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The Fable of the Bees; Or, Private Vices, Public Benefits

The Fable of the Bees; Or, Private Vices, Public Benefits
Title: The Fable of the Bees; Or, Private Vices, Public Benefits
Release Date: 2018-06-04
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
Count views: 94
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Edinburgh, printed by Mundell andSon.



Laws and government are to the political bodies ofcivil societies, what the vital spirits and life itself are to thenatural bodies of animated creatures; and as those that study theanatomy of dead carcases may see, that the chief organs and nicestsprings more immediately required to continue the motion of ourmachine, are not hard bones, strong muscles and nerves, nor the smoothwhite skin, that so beautifully covers them, but small trifling films,and little pipes, that are either overlooked or else seeminconsiderable to vulgar eyes; so they that examine into the nature ofman, abstract from art and education, may observe, that what rendershim a sociable animal, consists not in his desire of company, goodnature, pity, affability, and other graces of a fair outside; but thathis vilest and most hateful qualities are the most necessaryaccomplishments to fit him for the largest, and, according to theworld, the happiest and most flourishing societies.

The following Fable, in which what I have said is set forth atlarge, was printed above eight years ago1, in a six pennypamphlet, called, The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves turn’d Honest;and being soon after pirated, cried about the streets in a halfpennysheet. Since the first publishing of it, I have met with several that,either wilfully or ignorantly mistaking the design, would have it, thatthe scope of it was a satire upon virtue and morality, and the wholewrote for the encouragement of vice. This made me resolve, whenever itshould be reprinted, some way or other to inform the reader of the realintent this little poem was wrote with. I do not dignify these fewloose lines with the name of Poem, that I would have the reader expectany poetry in them, but barely because they are rhyme, and I am inreality puzzled what name to give them; for they are neither heroic norpastoral, satire, burlesque, nor heroi-comic; to be a tale they wantprobability, and the whole is rather too long for a fable. All I cansay of them is, that they are a story told in doggerel, which, withoutthe least design of being witty, I have endeavoured to do in as easyand familiar a manner as I was able: the reader shall be welcome tocall them what he pleases. It [vi]was said of Montaigne, that hewas pretty well versed in the defects of mankind, but unacquainted withthe excellencies of human nature: if I fare no worse, I shall thinkmyself well used.

What country soever in the universe is to be understood by theBee-Hive represented here, it is evident, from what is said of the lawsand constitution of it, the glory, wealth, power, and industry of itsinhabitants, that it must be a large, rich and warlike nation, that ishappily governed by a limited monarchy. The satire, therefore, to bemet with in the following lines, upon the several professions andcallings, and almost every degree and station of people, was not madeto injure and point to particular persons, but only to show thevileness of the ingredients that altogether compose the wholesomemixture of a well-ordered society; in order to extol the wonderfulpower of political wisdom, by the help of which so beautiful a machineis raised from the most contemptible branches. For the main design ofthe Fable (as it is briefly explained in the Moral), is to show theimpossibility of enjoying all the most elegant comforts of life, thatare to be met with in an industrious, wealthy and powerful nation, andat the same time, be blessed with all the virtue and innocence that canbe wished for in a golden age; from thence to expose theunreasonableness and folly of those, that desirous of being an opulentand flourishing people, and wonderfully greedy after all the benefitsthey can receive as such, are yet always murmuring at and exclaimingagainst those vices and inconveniences, that from the beginning of theworld to this present day, have been inseparable from all kingdoms andstates, that ever were famed, for strength, riches, and politeness, atthe same time.

To do this, I first slightly touch upon some of the faults andcorruptions the several professions and callings are generally chargedwith. After that I show that those very vices, of every particularperson, by skilful management, were made subservient to the grandeurand worldly happiness of the whole. Lastly, by setting forth what of necessitymust be the consequence of general honesty and virtue, and nationaltemperance, innocence and content, I demonstrate that if mankind couldbe cured of the failings they are naturally guilty of, they would ceaseto be capable of being raised into such vast potent and politesocieties, as they have [vii]been under the several greatcommonwealths and monarchies that have flourished since thecreation.

If you ask me, why I have done all this, cui bono?and what good these notions will produce? truly, besides thereader’s diversion, I believe none at all; but if I was askedwhat naturally ought to be expected from them, I would answer, that, inthe first place, the people who continually find fault with others, byreading them, would be taught to look at home, and examining their ownconsciences, be made ashamed of always railing at what they are more orless guilty of themselves; and that, in the next, those who are so fondof the ease and comforts, and reap all the benefits that are theconsequence of a great and flourishing nation, would learn morepatiently to submit to those inconveniences, which no government uponearth can remedy, when they should see the impossibility of enjoyingany great share of the first, without partaking likewise of thelatter.

This, I say, ought naturally to be expected from the publishing ofthese notions, if people were to be made better by any thing that couldbe said to them; but mankind having for so many ages remained still thesame, notwithstanding the many instructive and elaborate writings, bywhich their amendment has been endeavoured, I am not so vain as to hopefor better success from so inconsiderable a trifle.

Having allowed the small advantage this little whim is likely toproduce, I think myself obliged to show that it cannot be prejudicialto any; for what is published, if it does no good, ought at least to dono harm: in order to this, I have made some explanatory notes, to whichthe reader will find himself referred in those passages that seem to bemost liable to exceptions.

The censorious, that never saw the Grumbling Hive, will tell me,that whatever I may talk of the Fable, it not taking up a tenth part ofthe book, was only contrived to introduce the Remarks; that instead ofclearing up the doubtful or obscure places, I have only pitched uponsuch as I had a mind to expatiate upon; and that far from striving toextenuate the errors committed before, I have made bad worse, and shownmyself a more barefaced champion for vice, in the rambling digressions,than I had done in the Fable itself.

I shall spend no time in answering these accusations: where men areprejudiced, the best apologies are lost; and I know that those whothink it criminal to suppose a necessity of [viii]vice in any case whatever, will never bereconciled to any part of the performance; but if this be thoroughlyexamined, all the offence it can give must result from the wronginferences that may perhaps be drawn from it, and which I desire nobodyto make. When I assert that vices are inseparable from great and potentsocieties, and that it is impossible their wealth and grandeur shouldsubsist without, I do not say that the particular members of them whoare guilty of any should not be continually reproved, or not bepunished for them when they grow into crimes.

There are, I believe, few people in London, of those that are at anytime forced to go a-foot, but what could wish the streets of it muchcleaner than generally they are; while they regard nothing but theirown clothes and private conveniency; but when once they come toconsider, that what offends them, is the result of the plenty, greattraffic, and opulency of that mighty city, if they have any concern inits welfare, they will hardly ever wish to see the streets of it lessdirty. For if we mind the materials of all sorts that must supply suchan infinite number of trades and handicrafts, as are always goingforward; the vast quantity of victuals, drink, and fuel, that are dailyconsumed in it; the waste and superfluities that must be produced fromthem; the multitudes of horses, and other cattle, that are alwaysdawbing the streets; the carts, coaches, and more heavy carriages thatare perpetually wearing and breaking the pavement of them; and, aboveall, the numberless swarms of people that are continually harassing andtrampling through every part of them: If, I say, we mind all these, weshall find, that every moment must produce new filth; and, consideringhow far distant the great streets are from the river side, what costand care soever be bestowed to remove the nastiness almost as fast asit is made, it is impossible London should be more cleanly before it isless flourishing. Now would I ask, if a good citizen, in considerationof what has been said, might not assert, that dirty streets are anecessary evil, inseparable from the felicity of London, without beingthe least hinderance to the cleaning of shoes, or sweeping of streets,and consequently without any prejudice either to the blackguard or thescavingers.

But if, without any regard to the interest or happiness of the city,the question was put, What place I thought most pleasant to walk in?Nobody can doubt, but before the [ix]stinkingstreets of London, I would esteem a fragrant garden, or a shady grovein the country. In the same manner, if laying aside all worldlygreatness and vain glory, I should be asked where I thought it was mostprobable that men might enjoy true happiness, I would prefer a smallpeaceable society, in which men, neither envied nor esteemed byneighbours, should be contented to live upon the natural product of thespot they inhabit, to a vast multitude abounding in wealth and power,that should always be conquering others by their arms abroad, anddebauching themselves by foreign luxury at home.

Thus much I had said to the reader in the first edition; and haveadded nothing by way of preface in the second. But since that, aviolent outcry has been made against the book, exactly answering theexpectation I always had of the justice,

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