Old Library Botanical Exhibition at Christ's College Cambridge
I went along to this exhibition this afternoon.
It was nice to visit Christ's college and spend time in the Old Library, which is full of ancient books and has that pleasing, restful smell of old paper and wood polish.
Old botanical treatises from the college's collection were on show, including beautifully illustrated early books on plants and gardening, and some books and letters written by the college's famous alumnus Charles Darwin.
And, along with the gardening exhibits and descriptions of the various medicinal properties of peony roots, there were some texts on beekeeping. They had a copy of Charles Butler's book "The Feminine Monarchie", which was one of the first practical guides to bees and beekeeping ever written. The book was first published in 1609 but the library had the 1634 edition in which Butler had revised the spellings in line with his preferred phonetic system. Delightfully, he spells the word "be" as "bee", though in this particular book that might be a little confusing.
The book includes a song, "Bee's Madrigall", representing the bees' singing before they swarm.
And there was this later book, "The Hive and the Honey-Bee" by H. D. Richardson, dating from 1849. The exhibition at Christ's had this to say about it:
"Priced at just one shilling and using little technical language, Richardson's The Hive and the Honey-Bee was meant for the average bee-keeper and focuses on "the profit which may accrue from bee-keeping". This copy is inscribed to Hannah Eddison "from her dear father", showing that women and men alike enjoyed and undertook this past-time.
"In many ways, Richardson's guide is very similar to The feminine monarchie. Both have, for example, chapters on "Bees' enemies", swarming, and how to hive bees. Richardson warns that "the morning sun is prejudicial to the interests of the hive" because early light tempts the bees to come out when it is too cold. Over 200 years earlier, Butler had given the same advice. But there were also many advances made between Butler's and Richardson's times. Where Butler advises killing the bees to harvest their honey, Richardson describes this as "a most barbarous practice...as silly as it is cruel". Instead, Richardson recommends "fumigation" of the hive, ideally burning "the Fungus Pulvurulentus, or fuzz ball" to stupefy the bees whilst you take their honey."
I also learned from this exhibition that Christ's has its own hives, and has done for centuries. Some of the college's records were on show, documenting the distribution of jars of honey to the College Fellows.
After looking at the exhibition I walked around the college gardens, where I found the present day Christ's College bees hard at work on a sunny patch of crocuses in the Fellows' Garden.