Bees and Taxes
Circa. 1817 – Swarm of Tax Gatherers (or) Blessings of Britain
By Thomas Tegg
British households are represented by large straw bee-hives; these are assailed by tax-collectors and their satellites who run through the air in a swarm. One hive is in the foreground (right), the two next are in the middle distance, with a line of little hives in the distance, curving to the left margin. John Bull, ragged but chubby, stands defiantly on the step of his hive, defending it with a stake shaped like a rough pitchfork and inscribed ‘Prop of Reform’; with this he prods the foremost collector, who drops book and pen in dismay. Behind him in the doorway is his wife, brandishing a poker, while three ragged and terrified small children cluster round the door. Other tax-gatherers assail the upper part of the hive; one has made a hole in the straw and puts in his hand; he has already seized honey. Another man departs with chunks of honeycomb, but his coat-tails are clutched by a man who leans from a hole in the hive. Another collector runs through the air, laden with spoil. More of the swarm are still advancing, holding pen and book or paper. One, holding up a constable’s staff, holds out a ‘Warrant [of] Distress . . John Bull’ [scarcely legible]; another has a huge book inscribed ‘Poor’s Rate’. Other books are inscribed ‘Kings Tax’ and ‘Assess’d Taxes’. One man holds out a paper inscribed ‘Snatch Broker & Sworn Appraiser’. The men recede in perspective towards the upper left corner of the design, from which the swarm is descending upon the hives. A tax-gatherer enters the door of the second hive, while another stands on the upper part nailing on it a placard: ‘Kings Taxes’. In the foreground (right) beside the hive a broken cord drops from a clothes-prop weighted down with tattered garments. On the left is a smoking manure-heap inscribed ‘Ministrial Dung-hill’; on this lies a paper, ‘Prope[rty] Tax’ [now removed, see No. 12750, &c.], and from it grow toadstools inscribed ‘Place, Pension’, and ‘Sinecure’. After the title:
‘”All with united force combine to Drive,”
“The lazy Drones from the laborious Hive.” Virgil’
Above the design: ‘Quarter Day.’
Plate numbered 389.