"How Doth The Little Busy Bee Improve Each Shining Hour"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Though less well-known as a writer of hymns than the Wesleys, Isaac Watts contributed greatly to the music of the Protestant Church in England in the eighteenth century. The time was, of course, a stormy one which saw all degrees of zealousness abroad. No religious persuasion was untouched, and radicalism extended from the fringes of eccentric Protestant splinter groups on the one hand to Catholic reactionaries on the other. The large and essentially responsible Protestant group which criticized the Anglican faith as too entrenched, smug, and decadently professional in its clergy (see Milton's attack on the clergy as "blind mouths" in his poem "Lycidas," for example) found spokesmen in writers like Watts, Bishop Thomas Ken, and the Wesleys. Essentially Calvinistic attitudes came through in much of Isaac Watts' work. Control of self, avoidance of temptations of the flesh, and frugality in living are often stressed. Perhaps unfortunately, some of Watts' lines lend themselves readily to parody. Indeed, we may recall Lewis Carroll's "How doth the little crocodile/ Improve his shining tail . . ." more quickly than Watts' original lines. In the main, however, Watts has a dignity in poetic concept and execution (not perhaps present in his shorter poems, including "Against Idleness and Mischief"). In his poem "Against Idleness and Mischief," Watts describes fruitful Christian industry by citing the bee:

How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the Day,
From ev'ry op'ning Flower!