Tulip culture—Early speculation—The song of the tulip—Dutch gardening new and old—A horticultural pilgrimage—The Haarlem dunes—Gardens without secrets—Zaandvoort—Through Noord-Holland and its charms—The church of St. Bavo—Whitewash v. Mystery—The true father of the Reformation—Printing paves the way—The Hout—Laocooen and his sons—The siege of Haarlem—Dutch fortitude—The real Dutch courage—The implacable Alva—Broken promises—A tonic for Philip—The women of Haarlem—A pledge to mothers—The great organ—Three curious inhabitants—The Teyler Museum—Frans Hals—A king of abundance—Regent pieces—The secondary pictures in the Museum—Dirck Hals—Van der Helst—Adrian Brouwer—Nicolas Berchem—Ruisdael—The lost mastery—Echoes of the past.
Haarlem being the capital of the tulip country, the time to visit it is the spring. To travel from Leyden to Haarlem by rail in April is to pass through floods of colour, reaching their finest quality about Hillegom. The beds are too formal, too exactly parallel, to be beautiful, except as sheets of scarlet or yellow; for careless beauty one must look to the heaps of blossoms piled up in the corners (later to be used on the beds as a fertiliser), which are always beautiful, and doubly so when reflected in a canal. From a balloon, in the flowering season, the tulip gardens must look like patchwork quilts.
Tulip Sunday, which represents the height of the season (corresponding to Chestnut Sunday at Bushey Park) is about the third Sunday in April. One should be in Holland then. It is no country for hot weather: it has no shade, the trains become unbearable, and the canals are very unpleasant. But in spring it is always fresh.
Tulip cultivation is now a steady humdrum business, very different from the early days of the fashion for the flower, in the seventeenth century, when speculators lost their heads over bulbs as thoroughly as over South-Sea stock in the great Bubble period. Thousands of florins were given for a single bulb. The bulb, however, did not always change hands, often serving merely as a gambling basis; it even may not have existed at all. Among genuine connoisseurs genuine sales would of course be made, and it is recorded that a “Semper Augustus” bulb was once bought for 13,000 florins. At last the Government interfered; gambling was put down; and “Semper Augustus” fell to fifty florins.
It was to Haarlem, it will be remembered, that the fair Frisian travelled with Cornelius van Baerle’s solitary flower in La Tulipe Noire, and won the prize of 100,000 florins offered for a blossom of pure nigritude by the Horticultural Society of Haarlem. Hence the addition of the Tulipa Nigra Rosa Baerleensis to the list of desirable bulbs. Dumas puts into the mouth of Cornelius a very charming song of the tulip:—