The Fable of the Bees: or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits consisted of a poem, The Grumbling Hive, or Knaves Turn’d Honest, along with an extensive prose commentary. The poem had appeared in 1705 and was intended as a commentary on England as Mandeville saw it
A Spacious Hive well stock’d with Bees,
That lived in Luxury and Ease;
And yet as fam’d for Laws and Arms,
As yielding large and early Swarms;
Was counted the great Nursery
Of Sciences and Industry.
No Bees had better Government,
More Fickleness, or less Content.
They were not Slaves to Tyranny,
Nor ruled by wild Democracy;
But Kings, that could not wrong, because
Their Power was circumscrib’d by Laws.
The ‘hive’ is corrupt but prosperous, yet it grumbles about lack of virtue. A higher power decides to give them what they ask for:
But Jove, with Indignation moved,
At last in Anger swore, he’d rid
The bawling Hive of Fraud, and did.
The very Moment it departs,
And Honesty fills all their Hearts;
This results in a rapid loss of prosperity, though the newly-virtuous hive does not mind:
For many Thousand Bees were lost.
Hard’ned with Toils, and Exercise
They counted Ease it self a Vice;
Which so improved their Temperance;
That, to avoid Extravagance,
They flew into a hollow Tree,
Blest with Content and Honesty.
De Mandeville’s most famous work, The Fable of the Bees, or Private Vices, Publick Benefits, came out in more than half a dozen editions beginning in 1714 (the poem The Grumbing Hive upon which it was based appeared in 1705) and became one of the most enduringly controversial works of the eighteenth century for its claims about the moral foundations of modern commercial society.
Text of the original poem: http://pedagogie.ac-toulouse.fr/philosophie/textes/mandevillethefableofthebees.htm