Romantic Circles Gallery
Industry, Honesty and Integrity
A beehive sits atop a thick board, with wild-looking plants growing on either side. Grass grows around the hive's board. Seven bees hover around the top of the hive, with another at the hive's center. The board bears the word "industry"; below the grass, a banner with forked ends reads "honesty and integrity."
Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library, University of Wisconsin-Madison
815800 noncurrent no. 4
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This image appeared in the chapbook Fun upon Fun, or Leper the Tailor; this book was subsequently rebound with many other chap books at an unknown date, and it is from this collection that the image was taken.
Leper the Tailor was a popular chap book hero, and the tales of his antics, written by Dougal Graham, were reprinted many times by different publishers, predominantly in Scotland and northern England. However, it is uncertain whether this particular woodcut would have been attached to numerous editions, as it was common practice for printers to substitute whatever random wood blocks they had in stock.
This image serves as an example of the frequency with which chap books were given random and irrelevant illustrations. While the symbolic hive with its banner proclaiming "Industry, Honesty, and Integrity" may be visually appealing, it is blatantly incongruous with the comic and crude subject matter of the chap book.
The perception and symbolic nature of bees changed significantly between the mid-eighteenth and the nineteenth century. For much of the eighteenth century bees were popular among authors and aristocrats alike; the former found them an excellent symbol of industry and political order, and the latter simply found them diverting, constructing glass hives in order to observe them more closely (Johnson 266; Coleman 107). By the end of the century, however the insect had fallen out of favor as a gentle distraction, as their association with prolific reproduction was increasingly seen as unsuitable. The hive’s use as a symbol of political order (on account of its organization as a community under a single ruler) faded as well; as the distinction between public and private solidified—with women consigned almost entirely to the private—the idea of a matriarchal hive became increasingly uncomfortable. As a result, the hive’s symbolic nature shifted towards a representation of the bonds between mother and daughter (Coleman 115). Though this idea never fully replaced the older notion of the hive as an exemplary hierarchal system, bees became a less self-explanatory icon in the nineteenth century than they had been previously.
As chapbooks were intended almost exclusively for the lower classes, the presence of an image that joins a symbol of diligent labor with an explicit creed to remain both industrious and moral shows that, as far north as Glasgow, children’s literature was being used to strengthen social behavior. Leper the Tailor is a comical and rather crude children’s story; nothing about it suggests the use of this kind of image for the title page—nor was any likely intended, since, as mentioned above, it was common for printers simply to use whatever wood blocks they could acquire (O’Malley 21). The fact that this particular image, consisting in both symbol and text as an exhortation to hard work, was arbitrarily attached to this unsuitable story suggests that woodcuts of this nature were common. This commonality is not surprising, as chap books were a reliable way of reaching a large audience of the proper sort—particularly in Scotland, where literacy rates were somewhat higher than in England (Haakonssen 693).
Likewise, the symbolic use of the hive to accompany a message of “Industry, Honesty and Integrity” suggests that this image was carved significantly earlier than the publication date of the chapbook: as discussed above, the discomfort derived from the matriarchal implications of the beehive would have made it an unstable signifier of “industry,” a term descriptive of the public sphere, by the nineteenth century. The apparent unconcern with the issues of sexual power raised by bee life further emphasizes the somewhat careless nature with which visuals were chosen to accompany chapbooks.
Images like this one were placed in chap books to make them more visually appealing; there was often little or no association between image and story, however. The low cost of producing woodcuts meant that they were an effective tool for instilling “proper” ideas and attitudes in the lower classes.
Coleman, Deirdre. "Entertaining Entomology: Insects and Insect Performers in the Eighteenth Century." Eighteenth-Century Life 30.3 (2006): 107-134. Print.
Haakonssen, Knud. “Scottish Enlightenment.” An Oxford Companion to The Romantic Age: British Culture 1776-1832. Gen. Ed. Iain McCalman. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999.
Johnson, James W. "The Neo-Classical Bee." Journal of the History of Ideas 22.2 (1961): 262-66. Print.
Milne, Ann. "Fables of the Bees: Species as an Intercultural Discourse in Eighteenth-Century Scientific and Literary Texts." L'Esprit Createur 46.2 (2006): 33-41. Print.
O’Malley, Andrew. “The Coach and Six: Chapbook Residue in Late Eighteenth-Century Children's Literature.” The Lion and the Unicorn 24.1 (2000): 18-44. Print.