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Corea or Cho-sen by A (Arnold) Henry Savage-Landor

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himself wedded.... The Coreans marry very young. I have seen boys of ten
or twelve years of age who had already discarded the bachelor's long
tress hanging down the back, and were wearing the top-knot of the married
man. It must not be supposed, however, that these youthful married men
are really wedded in the strict sense of the word, for, as a matter of
fact, though husband and wife in the eyes of the world, the two do not
live together till the age of puberty is reached. In other words, the
marriage is for several years only a nominal one, and corresponds rather
to our "engagement." There are duties, none the less, which a married man
must perform, no matter how youthful he may be. From the moment he is
wedded he must be a man, however childlike in years, and henceforth he
can associate only with men. His infantile games, romps with other
children who are still bachelors, spinning tops and all other amusements,
which he so much enjoyed, are suddenly brought to an end and he is now
compelled to be as sedate as an old man.

The illustration (p. 79) shows a young married man of the age of twelve,
a relation of the queen. As I was taking his portrait, I asked him how he
liked his wife and what her appearance was.

"I do not know," he said, "for I have only seen her once, and I have as
yet never spoken to her."

"But, then, how can you like her?"

"Because it is my father's wish that I should, and I must obey my

"Does your father know the girl well?"

"No, but he knows her father."

"And what does your mother say?"

"She says nothing."


"Because she is dead."

I found this an excellent reason for the silence on the mother's side and
I proceeded with the picture, but once again attacked him with the view
of, if possible, obtaining further information.

"When will you go and live with your wife?"

"When I shall be nineteen or twenty years old."

The whole arrangement seemed to me so strange that I naturally longed for
further details about marital relations in Cho-sen. The facts as told to
me are as follows: In Cho-senese weddings the two people least concerned
are the bride and bridegroom. Everything, or at least nearly everything,
is done for them, either by their relations or through the agency of a
middle-man. When both the persons to be wedded possess fathers, a
friendly _pourparler_ takes place between the two papas and in the course
of repeated libations of wine, the terms are settled, and with the help
of a "wise man" a lucky day is named, upon which the wedding shall take
place. On the other hand, should the bridegroom have no father, then a
middle-man is appointed by the nearest relations to carry on the
transaction with the girl's progenitor. It is not uncommon for two
persons to be married several years without ever having seen each other.
This, for instance, may be the case when the young lady resides in a
distant province, and a journey of inspection would be too expensive.
Under such circumstances the bridegroom must just patiently wait until,
perhaps, years after, the bride undertakes the journey herself and comes
to live with him in his house.

After all, on thinking the matter over and bearing in mind that with us a
marriage is indeed _a_ lottery, I cannot see why the Corean wedding
should not be equivalent to _two_ lotteries! Very often, weddings are
arranged by letter, in which case misunderstandings frequently occur. For
instance, a father who has two daughters, a sound one and a cripple, may
have arranged for the one in good condition to be married to a charming
young man of good education and means. When the day of the wedding,
however, arrives, judge of the surprise of the bridegroom to see himself
on the point of being united in matrimony with a humpback lame creature,
with a face and limbs all out of drawing--in place of the ideal beauty
whom he had expected to obtain. What is to be done? There is the written
agreement, down in black and white, and signed by his incautious father,
and there the father of the maid swearing that it was "this" daughter he
meant to give him, not the beautiful one! What is to be done under such
circumstances so as not to cause grief to his parent, except to go
through with the wedding with courage and dignity, and to provide himself
with some good-looking concubines at the earliest opportunity?

The practice of having concubines is a national institution and of the
nature of polygamy. These second wives are not exactly recognised by the
Government, but they are tolerated and openly allowed. The legal wife
herself is well aware of the fact, and, though not always willing to have
these rivals staying under the same roof, she does not at all object to
receiving them and entertaining them in her own quarters--if her lord and
master orders her to do so. There are, nevertheless, strong-minded women
in the land of Cho-sen, who resent the intrusion of these thirds, and
family dissension not unfrequently results from the husband indulging in
such conduct. Should the wife abandon her master's roof in despair he can
rightfully have her brought back and publicly spanked with an instrument
like a paddle, a somewhat severe punishment, which is apt to bring back
to reason the most ill-tempered and strong-willed woman. Such a thing,
though, very seldom happens, for, as women go, the Corean specimens of
feminine humanity seem to be very sensible, and not much given to
jealousy or to worrying their little heads unnecessarily about such
small failings. They are perfectly well aware that their husbands cannot
easily divorce them, when once the fatal knot has been tied, and that,
though practically inferior beings and slaves, they nevertheless come
first, and are above their rivals in the eye of the law; which, I
suppose, is satisfaction enough for them. Even when on friendly terms
with her husband's second loves, the wife number one never forgets to
impress them with the fact that, though tolerated, they are considered by
her to be much lower beings than herself; which makes them feel all the
more her studied politeness to them. Occasionally, however, even the
cool-headed Corean woman gets possessed with the vice of envy--sometimes
mixed with hatred--with the result that reciprocal scratches and tearings
of the hair become _l'ordre du jour_. But to condescend to such means of
asserting one's authority is looked down upon by the more respectable
women; and suffering in silence is pronounced to be a nobler way of
acting under the circumstances, the woman thus setting an example of good
nature eliciting the admiration of all her neighbours.

The wedding ceremony in Cho-sen is simple. It is not celebrated as with
us, in the house of the bride, but in that of the bridegroom. The bride
it is, who--carried in a palanquin, if a lady of means and good family,
or on pony or donkey back, if she belongs to the lower classes--goes,
followed by parents, relations and friends, to the house of the
bridegroom. Here she finds assembled his friends and relations, and,
having been received by the father of the bridegroom, she mounts a small
platform erected for the purpose in the centre of the room and squats
down. Her father follows suit, placing himself just behind her. The
bridegroom, apparently unconcerned by the serious change in his life that
is in prospect, sits on his heels in front of her on the platform. A
document is then produced and unrolled, on which, in hundreds of
fantastic Chinese characters, it is certified that the performance taking
place is a _bona-fide_ marriage between Mr. So-and-so and the daughter of
So-and-so; the weaker sex, as we have already seen, not being entitled to
a personal name. The two contracting parties having signed the document,
the fathers of the bride and bridegroom and the nearest relations, follow
suit. If, as happens in many cases, the woman is able neither to read nor
write, she can make "her mark" on the roll of paper in question; and I
must confess that of all the ingenious marks I have seen, this one is the
most ingenious of all. If she be a lady of rank and illiterate, her
little hand is placed on the paper and the outline drawn round the
fingers and wrist with a fine brush dipped in Chinese ink; but if she
happens to have no blue blood in her veins, and is, therefore, of less
gracious manners, the simpler process of smearing her hand with black
paint and hitting the document with it is considered to render the
ceremony more impressive. A more or less vivid impression of the wife's
fleshly seal having been affixed in this way to some part or other of the
document according to her skill in aiming, the two unfortunates resume
their dignity on the platform, sitting face to face without a word or
motion. The bridegroom then makes four grand bows to his wife, in sign of
resignation or assent, I suppose; and she returns two, while she treats
her father-in-law with double that amount of reverence. This constitutes
the marriage ceremony proper, but much further bowing has to be gone
through by both the parties to each of the people present, who,
accompanying their wedding-gifts of birds and fish with pretty
compliments, come forward, one by one, to the platform and drink the
health, happiness and joy of the wedded pair. It is the duty of the bride
to remain perfectly mute and apparently unconcerned at all the pretty
speeches addressed to her by the bridegroom and his friends until the
nuptial-chamber is entered later in the evening. Previous to this,
however, the bridegroom is taken away into the men's apartment, while, on
the other hand, the wife is led into the ladies' own room. The former
then has his tress cut off and tied into a top-knot--an operation
entrusted to his best friend; while the latter also has her hair changed
from the fashion of the maiden to that of a married woman, by her most
intimate friend. It is only after this change in the coiffure that a man
begins to be taken notice of in the world, or is regarded as responsible
for his own conduct.

After being arrayed in the fashion just mentioned, and having gone
through a good deal of feasting, husband and wife are led off to the
nuptial-chamber. Here, numerous straw puppets, which had better be left
undescribed, are placed, with a certain implication, which need not be
explained. With these, then, the two poor wretches are shut in, while all
the relations and servants sit outside giggling and listening at the
door. The wife is not supposed to utter a sound, and if by chance her
voice is heard she can fully expect to have her life chaffed out of her,
and to be the talk and the cause of good-natured fun all over the
neighbourhood. The middle-men--either the fathers or others--are entitled
to assist at the first-night business, and to report to the relations and
friends whether the marriage is to turn out a happy one or not. They
generally act their part behind a screen placed for the purpose in the

What happens is generally this: the man either takes a violent fancy for
his new bride or else he does not care for her. If the former is the
case, the first fortnight or so is a very happy one for the couple, and
the two are continually by each other's side; but, by-and-by, of course,
the ardour of these days gets quieted down, and, to show his wife that
after all he does not think much of her, the man will even proceed to
enter into relationship with a second wife, and probably soon after that
also with a third or even a fourth, according to his means. After a time,
he will again return to the first and principal wife, and repeat to her a
certain amount of affection, though never quite so much as is displayed
towards the last love. The Corean treats his wife with dignity and
kindness, and feeds her well, but she is never allowed to forget that she
is an inferior personage. To this, however, the women of Cho-sen seem
quite resigned, and it is marvellous how faithful they are to their
husbands, and how much they seem to think of them and their welfare and
happiness, their own selves being quite forgotten. Should a woman of the
better classes be left, a widow, she must wear mourning as long as she
lives, and ever shed tears over the loss of her husband. To re-marry she
is not permitted. Women of the lower classes, it is true, do not always
observe this rule--which is not law, but merely etiquette.

Many a Cho-sen lady, also, on finding herself deprived of her better half
when she is still young in years and physique voluntarily puts an end to
her days, that she may join her husband, wherever he may have gone,
rather than go through life alone. If, however, a son is born, she will
nurse him, and look upon him as her master when he grows older and
becomes the head of the family.

To obtain a divorce in Corea is not an easy matter. Large sums of money,
however, often obtain what right cannot. The principal causes for which,
if proved, a divorce can be obtained, are: infidelity, sterility,
dishonesty, and incurable malady. These faults, be it understood, only
apply to women, for against the men the weaker sex has, unfortunately, no
redress. Indeed, by the law of Corea a man becomes the owner of a woman
if he can prove that he has had intimate relations with her. In such a
case as this, even though it has been against her parents' and her own
will, he has a perfect right to take her to his house, and make her a
wife or a concubine.

Adultery until lately was punished in Corea with flogging and capital
punishment. Now the law is more lenient, and wives accused of such a
dreadful offence are beaten nearly to death, and when recovered, if they
do recover, are given as concubines to low officials in the Palace or at
some of the _Yamens_.

Women who are much deformed and have reached a certain age without
finding a husband are allowed the privilege of purchasing one, which, in
other words, corresponds to our marriage for money. In Corea, however,
the money is paid down as the consideration for the marriage. But this
sort of thing is not very frequent, and husbands in such cases are
generally recruited from among ruined gentlemen or from the middle
classes, among whom with money anything can be done. It is not considered
quite honourable, and the Cho-senese despise such conduct on the part of
a man.

When a woman marries she becomes co-proprietress of all her husband's
fortune and property, and should he die without having any sons, money
and land descend to her. When this happens, however, the larger part of
the fortune is swallowed up by the astrologers and priests, who give the
woman to understand that they are looking after the welfare of her
deceased beloved. In matters concerning the dead, the Coreans are
heedless of expense, and large sums are spent in satisfying the wishes
that dead people convey to the living through those scamps, the

The life of a Corean woman, though that of a slave kept in strict
seclusion, with prospects of floggings and head-chopping, is not always
devoid of adventures. Love is a thing which is capricious in the extreme,
and there are stories current in Cho-sen about young, wives being
carelessly looked after by their husbands, and falling in love with some
good-looking youth, of course married to some one else. Having, perhaps,
against her master's orders, made a hole through the paper window, and
been peeping at the passers-by in the street, after months, or even years
of drudgery and sleepless nights thinking of her ideal--for Corean women
are passionate, and much given to fanciful affections--she at last
chances to see the man of her heart, and manages, through the well-paid
agency of some faithful servant, to enter into communication with him. If
the man in question happens to be a high official or a nobleman, what
happens generally is that the lady's husband either gets suddenly packed
off by order of the King to some distant province, or is sent upon some
travelling employment which probably necessitates his leaving his wife
behind for several years, during which period, under the old-fashioned
excuse of news received of the husband's death, or the plea of poverty,
she very likely becomes the concubine of the man she loves. In Corean
literature, there are many stories of the burning affections of the fair
sex, some being said to have committed crimes, and even suicide, to be
near the man they loved.

To a European mind, certainly, the native way of arranging marriages does
not seem very likely to make the contracting parties happy, for neither
the tastes nor respective temperaments of the young couple are regarded.
Still, taking everything into consideration, it is marvellous how little
unhappiness--comparatively--there is in a Corean household. Besides, it
must not be supposed that, slave though she be, the Corean woman never
gets things her own way. On the contrary, she does, and that as often as
she likes. Among the upper classes, especially those about the Court,
half the trouble in the kingdom is caused by the women, not openly,
indeed, but in a clever underhand way through their _enerve_ husbands,
whom, instead of being the governors, they rule and lead by the nose.
Promotions, punishments, and beheadings are generally the consequence of
the work of some female fiend. There is probably no place in the world in
which intrigue is so rampant as in the Corean Capital. The Queen herself
is said to exercise an enormous influence over the King, and, according
to Corean reports, it is really she, and not the King, that rules
Cho-sen. She is never either seen or heard of; and yet all the officials
are frightened out of their lives if they think they have incurred her
displeasure. For no plausible reason whatever men are sometimes seen
deprived of their high position, degraded and exiled. Nobody knows why it
is; the accused themselves cannot account for it. There is only one
answer possible, namely, _Cherchez la femme_. The fact is, a Corean woman
can be an angel and she can be a devil. If the former, she is soft, good,
willing to bear any amount of pain, incredibly faithful to her husband,
painstaking with her children, and willing to work day and night without
a word of reproach. If, however, she is the other thing, I do not think
that any devils in existence can beat her. She then has all the bad
qualities that a human body can contain. I firmly believe that when a
Corean woman is bad she is capable of anything! Much of the distress,
even, which prevails all over the country is more or less due to the
weakness of the stronger sex towards the women. Everybody, I suppose, is
aware of the terrible system of "squeezing"; that is to say, the
extortion of money from any one who may possess it. It is really painful
all over Corea to see the careworn, sad expression on everybody's face;
you see the natives lying about idle and pensive, doubtful as to what
their fate will be to-morrow, all anxious for a reform in the mode of
government, yet all too lazy to attempt to better their position, and
this has gone on for generations! Such is human nature. It is hard to
suffer, but this is considered to be nothing compared with the trouble of
improving one's position.

"What is the use of working and making money," said a Corean once to me,
"if, when the work is done and the money made, it is taken from you by
the officials; you are worn out by the work you have done, yet are as
poor as before, that is, mind you, if you are fortunate enough not to be
exiled to a distant province by the magistrate who has enriched himself
at your expense?" "Now," added the Cho-senese, looking earnestly into my
face, "would you work under those circumstances?" "I am hanged if I
would," were the words which, to the best of my ability, I struggled to
translate into the language of Cho-sen, in order to show my approval of
these philosophic views; "but, tell me, what do the officials do with all
the money?"

"It is all spent in pleasure. Women are their ruin. The feasts which they
celebrate with their singers and their concubines cost immense sums of
money. Besides, their women are like leeches, and continually incite them
to extort more and more from the public to satisfy their ambition and
evil habits. They are women mostly born in dirt, but who now find
themselves in lavishness and luxury. People who spring up from nothing
never are satisfied with what they possess, and it is always a pleasure
to them to see other people suffering as they formerly did."

There is little doubt that what the Corean said is perfectly true, and
that the system of "squeezing" is carried on by the magistrates to such
an extent as to entirely ruin the people; wherefore, it is only natural
that its depressing effects should be impressed upon the people
"squeezed." I also believe that there is a good deal of truth in what he
said about their females being supplied with large funds by the
magistrates. The money must come from some part, and since, personally,
they are poor and only receive a small pay, there is no doubt that the
money in question is extorted as described. But let this suffice for the
good and bad qualities of the Cho-sen fairies and their funny way of
being married.

[Illustration: THE MARK]


Painting in Seoul--Messages from the king--Royal princes sitting for
their portraits--Breaking the mourning law--Quaint notions--Delight and
despair--Calling in of State ceremony--Corean soldiers--How they mount
guard--Drill--Honours--A much admired shoe--A gift.

I had made so many sketches in Seoul, that at last a rumour reached the
Court of the rapidity with which I portrayed streets and people. The
consequence was that both king and princes were very anxious to see what
"European painting" was like, as they had never yet seen a picture
painted by a European; so one fine day, to my great astonishment, through
the kindness of Mr. Greathouse and General Le Gendre, I was able to
induce one of the Queen's nephews, young Min-san-ho, to sit for his
likeness in his Court dress. The picture, a life-size one, was painted in
the course of an afternoon and was pronounced a success by my Corean
critics. In Cho-senese eyes, unaccustomed to the effects of light, shade,
and variety of colour in painting, the work merited a great deal of
admiration, and many were the visitors who came to inspect it. It was
not, they said, at all like a picture, but just like the man himself
sitting donned in his white Court robes and winged cap. So great was the
sensation produced by this portrait, that before many days had passed
the King ordered it to be brought into his presence, upon which being
done he sat gazing at it, surrounded by his family and whole household.
The painting was kept at the Palace for two entire days, and when
returned to me was simply covered with finger marks, royal and not royal,
smeared on the paint, which was still moist, and that, notwithstanding
that I had been provident enough to paste in a corner of the canvas a
label in the Corean language to the effect that fingers were to be kept
off. The King declared himself so satisfied with it that he expressed the
wish that before leaving the country I should paint the portraits of the
two most important personages in Cho-sen after himself, viz.: the two
Princes, Min-Young-Huan, and Min-Young-Chun, the former of whom was
Commander-in-chief of the Corean land forces, and the other, Prime
Minister of the kingdom, in fact, the Bismarck of Cho-sen.

No sooner had I answered "yes" to this request than the sitting was fixed
for the next morning at 11 o'clock. The crucial matter, of course, was
the question of precedence, and this would have been difficult to settle
had not the Prime Minister caught a bad cold, which caused his sitting to
be delayed for some days. Hence it was that at 11 o'clock punctually I
was to portray prince Min-Young-Huan, the commander-in-chief of the
Corean troops.

[Illustration: H.R.H. PRINCE MIN-YOUNG-HUAN]

General Le Gendre, with his usual kindness, had offered me a room in his
house, in which I could receive, and paint His Royal Highness. The
excitement at Court on the subject of these pictures, had apparently been
great, for late at night a message was brought me from the palace to
the effect that the King, having heard that I preferred painting the two
princes in their smartest dark blue gowns of lovely silk instead of in
their white mourning ones, had given Min orders to comply with my wish.
The grant of such a privilege was, indeed, remarkable, when it is
remembered how strict the rules as to mourning were, not only at Court,
but all over the country; for so strict are the mourning rules of the
country, that the slightest exception to them may mean the loss of one's
head. The precaution, however, was taken to bind me to secrecy, on the
ground that a bad example of this kind coming from royalty might actually
cause a revolutionary outbreak. It was naturally with the greatest
pleasure, at my success, and the courtesy shown me, that I went to bed,
not, however, without having received yet another message from General Le
Gendre, asking me to be in attendance punctually at 11 A.M.

It was just 6.30 in the morning, when there was a loud tap at my door,
and the servant rushed in, in the wildest state of excitement, handing me
a note from General Le Gendre. The note read somewhat as follows: "Dear
Mr. Landor, Prince Min has arrived at my house to sit for his picture.
Please come at once."

That is punctuality, is it not? To make an appointment, and go to the
place to keep it four-and-a-half hours before the time appointed!

In less than no time I was on the spot. Le Gendre's house was, as it
were, in a state of siege, for hundreds of armed soldiers were drawn up,
in the little lane leading to it, while the court of his compound was
crammed with followers and officers, in their smartest clothes. The
warriors, who had already made themselves comfortable, and were squatting
on their heels, playing cards and other games, got up most respectfully
as I passed, and, by command of one of the officers, rendered me a
military salute, which I must confess made me feel very important. I had
never suspected that such an armed force was necessary to protect a man
who was going to have his portrait painted, but of course, I am well
aware that artists are always most unreliable people. When the real
reason of this display was explained, I did indeed feel much flattered.

The Prince had, in fact, come to me in his grandest style, and with his
full escort, just as if his object had been to call on some royal
personage, such as the King himself. The compliment was, I need hardly
say, much appreciated by me. I was actually lifted up the steps of the
house by his servants, for it was supposed that the legs of such a grand
personage must indeed be incapable of bearing his body, and thus I was
brought into his presence. As usual, he was most affable, and full of wit
and fun. So great had been his anxiety to be down on canvas, that he had
been quite unable to sleep. He could only wish for the daylight to come,
which was to immortalise him, and that was why he had come "a little"
before his time.

Having assured himself that there was no one else in the room, he
discarded his mourning clothes, and put on a magnificent blue silk gown
with baggy sleeves, upon which dragons were depicted, in rather lighter
tones. On his chest, he wore a square on which in multicoloured
embroideries were represented the flying phoenix and the tiger, and the
corners of which were filled in artistically with numerous scrolls. He
had also a rectangular jewelled metal belt, projecting both at his chest
and at the back, and held in position by a ribbon on both sides of his
body. His cap was of the finest black horse-hair with wings fastened at
the back. He seemed most proud of his three white leather satchels, and a
writing pad, which hung down from his left side, by wide white straps.
Into these straps, in time of war, is passed the sword of supreme
command, and by them in time of peace is his high military rank made
known. His sword was a magnificent old blade, which had been handed down
from his ancestors, and naturally he was very proud of it. While showing
it to me, he related the noble deeds, which had been accomplished by its
aid, his eyes glistening all the time, but, as he was about to
graphically describe in what way such and such an ancestor had done away
with his foe, I, who am not at all fond of playing with razor-edged
swords, thought it prudent to interrupt him by placing him in position
for the picture. As I posed him, he did not utter a word, nor wink an
eye. And during the whole of a sitting of nearly three hours he sat
motionless and speechless, like a statue.

"It is finished," I finally said, and he sprang up in a childish fashion
and came over to look at the work. His delight was unbounded, and he
seized my hand and shook it for nearly half an hour; after which, he
suddenly became grave, stared at the canvas, and then looked at the back
of it. He seemed horrified.

"What is it?" I inquired of His Royal Highness.

"You have not put in my jade decoration," said he, almost in despair.

I had, of course, painted his portrait full face, and as the Coreans have
the strange notion of wearing their decorations in the shape of a small
button of jade, gold, silver or amber, behind the left ear, these did not
appear thereon. I then tried to remonstrate, saying that it was
impossible in European art to accomplish such a feat as to show both
front and back at once, but, as he seemed distressed at what to him
seemed a defect, I made him sit again, and compromised the matter by
making another large but rapid sketch of him from a side point of view,
so as to include the decoration and the rest rather magnified in size. It
is from this portrait that the illustration is taken; for I corrected it
as soon as he was out of sight. But with this second portrait my Corean
sitter was more grieved than ever, for, he remarked, now he could see the
decoration, but not his other eye!

These difficulties having, with the exercise of a good deal of patience
and time, been finally overcome by my proving to him that one cannot see
through things that are not transparent, we were entertained by General
Le Gendre to an excellent lunch, during which toasts to the health of
everybody under the sun were drunk in numberless bottles of champagne.
Then he began to wax quite enthusiastic about his likeness. He called in
his officers and followers; by this time, of course, he had got into his
mourning clothes again, and donned his semi-spherical crane-surmounted
hat; and they all showed great admiration of the work, although many went
round, as he had done, to look at the backs of the two canvases to find
"the eye," or the other missing "button."

He wanted to purchase both pictures there and then, but I declined,
saying that I would be pleased to present him with a smaller copy when
completed. With this promise he departed happy.

Now it was the turn of his Prime Minister brother, Prince Min. He also
came in full state, with hundreds of servants and followers, hours before
his time; was a most restless model; and, having profited by his
brother's experience, was continually coming over to examine the painting
and reminding me not to forget this and that and the other
thing--generally what was on the other side of his body, or what from my
point of vantage I could not see. This time, however, I had chosen a
three-quarter face pose, and he expressed the fullest satisfaction with
the result, until, going to poke his nose into the canvas, which was
about 4 feet by 3, he began to take objections to the shadows. He
insisted that his face was all perfectly white; whereas I had made
one-half his nose darker in colour than the other; also that there was
the same defect under the chin; his untrained mind being unable to grasp
the fact that the same colour under different lights becomes lighter or
darker in tone. I would have lost my patience with him if I had had any
to lose, but, remaining silent, I smiled idiotically at his observations,
and did exactly the reverse of what he wished me to do. The beautifying
touches having been duly added, and the high lights put in where it
seemed proper that they should go, I summoned the Prince to see the
effect, this time building up a barricade of chairs and tables in front
of the canvas, in order that His Royal Highness might be compelled to
conduct his examination of it at the right distance. This had the desired
effect, and, as he now gazed at it, he found the likeness excellent and
to use his words "just like a living other-self." It seemed to him a most
inexplicable circumstance that when he got his nose close to the canvas
the picture appeared so different from what it was when inspected at the
right distance. This sitting also ended with a feast, and everything
passed off in the best of ways.

The result of this amicable intercourse with the Royal Princes was that
calls had to be duly exchanged according to the rules of Corean
etiquette. Both Princes came again in their state array to call upon me
in person, a privilege which I was told had never before been bestowed on
any Europeans, not even the Diplomatic Agents in the land, after which
upon the following day I proceeded to return their calls.

The morning was dedicated to the commander-in-chief, Prince
Min-Young-Huan. Since to go on foot, even though the distance was only a
few hundred yards from Mr. Greathouse's, where I was living, would have
been, according to Corean etiquette, a disgrace and an insult, I rode up
to his door on horseback. His house stood, surrounded by a strong wall of
masonry and with impregnable iron-banded gates, in the centre of a large
piece of ground. His ensign flew at one corner of the enclosure, and a
detachment of picked troops was always at his beck and call in the
immediate neighbourhood. At the door were sentries, and it was curious to
note the way in which guard is mounted in the land of Cho-sen.

I suppose what I am going to narrate will not be believed, but it is none
the less perfectly true. The Corean Tommy Atkins mounts guard curled up
in a basket filled with rags and cotton-wool! Even at the royal palace
one sees them. The Cho-senese warrior is not a giant; on the contrary, he
is very small, only a little over five feet, or even less, so that the
round basket which contains him is made only about four feet in diameter,
and three-and-a-half feet deep. In the inner enclosures of the royal
palace, where two soldiers at a time are on guard, the baskets are
bigger, and the two men contained in them squat or curl up together like
two birds in a nest. Their rifles are generally left standing against the
wall; but, occasionally, when the position to be guarded is a very
responsible one, they are nursed in the basket.

The infantry soldier, seen at his best, is a funny individual. He thinks
he is dressed like a European soldier, but the reader can imagine the
resemblance. His head-gear consists of a felt hat with a large brim,
which he keeps on his head by means of two ribbons tied under his chin;
for the fashion is, in military circles, to have a head-gear many times
too small for his head. He wears a pair of calico trousers of a
nondescript colour resembling green and black, under which his own padded
"unmentionables" are concealed, a fact which of itself is sufficient to
make him look a little baggy. Then there is his shortish coat with large
sleeves and woollen wristlets; and a belt, with a brass buckle, somewhere
about five inches above or below his waist, according to the amount of
dinner he has eaten and the purses he has stuffed under his coat. Yes,
the Coreans are not yet civilised enough to possess pockets, and all that
they have to carry must be stuffed into small leather, cloth, or silk
purses with long strings. By ordinary individuals these purses are
fastened inside or outside the coat, but among the military it is
strictly forbidden to show purses over the coat; wherefore the regulation
method is to carry these underneath, tied to the trouser's band.
Accordingly, as the number of purses is larger or smaller, the belt over
the jacket is higher or lower on the waist, the coat sticking out in the
most ridiculous manner.

In the illustration a Corean warrior of the latest fashion may be seen in
his full uniform. He is an infantry soldier.


The guns with which these men are armed, are of all sorts, descriptions
and ages, from the old flint-locks to repeating breech-loaders, and it
can easily be imagined how difficult it must be to train the troops,
hardly two soldiers having guns of even a similar make! A couple of
American Army instructors were employed by the King to coach the soldiery
in the art of foreign warfare, and to teach them how to use their
weapons, but, if I remember rightly, one of the greatest difficulties
they had to contend with was the utter want of discipline; for to this
the easy-going Corean Tommy Atkins could on no account be made to
submit. They are brave enough when it comes to fighting; that is, when
this is done in their own way; and rather than give way an inch they will
die like valiant warriors. It is an impossibility, however, to make them
understand that when a man is a soldier, in European fashion, he is no
more a man, but a machine.

"Why not have machines altogether?" seemed to be pretty much what they
thought when compelled to go through the, to them, apparently useless and
tiresome drill.

The target practice amused and interested them much when it took place,
which was but seldom, for the cost of the ammunition was found to be too
much for the authorities; there being, besides, the further difficulty of
providing different cartridges for the great variety of rifles used. Thus
it was that, though nearly every infantry soldier possessed a gun, he
hardly ever had a chance of firing it. So rarely was even a round of
blank cartridges fired in the capital, that, when this event did take
place for some purpose or other, the King invariably sent a message to
the few foreign residents in the town requesting them not to be
frightened or alarmed at the "report," or to suppose that a revolution
had broken out.

Having examined Tommy Atkins at his best, I sent in my name to the
Prince, and was waiting outside, when suddenly a great noise was heard
inside, the squeaky locks were unbolted, and gate after gate was thrown
open. The pony had to be left behind at the gate, and as I entered the
court, among the chin-chins of the courtiers, I saw the
Commander-in-chief waiting on the door-step to greet me with
outstretched arms. Honour after honour was bestowed upon me; which
extreme politeness amazed me, for Foreign Ministers and Consuls are never
received in this way, but are led into his presence, while he remains
comfortably seated in his audience chamber.

He took me by the hand, and, leading me into his reception room,
maintained a long and most friendly conversation with me, taking the most
unbounded interest in all matters pertaining to Western civilisation. As
we were thus busily engaged, "pop," went the cork of a champagne bottle
with a frightful explosion, through the paper window, and my interlocutor
and myself had a regular shower bath, as sudden as it was unexpected.
Then out of this healths were drunk, the servant who had opened the
bottle so clumsily, being promised fifty strokes of the paddle at the
earliest opportunity; after which I rose and bade his Royal Highness
good-bye. Again, his politeness was extreme, and he accompanied me to the
door, where, amidst the chin-chins of his followers and the "military
honours" of the assembled troops, I re-mounted my pony and galloped off

The same afternoon I paid my visit to the Royal Prime Minister. This
time, being grown conceited, I suppose, by virtue of the honour received
in the course of the morning, though in part, perhaps, owing to the
advice of my friend Mr. Greathouse, who insisted upon my going in grand
state, I was carried in the "green sedan chair," the one, namely, which
is only brought out for officials and princes of the highest rank. I was
also accorded the full complement of four chair-bearers, and,
accompanied by the _Kissos_ (soldiers) and servants who were summoned to
form my escort, I gaily started.

"Oooohhhh!" my bearers sighed in a chorus, as they lifted me into the
sedan and sped me along the crowded streets; while the soldiers shouted
"Era, Era, Era, Picassa, Picassa!" thrusting to one side the astonished
natives that stood in the way. As I approached the palace, I noticed that
rows of other sedan-chairs, but yellow and blue ones, were waiting, their
official occupants anticipating an audience with the Prince and Prime
Minister. All these, however, had to make way before me, and a soldier
having been despatched in advance to inform His Royal Highness of my
coming, the gates were banged open as I approached them and closed again
so soon as I was within. The cordial reception which I had received from
the other prince, was now repeated; and Min Young Chun and his court were
actually standing on the door-step to receive me.

As I always complied with the habits of the country, I proceeded to take
off my shoes before entering the house, but the prince, having been
informed some time or other that such was not the custom in England,
insisted on my abstaining from doing so. I had already taken off one shoe
and was proceeding to untie the other when, catching me by one arm and
his followers by the other, he dragged me in. You can imagine how comical
and undignified I looked, with one shoe on and the other off! Still, I
managed to be equal to the occasion, and held a long _pourparler_ with
the Prince, his courtiers standing around, in a room which he had
furnished in the European style, with two Chinese chairs and a table!

As we were thus confabulating and I was being entertained with native
wine and sweets, I received a dreadful blow--that is to say, a moral one.
A youth, a relation of the prince, ran into the room and whispered
something in the royal ears, whereupon his eyes glittered with
astonishment and curiosity, and in a moment there was a general stampede
out of the room on the part of all the courtiers and eunuchs. A minute
after, amidst the deepest silence, was brought triumphantly into the
audience-room and deposited in the middle of the table:--what do you
think?--my shoe, that, namely, which I had left outside!

Such a blow as this I had never experienced in my life, for the man I was
calling upon, you must remember, held a position in Corea equal to that
of the Prince of Wales and Lord Rosebery combined, and if you can imagine
being entertained by a dignitary of this high order with one of your
shoes in its right place and the other on the table, you will agree that
my position was more than comical. It appeared that this special state of
sensation was produced entirely by the fact that my unfortunate foot-gear
was made of patent leather, and that, being almost new, it shone
beautifully. Neither Prince nor Court had ever seen patent leather
before, and much ravishment, mingled with childish surprise, was on the
face of everybody, when it was whispered round and believed that the shoe
was covered with a glass coating. The Prince examined it carefully all
over, and then passed it round to his courtiers, signs of the greatest
admiration being expressed at this wonderful object.

[Illustration: H.R.H. PRINCE MIN-YOUNG-CHUN]

I, on my, side, took things quite philosophically, after having recovered
from the first shock; and, taking off the other shoe, put it also on the
table, gracefully, and quite in the Eastern fashion, begging the Prince
to accept the pair as a gift, if he was agreeable to have them.
Fortunately for me, however, he even more gracefully declined the offer,
though, as long as our interview lasted, I noticed that his eyes were
constantly fixed on them and that every now and then he again went into
raptures over them!

On the occasion of this visit I presented him with a portrait of himself
reproduced on a small scale from the larger painting which I had made. He
seemed to much appreciate this picture so far as the painting was
concerned, but was much taken aback when he discovered that it was on the
surface of a wooden panel and could not, therefore, be rolled up. The
Eastern idea is that, to preserve a picture, it should always be kept
rolled, and unrolled as seldom as possible, that is to say, only on grand

When it was time to go, the Prince conducted me to the door in person,
and, having had my shoes put on and laced by one of his pages, I finally
took my leave of him.

A very curious episode, the direct consequence of my having portrayed
these Princes, occurred some days afterwards. I was walking in the
grounds of Mr. Greathouse's residence, when I perceived a number of
coolies, headed by two soldiers and a sort of _Maggiordomo_, coming
towards the house. They were carrying several baskets, while the
_Maggiordomo_ himself gracefully held a note between two fingers. As soon
as they saw me, the _Maggiordomo_ made a grand bow, and, delivering the
letter into my hands, said that it came from Prince Min-Young-Huan, the
Commander-in-chief of the Corean army. What astonished me even more was
that he placed at my feet the different baskets and parcels, announcing
that they were now my property. The letter ran as follows:

"MY DEAR MR. LANDOR,--I send you some Corean hens, and some eggs,
and some persimmons, and some beef, and some pork, and some nuts,
and some screens, and a leopard skin. I hope that you will
receive them. I thank you very much for the beautiful picture you
have done of me, and I send you this as a remembrance of
me.--Your friend,


Greathouse and all the household having been at once summoned, the gifts
were duly displayed and admired. The eggs numbered four hundred; then,
there were ten live native hens with lovely feathers, about forty pounds
of beef and pork, and two full bags, the one of nuts and the other of
persimmons. There was enough to last one a month. The part of the present
which pleased me most, however, was that containing the split bamboo
window screens, which are only manufactured for, and presented to the
King and royal princes by faithful subjects, and can scarcely be obtained
for love or money under ordinary circumstances. The leopard skin, also,
was a lovely one of its kind, with long fur and fat long tail,
beautifully marked, in short an excellent specimen of what is called, I
believe, a snow-leopard. Never before had I made so good a bargain for
any picture of mine, and I could not but wonder whether I should ever
again have another like it.

I am sorry to say that a large portion of the eggs were consumed in
making egg-noggs, an excellent American drink, at the concocting of which
Greathouse was a master, a sustaining "refresher" which helped us much in
passing away the long dull winter evenings. The hens, whose plumage we
much admired, were let loose for some days, but they created such a
nuisance with their early crowing, that they were soon condemned, like
most hens, to suffer from an overstretch of neck. The screens and
leopard-skins I brought back with me to England as a memento of my
portrait-painting experiences in Corea, and these I still possess.


The royal palace--A royal message--Mounting guard--The bell--The royal
precinct--The Russian villa--An unfinished structure--The Summer
Palace--The King's house--Houses of dignitaries--The ground and summer
pavilion--Colds--The funeral of a Japanese Minister--Houses of royal
relations--The queen--The oldest man and woman--The King and his
throne--Politics and royalty--Messengers and spies--Kim-Ka-Chim---Falcons
and archery--Nearly a St. Sebastian--The queen's curiosity--A royal
banquet--The consequences.


I had some more amusing experiences on the occasion of my first visit to
the royal palace. The King had sent me a message one evening saying that
any part of the royal palace and grounds would be opened to me, if I
wished to make observations or take sketches, and that it would give him
much pleasure if I would go there early the next morning and stay to
dinner at the palace. This invitation to spend the whole day at the
palace was so tempting that I at once accepted it, and next day,
accompanied by one of the officials, a Mr. S., I proceeded early in the
morning to the side entrance of the enclosure.

The palace and grounds, as we have seen, are enclosed by a wall of
masonry about twenty feet high, and from a bird's-eye point of vantage
the "compound" has a rectangular shape. There are almost continuous moats
round the outside walls, with stone bridges with marble parapets over
them at all the entrances. At the corners of the wall _d'enceinte_ are
turrets with loopholes. There soldiers are posted day and night to mount
guard, each set being relieved from duty at intervals of two hours during
the night, when the hammer bell in the centre of the palace grounds
sounds its mournful but decided strokes. At midnight a big drum is
struck, the harmonic case of which is semi-spherical and covered with a
donkey-skin first wetted and made tight. It is by the sound of this
smaller bell within the palace grounds that the signal is given at sunset
to the "Big Bell" to vibrate through the air those sonorous notes by
which, as already stated, all good citizens of the stronger sex are
warned to retire to their respective homes, and which give the signal for
closing the gates of the town.

When you enter the royal precinct, you run a considerable amount of risk
of losing your way. It is quite a labyrinth there. The more walls and
gates you go through, the more you wind your way, now round this
building, then round that, the more obstacles do you seem to see in front
of you. There are sentries at every gate, and at each a password has to
be given. When you approach, the infantry soldiers, quickly jumping out
of the baskets in which they were slumbering, seize hold of their rifles,
and either point their bayonets at you or else place their guns across
the door, until the right password is given, when a comical way of
presenting arms follows, and you are allowed to proceed.

In the back part of the enclosure is a pretty villa in the Russian style.
A few years ago, when European ideas began to bestir the minds of the
King of Cho-sen, he set his heart upon having a house built in the
Western fashion. No other architect being at hand, his Majesty
commissioned a clever young Russian, a Mr. Seradin Sabatin, to build him
a royal palace after the fashion of his country. The young Russian,
though not a professional architect, did his very best to please the
King, and with the money he had at his command, turned out a very solid
and well-built little villa, _a la Russe_, with _caloriferes_ and all
other modern appliances. The house has two storeys, but the number of
rooms is rather limited. The King, however, seemed much pleased with it,
but when it was on the point of completion, at the instigation of some
foreign diplomat, he commissioned a French architect from Japan to
construct another palace on a much larger scale at some distance from the
Russian building. The estimates for this new ground structure were far
too small, and by the time that the foundations were laid down, the cost
already amounted to nearly three times the sum for which the whole
building was to have been erected. The King, disgusted at what he thought
to be foreign trickery, but what was really merciless robbery on the
part of his own officials, decided to discontinue the new palace, which,
in consequence, even now has reached only a height of about three feet
above the level of the ground.

The royal palace may be considered as divided into two portions, namely,
the summer palace and the winter palace. An official, who came to meet me
in the inner enclosure, informed me that His Majesty desired that I
should begin by inspecting the summer palace--access to which is not
allowed during the winter time--and that he had given orders for the
gates leading to it, which had been nailed up and sealed, to await the
next warm weather, to be opened for me. No one besides myself and the
official to guide me was, however, to be allowed to enter. And so,
preceded by a man with a heavy wooden mallet, we arrived at the gate,
which, after a considerable amount of hammering and pegging away, was at
last forced open. Accompanied by my guide, I straightway entered, two
soldiers being left on guard to prevent any one else following. As I got
within the enclosure, a pretty sight lay before me. In front was a large
pond, now all frozen, in the centre of which stood a large square sort of
platform of white marble. On this platform was erected the audience-hall,
a colonnade of the same kind of white marble, supported by which was
another floor of red lacquered wood with wooden columns, which in their
turn upheld the tiled roof with slightly curled up corners. The part
directly under the roof was beautifully ornamented with fantastic wood
carvings painted yellow, red, green and blue. Red and white were the
colours which predominated. A black tablet, with large gold characters
on it, was at one side.

The throne in the audience-hall was a simple raised scaffold in the
centre of the room, with a screen behind it, and a staircase of seven or
eight steps leading up to it. Access to this sort of platform-island from
the gate at which we entered was obtained by means of a marble bridge,
spanned across on two strong marble supports. The staircase leading to
the first floor was at the end of the building, directly opposite to
where the bridge was; so that, on coming from the bridge, we had to go
through the whole colonnade to reach it.

Having taken a sketch or two, I retraced my steps and again reached the
entrance. The instant I was outside, the gate was again shut and nailed
up, wooden bars being put right across it. I was then led to the inner
enclosure. The gate of this was guarded by about a dozen armed men, I
being now in front of the part of the house which was inhabited by the
King himself. After all, however, his abode is no better than the houses
of the noblemen all over Seoul. It is as simple as possible in all its
details; in fact, it is studiously made so. There are no articles of
value in the rooms, except a few screens painted by native artists; nor
are there any signs marking it out in particular as the abode of a
Sovereign. The houses of the high court dignitaries are infinitely more
gaudy than the royal palace, for they are decorated externally in bright
red and green colours.

The morning was spent in prowling about the grounds and in sketching here
and there. In front of the King's house, protected at a short distance
by a low wall, is a second pond, in the middle of which, on a small
island, the King has erected a summer pavilion of octagonal shape, in
which during the warmer months he enjoys the reviving coolness of the
still nights confabulating on State affairs with his Ministers and
advisers (not foreign advisers), a pretty semi-circular, white wooden
bridge joining, so to speak, the island to the mainland; but, besides
this and the buildings provided for the accommodation of the Chinese
envoys, when they come, I do not think there is anything in the royal
enclosure worthy of special notice.


Near the main entrance of the palace is a small house for the
accommodation of foreign Ministers, consuls and Chinese customs
officials, when, on New Year's Day and other public occasions, they are
received in audience by the King. The small room is actually provided
with a stove, as several unfortunate ambassadors have been known to have
caught dreadful colds through having to remain exposed to the natural
temperature for hours until it was the King's pleasure to have them
admitted to his presence. Indeed, I believe I am right when I state that
one or two of these notabilities died in consequence of their experiences
in this way. At all events, during my stay at Seoul, the Japanese
Minister came by his death through a cold which he contracted by having
to stand an inordinate time in the cold room, in his evening dress, and
then walk minus his overcoat or wrappers, through the interminable paved
passage leading to the audience-hall.

Here let me digress. This ambassador's funeral, was, indeed, a comical
sight. I am well aware that it is bad form to find entertainment among
things pertaining to the dead. However, it was not the corpse that made
the performance in question seem funny, but those that remained alive,
and intended to honour his remains. Telegrams arrived from Japan to the
effect that the body should be despatched to his native country;
arrangements were therefore made by the Japanese indwellers to convey and
escort the body of their representative from the capital to Chemulpo, a
port about twenty-five miles distant. According to this plan, the loyal
Japanese coolies were to carry the heavy hearse on their backs, while the
King of Corea agreed to despatch four hundred soldiers of cavalry and
infantry by way of escort, all the foreign residents being also intended
to follow the procession part of the way in their sedan-chairs. So far so
good, and all proceeded, as directed, in good order until the Mafu ferry
was reached. The procession, having crossed the river here, at once
proceeded to re-form on the large stretch of sand on the other side.
While, then, the Japanese, who have always been fond of playing at
soldiers, and had brought down to the river-side with them a couple of
field-guns, were being treated by a Japanese attache, clad in an
exaggerated diplomatic uniform covered with gold braiding, and standing
in dancing pumps in the sands that half-buried him, to a recapitulation
of the virtues of the defunct, the coolies were bearing the hearse on
their backs, the Corean cavalry and infantry forming two lines in good
style. There stood the Corean horsemen, each supported by two men,
apparently unconcerned at the long Japanese rigmarole, of which they did
not understand a word; there rode as stiff as statues outside the ranks
the officers of Cho-sen, on their little ponies. All of a sudden,
however, the two field-guns went off, and with the most disastrous
effects. Half the cavalrymen tumbled off their saddles at the unexpected
bucking of their frightened ponies, and the whole band of horsemen was
soon scattered in every direction, while the men who were carrying the
hearse, following the example of the ponies, gave such a jerk at the
sudden explosion, as to nearly drop their burden on the ground.
By-and-by, the commotion subsided; the procession got into marching
order, and all went well until the seaport was reached. The better class
Japanese, I may mention, were dressed in stage uniforms, or in evening
dress and tall hats, and that though the hour was 9 A.M. or soon after.

But let us return to the royal palace. The King and Queen have
numberless relations, but not all of these live in the royal "compound."
Those that do, have each a separate small house; those that do not, live
in the immediate neighbourhood of the palace enclosure, so as to be
within easy reach when wanted; it being one of the little failings of the
Corean potentate to call up his relations at all hours as well of the
night as of the day. In fact, nearly all the work done by the King, and
nearly all the interviews which he grants to his Ministers take place
during the dark hours, the principal reason given for which is that by
this means, intrigue is prevented, and people are kept in utter ignorance
as to what takes place at Court.

[Illustration: THE KING]

It is a great mistake to suppose that the good-natured King of Cho-sen,
possesses a harem as big as that of the Sultan of Turkey; indeed, the
contrary is the fact. He is quite satisfied with a single wife, that is
to say, the Queen. Needless to say, however, were the custom otherwise,
he certainly would not be the person to object to the institution, for
his predecessors undoubtedly indulged in such an extravagance. The real
truth is the King of Cho-sen has married a little lady stronger minded
than himself, and is compelled to keep on his best behaviour, and see to
it that he does not get into trouble. There are bad tongues in Seoul who
say that the Queen actually rules the King, and therefore, through him,
the country, and that he is more afraid of Her Gracious Majesty, his
wife, than of the very devil himself. For the correctness of this
statement I will not answer.

The Queen is a very good-looking, youngish woman, younger than the King,
and has all her wits about her. She is said to be much in favour of the
emancipation of the Corean woman, but she has made no actual effort, that
I am aware of, to modify the comparatively strict rules of their
seclusion. She comes of one of the oldest families in Cho-sen, and by a
long way the noblest, that of the Mins. She treats herself to countless
Court ladies, varying in number between a score and three hundred,
according to the wants of the Court at different times.

One of the quaintest and nicest customs in Corea is the respect shown by
the young for the old; what better, then, can the reigning people do but
set the good example themselves? Every year the King and Queen entertain
in the royal palace an old man and an old woman of over the age of
ninety, and no matter from what class these aged specimens are drawn,
they are always looked after and cared for under their own supervision
and made happy in every way. Every year a fresh man and woman must be
chosen for this purpose, those of the previous competition being _hors de
concours_. These privileged individuals, if devoid of means, are well
provided with all the necessaries of life and _cash_ before they are sent
home; and not infrequently they end by never leaving the royal palace, or
by settling in the house of some prince or magistrate, by whom they are
fed and clothed till the end of their days. Of course, in many cases it
happens that the oldest man or woman in the town is a nobleman or a
noblewoman; in which case, after the lapse of a certain space of time,
further enjoyment of the royal hospitality is politely declined.

Under the last-mentioned circumstances valuable presents are, however,
given them as mementoes of the stay at the royal palace. This privilege
is much thought of among the Coreans, and a family who has had a member
royally entertained and treated as King's "brothers"--for I believe that
is the name by which they go--is held in great respect by the community,
and in perfect veneration by their immediate neighbours.

The King dresses just like any other high official when the country is in
mourning--that is to say, he has a long white garment with baggy sleeves,
and the usual jewelled projecting belt, with the winged skull-cap; but
when the land is under normal conditions, he dons a gaudy blue silk gown
with dragons woven into the texture, while over his chest in a circular
sort of plate a larger rampant fire-dragon is embroidered in costly
silks and gold. When the latter dress is worn his cap is of similar shape
to that worn when in mourning, only it is made of the finest black,
instead of white, horse-hair, stiffened with varnish.

The King's throne is simple but imposing. He sits upon three carved
marble steps, covered with a valuable embroidered cloth, by the side of
which, on two pillars, are two magnificent bronze vases. Behind him is a
screen of masonry; for no king when in state must ever be either seen
from behind, or looked down on by any one standing behind or beside him.
Such an insult and breach of etiquette, especially in the latter way,
would, until quite recently, probably have meant the loss of the
offender's head. Tainted, however, unfortunately with a craze for Western
civilisation, the King now seldom sits on his marble throne, adorned with
fine carvings of dragons and tigers, preferring to show himself sitting
in a cheap foreign arm-chair with his elbow reclining on a wretched
little twopence-halfpenny table covered with a green carpet. He imagines
that he thus resembles a potentate of Europe! His son generally sits by
his side on these occasions.

The King's relations take no active part in politics, as they consider it
unfair and beneath them, but the King, of course, does, and, judging from
appearances, he seems to take a great deal of interest in his country and
his people. He is constantly despatching officials on secret missions to
this or that province, often in disguise, and at a moment's notice, in
order to obtain reliable information as to the state of those provinces,
and the opinions of the natives regarding the magistrates appointed by
him. The capital itself, too, contains practically a mass of detectives,
who keep spying on everybody and one another, always ready to report the
evil-doing of others, and often being caught _in flagrante delicto_
themselves. Very often even nobles with whom I was well acquainted
suddenly disappeared for days and weeks at a time, no one knowing either
whither they had gone or what they were doing, except that they had left
on a mission from the King. So little confidence has he in his special
envoys that even when he has despatched one straight from the royal
palace, with strict orders not to return home to tell his family whither
he is gone, he soon after sends a second disguised messenger to look
after the doings of the first, and see that he has well and faithfully
carried out his orders. By the time the two have returned, some intrigue
or accusations will have probably been instituted against them, in which
case all the thanks they obtain for obeying His Majesty is either that
they are degraded or that they are exiled to some outlandish province in
the Ever White Mountain district or on the Russian frontier.

[Illustration: KIM-KA-CHIM]

The subject of politics is entrusted entirely to the nobles. It was my
good fortune to get on the most friendly terms with the greatest
politician in Corea, a man called Kim-Ka-Chim, of whom I give a picture,
as he appeared in the horse-hair head-gear which he used to wear indoors.
He was a man of remarkable intelligence, quick-witted, and by far the
best diplomatist I have ever met--and I have met a good many. To entrap
him was impossible, however hard you might try. For sharpness and
readiness of reply, I never saw a smarter man. He was at one time Corean
Ambassador to the Mikado's Court, and in a very short time mastered the
Japanese language to perfection; while with Chinese he was as familiar as
with his own tongue. I myself noticed with what facility he picked up
English words, and, having taken it into his head that he wished to learn
the English language, he set about it, and was able to understand, read,
and speak a little, in a very short time--in fact, in a few days. Not
only is he talented, but also endowed with a wonderful courage and
independence, which superiority over the narrow-minded officials and
intriguers who, for the most part, surround the King, has often led him
into scrapes with His Majesty of Cho-sen. As he jocosely said to me, it
was a marvel to him that his head was still on his shoulders. It was too
good, and some one else might wish to have it. He was an ardent reformer
and a great admirer of Western ways. His great ambition was to visit
England and America, of which he had heard a great deal. Strangely, on
the very morning which succeeded the afternoon on which I had this
conversation with him I received an intimation to the effect that he had,
by order of the King, and for some trivial breach of etiquette, been sent
by way of punishment to one of the most distant provinces in the kingdom.

The most noteworthy point of the Corean Court etiquette is probably this,
that the King is on no account allowed to touch any other metals than
gold and silver; for which reason his drinking-cup is made of a solid
block of gold, while other articles, again, are of silver.

The native name by which the King calls himself is Im-gun (king,
sovereign). He has a very valuable library of Chinese manuscripts and
printed books in the palace compound, but those books are hardly ever
opened or looked at nowadays, except by some rare student of noble rank.
Archery and falconry are occupations which are deemed far more worthy of
attention by the nobility than that of worrying their heads with attempts
to interpret the mysteries of antiquated Chinese characters.

The falcon is held in much veneration among the nobler classes, and a
special retainer--a falconer--is usually kept to wait on the precious
bird. The latter is taken out on the man's arm, with his head covered by
a gaudy little hood. This hood is quickly removed whenever an opportunity
arises to send him off after some unfortunate bird. Then, mounting aloft,
and spreading his wings and whirling round his prey in concentric
circles, he gradually descends in a spiral, until, at last, dashing down
upon his victim, he seizes it with his pointed claws and brings it to his
master. At other times the falcon is not flown, but only used to attract,
with his mesmeric eyes, birds; these then, when within reach, being shot
with old flint-lock guns. The other method is, however, the favourite
form of this amusement, and large sums are often spent by the young
nobles on well-trained birds. Entertainments are even given to witness
the doings of these air-rovers, and the excitement displayed by the
audience on such occasions is intense, especially when libations have
been previously freely indulged in. Competitions between the falcons of
different owners are frequent, and much betting takes place under such

The life of royalty and of the nobility is, taken all round, a very lazy
one. Exercise is considered a degenerate habit, fit only for people who
have to earn a living; and, as for manual labour, a Corean nobleman would
much prefer suicide to anything so disgraceful.

Archery is one of the few exceptions to the rule, and is declared a noble
pastime. Princes and nobles indulge in it, and even become dexterous at
it. The bows used are very short, about two-and-a-half feet long, and are
kept very tight. The arrows are short and light, generally made of
bamboo, or a light cane, and a man with a powerful wrist can send an
arrow a considerable distance, and yet hit his target every time.
Nevertheless, the noble's laziness is, as a rule, so great, that many of
this class prefer to see exhibitions of skill by others, rather than have
the trouble of taking part in such themselves; professional archers, in
consequence, abounding all over the country, and sometimes being kept at
the expense of their admirers. Both the Government and private
individuals offer large prizes for skilful archers, who command almost as
much admiration as do the famous _espadas_ in the bull-fights of Spain.
The King, of course, keeps the pick of these men to himself; they are
kept in constant training and frequently display their skill before His
Majesty and the Court.

I well remember how, one day, through my incautiousness, I very nearly
made the end of a St. Sebastian. It was near the drilling-ground at the
East Gate. I was quietly walking along the earthern dyke which runs along
the little river that crosses Seoul, when from down below I heard screams
of "_Chucomita! Chucomita!_" ("Wait! wait!") "_Kidare!_" ("Stop!") I
stopped, accordingly, and tried to look across the open ground, where I
saw about a score of men, nearly two hundred yards away, apparently
pointing at me. As the setting sun was glaring in my eyes, I could not
well discern what they were doing, and, thinking that their shouts to me
were only by way of joke, I made a step forward, but hardly had I done so
when a noise like a rocket going past was heard, and a bunch of arrows
became deeply planted in the earth, at a white circular spot marked on
it, only about two yards in front of me. I counted them. They were ten in
number. My danger, however, was, after all, practically of no account,
for these archers, as I found out by repeated observation of them, hardly
ever miss their target. Still, even in the case of these Cho-senese
William Tells, it was by no means a pleasant sensation to hear that bunch
of arrows whistling in front of my nose.

As I was attentively listening to the information supplied me by the
native gentleman who was accompanying me through the labyrinthian ways of
the royal palace, young Prince Min appeared on the scene, and announced
that His Majesty wished, through him, to welcome me to the royal palace,
and that he wished me now to partake of dinner. First, however, he said,
the King would be pleased if I would take a sketch from a particular spot
to which he led me. As there was nothing specially worth sketching at
that place, I suggested to the young prince that another spot would be
preferable; but the latter insisted, in the King's name, that I should
paint from there and left me. I noticed, however, that there was, just
behind this spot, a window, that namely, of the queen's apartments, which
led me at once to fancy that it was to satisfy her curiosity that I was
made to work there; accordingly I began the sketch with my back to the
window--for, it must be remembered, to look at the queen is an offence
punishable by death. I had not been many minutes at work, nevertheless,
before I heard the sliding window gently move. I knew what was coming,
and tried to screen the sketch with my body, so as to compel the
observer, whoever it was, to lean well out of the window if he wished to
see it. A little way off were hundreds of soldiers, walking or squatting
on the ground, and on the wall of the King's house and smaller trees the
fat and repulsive eunuchs had perched themselves in order to watch the
foreigner's doings. All of a sudden there was a piercing squeak and a
quick change of scene. Every one standing fell flat on his chest, the
soldiers to a man hid their faces in their hands on the ground, and the
clumsy eunuchs dropped down pell-mell from their perches, like over-ripe
fruit coming off the branch of a tree, and disappeared behind the wall.
Then, for a moment, all was silence; then there followed another shriek.
It was evidently a command to stand still until further notice. When I
looked for my Corean companion I found that he, like the rest, was spread
out with his face to the ground.

"I say, Mr. S." I whispered, touching him with my foot, "what does all
this mean?"

"Please, sir," he murmured, "do not look! do not speak! do not turn your
head! or I shall be beheaded!"

"Oh! I do not mind that at all," said I, laughingly, as my friend was
squashing what he had in the shape of a nose into the dust.

At this point there was another noise at the window, as if it were being
pushed quite open, and I heard a whisper. The supreme moment had come,
and I was bold. I turned quickly round. It was just as I had judged. The
queen, with her bright, jet black eyes and refined features, was there,
caught in the act of thrusting her head out of the window, while several
ladies of different ages were in the background, apparently on the tips
of their toes and peeping over Her Majesty's shoulders. I had just time
to see her face; for, taken as she was by surprise at such an unbounded
bit of forwardness on my part, she remained perplexed for a second, then
quickly withdrew, coming into dreadful collision with her
ladies-in-waiting, who were at the moment just moving forward. The
sliding window was hurriedly closed; there were shrieks of laughter from
inside--apparently they had enjoyed the fun--and by the sound of a shrill
whistle the men who had been lying "dead" rose and fled, relieved from
their uncomfortable position.

"Do you know," said my Corean friend, as he got up and shook the dust and
dirt off his beautiful silk gown, quite ignorant of what had happened,
"do you know that if you had turned your head round and looked, I would
be a dead man to-morrow?"

"Why; who was there?"

"The queen, of course. Did you not hear the two shrieks and the whistle?
Those were the signs of her coming and going."

"If you were to be beheaded, Mr. S., would you be afraid of death?"

"Oh, no, sir," he said emphatically. "I am a brave man, and I come of a
family of braves. I would die like a hero."

"Oh," said I, changing the conversation, "how pretty the queen looked!"

"Did you see her?" said he, horrified.

"Yes, I did."

"Oh, poor me, poor me, poor me!" he cried in despair. "You have seen her!
I shall die! Oh, poor me, poor me, poor me!" and he shivered and
shuddered and trembled.

"I thought that you were not afraid of death, Mr. S.?"

"Now that you have seen her, I am!" he mumbled pitifully.

"All right, Mr. S. Do not be afraid, I shall take all the blame on
myself, and you will not be punished, I promise you."

At this point Prince Min came to fetch me, and I told him the whole
story, relieving Mr. S. of all responsibility for my cheeky action, after
which, having made sure that he would not be punished, we proceeded to
the feast. The hour, be it noted, was about noon. As we were passing
along the wall of the King's apartment, His Majesty peeped over the wall
and smiled most graciously to me. Shortly after he sent a messenger to
the dining-room to express regret that he was not able to entertain me
himself owing to pressing State affairs.

For the dinner a long table had been arranged in the European style, at
the head of which sat Prince Min, acting in the place of the King. The
forks and spoons were of tin, and the knives had apparently been used,
for they were by no means clean. Rust, therefore, reigned supreme. The
glasses and tumblers were of the thickest and commonest kind, but they
had cost His Majesty a fortune all the same.

We all sat down gaily, Mr. S. having recovered his spirits on being
assured that he would not be punished, and the feast began. It would be
easier for me to tell you what was not on that table than what was. All
the products of the country seemed to have been cooked and brought before
me, including meats, fish, honey, sweets, vegetables and sauces, of
which, mind you, one had to eat "mountains," piled on our plates. Young
pigs, in the puppy state, were also there, and were much appreciated by
my princely entertainers; but, when I had got only half through, not
being provided with an ever-expanding digestive apparatus, like my
friends of Cho-sen, I really felt as if I was going to suffocate. It is a
great insult to refuse what is offered you at table, and a greater
insult, too, and gross breach of good manners, not to eat all that is on
your plate; it can be easily imagined, then, how I was situated after
having swallowed large quantities of beef, potatoes, barley, millet, not
to mention about half a bushel of beans. Nevertheless, I was further
treated to lily-bulbs and radishes dipped in the vilest of sauces,
besides a large portion of a puppy-pig roasted, and fruit in profusion,
foreign and native wines flowing freely. The dinner began at noon and was
not brought to a legitimate close until the happy hour of 7 P.M.

Talk of suffering! To those who appreciate the pleasure of eating, let me
recommend a royal Corean dinner! No pen can describe the agonies I
endured as I was carried home in the green sedan. Every jerk that the
bearers gave made me feel as if I had swallowed a cannon-ball, which was
moving mercilessly from one side of my body to the other. I could not
help expecting an explosion at any moment, or, at all events, a rent in
my overtight skin! On my way home I swore that as long as I lived I would
never touch another mouthful of food, so disgusted was I with things
eatable; but--needless to say, I have since many times broken my word.


Students--Culture--Examination ground--The three degrees--The
alphabet--Chinese characters--Schools--Astronomers--Diplomas--Students
abroad--Adoption of Western ways--Quick perception--The letter "f"--A
comical mistake--Magistrates and education--Rooted superstition--Another
haunted palace--Tigers--A convenient custom.


At the beginning of the New Year, and soon after the festivities are
over, the streets of Seoul are crowded with students who come up to town
for their examinations. Dozens of them, generally noisy and boisterous,
are to be seen arm in arm, parading the principal streets, and apparently
always eating something or other. Study and eating seem to go together in
Cho-sen. They wear peculiar gauze caps like bakers' paper bags, and a
large double apron, the latter hanging down front and back, and being
tied above the waist with a ribbon. A large piece of rolled up paper is
carried in the hand, and much excitement seems to reign among them. By
students, one must not imagine only young men, for many among them are
above the thirties, and some are even old men.

At certain hours processions of them pass along the royal street, then
round the palace wall, and finally enter the examination grounds,
situated immediately behind the royal palace. This is a large open
ground, on one side of which is a low building containing quite a large
number of small cells, where the candidates are examined. The examination
day is one of the sights of Seoul. It is more like a country fair than an
exhibition of literary skill. The noise is something appalling. On the
grounds, thousands of candidates, accompanied by their parents and
friends, squat in groups, drinking, eating and gambling. Here is a group
of them drinking each other's health; there on blankets a few are lying
flat on their backs basking in the sun, and waiting for their turn to be
called up before the examiners. Huge red and yellow umbrellas are planted
in the ground by enterprising merchants, who sell sweets, a kind of
pulled toffy being one of their specialities; while others, at raised
prices, dispose of examination caps, ink, paper and aprons to those who
have come unprovided. Astrologers, too, drive a roaring trade on such
days, for the greatest reliance is placed on their prophecies by both
parents and students, and much money is spent by the latter, therefore,
in obtaining the opinion of these impostors. In many a case, the prophecy
given has been known to make the happiness--temporarily, of course--of
the bashful young student; and in many a case, also, by this means fresh
vigour has been instilled into a nervous man, so that, being convinced
that he is to be successful, he perseveres and very often does succeed.

One of these examinations, the highest of all, is a real landmark in a
man's career. If the student is successful, he is first employed in some
lower official capacity either by the Government, the palace authorities
or some of the magistrates. If he is plucked, then he can try again the
following year. Some try year after year without success, in the hope of
being permitted to earn an honest living at the nation's expense, and
grow old under the heavy study of ancient Chinese literature.

The King in person assists at the oral examinations of the upper degree.
Those of the two lower degrees are superintended by princes who sit with
the examiners, and report to His Majesty on the successes of the
different candidates.

It is generally the sons of the nobles and the upper classes all over the
kingdom who are put up for these examinations; those of the lower spheres
are content with a smattering of arithmetic and a general knowledge of
the alphabet, and of the proper method of holding the writing brush,
sometimes adding to these accomplishments an acquaintance with the more
useful of the Chinese characters.

The Corean alphabet is remarkable for the way in which it represents the
various sounds. That this is the case, the reader will be able to judge
by the table given opposite. The aim of the inventors, in only using
straight lines and circles, has evidently been to simplify the writing of
the characters to the highest possible degree.


It will be at once noticed that an extra dot is used only in the case of
the vowel _e_ and the diphthong _oue_; nothing but straight lines and
circles being employed in the other cases. The pronunciation of the
consonants is _dental_ in _l, r, t_, and _n_; _guttural_ in _k_ and _k_
(aspirated); _palatal_ in _ch, ch_ (aspirated) and _s_; and _from the
larynx_ in _h_ and _ng_ when at the end of a word.

The State documents and all the official correspondence are written in
Chinese characters, and hardly at all in the native alphabet, an
exception being occasionally admitted in the case of a difficult
character, when the meaning is written with the Corean letters, side by
side with the Chinese form. The Corean alphabet is rather despised by the
male "blue stockings" of Cho-sen, and is considered as fit only for poor
people, children and women; in short, those whose brains are unable to
undergo the strain of mastering and, what is more, of remembering, the
meaning of the many thousands of Chinese characters. Not only that, but
the spoken language itself is considered inadequate to express in poetic
and graceful style the deep thoughts which may pass through the Corean
brains; and, certainly, if these thoughts have to be put down on paper
this is never done in the native characters. The result is, naturally,
that there is hardly any literature in the language of Cho-sen. Even the
historical records of the land of the Morning Calm are written in

The great influence of the Chinese over the Corean literary mind is also
shown in the fact that most of the principles and proverbs of Cho-sen
have been borrowed from their pig-tailed friends across the Yalu River.
The same may be said of numberless words in the Corean language which are
merely corruptions or mispronounced Chinese words. The study of Chinese
involves a great deal of labour and patience on the part of the Corean
students, and from a very tender age they are made to work hard at
learning the characters by heart, singing them out in chorus, in a
monotonous tone, one after the other for hours at a time.

The schools are mostly supported by the Government. In them great
attention is given to etiquette and Chinese classics, to philosophic and
poetic ideas, but very little importance is attached to mathematics or
science, except by those few who take up the study of the stars as an
ideal rather than scientific occupation. These astronomers might be more
correctly termed magicians, for with the stars they invariably connect
the fate and fortune of king and people; which fact will also explain why
it is that in their practice of astronomy mathematics are really of very
little use.

In the written essays for the examinations, what is generally aimed at by
the candidates is a high standard of noble ideas which they try to
express in the most refined style. The authors of the most admired essays
receive the personal congratulations of the King and examiners, followed
by a feast given by their parents and friends. The diplomas of successful
candidates are not only signed by the King, but have also his great seal
affixed to them.

I was told that the examinations of the present day are a mere sham, and
that it is not by knowledge or high achievements, in literary or other
matters, that the much-coveted degree is now obtained, but by the simpler
system of bribery. Men of real genius are, I was informed further,
sometimes sent back in despair year after year, while pigheaded sons of
nobles and wealthy people generally pass with honours, and are never or
very seldom plucked.

Education, as a whole, is up to a very limited point pretty generally
spread all over the Corean realm, but of thorough education there is very
little. In former times students showing unusual ability were sent by the
Government to the University of Nanking, to be followed up by Pekin, but
this custom was abandoned until a few years ago, when it was in a measure
revived by the sending of two noblemen, first to Shanghai and then to
America, to learn and profit by Western studies. These seem to have shown
themselves remarkably intelligent; in fact, exceeded all expectation; for
one of them forged a cheque before leaving the Asiatic continent, and was
forbidden to return to his country. He is not likely to do so now, for he
is said to have been murdered--only quite lately. The other, however,
cannot be accused of anything of that sort; indeed, he distinguished
himself during the three years spent in America by learning English (as
spoken in the States) to perfection, besides mastering mathematics,
chemistry and other sciences, perfectly new to him, in a way that would
have done credit to many a Western student. In the same short space of
time he also succeeded in a marvellous way in shaking off the thick
coating of his native superstition and in assuming our most Western ways
as exhibited across the Atlantic. If anything, he became more American
than the Americans themselves. What astonished me more, though, was how
quickly, having returned from his journey, he discarded his civilised
ways and again dropped into his old groove.

There is not the least doubt that, though to the casual observer the
majority of Coreans appear depressed and unintelligent, they are, as a
matter of fact, far from stupid. I have met people in the land of
Cho-sen, whose cleverness would have been conspicuous in any country,
Western or otherwise. When they set their mind to learn something they
never cease till their object is attained, and I can vouch for their
quick comprehension, even of matters of which they have never before
heard. Languages seem to come easy to them, and their pronunciation of
foreign tongues is infinitely better than that of their neighbours, the
Chinese and the Japanese. The only stumbling block is the letter "_f_,"
which they pronounce as a "_p_." I can give an instance of a Mr. Chang,
the son of a noble, who was appointed by the king to be official
interpreter to Mr. C.R. Greathouse. In less than two months, this youth
of nineteen mastered enough English to enable him both to understand it
and converse in it. I have seen him learn by heart out of a dictionary as
many as two hundred English words in a day, and what is more, remember
every one of them, including the spelling. Only once did I hear him make
a comical mistake. He had not quite grasped the meaning of the word
"twin"; for, in answer to a question I put to him, "Yes, sir," said he,
boisterously, proud apparently of the command he had attained over his
latest language, "Yes, sir, I have a _twin_ brother who is three years
older than myself."

The Corean magistrates think that to over-educate the lower classes is a
mistake, which must end in great unhappiness.

"If you are educated like a gentleman, you must be able to live like a
gentleman," wisely said a Corean noble to me. "If you acquire an
education which you cannot live up to, you are only made wretched, and
your education makes you feel all the more keenly the miseries of human
life. Besides, with very few exceptions, as one is born an artist, or a
poet, one has to be born a gentleman to be one. All the education in the
world may make you a nice man, but not a noble in _the_ strict sense of
the word."

Partly, in consequence of habits of thought like this, and partly,
because it answers to leave the public in ignorance, superstition, which
is one of the great evils in the country, is rather encouraged. Not alone
the lower classes, but the whole people, including nobles and the King
himself, suffer by it. It is a remarkable fact, that, a people who in
many ways are extremely open-minded, and more philosophic than the
general run of human beings, can allow themselves to be hampered in this
way by such absurd notions as spirits and their evil ways.

A royal palace, different to, but not very far from, the one described in
the previous chapter, was abandoned not very long ago for the simple
reason that it was haunted. Thus, there are no less than two palaces in
the capital, that have been built at great expense, but deserted in
order to evade the visits of those most tiresome impalpable individuals,
"the Ghosts." One of these haunted abodes we have inspected, with its
tumble-down buildings; the other I will now describe.


The buildings comprising this palace are still in a very excellent state
of preservation, and, being erected on hilly ground, form a very
picturesque ensemble. The different houses are of red lacquered wood,
with verandahs on the upper floors. The illustration shows a front view
of one of the principal buildings, situated on the summit of the hill. At
the foot of this hill, by a winding path and steps, a picturesque little
gate and another house is reached. A little pond with water-plants in it,
frozen in the midst of the thick ice, completes this haunted spot. The
largest of all the structures is the audience-hall, richly and grandly
decorated inside with wooden carvings, painted red, white, blue and
yellow. The curled-up roofs are surmounted at each corner with curious
representations of lucky emblems, among which the tiger has a leading

Talking of tigers, I may as well speak of a strange custom prevailing in
Corea. The country, as I have already pointed out, is full of these
brutes, which, besides being of enormous size, are said to be very fierce
and fond of human flesh. Even the walls of the town are no protection
against them. Not unfrequently they make a nocturnal excursion through
the streets, leaving again early in the morning with a farewell bound
from the rampart, but carrying off inside their carcases some unlucky
individual in a state of pulp.

The Coreans may, therefore, be forgiven if, besides showing almost
religious veneration for their feline friend--who reciprocates this in
his own way--they have also the utmost terror of him. Whenever I went for
long walks outside the town with Coreans, I noticed that when on the
narrow paths I was invariably left to bring up the rear, although I was a
quicker walker than they were. If left behind they would at once run on
in front of me again, and never could I get any one to be last man. This
conduct, sufficiently remarkable, has the following explanation.

It is the belief of the natives, that when a tiger is suddenly
encountered he always attacks and makes a meal of the last person in the
row; for which reason, they always deem it advisable, when they have a
foreigner in their company, to let him have that privilege. I, for my
part, of course, did not regard the matter in the same light, and
generally took pretty good care to retain a middle position in the
procession, when out on a country prowl, greatly to the distress and
uneasiness of my white-robed guardian angels.


Religion--Buddhism--Bonzes--Their power--Shamanism--Spirits--Spirits
of the mountain--Stone heaps--Sacred trees--Seized by the
spirits--Safe-guard against them--The wind--Sorcerers and
customs and clothing--Nuns--Their garments--Religious ceremonies--The

The question of religion is always a difficult one to settle, for--no
matter where one goes--there are people who are religious and people who
are not.

The generality of people in Corea are not religious, though in former
days, especially in the Korai-an era, between the tenth and fourteenth
centuries, they seem to have been ardent Buddhists. Indeed, Buddhism as a
religion seems to have got a strong hold in Cho-sen during the many
Chinese invasions; it only passed over Cho-sen, however, like a huge
cloud, to vanish again, though leaving here and there traces of the power
it once exercised.

The bonzes (priests) had at one time so much authority all over the
country as to actually rule the King himself; and, as the reverend
gentlemen were ready with the sword as well as with their bead
prayer-rosaries, they became an unparalleled nuisance and dangerous to
the constitution. After having, by their great power and capacity for
agitation, roused the country to revolution and internal disputes, it
was found necessary to put them down, and from that time forward, they
became mere nonentities. The chief instrument which brought this about
was a law, still in existence, by which no religion is, under any
circumstances, tolerated or allowed within the walls of Corean cities,
and all bonzes are forbidden to enter the gates of any city under pain of
losing their heads.

The influence which the priests had gained over the Court having been
thus suddenly destroyed, and the offenders against the law in question
having been most severely dealt with, Buddhism, so far as Corea was
concerned, received its death blow. This was so: first, because, although
it had prevailed without restraint for nearly five centuries, many of the
primitive old superstitions were still deeply rooted in the minds of the
Coreans, and because, with the fall of the priests, these sprang up again
bolder than ever; then, too, because the law above-mentioned was so
strictly enforced that many temples and monasteries had to be closed
owing to lack of sufficient funds, the number of their supporters having
become infinitesimal in a comparatively short time.

Shamanism is at the present time the popular religion, if indeed there is
any that can be so designated. The primitive worship of nature appears to
be quite sufficient for the religious aspirations of the Corean native,
and with his imaginative brain he has peopled the earth with evil and
good spirits, as well as giving them to the elements, the sky, and the
morning star. To these spirits he offers sacrifices, when somebody in his
family dies, or when any great event takes place; and to be on good
terms with these invisible rulers of his fate is deemed necessary, even
by well-educated people who should know better.

There are spirits for everything in Cho-sen. The air is alive with them,
and there are people who will actually swear that they have come in
contact with them. Diseases of all sorts, particularly paralysis, are
invariably ascribed to the possession of the human frame by one of these
unwholesome visitors, and when a death occurs, to what else can it be due
than to their evil and invisible operation? To old age, to diseases
natural and zymotic, the expiration of life is never ascribed; these
everlasting evil spirits have to answer for it all.

The most prominent spirits are probably those of the mountain. According
to Corean accounts, the mountains and hills seem to be full of these
heroes of witchcraft: this being probably due to the fact that the dead
are buried on hilly ground and that their souls, therefore, are most
likely to make their nocturnal hoverings in such neighbourhoods, until a
fresh career is found for them in the body of some animal. They are not
_gods_ of the mountains, as some writers have been pleased to call them,
for, so far as I could judge, the natives are more terror-stricken when
thinking about them than inclined to worship them. No Corean, of sound
mind and body, however brave and fearless of death in battle, can ever be
induced to walk out at night on the mountain-slopes; and even in the
day-time a great deal of uneasiness is manifested by the natives should
they have to climb a hill. On such occasions they provide themselves
with armfuls of stones, which, as they go up, they throw violently one
by one at these imaginary beings, thus showing them that their company is
neither required nor wished for, and that they had better keep aloof. If
this simple precaution is used, the obliging and scorned spirits seldom
interfere with the traveller's welfare. The hills close to the towns are
simply covered with heaps of stones, so thrown at these mythical dwellers
of the mountains. Such is the effect produced by terror on the people's
imagination, that frequently in their imagination they feel the actual
touch of the spirits. Probably, if there is any physical touch in those
cases, it is only a leaf or a twig falling from a tree. Still, when that
occurs a regular fight ensues, the men continuing to fire stones at their
imaginary foes, until in their mental vision they see them disappear and
fade away in the air. Others not so brave prefer an accelerated retreat,
only stopping now and again to throw a stone at the pursuers.

From their very childhood the Coreans are imbued with horrid and
fantastic accounts of the doings of these spirits, and so vividly are the
usual habits of these ghostly creatures depicted to them, that they
cannot but remain for ever indelibly impressed on their minds.

Another very common sight, besides the stone-heaps, are the sacred trees.
These are to be found everywhere, but especially on hilly ground. Their
branches are literally covered with rags, bits of glass, and other
offerings given by the superstitious and frightened passers-by, lest
these spirits might take offence at not being noticed. Women and men
when compelled to travel on the hills go well provided with these rags,
and when--for the sacred trees are very numerous--supplies run short,
many a woman has been known to tear off a bit of her silk gown, and
attach it to a branch of the tree among the other donations.

A coolie, who was carrying my paint-box one evening, when I was returning
home from the hills, was simply terrified at the prospect of being seized
by the spirits. He kept his mouth tightly closed, and stoutly declined to
open it, for fear the spirits should get into him by that passage; and
when, with the cold end of my stick, I purposely touched the back of his
neck--unperceived by him, of course--he fled frightened out of his life,
supposing it to have been a ghost. He met me again on the high road in
the plain, about half a mile farther on, and explained his conduct with
the very truthful excuse, that "a spirit had seized him by the throat and
shaken him violently, meaning at all costs to enter his mouth, and that
it was to escape serious injury that he had fled!" When I told him that
it was I who had touched him with the end of my stick, he sarcastically
smiled, as if he knew better.

"No, sir," said he; "honestly, I saw with my own eyes the spirit that
assaulted me!"

The forms given to these spirits vary much, according to the amount of
imagination and descriptive power of the persons who describe them.
Generally, however, they assume the forms either of repulsively hideous
human beings, or else of snakes. The best safeguard against them,
according to Corean notions, is music, or rather, I should say, noise.
When possessed with a spirit, a diabolical row of drums, voices, bells
and rattles combined is set agoing to make him depart without delay;
while, on the other hand, little bits of dangling glass, tied to strings,
small sweet-toned bells and cymbals, hanging in a bunch from the corners
of the roof or in front of the windows and door, often by means of their
tinkling--a sound not dissimilar to that of an AEolian harp--attract to
the house the friendly spirits of good fortune and prosperity. The latter
are always heartily welcomed.

The very wind itself is supposed to be the breathing of a god-spirit with
extra powerful lungs; and rain, lightning, war, thirst, food and so on,
each possesses a special deity, who, if not invoked at the right moment,
and in the right manner, may, when least expected, have his revenge
against you.

The spirits of Cho-sen are very sensitive, and insist on being taken into
notice. Through astrologers, sorcerers and sorceresses they convey
messages and threats to this person and to that--generally the richer
people--whose errors may always be rectified or atoned for by paying a
round sum down to these go-betweens, who are quite ready to assume the
responsibility of guaranteeing a peaceful settlement of matters. There
are regular establishments kept by these sorcerers and sorceresses--as a
rule, outside the city walls--where witchcraft is practised with impunity
in all its forms. These establishments are much patronised both by the
poor and by the man of noble rank; and amidst the most excruciating
howling, clapping of hands, violent beating of drums and other
exorcisms, illnesses are got rid of, pains and troubles softened,
calamities prevented and children procured for sterile people. The
Government itself does not consider these houses as forming part of the
religious gang, and one or two of them may be found even in Seoul within
the wall. One, an extremely noisy house and mostly patronised by women,
is situated not far from the West Gate along the wall. There are also one
or two on the slope of Mount Nanzam.

The exorcisms, with the exception of a few particular ones, are, for the
most part, performed in the open air, on a level space in front of the
house. A circle is formed by the various claimants, in the centre of
which a woman, apparently in a trance, squats on her heels. The more
money that is paid in, the greater the noise that takes place, and the
longer does the performance last. Every now and then the woman in the
centre will get up, and, rushing to some other female in the circle, will
tap her furiously on her back and shake her, saying that _she_ has an
evil spirit in her which refuses to come out. She will also hint that
possibly by paying an extra sum, and by means of special exorcisms, it
may be induced to leave. What with the shaking, the tapping, the
clapping, the drums and the howls, the wretched "spotted" woman really
begins to feel that she has something in her, and, possessed--not by the
spirits--but by the most awful fright, she disburses the extra money
required, after which the spirit ultimately departs.

These witches and sorceresses are even more numerous than their male
equivalents. They are recruited from the riff-raff of the towns, and are
generally people well-informed on the state, condition, and doings of
everybody. Acting on this previous knowledge, they can often tell your
past to perfection, and in many cases they predict future events--which
their judgment informs them are not unlikely to occur. When ignorant,
they work pretty much on the same lines as the Oracle of Delphi; they
give an answer that may be taken as you please. Then, if things do not
occur in the way they predicted, they simply make it an excuse for
extorting more money out of their victim under the plea that he has
incurred the displeasure of the spirits, and that serious evil will come
upon him if he does not comply with their request. The money obtained is
generally spent in orgies during the night. These sorceresses and male
magicians are usually unscrupulous and immoral, and are often implicated,
not only in the intrigues of the noblest families, but also in murders
and other hideous crimes.

Outside the towns, again, there are, only a grade higher than these, the
Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. Within a few miles of Seoul, several
of these are to be found. One thing that may be said for these
institutions is that they are invariably built on lovely spots. Generally
on the top, or high on the slopes of a mountain, they form not only homes
for the religious, but fortified and impregnable castles. The monasteries
are seldom very large, and, as a general rule, hold respectively only
about two dozen monks.


There is a small temple on a platform, with a figure of Pul or Buddha in
the centre, two brass candlesticks by his side, and a small incense
burner at his feet. "Joss sticks" are constantly burned before him and
fill the temple with scent and haze. Buddha, as found in Corea, has
generally a sitting and cross-legged posture; the feet are twisted with
the soles upwards, and, while the right arm hangs down, the left is
folded, the forearm projecting, and the hand holding a bronze ball. By
his side, generally on the left, is a small tablet in a frame of
elaborate wood-carving. At the foot of the statue is a large collection
box for the donations of the worshippers. The background is usually
plain, or painted with innumerable figures of the minor gods, some with
young white faces and good-natured expressions, probably the gods of
confidence; others with rugged old faces and shaggy white eyebrows,
moustache and hair, undoubtedly the various forms of the deity of wisdom.
Then there is one with squinting ferocious eyes, black eyebrows and
beard, dressed in a helmet and fighting robe, who, needless to remark,
is the god of war. Others are the gods of justice, deference, and
affection; the last being impersonated by two female figures who usually
stand on each side of the Buddha. One curious thing about the Buddha is
that the head is generally very large in proportion to the body, and that
the ears are enormous for the size of the head. In the East it is
considered lucky to possess large ears, but these Buddhas are often
represented with their organs of hearing as long as the whole height of
the head. In Europe such a thing would hardly be considered a compliment!
The hair of the Buddha is carefully plastered down on his forehead, and
is adorned with a jewel in the centre. The eyes are almost straight, like
the eyes of Europeans, instead of being slanting, like those of the
Mongolians, while the eyebrows, finely painted with a small brush,
describe a beautiful semi-circular arch. The expression of the face, as
one looks at it, is in most cases that of nobility and sleepiness.

Out of the West Gate, and a good way past the Pekin Pass, a very
interesting day can be spent in visiting a monastery which is to be found
there among the hills. Previous to reaching it, a small tomb, that,
namely, of the King's mother, is passed. On each flank is a stone figure,
while on three sides a wall shuts in the mound of earth under which the
body lies. On the right is a tablet to the memory of the deceased, and in
front of the mound is placed a well-polished stone, also a small urn.

High up, after following a zig-zag mountain path, we come to the

Monasteries as a rule consist of the temple and the mud huts and houses
of the monks and novices. The temple always stands apart. Of the temples
which I saw, none were very rich in interesting works of art or in
excellent decoration, like the temples of Japan. The only parts decorated
outside in the Corean houses of worship are immediately under the roof
and above the doors, where elaborate, though roughly executed
wood-carvings are painted over in red, white, green and yellow, in their
crudest tones. Over each of the columns supporting the temple, projects a
board with two enormous curved teeth, like the tusks of an elephant, and
over the principal door of the temple is a black tablet, on which the
name of the temple is written in gold Chinese characters. At each of the
columns, both of the temple and of the common part of the dwellings, hang
long wooden panels on which are written the names of supporters and
donors with accompanying words of high praise.

The doors of the temples are of lattice-work and are made up of four
different parts, folding and opening on hinges. On some occasions, when
the _concours_ of the public is too great to be accommodated within the
building itself, the whole of the front and sides of the temple are
thrown open. Inside the lattice-work above mentioned tissue-paper is
placed, to protect the religious winter visitors from the cold.

Inside, the temples are extremely simple. With the exception of the
statue of Buddha and the various representations of minor deities that we
have already mentioned, there is little else to be seen. The
prayer-books, certainly, are interesting; their leaves are joined
together so as to form a long strip of paper folded into pages, but not
sewn, nor fastened anywhere except at the two ends, to which two wooden
panels are attached, and, by one side of the book being kept higher than
the other, the leaves unfold, so to speak, automatically.

In one temple of very small dimensions, perched up among the rocks near
the South Gate of Seoul, are to be seen hundreds of little images in
costumes of warriors, mandarins and princes, all crammed together in the
most unmerciful manner. This temple goes by the name of the "The
Five-hundred Images." Adjoining it is a quaint little monastery and a
weird cavern (_see_ chap, xx., "A Trip to Poo Kan").

As to the monasteries themselves, these, though adjoining the temples,
are built apart from them. Their lower portions are, like all Corean
houses, of stone and mud, while the upper parts are entirely of mud. The
roof is tiled on the main portion of the building, while over the kitchen
and quarters for the novices it is generally only thatched.


More interesting to me than the temples and buildings were the bonzes,
who are, I may as well say at once, a very depraved lot. It is a strange
fact in nature that the vicious are often more interesting than the
virtuous. So it is with the Corean bonzes. Here you have a body of men,
shrewd, it is true, yet wicked (not to say more) and entirely without
conscience, whose only aim is to make money at the expense of weak-minded
believers. Morals they have none; if it were possible, one might say even
less than none. They lead a lazy and vicious life in these monasteries,
gambling among themselves and spending much time in orgies. They feed
themselves well at the expense of the charitable, and a great deal of
their energy is expended in blackmailing rich persons, not of course
openly, but through agents as disreputable as themselves. Whenever there
are riots or revolutions in progress, their origin can invariably be
traced to the monasteries. In other respects, excepting these few little
faults, they seemed charming people. Their dress consists of a long white
padded gown with baggy sleeves; the usual huge trousers and short coat
underneath; and a rosary of largeish beads round their necks. When
praying, the rosary is held in the hands, and each bead counts for one
prayer. A larger bead in the rosary is the starting-point. When petitions
are being offered to Buddha on behalf of third parties--for rarely do
they, if ever, pray on behalf of themselves--there is a scale of prices
varying according to the wealth of the petitioners; so many prayers are
worth so much _cash_; in other words, one buys them as one would rice or
fruit. The bonzes shave their heads as clean as billiard balls; while the
novices content themselves with cutting their hair extremely short,
leaving it, probably, not longer than one-eighth of an inch. There are
many different degrees of bonzes. We have, for example, the begging
bonzes, who wear large conical hats of plaited split bamboos, or else
hats smaller still and also cone-shaped but made of thick dried grass.
They travel all over the district, and sometimes even to distant
provinces, collecting funds and information from the people. Sometimes
they impose their company on some well-to-do person, who, owing to the
Corean etiquette in the matter of hospitality, has to provide them with
food, money and promises of constant contributions before he can get rid
of them. Then there are the stay-at-home bonzes, well-fattened and
easy-going, who cover their heads with round, horse-hair, stiffened black
caps of the exact shape of those familiar articles in French and Italian
pastry-cook shops, used over the different plates to prevent flies from
eating the sweets. Lastly, we have the military priests, who follow the
army to offer up prayers when at war and during battles, and who don hats
of the ordinary shape worn by every one else except that they have round
crowns instead of almost cylindrical ones. These alone are occasionally
allowed to enter the towns. Paper sandals are the foot-gear chiefly in
use among them.

Whenever I visited a monastery, I found the monks most civil and
hospitable, although naturally they expect something back for their
hospitality. I hardly had time to pay my chin-chins to all of them,
folding my hands and shaking them in front of my forehead, bent forward,
before a tray of eatables, such as beans, radishes and rice in pretty
brass bowls would be produced, and a large cup of wine offered, out of
which latter the whole company drank in turn. They took much interest in
my sketching, and all insisted on being portrayed. Many of them possessed
a good deal of artistic talent, and it is generally by their handiwork
and patience that the images and statues in the temples are produced.
Among them were some very intelligent faces, somewhat _abruties_, to use
a French word, owing to the life they lead, but exceedingly bright and
cheery withal, and often very witty, when one came to talk with them. As
for shrewdness and quickness of perception I know no person who has these
better at his command than the Corean Buddhist priest.

[Illustration: A NUNNERY]

There are also in Corea nunneries for women who desire to follow a
religious life. Curiously enough, contrary to the rule with us, the
Corean nuns are more emancipated than the rest of the native women. To
begin with, they dress just in the same way as do the monks, shave their
heads like them; and being, moreover, of a cast of countenance
exceedingly ugly and not at all feminine, they might quite well, from the
appearance of their faces, be taken to belong to the stronger sex. A good
many of them, contrary to the case of the monks, impressed me as being
afflicted with mental and bodily sufferings, and in several cases they
even appeared to me to be bordering on idiocy. They always, however,
received me kindly, and showed me their convents, with cells in which
two or three nuns sleep together. They were not quite so careless as the
monks about the duties of religion, and at the little temple close by
there was a continual rattling of the gong, a buzzing, monotonous sound,
enough to drive anybody out of his mind, if especially it was accompanied
by the beating of drums. The temples attached to these nunneries seemed
to be more elaborate inside than those of the monasteries, and when a
religious ceremony has to be performed, two nuns, one in white, the other
draped in a long, black-greenish gown, and both wearing a red garment
thrown over the left shoulder, passed under the right arm, and tied in
front with a ribbon, walk up and down inside the temple, muttering
prayers, while a third female goes on rattling on the drums with all her
might. Offerings of rice, beans, etc., are placed in front of the gods, a
candle or two is lighted--and the nun in dark clothing holds a small
gong, fastened to the end of a bent stick, and taps on it with a
long-handled hammer, first gently and slowly, then quicker and quicker,
in a crescendo, till she manages to produce a long shrill sound. The
person, for whom these prayers are offered, kneels in front of the
particular deity whom she wants to invoke, though generally at the foot
of the Great Buddha, and with hands joined in front of her nose, prays
with the nuns, getting up during certain prayers, kneeling down again for
others. For head-gear, the nuns wear the same grass conical hats which
the travelling monks do. If a large oblation is offered, the service is
still more noisy, and not only are the big drums played in the most
violent manner, but the nuns squat in a body along the walls inside the
temple, and keep hammering away on little gongs similar to that just
described. Recall to your memory the sound of a blacksmith's forge with
two men hammering a red-hot iron, magnify that sound a hundred times, and
add to it the buzzing of the prayers, and you will then get a pretty fair
idea of what one of these religious ceremonies sounds like to European

One of the best features of Confucianism is the inculcation of respect
towards parents and old people, in which respect both monks and nuns do a
deal of good; though, otherwise, I think the country might advantageously
be without these institutions.

Beliefs are comical when one does not believe in them.

On the mountain slopes, just outside the city wall, and at no great
distance from the West Gate, is a peculiar rock, which the action of the
weather has worn out into the shape of a gigantic tooth. Whence comes its
name of Tooth-stone. There would be nothing wonderful about this, if it
were not for the fact that a visit to this freak of nature, has,
according to Corean accounts, the property of curing the worst of
tooth-aches. Though I was not myself afflicted with the complaint in

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