Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats: Of Tulips & Men

1. In growing tulips to make new varieties, the gardener plants seeds naturally or artificially fertilized. Year after year they bloom with a common grayish blossom–showing reversion to the early tulip type. And so they live along, a dull and stupid brood, without any apparent promise, until suddenly, one of them “breaks,” as they say, into a gorgeous, stately flower, and lo!–a new variety, a tulip of tulips, its gardener’s joy and recompense, a new thing of beauty born of untoward surroundings into a needy world.

2. Why in this putative flower-bed that one watches year by year, does there come forever the same unwelcome bloom? How often I have yearned for such a breaking-tulip, one who breaks his bonds asunder and adds a glory to the race. For are they not men, however poor in seeming promise? And may not a man perhaps break his bonds asunder? But no; after five, six, seven years if there is no “break,” the seedling tulip never breaks. There is a moment in out lives when we burst our bonds or fail to burst them.

3. We have all heard of ugly duckling and of Cinderella. Why is there so little of the sweetness and the joy and the beauty of fairy tale in our real life? Why does not the heart bloom everyday? Why is this ethereal charm found only in children’s tales? Why are we ashamed of the best, the truest, the sweetest, the loftiest in us? Why do we relegate these things to children? Why are we reverse tulips? Why do we flower wondrously in childhood, and then, as the years pass, turn dull and inglorious? Are men and women less than tulips?

4. Freedom liberates nothing if it liberates not the mind. I hold it against a man that he prefers not to free his mind; that he chooses the habitual, rather than that self-government, that initiative, which is the perpetuating force of a free people. I know that few men care to face the truth; not because it is the truth, but because they fear the truth may prove too large. All of which is timid and unlovely. It ill becomes us: we were meant to be large and true. So must we be. So are we in many ways.

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7 Responses to Louis Sullivan’s Kindergarten Chats: Of Tulips & Men

  1. AFranco, most people’s mental processes keep producing inert combinations of other people’s ideas, indistinguishable from other platitudes floating around in the culture. A “Breaking tulip” is production a genuinely new idea that transforms the world for the better. While I admire your optimism in imagining a society where this event is common enough that the society has a ritual developed for it, historically such instances of blooming have taken place in privacy–a few people around the achievement being intrigued by it’s fragrance–people at large noticing nothing of the bloom and it’s effect long after the bloomer is dead and gone–as was the case with Sullivan.

  2. John Gillis says:

    “Why are we ashamed of the best, the truest, the sweetest, the loftiest in us? Why do we relegate these things to children? Why are we reverse tulips? Why do we flower wondrously in childhood, and then, as the years pass, turn dull and inglorious? Are men and women less than tulips?”
    Great line — are men and women less than tulips!
    The Louis answer is: No we are not less. We are much greater.
    This is another example of the great-souled character of Louis.
    (BTW, pronounded Loueee, not Louisss).

  3. AFranco, the prose is almost all Louis Sullivan, with me exercising selection of what to include in the post, and me changing a few words that could be easily misunderstood, while keeping the meaning of what he is saying unaltered. These posts are offered as an introduction to his thought; I recommend reading the original for the full appreciation of his thought.

  4. AFranco says:

    Thank you for that thought. Is the prose still your rephrasing or direct from Sullivan?
    I can imagine a society in which Sweet Sixteens, and various other teenaged coming out parties are replaced by “breaking tulip” parties, only they would not be reserved for once in a lifetime as teenager, but held periodically as the circumstances call for them.

  5. Thanks, Richard. You were right; it was a typo and I have corrected it.

  6. Richard Bramwell says:

    Is this not a typo, in some fashion. It does not make sense to me —or I am misreading it.

    I know that a few men care to face the truth; not because it is the truth, but because they fear the truth may prove too large.

    In my interpretation, and grasp of the full context of the material posted, the “a” should not be there.

  7. gseine says:

    Yes, why do we strive to remain reverse turnips…..er tulips?

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