicatrisation and reintegration mentioned by Claude Bernard, etc.

But the mystery here becomes too foreign to us. Let us keep to our

flowers, which are the last expression of a life that has yet some

kinship with our own. We are not dealing now with animals or

insects, to which we attribute a special, intelligent will, thanks

to which they survive. We believe, rightly or wrongly, that the

flowers possess no such will; at least we cannot discover in them

the slightest trace of the organs wherein will, intellect, and

initiative of action, are usually born and reside. It follows,

therefore, that all that acts in them in so admirable a fashion must

directly proceed from what we elsewhere call nature. We are no

longer concerned with the intellect of the individual; here we find

the un conscious, undivided force in the act of ensnaring other

forms of itself. Shall we on that account refuse to believe that

these snares are pure accidents, occurring in accordance with a

routine that is also incidental? We are not yet entitled to such a

deduction. It might be urged that these flowers, had these

miraculous combinations not been, would not have survived, but would

have had their place filled by others that stood in no need of

crossed fertilisation; and the non-existence of the first would have

been perceived by none, nor would the life that vibrates on the

earth have seemed less incomprehensible to us, less diverse, or less


And yet it would be difficult not to admit that acts which bear all

the appearance of acts of intelligence and prudence produce and

support these fortunate chances. Whence do they issue,--from the

being itself, or from the force whence that being draws life? I will

not say "it matters but little," for, on the contrary, to know the

answer were of supreme importance to us. But, in the meantime, and

till we shall learn whether it be the flower that endeavours to

maintain and perfect the life that nature has placed within it, or

whether it be nature that puts forth an effort to maintain and

improve the degree of existence the flower has assumed, or finally

whether it be chance that ultimately governs chance, a multitude of

semblances invite us to believe that something equal to our loftiest

thoughts issues at times from a common source, that we are compelled

to admire without knowing where it resides.

There are moments when what seems error to us comes forth from this

common source. But, although we know very few things, proofs abound

that the seeming error was in reality an act of prudence that we at

first could not grasp. In the little circle, even, that our eyes

embrace we are constantly shown that what we regarded as nature's

blunder close by was due to her deeming it well to adjust the

presumed inadvertence out yonder. She has placed the three flowers

we mentioned under conditions of such difficulty that they are

unable to fertilise themselves; she considers it beneficial,

therefore, for reasons beyond our powers of perception, that they

should cause themselves to be fertilised by their neighbours; and,

inasmuch as she enhances the intelligence of her victims, she

displays on our right the genius she failed to display on our left.

The byways of this genius of hers remain incomprehensible to us, but

its level is always the same. It will appear to fall into

error--assuming that error be possible--thereupon rising again at

once in the organ charged to repair this error. Turn where we may,

it towers high over our heads. It is the circular ocean, the

tideless water, whereon our boldest and most independent thoughts

will never be more than mere abject bubbles. We call it Nature

to-day; to-morrow, perhaps, we shall give it another name, softer or

more alarming. In the meanwhile it holds simultaneous, impartial

sway over life and death; furnishing the two irreconcilable sisters

with the magnificent and familiar weapons that adorn and distract

its bosom.

Does this force take measures to maintain what may be struggling on

its surface, or must we say, arguing in the strangest of circles,

that what floats on its surface must guard itself against the genius

that has given it life? That question must be left open. We have no

means of ascertaining whether it be notwithstanding the efforts of

the superior will, or independently of these, or lastly because of

these, that a species has been able to survive.

All we can say is that such a species exists, and that, on this

point, therefore, nature would seem to be right. But who shall tell

us how many others that we have not known have fallen victim to her

restless and forgetful intellect? Beyond this, we can recognise only

the surprising and occasionally hostile forms that the extraordinary

fluid we call life assumes, in utter unconsciousness sometimes, at

others with a kind of consciousness: the fluid which animates us

equally with all the rest, which produces the very thoughts that

judge it, and the feeble voice that attempts to tell its story.