Was I not right to insist? An apparently insignificant fact has led to the authentic proof of a fact that the Larinidae had already made me suspect. The long-beaked weevils have an internal probe, an abdominal rostrum, which nothing in their external appearance betrays; they possess, among the hidden organs of the abdomen, the counterpart of the grasshopper’s sabre and the ichneumon’s dagger.
THE PEA-WEEVIL—BRUCHUS PISI
Peas are held in high esteem by mankind. From remote ages man has endeavoured, by careful culture, to produce larger, tenderer, and sweeter varieties. Of an adaptable character, under careful treatment the plant has evolved in a docile fashion, and has ended by giving us what the ambition of the gardener desired. To-day we have gone far beyond the yield of the Varrons and Columelles, and further still beyond the original pea; from the wild seeds confided to the soil by the first man who thought to scratch up the surface of the earth, perhaps with the half-jaw of a cave-bear, whose powerful canine tooth would serve him as a ploughshare!
Where is it, this original pea, in the world of spontaneous vegetation? Our own country has nothing resembling it. Is it to be found elsewhere? On this point botany is silent, or replies only with vague probabilities.
We find the same ignorance elsewhere on the subject of the majority of our alimentary vegetables. Whence comes wheat, the blessed grain which gives us bread? No one knows. You will not find it here, except in the care of man; nor will you find it abroad. In the East, the birthplace of agriculture, no botanist has ever encountered the sacred ear growing of itself on unbroken soil.
Barley, oats, and rye, the turnip and the beet, the beetroot, the carrot, the pumpkin, and so many other vegetable products, leave us in the same perplexity; their point of departure is unknown to us, or at most suspected behind the impenetrable cloud of the centuries. Nature delivered them to us in the full vigour of the thing untamed, when their value as food was indifferent, as to-day she offers us the sloe, the bullace, the blackberry, the crab; she gave them to us in the state of imperfect sketches, for us to fill out and complete; it was for our skill and our labour patiently to induce the nourishing pulp which was the earliest form of capital, whose interest is always increasing in the primordial bank of the tiller of the soil.
As storehouses of food the cereal and the vegetable are, for the greater part, the work of man. The fundamental species, a poor resource in their original state, we borrowed as they were from the natural treasury of the vegetable world; the perfected race, rich in alimentary materials, is the result of our art.
If wheat, peas, and all the rest are indispensable to us, our care, by a just return, is absolutely necessary to them. Such as our needs have made them, incapable of resistance in the bitter struggle for survival, these vegetables, left to themselves without culture, would rapidly disappear, despite the numerical abundance of their seeds, as the foolish sheep would disappear were there no more sheep-folds.