Part 4 out of 5
burned, which was practised centuries before the Christian era, and is
found unchanged in parts of China, Ceylon, and Siam to this day. The
giving of the body to be burned has ever been considered by devout
Buddhists the most exalted act of self-abnegation.
"To give all one's goods to feed the poor is common in this country,
with princes and people,--who often keep back nothing (not even one
_cowree_, the thousandth part of a cent) to provide for themselves a
handful of rice. But then they stand in no fear of starvation; for death
by hunger is unknown where Buddhism is preached and _practised_.
"I know a man, of royal parentage, and once possessed of untold riches.
In his youth he felt such pity for the poor, the old, the sick, and such
as were troubled and sorrowful, that he became melancholy, and after
spending several years in the continual relief of the needy and
helpless, he, in a moment, gave all his goods,--in a word, ALL,--'to
feed the poor.' This man has never heard of St. Paul or his writings;
but he knows, and tries to comprehend in its fulness, the Buddhist word
"At thirty he became a priest. For five years he had toiled as a
gardener; for that was the occupation he preferred, because in the
pursuit of it he acquired much useful knowledge of the medicinal
properties of plants, and so became a ready physician to those who could
not pay for their healing. But he could not rest content with so
imperfect a life, while the way to perfect knowledge of excellence,
truth, and charity remained open to him; so he became a priest.
"This happened sixty-five years ago. Now he is ninety-five years old;
and, I fear, has not yet found the truth and excellence he has been in
search of so long. But I know no greater man than he. He is great in the
Christian sense,--loving, pitiful, forbearing, pure.
"Once, when he was a gardener, he was robbed of his few poor tools by
one whom he had befriended in many ways. Some time after that, the king
met him, and inquired of his necessities. He said he needed tools for
his gardening. A great abundance of such implements was sent to him; and
immediately he shared them with his neighbors, taking care to send the
most and best to the man who had robbed him.
"Of the little that remained to him, he gave freely to all who lacked.
Not his own, but another's wants, were his sole argument in asking or
bestowing. Now, he is great in the Buddhist sense also,--not loving life
nor fearing death, desiring nothing the world can give, beyond the peace
of a beatified spirit. This man--who is now the High-Priest of
Siam--would, without so much as a thought of shrinking, give his body,
alive or dead, to be burned, if so he might obtain one glimpse of
eternal truth, or save one soul from death or sorrow."
More than eighteen months after the First King of Siam had entertained
me with this essentially Buddhistic argument, and its simple and
impressive illustration, a party of pages hurried me away with them,
just as the setting sun was trailing his last long, lingering shadows
through the porches of the palace. His Majesty required my presence; and
his Majesty's commands were absolute and instant. "Find and fetch!" No
delay was to be thought of, no question answered, no explanation
afforded, no excuse entertained. So with resignation I followed my
guides, who led the way to the monastery of Watt Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang. But
having some experience of the moods and humors of his Majesty, my mind
was not wholly free from uneasiness. Generally, such impetuous summoning
foreboded an interview the reverse of agreeable.
The sun had set in glory below the red horizon when I entered the
extensive range of monastic buildings that adjoin the temple. Wide
tracts of waving corn and avenues of oleanders screened from view the
distant city, with its pagodas and palaces. The air was fresh and balmy,
and seemed to sigh plaintively among the betel and cocoa palms that
skirt the monastery.
The pages left me seated on a stone step, and ran to announce my
presence to the king. Long after the moon had come out clear and cool,
and I had begun to wonder where all this would end, a young man, robed
in pure white, and bearing in one hand a small lighted taper and a lily
in the other, beckoned me to enter, and follow him; and as we traversed
the long, low passages that separate the cells of the priests, the weird
sound of voices, chanting the hymns of the Buddhist liturgy, fell upon
my ear. The darkness, the loneliness, the measured monotone, distant and
dreamy, all was most romantic and exciting, even to a matter-of-fact
English woman like myself.
As the page approached the threshold of one of the cells, he whispered
to me, in a voice full of entreaty, to put off my shoes; at the same
time prostrating himself with a movement and expression of the most
abject humility before the door, where he remained, without changing his
posture. I stooped involuntarily, and scanned curiously, anxiously, the
scene within the cell. There sat the king; and at a sign from him I
presently entered, and sat down beside him.
On a rude pallet, about six and a half feet long, and not more than
three feet wide, and with a bare block of wood for a pillow, lay a dying
priest. A simple garment of faded yellow covered his person; his hands
were folded on his breast; his head was bald, and the few blanched hairs
that might have remained to fringe his sunken temples had been carefully
shorn,--his eyebrows, too, were closely shaven; his feet were bare and
exposed; his eyes were fixed, not in the vacant stare of death, but with
solemn contemplation or scrutiny, upward. No sign of disquiet was there,
no external suggestion of pain or trouble; I was at once startled and
puzzled. Was he dying, or acting?
In the attitude of his person, in the expression of his countenance, I
beheld sublime reverence, repose, absorption. He seemed to be communing
with some spiritual presence.
My entrance and approach made no change in him. At his right side was a
dim taper in a gold candlestick; on the left a dainty golden vase,
filled with white lilies, freshly gathered: these were offerings from
the king. One of the lilies had been laid on his breast, and contrasted
touchingly with the dingy, faded yellow of his robe. Just over the
region of the heart lay a coil of unspun cotton thread, which, being
divided into seventy-seven filaments, was distributed to the hands of
the priests, who, closely seated, quite filled the ell, so that none
could have moved without difficulty. Before each priest were a lighted
taper and a lily, symbols of faith and purity. From time to time one or
other of that solemn company raised his voice, and chanted strangely;
and all the choir responded in unison. These were the words, as they
were afterward translated for me by the king.
_First Voice._ Sang-Khang sara nang gach' cha mi! (Thou Excellence, or
Perfection! I take refuge in thee.)
_All._ Nama Pootho sang-Khang sara nang gach' cha mi! (Thou who art
named Poot-tho!--either God, Buddha, or Mercy,--I take refuge in thee.)
_First Voice._ Tuti ampi sang-Khang sara nang gach' cha mi! (Thou Holy
One! I take refuge in thee.)
_All._ Te satiya sang-Khang sara nang gach' cha mi! (Thou Truth, I take
refuge in thee.)
As the sound of the prayer fell on his ear, a nickering smile lit up the
pale, sallow countenance of the dying man with a visible mild radiance,
as though the charity and humility of his nature, in departing, left the
light of their loveliness there. The absorbing rapture of that look,
which seemed to overtake the invisible, was almost too holy to gaze
upon. Riches, station, honors, kindred, he had resigned them all, more
than half a century since, in his love for the poor and his longing
after truth. Here was none of the wavering or vagueness or incoherence
of a wandering, delirious death. He was going to his clear, eternal
calm. With a smile of perfect peace he said: "To your Majesty I commend
the poor; and this that remains of me I give to be burned." And that,
his last gift, was indeed his all.
I can imagine no spectacle more worthy to excite a compassionate
emotion, to impart an abiding impression of reverence, than the tranquil
dying of that good old "pagan." Gradually his breathing became more
laborious; and presently, turning with a great effort toward the king,
he said, _Chan cha pi dauni!_--"I will go now!" Instantly the priests
joined in a loud psalm and chant, "P'hra Arahang sang-Khang sara nang
gach' cha mi!" (Thou Sacred One, I take refuge in thee.) A few minutes
more, and the spirit of the High-Priest of Siam had calmly breathed
itself away. The eyes were open and fixed; the hands still clasped; the
expression sweetly content. My heart and eyes were full of tears, yet I
was comforted. By what hope? I know not, for I dared not question it.
On the afternoon of the next day I was again summoned by his Majesty to
witness the burning of that body.
It was carried to the cemetery Watt Sah Kate; and there men, hired to do
such dreadful offices upon the dead, cut off all the flesh and flung it
to the hungry dogs that haunt that monstrous garbage-field of Buddhism.
The bones, and all that remained upon them, were thoroughly burned; and
the ashes, carefully gathered in an earthen pot, were scattered in the
little gardens of wretches too poor to buy manure. All that was left now
of the venerable devotee was the remembrance of a look.
"This," said the King, as I turned away sickened and sorrowful, "is to
give one's body to be burned. This is what your St. Paul had in his
mind,--this custom of our Buddhist ancestors, this complete
self-abnegation in life and in death,--when he said, 'Even if I give my
body to be burned, and have not charity [maitri], it profiteth me
[Illustration: Priests at Breakfast.]
COMMON MAXIMS OF THE PRIESTS OF SIAM.
Glory not in thyself, but rather in thy neighbor.
Dig not the earth, which is the source of life and the mother of all.
Cause no tree to die.
Kill no beast, nor insect, not even the smallest ant or fly.
Eat nothing between meals.
Regard not singers, dancers, nor players on instruments.
Use no perfume but sweetness of thoughts.
Neither sit nor sleep in high places.
Be lowly in thy heart, that thou mayst be lowly in thy act.
Hoard neither silver nor gold.
Entertain not thy thoughts with worldly things.
Do no work but the work of charity and truth.
Give not flowers unto women, but rather prayers.
Contract no friendship with the hope of gain.
Borrow nothing, but rather deny thy want.
Lend not unto usury.
Keep neither lance, nor sword, nor any deadly weapon.
Judge not thy neighbor.
Bake not, nor burn.
Wink not. Be not familiar nor contemptuous.
Labor not for hire, but for charity.
Look not upon women unchastely.
Make no incisions that may draw blood or sap, which is the life of man
Give no medicines which contain poison, but study to acquire the true
art of healing, which is the highest of all arts, and pertains to the
wise and benevolent.
Love all men equally.
Perform not thy meditations in public places.
Make no idols of any kind.
As soon as his Majesty had recovered from his genuine convulsion of
grief for the death of his sweet little princess, Somdetch Chow Fa-ying,
he proceeded, habited in white, with all his family, to visit the
chamber of mourning. The grand-aunt of the dead child, who seemed the
most profoundly afflicted of all that numerous household, still lay
prostrate at the feet of her pale cold darling, and would not be
comforted. As his Majesty entered, silently ushered, she moved, and
mutely laid her head upon his feet, moaning, _Poot-tho! Poot-tho!_
There were tears and sighs and heart-wrung sobs around. Speechless, but
with trembling lips, the royal father took gently in his arms the little
corpse, and bathed it in the Siamese manner, by pouring cold water upon
it. In this he was followed by other members of the royal family, the
more distant relatives, and such ladies of the harem as chanced to be in
waiting,--each advancing in the order of rank, and pouring pure cold
water from a silver bowl over the slender body. Two sisters of the king
then shrouded the corpse in a sitting posture, overlaid it with perfumes
and odoriferous gums, frankincense and myrrh, and, lastly, swaddled it
in a fine winding-sheet. Finally it was deposited in a golden urn, and
this again in an-other of finer gold, richly adorned with precious
stones. The inner urn has an iron grating in the bottom, and the outer
an orifice at its most pendent point, through which by means of a tap or
stop-cock, the fluids are drawn off daily, until the _cadavre_ has
become quite dry.
This double rim was borne on a gilt sedan, under a royal gilt umbrella,
to the temple of the Maha Phrasat, where it was mounted on a graduated
platform about six feet high. During this part of the ceremony, and
while the trumpeters and the blowers of conch-shells performed their
lugubrious parts, his Majesty sat apart, his face buried in his hands,
confessing a keener anguish than had ever before cut his selfish heart.
The urn being thus elevated, all the insignia pertaining to the rank of
the little princess were disposed in formal order below it, as though at
her feet. Then the musicians struck up a passionate passage, ending in a
plaintive and truly solemn dirge; after which his Majesty and all the
princely company retired, leaving the poor clod to await, in its pagan
gauds and mockery, the last offices of friendship. But not always alone;
for thrice daily--at early dawn, and noon, and gloaming--the musicians
came to perform a requiem for the soul of the dead,--"that it may soar
on high, from the naming, fragrant pyre for which it is reserved, and
return to its foster parents, Ocean, Earth, Air, Sky." With these is
joined a concert of mourning women, who bewail the early dead, extolling
her beauty, graces, virtues; while in the intervals, four priests (who
are relieved every fourth hour) chant the praises of Buddha, bidding the
gentle spirit "Pass on! Pass on!" and boldly speed through the labyrinth
before it, "through high, deep, and famous things, through good and evil
things, through truth and error, through wisdom and folly, through
sorrow, suffering, hope, life, joy, love, death, through endless
mutability, into immutability!"
These services are performed with religious care daily for six months;
[Footnote: Twelve months for a king.] that is, until the time appointed
for cremation. Meanwhile, in the obsequies of the Princess Fa-ying,
arrangements were made for the erection of the customary
_P'hra-mene_,--a temporary structure of great splendor, where the body
lies in state for several days, on a throne dazzling with gold and
silver ornaments and precious stones.
For the funeral honors of royalty it is imperative that the P'hra-mene
be constructed of virgin timber. Trunks of teak, from two hundred to two
hundred and fifty feet in length, and of proportionate girth, are felled
in the forests of Myolonghee, and brought down the Meinam in rafts.
These trunks, planted thirty feet deep, one at each corner of a square,
serve as pillars, not less than a hundred and seventy feet high, to
support a sixty-foot spire, an octagonal pyramid, covered with gold
leaf. Attached to this pyramid are four wings, forty feet long, with
handsome porches looking to the cardinal points of the compass; here
also are four colossal figures of heroic myths, each with a lion
couchant at its feet.
On one side of the square reserved for the P'hra-mene, a vast hall is
erected to accommodate the Supreme King and his family while attending
the funeral ceremonies. The several roofs of this temporary edifice have
peculiar horn-like projections at the ends, and are covered with crimson
cloth, while golden draperies are suspended from the ceiling. The entire
space around the P'hra-mene is matted with bamboo wicker-work, and
decorated with innumerable standards peculiar to Siam. Here and there
may be seen grotesque cartoons of the wars of gods and giants, and rude
landscapes supposed to represent the Buddhist's heaven, with lakes and
groves and gardens. Beyond these are playhouses for theatrical displays,
puppet-shows, masquerades, posturing, somersaulting, leaping, wrestling,
balancing on ropes and wires, and the tricks of professional buffoons.
Here also are restaurants, or cook-shops, for all classes of people
above the degree of boors; and these are open day and night during the
period devoted to the funeral rites.
The grand lodge erected for the Second King and his household, at the
cremation of his little niece, resembled that of his brother, the
Supreme King, in the regal style of its decorations.
The centre of the P'hra-mene is a lofty octagon; and directly under the
great spire is a gorgeous eight-sided pyramid, diminishing by
right-angled gradations to a truncated top, its base being fifty or
sixty feet in circumference, and higher by twenty feet than the
surrounding buildings. On this pyramid stood the urn of gold containing
the remains of the royal child. Above the urn a golden canopy hung from
the lofty ceiling, and far above this again a circular white awning was
spread, representing the firmament studded with silver stars. Under the
canopy, and just over little Fa-ying's urn, the whitest and most
fragrant flowers, gathered and arranged by those who loved her best in
life, formed a bright odoriferous bower. The pyramid itself was
decorated with rare and beautiful gifts, of glass, porcelain, alabaster,
silver, gold, and artificial flowers, with images of birds, beasts, men,
women, children, and angels. Splendid chandeliers suspended from the
ceiling, and lesser lights on the angles of the pyramid, illuminated the
These showy preparations completed, the royal mourners only waited for
the appointed time when the remains must be laid in state upon the
consecrated pyre. At dawn of that day, all the princes, nobles,
governors, and superior priests of the kingdom, with throngs of baser
men, women, and children, in their holiday attire, came to grace the
"fiery consummation" of little Fa-ying. A royal barge conveyed me, with
my boy, to the palace, whence we followed on foot.
The gold urn, in an ivory chariot of antique fashion, richly gilt, was
drawn by a pair of milk-white horses, and followed and attended by
hundreds of men clad in pure white. It was preceded by two other
chariots; in the first sat the high-priest, reading short, pithy
aphorisms and precepts from the sacred books; in the other followed the
full brothers of the deceased. A strip of silver cloth, six inches wide,
attached to the urn, was loosely extended to the seats of the royal
mourners in this second chariot, and thence to the chariot of the high-
priest, on whose lap the ends were laid, symbolizing the mystic union
between death, life, and the Buddha.
Next after the urn came a chariot laden with the sacred sandal-wood, the
aromatic gums, and the wax tapers. The wood was profusely carved with
emblems of the indestructibility of matter; for though the fire
apparently consumes the pile, and with it the body, the priests are
careful to interpret the process as that by which both are endued with
new vitality; thus everything consecrated to the religious observances
of Buddhism is made to typify some latent truth.
Then came a long procession of mythological figures, nondescripts drawn
on small wooden wheels, and covered with offerings for the priests.
These were followed by crowds of both sexes and all ages, bearing in
their hands the mystic triform flower, emblematic of the sacred circle,
_Om_, or Aum. To hold this mystic flower above the head, and describe
with it endless circles in the air, is regarded as a performance of
peculiar virtue and "merit," and one of the most signal acts of devotion
possible to a Buddhist. And yet, as the symbol of One great Central
Spirit, whose name it is profanation to utter, the symbol is strangely
at variance with the doctrines of Buddhism.
The moment the strange concourse, human and mythological, began to move,
the conch-shells, horns, trumpets, sackbuts, pipes, dulcimers, flutes,
and harps rent the air with wild wailing; but above the din rose the
deep, booming, measured beat of the death-drums. Very subtile, and
indescribably stirring is this ancient music, with its various weird and
prolonged cadences, and that solemn thundering boom enhancing the
peculiar sweetness of the dirge as it rises and falls.
Under the spell of such sounds as these the procession moved slowly to
the P'hra-mene. Here the urn was lifted by means of pulleys, and
enthroned on the splendid pedestal prepared for it. The silver cloth
from the chariot of the high-priest was laid upon it, the ends drooping
on the eastern and western sides to the rich carpet of the floor. A
hundred priests, fifty on either hand, rehearsed in concert, seated on
the floor, long hymns in Pali from the sacred books, principally
embodying melancholy reflections on the brevity and uncertainty of human
life. After which, holding the silver cloth between the thumb and
forefinger, they joined in silent prayer, thereby, as they suppose,
communicating a saving virtue to the cloth, which conveys it to the dead
within the urn. They continued thus engaged for about an hour, and then
withdrew to give place to another hundred, and so on, until thousands of
priests had taken part in the solemn exercises. Meanwhile the four
already mentioned still prayed, day and night, at the Maha Phrasat. A
service was likewise performed for the royal family twice a day, in an
adjacent temporary chapel, where all the court attended,--including the
noble ladies of the harem, who occupy private oratories, hung with
golden draperies, behind which they can see and hear without being seen.
As long as these funeral ceremonies last, the numerous concourse of
priests is sumptuously entertained.
At nightfall the P'hra-mene is brilliantly illuminated, within and
without, and the people are entertained with dramatic spectacles derived
from the Chinese, Hindoo, Malayan, and Persian classics. Effigies of the
fabulous Hydra, or dragon with seven heads, illuminated, and animated by
men concealed within, are seen endeavoring to swallow the moon,
represented by a globe of fire. Another monster, probably the Chimaera,
with the head and breast of a lion and the body of a goat, vomits flame
and smoke. There are also figures of Echidna and Cerberus, the former
represented as a beautiful nymph, but terminating below the waist in the
coils of a dragon or python; and the latter as a triple-headed dog,
evidently the canine bugaboo that is supposed to have guarded Pluto's
About nine o'clock fireworks were ignited by the king's own hand,--a
very beautiful display, representing, among other graceful forms, a
variety of shrubbery, which gradually blossomed with roses, dahlias,
oleanders, and other flowers.
The flinging of money and trinkets to the rabble is usually the most
exciting of the pranks which diversify the funeral ceremonies of Siamese
royalty; in this _mal a propos_ pastime his Majesty took a lively part.
The personal effects of the deceased are divided into two or more equal
portions, one of which is bestowed on the poor, another on the priests;
memorials and complimentary tokens are presented to the princes and
nobles, and the friends of the royal family. The more costly articles
are ticketed and distributed by lottery; and smaller objects, such as
rings and gold and silver coins, are put into lemons, which his Majesty,
standing on the piazza of his temporary palace, flings among the sea of
heads below. There is also at each of the four corners of the
P'hra-mene, an artificial tree, bearing gold and silver fruit, which is
plucked by officers of the court, and tossed to the poor on every side.
Each throw is hailed by a wild shout from the multitude, and followed by
a mad scramble.
In this connection the following "notification" from the king's hand
will be intelligible to the reader.
"In regard to the mourning distribution and donation in funeral service
or ceremony of cremation of the remains of Her late Royal Highness
celestial Princess Somdetch Chowfa Chandrmondol Sobhon Bhagiawati,
[Footnote: Fa-ying.] whose death took place on the 12th May, Anno
"This Part consisting of a glasscoverbox enclosing a idol of Chinese
fabulousquadruped called 'sai' or Lion, covered with goldleaf ornamented
with coined pieces of silver & rings a black bag of funeral balls
enclosing some pieces of gold and silver coins &c., in funeral service
of Her late Royal Highness the forenamed princess, the ninth daughter or
sixteenth offspring of His Majesty the reigning Supreme King of Siam,
which took place in ceremony continued from 16th to 21st day of February
Anno Christi 1864. prepared ex-property of Her late lamented Royal
Highness the deceased, and assistant funds from certain members of the
Royal Family, designed from his Gracious Majesty Somdetch P'hra
Paramendr Maha Mongkut, Her late Royal Highness' bereaved Royal father.
Their Royal Highnesses celestial princes Somdetch Chowfa Chulalonkorn
the full elder brother, Chowfa Chaturont Rasmi, and Chowfa Bhangurangsi
Swang-wongse, the two younger full brothers, and His Royal Highness
Prince Nobhawongs Krommun Maha-suarsivivalas the eldest half brother.
Their Royal Highnesses twenty-five princes, Krita-bhinihar, Gaganang
Yugol &c. the younger half-brothers, and their Royal Highnesses seven
princesses, Yingyawlacks, Dacksinja, and Somawati, &c., the elder
sisters, 18 princesses, Srinagswasti, &c., the younger half-sisters of
Her late Royal Highness the deceased, for friendly acceptance of--who is
one of His present Siamese Majesty's friends who either have ever been
acquainted in person or through means of correspondence &c. certain of
whom have ever seen Her late Royal Highness, and some have been
acquainted with certain of her late Royal Highness the deceased's elder
or younger brothers and sisters.
"His Siamese Majesty, with his 29 sons, and 25 daughters above partly
named, trusts that this part will be acceptable to every one of His
Gracious Majesty's and their Royal Highnesses' friends who ever have
been acquainted with his present Majesty, and certain of Their Royal
Highnesses or Her late Royal Highness the deceased, either in person or
by correspondence, or only by name through cards &c. for a token of
remembrance of Her late Royal Highness the deceased and for feeling of
Emotion that this path ought to be followed by every one of human beings
after long or short time, as the lights of lives of all living beings
are like flames of candles lighted in opening air without covering and
Protecting on every side, so it shall be considered with great emotion
by the readers.
"Dated ROYAL FUNERAL PLACE. BANGKOK, 20th February, Anno Christi 1864."
Thus twelve days were passed in feasting, drinking, praying, preaching,
sporting, gambling and scrambling. On the thirteenth, the double urn,
with its melancholy moral, was removed from the pyramid, and the inner
one, with the grating, was laid on a bed of fragrant sandalwood, and
aromatic gums, connected with a train of gunpowder, which the king
ignited with a match from the sacred fire that burns continually in the
temple Watt P'hra Keau. The Second King then lighted his candles from
the same torch, and laid them on the pyre; and so on, in the order of
rank, down to the meanest slave, until many hundreds of wax candles and
boxes of precious spices and fragrant gums were cast into the flames.
The funeral orchestra then played a wailing dirge, and the mourning
women broke into a concerted and prolonged keen, of the most
ear-piercing and heart-rending description.
When the fire had quite burned itself out, all that remained of the
bones, charred and blackened, was carefully gathered, deposited in a
third and smaller urn of gold, and again conveyed in great state to the
Maha Phrasat. The ashes were also collected with scrupulous pains in a
pure cloth of white muslin, and laid in a gold dish; afterward, attended
by all the mourning women and musicians, and escorted by a procession of
barges, it was floated some miles down the river, and there committed to
Nothing left of our lovely darling but a few charred bits of rubbish!
But in memory I still catch glimpses of the sylph-like form, half veiled
in the shroud of flame that wrapped her last, but with the innocent,
questioning eyes still turned to me; and as I look back into their
depths of purity and love, again and again I mourn, as at first, for
that which made me feel, more and more by its sympathy, the peculiar
desolation of my life in the palace.
Immediately on the death of a Supreme King an order is issued for the
universal shaving of the bristly tuft from the heads of all male
subjects. Only those princes who are older than their deceased sovereign
are exempt from the operation of this law.
Upon his successor devolves the duty of providing for the erection of
the royal P'hra-mene--as to the proportions and adornment of which he is
supposed to be guided by regard for the august rank of the deceased, and
the public estimation in which his name and fame are held. Royal
despatches are forthwith sent to the governors of four different
provinces in the extreme north, where the noblest timber abounds,
commanding each of them to furnish one of the great pillars for the
P'hra-mene. These must be of the finest wood, perfectly straight, from
two hundred to two hundred and fifty feet long, and not less than twelve
feet in circumference.
At the same time twelve pillars, somewhat smaller, are required from the
governors of twelve other provinces; besides much timber in other forms
necessary to the construction of the grand funeral hall and its numerous
supplementary buildings. As sacred custom will not tolerate the presence
of pillars that have already been used for any purpose whatever, it is
indispensable that fresh ones, "virgin trunks," be procured for every
new occasion of the obsequies of royalty. These four great trunks are
hard to find, and can be floated down the Meinam to the capital only at
the seasons when that stream and its tributaries are high. This is
perhaps the natural cause of the long interval that elapses--twelve
months--between the death and the cremation of a Siamese king.
The "giant boles" are dragged in primitive fashion to the banks of the
stream by elephants and buffaloes, and shipped in rafts. Arrived at
Bangkok, they are hauled on rollers inch by inch, by men working with a
rude windlass and levers, to the site of the P'hra-mene.
The following description of the cremation, at Bejrepuri, of a man "in
the middle walks of life," is taken from the _Bangkok Recorder_ of May
24, 1866:--"The corpse was first to be offered to the vultures, a
hundred or more. Before the coffin was opened the filthy and horrible
gang had assembled, 'for wheresoever the carcass is, there will the
eagles (vultures) be gathered together.' They were perched on the ridges
of the temple, and even on small trees and bushes, within a few feet of
the body; and so greedy were they that the sexton and his assistants had
to beat them off many times before the coffin could be opened. They
seemed to know that there would be but a mouthful for each, if divided
among them all, and the pack of greedy dogs besides, that waited for
their share. The body was taken from the coffin and laid on a pile of
wood that had been prepared on a small temporary altar. Then the birds
were allowed to descend upon the corpse and tear it as they liked. For a
while it was quite hidden in the rush. But each bird, grabbing its part
with bill and claws, spread its wings and mounted to some quiet place to
eat. The sexton seemed to think that he too was 'making merit' by
cutting off parts of the body and throwing them to the hungry dogs, as
the dying man had done in bequeathing his body to those carrion-feeders.
The birds, not satisfied with what they got from the altar, came down
and quarrelled with the curs for their share.
"While this was going on, the mourners stood waiting, with wax candles
and incense sticks, to pay their last tribute of respect to the deceased
by assisting in the burning of the bones after the vultures and dogs had
stripped them. The sexton, with the assistance of another, gathered up
the skeleton and put it back into the coffin, which was lifted by four
men and carried around the funeral pile three times. It was then laid on
the pile of wood, and a few sticks were put into the coffin to aid in
burning the bones. Then a lighted torch was applied to the pile, and the
relatives and other mourners advanced, and laid each a wax candle by the
torch. Others brought incense and cast it on the pile.
"The vultures, having had but a scanty breakfast, lingered around the
place until the fire had left nothing more for them, when they shook
their ugly heads, and hopping a few steps, to get up a momentum, flapped
their harpy wings and flew away."
XXIV. CERTAIN SUPERSTITIONS.
MY friend Maha Mongkut used to maintain, with the doctors and sophists
of his sect, that the Buddhist priesthood have no superstitions; that
though they do not accept the Christian's "Providence," they do believe
in a Creator (_P'hra-Tham_), at whose will all crude matter sprang into
existence, but who exercises no further control over it; that man is but
one of the endless mutations of matter,--was not created, but has
existed from the beginning, and will continue to exist to all eternity;
that though he was not born in sin, he is held by the secondary law of
retribution accountable for offences committed in his person, and these
he must expiate through subsequent transmigrations, until, by
sublimation, he is absorbed again into the primal source of his being;
and that mutability is an essential and absolute law of the universe.
In like manner they protest that they are not idolaters, any more than
the Roman Catholics are pagans; that the image of Buddha, their Teacher
and High-Priest, is to them what the crucifix is to the Jesuit; neither
more nor less. They scout the idea that they worship the white elephant,
but acknowledge that they hold the beast sacred, as one of the
incarnations of their great reformer.
Nevertheless, no nation or tribe of all the human race has ever been
more profoundly inoculated with a superstition the most depraving and
malignant than the Siamese. They have peopled their spiritual world with
grotesques, conceived in hallucination and brought forth in nightmare,
the monstrous devices of mischief on the one hand and misery on the
other,--gods, demons, genii, goblins, wraiths; and to flatter or
propitiate these, especially to enlist their tutelary offices, they
commit or connive at crimes of fantastic enormity.
While residing within the walls of Bangkok, I learned of the existence
of a custom having all the stability and force of a Medo-Persic law.
Whenever a command has gone forth from the throne for the erection of a
new fort or a new gate, or the reconstruction of an old one, this
ancient custom demands, as the first step in the procedure, that three
innocent men shall be immolated on the site selected by the court
astrologers, and at their "auspicious" hour.
In 1865, his Majesty and the French Consul at Bangkok had a grave
misunderstanding about a proposed modification of a treaty relating to
Cambodia. The consul demanded the removal of the prime minister from the
commission appointed to arrange the terms of this treaty. The king
replied that it was beyond his power to remove the Kralahome. Afterward,
the consul, always irritable and insolent, having nursed his wrath to
keep it warm, waylaid the king as he was returning from a temple, and
threatened him with war, and what not, if he did not accede to his
demands. Whereupon, the poor king, effectually intimidated, took refuge
in his palace behind barred gates; and forthwith sent messengers to his
astrologers, magicians, and soothsayers, to inquire what the situation
The magi and the augurs, and all the seventh sons of seventh sons,
having shrewedly pumped the officers, and made a solemn show of
consulting their oracles, replied: "The times are full of omen. Danger
approaches from afar. Let his Majesty erect a third gate, on the east
and on the west."
Next morning, betimes, pick and spade were busy, digging deep trenches
outside the pair of gates that, on the east and west alike, already
protected the palace.
Meanwhile, the consul either quite forgot his threats, or cooled in the
cuddling of them; yet day and night the king's people plied pick and
spade and basket in the new foundations. When all was ready, the _San
Luang_, or secret council of Royal Judges, met at midnight in the
palace, and despatched twelve officers to lurk around the new gates
until dawn. Two, stationed just within the entrance, assume the
character of neighbors and friends, calling loudly to this or that
passenger, and continually repeating familiar names. The peasants and
market folk, who are always passing at that hour, hearing these calls,
stop, and turn to see who is wanted. Instantly the myrmidons of the san
luang rush from their hiding-places, and arrest, hap-hazard, six of
them--three for each gate. From that moment the doom of these
astonished, trembling wretches is sealed. No petitions, payments,
prayers, can save them.
In the centre of the gateway a deep fosse or ditch is dug, and over it
is suspended by two cords an enormous beam. On the "auspicious" day for
the sacrifice, the innocent, unresisting victims--"hinds and churls"
perhaps, of the lowest degree in Bangkok--are mocked with a dainty and
elaborate banquet, and then conducted in state to their fatal post of
honor. The king and all the court make profound obeisance before them,
his Majesty adjuring them earnestly "to guard with devotion the gate,
now about to be intrusted to their keeping, from all dangers and
calamities; and to come in season to forewarn him, if either traitors
within or enemies without should conspire against the peace of his
people or the safety of his throne." Even as the last word of this
exhortation falls from the royal lips, the cords are cut, the ponderous
engine "squelches" the heads of the distinguished wretches, and three
Bangkok ragamuffins are metempsychosed into three guardian-angels
Siamese citizens of wealth and influence often bury treasure in the
earth, to save it from arbitrary confiscation. In such cases a slave is
generally immolated on the spot, to make a guardian genius. Among
certain classes, not always the lowest, we find a greedy passion that
expends itself in indefatigable digging for such precious _caches_, in
the environs of abandoned temples, or among the ruins of the ancient
capital, Ayudia. These treasure-seekers first pass a night near the
supposed place of concealment, having offered at sunset to the genius of
the spot oblations of candles, perfumed tapers, and roasted rice. They
then betake themselves to slumber; and in their dreams the genie is
expected to appear, and indicate precisely the hiding-place of his
golden charge, at the same time offering to wink at its sacking in
consideration of the regular perquisite,--"one pig's head and two
bottles of arrack." On the other hand, the genie may appear in an angry
aspect, flourishing the conventional club in a style that means
business, and demanding by what right the intruders would tamper with
his charge; whereat sudden waking and dishevelled flight.
Another and more barbarous superstition relates to premature delivery.
In such a case the embarrassed mother calls in a female magician, who
declares that an evil spirit has practised a spiteful joke upon the
married pair, with a design upon the life of the mother. So saying, she
pops the still-born into an earthen pot, and with that in her left hand
and a sword in her right, makes for the margin of a deep stream, where,
with an approved imprecation upon the fiend and a savage slash at the
manikin, she tosses the pot and its untimely contents into the flood.
By such witches as this, sorceries of all kinds are practised for fee.
They are likewise supposed to be skilled in the art of healing, and are
notable compounders of love-philters and potions.
The king supports a certain number of astrologers, whose duties consist
in the prediction of events, whether great or small, from war or peace
to rain or drought, and in indicating or determining future
possibilities by the aspect and position of the stars. The people
universally wear charms and talismans, to which they ascribe
supernatural virtues. A patient in fever with delirium is said to be
possessed of a devil; and should he grow frantic and unmanageable in the
paroxysms, the one becomes a legion. At the close of each year, a thread
of unspun cotton, of seven fibres, consecrated by priests, is reeled
round all the walls of the palace; and from sunset until dawn a
continuous cannonading is kept up from all the forts within hearing, to
rout the evil spirits that have infested the departing year.
XXV. THE SUBORDINATE KING
A second or subordinate kingship is an anomalous device or provision of
sovereignty peculiar to Siam, Cambodia, and Laos. Inferior in station to
the Supreme King only, and apparently deriving from the throne of the
Phra-batts, to which he may approach so near, a reflected majesty and
prestige not clearly understood by his subjects nor easily defined by
foreigners, the Second King seems to be, nevertheless, belittled by the
very significance of the one exclusive privilege that should distinguish
him,--that of exemption from the customary prostrations before the First
King, whom he may salute by simply raising his hands and joining them
above his head. Here his proper right of royalty begins and ends. The
part that he may play in the drama of government is cast to him in the
necessity, discretion, or caprice of his absolute chief next, and yet so
far, above him; it may be important, insignificant, or wholly omitted.
Like any lesser _ducus_ of the realm, he must appear before his lord
twice a year to renew his oath of allegiance. In law, he is as mere a
subject as the slave who bears his betel-box; or that other slave who,
on his knees, and with averted face, presents his spittoon. In history,
he shall be what circumstance or his own mind may make him: the shadow
or the soul of sovereignty, even as the intellectual and moral weakness
or strength may have been apportioned between him and his colleague.
From his rank he derives no advantage but the _chance_.
[Illustration: The Princess of Chiengmai.]
Somdetch P'hra Pawarendr Ramesr Mahiswarer, the subordinate king of
Siam, who died on the 29th of December, 1865, was the legitimate son of
the supreme king, second of his dynasty, who reigned from 1809 to 1824.
His father had been second king to his grandfather, "grand supreme" of
Siam, and first of the reigning line. His mother was "lawful first queen
consort"; and the late first or major king, Somdetch-P'hra Paramendr
Maha Mongkut, was his elder full brother. Being alike legitimate
offspring of the first queen, these two lads were styled _Somdetch
Chowfas_, "Celestial Royal Princes"; and during the second and third
reigns they were distinguished by the titles of courtesy pertaining to
their royal status and relation, the elder as Chowfa Mongkut, the
younger as Chowfa Chudha-Mani: _Mongkut_ signifying "Royal Crown," and
_Chudha-Mani_ "Royal Hair-pin."
On the death of their father (in 1824), and the accession, by intrigue,
of their elder half-brother, the Chowfa Mongkut entered the Buddhist
priesthood; but his brother, more ardent, inquisitive, and restless,
took active service with the king, in the military as well as in the
diplomatic department of government. He was appointed Superintendent of
Artillery and Malayan Infantry on the one hand; and on the other,
Translator of English Documents and Secretary for English
In a cautious and verbose sketch of his character and services, written
after his death by his jealous brother, the priest-king, wherein he is
by turns meanly disparaged and damned with faint praise, we find this
"After that time (1821) he became acquainted with certain parties of
English and East Indian merchants, who made their appearance or first
commenced trading on late of second reign, after the former trade with
Siam which had been stopped or postponed several years in consequence of
some misunderstanding before. He became acquainted with certain parts of
English language and literature, and certain parts of Hindoo or Bengali
language, as sufficient for some unimportant conversation with English
and Indian strangers who were visitors of Siam, upon the latter part of
the reign of his royal father; but his royal father did not know that he
possessed such knowledge of foreign language, which had been concealed
to the native persons in republic affairs, whose jealousy seemed to be
strong against strangers, so he was not employed in any terms with those
strangers foreign affairs,"--that is, during the life of his father, at
whose death he was just sixteen years old.
Early in the third reign he was sent to Meeklong to superintend the
construction of important works of defence near the mouth of the
Meeklong River. He pushed this work with vigor, and completed it in
1835. In 1842 he commanded successfully an expedition against the
Cochin-Chinese, and, in returning, brought with him to Siam many
families of refugees from the eastern coast. Then he was commissioned by
the king to reconstruct, "after Western models," the ancient
fortifications at Paknam; and having to this end engaged a corps of
European engineers and artisans, he eagerly seized the advantage the
situation afforded him, by free and intelligent intercourse with his
foreign assistants, to master the English language,--so that, at his
death, he notably excelled the first king in the facility with which he
spoke, read, and wrote it,--and to improve his acquaintance with the
Western sciences and arts of navigation, naval construction and
armament, coast and inland defence, engineering, transportation, and
telegraphy, the working and casting of iron, etc.
On the 26th of May, 1851, twelve days after the coronation of his elder
brother, the student and priest Maha Mongkut, he was called by the
unanimous voice of "the king and council" to be Second King; and
throughout his subordinate reign his sagacious and alert inquiry, his
quick apprehension, his energetic and liberal spirit of improvement,
engaged the admiration of foreigners; whilst his handsome person, his
generous temper, his gallant preference for the skilful and the brave,
his enthusiasm and princely profusion in sports and shows, endeared him
more and more to his people. Maha Mongkut--at no time inclined to praise
him beyond his deserts, and least of all in the latter years of his
life, imbittered to both by mutual jealousy and distrust--wrote almost
handsomely of him under the pressure of this public opinion.
"He made everything new and beautiful, and of curious appearance, and of
a good style of architecture, and much stronger than they had formerly
been constructed by his three predecessors, the second kings of the last
three reigns, for the space of time that he was second king. He had
introduced and collected many and many things, being articles of great
curiosity, and things useful for various purposes of military acts and
affairs, from Europe and America, China, and other states, and placed
them in various departments and rooms or buildings suitable for those
articles, and placed officers for maintaining and preserving the various
things neatly and carefully. He has constructed several buildings in
European fashion and Chinese fashion, and ornamented them with various
useful ornaments for his pleasure, and has constructed two steamers in
manner of men-of-war, and two steam-yachts, and several rowing
state-boats in Siamese and Cochin-Chinese fashion, for his pleasure at
sea and rivers of Siam; and caused several articles of gold and silver
being vessels and various wares and weapons to be made up by the Siamese
and Malayan goldsmiths, for employ and dress of himself and his family,
by his direction and skilful contrivance and ability. He became
celebrated and spread out more and more to various regions of the
Siamese kingdom, adjacent States around, and far-famed to foreign
countries, even at far distance, as he became acquainted with many and
many foreigners, who came from various quarters of the world where his
name became known to most as a very clever and bravest Prince of
"As he pleased mostly with firing of cannon and acts of Marine power and
seamen, which he has imitated to his steamers which were made in manner
of the man-of-war, after he has seen various things curious and useful,
and learned Marine customs on board the foreign vessels of war, his
steamers conveyed him to sea, where he has enjoyed playing of firing in
cannon very often....
"He pleased very much in and was playful of almost everything, some
important and some unimportant, as riding on Elephants and Horses and
Ponies, racing of them and racing of rowing boats, firing on birds and
beasts of prey, dancing and singing in various ways pleasantly, and
various curiosity of almost everything, and music of every description,
and in taming of dogs, monkeys, &c., &c., that is to say briefly that he
has tested almost everything eatable except entirely testing of Opium
"Also he has visited regions of Northeastern Province of Sarapury and
Gorath very often for enjoyment of pleasant riding on Elephants and
Horses, at forests in chasing animals of prey, fowling, and playing
music and singing with Laos people of that region and obtaining young
wives from there."
What follows is not more curious as to its form of expression than
suspicious as to its meaning and motive. To all who know with what
pusillanimity at times the First King shrank from the approach of
Christian foreigners,--especially the French priests,--with what
servility in his moody way he courted their favor, it will appear of
very doubtful sincerity. To those who are familiar with the
circumstances under which it was written, and to whom the attitude of
jealous reserve that the brothers occupied toward each other at the time
of the Second King's death was no secret, it may seem (even after due
allowance is made for the prejudices or the obligations of the priest)
to cover an insidious, though scarcely adroit, design to undermine the
honorable reputation the younger enjoyed among the missionaries, and the
cordial friendship with which he had been regarded by several of the
purest of them. Certainly it is suspiciously "of a piece" with other
passages, quoted further on, in which the king's purpose to disparage
the merits of his brother, and damage the influence of his name abroad,
is sufficiently transparent. In this connection the reader may derive a
ray of light from the fact that on the birth of the Second King's first
son, an American missionary, who was on terms of intimacy with the
father, named the child "George Washington"; and that child, the Prince
George Washington Krom Mu'n Pawarwijagan, is the present Second King of
Siam. But to Maha Mongkut, and his "art of putting things":--
"He was rumored to be baptized or near to be baptized in Christianity,
but the fact it is false. He was a Buddhist, but his faith and belief
changed very often in favor of various sects of Buddhism by the
association of his wives and various families and of persons who were
believers in various sects of the established religion of the Siamese
and Laos, Peguan and Burmese countries. Why should he become a
Christian? when his pleasures consisted in polygamy and enjoyment, and
with young women who were practised in pleasant dancing and singing, and
who could not be easily given up at any time.
"He was very desirous of having his sons to be English scholars and to
be learned the art of speaking, reading and writing in English well like
himself, but he said he cannot allow his sons to enter the Christian
Missionary-School, as he feared his descendants might be induced to the
Christianity in which he did not please to believe."
Pawarendr Ramesr had ever been the favorite and darling of his mother,
and it was in his infancy that the seeds of that ignoble jealousy were
sown between the royal brothers, which nourished so rankly and bore such
noxious fruit in their manhood. From his tenderest years the younger
prince was remarkable for his personal beauty and his bright
intelligence, and before his thirteenth birthday had already learned all
that his several masters could teach him. From an old priest, named
P'hra Naitt, I gathered many pleasant anecdotes of his childhood.
For example, he related with peculiar pride how the young prince, then
but twelve years old, being borne one day in state through the eastern
gate of the city to visit his mother's lotos-gardens, observed an old
man, half blind, resting by the roadside. Commanding his bearers to
halt, he alighted from his sedan and kindly accosted the poor creature.
Finding him destitute and helpless, a stranger and a wayfarer in the
land, he caused him to be seated in his own sedan, and borne to the
gardens, while he followed on foot. Here he had the old man bathed, clad
in fresh linen, and entertained with a substantial meal; and afterward
he took his astonished client into his service, as keeper of his cattle.
Later in life the generous and romantic prince diverted himself with the
adventurous beneficence of Haroun al Raschid, visiting the poor in
disguise, listening to the recital of their sufferings and wrongs, and
relieving them with ready largesse of charity and justice; and nothing
so pleased and flattered him as to be called, in his assumed name of Nak
Pratt, "the wise," to take part in their sports and fetes. The
affectionate enthusiasm with which the venerable poonghee remembered his
royal pupil was inspiring; and to see his eyes sparkle and his face glow
with sympathetic triumph, as he described the lad's exploits of strength
or skill in riding, fencing, boxing, was a fine sight. But it was with
saddened look and tone that he whispered to me, that, at the prince's
birth, the astrologer who cast his horoscope had foretold for him an
unnatural death. This, he said, was the secret of the watchful devotion
and imprudent partiality his mother had always manifested for him.
For such a prince to come into even the empty name of power was to
become subject to the evil eye of his fraternal lord and rival, for
whose favor officious friends and superserviceable lackeys contended in
scandalous and treacherous spyings of the Second King's every action.
Yet, meanly beset as he was, he contrived to find means and opportunity
to enlarge his understanding and multiply his attainments; and in the
end his proficiency in languages, European and Oriental, became as
remarkable as it was laudable. It was by Mr. Hunter, secretary to the
prime minister, that he was introduced to the study of the English
language and literature, and by this gentleman's intelligent aid he
procured the text-books which constituted the foundation of his
In person he was handsome, for a Siamese; of medium stature, compact and
symmetrical figure, and rather dark complexion. His conversation and
deportment denoted the cultivation, delicacy, and graceful poise of an
accomplished gentleman; and he delivered his English with a correctness
and fluency very noticeably free from the peculiar spasmodic effort that
marked his royal brother's exploits in the language of Shakespeare.
In his palace, which, he had rebuilt after the model of an English
nobleman's residence, he led the life of a healthy, practical, and
systematic student. His library, more judiciously selected than that of
his brother, abounded in works of science, embracing the latest
discoveries. Here he passed many hours, cultivating a sound acquaintance
with the results of investigation and experiment in the Western world.
His partiality for English literature in all its branches was extreme.
The freshest publications of London found their way to his tables, and
he heartily enjoyed the creations of Dickens.
For robust and exhilarating enjoyment, however, he had recourse to
hunting expeditions, and martial exercises in the drilling of his
private troops. Punctually at daybreak every morning he appeared on the
parade-ground, and proceeded to review his little army with scrupulous
precision, according to European tactics; after which he led his
well-trained files to their barracks within the palace walls, where the
soldiers exchanged their uniform for a working-dress. Then he marched
them to the armory, where muskets, bayonets, and sabres were brought out
and severely scoured. That done, the men were dismissed till the morrow.
Among his courtiers were several gentlemen of Siam and Laos, who had
acquired such a smattering of English as qualified them to assist the
prince in his scientific diversions. Opposite the armory stood a pretty
little cottage, quite English-looking, lighted with glass windows, and
equipped with European furniture. Over the entrance to this quaint
tenement hung a painted sign, in triumphant English, "WATCHES AND CLOCKS
MADE AND REPAIRED HERE"; and hither came frequently the Second King and
his favorites, to pursue assiduously their harmless occupation of
_horlogerie_. Sometimes this eccentric entertainment was diversified
with music, in which his Majesty took a leading part, playing with taste
and skill on the flute, and several instruments of the Laos people.
Such a prince should have been happy, in the innocence of his pastimes
and the dignity of his pursuits. But the same accident of birth and
station to which he owed his privileges and his opportunities imposed
its peculiar disabilities and hindrances. His troubles were the troubles
of a second king, who chanced to be also an ardent and aspiring man.
Weary with disappointment, disheartened in his honorable longing for
just appreciation, vexed with the caprice and suspicions of his elder
brother; oppressed by the ever-present tyranny of the thought--so hard
for such a man to bear--that the woman he loved best in the land he was
inexorably forbidden to marry, because, being a princess of the first
rank, she might be offered and accepted to grace the harem of his
brother; a mere prisoner of state, watched by the baleful eye of
jealousy, and traduced by the venal tongues of courtiers; dwelling in a
torment of uncertainty as to the fate to which his brother's explosive
temper and irresponsible power might devote him, hoping for no repose or
safety but in his funeral-urn,--he began to grow hard and defiant, and
that which, in the native freedom of his soul, should have been his
noble steadfastness degenerated into ignoble obstinacy.
Among the innumerable mean torments with which his pride was persecuted
was the continual presence of a certain doctor, who, by the king's
command, attended him at all times and places, compelling him to use
remedies that were most distasteful to him.
He was gallantly kind and courteous toward women; no act of cruelty to
any woman was ever attributed to him. His children he ruled wisely,
though somewhat sternly, rendering his occasional tenderness and
indulgence so much the more precious and delightful to them.
Never had Siam a more popular prince. He was the embodiment of the most
hopeful qualities, moral and intellectual, of his nation; especially was
he the exponent and promise of its most progressive tendencies; and his
people regarded him with love and reverence, as their trusty stay and
support. His talents as a statesman commanded the unqualified admiration
of foreigners; and it was simply the jealous and tyrannical temper of
Maha Mongkut that forced him to retire from all participation in the
affairs of government.
At last the mutual reserve and distrust of the royal brothers broke out
in open quarrel, provoked by the refusal of the First King to permit the
Second to borrow from the royal treasury a considerable sum of money. On
the day after his order was dishonored, the prince set out with his
congenial and confidential courtiers on a hunting expedition to the Laos
province of Chiengmai, scornfully threatening to entrap one of the royal
white elephants, and sell it to his Supreme Majesty for the sum he would
At Chiengmai he was regally entertained by the tributary prince of that
province; and no sooner was his grievance known, than the money he
required was laid at his feet. Too manly to accept the entire sum, he
borrowed but a portion of it; and instead of taking it out of the
country, decided to sojourn there for a time, that he might spend it to
the advantage of the people. To this end he selected a lovely spot in
the vicinity of Chiengmai, called Saraburee, itself a city of some
consideration, where bamboo houses line the banks of a beautiful river,
that traverses teak forests alive with large game. On an elevation near
at hand the Second King erected a palace substantially fortified, which
he named Ban Sitha (the Home of the Goddess Sitha), and caused a canal
to be cut to the eastern slope.
Here he indulged freely, and on an imposing scale, in his favorite
pastime of hunting, and privately took to wife the daughter of the king
of Chiengmai, the Princess Sunartha Vismita. And here he was happy, only
returning to Bangkok when called thither by affairs of state, or to take
the semi-annual oath of allegiance.
Among the prince's concubines at this time was a woman named Kliep,
envious, intriguing, and ambitious, who by consummate arts had obtained
control of his Majesty's _cuisine_,--an appointment of peculiar
importance and trust in the household of an Oriental prince. Finding
that by no feminine devices could she procure the influence she coveted
over her master's mind and affections, she finally had recourse to an
old and infamous sorcerer, styled Khoon Hate-nah ("Lord of Future
Events"), an adept of the black art much consulted by women of rank from
all parts of the country; and he, in consideration of an extraordinary
fee, prepared for her a variety of charms, incantations, philters, to be
administered to the prince, in whose food daily, for years, she mixed
the abominable nostrums. The poison did its work slowly but surely, and
his sturdy life was gradually undermined. His strength quite gone, and
his spirit broken, his despondency became so profound that he lost all
taste for the occupations and diversions that had once delighted him,
and sought relief in restless changing from one palace to another, and
in consulting every physician he could find.
It was during a visit to his favorite residence at Saraburee that the
signs of approaching dissolution appeared, and the king's physician,
fearing he might die there, took hurried steps to remove him to his
palace at Bangkok. He was bound in a sedan, and lowered from his high
chamber in the castle into his barge on the canal at the foot of the
cliff; and so, with all his household in train, transported to the
palace of Krom Hluang Wongse, physician to the king, and one of his
half-brothers. Now miserably unnerved, the prince, once so patient,
brave, and proud, threw his arms round his kinsman's neck, and, weeping
bitterly, implored him to save him. But he was presently removed to his
own palace, and laid in a chamber looking to the east.
That night the prince expressed a wish to see his royal brother. The
king hastened to his bedside in company with his Excellency Chow Phya
Sri Sury-Wongse, the Kralahome, or prime minister; and then and there a
silent and solemn reconciliation took place. No words were spoken; only
the brothers embraced each other, and the elder wept bitterly. But from
the facts brought to light in that impressive meeting and parting, it
was made plain that the Second King died by slow poison, administered by
the woman Kliep,--plain to all but the Second King himself, who died in
ignorance of the means by which the tragic prophecy of his horoscope had
been made good.
In the very full account of his brother's death which Maha Mongkut
thought it necessary to write, he was careful to conceal from the public
the true cause of the calamity, fearing the foreign populace, and, most
of all, the Laotians and Peguans, who were devoted to the prince, and
might attach suspicion to himself, on the ground of his notorious
jealousy of the Second King. The royal physicians and the Supreme
Council were sworn to secrecy; and the woman Kliep, and her accomplice
Khoon Hate-nah, together with nine female slaves, were tortured and
publicly paraded through the environs of Bangkok, though their crime was
never openly named. Afterward they were thrown into an open boat, towed
out on the Gulf of Siam, and there abandoned to the mercy of winds and
waves, or death by starvation. Among the women of the palace the current
report was, that celestial avengers had slain the murderous crew with
arrows of lightning and spears of fire.
In his Majesty's account of the last days of his royal brother, we have
the characteristic queerness of his English, and a scarcely less
characteristic passage of Pecksniffian cant:--
"The lamentable patient Second King ascertained himself that his
approaching death was inevitable; it was great misfortune to him and his
family indeed. His eldest son Prince George [Footnote: George
Washington.] Krom Mu'n Pawarwijagan, aged 27 years on that time, became
very sick of painful rheumatism by which he has his body almost steady
on his seat and bed, immovable to and fro, himself, since the month of
October, 1865, when his father was absent from Bangkok, being at Ban
Sitha as aforesaid. When his royal father returned from Ban Sitha he
arrived at his palace at Bangkok on 6th December. He can only being
lifted by two or three men and placed in the presence of his father who
was very ill, but the eldest son forenamed prince was little better, so
before death of his father as he can be raised to be stood by two men
and can cribble slowly on even or level surface, by securing and
supporting of two men on both sides.
"When his father became worse and approaching the point of death, upon
that time his father can see him scarcely; wherefore the Second King, on
his being worse, has said to his eldest and second daughters, the half
sisters of the eldest son, distempered so as he cannot be in the
presence of his father without difficulty, that he (the Second King)
forenamed on that time was hopeless and that he could not live more than
a few days. He did not wish to do his last will regarding his family and
property, particularly as he was strengthless to speak much, and
consider anything deeply and accurately: he beg'd to entreat all his
sons, daughters, and wives that none should be sorry for his death,
which comes by natural course, and should not fear for misery of
difficulty after his demise. All should throw themselves under their
faithful and affectionate uncle, the Supreme King of Siam, for
protection, in whom he had heartfelt confidence that he will do well to
his family after his death, as such the action or good protection to
several families of other princes and princesses in the royalty, who
deceased before. He beg'd only to recommend his sons and daughters, that
they should be always honest and faithful to his elder full brother, the
Supreme King of Siam, by the same affection as to himself, and that they
should have much more affection and respect toward Paternal relative
persons in royalty, than toward their maternal relative persons, who are
not royal descendants of his ancestors....
"On the 29th December 1865, in the afternoon, the Second King invited
His Majesty the Supreme King, his elder full brother, and his Excellency
Chow Phya Sri Sury-wongse Samuha P'hra-Kralahome, the Prime Minister,
who is the principal head of the Government and royal cousin, to seat
themselves near to his side on his bedstead where he lay, and other
principals of royalty and nobility, to seat themselves in that room
where he was lying, that they might be able to ascertain his speech by
hearing. Then he delivered his family and followers and the whole of his
property to His Majesty and His Excellency for protection and good
decision, according to consequences which they would well observe."
Not a word of that royal reconcilement, of that remorseful passion of
tears, of that mute mystery of humanity, the secret spell of a burdened
mother's love working too late in the hearts, of her headstrong boys!
Not a word of that crowning embrace, which made the subordinate king
supreme, by the grace of dying and forgiving!
XXVI. THE SUPREME KING: HIS CHARACTER AND ADMINISTRATION.
OF Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, ate Supreme King of Siam, it
may safely be said (for all his capricious provocations of temper and
his snappish greed of power) that he was, in the best sense of the
epithet, the most remarkable of the Oriental princes of the present
century,--unquestionably the most progressive of all the supreme rulers
of Siam, of whom the native historians enumerate not less than forty,
reckoning from the founding of the ancient capital (Ayudia or Ayuo-deva,
"the abode of gods") in A.D. 1350.
He was the legitimate son of the king P'hra Chow-P'hra Pooti-lootlah,
commonly known as Phen-den-Klang; and his mother, daughter of the
youngest sister of the King Somdetch P'hra Bouromah Rajah P'hra Pooti
Yout Fah, was one of the most admired princesses of her time, and is
described as equally beautiful and virtuous. She devoted herself
assiduously to the education of her sons, of whom the second, the
subject of these notes, was born in 1804; and the youngest, her best
beloved, was the late Second King of Siam.
One of the first public acts of the King P'hra Pooti-lootlah was to
elevate to the highest honors of the state his eldest son (the Chowfa
Mongkut), and proclaim him heir-apparent to the throne. He then selected
twelve noblemen, distinguished for their attainments, prudence, and
virtue,--most conspicuous among them the venerable but energetic Duke
Somdetch Ong Yai,--to be tutors and guardians to the lad. By these he
was carefully taught in all the learning of his time; Sanskrit and Pali
formed his chief study, and from the first he aspired to proficiency in
Latin and English, for the pursuit of which he soon found opportunities
among the missionaries. His translations from the Sanskrit, Pali, and
Magadthi, mark him as an authority among Oriental linguists; and his
knowledge of English, though never perfect, became at least extensive
and varied; so that he could correspond, with credit to himself, with
Englishmen of distinction, such as the Earl of Clarendon and Lords
Stanley and Russell.
In his eighteenth year he married a noble lady, descended from the Phya
Tak Sinn, who bore him two sons.
Two years later the throne became vacant by the death of his father; but
(as the reader has already learned) his elder half-brother, who, through
the intrigues of his mother, had secured a footing in the favor of the
Senabawdee, was inducted by that "Royal Council" into power. Unequal to
the exploit of unseating the usurper, and fearing his unscrupulous
jealousy, the Chowfa Mongkut took refuge in a monastery, and entered the
priesthood, leaving his wife and two sons to mourn him as one dead to
them. In this self-imposed celibacy he lived throughout the long reign
of his half-brother, which lasted twenty-seven years.
In the calm retreat of his Buddhist cloister the contemplative tastes of
the royal scholar found fresh entertainment, his intellectual
aspirations a new incitement.
He labored with enthusiasm for the diffusion of religion and
enlightenment, and, above all, to promote a higher appreciation of the
teachings of Buddha, to whose doctrines lie devoted himself with
exemplary zeal throughout his sacerdotal career. From the Buddhist
scriptures he compiled with reverent care an impressive liturgy for his
own use. His private charities amounted annually to ten thousand ticals.
All the fortune he accumulated, from the time of his quitting the court
until his return to it to accept the diadem offered by the Senabawdee,
he expended either in charitable distributions or in the purchase of
books, sacred manuscripts, and relics for his monastery. [Footnote: "On
the third reign he [himself] served his eldest royal half-brother, by
superintending the construction and revision of royal sacred books in
royal libraries: so he was appointed the principal superintendent of
clergymen's acts and works of Buddhist religion, and selector of
religious learned wise men in the country, during the third
reign."--_From the pen of Maha Mongkut_.]
It was during his retirement that he wrote that notable treatise in
defence of the divinity of the revelations of Buddha, in which he essays
to prove that it was the single aim of the great reformer to deliver man
from all selfish and carnal passions, and in which he uses these words:
"These are the only obstacles in the search for Truth. The most solid
wisdom is to know this, and to apply one's self to the conquest of one's
self. This it is to become the _enlightened_,--the Buddha!" And he
concludes with the remark of Asoka, the Indian king: "That which has
been delivered unto us by Buddha, that alone is well said, and worthy of
our soul's profoundest homage."
In the pursuit of his appointed ends Maha Mongkut was active and
pertinacious; no labors wearied him nor pains deterred him. Before the
arrival of the Protestant missionaries, in 1820, he had acquired some
knowledge of Latin and the sciences from the Jesuits; but when the
Protestants came he manifested a positive preference for their methods
of instruction, inviting one or another of them daily to his temple, to
aid him in the study of English. Finally he placed himself under the
permanent tutorship of the Rev. Mr. Caswell, an American missionary;
and, in order to encourage his preceptor to visit him frequently, he
fitted up a convenient resting-place for him on the route to the temple,
where that excellent man might teach the poorer people who gathered to
hear him. Under Mr. Caswell he made extraordinary progress in advanced
and liberal ideas of government, commerce, even religion. He never
hesitated to express his respect for the fundamental principles of
Christianity; but once, when pressed too closely by his reverend
moonshee with what he regarded as the more pretentious and apocryphal
portions of the Bible, he checked that gentleman's advance with the
remark that has ever been remembered against him, "_I hate the Bible
As High-Priest of Siam--the mystic and potential office to which he was
in the end exalted--he became the head of a new school, professing
strictly the pure philosophy inculcated by Buddha: "the law of
Compensation, of Many Births, and of final Niphan," [Footnote:
Attainment of beatitude.]--but not Nihilism, as the word and the idea
are commonly defined. It is only to the idea of God as an _ever-active_
Creator that the new school of Buddhists is opposed,--not to the Deity
as a primal source, from whose thought and pleasure sprang all forms of
matter; nor can they be brought to admit the need of miraculous
intervention in the order of nature.
In this connection, it may not be out of place to mention a remark that
the king (still speaking as a high-priest, having authority) once made
to me, on the subject of the miracles recorded in the Bible:
"You say that marriage is a holy institution; and I believe it is
esteemed a sacrament by one of the principal branches of your sect. It
is, of all the laws of the universe, the most wise and incontestable,
pervading all forms of animal and vegetable life. Yet your God (meaning
the Christian's God) has stigmatized it as unholy, in that he would not
permit his Son to be born in the ordinary way; but must needs perform a
miracle in order to give birth to one divinely inspired. Buddha was
divinely inspired, but he was only _man_. Thus it seems to me he is the
greater of the two, because out of his own heart he studied humanity,
which is but another form of divinity; and, the carnal mind being by
this contemplation subdued, he became the _Divinely Enlightened_."
When his teacher had begun to entertain hopes that he would one day
become a Christian, he came out openly against the idea, declaring that
he entertained no thought of such a change. He admonished the
missionaries not to deceive themselves, saying: "You must not imagine
that any of my party will ever become Christians. We cannot embrace what
we consider a foolish religion."
In the beginning of the year 1851 his supreme Majesty, Prabat Somdetch
P'hra Nang Klou, fell ill, and gradually declined until the 3d of April,
when he expired, and the throne was again vacant. The dying sovereign,
forgetting or disregarding his promise to his half-brother, the true
heir, had urged with all his influence that the succession should fall
to his eldest son; but in the assembly of the Senabawdee, Somdetch Ong
Yai (father of the present prime minister of Siam), supported by
Somdetch Ong Noi, vehemently declared himself in favor of the
high-priest Chowfa Mongkut.
This struck terror to the "illegitimates," and mainly availed to quell
the rising storm of partisan conflict. Moreover, Ong Yai had taken the
precaution to surround the persons of the princes with a formidable
guard, and to distribute an overwhelming force of militia in all
quarters of the city, ready for instant action at a signal from him.
Thus the two royal brothers, with views more liberal, as to religion,
education, foreign trade, and intercourse, than the most enlightened of
their predecessors had entertained, were firmly seated on the throne as
"first" and "second" kings; and every citizen, native or foreign, began
to look with confidence for the dawn of better times.
Nor did the newly crowned sovereign forget his friends and teachers, the
American missionaries. He sent for them, and thanked them cordially for
all that they had taught him, assuring them that it was his earnest
desire to administer his government after the model of the limited
monarchy of England; and to introduce schools, where the Siamese youth
might be well taught in the English language and literature and the
sciences of Europe. [Footnote: In this connection the Rev. Messrs.
Bradley, Caswell, House, Matoon, and Dean are entitled to special
mention. To their united influence Siam unquestionably owes much, if not
all, of her present advancement and prosperity. Nor would I be thought
to detract from the high praise that is due to their fellow-laborers in
the cause of Christianity, the Roman Catholic missionaries, who are, and
ever have been, indefatigable in their exertions for the good of the
country. Especially will the name of the excellent bishop, Monseigneur
Pallegoix, be held in honor and affection by people of all creeds and
tongues in Siam, as that of a pure and devoted follower of our common
There can be no just doubt that, at the time, it was his sincere purpose
to carry these generous impulses into practical effect; for certainly he
was, in every moral and intellectual respect, nobly superior to his
predecessor, and to his dying hour he was conspicuous for his attachment
to a sound philosophy and the purest maxims of Buddha. Yet we find in
him a deplorable example of the degrading influence on the human mind of
the greed of possessions and power, and of the infelicities that attend
it; for though he promptly set about the reforming of abuses in the
several departments of his government, and invited the ladies of the
American mission to teach in his new harem, nevertheless he soon began
to indulge his avaricious and sensual propensities, and cast a jealous
eye upon the influence of the prime minister, the son of his stanch old
friend, the Duke Ong Yai, to whom he owed almost the crown itself, and
of his younger brother, the Second King, and of the neighboring princes
of Chiengmai and Cochin China. He presently offended those who, by their
resolute display of loyalty in his hour of peril, had seated him safely
on the throne of his ancestors.
From this time he was continually exposed to disappointment,
mortification, slights, from abroad, and conspiracy at home. Had it not
been for the steadfast adherence of the Second King and the prime
minister, the sceptre would have been wrested from his grasp and
bestowed upon his more popular brother.
Yet, notwithstanding all this, he appeared, to those who observed him
only on the public stage of affairs, to rule with wisdom, to consult the
welfare of his subjects, to be concerned for the integrity of justice
and the purity of manners and conversation in his own court, and
careful, by a prudent administration, to confirm his power at home and
his prestige abroad. Considered apart from his domestic relations, he
was, in many respects, an able and virtuous ruler. His foreign policy
was liberal; he extended toleration to all religious sects; he expended
a generous portion of his revenues in public improvements,--
monasteries, temples, bazaars, canals, bridges, arose at his bidding on
every side; and though he fell short of his early promise, he did much
to improve the condition of his subjects.
For example, at the instance of her Britannic Majesty's Consul, the
Honorable Thomas George Knox, he removed the heavy boat-tax that had so
oppressed the poorer masses of the Siamese, and constructed good roads,
and improved the international chambers of judicature.
But as husband and kinsman his character assumes a most revolting
aspect. Envious, revengeful, subtle, he was as fickle and petulant as he
was suspicious and cruel. His brother, even the offspring of his
brother, became to him objects of jealousy, if not of hatred. Their
friends must, he thought, be his enemies, and applause bestowed upon
them was odious to his soul. There were many horrid tragedies in his
harem in which he enacted the part of a barbarian and a despot. Plainly,
his conduct as the head of a great family to whom his will was a law of
terror reflects abiding disgrace upon his name. Yet it had this
redeeming feature, that he tenderly loved those of his children whose
mothers had been agreeable to him. He never snubbed or slighted them;
and for the little princess, Chow Fa-ying, whose mother had been to him
a most gentle and devoted wife, his affection was very strong and
But to turn from the contemplation of his private traits, so
contradictory and offensive, to the consideration of his public acts, so
liberal and beneficent. Several commercial treaties of the first
importance were concluded with foreign powers during his reign. In the
first place, the Siamese government voluntarily reduced the measurement
duties on foreign shipping from nineteen hundred to one thousand ticals
per fathom of ship's beam. This was a brave stride in the direction of a
sound commercial policy, and an earnest of greater inducements to
enterprising traders from abroad. In 1855 a new treaty of commerce was
negotiated with his Majesty's government by H.B.M.'s plenipotentiary,
Sir John Bowring, which proved of very positive advantage to both
parties. On the 29th of May, 1856, a new treaty, substantially like that
with Great Britain, was procured by Townsend Harris, Esq., representing
the United States; and later in the same year still another, in favor of
France, through H. I. M.'s Envoy, M. Montigny.
Before that time Portugal had been the only foreign government having a
consul residing at Bangkok. Now the way was opened to admit a resident
consul of each of the treaty powers; and shortly millions of dollars
flowed into Siam annually by channels through which but a few tens of
thousands had been drawn before. Foreign traders and merchants flocked
to Bangkok and established rice-mills, factories for the production of
sugar and oil, and warehouses for the importation of European fabrics.
They found a ready market for their wares, and an aspect of thrift and
comfort began to enliven the once neglected and cheerless land.
A new and superb palace was erected, after the model of Windsor Castle,
together with numerous royal residences in different parts of the
country. The nobility began to emulate the activity and munificence of
their sovereign, and to compete with each other in the grandeur of their
dwellings and the splendor of their _corteges_.
So prosperous did the country become under the benign influence of
foreign trade and civilization, that other treaties were speedily
concluded with almost every nation under the sun, and his Majesty found
it necessary to accredit Sir John Bowring as plenipotentiary for Siam
Early in this reign the appointment of harbor-master at Bangkok was
conferred upon an English gentleman, who proved so efficient in his
functions that he was distinguished with the fifth title of a Siamese
noble. Next came a French commander and a French band-master for the
royal troops. Then a custom-house was established, and a "live Yankee"
installed at the head of it, who was also glorified with a title of
honor. Finally a police force was organized, composed of trusty Malays
hired from Singapore, and commanded by one of the most energetic
Englishmen to be found in the East,--a measure which has done more than
all others to promote a comfortable sense of "law and order" throughout
the city and outskirts of Bangkok. It is to be remembered, however, in
justice to the British Consul-General in Siam, Mr. Thomas George Knox,
that the sure though silent influence was his, whereby the minds of the
king and the prime minister were led to appreciate the benefits that
must accrue from these foreign innovations.
The privilege of constructing, on liberal terms, a line of telegraph
through Maulmain to Singapore, with a branch to Bangkok, has been
granted to the Singapore Telegraph Company; and finally a sanitarium has
been erected on the coast at Anghin, for the benefit of native and
foreign residents needing the invigoration of sea-air. [Footnote: "His
Excellency Chow Phya Bhibakrwongs Maha Kosa Dhipude, the P'hraklang,
Minister for Foreign Affairs, has built a sanitarium at Anghin for the
benefit of the public. It is for benefit of the Siamese, Europeans, or
Americans, to go and occupy, when unwell, to restore their health. All
are cordially invited to go there for a suitable length of time and be
happy; but are requested not to remain month after month and year after
year, and regard it as a place without an owner. To regard it in this
way cannot be allowed, for it is public property, and others should go
and stop there also."--_Advertisement, Siam Monitor_, August 29, 1868.]
During his retirement in the monastery the king had a stroke of
paralysis, from which he perfectly recovered; but it left its mark on
his face, in the form of a peculiar falling of the under lip on the
right side. In person he was of middle stature, slightly built, of
regular features and fair complexion. In early life he lost most of his
teeth, but he had had them replaced with a set made from sapan-wood,--a
secret that he kept very sensitively to the day of his death.
Capable at times of the noblest impulses, he was equally capable of the
basest actions. Extremely accessible to praise, he indiscriminately
entertained every form of flattery; but his fickleness was such that no
courtier could cajole him long. Among his favorite women was the
beautiful Princess Tongoo Soopia, sister to the unfortunate Sultan
Mahmoud, ex-rajah of Pahang. Falling fiercely in love with her on her
presentation at his court, he procured her for his harem against her
will, and as a hostage for the good faith of her brother; but as she,
being Mohammedan, ever maintained toward him a deportment of tranquil
indifference, he soon tired of her, and finally dismissed her to a
wretched life of obsoleteness and neglect within the palace walls.
The only woman who ever managed him with acknowledged edged success was
Khoon Chom Piem: hardly pretty, but well formed, and of versatile tact,
totally uneducated, of barely respectable birth,--being Chinese on her
father's side,--yet withal endowed with a nice intuitive appreciation
of character. Once conscious of her growing influence over the king, she
contrived to foster and exercise it for years, with but a slight rebuff
now and then. Being modest to a fault, even at times obnoxious to the
imputation of prudishness, she habitually feigned excuses for
non-attendance in his Majesty's chambers,--such as delicate health, the
nursing of her children, mourning for the death of this or that
relative,--and voluntarily visited him only at rare intervals. In the
course of six years she amassed considerable treasure, procured good
places at court for members of her family, and was the means of bringing
many Chinamen to the notice of the king. At the same time she lived in
continual fear, was warily humble and conciliating toward her rival
sisters, who pitied rather than envied her, and retained in her pay most
of the female executive force in the palace.
In his daily habits his Majesty was remarkably industrious and frugal.
His devotion to the study of astronomy never abated, and he calculated
with respectable accuracy the great solar eclipse of August, 1868.
The French government, having sent a special commission, under command
of the Baron Hugon le Tourneur, to observe the eclipse in Siam, the king
erected, at a place called _Hua Wann_ ("The Whale's Head"), a commodious
observatory, besides numerous pavilions varying in size and
magnificence, for his Majesty and retinue, the French commission, the
Governor of Singapore (Colonel Ord) and suite, who had been invited to
Bangkok by the king, and for ministers and nobles of Siam. Provision was
made, at the cost of government, for the regal entertainment, in a town
of booths and tabernacles, of the vast concourse of natives and
Europeans who followed his Majesty from the capital to witness the
sublime phenomenon; and a herd of fifty noble elephants were brought
from the ancient city of Ayudia for service and display.
The prospect becoming dubious and gloomy just at the time of first
contact (ten o'clock), the prime minister archly invited the foreigners
who believed in an overruling Providence to pray to him "that he may be
pleased to disperse the clouds long enough to afford us a good view of
the grandest of eclipses." Presently the clouds were partially withdrawn
from the sun, and his Majesty observing that one twentieth of the disk
was obscured, announced the fact to his own people by firing a cannon;
and immediately pipes screamed and trumpets blared in the royal
pavilion,--a tribute of reverence to the traditional fable about the
Angel Rahoo swallowing the sun. Both the king and prime minister,
scorning the restraints of dignity, were fairly boisterous in their
demonstrations of triumph and delight; the latter skipping from point to
point to squint through his long telescope. At the instant of absolute
totality, when the very last ray of the sun had become extinct, his
Excellency shouted, "Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!" and scientifically
disgraced himself. Leaving his spyglass swinging, he ran through the
gateway of his pavilion, and cried to his prostate wives, "Henceforth
will you not believe the foreigner."
But that other Excellency, Chow Phya Bhudharabhay, Minister for Northern
Siam, more orthodox, sat in dumfoundered faith, and gaped at the awful
deglutition of the Angel Rahoo.
The government expended not less than a hundred thousand dollars on this
scientific expedition, and a delegation from the foreign community of
Bangkok approached his Majesty with an address of thanks for his
But the extraordinary excitement, and exposure to the noxious atmosphere
of the jungle, proved inimical to the constitution of the king. On his
return to Bangkok he complained of general weariness and prostration,
which was the prelude to fever. Foreign physicians were consulted, but
at no stage of the case was any European treatment employed. He rapidly
grew worse, and was soon past saving. On the day before his death he
called to his bedside his nearest relatives, and parted among them such
of his personal effects as were most prized by him, saying, "I have no
more need of these things. I must give up my life also." Buddhist
priests were constant in attendance, and he seemed to derive much
comfort from their prayers and exhortations. In the evening he wrote
with his own hand a tender farewell to the mothers of his many
children,--eighty-one in number. On the morning of his last day
(October 1, 1868) he dictated in the Pali language a farewell address to
the Buddhist priesthood, the spirit of which was admirable, and clearly
manifested the faith of the dying man in the doctrines of the Reformer;
for he hesitated not to say: "Farewell, ye faithful followers of Buddha,
to whom death is nothing, even as all earthly existence is vain, all
things mutable, and death inevitable. Presently I shall myself submit to
that stern necessity. Farewell! for I go only a little before you."
Feeling sure that he must die before midnight, he summoned his
half-brother, H. R. H. Krom Hluang Wongse, his Excellency the prime
minister, Chow Phya Kralahome, and others, and solemnly imposed upon
them the care of his eldest son, the Chowfa Chulalonkorn, and of his
kingdom; at the same time expressing his last earthly wish, that the
Senabawdee, in electing his successor, would give their voices for one
who should conciliate all parties, that the country might not be
distracted by dissensions on that question. He then told them he was
about to finish his course, and implored them not to give way to grief,
"nor to any sudden surprise," that he should leave them thus; "'tis an
event that must befall all creatures that come into this world, and may
not be avoided." Then turning his gaze upon a small image of his adored
teacher, he seemed for some time absorbed in awful contemplation. "Such
is life!" Those were actually the last words of this most remarkable
Buddhist king. He died like a philosopher, calmly and sententiously
soliloquizing on death and its inevitability. At the final moment, no
one being near save his adopted son, Phya Buroot, he raised his hands
before his face, as in his accustomed posture of devotion; then suddenly
his head dropped backward, and he was gone.
That very night, without disorder or debate, the Senabawdee elected his
eldest son, Somdetch Chowfa Chulalonkorn, to succeed him; and the Prince
George Washington, eldest son of the late Second King, to succeed to his
father's subordinate throne, under the title of Krom P'hra Raja Bowawn
Shathan Mongkoon. The title of the present supreme king (my amiable and
very promising scholar) is Prabat Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha
Chulalonkorn Kate Klou Chow-yu-Hua.
About a year after my first ill-omened interviews with Maha Mongkut, and
when I had become permanently installed in my double office of teacher
and scribe, I was one day busy with a letter from his Majesty to the
Earl of Clarendon, and finding that any attempt at partial correction
would but render his meaning more ambiguous, and impair the striking
originality of his style, I had abandoned the effort, and set about
copying it with literal exactness, only venturing to alter here and
there a word, such as "I hasten with _wilful_ pleasure to write in reply
to your Lordship's _well-wishing_ letter," etc. Whilst I was thus
evolving from the depths of my inner consciousness a satisfactory
solution to this conundrum in King's English, his Majesty's private
secretary lolled in the sunniest corner of the room, stretching his
dusky limbs and heavily nodding, in an ecstasy of ease-taking. Poor
P'hra-Alack! I never knew him to be otherwise than sleepy, and his sleep
was always stolen. For his Majesty was the most capricious of kings as
to his working moods,--busy when the average man should be sleeping,
sleeping while letters, papers, despatches, messengers, mail-boats
waited. More than once had we been aroused at dead of night by noisy
female slaves, and dragged in hot haste and consternation to the Hall of
Audience, only to find that his Majesty was, not at his last gasp, as we
had feared, but simply bothered to find in Webster's Dictionary some
word that was to be found nowhere but in his own fertile brain; or
perhaps in excited chase of the classical term for some trifle he was on
the point of ordering from London,--and that word was sure to be a
stranger to my brain.
Before my arrival in Bangkok it had been his not uncommon practice to
send for a missionary at midnight, have him beguiled or abducted from
his bed, and conveyed by boat to the palace, some miles up the river, to
inquire if it would not be more elegant to write _murky_ instead of
_obscure_, or _gloomily dark_ rather than _not clearly apparent_. And if
the wretched man should venture to declare his honest preference for the
ordinary over the extraordinary form of expression, he was forthwith
dismissed with irony, arrogance, or even insult, and without a word of
apology for the rude invasion of his rest.
One night, a little after twelve o'clock, as he was on the point of
going to bed like any plain citizen of regular habits, his Majesty fell
to thinking how most accurately to render into English the troublesome
Siamese word _phi_, which admits of a variety of interpretations.
[Footnote: Ghost, spirit, soul, devil, evil angel.] After puzzling over
it for more than an hour, getting himself possessed with the word as
with the devil it stands for, and all to no purpose, he ordered one of
his lesser state barges to be manned and despatched with all speed for
the British Consul. That functionary, inspired with lively alarm by so
startling a summons, dressed himself with unceremonious celerity, and
hurried to the palace, conjecturing on the way all imaginable
possibilities of politics and diplomacy, revolution or invasion. To his
vexation, not less than his surprise, he found the king in dishabille,
engaged with a Siamese-English vocabulary, and mentally divided between
"deuce" and "devil," in the choice of an equivalent. His preposterous
Majesty gravely laid the case before the consul, who, though inwardly
chafing at what he termed "the confounded coolness" of the situation,
had no choice but to decide with grace, and go back to bed with
No wonder, then, that P'hra-Alack experienced an access of gratitude for
the privilege of napping for two hours in a snuggery of sunshine.
"Mam-kha," [Footnote: Kha, "your slave."] he murmured drowsily, "I hope
that in the Chat-Nah [Footnote: The next state of existence.] I shall be
a freed man."
"I hope so sincerely, P'hra-Alack," said I. "I hope you'll be an
Englishman or an American, for then you'll be sure to be independent."
It was impossible not to pity the poor old man,--stiff with continual
stooping to his task, and so subdued!--liable not only to be called at
any hour of the day or night, but to be threatened, cuffed, kicked,
beaten on the head, [Footnote: The greatest indignity a Siamese can
suffer.] every way abused and insulted, and the next moment to be taken
into favor, confidence, bosom-friendship, even as his Majesty's mood
Alack for P'hra-Alack! though usually he bore with equal patience his
greater and his lesser ills, there were occasions that sharply tried his
meekness, when his weak and goaded nature revolted, and he rushed to a
snug little home of his own, about forty yards from the Grand Palace,
there to snatch a respite of rest and refreshment in the society of his
young and lately wedded wife. Then the king would awake and send for
him, whereupon he would be suddenly ill, or not at home, strategically
hiding himself under a mountain of bedclothes, and detailing Mrs.
P'hra-Alack to reconnoitre and report. He had tried this primitive trick
so often that its very staleness infuriated the king, who invariably
sent officers to seize the trembling accomplice and lock her up in a
dismal cell as a hostage for the scribe's appearance. At dusk the poor
fellow would emerge, contrite and terrified, and prostrate himself at
the gate of the palace. Then his Majesty (who, having spies posted in
every quarter of the town, knew as well as P'hra-Alack himself what the
illness or the absence signified) leisurely strolled forth, and, finding
the patient on the threshold, flew always into a genuine rage, and
prescribed "decapitation on the spot," and "sixty lashes on the bare
back," both in the same breath. And while the attendants flew right and
left,--one for the blade, another for the thong,--the king, still
raging, seized whatever came most handy, and belabored his bosom-friend
on the head and shoulders. Having thus summarily relieved his mind, he
despatched the royal secretary for his ink-horn and papyrus, and began
inditing letters, orders, appointments, before scymitar or lash (which
were ever tenderly slow on these occasions) had made its appearance.
Perhaps in the very thick of his dictating he would remember the
connubial accomplice, and order his people to "release her, and let her
Slavery in Siam is the lot of men of a much finer intellectual type than
any who have been its victims in modern times in societies farther west.
P'hra-Alack had been his Majesty's slave when they were boys together.
Together they had played, studied, and entered the priesthood. At once
bondman, comrade, classmate, and confidant, he was the very man to fill
the office of private secretary to his royal crony. Virgil made a slave
of his a poet, and Horace was the son of an emancipated slave. The Roman
leech and chirurgeon were often slaves; so, too, the preceptor and the
pedagogue, the reader and the player, the clerk and the amanuensis, the
singer, the dancer, the wrestler, and the buffoon, the architect, the
smith, the weaver, and the shoemaker; even the _armiger_ or squire was a
slave. Educated slaves exercised their talents and pursued their
callings for the emolument of their masters; and thus it is to-day in
Siam. _Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur_, P'hra-Alack!
The king's taste for English composition had, by much exercise,
developed itself into a passion. In the pursuit of it he was
indefatigable, rambling, and petulant. He had "Webster's Unabridged" on
the brain,--an exasperating form of king's evil. The little dingy slips
that emanated freely from the palace press were as indiscriminate as
they were quaint. No topic was too sublime or too ignoble for them. All
was "copy" that came to those cases,-from the glory of the heavenly
bodies to the nuisance of the busybodies who scolded his Majesty through
the columns of the Bangkok Recorder.
I have before me, as I write, a circular from his pen, and in the type
of his private press, which, being without caption or signature, may be
supposed to be addressed "to all whom it may concern." The American
missionaries had vexed his exact scholarship by their peculiar mode of
representing in English letters the name of a native city (_Prippri_, or
in Sanskrit _Bejrepuri_). Whence this droll circular, which begins with
a dogmatic line:--
"None should write the name of city of Prippri thus--P'et cha poory."
Then comes a pedantic demonstration of the derivation of the name from a
compound Sanskrit word, signifying "Diamond City." And the document
concludes with a characteristic explosion of impatience, at once
critical, royal, and anecdotal: "Ah! what the Romanization of American
system that P'etch' abury will be! Will whole human learned world become
the pupil of their corrupted Siamese teachers? It is very far from
correctness. Why they did not look in journal of Royal Asiatic Society,
where several words of Sanskrit and Pali were published continually?
Their Siamese priestly teachers considered all Europeans as very
heathen; to them far from sacred tongue, and were glad to have American
heathens to become their scholars or pupils; they thought they have
taught sacred language to the part of heathen; in fact, they themselves
are very far from sacred language, being sunk deeply in corruption of
sacred and learned language, for tongue of their former Laos and
Cambodian teachers, and very far from knowledge of Hindoostanee,
Cinghalese, and Royal Asiatic Society's knowledge in Sanskrit, as they
are considered by such the Siamese teachers as heathen; called by them
Mit ch'a thi-thi, &c., &c., i.e. wrongly seer or spectator, &c., &c."
In another slip, which is manifestly an outburst of the royal petulance,
his Majesty demands, in a "displayed" paragraph:--
"Why name of Mr. Knox [Thomas George Knox, Esq., British Consul] was not
published thus: Missa Nok or Nawk. If name of Chow Phya Bhudharabhay is
to be thus: P'raya P'oo t'a ra P'ie. And why the London was not
published thus: Lundun or Landan, if Bejrepuri is to be published
In the same slip with the philological protest the following remarkable
"What has been published in No. 25 of Bangkok Recorder thus:--
"'The king of Siam, on reading from some European paper that the Pope
had lately suffered the loss of some precious jewels, in consequence of
a thief having got possession of his Holiness' keys, exclaimed, "What a
man! professing to keep the keys of Heaven, and cannot even keep his own
"The king on perusal thereof denied that it is false. He knows nothing
about his Holiness the Pope's sustaining loss of gems, &c., and has said
nothing about religious faith."
This is curious, in that it exposes the king's unworthy fear of the
French priesthood in Siam. The fact is that he did make the rather smart
remark, in precisely these words: "Ah! what a man! professing to keep
the keys of Heaven, and not able to guard those of his own bureau!" and
he was quite proud of his hit. But when it appeared in the Recorder, he
thought it prudent to bar it with a formal denial. Hence the politic
little item which he sent to all the foreigners in Bangkok, and
especially to the French priests.
His Majesty's mode of dealing with newspaper strictures (not always
just) and suggestions (not always pertinent) aimed at his administration
of public affairs, or the constitution and discipline of his household,
was characteristic. He snubbed them with sententious arrogance, leavened
When the Recorder recommended to the king the expediency of dispersing
his Solomonic harem, and abolishing polygamy in the royal family, his
Majesty retorted with a verbal message to the editor, to the purport
that "when the Recorder shall have dissuaded princes and noblemen from
offering their daughters to the king as concubines, the king will cease
to receive contributions of women in that capacity."
In August, 1865, an angry altercation occurred in the Royal Court of
Equity (sometimes styled the International Court) between a French
priest and Phya Wiset, a Siamese nobleman, of venerable years, but
positive spirit and energy. The priest gave Phya Wiset the lie, and Phya
Wiset gave it back to the priest, whereupon the priest became noisy.
Afterward he reported the affair to his consul at Bangkok, with the
embellishing statement that not only himself, but his religion, had been
grossly insulted. The consul, one Monsieur Aubaret, a peppery and
pugnacious Frenchman, immediately made a demand upon his Majesty for the
removal of Phya Wiset from office.
This despatch was sent late in the evening by the hand of Monsieur
Lamarche, commanding the troops at the royal palace; and that officer
had the consul's order to present it summarily. Lamarche managed to
procure admittance to the penetralia, and presented the note at two
o'clock in the morning, in violation of reason and courtesy as well as
of rules, excusing himself on the ground that the despatch was important
and his orders peremptory. His Majesty then read the despatch, and
remarked that the matter should be disposed of "to-morrow." Lamarche
replied, very presumptuously, that the affair required no investigation,
as _he_ had heard the offensive language of Phya Wiset, and that person
must be deposed without ceremony. Whereupon his Majesty ordered the
offensive foreigner to leave the palace.
Lamarche repaired forthwith to the consul, and reported that the king
had spoken disrespectfully, not only of his Imperial Majesty's consul,
but of the Emperor himself, besides outrageously insulting a French
messenger. Then the fire-eating functionary addressed another despatch
to his Majesty, the purport of which was, that, in expelling Lamarche
from the palace, the King of Siam had been guilty of a political
misdemeanor, and had rudely disturbed the friendly relations existing
between France and Siam; that he should leave Bangkok for Paris, and in
six weeks lay his grievance before the Emperor; but should first proceed
to Saigon, and engage the French admiral there to attend to any
emergency that might arise in Bangkok.
His Majesty, who knew how to confront the uproar of vulgarity and folly
with the repose of wisdom and dignity, sent his own cousin, the Prince
Mom Rachoday, Chief Judge of the Royal Court of Equity, to M. Aubaret,
to disabuse his mind, and impart to him all the truth of the case. But
the "furious Frank" seized the imposing magnate by the hair, drove him
from his door, and flung his betel-box after him,--a reckless impulse of
outrage as monstrous as the most ingenious and deliberate brutality
could have devised. Rudely to seize a Siamese by the hair is an
indignity as grave as to spit in the face of a European; and the betel-
box, beside being a royal present, was an essential part of the insignia
of the prince's judicial office.
On a later occasion this same Aubaret seized the opportunity a royal
procession afforded to provoke the king to an ill-timed discussion of
politics, and to prefer an intemperate complaint against the Kralahome,
or prime minister. This characteristic flourish of ill temper and bad
manners, from the representative of the politest of nations, naturally
excited lively indignation and disgust among all respectable dwellers,
native or foreign, near the court, and a serious disturbance was
imminent. But a single dose of the King's English sufficed to soothe the
spasmodic official, and reduce him to "a sense of his situation."
"TO THE HON. THE MONSIEUR AUBARET, _the Consul for H.I.M._
"SIR:--The verbal insult or bad words without any step more over from
lower or lowest person is considered very slight & inconsiderable.
"The person standing on the surface of the ground or floor Cannot injure
the heavenly bodies or any highly hanging Lamp or glope by ejecting his
spit from his mouth upward it will only injure his own face without
attempting of Heavenly bodies--&c.
"The Siamese are knowing of being lower than heaven do not endeavor to
injure heavenly bodies with their spit from mouth.
"A person who is known to be powerless by every one, as they who have no
arms or legs to move oppose or injure or deaf or blind &c. &c. cannot be
considered and said that they are our enemies even for their madness in
vain--it might be considered as easily agitation or uneasiness.
"Persons under strong desires without any limit or acting under
illimited anger sometimes cannot be believed at once without testimony
or witness if they stated against any one verbally from such the
statements of the most desirous or persons most illimitedly angry
hesitation and mild enquiry is very prudent from persons of considerable
Never were simplicity with shrewdness, and unconscious humor with
pathos, and candor with irony, and political economy with the sense of
an awful bore, more quaintly blended than in the following extraordinary
hint, written and printed by his Majesty, and freely distributed for the
snubbing of visionary or speculative adventurers:
"When the general rumor was and is spread out from Siam, circulated
among the foreigners to Siam, chiefly Europeans, Chinese, &c, in three
"1. That Siam is under quite absolute Monarchy. Whatever her Supreme
Sovereign commanded, allowed, &c all cannot be resisted by any one of
"2. The Treasury of the Sovereign of Siam, was full for money, like a
mountain of gold and silver; Her Sovereign most wealthy.
"3. The present reigning Monarch of Siam is shallow minded and admirer
of almost everything of curiosity, and most admirer of European usages,
customs, sciences, arts and literature &c, without limit. He is fond of
flattering term and ambitious of honor, so that there are now many
opportunities and operations to be embraced for drawing great money from
Royal Treasury of Siam, &c.
"The most many foreigners being under belief of such general rumour,
were endeavoring to draw money from him in various operations, as aiming
him with valuable curiosities and expectations of interest, and
flattering him, to be glad of them, and deceiving him in various ways;
almost on every opportunity of Steamer coming to Siam, various
foreigners partly known to him and acquainted with him, and generally
unknown to him, boldly wrote to him in such the term of various
application and treatment, so that he can conclude that the chief object
of all letters written to him, is generally to draw money from him, even
unreasonable. Several instances and testimonies can be shown for being
example on this subject--the foreigners letters addressed to him, come
by every one steamer of Siam, and of foreign steamers visiting Siam; 10
and 12 at least and 40 at highest number, urging him in various ways; so
he concluded that foreigners must consider him only as a mad king of a
"He now states that he cannot be so mad more, as he knows and observes
the consideration of the foreigners towards him. Also he now became of
old age,[Footnote: He was sixty-two at this time.] and was very sorry to
lose his principal members of his family namely, his two Queens, twice,
and his younger brother the late Second King, and his late second son
and beloved daughter, and moreover now he fear of sickness of his eldest
son, he is now unhappy and must solicit his friends in correspondence
and others who please to write for the foresaid purpose, that they
should know suitable reason in writing to him, and shall not urge him as
they would urge a madman! And the general rumours forementioned are some
exaggerated and some entirely false; they shall not believe such the
rumours, deeply and ascertainedly.
"ROYAL RESIDENCE GRAND PALACE BANGKOK 2nd July 1867."
And now observe with, what gracious ease this most astute and
discriminating prince could fit his tone to the sense of those who,
familiar with his opinions, and reconciled to his temper and his ways,
however peculiar, could reciprocate the catholicity of his sympathies,
and appreciate his enlightened efforts to fling off that tenacious
old-man-of-the-sea custom, and extricate himself from the predicament of
conflicting responsibilities. To these, on the Christian New Year's day