Drawing of beehive from 'Elysium Britannicum'
Author: Evelyn, John
Medium: Ink on paper
This drawing by Evelyn, from his ‘Elysium Britannicum’, shows a transparent beehive, presented to him by its inventor, Dr John Wilkins: "adorn’d with variety of Dials, little Statues, Vanes &c: very ornamental, & he was so aboundantly civill, as finding me pleased with them, to present me with one... which I had in my Garden at Says-Court many Yeares after."
Bees were important for the pollination of flowers and fruit trees, but they had greater significance for the garden philosopher. Insects such as ants and bees were considered worthy of study because they functioned as a social group, a hierarchy from which lessons for human society might be learned.
Transparent beehives allowed this model society to be more easily observed. "They have a Citty, King, Empire, Society," wrote Evelyn. Of all creatures, he regarded them as "the most affected to Monarchy, & the most Loyall, reading a Lecture of obedience to Rebells in every mans Garden" - an opinion perhaps owing more to Evelyn’s royalist view of recent history than his observations of nature.