The Life of the Bee HTML version

On The Threshold Of The Hive
IT is not my intention to write a treatise on apiculture, or on practical bee-keeping.
Excellent works of the kind abound in all civilised countries, and it were useless to
attempt another. France has those of Dadant, Georges de Layens and Bonnier, Bertrand,
Hamet, Weber, Clement, the Abbe Collin, etc. English-speaking countries have
Langstroth, Bevan, Cook, Cheshire, Cowan, Root, etc. Germany has Dzierzon, Van
Berlespoch, Pollmann, Vogel, and many others.
Nor is this book to be a scientific monograph on Apis Mellifica, Ligustica, Fasciata,
Dorsata, etc., or a collection of new observations and studies. I shall say scarcely
anything that those will not know who are somewhat familiar with bees. The notes and
experiments I have made during my twenty years of beekeeping I shall reserve for a more
technical work; for their interest is necessarily of a special and limited nature, and I am
anxious not to over-burden this essay. I wish to speak of the bees very simply, as one
speaks of a subject one knows and loves to those who know it not. I do not intend to
adorn the truth, or merit the just reproach Reaumur addressed to his predecessors in the
study of our honey-flies, whom he accused of substituting for the marvellous reality
marvels that were imaginary and merely plausible. The fact that the hive contains so
much that is wonderful does not warrant our seeking to add to its wonders. Besides, I
myself have now for a long time ceased to look for anything more beautiful in this world,
or more interesting, than the truth; or at least than the effort one is able to make towards
the truth. I shall state nothing, therefore, that I have not verified myself, or that is not so
fully accepted in the text-books as to render further verification superfluous. My facts
shall be as accurate as though they appeared in a practical manual or scientific
monograph, but I shall relate them in a somewhat livelier fashion than such works would
allow, shall group them more harmoniously together, and blend them with freer and more
mature reflections. The reader of this book will not learn therefrom how to manage a
hive; but he will know more or less all that can with any certainty be known of the
curious, profound, and intimate side of its inhabitants. Nor will this be at the cost of what
still remains to be learned. I shall pass over in silence the hoary traditions that, in the
country and many a book, still constitute the legend of the hive. Whenever there be
doubt, disagreement, hypothesis, when I arrive at the unknown, I shall declare it loyally;
you will find that we often shall halt before the unknown. Beyond the appreciable facts of
their life we know but little of the bees. And the closer our acquaintance becomes, the
nearer is our ignorance brought to us of the depths of their real existence; but such
ignorance is better than the other kind, which is unconscious, and satisfied.
Does an analogous work on the bee exist? I believe I have read almost all that has been
written on bees; but of kindred matter I know only Michelet's chapter at the end of his
book "The Insect," and Ludwig Buchner's essay in his "Mind in Animals." Michelet
merely hovers on the fringe of his subject; Buchner's treatise is comprehensive enough,