Marginalia, no.336

We had in this village more than twenty years ago an idiot-boy, whom I well remember, who, from a child, shewed a strong propensity to bees; they were his food, his amusement, his sole object. …[He] had no apprehension from their stings but would seize them nudis manibus, and at once disarm them of their weapons, and suck their bodies for the sake of their honey-bags. Sometimes he would fill his bosom between his shirt and his skin with a number of these captives; and sometimes would confine them in bottles… As he ran about he used to make a humming noise with his lips, resembling the buzzing of bees.

~ Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne

The Bee Boy of Selborne, we learn, was a lot of trouble to the local beekeepers and was shipped off to another district where he unfortunately died before reaching manhood. But was his enthusiasm for bees a symptom of his idiocy, or the cause of it? White does not speculate. Regardless, the story offers a nice illustration for my idea that total, all-consuming devotion to a single object will render a person either sublimely admirable or sublimely ridiculous. I’m convinced that there is no in-between for the honest monomaniac.

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