The Life of the Bee HTML version

The Progress Of The Race
BEFORE closing this book--as we have closed the hive on the torpid silence of winter--I
am anxious to meet the objection invariably urged by those to whom we reveal the
astounding industry and policy of the bees. Yes, they will say, that is all very wonderful;
but then, it has never been otherwise. The bees have for thousands of years dwelt under
remarkable laws, but during those thousands of years the laws have not varied. For
thousands of years they have constructed their marvellous combs, whereto we can add
nothing, wherefrom we can take nothing,--combs that unite in equal perfection the
science of the chemist, the geometrician, the architect, and the engineer; but on the
sarcophagi, on Egyptian stones and papyri, we find drawings of combs that are identical
in every particular. Name a single fact that will show the least progress, a single instance
of their having contrived some new feature or modified their habitual routine, and we will
cheerfully yield, and admit that they not only possess an admirable instinct, but have also
an intellect worthy to approach that of man, worthy to share in one knows not what
higher destiny than awaits unconscious and submissive matter.
This language is not even confined to the profane; it is made use of by entomologists of
the rank of Kirby and Spence, in order to deny the bees the possession of intellect other
than may vaguely stir within the narrow prison of an extraordinary but unchanging
instinct. "Show us," they say, "a single case where the pressure of events has inspired
them with the idea, for instance, of substituting clay or mortar for wax or propolis; show
us this, and we will admit their capacity for reasoning."
This argument, that Romanes refers to as the "question-begging argument," and that
might also be termed the "insatiable argument," is exceedingly dangerous, and, if applied
to man, would take us very far. Examine it closely, and you find that it emanates from the
"mere common-sense," which is often so harmful; the "common-sense" that replied to
Galileo: "The earth does not turn, for I can see the sun move in the sky, rise in the
morning and sink in the evening; and nothing can prevail over the testimony of my eyes."
Common-sense makes an admirable, and necessary, background for the mind; but unless
it be watched by a lofty disquiet ever ready to remind it, when occasion demand, of the
infinity of its ignorance, it dwindles into the mere routine of the baser side of our
intellect. But the bees have themselves answered the objection Messrs. Kirby and Spence
advanced. Scarcely had it been formulated when another naturalist, Andrew Knight,
having covered the bark of some diseased trees with a kind of cement made of turpentine
and wax, discovered that his bees were entirely renouncing the collection of propolis, and
exclusively using this unknown matter, which they had quickly tested and adopted, and
found in abundant quantities, ready prepared, in the vicinity of their dwelling.
And indeed, one-half of the science and practice of apiculture consists in giving free rein
to the spirit of initiative possessed by the bees, and in providing their enterprising
intellect with opportunities for veritable discoveries and veritable inventions. Thus, for