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We might here inquire if Mr Darwin is disposed to extend this explanation of the hexagonal architecture to the wasps also, for with them there is no Mellipona Mexicana to suggest a transition of architectural skill : neither would the Cambridge problem apply to their case, as their cells are in simple rows, and not placed base to base as with the bees. The wasps, however, construct accurate hexagons for their cells, and of another material : do they also sweep imaginary circles, and build up the planes of intersection of their dreams ?
It would be extending this discussion to an unreasonable length, to enter into a full explanation of the real mode of operation observed by the bees in constructing their cells. This is to be seen in Reaumer, Huber, and Kirby and Spence. We may generally state that the bees begin their labours of cell-making by forming the bases of the cells first, and that when a pyramidal base of three lozenges is finished, they then build up the walls from its edges. This shows their intention—they know what they have to do before they begin ; but how they know, and how they construct the bases according to the proper angles, will never be explained. They accomplish the work, and we must be content with the fact.
In particular circumstances, however, they are able to diversify the work according to the need, and the bees then introduce such variations of the general rule as the case seems to demand. Thus the first rows of cells of the comb, affixed to the top of the hives, are made, not as hexagons, but in the form of a pentagon, and for this there is a good reason. This we learn from Huber. It is evident,' says he, “that the hexagonal figure of cells admits of this application by only one angle to the surface of the roof,
where many are ranged laterally, but there must be large vacuities between the angles. But a more solid fixture becomes the marked solicitation of nature in the formation of the combs. The first row of cells, that by which the whole comb is attached to the roof of the hive, differs from all the rest, instead of hexagon, the orifice is a pentagon. The cell consists of four sides, with the roof of the hive in the plane of the fifth. The bottom, also, is different from that of common cells; only one of these pieces is a lozenge, the other two is of an irregular quadrilateral figure. By the simple dispositions preserved here, the stability of the comb is completely secured, for it touches the interior surface of support in the hive in the greatest possible number of points.'
Here, then, there is no ideal intersection of spheres ; the pentagon dissipates all that vision, and it is clear that the bees intend to introduce the hexagon, as soon as, in their judgment, they can do so with safety. We need only to inspect a large comb to see how the theory of imaginary circles is confuted, by the management of the cells in case of any obstruction to the work, or even in the introduction of the larger cells of the drones. Cells with larger dimensions for the drones have to be worked into the general plan, and this is done by gradual change of the dimensions of the neighbouring cells, till at last the symmetrical measurement of the general design is perfectly restored.
In cases of obstruction by intervening obstacles, sometimes placed to test their skill, they find themselves com. pelled to alter the hexagonal regularity in order to work round the obstacle, hence some of the cells are of irregular form, but always returning by gradations to the regular symmetry and correct shape of the normal design.
This again is proof of their object, to adhere to the correct hexagonal pattern and the rhomboidal base. The plan is imprinted in their minds, so to speak ; the pattern is in mysterious vision before them, and they build according to the plan they have received, by a necessity of their nature.
This is their instinct, and it is as admirable as it is inexplicable.
These remarks should not be closed without noticing that though Mr Darwin makes the bees execute a very hard problem, and for a direct purpose, to secure the greatest economy of wax, he neither allows this to be the result of an instinct, nor will he permit it to be a design or intention of the bees themselves. In what quarter then is the motive or the calculation ? It is, as usual, with the great Pan, Natural Selection, the true Antitheos of the author's system. The bees, of course, no more know that they swept their spheres (imaginary, be it observed) at one particular distance from each other, than they know what are the several angles of the hexagonal prisms and of the basal rhombic plates. The motive-power of the process of Natural Selection (sequence of events) having been economy of wax, together with cells of due strength, and of the proper size and shape for the larvæ ; that individual swarm which made the best cells, and wasted least honey in the secretion of wax, having succeeded best, and having transmitted by inheritance their newly-acquired econonomical instincts to new swarms, these in their turn will have had the best chance of succeeding in the struggle for existence.
'Beyond this stage of perfection in architecture, Natural Selection could not lead; for the comb of the hive-bee, as far as we can see, is absolutely perfect in economizing wax? Natural Selection, therefore-a perfect geometrician-led the bees to adopt a perfect design of architectural skill. Doubtless, long before the Silurian era, Sequence of Events was Senior Wrangler in the year that the primal Spore took its degree.
But is all this really written in earnest ? and is the author not trifling with us? Does he soberly and seriously mean us to believe this fantastic fable? A swarm starting with a new batch of instincts ! A queen, producing, some day, twenty thousand eggs issuing in bees inclined to strike imaginary spheres! and then the new pirouette breed sus. tained by queens with the new faculty to produce the new instincts! and thus at last economy triumphing over all obstacles.
Certain it is, that if Natural Selection can lead to the striking of imaginary spheres, it can also lead learned men to strike out into the wildest freaks of imagination that ever yet were heard of.
But on what facts is based this theory of the struggle for existence ? who or what struggles for life with the bees? Each bee, of each variety, gets on very well in its line of life : the Mellipona does not fail, and as far as we know, wants nothing; and the Humble-bee, the constructor of rude cells, and of rough unsymmetrical architecture, prospers everywhere, as we have an opportunity of observing ; why then was it requisite to concoct the new order of architects? If the old varietes were well to do in the world, where was this struggle for their existence; where was the need to introduce any improvement in order to enable them to live and to surmount the obstacles to their existence ?
This struggle for existence, which the author has in
formed us, is to be taken in a large metaphorical sense, is in fact a mere jingle of words; it comes in to round the paragraphs and to help its brother metaphor, Natural Selection, in any of its great achievements. Twin brothers they are, of one family and one disposition.
Arcades ambo, Et cantare pares, et respondere parati. How wise, then, after these portentous speculations, appear the words of a great philosopher !
The main business of natural philosophy is to argue from phenomena without feigning hypotheses, and to deduce causes from effects, till we come to the First Cause, which is certainly not mechanical.'--(Newton.)