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Antique Bodies in Nineteenth Century British Literature and Culture
Part I: Utopian Bodies
Training the Body: The Antique Model

A Parthenon on the Banks of the Clyde: Antiquity and Equality in The Revolt of the Bees by John Minter Morgan”

Alexandra Sippel


This paper intends to show that John Minter Morgan resorts to idealised visions of Antiquity―the Greek and Roman Republics and Lycurgus’s Sparta―to promote Owenism as the path to a truly happy society based on equality of condition at a time when inequalities were fuelled by a new economic and industrial model. In his utopia set near Owen’s factories in Lanarkshire, Scotland, all are industrious and no hierarchy is to be found between men and women who are all well-educated and assigned rewarding tasks in the community. The architecture and landscape of the place both mirror this perfection as they bring together the wholesome framework of the countryside and the cultural facilities of large cities. Besides, education is based on the best knowledge from ancient and modern times to make them truly reasonable and benevolent. Utopia reaches out of the borders of the community of Loch Lomond to infuse diplomatic relations, which shows that Morgan, like earlier utopists, considered local reform as a first step that would eventually provide a powerful example to the rest of the world.

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118th century British historians of Antiquity tended to praise the virtues of the Roman republic and of Sparta rather than those of classical Athens (Turner 187-192). The classical Greek republic appeared as too luxurious and too democratic a regime to be appealing to Britain. Luxury and direct democracy might take Britain back into the dark days of the Republican anarchy of the previous century. The argument against the “tyranny of the people” gained more momentum still as the supporters of the French Revolution were ready to question the perfect balance of the English tripartite constitution rooted in the limited powers of the King, Lords and Commons. To late 18th and early 19th century writers of utopia, however, the main threat to the body politic was not the allegedly revolutionary working classes but the increasing competition and inequalities that were fuelled by industrialisation and trade. As industrialisation gathered momentum in the first decades of the 19th century, some industrialists raised their voices to advocate measures that would ease the fate of operatives who were often exploited from a very young age onward and who lived in overcrowded, unhealthy towns. It is well-known for example that Robert Owen was quite influential in the passing of the 1833 Factory Act that limited child work in textile factories. As living and working conditions seemed more and more inhumane, it was thought that the new industrial way of life was bound to be detrimental to the workers’ morals as well as to their bodies and minds. The emergence of a new economy that seemed to increasingly rely upon luxury and distinction took the society further away from its natural state and, as non-utopian writers like Gibbon had demonstrated, bore the seeds of ultimate decadence.

  • 1 Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees is a verse fable that depicts an economically thriving beehive t (...)

2A disciple of Robert Owen, John Minter Morgan was one of the first Christian socialists in Britain and his biographer for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography emphasizes that, by the time of his death, Morgan had accumulated “the finest collection (contemporary and antiquarian) of books on co-operation and utopian community subjects in the world”. When he wrote the Revolt of the Bees in 1826, he was under the influence of Robert Owen’s New View of Society (written in 1813-4), of Thomas More’s Utopia, and of Charles Hall’s The Effects of Civilisation on the European States, published in 1806. All of them, according to him, gave co-operative answers to the evils of their days. Owen especially insisted that co-operation and education had physically and morally transformed the workers he employed in his manufactures of New Lanark. In The Revolt of the Bees, Morgan elaborated on this cooperative experiment which he contrasted with the writings of the political economists of his time. In long footnotes he either celebrated utopian writings or lambasted the theories of competition. Morgan’s utopia denounced the ideas of the political economists of his days, especially those of Malthus or Ricardo. The former, with his Essay on the Principle of Population published in 1798, is the most identifiable target of the Revolt of the Bees. Catherine Gallagher perfectly demonstrates how Malthus “radically reconceptualised the social and economic significance of the vigorous body”: “the healthy and consequently reproducing body [that] thus is the harbinger of the disordered society full of starving bodies” (Gallagher 83, 85). Morgan, like Owen after Godwin and Condorcet, equated “healthy individuals within healthy social bodies” (Gallagher 83). Other targets of his footnotes are Bernard Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees1 and the fathers of modern economics: Adam Smith, David Ricardo and the less well-known John Ramsay McCulloch who theorised economic competition in his 1825 Principles of Political Economy. For Morgan on the contrary co-operation and the abolition of private property, together with appropriate education would mould healthy bodies and minds that would join in a happy body politic.

3What I intend to show here is how Morgan draws on ancient tradition to create the frame and habits of his utopia located on the Clyde―a convenient location for a disciple of Owen’s since it was the river which powered Owen’s manufactures in the county of Lanarkshire, Scotland. The entire atmosphere of The Revolt of the Bees is bathed in antiquity, which is undoubtedly intended as a way to confer prestige and dignity to the co-operative society that was to emerge in the future of mankind. Morgan resorts to a typical idealisation of the republican Athens of the classical age, of Sparta under Lycurgus’s law and of the Roman republic before its decline. The alleged equality of Sparta, the culture and democracy of Athens and the virtue of Rome before its decadence coalesce into a happy combination that begets a perfectly benevolent community, in keeping with natural society (Claeys 25, 36). Whether these ancient societies actually rested on equality does not really matter to Morgan as his utopian text only seems to take up the idealised myth of perfect equality between citizens (not taking into account those who were indeed not citizens of those model republics). The Parthenon on the banks of the Clyde is the hallmark of the grandeur of a reformed humanity after it has adopted a co-operative rather than a competitive system. These representations are used as the blueprint of a model benevolent republic. The cooperative community forms a healthy political body whose balance can be preserved forever. This is a double response to Malthus’s Essay as it builds on Owen’s adherence to Godwin’s ideas, and Condorcet’s belief that eternal happiness can be achieved.

4“Classical” is often used to describe things that pertain to Antiquity. Its (lexical) origin points to the aristocracy, the highest class that―from an etymological point of view at least―brings together the best in a society. Classicism pervades The Revolt of the Bees, from the genre of the text to the architecture used in Loch Lomond all the way to its rituals. What I would like to show here is how the profusion of references to Antiquity conveys a sense that noble people inhabit Loch Lomond, in keeping with the humanist definition of vera nobilitas. Quentin Skinner argues that More’s Utopia sharpens the debate over what true nobility was, and that “the view the Utopians espouse is exactly the one we have encountered in Cicero and his humanist disciples […]. The Utopians believe that what is alone noble and deserving of honour is a willingness to labour for the common good” (Skinner 135,143). As every utopian is truly benevolent, they all share the true nobility of character that enables them to form a classless society of genuine aristoi who are able to enjoy the benefits of self-government.

The Genres in The Revolt of the Bees

5Morgan’s title is a very transparent reference to Mandeville’s Fable of the Bees. Both works are typical examples of Aesopian fables as they picture animals living as men, and provide the readers with a moral. The hive is the perfect model for an ideal micro-society, both industrious and autarchic. Morgan’s hive forms a communist and egalitarian society that still follows nature’s original rules: the bees do not appropriate wealth but all contribute to the common wealth and benefit from it. Only when they fall prey to the lures of political economists do they accumulate honey in a private way and start to use it as a currency to get unnecessary and harmful luxuries. Both the bees’ individual bodies and their body politic are torn apart in this capitalist revolution. Two classes of bees immediately emerge that both stop looking like bees; the strongest or the most cunning ones appropriate lands and flowers that others are meant to forage. They soon grow idle and eat themselves sick: eventually, gout sets in. On the other hand, the workers’ bodies are maimed by hard work and their energy drained because of the affluent bees’ increasing demands for luxury goods from remote fields. Within days, all have become unrecognizable as a species (Morgan 1-10). The best example is the new class of Judicatores responsible for settling disputes over the bees’ private property: “Their appearance was somewhat grotesque; and certain bees, who had travelled (….) are said to have mistaken them for insects of a different species” (Morgan 7). Another characteristic of the Judicatores was to ruthlessly punish the poorest bees who stole some honey to survive in order to protect the stocks of the richest class. The queen bee who secured the happiness of the hive under the egalitarian law of nature accepts to withdraw, following the demand of many bees who are seduced by the promise of enjoying more honey under a competitive system. She is replaced by new authorities who all bear pseudo-Latin masculine names: the Legislatores, Judicatores and Ecclesiastes. The workers are called drones but seem emasculated and females are never mentioned. The dystopic beehive therefore seems to display manifest inequality between males and females. On the contrary, the human utopia of Loch Lomond is characterised by equality between men and women. In this place, people have succeeded in abandoning both the monarchy and any kind of gendered hierarchy; boys and girls are equally educated and it is to be understood that they share all the tasks in the city.

6The physical decadence of the bees under the new capitalist system is soon mirrored by a similar destruction of the full body politic as the entire beehive engages in a civil war opposing the affluent to the impoverished: “After much desultory fighting, a general engagement took place, which lasted two days, when upwards of three millions were left dead upon the field of battle” (Morgan 38). The fact that Morgan uses many references to Antiquity invites us to see in the bees’ civil war the ultimate consequence of a philosophy that already plagued their physical bodies. Jean-Pierre Moreau shows that the Stoics, the Platonists and the Romans all shared Aristotle’s idea that the human body is a miniature cosmos and that human societies are located somewhere in between the microcosm of the individual and the macrocosm of the universe (Moreau 53). The moral that can be derived from the first chapter of Morgan’s Revolt of the Bees is that the “apiarian economists” caused a major disruption in the whole natural order. Moreau shows that the metaphor of the body politic was but a “flower of rhetoric” after the theory of the social contract was adopted (Moreau 71-73). I would like to suggest that Morgan argues that this social contract, based on the preservation of private property, was flawed and that the conception of a healthy and happy body politic formed by happy and healthy individuals was to be restored.

  • 2 Douglas is an intelligent youth and one of Saadi’s attendants. Margaret on the other hand, is a cle (...)

7The later chapters depart from the genre of the fable and are written as a philosophical dialogue in which emblematic characters discuss the best system of government. Saadi, introduced as a remote descendent of the 13th century Persian poet, mystic and moralist Saadi Shirazi, is introduced to the virtues of the co-operative system by two residents of Loch Lomond whose first names are emblematic of Scotland: Douglas and Margaret.2 The choice of Saadi as a character in this dialogue is all but random. One of his best-known poems is “filled with universal humanist insights” (Newman 14):

All men and women are to each other
The limbs of a single body, each of us
Created from the life God gave to Adam.
When Time’s passage withers you to nothing,
I will grieve as if I had lost a leg;
But you, who will not feel another’s pain,
You’ve lost the right to call yourself human (Newman 39).

8This poem is to be found in Saadi Shirazi’s Gulistan, in the tenth story of the first chapter about Kings (“Padeshanan”). The notion that those who fail to sympathise with their fellow human beings lose their humanity mirrors the Judicatores’ metamorphosis into insects of a different species. In Loch Lomond on the contrary, benevolence is the overarching virtue and extends not only to the members of the community but also to the neighbouring nations. Saadi was a well-known poet in the 19th century English speaking world and Newman reminds us how he influenced the poetry of Alfred Lord Tennyson in Britain and of Ralph Waldo Emerson in America (Newman 13-15). Newman suggests that Saadi was a popular figure, very often quoted by 19th century poets. In his philosophical dialogue, Morgan borrows from ancient and medieval traditions of the Middle East and of the West to demonstrate the relevance of the body as a metaphor for a happy society. The character of Saadi is presented, in the dialogue, as someone who is easily convinced that the natural state of mankind is the benevolent, cooperative one. Though the platonic dialogue may not be written in the subtlest style for today’s readers, it is a classical rhetorical strategy which allows Morgan to respond to all the objections that his contemporaries could have formulated against his arguments and to denounce the political economists’ theories of his day.

The Geographical Frame and the Architecture of the Place

9The entire text is set in Scotland. In chapter one, the beehive is located on Pentland Hills and is kept by a shepherd who plays the flute. This landscape perfectly corresponds to the topos of pastoral literature as invented by the Greek poet Theocritus in the third century BC. It was also said to be the favourite landscape of Allan Ramsay (1686-1758), a Scottish poet whose work, The Gentle Shepherd, published in 1725 made him famous as a writer of pastoral poetry. He is used by Morgan to play the part of the prophet whose spirit guides the fallen bees to behold the future co-operative community in Loch Lomond formed by disciples of Robert Owen. The poet thus enables the insects to understand how the teachings of their “apiarian economists” (Morgan 28) had deviated from the law of nature and how they could go back to their state of happy innocence. The landscape that is described in the opening pages of the book brings together antiquity and modernity to prove that contemporary economic and social theories based on competitions fostered nothing but tragedy. The egalitarian beehive is set in a perfectly pastoral landscape. Once the industrial and competitive revolution has taken place, drones are condemned to go farther and farther away to find ever increasing resources, which leaves them crippled. All neighbouring beehives eventually engage in a war that leaves hundreds dead. The overexploited environment is littered with corpses.

10The architecture and landscapes of the community of Loch Lomond in the following chapters also mingle antiquity and modernity to the same object. Here is the first panorama that the bees are given to behold by Allan Ramsay when they first arrive:

The white stone of the buildings seen through the foliage of the trees; the various temples and colonnades, the hanging woods, the intermixture of knolls with crags of rocks and the elegant vessels and boats upon the lake formed a picture surpassing description … Under the new system, mankind have in the first instance selected the most favourable and agreeable situations, and the buildings are so arranged as to afford the advantages both of large cities and country residences, without the inconveniences of either; combining the pleasures of the various and intelligent society of the former, with the pure air and healthful exercise of the latter (Morgan 51, 46).

11The narrator insists that there are buildings and colonnades of “all orders of architecture” (Morgan 64), and specifies that the Doric and Ionic styles are mostly used. According to Vitruvius, the Roman engineer and architect who lived in the first century BC, the sturdy Doric order was more masculine while the Ionic graceful curves were more feminine. The equal mention of both architectural devices (in addition to the fact that Saadi is taught by both a man and by a woman) can be interpreted as a way for Morgan to point out the equality that characterises the utopian community. All public facilities are built in the Greek style. The whole place is reminiscent of Athenian thalassocracy as multiple islands housing small communities are bound together by a common culture. It is described as follows by the spirit of Allan Ramsay:

The stupendous mountain upon which you are assembled, rises, as you will perceive at break of day, from the borders of an extensive lake in which there are about thirty islands. On the other side, and to the north, are mountains of less magnitude; on the south, the lake is terminated by a small river, the Leven, which runs into the Clyde. There are about twenty-five communities in the immediate vicinity of the lake, each consisting of two thousand persons. The smaller islands belong to different communities, but the larger ones are the joint property of the whole (Morgan 46).

12More symbolic still of this peaceful, autarchic community is its Parthenon:

Upon the largest [island], there is a marble building of the Doric order, of considerable dimensions, resembling in external appearance and when viewed from a distance, the Parthenon of Athens, except in size, being rather larger. In this, delegates from the different communities assemble to deliberate upon subjects of local interest, and upon such undertakings as may require the united efforts of many communities to achieve (Morgan 50).

13This larger-than-life Parthenon used as the community’s House of Parliament suggests the sacredness of Loch Lomond’s democracy. As the emblematic monument of classical Athens, and one dedicated to the goddess Athena Nike who both embodied wisdom and victory, this temple of utopian politics stands as evidence of their having achieved the best possible regime.

14Greek architecture is also used for the community’s many museums and libraries: “[T]here is a museum for every four communities, so placed as to be equally distant from all, and of course, very near to each: but in one of the Grecian structures of the islands, is a museum of much larger scale, devoted to the most curious specimens of natural history” (Morgan 46, 50). All the inhabitants have free access to these facilities as education is the cornerstone of their lives. On entering the largest libraries, they are invited to meditate on two allegories represented on opposite walls: Time on one wall and Knowledge on the other. The latter is represented as a river whose tributaries are called Aristotle, Archimedes, Plato, Hippocrates and Galen as well as Bacon, Galileo, Newton and Locke. As Loch Lomond is a city built on a river, it can be understood as the happy produce of all these great thinkers of the past. As with the pastoral landscape that brought together antiquity and modernity, the association of five ancient and five modern philosophers and scientists suggests the community’s ability to reconcile the Ancients and the Moderns and to build on what was best in both traditions. This enables the co-operative community to live according to what Morgan calls the laws of nature as defined and refined by all the greatest minds. The reader is also told that all characters are bathed in ancient wisdom: Saadi has the necessary knowledge and experience to understand, appreciate and eventually adopt co-operative principles because “he is passionately fond of the Greek and Roman classics and because, he visited the ruins of Athens and Rome” (Morgan 53).

15The combination of Greek architectural elements with an artful organisation of nature is the very definition of the 18th century landscape garden (Sippel 144-146). The use of the landscape garden in Loch Lomond contributes to making all the inhabitants of Loch Lomond aristocrats, that is to say that they are all made to pertain of the classici. According to Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, “Classical architecture, like any other product of culture, is a social phenomenon. The origin of the term is telling. Classical means related to the social order of the classici, the highest rank of the hierarchical structure of ancient Rome, juxtaposed to the lowest, that of the proletarii”. (1) By all inhabiting this complex landscape, the utopians are invited to use their senses and educate themselves to beauty and virtue. Morgan and Owen seem to say nothing else when they describe the places where members of their communities are to live and be educated. In New Lanark, Owen insisted that the New Institution where the children were to receive a full education should be built and decorated in such a way as to elevate their souls (Owen 13-15). The choice of classical architecture for Morgan’s museums pertains to the same belief that the outer environment had an influence on the children’s moral, mental and physical development.

The Utopian Polis

16The beauty and harmony of Loch Lomond serves a grander purpose than mere aesthetics. They are conducive to virtue and thus to the happiness of the community. As I showed somewhere else, when it comes to politics, Morgan operates the same synthesis as that of the landscape garden in the best traditions of modern and ancient times (Sippel 139-162). Education, social organisation and common rituals are of Athenian, Spartan and Roman inspiration, with distinct empiricist overtones. I shall then turn to what Frédéric Moret points out about the places that are to be inhabited by utopians: they are set in a harmonious and idealized rural context, but offer all the cultural facilities that were to be found in large cities only in the 19th century (Moret 102, 119).

17Education is of paramount concern to writers of utopias―most often as the prime tool of social control. To Morgan, however, it is also essential to the creation of enlightened citizens whose virtue runs deeper than mere conformity. Douglas insists on ancient history as one of the cornerstones of the community’s education:

Think not, my friend, that we hold in light estimation those instances of devotedness to the public good, recorded in the history of the Grecian and Roman States: on the contrary, we look back to them with exultation, as exhibiting the most triumphant proofs of the all-powerful influence of education, and of national institutions, in moulding the human mind to any predetermined character, to characters preferring torture, and even death itself, to a life of ease and luxury, when unattended with the esteem of their fellow-citizens (Morgan 78).

18A disciple of Robert Owen, Morgan also shared his views on education. Both thought that the early 19th century was marked by decadence, and that this process was caused by a deficit in education. Spartan discipline, Athenian culture and the noble savage’s alleged innocence should be combined to form truly virtuous individuals and citizens. To Morgan, this was almost achieved over the centuries thanks to the efforts that Enlightenment philosophers had displayed to improve the theories elaborated by their ancient forefathers. However, it all collapsed at the very end of the 18th century when the writings of political economists like Malthus ushered Britons into the competitive era:

Philosophers in former ages had indulged in the anticipation of the final triumph of truth and virtue over error and vice, but, during the previous century, extraordinary progress had been made in the knowledge of the nature of man and the science of social happiness. Indeed, so closely did many of the theories approximate to our present form of society, and so correct were some of the general principles, that it was expected another generation would perfect the science. Such were the sanguine hopes of mankind when a clergyman of the Church of England, the Reverend Mr. Malthus, put forth an “Essay on the Principle of Population” to prove that the numbers of mankind had a tendency to increase geometrically and food arithmetically, so that too rapid an increase in population was checked either by vice and misery arising from want, or by moral restraint (Morgan 140-141).

19The chapters of the Revolt of the Bees that are set in Loch Lomond illustrate how the perfection of the polis could be achieved by furthering the improvements that had been underway before Malthus wrote his Essay. From the modern John Locke, Morgan borrows the association of ideas to imprint young minds with the virtues of their communities. The first human activity that the bees are given to see when they arrive in Lanarkshire is that of children being driven by their masters to the top of the highest mountain where they simultaneously admire the sunrise and pick a miraculous flower they are to give the sick and the elderly to ease their sufferings (Morgan 47). The sublime of the landscape is associated with the supreme virtue of benevolence, thus intertwining both memories for as long as these children will live.

20Lycurgus’s Sparta provides another aspect of the utopian educational model, which is far from original in this kind of text – equality, hard work, dedication to the community and frugality are ubiquitous in the utopian genre. Douglas pays tribute to Lycurgus as he explains how Spartan values have been reoriented in the co-operative context of Loch Lomond:

No legislator, either of ancient or modern times, understood better than Lycurgus the principle upon which the human character was formed: but we must distinguish between this principle and the character formed. However well adapted the Spartan character was to the circumstances of that isolated state, surrounded by hostile nations, it is far from being worthy of imitation in the present period, enlightened as it is by the accumulated wisdom of succeeding ages. Nevertheless, those means employed with such extraordinary success by Lycurgus in generating the martial character, we have applied with equal success, and with the certainty of more lasting effect in producing the intelligent and the benevolent (Morgan 79).

21The physical education of children in Loch Lomond betrays the influence of many sources. It is partly modelled on Owen’s education of children at New Lanark which bears similar features with Rousseau’s educative advice displayed in Emile that takes us back to Sparta. According to Judith Shklar, there are in Rousseau’s writings few “virtues other than military valor and endurance, and success in battle”, so much so that “even Emile, who certainly would never go to war, is trained to be ready for a military expedition.” She concludes that “Rousseau’s military schemes were instruments of political education” (Shklar 33-35). Owen similarly included military drill in his education of children. This military practice did not so much aim at turning them into able soldiers, as to redress them, both physically and morally: “this exercise, properly administered, will greatly contribute to the health and spirit of the boys, give them an erect and proper form, and habits of attention, celerity and order” (Owen 57). If all the boys were trained in such a way, then they would form “a permanent force which in numbers, discipline and principles would be superior, beyond all comparison, for the purposes of defence” (Owen 58). Only boys were to receive this military education. Christensen’s study of athletics in Spartan education is extremely insightful. He argues that “athletics contributed to the maintenance of the Spartan social order by inducing compliance with behavioral norms” (Christensen 196). He convincingly explains why athletics (including sports, military drill and choral dance) are part and parcel of the socialization in Sparta which results in a consensus by which the members of a society “come to broad agreement about norms they will voluntarily obey” (209). He goes on to quote Bourdieu and his demonstration that the body’s memory is apt to shape individual behaviour:

If all societies, and significantly, all the “totalitarian institutions” in Goffman’s phrase, that seek to produce a new man through a process of “deculturation” and “reculturation” set such store on the seemingly most insignificant details of dress, bearing, physical, and verbal manners, the reason is that, treating the body as a memory, they entrust to it in abbreviated and practical, i.e. mnemonic, form the fundamental principles of the arbitrary content of the culture. The principles em-bodied in this way are placed beyond the grasp of consciousness and hence cannot be touched by voluntary, deliberate transformation, cannot even be made explicit (Christensen 216).

22This specific part of Owenite education was not taken up by John Minter Morgan in his utopia, though it is made clear that all utopians are expected to engage into a benevolent army. Though it is not specifically described, some humanitarian paramilitary drill, so to speak, must feature in children’s formation. What all the children in Loch Lomond do, like the boys and girls of New Lanark and of classical Sparta, is engage in choral dance. When their army comes back in triumph from its humanitarian mission, the children show their skills:

A number of the girls danced gracefully round the marble table, and formed a semicircle between that and the organ; the remainder divided, and ranged themselves in the same form on the right and the left. The boys danced in the same order and took their stations before the girls […] The girls and boys sang singly and together… The ceremony concluded with a full chorus (Morgan 76-77).

23Owen also insisted that all boys and girls were to sing and dance in their education. I’ll argue that this is also borrowed from ancient Sparta. On this subject as well, Christensen’s arguments are, once again, quite compelling. He shows how choral dance was part of the coercive system of classical Sparta where boys, men and unmarried girls performed choral dance. Christensen shows how it pertains to what Foucault called “discipline”: “Foucault identified three components in a disciplinary system: systemic arrangement that creates docile bodies, means of correct training, and panopticism” (215). Despite the utopia’s emphasis on benevolence, the involvement of Loch Lomond’s children in ritualized performances suggests that they are shaped into ideal members of the community.

Performance constitutes an essential bridge between ritual activities serving as models of social norms and serving as models for actual behaviour because participants reproduce idealized forms of behaviour they are expected to manifest in some form in their daily lives (Christensen 221).

24All eyes are on the children as their performance complements the return of the triumphant army. The harmony of the song and dance is meant to corroborate the utopians’ happiness, but contemporary readers cannot help feeling some totalitarian, social coercion looming. In the words of Debra Hawhee: “If musical rhythm comes to inhabit the body through productive repetition, rhythm also gets inculcated through a kind of mimêsis, another critical element in ancient pedagogy” (“Bodily pedagogies” 152).

25Yet the martial abilities that Owen associated with Spartan education are geared towards another aim in Morgan’s utopia. The author of the Revolt of the Bees considered the co-operative stage as the final one in the development of mankind, after the state of nature, the pastoral, the agricultural, the merchant and the industrial stages. Benevolence, the core value taught to children from their earliest years, was to spread to the entire world, and co-operative armies would no longer fight wars but carry out large-scale humanitarian expeditions that required military-like organisation. The bee Orpheus that used to celebrate the corrupt victories of the competitive age in the hive catches a glimpse of the army of Loch Lomond as it comes back from an expedition. Allan Ramsay’s spirit explains that it was not a military victory but one against “the elements” as these troops had spent some forty years in Batavia to help rebuild their sea wall (53). Benevolence is extended to all nations, and not restricted to the fellow inhabitants of Loch Lomond. The ceremony that follows their return is another instance of how ancient traditions are taken up in the utopia in order to cement the community:

They now return, and the trophies you behold are the testimonials of gratitude and friendship from the natives of Batavia: they bring also the best specimens of staple commodities of the country. You perceive they are separating: the detachement belonging to Loch Lomond enters the defile between Tarbert Hill and the Cobler Mountain: they pass the head of Loch Long, and there they will remain until the members of these communities are prepared to go out to greet their arrival. This ceremony, and that which follows, are observed for the purpose of impressing the occasion of their absence more strongly upon the minds of their children (53).

26The depiction that follows is that of a Roman-like triumph. In republican Rome, triumphs were ceremonies granted by the senate to a successful general (or magistrate―in either case someone with imperium) who had defeated an enemy of the nations (Bastien 196). This tradition had been taken up in the Renaissance era, especially in Italy in the 15th century or in Spain in the 16th century when Charles V walked in triumph in Rome in 1535 after his victory in Tunis (Bastien 3). In a utopian context, the triumph is transformed into a democratic rite. All those who took part in the rescue of Batavia are allowed into the procession, not just the general with imperium. No prisoners are to be found in the booty that is presented to the crowd. Rather than the fruit of pillage, what the army bring back are gifts freely offered by the Dutch as a sign of their gratitude. Hawhee shows why it was essential that such processions should be public performances:

The ancient festival constituted a space of visibility that showcased honor precisely by facilitating its exchange […] Isocrates therefore articulates a critical connection between athletics and rhetoric: they both occasion gathering and witnessing (Bodily Art 165).

27In Loch Lomond’s procession, however, the onlookers are considered as if they had taken part in the mission: as members of a single body politic, all the utopians either really or vicariously engage in the actions that some of them carry out.

28The bodily education that these latter-day Spartans receive is aimed at moulding their characters. What the utopians are disciplined into accepting from their earliest age is the notion that they should not hurt or harm any of their fellowmen. Owen thus insists that “each child, on his entrance into the playground, is to be told in a language which he can understand, that ‘he is never to injure his playfellows; but that, on the contrary, he is to contribute all his power to make them happy’” (Morgan 39). This is based on a strong belief in their essential equality and in the Christian principle that they should not do to others what they would not like others to do to them. They had to accept and respect their fellows as human beings. They belonged to the same social body and their essential equality involved economic equality through an equal distribution of property and the prohibition of further appropriation of common resources. The core principle that most radicals and writers of utopias took up from Lycurgus’s laws was the kleros, the portion of land allotted to each male citizen and which could not be either bought or sold. That plot of land was enough to support a man’s family. There was therefore a close link between that law and the ideal of the noble Indian as depicted by Owen: no one was allowed to own more than was strictly necessary to their existence and, consequently, no one was deprived of their means, however frugal, of subsistence. As Morgan’s chief target was Malthus and his scathing reply to Godwin’s utopian scheme, the reader of The Revolt of the Bees is led to understand that the inhabitants of Loch Lomond have opted for the principles which late 18th century radicals (like William Ogilvie and Thomas Spence for instance) supported concerning an equal division of property in the land. H. T. Dickinson provides an insightful overview of these in his monograph Liberty and Property (230, 256-259). Accepting to live on an unalienable kleros would at the same time mean going back to ancient ideas and pursuing the social and economic progress of the radical Enlightenment. As in the egalitarian Sparta of their dreams, Loch Lomond based its economic exchanges on an equal participation in the polis’s chores. All the utopians, even women and children, were to take on a task that they could indeed perform without endangering their health. On the contrary, because labour was equally distributed according to their skills, it allowed them to improve both their physical and their intellectual abilities. Money was unnecessary, which made it impossible to accumulate more wealth than was actually useful to the citizens.

29What makes Loch Lomond different from Sparta is the abundance of museums and libraries where the inhabitants can train their reason. John Lockman, an 18th century historian of Greece, insists that Athens despised Sparta for its lack of scientific and artistic achievements. His History of Greece is written in the popular form of a catechism:

How were the Lacedaemonians affected as to the Sciences? A.: They despised them more than the other people of Greece, for which the Athenians in particular despised the Lacedaemonians. Q.: What was their opinion of the Arts? A.: As mean as of the Sciences (Lockman 132).

30Arts and sciences were considered luxuries in the 18th century, as can be seen in Rousseau’s Discourse on the Moral effects of the arts and sciences written in 1750 which argued that they were luxuries that could threaten human morality. To Morgan, however, arts and sciences were part of that irrepressible progress that had been going on since Antiquity and they contributed to the proper education of the people. The education provided in Loch Lomond combines the virtues of Sparta and Athens: full dedication to the community and an encouragement to become a rational citizen.

31Like many writers of utopias before him, Morgan borrows several elements from the ancient tradition and rewrites it to suit his purposes. The destruction of the bees’ physical bodies and the ensuing collapse of the beehive’s body politic after it has abandoned the co-operative state of nature in the first chapter is an allegorical illustration of what Morgan saw as the damage caused by those who put an end to the progress that had been going on since Antiquity. The equality, virtue and intelligence of ancient Sparta, Rome and Athens, improved by the thinking of some late 18th century radical philosophers like Godwin was to be promoted in his utopian fable in order for the readers to realise that co-operation was not a “visionary” system but one that yielded harmonious bodies in which all members shared true happiness. Loch Lomond as shown by the spirit of Scottish poet Allan Ramsay provides the readers with an image of what mankind could have become, had reformers such as Robert Owen been properly acknowledged rather than reactionary writers like Malthus or political economists. Adam Smith saw his times as the fourth phase of European development. After hunting and gathering, after being shepherd or farmers, men had reached the “commercial” stage which corresponded to the highest state of economic progress. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith insisted on the fact that (self-) interest was greater in this fourth stage:

Society may subsist among different men, as among different merchants, from a sense of its utility, without any mutual love or affection; and though no man in it should owe any obligation, or be bound in gratitude to any other, it may still be upheld by a mercenary exchange of good offices according to an agreed valuation (189).

32This excerpt sheds light on the fact that this commercial stage could threaten the very humanity of the members of society. As a Christian socialist, Morgan could not accept that the social body should be maintained together by economic interests only. He uses a whole range of topoi from Antiquity to endow the inhabitants of Loch Lomond with all the characteristics of the vera nobilitas of Ciceronian humanists. Like the modern British upper class, they all live in a landscape garden and like the Roman nobilitas of old, they are all to take part in the triumph of their army to celebrate benevolence―a concept extended to all nations. The training they are given to prepare for their army’s missions disciplines their bodies, and their dancing talents during the triumph ceremony reflect their humane qualities. Unlike the cruellest bees in the hive, they appear as human and humane as they are, from their earliest age onwards. Their aristocratic education (they are taught the humanities) and bodily training imprint on their minds the paramount virtue of the community, and bring about a consensus as defined by Christensen: “conscious, voluntary adherence to social norms” (243). This consensus in turn secures their obedience to that social norm, which raises the question of whether Loch Lomond, like so many other utopias (starting with More’s) is a totalitarian rather than a perfectly democratic regime. All the utopians are spectators of ritualised bodily exercise (choral dance and processions) and of their fellowmen’s daily behaviour, which is reminiscent of Foucault’s mention of panopticism. To Morgan, however, there is no doubt that this cooperative community is the ultimate form of human political organisation. The Parthenon where the elected delegates of the community meet perfectly exemplifies the sacredness of a representative democracy that is directly inspired from egalitarian models but also largely idealised, as were the Athenian or Roman republics. What was less ideal in Antiquity, like slavery in democratic Athens or the treatment of unfit babies in Sparta, is carefully obliterated. Morgan seems to adopt a teleological view of human history in which the co-operative stage was to succeed the other four stages of economic progress that had been identified by Smith and other philosophers of the Scottish Enlightenment. This final phase combines the virtue of Antiquity, the comfort of the modern world and the universal peace all ages had dreamt of. The many references to Antiquity also offer the writer of utopias a moral justification in order to demonstrate that his dream is not a new one but, on the contrary, one that can forever be perfected.

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1 Mandeville’s The Fable of the Bees is a verse fable that depicts an economically thriving beehive that enjoys the benefits of a mild constitutional monarchy. Its economic success is, however, to be attributed to the corruption that infects the whole society and that shows in all the bees’ desire of distinction. Their envy and pride fuel what we would now call economic growth and greatly contribute to making their beehive more powerful than the neighbouring ones. As individual bees resent their fellows’ vices, they pray Jove to rid the whole hive of vice, which is granted. From that moment onwards, bees are honest and moderate, which causes them to disregard luxury goods, which in turn causes their economic fortune to wane and eventually their numbers to plummet. They end up attacked by neighbouring – still vicious – hives and surviving bees eventually repair to a dead tree. The moral of the fable concludes that it is unrealistic to wish for a virtuous society, unless one is ready to renounce all comforts in life. Mandeville first published his Fable in 1714, but subsequently added commentaries on the various stanzas, and these later editions (after 1723) made him more (in-)famous as a long-lasting debate over luxury took place in the 18th century; a debate in which he was often lambasted as an immoral and cynical freethinker. Morgan draws on this as his Revolt shows the opposite phenomenon: an egalitarian beehive in which all operatives live on an equal footing engage in a revolution that leads to a huge increase in industrial production and trade, but also to dramatic inequalities.

2 Douglas is an intelligent youth and one of Saadi’s attendants. Margaret on the other hand, is a clever young woman who lives in Loch Lomond and has benefited of their perfect education. Their dialogue thus reflects the best of two worlds: Saadi’s wisdom and Loch Lomond’s benevolence.

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Electronic reference

Alexandra Sippel, « A Parthenon on the Banks of the Clyde: Antiquity and Equality in The Revolt of the Bees by John Minter Morgan” », Miranda [Online], 11 | 2015, Online since 21 July 2015, connection on 11 August 2020. URL : ; DOI :

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