Cornelius von Baerle lives only to cultivate the elusive black tulip and win a magnificent prize for its creation. But when his powerful godfather is assassinated, the unwitting Cornelius becomes caught up in a deadly political intrigue. Falsely accused of high treason by a bitter rival, Cornelius is condemned to life in prison. His only comfort is Rosa, the jailer's beautiful daughter, who helps him concoct a plan to grow the black tulip in secret. As Robin Buss explains in his informative introduction, Dumas infuses his story with elements from the history of the Dutch Republic (including two brutal murders) and Holland's seventeenth-century "tulipmania" phenomenon.
About the Author
Alexandre Dumas (1802–1870) was the son of Napoleon’s famous general Dumas. A prolific author, his body of work includes a number of popular classics, including The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask.
Robin Buss (1939–2006) was a writer and translator who worked for the Independent on Sunday and as television critic for the Times Educational Supplement. He was also the translator of a number of volumes for Penguin Classics.
Read an Excerpt
The Black Tulip
By Alexandre Dumas
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2017 Alexandre Dumas
All rights reserved.
A GRATEFUL PEOPLE
On the 20th of August, 1672, the city of The Hague, so lively, so clean, and so smart that one would have thought every day was a Sunday; the city of The Hague, with its shady park, its tall trees overhanging its Gothic houses, and its broad, mirrorlike canals reflecting the almost Oriental cupolas of its bell-towers; the city of The Hague, the capital of the Seven United Provinces, was flooded in all its main thoroughfares by a black and red stream of eager, panting, and excited citizens, who, with knives at their girdles, muskets on their shoulders, or sticks in their hands, were hurrying towards the Buitenhof, a formidable prison, the barred windows of which may still be seen, where, upon a charge of attempted murder brought against him by the surgeon Tychelaer, Cornelius de Witt, brother of the ex-Grand Pensionary of Holland, was lying confined.
If the history of the period, and especially of the year, in which we begin our story were not indissolubly connected with the two names which we have last mentioned, the few explanatory lines which we are about to insert might appear superfluous; but we must explain at the outset to the reader — that old friend whom we always on our first page promise to please, and with whom in the pages that follow we keep our word, more or less — we must explain, we say, to the reader that this introduction is as necessary for the clearness of our story as it is for a proper understanding of the great political events with which the story is interwoven.
Cornelius, or Cornelis, de Witt, Ruart de Pulten, that is to say, Inspector of the Dikes, of his country, ex-burgomaster of his native town of Dort, and deputy in the Assembly of the States of Holland, was forty-nine years of age when the people of Holland, tired of the Republic as it was understood by John de Witt, the Grand Pensionary, were suddenly seized with a violent desire for the Stadtholderate, which the Perpetual Edict, forced by John de Witt on the United Provinces, had abolished utterly and forever in Holland.
Public opinion, in its capricious variations, almost always identifies a principle with a man; and accordingly, behind the Republic the people saw the two stern figures of the brothers De Witt, those Romans of Holland, who would not condescend to flatter the national whims, but acted as inflexible supporters of liberty without license and prosperity without luxury. Similarly, the Stadtholderate was represented in their minds by the grave, serious, and thoughtful countenance of the young William of Orange, to whom his contemporaries had given the surname of "the Silent," a name adopted by posterity.
The two De Witts tried to keep on terms with Louis XIV, for they recognised that his moral influence throughout Europe was increasing, and they had recently had experience of his physical superiority in Holland during the marvellous and successful campaign of the Rhine (a campaign sung of by Boileau and made illustrious by the romantic hero known as the Comte de Guiche), which in three months had utterly overthrown the power of the United Provinces.
Louis XIV had long been the enemy of the Dutch, who insulted or ridiculed him to their heart's content, nearly always, it must be admitted, through the instrumentality of French refugees in Holland. The national pride regarded him as the Mithridates of the Republic. Thus the brothers De Witt had to contend with a twofold movement, due partly to the vigorous resistance offered to an authority fighting against the desires of the people, and partly to the weariness which comes naturally to all conquered races when they are hoping that a new leader will be able to save them from ruin and disgrace.
This new leader, quite ready to come forward and measure his strength against that of Louis XIV, gigantic as the power of the latter appeared likely to become in the future, was William, Prince of Orange, son of William II, and grandson, through Henrietta Stuart, of King Charles I of England. In the eyes of the Dutch, this silent youth represented, as we have said, the Stadtholderate. In 1672 William was twenty-two years of age. John de Witt had been his tutor, and had brought him up with a view to making this former prince into a good citizen. His love for his country had prevailed over his love for his pupil, and by the Perpetual Edict he had deprived the young man of all hope of becoming Stadtholder. But God had smiled at the human presumption which thinks to make and unmake earthly potentates without regard to the designs of the King of Heaven; and, by means of the fickleness of the Dutch and the terror inspired by Louis XIV, had overthrown the political schemes of the Grand Pensionary and abolished the Perpetual Edict, re-establishing instead the stadtholdership in the person of William of Orange, with regard to whom He had his own designs, hidden as yet amid the deep mysteries of the future.
The Grand Pensionary bowed to the will of his fellow-citizens; but Cornelius de Witt was less yielding, and in spite of threats of death from the Orangeist mob, which besieged him in his house at Dort, he had refused to sign the act which re-established the Stadtholderate.
The tears of his wife finally induced him to sign, but he added to his name the two letters V. C., vi coactus, that is to say, constrained by force.
On that day it was only by a miracle that he escaped from the assaults of his foes.
John de Witt's more rapid and easy submission to the will of his fellow-citizens brought him little or no advantage. A few days later an attempt was made to assassinate him. Stabbed in several places, he barely escaped death.
This was not at all what the Orangeists wanted. The existence of the two brothers was a perpetual obstacle to their projects. They therefore changed their tactics for a moment, and while leaving themselves free to crown at any opportunity the second crime by the first, they attempted to bring about by calumny what they had not been able to achieve by the dagger.
It is but seldom that at a given moment there is found under the hand of God, a great man ready to execute a great action, and that is why, when the providential combination does occur, history both records the name of the chosen hero and, at the same time, holds him up to the admiration of posterity.
But when the devil interferes in human affairs to ruin a life or overthrow a state, it is seldom indeed that he does not find ready to hand some wretched being, into whose ear he has but to whisper a word in order to set him immediately to work as he desires.
The scoundrel who, in the present case, was ready to be the agent of the evil spirit was a surgeon, and his name, as we think we have already mentioned, was Tychelaer.
He lodged an information that Cornelius de Witt, furious, as the letters added to his signature proved, at the revocation of the Perpetual Edict, and urged on by hatred of William of Orange, had commissioned an assassin to deliver the Republic from the new stadtholder, and that this assassin was himself, Tychelaer; but that, stung by remorse at the bare idea of the deed which he had been asked to commit, he had preferred to reveal the crime rather than to commit it.
One can easily imagine the outburst which the report of this plot provoked among the Orangeists. The Public Prosecutor, on the 16th of August, 1672, caused Cornelius to be arrested in his own house, and the Ruart de Pulten, the noble brother of John de Witt, underwent in one of the halls of the Buitenhof the preliminary torture designed to drag from him, as from one of the vilest criminals, a confession of his pretended plot against William.
But Cornelius had not only a great mind, but also a great heart. He belonged to that company of martyrs, who, sustained by political, as others have been by religious, faith, laugh at the pains inflicted on them. During the tortures he recited in a firm voice, and scanning the lines according to their metre, the first verse of Horace's Justum et tenacem. He confessed nothing, and wore out not merely the physical strength of his executioners, but even their fanaticism.
The judges, nevertheless, dismissed Tychelaer without saying anything against him, while they passed sentence on Cornelius, depriving him of all his offices and dignities; and further condemned him to pay the costs of the proceedings, and banished him forever from the territories of the Republic.
To the populace, whose interests Cornelius had always devotedly served, this sentence passed upon one who was not only an innocent man, but also a great patriot, was indeed a certain satisfaction. But, as we shall see, it was not enough.
The Athenians, who have left a bad enough reputation for ingratitude, were surpassed in this quality by the Dutch. They contented themselves with banishing Aristides.
John de Witt, at the first rumour of the charge brought against his brother, had resigned his position of Grand Pensionary. He, also, was fittingly rewarded for his devotion to his country. He carried with him into private life his cares and his wounds, the only return that honest men, as a rule, receive for having laboured for their country without thinking of themselves.
During this time William of Orange, not without using every means in his power to hasten the event which he desired, was waiting until the populace, whose idol he was, should make of the bodies of the two brothers the two steps which he needed to enable him to reach the stadtholdership.
On the 20th of August, then, 1672, the whole town, as we said at the commencement of this chapter, was hastening towards the Buitenhof, to watch Cornelius de Witt leave his prison on his way into exile, and to see the traces left by the torture on the body of this great man, who knew his Horace so well.
It must not be supposed, however, that all the multitude which was hastening to the Buitenhof was doing so merely with the innocent intention of enjoying a spectacle. Many of the crowd were anxious to play an active part in it, or rather to do over again something which they considered had not been properly carried out — that is to say, the work of the executioner.
There were others, it is true, who went with less hostile intentions. All they were concerned about was a spectacle, always pleasant to the feelings and flattering to the pride of a mob, that, namely, of the overthrow of one who has long held a high position.
"Is not this fearless Cornelius de Witt," they asked, "now under lock and key, and broken down by torture? Shall we not see him, pale, bleeding, and disgraced? Was not this a great triumph for the burghers, whose jealousy was much stronger than that of the common people, and should not every good burgher of The Hague take his share in it?"
"And then," said the Orangeist agitators, skilfully mingling with the crowd which they intended to make use of as an instrument, keen-edged, and at the same time crushing, "shall we not find between the Buitenhof and the town-gate some small chance of throwing a little mud, or even a few stones, at this inspector of dykes, who not only refused the stadtholdership to the Prince of Orange until vi coactus, but also wished to have him assassinated?"
"To say nothing of the fact," added the fanatical enemies of France, "that if things are only well and boldly done at The Hague, Cornelius de Witt will never be allowed to go into exile, where, once free again, he will renew all his intrigues with France and live with his scoundrel of a brother on the gold of the Marquis of Louvois."
Animated by such sentiments, spectators usually run rather than walk, and this is why the inhabitants of The Hague hurried so fast towards the Buitenhof.
In the midst of those who advanced most eagerly, with rage in his heart and no settled plan in his mind, the honest Tychelaer hurried onward, paraded by the Orangeists as a hero of probity, of national honour, and of Christian charity.
This fine scoundrel related, with all the embellishments which his imagination could conjure up, the attempts which Cornelius de Witt had made to corrupt him, the sums which he had promised him, and the infernal machinations by which he had endeavoured to remove beforehand all the difficulties which he, Tychelaer, might meet with in carrying out the assassination.
And each sentence that he uttered, eagerly listened to by the mob, roused enthusiastic shouts in favour of Prince William, and cries of blind rage against the brothers De Witt.
The populace even went so far as to curse the iniquitous judges whose sentence had allowed such an abominable criminal as this Cornelius to escape with life and limb.
Some of the agitators kept muttering:
"He will get away! he will escape from us!"
"A vessel awaits him at Scheveningen, a French vessel. Tychelaer has seen it."
"Brave Tychelaer! Honest Tychelaer!" shouted the mob in chorus. "Don't forget either," added a voice, "that while Cornelius is flying in this way, John, who is just as much a traitor as his brother, will also escape."
"And the two rascals will squander our money in France, money got by selling our ships and arsenals and dockyards to Louis XIV."
"Don't let them go at all!" cried a patriot, more extreme than the rest.
And amid these cries, the burghers, cocking their muskets and brandishing their axes, began, with fury in their eyes, to run still faster towards the Buitenhof.
Still no violence had as yet been done, and the body of horsemen who were guarding the approaches to the Buitenhof remained cool, impassible, silent, more awe-inspiring by their very calmness than the whole crowd of burghers with their shouts, their excitement, and their threats. They sat motionless under the eye of their chief, the captain of the mounted troops of The Hague, who held his sword drawn but lowered, and with its point against the corner of his stirrup.
This troop, the sole defence of the prison, kept in check by its attitude not only the disorderly and shouting masses of the populace, but also the detachment of the town-guard, which, though placed in front of the Buitenhof to share with the horsemen the duty of keeping order, encouraged the seditious rioters by constantly shouting:
"Hurrah for Orange! Down with the traitors!"
The presence of Tilly and his horsemen was, it is true, a salutary check on all these civic soldiers, but in a short time their own shouting excited the town-guard more and more, and as they did not understand that it is possible to be brave without shouting, they attributed the silence of the horsemen to cowardice, and began to move towards the prison, drawing the whole disorderly mob after them.
But at this point the Count de Tilly advanced alone to meet them, and raising his sword, said, with a frown:
"Now, gentlemen of the town-guard, why are you moving, and what do you want?"
The burghers waved their muskets and continued their shouts of "Hurrah for Orange! Death to the traitors!"
"'Hurrah for Orange!' certainly," said De Tilly, "although, as a matter of fact, I prefer pleasant faces to gloomy ones. 'Death to the traitors! 'if you like, provided you don't go beyond wishing it in words only. Shout as much as you please 'Death to the traitors!' but as for actually putting them to death, I am here to prevent that, and I will prevent it." Then, turning towards his men, he cried:
"Soldiers, make ready!"
The soldiers obeyed their commander's order with a precision and calmness which caused an immediate retreat of the burghers and the populace, a retreat accompanied by so much confusion that the officer laughed.
"There! there!" said he in that bantering tone which is peculiar to military men, "don't be alarmed, citizens; my men will not fire a shot, but you on your side will not advance a step towards the prison."
"Let me tell you, sir, that we have muskets," shouted the leader of the burghers, angrily.
"I see well enough that you have muskets," replied Tilly, "you make them flash so under my eyes, but take notice on your side, too, that we have pistols, and pistols carry admirably at fifty yards and you are only twenty-five yards off."
"Death to the traitors!" shouted the furious burghers.
"Bah! you always say the same thing," growled the officer; "it becomes wearisome."
And he resumed his post at the head of the troop, while the tumult continued to rage more and more furiously round the Buitenhof. And yet the enraged populace were unaware that, at the very moment when they were so keenly on the scent of one of their victims, the other, as though hastening to meet his fate, was passing at only a hundred yards' distance, behind the crowd and the horsemen, on his way to the Buitenhof.
John de Witt had in fact just got down, with one servant, from his carriage, and was quietly walking across the fore-court of the prison.
Excerpted from The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas. Copyright © 2017 Alexandre Dumas. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
I. A Grateful People
II. The Two Brothers
III. The Pupil of John de Witt
IV. The Murderers
V. The Amateur Tulip-Grower and his Neighbor
VI. A Tulip-Fancier's Hatred
VII. The Happy Man Becomes Acquainted with Misfortune
VIII. An Incursion
IX. The Family Cell
X. The Jailer's Daughter
XI. The Will of Cornelius van Baerle
XII. The Execution
XIII. The Thoughts of One of the Spectators During the Last Scene
XIV. The Pigeons of Dort
XV. The Wicket in the Cell Door
XVI. Master and Scholar
XVII. The First Bulb
XVIII. Rosa's Lover
XIX. A Woman and a Flower
XX. What had Happened During the Eight Days
XXI. The Second Bulb
XXII. The Opening of the Flower
XXIII. The Jealous Man
XXIV. In which the Black Tulip Changes its Master
XXV. President Van Systens
XXVI. A Member of the Horticultural Society
XXVII. The Third Bulb
XXVIII. The Song of the Flowers
XXIX. In which Van Baerle, before quitting Louvestein, Settles his Accounts with Gryphus
XXX. In which One Begins to Suspect what Kind of Punishment was Reserved for Cornelius Van Baerle
XXXII. A Last Prayer