Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

store is but a short-lived possession. The plagiarist Man revenges himself on them for the white lilies they have dusted and disturbed, and makes all their choicely-culled sweets his own. But though he never tasted a drop of their honey, the bees would still accomplish the work that Providence has allotted them in fructifying our flowers and fruit-blossoms, which man can at the best but clumsily imitate, and in originating new varieties which probably far surpass in number and beauty all that has been done by the gardening experimentalist. Florists are apt to complain of the mischief the bee does in disturbing their experiments and crossing species which they wish to keep separate; but they forget how many of their choicest kinds, which are commonly spoken of as the work of chance, have in reality been beemade, and that, where man fructifies one blossom, the bee has worked upon ten thousand.

It is certain, however, that the great interest taken in bees from the earliest times, and which, judging from the number of books lately published, is reviving among us with no common force, has arisen chiefly from the marked resemblance which their modes of life seem to bear to those of man. Remove every fanciful theory and enthusiastic reverie, and there still remains an analogy far too curious to be satisfied with a passing glance. On the principle of “nihil humani à me alienum,” this

approximation to human nature has ever made bees favourites with their masters. And theirs is no hideous mimicry of man's follies and weaknesses,

ITS HISTORY, ANCIENT AND MODERN.

3

such as we see in the monkey tribe, which is too much of a true satire to afford unalloyed amusement: their life is rather a serious matter-of-fact business, a likeness to the best and most rational of our manners and government, set about with motives so apparently identical with our own, that man's pride has only been able to escape from the ignominy of allowing such humble creatures a portion of his monopolized Reason, by assigning them a separate quality under the name of Instinct. The philosophers of old were not so jealous of man's distinctive quality; and considering how little at the best we know of what reason is, and how vain have been the attempts to distinguish it from instinct, there

may be, after all, notwithstanding the complacent smile of modern sciolists, as much truth, as certainly there is poetry and charity in Virgil, who could refer the complicated and wonderful economy of bees to nothing less than the direct inspiration of the Divine Mind.

Bees indeed seem to have claimed generally a greater interest from the ancients than they have acquired in modern times. De Montford, who drew “the portrait of the honey-fly,” in 1646, enumerates the authors on the same subject, up to his time, as between five and six hundred! There are, to be sure, some apocryphal names in the listAristæus, for instance—whose works were wholly unknown (as he himself assures us) to Mr. Huish; a fact which will not surprise our readers when we introduce him as the son of Apollo, and the father of

B 2

of an

Actæon, the “peeping Tom” of mythological scandal. Aristæus himself was patron of bees and archbee-master; but no ridicule thrown on such a jumble of names as that given by De Montford must make us forget the real services achieved in this, as in every other branch of knowledge, by one among the number, the Encyclopædiast Aristotle—the pupil of him who is distinguished as the “ Attic Bee;" or the life of Aristomachus, devoted to this pursuit ; or the enthusiasm of Hyginus, who, more than 1800 years before Mr. Cotton, collected all the bee-passages which could be found scattered over the

pages earlier antiquity.

Varro, Columella, Celsus, and Pliny have each given in their contributions to the subject, and some notion may be formed of the minuteness with which they entered upon their researches from a passage in Columella, who, speaking of the origin of bees, says, that Euhemerus maintained that they were first produced in the island of Cos, Euthronius in Mount Hymettus, and Nicander in Crete. And, considering the obscurity of the subject and the discordant theories of modern times, there is perhaps no branch of natural history in which the ancients arrived at so much truth. If since the invention of printing authors can gravely relate stories of an old woman who, having placed a portion of the consecrated elements at the entrance of a bee-hive, presently saw the inmates busy in creating a shrine and altar of

* “Hyginus veterum auctorum placita secretis dispersa monumentis industriè coilegit.”—Col. ix., ii. 1.

[blocks in formation]

wax, with steeple and bells to boot, and heard, if we remember rightly, something like the commencement of an anthem * --we really think that they should be charitably inclined to the older beeauthors, who believed that they gathered their young from flowers, and ballasted themselves with pebbles against the high winds.t

We shall have occasion to show as we proceed how correct in the main the classical writers are on the subject of bees, compared with other parts of natural history ; but the book of all books to which the scholar will turn again and again with increased delight, is the fourth Georgic. This, the most beautiful portion of the most finished poem of Roman antiquity, is wholly devoted to our present subject; and such is the delightful manner in which it is treated, and so exquisite the little episodes introduced--the Corycian veteran's cottage-garden, the wanderings of Aristæus, the fate of Eurydice—that it would amply repay (and this is saying a good deal) the most forgetful country gentleman to rub up his schoolboy Latin, for the sole pleasure he would derive from the perusal. We need hardly say that no bee-fancier will content himself with anything less than the original: he will there find the beauties of the poet far out-balancing the errors of the naturalist;

* There was lately published in a weekly newspaper the notes of a trio, in which the old Queen and two Princesses (of the hive) are the performers, the young ladies earnestly begging to be allowed to take an airing, while the old duenna as determinedly refuses. This apiarian “Pray, goody, please to moderate” grows louder and thicker, “ faster and faster,” till at last the young folks, as might be expected, carry the day; “and what I can nearest liken it to," says the writer, " is a man in a rather high note endeavouring to repeat, in quaver or crotchet time, the letter M, with his lips constantly closed.” This is a tolerably easy music-lesson ; let our readers try. The fact, however, is that all this music is originally derived from a curious old book-“The Feminine Monarchy, or the History of Bees,” by Charles Butler, of Magdalen (Oxford, 1634): at p. 78 of which work this “Bees' Madrigal ” may be found, with notes and words. Old Butler has been sadly rifled, without much thanks, by all succeeding beewriters. He has written upon that exhaustive system adopted by learned writers of that time, so that nothing that was then known on the subject is omitted. Butler introduced eight new letters—aspirates -into the English language, besides other eccentricities of orthography; so that, altogether, his volume has a most outlandish look.

† The latter mistake arose probably from the mason-bee, which carries sand wherewith to construct its nest. For an account of the 145 varieties of English bees consult Kirby's “ Monographia Apum Angliæ."

and
as even these

may

be useful to the learner--for there is no readier way of imparting truth than by the correction of error-we shall follow the subject in some degree under the heads which Virgil has adopted, first introducing our little friends in the more correct character which modern science has marked out for them. masses ” of

every hive consist of two kinds of bees, the workers and the drones. The first are undeveloped females, the second are the males. Over these presides the mother of the hive, the queen-bee. The number of workers in a strong hive is above 15,000, and of drones about one to ten of these. This proportion, though seldom exact, is never very much exceeded or fallen short of. A single family, where swarming is prevented, will sometimes amount, according to Dr. Bevan, to 50,000 or 60,000. In their wild state, if we may credit the quantity of honey said to be found, they must sometimes greatly exceed this number.

The "

« ElőzőTovább »