Skip to main content

Modern Science, Moral Lessons and Honey Bees in Nineteenth-Century Natural History

  • Chapter
  • First Online:
Bees, Science, and Sex in the Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century

Part of the book series: Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature ((PSAAL))

  • 87 Accesses


The emergence of entomological and social sciences in the nineteenth century constructed ideas about society that relied heavily on analogies to legitimize a particular model of hierarchical social order. The honey bee was featured prominently in these analogies of social insects and human society. Queens, workers, soldiers, scouts and other roles in the hive were identified within a rigid division of labor and compared to the human division of labor. Scientific understandings of the honey bee were then disseminated in various popular texts: natural histories, beekeeping manuals and children’s literature. These reinforced the ideas of hierarchical dominant social order but also challenged it in some cases. Popularizing entomological science through natural history flourished in the nineteenth century and was used to promote the discipline, the practice of beekeeping and often religious or moral lessons. Literary works on the honey bee drew upon the fieldwork of entomologists and naturalists grounded in the latest factual information of the time and using the lexicon of entomological science. Many established entomologists wrote for both the discipline and popular texts for dissemination. This literature aimed at lay audiences and children and at times blurred the lines between science, religion and literature. However, what might be dismissed as merely the moralizing tone in much of this literature actually had more credibility, as it was guided by and explicitly linked to the scientific discourse at the time. This chapter intends to illustrate the connections between these honey bee analogies in the popular literature and scientific discourse of the nineteenth century and the role they played in the Victorian social order.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 119.00
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Hardcover Book
USD 159.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    Anonymous, Lessons Derived from The Animal World, vol. 2 (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1847), 3.

  2. 2.

    Anon., 4.

  3. 3.

    Carl Berger, Science, God, and Nature in Victorian Canada (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1983), 50.

  4. 4.

    Robert Huish, A Treatise on the Nature, Economy and Practical Management of Bees (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1815), 13.

  5. 5.

    J. H. Cross, The Hive and its Wonders (London: Religious Tract Society 1853, 3rd edn.), 63.

  6. 6.

    Diane M. Rodgers, Debugging the Link Between Social Theory and Social Insects (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), 29–32. Also see Jessica White’s “The Bees Seem Alive and Make a Great Buzzing: Unsettling Homes in South-West Western Australia,” Chap. 5 of this volume, for more on analogies of the bee colony and colonialism.

  7. 7.

    Jeffrey Merrick, Order and Disorder Under the Ancien Régime (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007).

  8. 8.

    Rodgers, Debugging the Link, 45–53; Jeffrey Merrick, “The gender politics of the beehive in Early Modern Europe,” Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture vol. 18 (1989): 7–37.

  9. 9.

    Roger Cooter, The Cultural Meaning of Popular Science: Phrenology and the Organization of Consent in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 201.

  10. 10.

    Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study (Comstock Publishing Company, 1911), 445.

  11. 11.

    Anna Botsford Comstock, The Comstocks of Cornell: John Henry Comstock and Anna Botsford Comstock (New York: Comstock Pub. Associates, 1953).

  12. 12.

    W. Broughton Carr, “The Life of the Bee: A Notable Bee Book,” The Bee-Keeper’s Record 19, no. 137 (1901): 83. However, Maeterlinck has also been recognized for potentially plagiarizing Eugène N. Marais’s work (Rodgers, Debugging the Link, 7); Lisa Margonelli, Underbug: An Obsessive Tale of Termites and Technology. (NY: Scientific American/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), 24, 252.

  13. 13.

    L. L. Langstroth, The Hive and the Honey-Bee: A Bee-Keeper’s Manual (Northampton: Hopkins, Bridgman & Co, 1853), i–ii.

  14. 14.

    Mark Patton, Science, Politics and Business in the Work of Sir John Lubbock: A Man of Universal Mind (Hampshire, England: Ashgate Publishing, 2013), 47.

  15. 15.

    Sir John Lubbock, The Beauties of Nature, and the Wonders of the World We Live In (New York: Macmillan and Co.1892), 41.

  16. 16.

    Sir John Lubbock, The Pleasures of Life (New York D. Appleton and Company, [1854] 1887), 161–162.

  17. 17.

    J.F.M. Clark, “John Lubbock, Science and the Liberal Intellectual,” Notes & Records: The Royal Society Journal of the History of Science. 68 (2014): 65–87.

  18. 18.

    Clark, 73

  19. 19.

    Clark, iv.

  20. 20.

    J. O. Westwood, The Entomologist’s Text Book; An Introduction to the Natural History, Structure, Physiology, and Classification of Insects including the Crustacea and Arachnida (London: W.M. S. Orr and Co, 1838), iii.

  21. 21.

    Aileen Fyfe, Science and Salvation: Evangelical Popular Science Publishing in Victorian Britain (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), 10.

  22. 22.

    Aileen Fyfe, 2012. “Victorian Science and Religion.” last modified January 17, 2012. At

  23. 23.

    Anna Jane Moyer, “The Making of Many Books: 125 Years of Presbyterian Publishing: 1838–1963,” Journal of Presbyterian History 41, no. 3 (1963): 123–140.

  24. 24.

    Rev. Willard M. Rice, History of the Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication and Sabbath-School Work, 1888).

  25. 25.

    Presbyterian Board of Publications, Publications of the Presbyterian Board of Publications with Alphabetical Index. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1880), 358.

  26. 26.

    W. D. Sockwell, Popularizing Classical Economics: Henry Brougham and William Ellis. (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1994).

  27. 27.

    Sockwell, 112.

  28. 28.

    The Ecclesiastical Gazette, or, Monthly Register of the Affairs of the Church of England (London: Charles Cox publisher, 1851), 152.

  29. 29.

    Anonymous. Lessons Derived, vol. 1, v.

  30. 30.


  31. 31.

    Anon., vi.

  32. 32.

    Fyfe, Science and Salvation, 141.

  33. 33.

    The Religious Tract Society. The Seventy-Eighth Annual Report of the Religious Tract Society. (London: Religious Tract Society, 1877), 29.

  34. 34.

    W. H. Harris, The Honey-Bee: Its Nature, Homes, and Products (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1884), 79.

  35. 35.

    Harris, 108.

  36. 36.

    Harris, 243.

  37. 37.

    James Mussell, “Bug-Hunting Editors: Competing Interpretations of Nature in Late Nineteenth-Century Natural History Periodicals,” in (Re)Creating Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain, ed. Amanda Mordavsky Caleb (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 81.

  38. 38.

    Clericus A Clergyman and His Bees (Medina, Ohio: A. I. Root Company), n.p.

  39. 39.

    Clericus, 5.

  40. 40.

    Clericus, 10.

  41. 41.

    The extent of publishers’ influence on the dissemination of literature on bees in the nineteenth century is too large a topic to be fully covered in this essay. For more detailed treatments of this see: Bernard Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009), James A. Secord, Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2014), and Jonathan Topham, “Scientific Publishing and the Reading of Science in Nineteenth-Century Britain: A Historiographical Survey and Guide to Sources,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 31 (2000): 559–612.

  42. 42.

    Langstroth, The Hive and the Honey-Bee: A Bee-Keeper’s Manual, iv.

  43. 43.

    Gene Kritsky, The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  44. 44.

    Gene Kritsky, The Quest for the Perfect Hive: A History of Innovation in Bee Culture. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

  45. 45.

    Adam Wayne Ebert, Hive Society: The Popularization of Science and Beekeeping in the British Isles, 1609–1913 (PhD dissertation, Department of Agricultural History and Rural Studies, Iowa State University, 2009), 1.

  46. 46.


  47. 47.

    Charles F. G. Jenyns, “Bee-Keeping in Its Educational Aspect,” British Bee Journal vol. 13, no.175 (1885): 250.

  48. 48.

    Ebert, Hive Society, 148.

  49. 49.

    Ebert, 229.

  50. 50.

    Clark, Bugs and the Victorians, 69.

  51. 51.

    Thomas Nutt, Humanity to Honey-Bees (Wisbech, UK: H. and J. Leach 1832), 11.

  52. 52.

    Thomas Nutt, Humanity to Honey-Bees (Wisbech, UK: H. and J. Leach 1832), 11.

  53. 53.

    For a general account of periodicals like these, see Matthew Hale, Making Entomologists: How Periodicals Shaped Scientific Communities in Nineteenth-Century Britain. (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2022).

  54. 54.

    Horn, Bees in America, 218.

  55. 55.

    Ellison Hawks, Bees Shown to the Children (London: T. C. & E. C. Jack, 1912).

  56. 56.

    Ella Rodman Church, Flyers and Crawlers or Talks About Insects (Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1884), 256.

  57. 57.

    Church, 258.

  58. 58.

    Charles F. G. Jenyns, A Book about Bees: Their History, Habits, and Instincts, Together with the First Principles of Modern Bee-keeping for Young Readers (Wells Gardner, Darton & Company, 1888), 10.

  59. 59.

    Jenyns, xi.

  60. 60.

    Jenyns, 13–19.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Diane M. Rodgers .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2024 The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Switzerland AG

About this chapter

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this chapter

Rodgers, D.M. (2024). Modern Science, Moral Lessons and Honey Bees in Nineteenth-Century Natural History. In: Harley, A., Harrington, C. (eds) Bees, Science, and Sex in the Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century. Palgrave Studies in Animals and Literature. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics