THE FOUNDATION OF THE CITY


LET us rather consider the proceedings of the swarm the apiarist

shall have gathered into his hive. And first of all let us not be

forgetful of the sacrifice these fifty thousand virgins have made,

who, as Ronsard sings,--



"In a little body bear so true a heart,--"



and let us, yet once again, admire the courage with which they begin

life anew in the desert whereon they have fallen. They
ave

forgotten the splendour and wealth of their native city, where

existence had been so admirably organised and certain, where the

essence of every flower reminiscent of sunshine had enabled them to

smile at the menace of winter. There, asleep in the depths of their

cradles, they have left thousands and thousands of daughters, whom

they never again will see. They have abandoned, not only the

enormous treasure of pollen and propolis they had gathered together,

but also more than 120 pounds of honey; a quantity representing more

than twelve times the entire weight of the population, and close on

600,000 times that of the individual bee. To man this would mean

42,000 tons of provisions, a vast fleet of mighty ships laden with

nourishment more precious than any known to us; for to the bee honey

is a kind of liquid life, a species of chyle that is at once

assimilated, with almost no waste whatever.



Here, in the new abode, there is nothing; not a drop of honey, not a

morsel of wax; neither guiding-mark nor point of support. There is

only the dreary emptiness of an enormous monument that has nothing

but sides and roof. Within the smooth and rounded walls there only

is darkness; and the enormous arch above rears itself over

nothingness. But useless regrets are unknown to the bee; or in any

event it does not allow them to hinder its action. Far from being

cast down by an ordeal before which every other courage would

succumb, it displays greater ardour than ever. Scarcely has the hive

been set in its place, or the disorder allayed that ensued on the

bees' tumultuous fall, when we behold the clearest, most unexpected

division in that entangled mass. The greater portion, forming in

solid columns, like an army obeying a definite order, will proceed

to climb the vertical walls of the hive. The cupola reached, the

first to arrive will cling with the claws of their anterior legs,

those that follow hang on to the first, and so in succession, until

long chains have been formed that serve as a bridge to the crowd

that rises and rises. And, by slow degrees, these chains, as their

number increases, supporting each other and incessantly

interweaving, become garlands which, in their turn, the

uninterrupted and constant ascension transforms into a thick,

triangular curtain, or rather a kind of compact and inverted cone,

whose apex attains the summit of the cupola, while its widening base

descends to a half, or two-thirds, of the entire height of the hive.

And then, the last bee that an inward voice has impelled to form

part of this group having added itself to the curtain suspended in

darkness, the ascension ceases; all movement slowly dies away in the

dome; and, for long hours, this strange inverted cone will wait, in

a silence that almost seems awful, in a stillness one might regard

as religious, for the mystery of wax to appear.



In the meantime the rest of the bees--those, that is, that remained

down below in the hive--have shown not the slightest desire to join

the others aloft, and pay no heed to the formation of the marvellous

curtain on whose folds a magical gift is soon to descend. They are

satisfied to examine the edifice and undertake the necessary

labours. They carefully sweep the floor, and remove, one by one,

twigs, grains of sand, and dead leaves; for the bees are almost

fanatically cleanly, and when, in the depths of winter, severe

frosts retard too long what apiarists term their " flight of

cleanliness," rather than sully the hive they will perish by

thousands of a terrible bowel-disease. The males alone are incurably

careless, and will impudently bestrew the surface of the comb with

their droppings, which the workers are obliged to sweep as they

hasten behind them.



The cleaning over, the bees of the profane group that form no part

of the cone suspended in a sort of ecstasy, set to work minutely to

survey the lower circumference of the common dwelling. Every crevice

is passed in review, and filled, covered over with propolis; and the

varnishing of the walls is begun, from top to bottom. Guards are

appointed to take their stand at the gate; and very soon a certain

number of workers will go to the fields and return with their burden

of pollen.







Before raising the folds of the mysterious curtain beneath whose

shelter are laid the veritable foundations of the home, let us

endeavour to form some conception of the sureness of vision, the

accurate calculation and industry our little people of emigrants

will be called to display in order to adapt this new dwelling to

their requirements. In the void round about them they must lay the

plans for their city, and logically mark out the site of the

edifices that must be erected as economically and quickly as

possible, for the queen, eager to lay, already is scattering her

eggs on the ground. And in this labyrinth of complicated buildings,

so far existing only in imagination, laws of ventilation must be

considered, of stability, solidity; resistance of the wax must not

be lost sight of, or the nature of the food to be stored, or the

habits of the queen; ready access must be contrived to all parts,

and careful attention be given to the distribution of stores and

houses, passages and streets,--this however is in some measure

pre-established, the plan already arrived at being organically the

best,--and there are countless problems besides, whose enumeration

would take too long.



Now, the form of the hive that man offers to the bee knows infinite

variety, from the hollow tree or earthenware vessel still obtaining

in Asia and Africa, and the familiar bell-shaped constructions of

straw which we find in our farmers' kitchen-gardens or beneath their

windows, lost beneath masses of sunflowers, phlox, and hollyhock, to

what may really be termed the factory of the model apiarist of

today. An edifice, this, that can contain more than three hundred

pounds of honey, in three or four stories of superposed combs

enclosed in a frame which permits of their being removed and

handled, of the harvest being extracted through centrifugal force by

means of a turbine, and of their being then restored to their place

like a book in a well-ordered library.



And one fine day the industry or caprice of man will install a

docile swarm in one of these disconcerting abodes. And there the

little insect is expected to learn its bearings, to find its way, to

establish its home; to modify the seemingly unchangeable plans

dictated by the nature of things. In this unfamiliar place it is

required to determine the site of the winter storehouses, that must

not extend beyond the zone of heat that issues from the half-numbed

inhabitants; it must divine the exact point where the brood-cells

shall concentrate, under penalty of disaster should these be too

high or too low, too near to or far from the door. The swarm, it may

be, has just left the trunk of a fallen tree, containing one long,

narrow, depressed, horizontal gallery; and it finds itself now in a

tower-shaped edifice, whose roof is lost in gloom. Or, to take a

case that is more usual, perhaps, and one that will give some idea

of the surprise habitually in store for the bees: after having lived

for centuries past beneath the straw dome of our village hives, they

are suddenly transplanted to a species of mighty cupboard, or chest,

three or four times as large as the place of their birth; and

installed in the midst of a confused scaffolding of superposed

frames, some running parallel to the entrance and some

perpendicular; the whole forming a bewildering network that obscures

the surfaces of their dwelling.



And yet, for all this, there exists not a single instance of a swarm

refusing its duty, or allowing itself to be baffled or discouraged

by the strangeness of its surroundings, except only in the case of

the new dwelling being absolutely uninhabitable, or impregnated with

evil odours. And even then the bees will not be disheartened or

bewildered; even then they will not abandon their mission. The swarm

will simply forsake the inhospitable abode, to seek better fortune

some little distance away. And similarly it can never be said of

them that they can be induced to undertake any illogical or foolish

task. Their common-sense has never been known to fail them; they

have never, at a loss for definite decision, erected at haphazard

structures of a wild or heterogeneous nature. Though you place the

swarm in a sphere, a cube, or a pyramid, in an oval or polygonal

basket, you will find, on visiting the bees a few days later, that

if this strange assembly of little independent intellects has

accepted the new abode, they will at once, and unhesitatingly and

unanimously have known how to select the most favourable, often

humanly speaking the only possible spot in this absurd habitation,

in pursuance of a method whose principles may appear inflexible, but

whose results are strikingly vivid.



When installed in one of the huge factories, bristling with frames,

that we mentioned just now, these frames will interest them only to

the extent in which they provide them with a basis or point of

departure for their combs; and they very naturally pay not the

slightest heed to the desires or intentions of man. But if the

apiarist have taken the precaution of surrounding the upper lath of

some of these frames with a narrow fillet of wax, they will be quick

to perceive the advantage this tempting offer presents, and will

carefully extract the fillet, using their own wax as solder, and

will prolong the comb in accordance with the indicated plan.

Similarly--and the case is frequent in modern apiculture--if all the

frames of the hive into which the bees have been gathered be covered

from top to bottom with leaves of foundation-wax, they will not

waste time in erecting buildings across or beside these, or in

producing useless wax, but, finding that the work is already half

finished, they will be satisfied to deepen and lengthen each of the

cells designed in the leaf, carefully rectifying these where there

is the slightest deviation from the strictest vertical. Proceeding

in this fashion, therefore, they will possess in a week a city as

luxurious and well-constructed as the one they have quitted;

whereas, had they been thrown on their own resources, it would have

taken them two or three months to construct so great a profusion of

dwellings and storehouses of shining wax.







This power of appropriation may well be considered to overstep the

limit of instinct; and indeed there can be nothing more arbitrary

than the distinction we draw between instinct and intelligence

properly so-called. Sir John Lubbock, whose observations on ants,

bees, and wasps are so interesting and so personal, is reluctant to

credit the bee, from the moment it forsakes the routine of its

habitual labour, with any power of discernment or reasoning. This

attitude of his may be due in some measure to an unconscious bias in

favour of the ants, whose ways he has more specially noted; for the

entomologist is always inclined to regard that insect as the more

intelligent to which he has more particularly devoted himself, and

we have to be on our guard against this little personal

predilection. As a proof of his theory, Sir John cites as an

instance an experiment within the reach of all. If you place in a

bottle half a dozen bees and the same number of flies, and lay the

bottle down horizontally, with its base to the window, you will find

that the bees will persist, till they die of exhaustion or hunger,

in their endeavour to discover an issue through the glass; while the

flies, in less than two minutes, will all have sallied forth through

the neck on the opposite side. From this Sir John Lubbock concludes

that the intelligence of the bee is exceedingly limited, and that

the fly shows far greater skill in extricating itself from a

difficulty, and finding its way. This conclusion, however, would not

seem altogether flawless. Turn the transparent sphere twenty times,

if you will, holding now the base, now the neck, to the window, and

you will find that the bees will turn twenty times with it, so as

always to face the light. It is their love of the light, it is their

very intelligence, that is their undoing in this experiment of the

English savant. They evidently imagine that the issue from every

prison must be there where the light shines clearest; and they act

in accordance, and persist in too logical action. To them glass is a

supernatural mystery they never have met with in nature; they have

had no experience of this suddenly impenetrable atmosphere; and, the

greater their intelligence, the more inadmissible, more

incomprehensible, will the strange obstacle appear. Whereas the

featherbrained flies, careless of logic as of the enigma of crystal,

disregarding the call of the light, flutter wildly hither and

thither, and, meeting here the good fortune that often waits on the

simple, who find salvation there where the wiser will perish,

necessarily end by discovering the friendly opening that restores

their liberty to them.



The same naturalist cites yet another proof of the bees' lack of

intelligence, and discovers it in the following quotation from the

great American apiarist, the venerable and paternal Langstroth:--



"As the fly was not intended to banquet on blossoms, but on

substances in which it might easily be drowned, it cautiously

alights on the edge of any vessel containing liquid food, and warily

helps itself; while the poor bee, plunging in headlong, speedily

perishes. The sad fate of their unfortunate companions does not in

the least deter others who approach the tempting lure from madly

alighting on the bodies of the dying and the dead, to share the same

miserable end. No one can understand the extent of their infatuation

until he has seen a confectioner's shop assailed by myriads of

hungry bees. I have seen thousands strained out from the syrups in

which they had perished; thousands more alighting even on the

boiling sweets; the floors covered and windows darkened with bees,

some crawling, others flying, and others still so completely

besmeared as to be able neither to crawl nor to fly--not one in ten

able to carry home its ill-gotten spoils, and yet the air filled

with new hosts of thoughtless comers."



This, however, seems to me no more conclusive than might be the

spectacle of a battlefield, or of the ravages of alcoholism, to a

superhuman observer bent on establishing the limits of human

understanding. Indeed, less so, perhaps; for the situation of the

bee, when compared with our own, is strange in this world. It was

intended to live in the midst of an indifferent and unconscious

nature, and not by the side of an extraordinary being who is forever

disturbing the most constant laws, and producing grandiose,

inexplicable phenomena. In the natural order of things, in the

monotonous life of the forest, the madness Langstroth describes

would be possible only were some accident suddenly to destroy a hive

full of honey. But in this case, even, there would be no fatal

glass, no boiling sugar or cloying syrup; no death or danger,

therefore, other than that to which every animal is exposed while

seeking its prey.



Should we be more successful than they in preserving our presence of

mind if some strange power were at every step to ensnare our reason?

Let us not be too hasty in condemning the bees for the folly whereof

we are the authors, or in deriding their intellect, which is as

poorly equipped to foil our artifices as our own would be to foil

those of some superior creature unknown to us to-day, but on that

account not impossible. None such being known at present, we

conclude that we stand on the topmost pinnacle of life on this

earth; but this belief, after all, is by no means infallible. I am

not assuming that when our actions are unreasonable, or

contemptible, we merely fall into the snares that such a creature

has laid; though it is not inconceivable that this should one day be

proved true. On the other hand, it cannot be wise to deny

intelligence to the bee because it has not yet succeeded in

distinguishing us from the great ape or the bear. It is certain that

there are, in us and about us, influences and powers no less

dissimilar whose distinction escapes us as readily.



And finally, to end this apology, wherein I seem somewhat to have

fallen into the error I laid to Sir John Lubbock's charge, does not

the capacity for folly so great in itself argue intelligence? For

thus it is ever in the uncertain domain of the intellect, apparently

the most vacillating and precarious condition of matter. The same

light that falls on the intellect falls also on passion, whereof

none can tell whether it be the smoke of the flame or the wick. In

the case above it has not been mere animal desire to gorge

themselves with honey that has urged on the bees. They could do this

at their leisure in the store-rooms at home. Watch them in an

analogous circumstance; follow them; you will see that, as soon as

their sac is filled, they will return to the hive and add their

spoil to the general store; and visit the marvellous vintage, and

leave it, perhaps thirty times in an hour. Their admirable labours,

therefore, are inspired by a single desire: zeal to bring as much

wealth as they can to the home of their sisters, which is also the

home of the future. When we discover a cause as disinterested for

the follies of men, we are apt to call them by another name.







However, the whole truth must be told. In the midst of the marvels

of their industry, their policy, their sacrifice, one thing exists

that must always check and weaken our admiration; and this is the

indifference with which they regard the misfortunes or death of

their comrades. There is a strange duality in the character of the

bee. In the heart of the hive all help and love each other. They are

as united as the good thoughts that dwell in the same soul. Wound

one of them, and a thousand will sacrifice themselves to avenge its

injury. But outside the hive they no longer recognise each other.

Mutilate them, crush them,--or rather, do nothing of the kind; it

would be a useless cruelty, for the fact is established beyond any

doubt,--but were you to mutilate, or crush, on a piece of comb

placed a few steps from their dwelling, twenty or thirty bees that

have all issued from the same hive, those you have left untouched

will not even turn their heads. With their tongue, fantastic as a

Chinese weapon, they will tranquilly continue to absorb the liquid

they hold more precious than life, heedless of the agony whose last

gestures almost are touching them, of the cries of distress that

arise all around. And when the comb is empty, so great is their

anxiety that nothing shall be lost, that their eagerness to gather

the honey which clings to the victims will induce them tranquilly to

climb over dead and dying, unmoved by the presence of the first and

never dreaming of helping the others. In this case, therefore, they

have no notion of the danger they run, seeing that they are wholly

untroubled by the death that is scattered about them, and they have

not the slightest sense of solidarity or pity. As regards the

danger, the explanation lies ready to hand; the bees know not the

meaning of fear, and, with the exception only of smoke, are afraid

of nothing in the world. Outside the hive, they display extreme

condescension and forbearance. They will avoid whatever disturbs

them, and affect to ignore its existence, so long as it come not too

close; as though aware that this universe belongs to all, that each

one has his place there, and must needs be discreet and peaceful.

But beneath this indulgence is quietly hidden a heart so sure of

itself that it never dreams of protesting. If they are threatened,

they will alter their course, but never attempt to escape. In the

hive, however, they will not confine themselves to this passive

ignoring of peril. They will spring with incredible fury on any

living thing, ant or lion or man, that dares to profane the sacred

ark. This we may term anger, ridiculous obstinacy, or heroism,

according as our mind be disposed.



But of their want of solidarity outside the hive, and even of

sympathy within it, I can find nothing to say. Are we to believe

that each form of intellect possesses its own strange limitation,

and that the tiny flame which with so much difficulty at last burns

its way through inert matter and issues forth from the brain, is

still so uncertain that if it illumine one point more strongly the

others are forced into blacker darkness? Here we find that the bees

(or nature acting within them) have organised work in common, the

love and cult of the future, in a manner more perfect than can

elsewhere be discovered. Is it for this reason that they have lost

sight of all the rest? They give their love to what lies ahead of

them; we bestow ours on what is around. And we who love here,

perhaps, have no love left for what is beyond. Nothing varies so

much as the direction of pity or charity. We ourselves should

formerly have been far less shocked than we are to-day at the

insensibility of the bees; and to many an ancient people such

conduct would not have seemed blameworthy. And further, can we tell

how many of the things that we do would shock a being who might be

watching us as we watch the bees?



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