The Garden Guide

Book: History of Garden Design and Gardening
Chapter: Chapter 3: European Gardens (500AD-1850)

Tulipomania in Holland

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184. Tulipomania. Beckmann, in his History of Inventions (vol. i. p. 36.), has a chapter on this subject, entitled Tulips. C. Gesner tells us that he saw the first tulip, in the beginning of April, 1559, at Augsburg, in the garden of the learned and ingenious counsellor, John Henry Herwart. In 1611, they first appeared in Provence in France, in the garden of the celebrated Peiresc. The Dutch merchants, who were fond of flowers, sent to Constantinople for tulips as soon as they became known; and the first that were planted in England were sent from Vienna about the end of the sixteenth century, according to Hakluyt, who says �they were procured thither a little before, from Constantinople, by an excellent man, Carolus Clusius.� John Barclay, the author of the Latin romance Argenis, &c., employed his vacant hours in the cultivation of a flower-garden near Rome. Rossi (or Erythr�us) relates, that he cared not for those bulbous roots which produce flowers of a fine scent; and that he cultivated such as produced, flowers void of smell, but having a variety of colours. Hence we may infer that he was one of the first of those who were infected with the tulipomania. Barclay had it to that excess, that he placed two mastiff's as sentinels on his garden, and, rather than abandon his favourite flowers, chose to continue his residence in an ill-aired and unwholesome habitation. (Erythr�i Pinacotheca, vol. iii. 17. p. 623.) �The gaudy tulip,� says a modern tourist, �was an object which at one time drove the grave, the prudent, and the cautious Dutchman as wild as ever did the South Sea bubble, or the senseless speculations that took possession of our countrymen a few years ago, the gullible John Bull. The enormous prices that were actually given for real tulip bulbs of particular kinds, formed but a small fraction of the extent to which the mercantile transactions of this flower were carried. If we may give credit to Beckmann, who states it on Dutch authorities, four hundred perits in weight (something less than a grain), of the bulb of a tulip, named Admiral Leifken, cost four thousand four hundred florins; and two hundred of another, named Semper Augustus, two thousand florins. Of this last, he tells us, it once happened there were only two roots to be had, the one at Amsterdam, the other at Haarlem; and that for one of these were offered four thousand six hundred florins, a new carriage, two grey horses, and a complete set of harness; and that another person offered for it twelve acres of land. It is almost impossible to give credence to such madness. The real truth of the story is, that these tulip roots were never bought or sold, but they became the medium of a systematic species of gambling. The bulbs, and their divisions into perits, became, like the different stocks in our public funds, the objects of the 'bulls' and 'bears;' and were bought and sold at different prices from day to day, the parties settling their accounts at fixed periods; the innocent tulips, all the while, never once appearing in the transactions, nor being even thought of. 'Before the tulip season was over, ' says Beckmann, 'more roots were sold and purchased, bespoke and promised to be delivered, than in all probability were to be found in the gardens of Holland; and when Semper Augustus was not to be had anywhere, which happened twice, no species, perhaps, was oftener purchased and sold.' This kind of sheer gambling reached at length to such a height, that the government found it necessary to put a stop to it.� (Tour in South Holland, p. 88.)