From sunrise to sunset, whenever the weather is fine, all is life, activity, and bustle in this busy city. Though the gates are so narrow that two inhabitants can only just pass each other on their way through them, yet thousands go in and out every hour of the day; some bringing in materials to build new houses, others food and provisions to store up for the winter; and while all appears confusion and disorder among this rapidly moving throng, yet in reality each has her own work to do, and perfect order reigns over the whole.
Even if you did not already know from the title of the lecture what city this is that I am describing, you would no doubt guess that it is a beehive. For where in the whole world, except indeed upon an anthill, can we find so busy, so industrious, or so orderly a community as among the bees? More than a hundred years ago, a blind naturalist, Francois Huber, set himself to study the habits of these wonderful insects and with the help of his wife and an intelligent manservant managed to learn most of their secrets. Before his time all naturalists had failed in watching bees, because if they put them in hives with glass windows, the bees, not liking the light, closed up the windows with cement before they began to work. But Huber invented a hive which he could open and close at will, putting a glass hive inside it, and by this means he was able to surprise the bees at their work. Thanks to his studies, and to those of other naturalists who have followed in his steps, we now know almost as much about the home of bees as we do about our own; and if we follow out to-day the building of a bee-city and the life of its inhabitants, I think you will acknowledge that they are a wonderful community, and that it is a great compliment to anyone to say that he or she is “as busy as a bee.”
In order to begin at the beginning of the story, let us suppose that we go into a country garden one fine morning in May when the sun is shining brightly overhead, and that we see hanging from the bough of an old apple-tree a black object which looks very much like a large plum-pudding. On approaching it, however, we see that it is a large cluster or swarm of bees clinging to each other by their legs; each bee with its two fore-legs clinging to the two hinder legs of the one above it. In this way as many as 20,000 bees may be clinging together, and yet they hang so freely that a bee, even from quite the centre of the swarm, can disengage herself from her neighbours and pass through to the outside of the cluster whenever she wishes.
If these bees were left to themselves, they would find a home after a time in a hollow tree, or under the roof of a house, or in some other cavity, and begin to build their honeycomb there. But as we do not wish to lose their honey we will bring a hive, and, holding it under the swarm, shake the bough gently so that the bees fall into it, and cling to the sides as we turn it over on a piece of clean linen, on the stand where the hive is to be.