The tulip—so named, it is said, from a Turkish word, signifying a turban—was introduced into western Europe about the middle of the sixteenth century. Conrad Gesner, who claims the merit of having brought it into repute—little dreaming of the commotion it was shortly afterward to make in the world—says that he first saw it in the year 1559, in a garden at Augsburg, belonging to the learned Counselor Herwart, a man very famous in his day for his collection of rare exotics. The bulbs were sent to this gentleman by a friend at Constantinople, where the flower had long been a favorite. In the course of ten or eleven years after this period, tulips were much sought after by the wealthy, especially in Holland and Germany. Rich people at Amsterdam sent for the bulbs direct to Constantinople and paid the most extravagant prices for them. The first roots planted in England were brought from Vienna in 1600. Until the year 1634, the tulip annually increased in reputation, until it was deemed a proof of bad taste in any man of fortune to be without a collection of them. The rage for possessing them soon caught the middle classes of society, and merchants and shopkeepers, even of moderate means, began to vie with each other in the rarity of these flowers and the preposterous prices they paid for them. A trader at Haarlem was known to pay one-half of his fortune for a single root, not with the design of selling it again at a profit, but to keep in his own conservatory for the admiration of his acquaintances.
Many persons grow insensibly attached to that which gives them a great deal of trouble, as a mother often loves her sick and ever-ailing child better than her more healthy offspring. Upon the same principle we must account for the unmerited encomia lavished upon these fragile blossoms. In 1634, the rage among the Dutch to possess them was so great that the ordinary industry of the country was neglected, and the population, even to its lowest dregs, embarked in the tulip trade. As the mania increased, prices augmented until, in the year 1635, many persons were known to invest a fortune of 100,000 florins in the purchase of forty roots. It then became necessary to sell them by their weight in perits, a small weight less than a grain. A tulip of the species called Admiral Liefken, weighing 400 perits, was worth 4,400 florins; an Admiral Van der Eyck, weighing 446 perits, was worth 1,260 florins; a Childer of 106 perits was worth 1,615 florins; a Viceroy of 400 perits, 3,000 florins; and, most precious of all, a Semper Augustus, weighing 200 perits, was thought to be very cheap at 5,500 florins. The latter was much sought after, and even an inferior bulb might command a price of 2,000 florins. It is related that, at one time, early in 1636, there were only two roots of this description to be had in all Holland, and those not of the best. One was in the possession of a dealer in Amsterdam, and the other in Haarlem. So anxious were the speculators to obtain them that one person offered the fee-simple of twelve acres of building ground for the Haarlem tulip. That of Amsterdam was bought for 4,600 florins, a new carriage, two gray horses, and a complete set of harness.
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