Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 82.djvu/229

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225
A CHRONICLE OF THE TRIBE OF CORN

A CHRONICLE OF THE TRIBE OF CORN[1]
By Professor EDWARD M. EAST
HARVARD UNIVERSITY

ALEXANDRE DUMAS maintained that he weaved more history into his romances than the contemporary chroniclers did into their histories. Perhaps he did. At least the reader may lose himself in the marvelously interesting fancies of the great Frenchman, and if he gleans some points of fact they are gratuitous—features for which he has not paid. But when he finds that his cherished enmity toward Aaron Burr is founded on the fictions of political opponents, that the reformation was largely politics and not ethics, he feels in much the frame of mind as when in earlier days he was robbed of his belief in Saint Nicolas.

These statements are not intended as a libel on the political historian. They serve only to defend the title of this article. The modern historian depends, first upon the records of writers contemporary with the epoch under consideration, second, upon the corroboration or refutation of these records by circumstantial evidence. The biological historian uses precisely the same method. His contemporary records are the records set down by the plants or animals themselves—autobiographies, as it were. He has this advantage over the transcriber of written records, however, the plant autobiographies are true. There is no boasting, no glossing of faults, no exaggeration. The transcriber may misinterpret the record, but this is not the fault of the record. He has but to read it aright. The written record, on the other hand, may be false at the outset.

The story of the birth and evolution of maize, the plant at the basis of our national prosperity, is of interest not only to agriculturists and botanists but to historians and philosophers, for it is one of the crops whose cultivation is linked with the beginnings of civilization. It has taken some years to fit the puzzle together, but now the gaps are but few. Of course the proofs are not absolute. No proof is. But it may be left to the judgment of the reader whether the case is beyond the reasonable doubt of the lawyer. At least, it is typical of the reasoning

  1. An endeavor to trace the exact path of the evolution of maize is beset with more difficulties than are indicated here. I agree with many of the conclusions of both Montgomery and Collins, whose excellent researches have given us a remarkable insight into the probable phylogenetic history of maize. I have endeavored to present in this paper only the probable way in which certain important jumps occurred, facts that might be supposed to be of more popular interest than a strictly botanical discussion.