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“ Sweet is the hum of bees," says Lord Byron; and those who have listened to this music in its full luxury, stretched upon some sunny bed of heather, where the perfume of the crushed thyme struggled with the faint smell of the bracken, can scarcely have failed to watch the little busy musician,
“ with honey'd thigh,
That at her flowery work doth sing," too well to require a lengthened description of her; how she flits from flower to flower with capricious fancy, not exhausting the sweets of any one spot, but, on the principle of " live and let live," taking something for herself, and yet leaving as much or more for the next comer, passing by the just-opening and the faded flowers, and deigning to notice not even one out of five that are full-blown, combining the philosophy of the Epicurean and the Eclectic;or still more like some fastidious noble, on the grand tour, with all the world before him, hurrying on in restless haste from place to place, skimming over the surface or tasting the sweets of society, carrying off some memento from every spot he has lit upon,
and yet leaving plenty to be gleaned by the next traveller, dawdling in one place he knows not why, whisking by another which would have amply repaid his stay, and still pressing onwards as if in search of something, he knows not what—though he too often fails to carry home the same proportion of happiness as his compeer does of honey.
“ A bee among the flowers in spring,” says Paley, “is one of the cheerfulest objects that can be looked
upon. Its life appears to be all enjoyment: 80 busy and so pleased.”
The Drone may be known by the noise he makes. Hence his name. He has been the butt of all who have ever written about bees, and is indeed a byeword all the world over. No one can fail to hit off his character. He is the “ lazy yawning drone” of Shakspeare. The
“ Immunisque sedens aliena ad pabula fucus"*
of Virgil. “The drone," says Butler, “is a gross, stingless bee, that spendeth his time in gluttony and idleness. For howsoever he brave it with his round velvet cap, his side gown, his full paunch, and his
, loud voice, yet is he but an idle companion, living by the sweat of others' brows. He worketh not at all either at home or abroad, and yet spendeth as much as two labourers : you shall never find his maw without a good drop of the purest nectar. In the heat of the day he flieth abroad, aloft, and about, and that with no small noise, as though he would do some great act; but it is only for his pleasure, and to get him a stomach, and then returns he presently to his cheer.” This is no bad portrait of the burly husband of the hive. He is a proper Sir John Falstaff, a gross fat animal, cowardly, and given to deep potations. He cannot fail to be recognised by his broad
* Virgil, who has confounded their battles with their swarming, seems also to have made a Drone-king. What else can this mean
"Ille horridus alter
body and blunt tail and head, and the “ bagpipe i’ the nose.' He is never seen settling on flowers, except at the beginning of August, when he may sometimes be met upon a late-blown rose, or some double flower that the workers rarely frequent, in a melancholy, musing state, as if prescient of the miserable fate that so soon awaits him. The occasion for so large a proportion of
“ These lazy fathers of the industrious hive” is yet an unsolved riddle. One author fancied them the water-carriers of the commonwealth. Some have supposed that the drones sit, like hens, upon the eggs;* in which case the hair on their tails would seem to serve the same purpose as the feather-breeches which Catherine of Russia had made for her ministers when she caused them as a punishment to hatch eggs in a large nest in the antechamber. But this sitting is mere fancy, the earwig being the only insect, according to Kirby and Spence, that broods over its eggs.
Dr. Bevan denies that they are useful, or at least necessary, in keeping up the heat of the hive in breeding-time, which is the commonly received reason for their great numbers. Huber thought so large a quantity were required, that when the queen takes her hymeneal flight she may be sure to meet with some in the upper regions of the air. Her embrace is said to be fatal.
* “ By this time your bees sit.”—Evelyn's Calendar for March. “ When it has deposited the eggs, it sits upon them, and cherishes them in the same manner as a bird." - Ara Dictionary quoted by Cotton. “Progeniem nidosque fovent.”—Georg. iv. 56.
Last in our description, but
“ First of the throng, and foremost of the whole,
One stands confest the sovereign and the soul.” This is the Queen-bee. Her power was acknowledged before her sex was known, for Greeks, Latins, and Arabs always style her “ the king;'* and it may be thought an argument in favour of monarchical government, that the “ tyrant-quelling " Athenians, and republican Romans who almost banished the name with the blood of their kings, were forced to admit it to describe “the first magistrate” of this natural commonwealth. “The queen,” says our old author, “is a fair and stately bee, differing from the vulgar both in shape and colour.” And it is amusing that the most sober writers cannot speak of her without assigning her some of those stately attributes which we always connect with human sovereignty. Bevan remarks that “ she is distinguishable from the rest of the society by a more measured movement;" her body is more taper than that of the working-bee; her wings shorter, for she has little occasion for flight; her legs-what would Queen Elizabeth, who would not hear even of royal stockings, think of our profaneness ?- her legs unfurnished with grooves, for she gathers no pollen ; her proboscis short, for the honey comes to her, not she to the honey; her sting short and curved—for sting she has, though she seldom uses it.
In addition to these, Huber and others have
* So also Shakspeare : Act I., s. 2.
“ They have a king,” &c.—Henry V., * Old Tusser, whose saws deserve to be republished in a cheap form by the Royal Agricultural Society, runs thus :
thought that they discerned certain black bees in many hives, but it is now generally allowed that these, if they exist at all, are not a different species, but superannuated workers.
Having " caught our hare,” got our stock of bees, the next question is, where shall we place them? and there is little to be added to Virgil's suggestions on this head.* The bee-house should face the south, with a turn perhaps to the east; be protected from the north and prevailing winds; not too far from the dwelling, lest they become shy of man, nor too near, lest they be interrupted by him. No paths should cross its entrance, no high trees or bushes intercept their homeward flight. Yet, if placed in the centre of a treeless lawn, they would be apt in swarming to fly away altogether, so that Virgil rightly recommends the palm or some evergreen tree to overhang the hive. Another of his injunctions, which no modern writer seems to notice, is to sprinkle some neighbouring branch, where you wish them to hang, with honey and sweet herbs bruised. Those who have been so often troubled by the inconvenient places on which swarms have settled might do well to try the recommendation of the old Mantuan beemaster. A quiet nook in low ground is better than
“ Set hive on a plank not too low on the ground,
Where herb with the flowers may compass it round;
Tusser's Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1560.