Mandeville, Bernard (DNB00)


MANDEVILLE, BERNARD (1670?–1733), author of the 'Fable of the Bees,' born about 1670, was a native of Dort (or Dordrecht) in Holland. He pronounced an 'Oratio Scholastics, De Medicina,' upon leaving the Erasmus School at Rotterdam for the university in October 1785. On 23 March 1689 he maintained a thesis at Leyden 'De Brutorum Operationibus,' arguing for the automatism of brutes ; and on 30 March 1691 kept an 'inaugural disputation,' 'De Chylosi Vitiata,' at Leyden upon taking his degree as doctor of medicine. Copies of these are in the British Museum ; the last is dedicated to his father, 'Michaelo de Mandeville, apud Roterodamenses practice felicissimo.' For some unknown reason he settled in England. According to Hawkins (Life of Johnson, p. 263), he lived in obscure lodgings in London and never acquired much practice. Some Dutch merchants whom he nattered allowed him a pension. He is also said to have been 'hired by the distillers' to write in favour of spirituous liquors. A physician who had married a distiller's daughter told Hawkins that Mandeville was 'a good sort of man,' and quoted him as maintaining that the children of dram-drinking women were 'never afflicted with the rickets.' Mandeville is said to have been coarse and overbearing when he dared, and was probably little respected outside of distilling circles. Lord Macclesfield, however, when chief justice (1710-1718), is said to have often entertained him for the sake of his conversation (Hawkins, and Lounger's Commonplace Book, by Jeremiah Whitaker Newman, ii. 306). At Macclesfield's house he met Addison, whom he described as 'a parson in a tye-wig.' Franklin during his first visit to England was introduced to Mandeville, and describes him as the 'soul' of a club held at a tavern and a 'most entertaining, facetious companion' (Franklin, Memoirs). He died 21 Jan. 1732-3 (Gent. Mag. for 1733), ' in his sixty-third year ' according to the 'Bibliotheque Britannique.'

Mandeville published in 1705 a doggerel poem called 'The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves turned Honest,' which was piratically reprinted as 'a sixpenny pamphlet,' and sold about the streets as a halfpenny sheet (preface to later edition). In 1714 it was republished anonymously with an 'Inquiry into the Origin of Moral Virtue,' and a series of notes, under the title 'The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices Public Benefits.' In 1723 appeared a second edition, with an 'Essay on Charity and Charity Schools,' and a 'Search into the Nature of Society.' The grand jury of Middlesex presented the book as a nuisance in July 1723, and it was denounced in a letter by 'Theophilus Philo-Britannus' in the 'London Journal' of 27 July following. Mandeville replied by a letter to the same journal on 10 Aug., reprinted as a 'Vindication' in later editions. The book was attacked by Richard Fiddes [q. v.] in his ' General Treatise of Morality,' 1724 ; by John Dennis [q. v.] in 'Vice and Luxury Public Mischiefs' (1724); by William Law [q. v.] in 'Remarks upon … the Fable of the Bees;' by Francis Hutcheson (1694-1746) [q. v.] in 'Hibernicus's Letters ' (1725-7), and by Archibald Campbell (1691-1756) [q. v.] in his Άρετηλογία (1728), fraudulently published as his own by Alexander Innes. Campbell (or Innes) challenged Mandeville to redeem a promise which he had made that he would burn the book if it were proved to be immoral. An advertisement of the Άρετηλογία was followed by a paragraph stating that the author of the 'Fabl ' had, upon reading this challenge, burnt his own book solemnly at the bonfire before St. James's Gate on 1 March 1728. Mandeville ridiculed this ingenious fiction in the preface to a second part of the 'Fable of the Bees' added to later editions. The sixth edition appeared in 1729, the ninth in 1755, and it has been often reprinted. Berkeley replied to Mandeville in the second dialogue of 'Alciphron' (1732), to which Mandeville replied in 'A Letter to Dion' in the same year. John Brown (1715-1766) [q. v.], in his 'Essay upon Shaftesbury's Characteristics ' (1751), also attacks Mandeville as well as Shaftesbury.

Mandeville gave great offence by this book, in which a cynical system of morality was made attractive by ingenious paradoxes. It was long popular, and later critics have I pointed out the real acuteness of the writer as well as the vigour of his style, especially remarkable in a foreigner. His doctrine that prosperity was increased by expenditure I rather than by saving fell in with many current economical fallacies not yet extinct. Assuming with the ascetics that human desires were essentially evil and therefore produced 'private vices,' and assuming with the common view that wealth was a 'public benefit,' he easily showed that all civilisation implied the development of vicious propensities. He argued again with the Hobbists that the origin of virtue was to be found in selfish and savage instincts, and vigorously attacked Shaftesbury's contrary theory of a 'moral sense.' But he tacitly accepted Shaftesbury's inference that virtue so understood was a mere sham. He thus argued, in appearance at least, for the essential vileness of human nature ; though his arguments may be regarded as partly ironical, or as a satire against the hypocrisies of an artificial society. In any case his appeal to facts, against the plausibilities of the opposite school, shows that he had many keen though imperfect previsions of later scientific views, both upon ethical and economical questions. Dr. Johnson was much impressed by the 'Fable,' which, he said, did not puzzle him, but 'opened his views into real life very much' (Hill, Boswell, iii. 291-3 ; see criticisms in James Mill, Fragment on Mackintosh, 1870, pp. 57- 63 ; Bain, Moral Science, pp. 593-8 ; Stephen, English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 33-40).

Besides the 'Fable' and the Latin exercises above mentioned, Mandeville's works are: 1. 'Esop Dressed, or a Collection of Fables writ in Familiar Verse,' 1704. 2. 'Typhon in Verse,' 1704. 3. 'The Planter's Charity, a poem,' 1704. 4. 'The Virgin Unmasked, or Female Dialogues betwixt an elderly maiden Lady and her Niece,' 1709, 1724, 1731 (a coarse story, with reflections upon marriage, &c.) 5. 'Treatise of Hypochondriack and Hysterick Passions, vulgarly called Hypo in Men and Vapours in Women . . .,' 1711, 1715, 1730 (admired by Johnson according to Hawkins). 6. 'Free Thoughts on Religion, the Church, and National Happiness,' 1720. 7. 'A Conference about Whoring,' 1725. 8. 'An Enquiry into the Causes of the frequent Executions at Tyburn,' 1725 (a curious account of the abuses then prevalent). 9. 'An Enquiry into the Origin of Honour and the Usefulness of Christianity in War,' 1732. To Mandeville have also been attributed : 'A Modest Defence of Publick Stews,' 1740 ; 'The World Unmasked, or the Philosopher the greatest Cheat,' 1736 (certainly not his) ; and ' Zoologia Medicinalis Hibernica,' 1744 (but previously published by 'John Keogh' in 1739).

[The notices in the General Dictionary, vii. 388 (1738), Chaufepie, and the Biographia Britannica give no biographical details ; Hawkins's brief note as above and the Lounger's Commonplace Book (see above) preserve the only personal tradition.]

L. S.