Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bernard Mandeville, The Fable of the Bees

The Grumbling Hive:
or, Knaves Turn'd Honest
By Bernard Mandeville
Edited by Jack Lynch

Note on the text: The text is transcribed from the 1705 edition of The Grumbling Hive.

A SPACIOUS Hive well stock'd with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam'd for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery [5]
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy; [10]
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib'd by Laws.

These Insects lived like Men, and all
Our Actions they perform'd in small:
They did whatever's done in Town, [15]
And what belongs to Sword, or Gown:
Tho' th'Artful Works, by nible Slight;
Of minute Limbs, 'scaped Human Sight
Yet we've no Engines; Labourers,
Ships, Castles, Arms, Artificers, [20]
Craft, Science, Shop, or Instrument,
But they had an Equivalent:
Which, since their Language is unknown,
Must be call'd, as we do our own.
As grant, that among other Things [25]
They wanted Dice, yet they had Kings;
And those had Guards; from whence we may
Justly conclude, they had some Play;
Unless a Regiment be shewn
Of Soldiers, that make use of none. [30]

Vast Numbers thronged the fruitful Hive;
Yet those vast Numbers made 'em thrive;
Millions endeavouring to supply
Each other's Lust and Vanity;
Whilst other Millions were employ'd, [35]
To see their Handy-works destroy'd;
They furnish'd half the Universe;
Yet had more Work than Labourers.
Some with vast Stocks, and little Pains
Jump'd into Business of great Gains; [40]
And some were damn'd to Sythes and Spades,
And all those hard laborious Trades;
Where willing Wretches daily sweat,
And wear out Strength and Limbs to eat:
Whilst others follow'd Mysteries, [45]
To which few Folks bind Prentices;
That want no Stock, but that of Brass,
And may set up without a Cross;
As Sharpers, Parasites, Pimps, Players,
Pick-Pockets, Coiners, Quacks, Sooth-Sayers, [50]
And all those, that, in Enmity
With down-right Working, cunningly
Convert to their own Use the Labour
Of their good-natur'd heedless Neighbour:
These were called Knaves; but, bar the Name, [55]
The grave Industrious were the Same.
All Trades and Places knew some Cheat,
No Calling was without Deceit.

The Lawyers, of whose Art the Basis
Was raising Feuds and splitting Cases, [60]
Opposed all Registers, that Cheats
Might make more Work with dipt Estates;
As were't unlawful, that one's own,
Without a Law-Suit, should be known.
They kept off Hearings wilfully, [65]
To finger the retaining Fee;
And to defend a wicked Cause,
Examin'd and survey'd the Laws;
As Burglars Shops and Houses do;
To find out where they'd best break through. [70]

Physicians valued Fame and Wealth
Above the drooping Patient's Health,
Or their own Skill: The greatest Part
Study'd, instead of Rules of Art,
Grave pensive Looks, and dull Behaviour; [75]
To gain th'Apothecary's Favour,
The Praise of Mid wives, Priests and all,
That served at Birth, or Funeral;
To bear with th'ever-talking Tribe,
And hear my Lady's Aunt prescribe; [80]
With formal Smile, and kind How d'ye,
To fawn on all the Family;
And, which of all the greatest Curse is,
T'endure th'Impertinence of Nurses.

Among the many Priests of Jove, [85]
Hir'd to draw Blessings from Above,
Some few were learn'd and eloquent,
But Thousands hot and ignorant:
Yet all past Muster, that could hide
Their Sloth, Lust, Avarice and Pride; [90]
For which, they were as famed, as Taylors
For Cabbage; or for Brandy, Sailors:
Some meagre look'd, and meanly clad
Would mystically pray for Bread,
Meaning by that an ample Store, [95]
Yet lit'rally receiv'd no more;
And, whilst these holy Drudges starv'd,
Some lazy Ones, for which they serv'd,
Indulg'd their Ease, with all the Graces
Of Health and Plenty in their Faces. [100]

The Soldiers, that were forced to fight,
If they survived, got Honour by't;
Tho' some, that shunn'd the bloody Fray,
Had Limbs shot off, that ran away:
Some valiant Gen'rals fought the Foe; [105]
Others took Bribes to let them go:
Some ventur'd always, where 'twas warm;
Lost now a Leg, and then an Arm;
Till quite disabled, and put by,
They lived on half their Salary; [110]
Whilst others never came in Play,
And staid at Home for Double Pay.

Their Kings were serv'd; but Knavishly
Cheated by their own Ministry;
Many, that for their Welfare slaved, [115]
Robbing the very Crown they saved:
Pensions were small, and they lived high,
Yet boasted of their Honesty.
Calling, whene'er they strain'd their Right,
The slipp'ry Trick a Perquisite; [120]
And, when Folks understood their Cant,
They chang'd that for Emolument;
Unwilling to be short, or plain,
In any thing concerning Gain:
For there was not a Bee, but would [125]
Get more, I won't say, than he should;
But than he dared to let them know,
That pay'd for't; as your Gamesters do,
That, tho' at fair Play, ne'er will own
Before the Losers what they've won. [130]

But who can all their Frauds repeat!
The very Stuff, which in the Street
They sold for Dirt t'enrich the Ground,
Was often by the Buyers sound
Sophisticated with a Quarter [135]
Of Good-for-nothing, Stones and Mortar;
Tho' Flail had little Cause to mutter,
Who sold the other Salt for Butter.

Justice her self, famed for fair Dealing,
By Blindness had not lost her Feeling; [140]
Her Left Hand, which the Scales should hold,
Had often dropt 'em, bribed with Gold;
And, tho' she seem'd impartial,
Where Punishment was corporal,
Pretended to a reg'lar Course, [145]
In Murther, and all Crimes of Force;
Tho' some, first Pillory'd for Cheating,
Were hang'd in Hemp of their own beating;
Yet, it was thought, the Sword the bore
Check'd but the Desp'rate and the Poor; [150]
That, urg'd by mere Necessity,
Were tied up to the wretched Tree
For Crimes, which not deserv'd that Fate,
But to secure the Rich, and Great.

Thus every Part was full of Vice, [155]
Yet the whole Mass a Paradice;
Flatter'd in Peace, and fear'd in Wars
They were th'Esteem of Foreigners,
And lavish of their Wealth and Lives,
The Ballance of all other Hives. [160]
Such were the Blessings of that State;
Their Crimes conspired to make 'em Great;
And Vertue, who from Politicks
Had learn'd a Thousand cunning Tricks,
Was, by their happy Influence, [165]
Made Friends with Vice: And ever since
The worst of all the Multitude
Did something for the common Good.

This was the State's Craft, that maintain'd
The Whole, of which each Part complain'd: [170]
This, as in Musick Harmony,
Made Jarrings in the Main agree;
Parties directly opposite
Assist each oth'r, as 'twere for Spight;
And Temp'rance with Sobriety [175]
Serve Drunkenness and Gluttonny.

The Root of evil Avarice,
That damn'd ill-natur'd baneful Vice,
Was Slave to Prodigality,
That Noble Sin; whilst Luxury. [180]
Employ'd a Million of the Poor,
And odious Pride a Million more
Envy it self, and Vanity
Were Ministers of Industry;
Their darling Folly, Fickleness [185]
In Diet, Furniture, and Dress,
That strange, ridic'lous Vice, was made
The very Wheel, that turn'd the Trade.
Their Laws and Cloaths were equally
Objects of Mutability; [190]
For, what was well done for a Time,
In half a Year became a Crime;
Yet whilst they alter'd thus their Laws,
Still finding and correcting Flaws,
They mended by Inconstancy [195]
Faults, which no Prudence could foresee.

Thus Vice nursed Ingenuity,
Which join'd with Time; and Industry
Had carry'd Life's Conveniencies,
It's real Pleasures, Comforts, Ease, [200]
To such a Height, the very Poor
Lived better than the Rich before;
And nothing could be added more:

How vain is Mortals Happiness!
Had they but known the Bounds of Bliss; [205]
And, that Perfection here below
Is more, than Gods can well bestow,
The grumbling Brutes had been content
With Ministers and Government.
But they, at every ill Success, [210]
Like Creatures lost without Redress,
Cursed Politicians, Armies, Fleets;
Whilst every one cry'd, Damn the Cheats,
And would, tho' Conscious of his own,
In Others barb'rously bear none. [215]

One, that had got a Princely Store,
By cheating Master, King, and Poor,
Dared cry aloud; The Land must sink
For all its Fraud; And whom d'ye think
The Sermonizing Rascal chid? [220]
A Glover that sold Lamb for Kid.

The last Thing was not done amiss,
Or cross'd the Publick Business;
But all the Rogues cry'd brazenly,
Good Gods, had we but Honesty! [225]
Merc'ry smiled at th'Impudence;
And Others call'd it want of Sence,
Always to rail at what they loved:
But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he'd rid [230]
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honsty fills all their Hearts;
There shews 'em, like the Instructive Tree,
Those Crimes, which they're ashamed to see? [235]
Which now in Silence they confess,
By Blushing at their Uglyness;
Like Children, that would hide their Faults,
And by their Colour own their Thoughts;
Imag'ning, when they're look'd upon, [240]
That others see, what they have done.

But, Oh ye Gods! What Consternation,
[illeg.] vast and sudden was the Alteration!
In half an Hour, the Nation round,
Meat fell a Penny in the Pound. [245]
The Mask Hypocrisie's [illeg.] down,
From the great [illeg.]
And some, in [illeg.] known,
Appear'd like Strangers in their own.
The Bar was silent from that Day; [250]
For now the willing Debtors pay,
Even what's by Creditors forgot;
Who quitted them, who had it not.
Those, that were in the Wrong, stood mute,
And dropt the patch'd vexatious Suit. [255]
On which, since nothing less can thrive,
Than Lawyers in an honest Hive,
All, except those, that got enough,
With Ink-horns by their Sides trooped off.

Justice hang'd some, set others free; [260]
And, after Goal-delivery,
Her Presence be'ng no more requier'd,
With all her Train, and Pomp retir'd.
First marched 'some Smiths, with Locks and Grates,
Fetters, and Doors with Iron-Plates; [265]
Next Goalers, Turnkeys, and Assistants:
Before the Goddess, at some distance,
Her cheif and faithful Minister
Squire Catch, the Laws great Finisher,
Bore not th'imaginary Sword, [270]
But his own Tools, an Ax and Cord;
Then on a Cloud the Hood-wink'd fair
Justice her self was push'd by Air:
About her Chariot, and behind,
Were Sergeants, 'Bums of every kind, [275]
Tip-Staffs, and all those Officers,
That squeese a Living out of Tears.

Tho' Physick liv'd, whilst Folks were ill,
None would prescribe, but Bees of Skill;
Which, through the Hive dispers'd so wide, [280]
That none of 'em had need to ride,
Waved vain Disputes; and strove to free
The Patients of their Misery;
Left Drugs in cheating Countries grown,
And used the Product of their own, [285]
Knowing the Gods sent no Disease
To Nations without remedies.

Their Clergy rouz'd from Laziness,
Laid not their Charge on Journey-Bees;
But serv'd themselves, exempt from Vice, [290]
The Gods with Pray'r and Sacrifice;
All those, that were unfit, or knew,
Their Service might be spared, withdrew;
Nor was their Business for so many,
(If th'Honest stand in need of any.) [295]
Few only with the High-Priest staid,
To whom the rest Obedience paid:
Himself, employ'd in holy Cares;
Resign'd to others State Affairs:
He chased no Starv'ling from his Door, [300]
Nor pinch'd the Wages of the Poor:
But at his House the Hungry's fed,
The Hireling finds unmeasur'd Bread,
The needy Trav'ler Board and Bed.

Among the King's great Ministers, [305]
And all th'inferiour Officers
The Change was great; for frugally
They now lived on their Salary.
That a poor Bee should Ten times [illeg.]
To ask his Due, a [illeg.] Sun, [310]
And by some well [illeg.]
To give a Crown, or ne'er be [illeg.]
Would now be called a down-right [illeg.]
Tho' formerly a Perquisite.
All Places; managed first by Three, [315]
Who watch'd each other's Knavery,
And often for a Fellow-feeling,
Promoted, one anothers Stealing,
Are happily supply'd by one;
By which some Thousands more are gone. [320]

No Honour now could be content,
To live, and owe for what was spent.
Liveries in Brokers Shops are hung,
They part with Coaches for a Song;
Sell Stately Horses by whole Sets; [325]
And Country Houses to pay Debts.

Vain Cost is shunn'd as much as Fraud;
They have no forces kept Abroad;
Laugh at the Esteem of Foreigners,
And empty Glory got by Wars; [330]
They fight but for their Country's Sake,
When Right or Liberty's at Stake.

Now mind the glorious Hive, and see,
How Honesty and Trade agree:
The Shew is gone, it thins apace; [335]
And looks with quite another Face,
For 'twas not only that they went,
By whom vast Sums were Yearly spent;
But Multitudes, that lived on them,
Were daily forc'd to do the same. [340]
In vain to other Trades they'd fly;
All were o're-stocked accordingly.

The Price of Land, and Houses falls
Mirac'lous Palaces, whose Walls,
Like those of Thebes, were raised by Play, [345]
Are to be let; whilst the once gay,
Well-seated Houshould Gods would be
More pleased t'expire in Flames, than see;
The mean Inscription on the Door
Smile at the lofty Ones they bore. [350]
The Building Trace is quite destroy'd,
Artificers are not employ'd;
No Limner for his Art is famed;
Stone-cutters, Garvers are not named.

Those, that remain'd, grown temp'rate, strive, [355]
So how to spend; but how to live;
And, when they paid the Tavern Score,
Resolv'd to enter it no more:
No Vintners Jilt in all the Hive
Could wear now Cloth of Gold and thrive; [360]
Nor [illeg.]; such vast sums advance,
For Burgundy and [illeg.];
The Courtier's gone, that with his Miss
Supp'd at his House on Christmass Peas;
Spending as much in two Hours stay, [365]
As keeps a Troop of Horse a Day.

The Haughty Chloe; to live Great,
Had made her Husband rob the State:
But now she sells her Furniture,
Which the Indies had been ransack'd for; [370]
Contracts the expensive Bill of Fare,
And wears her strong Suit a whole Year:
The slight and fickle Age is past;
And Cloaths, as wel as Fashions last.
Weavers that ioyn'd rich Silk with [illeg.], [375]
And all the Trades subordinate,
Are gone. Still Peace and Plenty reign,
And every thing is cheap, tho' plain;
Kind Nature, free from Gard'ners Force,
Allows all Fruits in her own Course; [380]
But Rarities cannot be had,
Where Pains to get 'em are not paid.

As Pride and Luxury decrease,
So by degrees they leave the Seas,
Not Merchants now; but Companies [385]
Remove whole Manufacturies.
All Arts and Crafts neglected lie;
Content the Bane of Industry,
Makes 'em admire their homely Store,
And neither seek, nor covet more. [390]

So few in the vast Hive remain;
The Hundredth part they can't maintain
Against th'Insults of numerous Foes;
Whom yet they valiantly oppose;
Till some well-fenced Retreat is found; [395]
And here they die, or stand their Ground,
No Hireling in their Armies known;
But bravely fighting for their own;
Their Courage and Integrity
At last were crown'd with Victory. [400]
They triumph'd not without their Cost,
For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard'ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease it self a Vice;
Which so improv'd their Temperance, [405]
That to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow tree,
Blest with content and Honesty.

THEN leave Complaints: Fools only strive
To make a Great an honest Hive. [410]
T'enjoy the World's Conveniencies,
Be famed in War, yet live in Ease
Without great Vices, is a vain
Eutopia seated in the Brain.
Fraud, Luxury, and Pride must live; [415]
We [illeg.] we the Benefits receive.
Hunger's a dreadful Plague no doubt,
Yet who digests or thrives without?
Do we not owe the Growth of Wine
To the dry, crooked, shabby Vine? [420]
Which, whist its [illeg.] neglected flood,
Choak'd other Plants, and ran to Wood;
But blest us with his Noble Fruit;
As soon as it was tied, and cut:
So Vice is beneficial found, [425]
When it's by Justice [illeg.], and bound;
Nay, where the People would be great,
As necessary to the State,
At Hunger is to make 'em eat.
Bare Vertue can't make Nations live [430]
In Splendour; they, that would revive
A Golden Age, must be as free,
For Acorns, as for Honesty.


Anonymous Anonymous said...


We've been discussing the concept of society and how it could possibly benefit all humans throughout all of our class periods recently. In the back of my mind, the moral of this poem was always present. Can we ever create a society in which we are all content? I think not. Humans are far too multi-faceted to ever achieve this perfection. We have a nature that makes us disagree with whatever environment we live in. We will always find a fault with the structures around us. Bees are completely different from humans, because they don't have this disability. They are born with distinct roles that will never change, so bees, if you'll allow me to say it, can never complain or disagree with their lot in life. I do believe that our nature of having so much free-will is almost a disability, only in the sense that we could never all get along or agree with each other long enough to create an environment in which we are all happy. We may be capable of making compromises, but in reality, we just want things to go our way. It is so very true that only fools would attempt to create a perfect world…because it is entirely impossible.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Heather said...

The moral of this poem is somewhat disheartening. Yet at the same time it is very true. People do generally just try to live an honest life and enjoy what they have worked for or what has been given to them. But, while this is what they want (especially Americans) this is far from what they do get. To try and achieve a Leave it to Beaver lifestyle is impossible. However, there are some aspects that people can strive for, but there is no way that anyone will ever have a “perfect” life. I often hear people say that in order to appreciate and understand the good, you must first experience the bad. I have come to find this to be quite true. If there was no hunger or plague or war, how could one fully appreciate their food, health, and peace? The answer is you can’t. As cynical as this may sound, it is in fact the truth. Mandeville was really hitting the nail on the head when he wrote this. We should try and understand and put into perspective the point that he is trying to make. While as humans we might not like to see others suffer and try to overcome this, we must accept that there is no feasible way to end all the suffering. It is a part of life, sad but true.

1:43 PM  
Anonymous Marissa said...

Marissa Manns
This fable reminds me of the works of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan and John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. Concepts of the state of nature and social contract theory are mirrored here. It appears that the bees have an excellent society. Every bee has a role in society. There is a lot of give and take within the hive. Some bees work harder than others only to see their work torn down. All of the bees have submitted to some type of authority. They have given up some of their rights in order to make society work. These bees have an efficient soci

8:20 PM  
Anonymous Marissa Manns said...

(Please disregard my comment above)
This fable reminds me of the works of both Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan and John Locke's Second Treatise of Government. Concepts of the state of nature and social contract theory are mirrored here. It appears that the bees have an excellent society. Every bee has a role to play. There is a lot of give and take within the hive. Some bees work harder than others only to see their work torn down. All of the bees have submitted to some type of authority. They have given up some of their rights in order to make society work. I do not believe that they have an ideal society in any sense, just an effective one. The bees differ from humans in that they do not make self motivated decisions. Our society could be more effective if we were more like the bees. John Locke was practically a founding father of our country. We have drifted away from some of the precepts of which our country was founded on. Perhaps we could all revert back to lifestyles that resemble ideas from the foundation of country. There could still be freedom and room for self improvement within this society. The citizens simply need to learn compromise and give and take. They also need to learn to pick and choose their battles!

9:08 PM  
Anonymous eden said...

I definitely relate to this piece, it’s easy to feel as if you are merely going through the motions of life with no real concern for how it is being conducted outside your day-to-day routine. I think the analogy to society, as a swarming confusing beehive is very appropriate. And the concept that people living in very different, and sometimes even tyrannical societies as leading lives not much different from our own is interesting. It is a little dreary to think that we never overcome the monotony into which we are born, and from this writer’s perspective, will strive our entire lives for something that is fundamentally unattainable. But I believe this is no reason not to try to accomplish our goals, after all we are not insects born into specific molds. As modern human beings we have the means to improve our station in life, so perhaps one day the toiling drudgery will actually pay off.

9:41 AM  
Blogger Kayla Meadows said...

This work has considerable impact after all of the various points we've discussed regarding human capital, and after my recent viewing of Bee Movie.

Now, it may be odd to relate a satirical work such as this to a Pixar film, but it is a perfect comparison, because the conflict within this movie was that a certain bee decided that he didn't want to live life with a daily routine that never changed, and he set out to fix it.

Essentially, this is the American Dream. The problem is, as Meaghan said, that we humans have a natural instinct to disagree with our given environment. Very few people are content where they are, and, even upon reaching their goals, they remain discontent. Perhaps it is an innate restlessness ingrained into our genetic make-up to continue working at survival -except that survival has turned into accumulation of wealth, happiness, and success.

Basically, we are engineered to be unhappy regardless with what we get. This is exemplified in every social class (just look at Hollywood!), race, and gender. In this case, maybe it would be better if we were, indeed, bees, pre-programed to do one job. Forever.

Somehow, though, that opition doesn't seem too inviting, either.

11:56 AM  
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3:09 AM  

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