Saturday, 25 January 2020

a strong propensity to bees

From Gilbert Whites 'The Natural History of Selbourne'

Letters to Daines Barrington

Letter 27

Selbourne, Dec 12, 1775

Dear Sir,
We had in this village more than twenty years ago an idiot-boy, whom I well remember, who, from a child, shewed a strong propensity to bees; they were his food, his amusement, his sole object. And as people of this cast have seldom more than one point in view, so this lad exerted all his few faculties on this one pursuit. In the winter he dozed away his time, within his fathers house, by the fire side, in a kind of torpid state, seldom departing from the chimney-corner; but in the summer he was all alert, and in quest of his game in the fields, and on sunny banks.

Honey-bees, humble-bees, and wasps, were his prey wherever he found them; he had no apprehension from their stings, but would seize them nudis manibus [with bare hands], and at once disarm them of their weapons, and suck their bodies for the sake of their honey-bags. Sometimes he would fill his bosom between his shirt and his skin with a number of these captives; and sometimes would confine them in bottles.

He was a very merops apiaster, or bee-bird; and very injurious to men that kept bees; for he would slide into their bee-gardens, and, sitting down before the stools, would rap with his finger on the hives, and so take the bees as they came out. He has been know to overturn hives for the sake of honey, of which he was passionately fond. Where methglin was making he would linger round the tubs and vessels, begging a draught of what he called bee-wine.

As he ran about he used to make a humming noise with his lips, resembling the buzzing of bees. This lad was lean and sallow, and of a cadaverous complexion; and, except in his favourite pursuit, in which he was wonderfully adroit, discovered no manner of understanding. Had his capacity been better, and directed to the same object, he had perhaps abated much of our wonder at the feats of a more modern exhibitor of bees: and we may justly say of him now,

Had they presiding star propitious shone,
Should'st Wildman be...

When a tall youth he was removed from hence to a distant village where he died, as I understand, before he arrived at manhood.

I am, &c

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