Bernard Mandeville 1670-1733
English poet, satirist, and nonfiction writer.
Described by Benjamin Franklin in his Autobiography as “a most facetious, entertaining companion,” Mandeville is best known for his provocative writings about society, morality, and religion. In such works as The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714), he used satire to convey his belief that vice as well as virtue is vital to a healthy society. Mandeville's writings were assailed by some of the most prominent thinkers of the day, though, later critics have shown, some, such as David Hume and Adam Smith, were significantly influenced by his views.
Little is known about Mandeville's life. He was born in the Netherlands, possibly in Rotterdam or nearby Dort (present-day Dordrecht). Public records show that he was baptized in Rotterdam in 1670. He attended the Erasmian School in Rotterdam and then studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Leyden. He received a Doctor of Medicine degree at Leyden in 1691. Shortly afterwards, he immigrated to England, where he lived for the remainder of his life. In 1693 he was charged with practicing medicine without a license; though he never applied for a license, he appears to have continued practicing medicine. In 1699 he married an Englishwoman, and the couple had two children. Mandeville published a number of medical studies and satirical works—including over thirty pieces contributed to the magazine The Female Tatler between 1709 and 1710—before the publication in 1714 of The Fable of the Bees. Although the first edition of this work attracted little attention, the second, expanded, edition in 1723 caused an uproar. The book's publisher was charged in court as a “public nuisance” for issuing such an immoral book. (It was published without Mandeville's name on it, so he was not charged.) It was attacked by such notable figures as John Dennis, Alexander Pope, Samuel Richardson, and Henry Fielding. Mandeville defended his work in A Vindication of the Book, from the Aspersions contain'd in a Presentment of the Grand-Jury of Middlesex, and an abusive Letter to Lord C., which was issued as a pamphlet (now lost) in 1723 and included in the third edition of The Fable of the Bees the following year. In 1732 George Berkeley directed an attack on Mandeville and other freethinkers in Alciphron; or, The Minute Philosopher; Mandeville defended himself in A Letter to Dion, Occasion'd by his Book call'd Alciphron, or The Minute Philosopher, published later the same year. Mandeville died on 21 January 1733.
Mandeville's works cover a wide range of genres and subjects. In the poem Typhon: or The Wars Between the Gods and Giants (1704), he lampoons the gods and heroes in the classical epics of Homer and Virgil. In the prose work The Virgin Unmask'd, (1709) he offers a dialogue between an unmarried aunt and her inexperienced niece on the potential temptations and dangers a young woman faces in her encounters with men. Mandeville's contributions to the The Female Tatler, advanced his ideas on human nature, and his position on this subject appears in its most developed form in The Fable of the Bees, which demonstrates the author's belief that vices are as important as virtues if human society is to flourish, and his conviction that any attempt to create a thoroughly virtuous society would therefore be disastrous. The poem The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves Turn'd Honest, which was first published in 1705, is the centerpiece of the collection. In this verse fable, Mandeville describes a hive of bees that is thriving and productive as whole, despite the fact that its individual members are given to a variety of vices analogous to those in human society. When Jove replaces the vices with virtues, the hive starts to degrade in a number of ways and eventually deteriorates completely as a functioning unit. Mandeville's other major works of social criticism include Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness (1720), in which he condemns the excesses of organized religion throughout history; A Modest Defence of Publick Stews (1724), in which he wryly advocates the legalization of prostitution; and An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War (1732), which concludes that Christian beliefs and morality have no place during a time of war.
During his lifetime, Mandeville was viewed as a controversialist and came under repeated attacks from critics. The second edition of The Fable of the Bees, in particular, was denounced as blasphemous and immoral. Modern critics generally view Mandeville's works as complex responses to the social and political pressures of his time, which was witnessing the decline of absolutism and the rise of commercialism. As M. M. Goldsmith and others have argued, Mandeville shows that the health of a society based on commerce requires that virtues and vices must coexist. In such a world, these and other scholars have noted, traditional definitions of ethics and morality are overturned and even divorced from religion. It is from this starting point that much modern criticism of Mandeville proceeds. M. R. Jack has sought to delineate the conception of religion that underlies Mandeville's works. Robert H. Hopkins has proposed that Mandeville exposes the religious and ethical compromises that are made in a society based on money and commerce. E. G. Hundert has argued that The Grumbling Hive demonstrates that “commercial societies seem naturally to entail forms of artifice and imposture which should be understood as the moral price of commercial prosperity.” J. A. W. Gunn has investigated Mandeville's view of politics in a commercial society. Other critics, including Louis Schneider, have attempted to form a clearer picture of Mandeville in the absence of substantial biographical information. Hector Monro has gone so far as to assemble multiple portraits derived from the observations of his contemporaries and their diverse reactions to his works.
The Pamphleteers: A Satyr (poetry) 1703
Some Fables after the Easie and Familiar Method of Monsieur de la Fontaine (poetry) 1703; expanded as Æsop Dress'd; or a Collection of Fables Writ in Familiar Verse, 1704
Typhon: or The Wars Between the Gods and Giants; A Burlesque Poem in Imitation of the Comical Mons. Scarron (poetry) 1704
*The Grumbling Hive; or, Knaves Turn'd Honest (poetry) 1705
A Treatise of the Hypochondriak and Hysterick Passions, Vulgarly Call'd the Hypo in Men and Vapours in Women; In which the Symptoms, Causes, and Cure of those Diseases are set forth after a Method intirely new (dialogue) 1711
Wishes to a Godson, with Other Miscellany Poems (poetry) 1712
The Virgin Unmask'd: or, Female Dialogues Betwixt an Elderly Maiden Lady, and Her Niece, On several Diverting Discourses on Love, Marriage, Memoirs, and Morals, &c. of the Times (dialogue) 1709; revised as The Mysteries of Virginity, 1714
The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (poetry and prose) 1714; enlarged in 1723 and again in 1724
The Mischiefs that Ought Justly to be Apprehended from a Whig-Government (dialogue) 1714
Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness (nonfiction) 1720
(The entire section is 299 words.)
SOURCE: Monro, Hector. “The Two Mandevilles” and “The Real Mandeville?” In The Ambivalence of Bernard Mandeville, pp. 1-24; 249-67. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.
[In the following essays, Monro discusses two very contradictory but equally plausible interpretations of Mandeville and finds such ambiguity consistent with the philosophical view evident throughout his work that the world is ultimately indefinable and unknowable.]
THE TWO MANDEVILLES
Mandeville is not an obscure writer, but it has nevertheless been found possible to interpret him in two diametrically opposed ways. On one view, he is a pious Christian, an ascetic, and an unusually austere moralist, who finds corruption even in apparently laudable or at least innocent activities. On the other, he is at best an easy-going man of the world, at worst a profligate, a cynic, a scoffer at all virtue and religion, and even (in the words of William Law, the author of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life) a man who ‘comes a missioner from the kingdom of darkness to do us harm’.1
In Mandeville's day, and even perhaps in ours, the second view is the commoner. The Grand Jury of the County of Middlesex, noting that the Almighty had, understandably, visited France with the plague but spared England, was afraid that the circulation of The Fable of the Bees might cause a change in...
(The entire section is 16761 words.)
SOURCE: Jack, M. R. “Religion and Ethics in Mandeville.” In Mandeville Studies: New Explorations in the Art and Thought of Dr. Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), edited by Irwin Primer, pp. 34-42. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975.
[In the following essay, Jack examines Mandeville's “naturalistic” view of religion and ethics as having psychological rather than theological bases.]
At the beginning of his full-length work on religion entitled Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness, Mandeville defines religion as “an Acknowledgment of an Immortal Power.”1 He later says that “Men of Sense, and good Logicians” have vainly wasted their time arguing about and discussing the subject since time immemorial, for knowledge of God is something “which no Language can give them the least Idea of.”2 God is ineffable, religion is mysterious, and “no Man therefore ought to be too dogmatical in Matters of Faith.”3 Mandeville has thus ruled out the possibility of religion on epistemological grounds: being a matter outside human comprehension, nothing can be known about God and nothing worthwhile can be said on this subject. He thus leaves himself free to concentrate on what really interests him in the rest of the book, namely, a general review of religious phenomena as an aspect of human behavior, an exposé of the corrupt practices of the...
(The entire section is 4059 words.)
SOURCE: Hopkins, Robert H. “The Cant of Social Compromise: Some Observations on Mandeville's Satire.” In Mandeville Studies: New Explorations in the Art and Thought of Dr. Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), edited by Irwin Primer, pp. 168-92. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975.
[In the following essay, Hopkins argues that, despite the attacks of many of his contemporaries, Mandeville in his satires was censuring many of the same things they were, stressing “how much in common Mandeville had with some of his illustrious adversaries in attacking the same satiric targets.”]
Let any Man observe the Equipages in this Town; he shall find the greater Number of those who make a Figure, to be a Species of Men quite different from any that were ever known before the Revolution; consisting either of Generals and Colonels, or of such whose whole Fortunes lie in Funds and Stocks: So that Power, which, according to the old Maxim, was used to follow Land, is now gone over to Money. …
Jonathan Swift, The Examiner, No. 13 (Nov. 2, 1710)
It is my belief that we must ultimately read Mandeville as a comic satirist and that we shall never fully understand him through an ossified history-of-ideas approach which in cataloging likenesses loses Mandeville's devastating sardonic tone. The current trend of dealing with...
(The entire section is 11366 words.)
SOURCE: Schneider, Louis. “Bernard Mandeville: Observations in Lieu of a Biography.” In Paradox and Society: The Work of Bernard Mandeville. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Books, 1987, pp. 29-66.
[In the following essay, Schneider, provides an outline of Mandeville's life, thought, and literary activity.]
Material for a life of Mandeville is scant and a biography of him of any considerable scale is not feasible. One may make certain inferences about his character or personal traits from his work. Although this is a somewhat precarious enterprise, it is not entirely unrewarding. The effort to discover something of his character also will suggest intellectual features that help toward the construction of a portrait of the man and thinker.
Kaye has provided a brief sketch of Mandeville's life.1 From this it appears that Mandeville was baptized in Rotterdam on the 20th of November, 1670. He attended the Erasmian School in Rotterdam and subsequently studied at the University of Leyden, obtaining the degree of Doctor of Medicine from that institution toward the end of March of 1691. He took up the branch of medicine in which his father had been engaged, specializing in nervous and gastric disorders. He may have toured Europe. He did visit London and was apparently taken with England generally, where he settled and married in the late 1690s. Kaye records that he “died at...
(The entire section is 16791 words.)
SOURCE: Goldsmith, M. M. “Bernard Mandeville and the Virtues of the Dutch.” Dutch Crossing 48 (autumn 1992): 20-38.
[In the following essay, Goldsmith discusses the impact that Mandeville's Dutch heritage may have had on his viewpoints, literary style, and subject matter.]
Little is known about the life of Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733), author of The Fable of the Bees: or Private Vices, Publick Benefits. Until recently all that was available concerning that part of his life which he spent in his native Holland was a few bald facts about his family background and his education. He was baptized in Rotterdam on 20 November 1670.1 His background, Dutch on both sides, was from well-established medical and professional families.2 After attending the Erasmian School in Rotterdam until 1685, he studied philosophy and medicine at the University of Leiden. Those studies left him a Cartesian.3 Apparently, having taken his first degree in 1689, he returned to Rotterdam, spending a year there before returning briefly to Leiden to take his medical degree.4 Following his father's example, he specialized in nervous and digestive diseases.5
During his absence from Leiden in 1690, as Rudolf Dekker has shown, Bernard Mandeville, along with his father, was involved in the agitation and riot against the Rotterdam bailiff, Jacob Van...
(The entire section is 6941 words.)
SOURCE: Hundert, E. G. “A World of Goods.” In The Enlightenment's Fable: Bernard Mandeville and the Discovery of Society, pp. 175-218. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Hundert examines Mandeville's “unsettling observation” throughout his satires “that the technical operations of the market could be seen to govern even the most intimate aspects of civilized living.”]
When, early in his literary career, Mandeville wrote The Grumbling Hive, he satirized his contemporaries for trumpeting their commitment to classical or Christian ideals of virtue while glorying in recent English prosperity. Employing the beehive as a symbol of productive activity for his own satiric purposes, he divided the poem into two parts. The first part stresses the economic benefits that follow when a society can accommodate a certain amount of (relatively unselfconscious) moral corruption amongst its members. In the second part, Mandeville contrasts this public felicity with an imagined society in which disastrous economic consequences follow when the lives of citizens are purged of immoral and immoderate behavior. Yet even in the wealthy hive, the “knaves” populating it are hypocrites who “boast … of their honesty” while engaging in duplicitous social practices. Mandeville's obvious and intentionally transgressive point in the poem is that commercial societies seem...
(The entire section is 17617 words.)
SOURCE: Gunn, J. A. W. “‘State Hypochondriacks’ Dispraised: Mandeville versus the Active Citizen.” In Mandeville and Augustan Ideas: New Essays, edited by Charles W. A. Prior, pp. 16-34. Victoria, Canada: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 2000.
[In the following essay, Gunn analyzes Mandeville's distanced and detached perspective on public affairs.]
Mandeville as a thinker has always resisted easy labelling; were this not so, his place as a continuing focus for scholarly attention would be less easy to understand. Especially susceptible to exaggeration and plain misreading is his role as the apparent advocate of individual self-seeking. As I argued in an earlier encounter with this figure,1 the portrayal of Mandeville as an extreme individualist fails to come to terms with the fact that his famous formula of “private vices, public benefits” is dependent upon a very conventional notion of what constituted a benefit to the public. This may occasion surprise, for we have long known that much of his notoriety rested upon the studied ambiguity of his understanding of “vice.” By contrast, public benefit was not conceived in terms of private satisfactions but unambiguously in holistic, society-wide, even mercantilist, terms. A full treasury, a strong navy and magnificent public buildings were what signalled a flourishing society, and these conditions might well rest...
(The entire section is 8295 words.)
SOURCE: Goldsmith, M. M. “Mandeville's Pernicious System.” In Mandeville and Augustan Ideas: New Essays, edited by Charles W. A. Prior, pp. 71-84. Victoria, Canada: English Literary Studies, University of Victoria, 2000.
[In the following essay, Goldsmith analyzes the validity of the claims by his detractors that Mandeville was promoting immorality and irreligion in The Fable of the Bees.]
Bernard Mandeville's The Fable of the Bees caught the attention of virtually every thinker of note in the eighteenth century.1 The book was widely attacked for irreligion and immorality; contemporary periodicals commented on the stir it made.2 When Adam Smith, in his Theory of Moral Sentiments,3 denounced Mandeville's views as “wholly pernicious,” he joined such critics as William Law, Francis Hutcheson, George Berkeley and David Hume.
In fact, the Fable became famous because it was denounced. The first edition of 1714, apart from the modest success of achieving two printings, went unnoticed.4 In the second edition of 1723, Mandeville enlarged the “Remarks” on The Grumbling Hive: or, Knaves turn'd Honest, the poem which formed the basis of the work and which had first been published separately in 1705, and added two essays: “An Essay on Charity and Charity-Schools” and “A Search into the Nature of Society.” In...
(The entire section is 6047 words.)
SOURCE: Goldsmith, M. M. “Private Vices.” In Private Vices, Public Benefits: Bernard Mandeville's Social and Political Thought, second ed., pp. 33-49. Cybereditions, 2002.
[In the following excerpt, Goldsmith analyzes Mandeville's theory of society, which “justified the activities of those who sought only their private good or pleasure—what many called vice.”]
But something could be said against the ideology of public virtue. And it was, by Bernard Mandeville, an immigrant Dutch physician who had settled in London.1
Mandeville began his literary career writing verses. His first published work seems to have been The Pamphleteers, a work which defended William's character and the policies pursued under his rule against those who alleged that millions had been misspent and who called for resumption of the grants that had been made.2 He soon turned to verse fables. Some Fables after the Easie and Familiar Method of Monsieur de la Fontaine appeared in 1703; originally it contained twenty-nine fables and appeared anonymously. They show but few signs of the distinctive views he was to publish in The Fable of the Bees. A new version enlarged by ten more translations and acknowledging its author was soon issued under the title Aesop Dress'd.3 Among the fables Mandeville chose to translate were some that debunk vain pretensions...
(The entire section is 8284 words.)
Cook, Richard I. Bernard Mandeville. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1974, 174 p.
Valuable biographical and critical study.
Daniel, Stephen H. “Myth and Rationality in Mandeville.” Journal of the History of Ideas 47, no. 4 (October-December 1986): 595-609.
Argues that Mandeville's works can be understood only when the author's use of myth is considered.
Dykstal, Timothy. “Commerce, Conversation, and Contradiction in Mandeville's Fable.”Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 23 (1994): 93-110.
Detailed analysis of Mandeville's Fable of the Bees.
Farrell, William J. “The Role of Mandeville's Bee Analogy in ‘The Grumbling Hive’.” Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 25, no. 3 (summer 1985): 511-27.
Analyzes why Mandeville used the analogy between a bee hive and human society in The Grumbling Hive.
Hjort, Anne Mette. “Mandeville's Ambivalent Modernity.” Modern Language Notes 106, no. 5 (December 1991): 951-66.
Considers the intent of The Fable of the Bees.
Horne, Thomas A. The Social Thought of Bernard Mandeville. London: The Macmillan Press, 1978, 123 p.
Provides commentary and criticism...
(The entire section is 414 words.)