Friday, November 20, 2009

Finance, Manipulation, Politics, and Bombast, or, The Mower Against Gardens, Andrew Marvell

Image of Chinese ghost money printed against the reserves of the Bank of Hell. The title for this image is 'Money... the root of all evil?'.
Dear Gentle Reader,

I assume that you know about the tulip craze of the early seventeenth century in the Netherlands.

And of the speculative tulip bubble that came to a crash in the start of 1637.

Tulips, fresh from the Ottoman Empire, were relative novelties in the Netherlands which, itself, had become a booming commercial empire on the back of its East India Company.

The Dutch were now the high rollers of Europe with money to spend.

Just as the Dutch are notorious, today, for their red light districts and the hothouse flowers contained in those red lit boxes, in the 1630s the Dutch were also known to love to get down and dirty for a pretty flower...

Image of a Semper Augustus bulb. Image taken from The Great Tulip Book is the name of a tulip pamphlet, published c. 1640. It is in the possession of the Norton Simon Art Foundation. They have it indexed in their system as M.1974.08.030.D. This image is from the public domain, sourced via the Wikimedia Commons, and its Norton listing is: Anonymous Dutch Artist, Opaque watercolor on paper, 12-1/8 x 7-7/8 in. (30.8 x 20.0 cm), Norton Simon Art Foundation M.1974.08.030.D
At the peak of tulip mania, the tulip bulb asset bubble, a Semper Augustus tulip bulb holder (there were two bulbs in existence) was offered 12 acres of land (49,000 square meters), in land poor The Netherlands, for a single tulip bulb--albeit 50 percent of the global supply.

That offer was deemed unworthy.

Tulips were new, novel, and there were many nouveau riche Dutch in the seventeenth century.

The Netherlands had only started cultivating tulips after 1593 when the Holy Roman Emperor's ambassador to the Ottoman Empire shipped some bulbs over to a botanist in the Netherlands.

As an aside, the Flemish botanist who developed the art of cultivating tulips in the Netherlands did so at the University of Leiden.

The University of Leiden was very well-funded in its day, and has continued to produce many notable scholars. The University of Leiden is also the official seat, or base, of the notorious Bilderberg Group... Aside over.

Tulips were intensely coloured and, and this is the kicker, they were not only new, but they had built in scarcity--remember, there were only two Semper Augustus bulbs in existence in 1637.

The tulip propagation cycle could take seven to twelve years... so the novel hybrids being produced, or being found, took a very long time to be reproduced.

Further, some flowers, like the Semper Augustus, shown above, had jagged flashes of wild colour... ...And no one knew how to breed that into the tulip.

The catch was that you couldn't breed that variant into the tulip; it wasn't possible. But, nobody knew that, and, rarely, they would still get these phenomenally valuable variants.

Those jagged stripes of flaming colour, however, were not due to breeding.

Those jags were the symptoms of a viral infection, a botanical mosaic virus infection, that was specific to tulips.

But, as viruses were not discovered until 1898, and the 1630s preceded this by a bit, replication was hit and miss; mostly miss.

(I don't mean to suggest that the lack of knowledge of viruses impeded the effects of viruses. Flat earthers are still pulled upon by gravity, and don't fall off the world when they walk beyond the horizon.)

(But, a lack of understanding, or even knowledge, of the viral transmission mechanism responsible for the special tulips' 'jaggy' colouration made it difficult to work out how to replicate the effect.)

(Further, as the tulips were not native to the Netherlands, and the virus was not endemic in the Netherlands, there was much less chance for random infections--and the tulips were so precious that they were closely guarded and kept quite safe, and separate from viruses like the one below.)

Image of the first virus discovered, a relative of the tulip mosaic virus, the tobacco mosaic virus. This image is from the public domain and is sourced from the Wikimedia Commons. It is of Tobacco Mosaic Virus (TMV) particles negative stained with heavy metal to make them visible in the TEM. Magnified 160,000X. It was taken by an unknown researcher worker for the US government and, as such, is in the public domain.
As another aside, viruses were, later, to be discovered by another Dutchman, Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931) who was a botanical agronomist. Beijerinck was to become the father of virology, although, as he worked solely on plants, he was overshadowed in the popular imagination, and in popular historical memory, by both Koch and Pasteur. Aside over.

With great sums at stake over these tulip bulbs, great efforts, and sums, were then extended to make greater and greater sums by breeding the tulips... genetic manipulation.

It wasn't called genetic manipulation, of course.

That would have to wait for that Augustinian monk, and data fudger, Gregor Mendel (1822-1884).

But, everyone knew that people were messing around with life to produce new results...

And then, as now, in the genetically modified organism debate, some people worried about the consequences of 'messing with nature'.

Today, I give you a second glimpse of Andrew Marvell and his bombastic screeds.

Please note that I love Marvell, but most folks grow up knowing him solely as a very gifted pick-up artist, like John Donne in his younger years.

These posts hope to point out that Andrew Marvell was so much more, although political bombast can also be seen as so much less...

Here is a metaphysical poke at Gardens, by the mower, and a bit of a rant about those who mess with nature... ...and at excess, financial and otherwise. Finally, historically, everyone who read this knew this was also a political and nationalistic 'go' or 'dig' at the Dutch, just like that poem by Marvell which I gave you one week ago.

The Mower Against Gardens
by Andrew Marvell

The Mower Against Gardens

Luxurious Man, to bring his Vice in use,
Did after him the World seduce:
And from the Fields the Flow'rs and Plants allure,
Where Nature was most plain and pure.
He first enclos'd within the Gardens square
A dead and standing pool of Air:
And a more luscious Earth for them did knead,
Which stupifi'd them while it fed.
The Pink grew then as double as his Mind;
The nutriment did change the kind.
With strange perfumes he did the Roses taint.
And Flow'rs themselves were taught to paint.
The Tulip, white, did for complexion seek;
And learn'd to interline its cheek:
Its Onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a Meadow sold.
Another World was search'd, though Oceans new,
To find the Marvel Of Peru.
And yet these Rarities might be allow'd,
To Man, that Sov'raign thing and proud;
Had he not dealt between the Bark and Tree,
Forbidden mixtures there to see.
No Plant now knew the Stock from which it came;
He grafts upon the Wild the Tame:
That the uncertain and adult'rate fruit
Might put the Palate in dispute.
His green Seraglio has its Eunuchs too;
Lest any Tyrant him out-doe.
And in the Cherry he does Nature vex,
To procreate without a Sex.
'Tis all enforc'd; the Fountain and the Grot;
While the sweet Fields do lye forgot:
Where willing Nature does to all dispence
A wild and fragrant Innocence:
And Fauns and Faryes do the Meadows till,
More by their presence then their skill.
Their Statues polish'd by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the Gardens stand:
But howso'ere the Figures do excel,
The Gods themselves with us do dwell.

With great affection from your humble scribe...


So music, to go with today.

Two songs...

The first pokes fun at ideological rants, here focusing on the American political far right (and of course bombast is present on the left, as well) in modern USA.

I think the song is great fun.

The second song is a sop to possibly injured Dutch feelings, although also American in origin. It leaves me smiling every time I hear it. OK. 5 am in Amsterdam, from the same album, might have been more closely linked, and more direct, but "Steppin Out" was inspired by the time that Michelle Shocked spent in pirate, sorry, non-commercial, radio in Amsterdam...

I will hold back with the incomparable Louis Davids, De Grote Kleine Man, for another day...

Click to hear 'Condoleezza, Check My Posse' by The Majestic Twelve iTunes


Fab said...

Like the post! Interesting.

On the music side, the first song is from my collection ... :-) Even made it onto one of my mixes I think.

Teresa said...

Dear Chris,

A post on much that is near and dear to my heart. I loved the picture of "hell money" the love of which is root of so, so many of the evils in today's world.

I also enjoyed your discussion of the tulip "bubble" and that interesting aside about Leiden University which has been well-funded for centuries now, it seems. (Unlike my own place of study...)

And what is it about modern-day college professors that they only teach us the more salacious of Andrew Marvell's works? Or do you think the problem lies with students since the "1960s sexual revolution," who would tune out lectures unless they 17th century pick-up lines and refuse to attend classes on good, old earnest political diatribe? (And upon reflection that sexual revolution probably was not so much a revolution as a rediscovering, if one is to believe the efficacy of Marvell's love poetry.)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first song. The second was just a bit too obscure for me. Perhaps a field trip to Amsterdam would help me understand it, but that would eat up money that I'm saving for a trip to Hong Kong. Dilemmas, dilemmas.

Glad to see you back in such glorious form!!! I thoroughly enjoyed the post, complete with floating captions.


Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Fabilicious,

You know, dear, that we share so very much. Glad that you liked it, and the music, too!

Dear Teresa,

I know! I have been starting a collection of Hell Money, actually. Sort of an archival art project that has been growing in scope for a while now. I actually resuscitated an abandoned printing press (!) in China, years, and years ago, to crank out some of my own ghost money.

I was able to get five pieces through the machine; three were usable and are currently in storage in North America with the North American art collection.

Recently I have returned to finding interesting samples and will likely make a large book for them on acid free black cardstock although, yes, and that is a problem, I know that white would be far more appropriate from an Asian perspective.

Of course, I frequently wonder, what is the point of using Acid free matting on paper which is destined for near immediate immolation--never meant to live on?

I really don't know.

And I fear to see what my ghost money looks like. Lovingly mounted and framed in a massive, leviathan frame. ...Ten years ago... and unseen for about ten years....

The next time I go back and dig through the back of that locker, and open the crates, maybe I will discover if my plan is foolish. Or sensible.

Anyway, I am glad that you liked the historical asset bubble. And the aside on Leiden.

As per your fulminations on modern college professors, and Marvell's sexier works...

Well, sex sells. As the girls, and boys, of the Rossebuurt district of Amsterdam know.

But, possibly more telling, is the fact that the modern university has tended away from critical thought and reflection to applications and utility (Bentham would, possibly, be pleased).

And what could be more important and practical to undergraduates, with the high school hormones under slightly more control, and, more importantly, the freedom of their own room in a building with less restrictions than home.... than pick up lines...


PS. Those lines? Efficacious. They aided much running...

Teresa said...

My dear scribe,

A collection of "hell money." I am so, so sorry to hear that your recent medical situations have prodded you to begin collecting the "money" for your Hong Kong funerary rites. I'm sure that the Hero and Heroine would rush out to buy whole packs of it should that unfortunate event truly come to pass. I have never heard of anyone preparing for their own demise in this way... As you say, it is destined for quick immolation, and if the Hong Kong variety is beyond your budget, I'm sure my sisters-in-law in Taiwan could get you reams of it for a good price there. Have you seen the kind used in movies with the hole in the center like the ancient copper coins? Have you also begun collecting the bamboo funerary accoutrements such as servant girls, Merecedes Benzes, elegant palaces, and elephants? I translated Yuan Mei's "Sacrificial Prayer for my Sister" (袁枚的祭妹文)as a final project in my Classical Chinese class; I'm sure that with a little tweaking, I could work it into proper form for you. His sister was also an accomplished poet and writer...

Oh, my bad. You collect these bills are ART!! What a morbid scribe you are! Well, strike that first paragraph. I wouldn't want to jinx you to an early grave. My Chinese friends always complain that I have a "raven's mouth" (烏鴉嘴). Sigh!

I am afraid that I have to agree with you about modern universities and their downfall into utilitarianism and going with the intellectual flow of least resistance. And I do suppose that many undergrads enjoy learning efficacious pick up lines for those cold, lonely nights in the dorms. You sort of trailed off on your postscript, something about you running around... Is there something wrong with your computer? Did part of the answer get cut off? I'm dying to know how you know about the efficacy of Marvell's words!

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Teresa,

Some stories are best not consigned to permanent e-paper... Better for visits. :)

But, you COULD be my intercessionary...

I HAVE been trying to collect servant girls (!)

The Heroine keeps nixing the idea(s). Even Marvell has been no help to me, alas, for once.

But, with your help my despair could be, as The Raven said, nevermore...

Maybe you could explain to her how this is an appropriate part of not only historic Chinese culture, but modern culture, too.

And, that if I am to maintain my role as a cross-cultural mediator, well then, I DO need to cross some boundaries and make some accommodations.

There is a heightened spring in my step, already.

Thank goodness I have you on my side. A modern Hakka wife, at that. Wow. Who would have guessed.

All your translational work will be appreciated. Stick with Classical texts; the Heroine's Classical Chinese knowledge is decidedly sub-par. You can translate with willful abandon of the actual text...


Teresa said...

Um, dear Scribe,

Are you attempting to collect the bamboo funerary kind of servant girl or the yahuan (丫環) living cross-between-a-maid-and-a-concubine kind? And what pray tell are the Heroine's exact objections? That the bamboo kind takes up too much space and gives Pommes splinters under his claws when he scratches them? Or that the living kind cost too much to feed and take up too much room in the bed?

If it's marriage counseling you need, you may want to ask Cloudia; I understand she performs wedding ceremonies on the beach in Hawaii.

And if you have read my post about "The Dark Underbelly of Confucian Families," you certainly wouldn't want me to teach the Heroine the methods that the suffering Hakka sisterhood uses to keep amorous husbands in line...

Then I really would be sending funeal wreaths and paper money to Hong Kong.

Fondest regards,


PS I don't falsify translations, even in jest. It has a way of coming back to haunt one's professional life. I'm sure you understand.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Teresa,

Sigh. The sisterhood wins. Again.

And, true, the bamboo splinters from the spankings referenced (spankings, not the splinters) in your post would be enough to put anyone off yahuan, despite the yahoo factor.


And, true, I cannot imagine you falsifying any texts. Even in jest.

Ah well. I must head out. Not sure if Cloudia would perform the marriage counseling; it would, after all, cannibalize re-marriage fee revenue. (!)

Out to the markets for dinner.


Teresa said...

Dear Chris,

I hope your dinner was delicious. I am so sorry to have rained on your parade. I know that you were so excited when you thought you had found a loophole (what lawyer isn't?). But I will say this: when the Heroine is willing to get you a yahuan, that is when you need to be very worried... Many a Chinese woman cut herself from her husband in her heart and gave in to his demands for a yahuan just so she did not need to be bothered with the dude.

So do be careful what you ask for.


Barbara Martin said...

Thanks, Chris, for the history on the tulips, most of which I never knew before.

Fireblossom said...

What better poet to speak of vegetable love!

One of my favorite flowers is the Queen of the Night, or "black" tulip.

murat11 said...


I hied meself to a bucolic hillside in San Marcos, Tejas for my birthday and listened to some ferocious interdigitizing on fiddle and cello, two of the five instruments featured in my newly beloved bluegrass band Crooked Still. Not even the mayhem that erupted on that hillside can compare to the glorious and riotous jamming and jellying that you and Sister Teresa have wrought in these here comments. The opening act (the post itself, that is) weren't bad, neither.

Party on, amigo/a.

Junosmom said...

Hi Chris, Long time, eh? I barely keep up these days. Thanks for the postcard. I'll try to return one. I have less time on the 'net these days due to lack of having access to my own computer. I'll try to catch up some reading.

BTW there is a book that I've read, a series actually, that was about a gardener to the king - historical trash novel, you know - but it had a great deal in it about the tulip craze. In the book, the family saved up to buy a bulb in the hopes of propagating it to make money. But it talked about the tulip market. Interesting. I can't remember the name of the book. I can't remember my own last name most days.