The Gauls had corn in Caesar's time: one is curious to know where they
and the Teutons found it to sow. People answer you that the Tyrians had
brought it into Spain, the Spaniards into Gaul, the Gauls into Germany.
And where did the Tyrians get this corn? Among the Greeks probably, from
whom they received it in exchange for their alphabet.
Who had made this present to the Greeks? It was formerly Ceres without a
doubt; and when one has gone back to Ceres one can hardly go farther.
Ceres must have come down on purpose from the sky to give us wheat, rye,
But as the credit of Ceres who gave the corn to the Greeks, and that of
Isheth or Isis who bestowed it on the Egyptians, is very much fallen in
these days, we remain in uncertainty as to the origin of corn.
Sanchoniathon affirms that Dagon or Dagan, one of the grandsons of
Thaut, had the control of corn in Phoenicia. Well, his Thaut is of
about the same time as our Jared. From this it results that corn is very
old, and that it is of the same antiquity as grass. Perhaps this Dagon
was the first man to make bread, but that is not demonstrated.
Strange thing! we know positively that it is to Noah that we are under
an obligation for wine, and we do not know to whom we owe bread. And,
still more strange thing, we are so ungrateful to Noah, that we have
more than two thousand songs in honour of Bacchus, and we chant barely
one in honour of Noah our benefactor.
A Jew has assured me that corn came by itself in Mesopotamia, like the
apples, wild pears, chestnuts, medlars in the West. I want to believe
it until I am sure of the contrary; for corn must certainly grow
somewhere. It has become the ordinary and indispensable food in the good
climates, and throughout the North.
Some great philosophers whose talents we esteem and whose systems we do
not follow (Buffon) have claimed on page 195 of the "Natural History of
the Dog," that mankind has made corn; that our fathers by virtue of
sowing lolium and gramina changed them into wheat. As these philosophers
are not of our opinion about shells, they will permit us not to be of
theirs about corn. We do not believe that one has ever made tulips grow
from jasmin. We find that the germ of corn is quite different from that
of lolium, and we do not believe in any transmutation. When somebody
shows it to us we will retract.
Corn assuredly is not the food of the greater part of the world. Maize,
tapioca, feed the whole of America. We have entire provinces where the
peasants eat nothing but chestnut bread, more nourishing and of better
flavour than that of rye and barley which so many people eat, and which
is much better than the ration bread which is given to the soldier. The
whole of southern Africa does not know of bread. The immense archipelago
of the Indies, Siam, Laos, Pegu, Cochin China, Tonkin, a part of China,
Japan, the coast of Malabar and Coromandel, the banks of the Ganges
furnish a rice, the cultivation of which is much easier than that of
wheat, and which causes it to be neglected. Corn is absolutely unknown
for the space of fifteen hundred leagues on the coasts of the Glacial
Sea. This food, to which we are accustomed, is among us so precious that
the fear of seeing a dearth of it alone causes riots among the most
subjugated peoples. The corn trade is everywhere one of the great
objects of government; it is a part of our being, and yet this essential
commodity is sometimes squandered ridiculously. The powder merchants use
the best flour for covering the heads of our young men and women. But
over three-quarters of the earth bread is not eaten at all. People
maintain that the Ethiopians mocked at the Egyptians who lived on
bread. But since it is our chief food, corn has become one of the great
objects of trade and politics. So much has been written on this subject,
that if a husbandman sowed as much corn as the weight of the volumes we
have about this commodity, he might hope for the amplest harvest, and
become richer than those who in their gilded and lacquered drawing-rooms
ignore his exceeding labour and wretchedness.