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which arose out of a mere nothing, and nearly resulted in a most serious case of wilful infanticide. This is how things stood.

I was sketching one day outside the east gate of Seoul, and, as usual, was surrounded by a large crowd of natives, when a good-natured old man with a kindly face attracted my attention, as he lifted up in his arms a pretty little child, on whose head he had placed his horse-hair transparent hat, and asked me whether I would like to paint the little one so attired in my picture. I was tempted by the offer, and, having taken up a fresh panel, proceeded to dash off a sketch of my new model in his pretty red frock, his tiny padded socks, and his extra large hat, to the great amusement of the audience, who eagerly watched every stroke of my brush, and went into ecstasies as they saw the likeness come out more and more plainly. The Coreans, like the Japanese, are extremely quick at understanding pictures and drawings, and I was much gratified to notice the interest displayed by my _auditorium_, for never before had I seen a crowd so pleased with work of mine. My last experiences in the sketching line had been among the hairy savages of the Hokkaido, among whom art was far from being appreciated or even tolerated, and portrait-painting was somewhat of a risky performance; so that when I found myself lionised, instead of being under a shower of pelting stones and other missiles, it was only natural that I felt encouraged, and really turned out a pretty fair sketch so far as my capabilities went. “Beautiful!” said one; “Very good!” exclaimed another; “Just life-like!” said they all in a chorus as I lifted up the finished picture to show it to them, when–there was a sudden change of scene. A woman with staring eyes, and as pale as death, appeared on the door-step of a house close by, and holding her forehead with her hands, as if a great calamity was to befall her, made a step forward.

“Where is my child?” cried she in a voice of anger and despair.

“Here he is,” answered one of the crowd. “The foreigner is painting a picture of him.”

There was a piercing yell, and the pale woman looked such daggers at me that I nearly dropped the sketch, brushes and palette out of my hands. Oh, it was such a look! Brrr! how I shivered. Then, with another yell, tenfold more piercing than the first, she made a dash into the crowd, and tried to snatch the child away. I have heard people say that I am sensitive, and I believe that I really was on that occasion, for I involuntarily shuddered as I saw at a glance what was coming. The crowd had got so interested in the picture that they would not hear of letting the child go; so the mother, scorned and pushed back, was unsuccessful in her daring attempt. Boldly, however, making a fresh attack, she dashed into the midst of them and managed to grasp the child by the head and one arm; which led to the most unfortunate part of the business, for the angry mother pulled with all her might in her efforts to drag her sweet one away, while the people on the other hand pulled him as hard as they could by the other arm and the legs, so that the poor screaming mite was nearly torn to pieces, and no remonstrances of mine had the least effect on this human yet very inhuman tug-of-war.

Fortunately for the child, whose limbs had undergone a good stretching, the mother let go; but it was certainly not fortunate for the others, for, following the little ways that women have, even in Corea, she proceeded to scratch the faces of all within her reach, and I myself came within an inch of having my eyes scratched out of my head by this infuriated parent, when to my great relief she was dragged away. As she re-entered the door of her domicile, she shook her fist and thrust her tongue out at me, a worthy finish to this tragic-comic scene.

I do not wish you to think, however, that all women are like that in Corea; for, indeed, they are not. In fact, the majority of them may be said to be good-mannered and even soft in nature, besides being painfully laborious. You should see the poor things on the coldest days and nights of winter, smashing the thick ice in the rivers and canals, and spending hour after hour with their fingers in the freezing water, washing the clothes of their lords and masters, who are probably peacefully and soundly asleep at home. You should see them with their short, wooden mallets, like small clubs, beating the dirt out of the wet cotton garments, soap being as yet an unknown luxury in the Corean household. The poorer women, who have no washing accommodation at home, have to repair to the streams, and, as the clothes have to be worn in the day, the work must be done at night. Sometimes, too, three or more join together and form washing parties, this, to a certain extent, relieving the monotony of the kneeling down on the cold stone, pounding the clothes until quite clean, and constantly having to break the ice that is continually reforming round their very wrists. The women who are somewhat better off do this at home, and if you were to take a walk through the streets of Seoul by night you soon get familiar with the quick tick, tick, tick, the time as regularly marked as that of a clock, heard from many houses, especially previous to some festivity or public procession, when everybody likes to turn out in his best. If a woman in our country were sent out to do the washing under similarly trying circumstances–and, mind, a suit of clothes takes no less than a couple of hours to wash properly–I have no doubt that she might be tempted to ask for a divorce from her husband for cruelty and ill-treatment; but the woman of Cho-sen thinks nothing of it, and as long as it pleases the man whom she must obey she does it willingly and without a word of complaint. In fact, I am almost of opinion that the Corean woman likes to be made a martyr, for, not unlike women of other more civilised countries, unless she suffers, she does not consider herself to be quite happy!

It sounds funny and incongruous, but it really is so. While studying the women of Corea, a former idea got deeply rooted in my head, that there is nothing which will make a woman happier than the opportunity of showing with what resignation she is able to bear the weight and drudgery of her duty. If to that she can add complaint of ill-treatment, then her happiness is unbounded. The woman of Cho-sen gets, to my mind, less enjoyment out of life than probably any other woman in Asia. This life includes misery, silence, and even separation from her children–the male ones–after a certain age. What things could make a woman more unhappy? Still, she seems to bear up well under it all, and even to enjoy all this sadness, I suppose one always enjoys what one is accustomed to do, otherwise I do not see how the phenomenon is to be explained.

[Illustration: A SINGER]

A few words must be added about that special class of women, the singers, who, as in Japan, are quite a distinct guild from the other women. A similar description to that of the _geishas_ of Japan might apply to these gay and talented young ladies, who are much sought after by high officials and magistrates to enliven their dinner-parties with chanting and music. They are generally drawn from the very poorest classes, and good looks and a certain amount of wit and musical talent is what must be acquired to be a successful singer. They improvise or sing old national songs, which never fail to please the self-satisfied and well-fed official, and if well paid, they will even condescend to pour wine into their employer’s cups and pass sweets to the guests. If beautiful and accomplished, the “Corean artistes” make a very good living out of their profession, large sums of money being paid for their services. But if at all favoured by Nature, they generally end by becoming the unofficial wives of some rich minister or official. These women chalk their faces and paint their lips; they wear dresses made of the most expensive silks, and, like people generally who have sprung from nothing and find themselves lodged among higher folks than themselves, they give themselves airs, and cultivate a sickening conceit. Among the Coreans, however, they command and receive much admiration, and many an intrigue and scandal has been carried out, sometimes at the cost of many heads, through the mercenary turn of mind of these feminine musicians.

This music is to the average European ear more than diabolical, this being to a large extent due to the differences in the tones, semi-tones, and intervals of the scale, but personally, having got accustomed to their tunes, I rather like its weirdness and originality. When once it is understood it can be appreciated; but I must admit that the first time one hears a Corean concert, an inclination arises to murder the musicians and destroy their instruments. Of the latter they have many kinds, including string and brass, and drums, and cymbals, and other sorts of percussion instruments. The flutes probably are the weirdest of all their wind category, but the tone is pleasant and the airs played on them fascinating, although somewhat monotonous in the end, repetitions being continually effected. Then there is the harp with five strings, if I remember right, and the more complicated sort of lute with twenty-five strings, the _kossiul_; a large guitar, and a smaller one; the _kanyako_ being also in frequent use. Most of these instruments are played by women; the flutes, however, are also played by men.

CHAPTER VI

Corean children–The family–Clans–Spongers–Hospitality–Spinning-tops –Toys–Kite-flying–Games–How babies are sent to sleep.

One great feature of Cho-sen life are the children. One might almost say that in Cho-sen you very seldom see a boy, for boyhood is done away with, and from childhood you spring at once to the sedate existence of a married man. Astonishing as this may sound, it is nevertheless true. The free life of a child comes to an end generally when he is about eight or nine years of age. At ten he is a married man, but only, as we shall see later, nominally. For the present, however, we shall limit ourselves to a consideration of his bachelor days.

[Illustration: COREAN MARRIED MAN, AGE 12]

It must be known that in Corea, just as here, boys are much more cherished than girls, and the elder of the boys is more cherished than his younger brothers, should there be more than one in a family, notwithstanding that the younger are better-looking, cleverer and more studious. When the father dies, the eldest son assumes the reins of the family, and his brothers look to him as they had before done to their father. He it is who inherits the family property and nearly all the money, though it is an understood rule that he is bound either to divide the inheritance share and share alike with the rest of the family, or else keep them as the father had done. Thus it is that Corean families are, for the most part kept together; one might almost say that the kingdom is divided into so many clans, each family with the various relations making, so to speak, one of them. Family ties are much regarded in the Land of the Morning Calm, and great interest is taken by the distant relations in anything concerning the happiness and welfare of the family. What is more, if any member of the clan should find himself in pecuniary troubles, all the relations are expected to help him out of them, and what is even more marvellous still, they willingly do it, without a word of protest. The Corean is hospitable by nature, but with relations, of course, things go much further. The house belonging to one practically belongs to the other, and therefore it is not an uncommon occurrence for a “dear relation” to come to pay a visit of a few years’ duration to some other relation who happens to be better off, without this latter, however vexed he may be at the expense and trouble caused by the prolonged stay of his visitor, even daring to politely expel him from his house; were he to do so, he would commit a breach of the strict rules of hospitality enjoined by Corean etiquette. Even perfect strangers occasionally go to settle in houses of rich people, where for months they are accommodated and fed until it should please them to remove their quarters to the house of some other rich man where better food and better accommodation might be expected. There is nothing that a Corean fears so much as that people should speak ill of him, and especially this is the bugbear under which the nobleman of Cho-sen is constantly labouring, and upon which these black-mailers and “spongers” work. High officials, whose heads rest on their shoulders, “hung by a hair,” like Damocles’ sword, suffer very much at the hands of these marauders. Were they to refuse their hospitality it would bring upon them slander, scandal and libel from envenomed tongues, which things, in consequence of the scandalous intriguing which goes on at the Corean court, might eventually lead to their heads rolling on the ground, separated from the body–certainly not a pleasant sight. In justice to them, nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that these human leeches are occasionally possessed with a conscience, and after kindness has been shown them for many months they will generally depart in search of a new victim. Whence it would appear that the people of Cho-sen carry their hospitality to an extreme degree, and in fact it is so even with foreigners, for when visiting the houses of the poorest people I have always been offered food or drink, which you are invariably asked to share with them.

But let us return to the Corean family. The mother, practically from the beginning, is a nobody in the household, and is looked upon as a piece of furniture or a beast of burden by the husband, according to his grade, and as an ornament to the household, but nothing more by her own sons. Her daughters, if she has any, regard her more as a friend or a companion, sharing the lonely hours and helping her with her work. The women never take part in any of the grand dinners and festivities in which their husbands revel, nor are they allowed to drink wine or intoxicants. They may, however, smoke.

When the children get to a certain age, the males are parted from the females, and the first are constantly in the company of their father, while the latter, as we have seen, share the dull fate of the mother. The first thing a male child is taught is love, deep respect, and obedience to his governor, and in this he is, as a general rule, a paragon. If the father be ill, he will lie by his side day and night, nursing him, and giving him courage; and if any misfortune befalls him, the duty of a good son is to share it with his genitor.

I cannot quite make up my mind on the point, whether the Corean child has a good time of it or not, and whether he is properly cared for, as there is much to be said on both sides of the question. Taken as a whole, the children of the noblemen and rich people, though strictly and even severely brought up, cannot, I think, be said to be ill-used; but the brats of the poorer people are often beaten in a merciless manner. I remember seeing a father furiously spanking a son of about five years old, who was pitifully crying so as to break one’s heart, and as if that were not punishment enough, he shook him violently by his little pig-tail, and pounded him on the head with his knuckles, a performance that would have killed, or, at all events, rendered insensible nine children out of ten of other nationalities; but no, to my utter astonishment, the moment the father, tired of beating, retired into the house, the little mite, wiping his streaming tears with the backs of his hands and pulling himself together, quietly sat down on the ground, and began playing with the sand, as if nothing had happened!

“Well!” I remember saying, as I stood perplexed, looking at the little hero, “if that does not beat all I have seen before, I do not know what can!”

Yes, for hard heads and for insensibility to pain, I cannot recommend to you better persons than the Coreans. There are times when the Cho-sen children actually seem to enjoy themselves, as, for instance, during the month of January, when it is the fashion to have out their whipping- and spinning-tops. With his huge padded trousers and short coat, just like a miniature man, except that the colour of his coat is red or green, and with one or two tresses hanging down his back, tied with long silk ribbons, every child you come across is at this season furnished with a big top and a whip, with which he amuses himself and his friends, slashing away from morn till night, until, tired out by the exertion, he goes to rest his weary little bones by his father’s side, still hanging on to the toys that have made his day so happy. The Corean child is quiet by nature. He is really a little man from the moment he is born, so far as his demeanour is concerned. He is seldom rowdy, even when in the company of other children, and, if anything, rather shy and reserved. He amuses himself with his toys in a quiet way, and his chief pleasure is to do what his father does. In this he is constantly encouraged, and those who can afford it, provide their boys with toys, representing on a smaller scale the objects, &c., used in the everyday life of the man. He has a miniature bow-and-arrow, a wooden sword, and a somewhat realistic straw puppet, which he delights in beheading whenever he is tired of playing with it and shooting his arrows into it. He possesses a fishing-rod, and on windy days relishes a good run with the large paper pinwheels, a world-wide familiar toy in infantile circles. Naturally, too, musical instruments, as well as the national means of conveyance, such as palanquins and wheel-chairs, have not escaped the notice of the Corean toy-manufacturer, who, it must be said, imitates the different objects to perfection in every detail, while, of course, considerably reducing them in size. Other various articles of common use in the household are also often reproduced in a similar way. The games that the children seem to enjoy most, however, seem to be the out-of-door ones. Kite-flying is probably the most important. Indeed, it is almost reduced to an art in Corea, and not only do small children go in for it extensively, but even the men take an active part in this infantile amusement. The Corean kite differs from its Japanese or Chinese relative in that it is very small, being only about twenty inches long by fourteen wide. Besides, instead of being flat on the frame, the Cho-senese kite is arched, which feature is said by the natives to give it a much greater flying capacity.

The string is wound round a framework of wood attached to a stick, which latter revolves in the hands or is stopped at the will of the person who flies the kite. It is generally during the north winds that the kites are flown, and it is indeed a curious thing during those days to watch regular competitions, fights, and battles being fought among these paper air-farers. As soon as the kite is raised from the ground and started in the orthodox way, the tactics used by the Corean boy in his favourite amusement become most interesting. He lets it go until it has well caught the wind, and by sudden jerks given to it in a funny way, knocking and clapping the thread-wheel on his left knee, he manages to send the kite up to a very great height. Hundreds and hundreds of yards of string are often used. When high enough, sailing gaily along among hundreds of other kites, it is made to begin warlike tactics and attack its nearest neighbour. Here it is that the Corean shows his greatest skill in manoeuvring his flying machine, for by pulls, jerks, and twists of the string he manages to make his kite rise or descend, attack its enemy or retreat according to his wish. Then as you break your neck watching them, you see the two small squares of paper, hundreds of yards above you in mid-air, getting closer to one another, advancing and retreating, as would two men fighting a duel; when, suddenly, one takes the offensive, charges the other, and by a clever _coup de main_ makes a rent in it, thus dooming it to a precipitous fall to the earth. Thus victorious, it proudly proceeds to attack its next neighbour, which is immediately made to respond to the challenge; but this time kite number three, whose leader has profited by the end of kite number two, keeps lower down than his adversary, gets round him in a clever way, and when the strings meet, by a hard pull cuts that of kite number one, which, swinging slowly in the air, and now and then revolving round itself in the air, gently descends far away from its owner, and is quickly appropriated by some poor kiteless child, who perhaps has been in company with many fellows, watching and pining for hours for such a happy moment. Pieces of broken glass are often tied to the string at intervals, being of great help in cutting the adversary’s cord.

The people of Cho-sen seem to take as much interest in kite-flying as the Britisher does in racing. The well-grown people bet freely on the combatants, and it is not an uncommon thing for the excitement to reach such a pitch that the battle begun in mid-air terminates with sound blows in less aerial regions.

It is quaint to see rows of children with their little red jackets, standing on the high walls of the city, spending hours in this favourite amusement. They have barely room to stand upon, as the wall is hardly more than a couple of feet wide, and it was always a surprise to me that, amid the constant jerking and pulling the young folks were never precipitated from their point of vantage to the foot, which in many places would be as much as thirty feet in height. I have watched them for hours in the expectation of seeing one of them have an accident, but unfortunately for me they never did!

The little girls under ten years of age are exceedingly pretty. With the hair carefully parted in the middle and tied into two tresses at the back, a little green jacket and a long red skirt, they do indeed look quaint. You should see how well-behaved and sedate, too, they are. It is impossible to make one smile. You may give her sweets, a toy, or anything you please, but all you will hear is the faintest “Kamapso,” and away she runs to show the gift to her mother. She will seldom go into fits of merriment in your presence, but, of course, her delight cannot fail to be at times depicted in her beaming eyes. She is more unfortunate than her brother in the number of toys she receives, and though her treatment is not so very severe, she begins from her earliest years a life of drudgery and work. As soon as her little brain begins to command her tiny fingers, she is compelled to struggle with a needle and thread. When her fragile arms get stronger she helps her mother in beating the clothes, and from the moment she rises to the time she goes to rest, ideas as to her future servility, humility, and faithfulness to man are duly impressed upon her.

As in Japan, so in Corea, a custom prevails of adopting male children by parents who have none of their own. The children adopted are generally those of poorer friends or of relations who chance to have some to spare. When the adoption is accomplished, with all the rules required by the law of the country, and with the approval of the king, the adopted son takes the place of a real son, and has a complete right of succession to his adoptive father in precedence to the adoptive mother and all the other relations of the defunct.

The Corean boy begins to study when very young. If the son of a rich man, he has a private tutor; if not, he goes to school, where he is taught the letters of the Corean alphabet, and Chinese characters. All official correspondence in Corea is done with Chinese characters, and a lifetime, as everybody knows, is hardly enough to master these. The native Corean alphabet, however, is a most practical and easy way of representing sounds, and I am not sure but that in many ways it is even more practical than ours. I will give the reader the opportunity of judging of this for himself by-and-by (_see_ chapter xiii.). Arithmetic is also pounded into the little heads of the Cho-sen mites by means of the sliding-bead addition-board, the “chon-pan,” a wonderful contrivance, also much used in Japan and China, and which is of invaluable help in quick calculation. The children are made to work very hard, and I was always told by the natives that they are generally very diligent and studious. A father was telling me one day that his son was most assiduous, but that he (the father) every now and then administered to him a good flogging.

“But that is unfair,” said I. “Why do you do it?”

“Because I wish my son to be a great man. I am pleased with his work, but I flog him to encourage(?) him to study better still!”

I felt jolly glad that I was never “encouraged” in this kind of way when I was at school.

“I have no doubt that if you flog him enough he will one day be so clever that no one on this earth will be able to appreciate him.”

“You are right,” said the old man, perceiving at once the sarcasm of my remark, “you are right. I shall never beat my son again.”

The children of labourers generally attend night-schools, where they receive a sound education for very little money and sometimes even gratis.

I am sure you will be interested to learn after what fashion children are named in the Land of the Morning Calm, as baptism with holy water is not yet customary. To tell you the truth, however, I am not quite certain how things are managed, and I rather doubt whether even the Coreans themselves know it. The only rule I was able to establish is that there was no rule at all, with the exception that all the males took the family name, to which followed (not preceded, as with us) one other name, and then the title or rank. Nicknames are extremely common, and there is hardly any one who not only has one, but actually goes by it instead of by his real name. Foreigners also are always called after some distinguishing mark either in the features or in the clothing. I went by the name of “disguised Corean,” for I was always mistaken for one, notwithstanding that I dressed in European clothes. I will not say that I was very proud of my new name.

The Corean noblemen, during their many hours of _dolce far niente_, often indulge in games of chess, backgammon and checkers, and teach these games to their sons as part of a gentleman’s accomplishments. Cards, besides being forbidden by order of the king, are considered vulgar and a low amusement only fit for the lowest people. The soldiers indulge much in card-playing and gambling with dice-throwing and other ways.

But to return to the children of Cho-sen: do you know what is the system employed by the yellow-skinned women to send their babies to sleep?

They scrape them gently on the stomach!

The rowdiest baby is sent to sleep in no time by this simple process. I can speak from experience, for I once tried it on a baby–only a few months old–that I wanted to paint. He was restless, and anything but a good sitter. It was impossible to start work until he was quiet, so I decided to experiment on the juvenile model the “scraping process” that I had seen have its effect a day or two previously. At first the baby became ten times more lively than before, and looked at me as if it meant to say, “What the devil are you doing?” Then, as I went on scraping his little stomach for the best part of ten minutes, he became drowsy, was hardly able to keep his eyes open, and finally, thank Heaven, fell asleep!

He was, indeed, he was so much so that I thought he was never going to wake up again.

CHAPTER VII

Corean inns–Seoul–A tour of
observation–Beggars–Lepers–Philosophy–An old palace–A leopard hunt–Weather prophets–The main street–Sedan chairs—The big bell–Crossing of the bridges–Monuments–Animal worship–The Gate of the Dead–A funeral–The Queen-dowager’s telephone.

[Illustration: THE DRILLING GROUND, SEOUL]

During the time that I was in Seoul–and I was there several months–most of my time was spent out of doors, for I mixed as much as possible with the natives, that I might see and study their manners and customs. I was very fortunate in my quarters: for I first stayed at the house of a Russian gentleman, and after that in that of the German Consul, and to these kind friends I felt, and shall always feel, greatly indebted for the hospitality they showed me during the first few weeks that I was in the capital; but, above all, do I owe it to the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs in Corea, Mr. C.R. Greathouse, in whose house I stayed most of the time, that I saw Corea as I did see it, for he went to much trouble to make me comfortable, and did his best to enable me to see every phase of Corean life. For this, I need not say, I cannot be too grateful.

The great difficulty travellers visiting the capital of Corea experience–I am speaking of four years ago–is to find a place to put up at, unless he has invitations to go and stay with friends. There are no hotels, and even no inns of any sort, with the exception of the very lowest _gargottes_ for soldiers and coolies, the haunts of gamblers and robbers. If then you are without shelter for the night, you must simply knock at the door of the first respectable house you see, and on demand you will heartily be provided with a night’s domicile and plentiful rice. This being so, there is little inducement to go to some filthy inn entirely lacking in comforts, and, above all, in personal safety.

The Corean inns–and there are but few even of those–are patronised only by the scum of the worst people of the lowest class, and whenever there is a robbery, a fight, or a murder, you can be certain that it has taken place in one of those dens of vice. I have often spent hours in them myself to study the different types, mostly criminal, of which there are many specimens in these abodes. There it is that plots are made up to assassinate; it is within those walls that sinners of all sorts find refuge, and can keep well out of sight of the searching police.

The attractions of Seoul, as a city, are few. Beyond the poverty of the buildings and the filth of the streets, I do not know of much else of any great interest to the casual globe-trotter, who, it must be said, very seldom thinks it advisable to venture as far as that. No, there is nothing beautiful to be seen in Seoul. If, however, you are on the look-out for quaintness and originality, no town will interest you more. Let us go for a walk round the town, and if your nose happens to be of a sensitive nature, do not forget to take a bottle of the strongest salts with you. We might start on our peregrinations from the West Gate, as we are already familiar with this point. We are on the principal thoroughfare of Seoul, which we can easily perceive by the amount of traffic on it as compared with the other narrower and deserted streets. The mud-houses on each side, as we descend towards the old royal palace, are miserable and dirty, the front rooms being used as shops, where eatables, such as rice, dried fruit, &c, are sold. A small projecting thatched roof has been put up, sustained by posts, at nearly each of these, to protect its goods from sun and snow. Before going two hundred yards we come to a little stone bridge, about five feet wide, and with no parapet, over a sewer, in front of which is an open space like a small square. But look! Do you see that man squatting down there on a mat? Is he not picturesque with his long white flowing robe, his large pointed straw hat and his black face? As he lies there with outstretched hands, dried by the sun and snow, calling out for the mercy of the passers-by, he might almost be mistaken for an Arab. His face is as black as it could be, and he is blind. He is one of the personalities of Seoul, and rain or shine you always see him squatting on his little mat at the same spot in the same attitude.

[Illustration: THE BLIND BEGGAR: SEOUL]

It is only seldom that beggars are to be seen in Cho-sen, for they are not allowed to prowl about except on certain special occasions, and festivities, when the streets are simply crammed with them. It is then that the most ghastly diseases, misfortunes, accidents, and deformities are made use of and displayed before you to extract from your pockets the modest sum of a _cash_. I cannot say that I am easily impressed by such sights, and far less horrified, for in my lifetime it has been my luck to see so many that I have got accustomed to them; but I must confess to being on one occasion really terrified at the sight of a Corean beggar. I was sketching not very far from this stone miniature bridge on which we are supposed to be still standing, when I perceived the most ghastly object coming towards me. It looked like a human being, and it did not; but it was. As he drew nearer, I could not help shivering. He was a walking skeleton, minus toes and fingers. He was almost naked, except that he had a few rags round his loins; and the skin that hardly covered his bones was a mass of sores. His head was so deformed and his eyes so sunken that a Peruvian mummy would have been an Adonis if compared with him. Nose he had none–_et ca passe_–for in Seoul it is a blessing not to have one; and where his mouth should have been there was a huge gap, his lower jaw being altogether missing. A few locks of long hair in patches on his skull, blown by the wind, completed a worthy frame for this most unprepossessing head.

Oh, what a hideous sight! He hopped along a step or two at a time on his bony legs and toeless feet, keeping his balance with a long crutch, which he held under his arm, and he had a sort of wooden cup attached by a string to his neck, into which people might throw their charities. “He is a leper,” a Corean, who stood by my side and had noticed the ever-increasing expression of horror on my face, informed me.

The man, or rather the scarecrow, for he hardly had any more the resemblance to a human being, hearing the noise of the crowd that was round me, moved in my direction. He staggered and dragged himself till he got quite close, then bending his trembling head forward, made the utmost efforts to see, just as a bat does when taken out into the daylight. Poor fellow! he was also very nearly blind. His efforts to speak were painful beyond measure. A hoarse sound like the neighing of a pony was all that came out of his throat, and each time he did this, shrieks of laughter rose from the crowd, while comical jokes and sarcastic remarks were freely passed at the thinness of his legs, the condition of his skin, and the loss of the lower half of his face. Oh! it was shocking and revolting, though it must be said for them that the same people who chaffed him were also the first ones to fill his little pot with cash.

Now, you must not think that I have told you this story to make your hair stand on end, for that is not my intention at all; but simply to prove to you the anomaly that a Corean is not really cruel when he is cruel, or rather when he appears to us to be cruel. This sounds, I believe, rather extraordinary to people who cannot be many-sided when analysing a question, but what I mean is this: It must not be forgotten that different people have different customs and different ways of thinking; therefore, what we put down as dreadful is often thought a great deal of in the Land of the Morning Calm.

“Why not laugh at illnesses, death, and deformity?” I once heard a Corean argue.

“It does not make people any better if you sympathise with them; on the contrary, by so doing you simply add pain to their pain, and make them feel worse than they really are. Besides, illnesses help to make up our life, and it is our duty to go through them as merrily as through those other things which you call pleasures. We people of Cho-sen do not look upon illnesses, accidents, or death as misfortunes, but as natural things that cannot be helped and must be bravely endured; what better, then, can we do than laugh at them?”

“So your argument is,” I dared put in, “that if one may laugh at one’s own misfortunes, there is all the more title to laugh at those of other people?”

“That is so,” retorted the man of Cho-sen, with an air of self-conviction.

I at once agreed with him that I did not find much real harm in laughing at other people’s misfortunes, except that if it did not do anybody any harm, it neither did them any good; but I acknowledge that it took me some minutes before I could make up my mind as to one’s own misfortunes. In the end, however, I had to agree with him even about this point. He proved to me that Coreans are at bottom very good-hearted and unselfish, and always ready to help relations and neighbours, always ready to be kind even at their own discomfort. This good-nature, however, lacks in form from our point of view, though the substance is always the same, and probably more so than with us. They are a much simpler people, and hypocrisy among them has not yet reached our civilised stage. In the case of our poor leper friend, we have seen that the people who laughed at him were the first to help him; whereas, I have no doubt that among us who are good Christians, and nothing else but charitable, the majority would not have laughed; indeed, I am not quite sure but that, on the contrary, many would have run to the nearest church to pray for the man, meantime leaving him “cashless,” if not to die of starvation.

Now let us continue our walk and leave the blind man and leper behind. On our left-hand side there is a huge gateway with a red wooden door–in rather a dilapidated condition–though apparently leading to something very grand. Since we are here we may as well go in. Good gracious! it is a tumble-down place. In olden days it used to be the king’s palace, and if you follow me you can see how big the grounds are. For some reason or other this place, with all its accessories, buildings, &c., has been abandoned by the Court simply because of rumours getting abroad that ghosts haunted it. Evil spirits were reported to have been seen prowling about the grounds, and in the royal apartments, and it would never have done for a king to have been near such company; so the Court went to great expense to build a fresh abode for the royal personage, and the old palace was abandoned and left to decay. The grounds that were laid out as pretty gardens were, many years later, used for a plantation of mulberries, a foreign speculation which was to enrich the King and the country, but which turned out instead a huge _fiasco_. The mulberry trees are still there, as you may see. Let us, however, proceed a little way up this hill and go and pay a visit to the two eunuchs who are the sole inhabitants of this huge place, and who will take us round it. These eunuchs occupy a little room about ten feet square and of the same height in the inner enclosure. They are very polite, and joining their hands by way of salute to you, invite you to go in–to drink tea and smoke a pipe. Poor wretches! One of them, a fat fellow of an unwholesome kind, as if he were made of putty, having learnt the European way of greeting people, insisted on shaking hands with me, but, oh, how repulsive it was! His cold, squashy sort of boneless hand, gave you the impression that you had grasped a toad in your hand. And his face! Did you ever see a weaker, more depraved and inhuman head than that which was screwed on his shoulders? His cadaverous complexion was marked with the results of small-pox, which were certainly no improvement to his looks; his eyes had been set in his head anyhow, and each seemed to move of its own accord; his mouth seemed simply to hang like a rag, showing his teeth and his tongue.

His fellow was somewhat better, for he was of the thin kind of that type, and though possessing the effeminate, weak characteristics of his friend, one could at least see that he was built on a skeleton, like the generality of people! But the features of these eunuchs were as nothing to their voices. The latter were squeaky like those of girls of five; and more especially when the fat man spoke, it almost seemed as if the thread of a voice came from underground, so imperceptible was the sound that he could produce after he had spoken a few minutes. Having profited by the notions of my Corean philosopher of a little while ago, I simply went into screams of merriment at the misfortune of these poor devils, but really it was difficult to help it.

Preceded by these eunuchs, let us now go over the tumble-down ruins of the palace. On the top of the small hill stands the main building of red painted wood and turned up roof _a la Chinoise_, and inside this, in the audience hall, can yet be seen the remains of the wooden throne raised up in the centre, with screens on the sides. There is nothing artistic about it, no richness, and nothing beautiful, and with the exception of the ceiling, that must have been pretty at one time with native patterns and yellow, red and green ornaments, there is absolutely nothing else worth noticing. Outside, the three parallel flights of steps leading up to the audience hall have a curious feature. It is forbidden to any one but the King to go up on the middle steps, and he of course is invariably carried; for which reason, in the middle part of the centre staircase a carved stone table is laid over the steps in such a way that no one can tread on them except quite at the sides where the men who carry the King have to walk.

The houses where the King and royal family used to live with their household have now been nearly all destroyed by the weather and damp, and many of the roofs have fallen in. They were very simple, only one story high, and little better than the habitations of the better classes of people in Cho-sen. Coming out again of the inner enclosure, one finds stables and other houses scattered here and there in the _compound_,[3] and lower down we come to a big drain of masonry. But let me tell you a funny story.

As you know, the Land of the Morning Calm is often troubled at night by prowling leopards and huge tigers which make their peregrinations through the town in search of food. A big leopard was thus seen by the natives one fine day taking a constitutional in the grounds of this haunted palace. Perplexed and even terrified, the unarmed natives ran for their lives, except one who, from a distant point of vantage, watched the animal and saw him enter the drain just mentioned. There happened to be staying in Seoul an Englishman, a Mr. S., who possessed a rifle and who had often astonished the natives by his skill in never missing the bull’s eye; so to him they all went in a deputation, begging him to do away with the four-legged, unwelcome visitor. Mr. S., who wished for nothing better, promised that he would go that same night, and, accompanied by his faithful native servant, went and hid himself in proximity to the hole whence the leopard was likely to spring. It was a lovely moonlight night, and several hours had been passed in perfect silence and vain waiting for the chance of a shot, when a bright idea struck the native servant. Certain that the leopard was no longer there, and wishing to retire to his warm room, he addressed his master in poetic terms somewhat as follows:–

“Sir, I am a brave man, and fear neither man nor beast. I am your servant, and for you am ready to give my life. I have brought with me two long bamboos, and with them I shall go and poke in the drain, rouse the ferocious beast, and as he jumps out you will kill him. If I shall lose my life, which I am ready to do for you, please think of my wife and child.”

“Very good,” said the Englishman, who was getting rather tired of the discomfort and cold, and who, though he did not say so, also shared the opinion that the brute had gone.

Thus encouraged, the servant at once proceeded to tie the two bamboos together, and again reminding his master of the brave act he was going to accomplish, proceeded with firm step to the drain, about thirty yards off. When he reached the opening he seemed to hesitate. He stood and listened. He carefully peeped in and listened again. He heard nothing. Then, bringing all his courage to bear, he lifted his bamboo and began poking in the drain. Two or three times, as he thought, he had touched something soft with the end. He dropped his bamboo as if it had been a hot iron, and ran full-speed back to his master, imploring his protection.

“Has got–has got–kill–master–kill–kill!” and he lay by his side, shivering with fright.

“You are frightened, you coward; there is nothing. Go again.”

After a few minutes the faithful valet, who had then made quite sure that there was no leopard in the drain and that he had shown himself a coward, unwillingly and slowly returned to the charge and picked up his bamboo.

“I am trembling with cold, not with fear,” he had said as he was getting up again. “I shall enter the drain this time and rouse the animal myself!”

So he really did. He went in, holding the bamboo in front of him, and pausing at each step. The farther in he went, the more his self-confidence failed him. The drain was high enough to allow of his standing in it with his back and head bent down; wherefore, if an encounter with the spotted fiend were to take place, the retreat of the man would not be an easy matter.

“Master must think me very brave,” he was soliloquising on his subterranean march, when he received a sudden shock that nearly stopped his heart and froze the blood in his veins. He had actually touched something soft with the end of his bamboo, and not only that, but he fancied he heard a growl.

He quickly turned round to escape, when a violent push knocked him down, and he fell almost senseless and bleeding all over.

“Bang!” went the rifle outside just as the screams of: “Master, aahi, aahi, kill, kill, kill,” were echoing in the drain; and the leopard with a broken hind leg rolled over on the ground groaning fiercely, by-and-by trying to retrace its steps to its domicile. The poor Corean lay perplexed, looking at the scene, all lighted up by the beautiful moonlight; and his heart bounded with joy, when, after the second or third report of the gun, he saw shot dead the animal that had already reached the opening of the drain.

As his master appeared, rifle in hand, and touched the dead beast, his valiant qualities returned to him in full, and he got out of the drain. He was badly scratched all over, I dare say, by the paws of the beast, for it had sprung violently out the moment the bamboo tickled it, though otherwise he was not much the worse for his narrow escape.

Such is the last story connected with that drain. The grounds, as you see, extend towards the west as far as the city wall. As we go out of the gate which we entered, you can see a sort of a portico on the left-hand side as you approach it. Well, under that, as the spring is approaching, there are often to be heard the most diabolical noises for several days in succession. If the season has been a very dry one, you will see several men and numberless children beating on three or four huge drums and calling out at the top of their voices for rain. From sunrise until sunset this goes on, unless some stranded cloud happens to appear on the horizon, when the credit of such a phenomenon is awarded to their diabolical howls, and _cash_ subtracted from landed proprietors as a reward for their having called the attention of the weather-clerk. A spectacled wise-man, a kind of astrologer, on a donkey and followed and preceded by believers in his extraordinary powers of converting fine weather into wet, and _vice versa_, rides through the main streets of the capital, with lanterns and festoons, on the same principle as does our Salvation Army, namely, to collect a crowd to the spot where his mysterious rites are to be performed. Here, supported by his servants, he dismounts from his high saddle, and, still supported under his arms–the idea being that so great a personage cannot walk by himself–he at last reaches the spot, apparently with great fatigue. “To carry all his knowledge,” argue the admiring natives, “must indeed entail great fatigue.”

When rain is to be summoned, our astrologer addresses his first reproaches to the sun, stretching out his hands and using the strongest of invectives, after which, when he has worked himself into a towering rage against the orb of day, an execrable beating on the drums begins, accompanied by the howling of all the people present. The god of rain gets his share of insults, and is severely reprimanded for the casual way in which he carries on his business, and so, partly with good, partly with bad manners, this satanic performance goes on day after day, until, eventually, it does begin to rain.

The portico in this old haunted palace was a favourite spot for these rites, and as the house of the Vice-Minister of Home Affairs, where I stayed as a guest, was close by, I suffered a good deal at the hands of these fanatics, for the noise they made was of so wild a nature as to drive one crazy–if not, also, quite sufficient to bring the whole world down.

We may now continue our peregrination along the main street. There along the wall squat dozens of coolies, with their carrying arrangement, sitting on their heels, and basking in the sun. Further on, one of them is just loading a huge earthenware vase full of the native beverage. The weight must be something enormous. Yet see how quickly and cleverly he manages to get up with it, and walk away from his kneeling position by first raising one leg, then the other, and after that a push up and it is done.

Here, again, coming along, is another curiosity. It is a blue palanquin, carried on the back of two men. They walk along quickly, with bare feet, and trousers turned up over the knees. Instead of wearing a transparent head-gear, like the rest of the people, these chair-bearers have round felt hats. In front walks a _Maggiordomo_, and following the palanquin are a few retainers. Heading the procession are two men, who, with rude manners, push away the people, and shout out at the top of their voices:

“Era, Era, Era; Picassa, Picassa!” (“Out of the way; get out, get away!”) were the polite words with which these roughs elbowed their way among the crowd, and flung people on one side or the other, in order to clear the road for their lord and master. From the hubbub they made, one might have imagined that it was the King himself coming, instead of a mere magistrate.

A few hundred yards further on, one finds on one’s left a magnificent street departing at right angles to the main thoroughfare. It is certainly the widest street in the Corean capital. So wide is it, in fact, that two rows of thatched houses are built in the middle of the road itself, so to speak, forming out of one street three parallel streets. These houses are, however, pulled down and removed altogether once or twice a year, when His Majesty the King takes it into his head to come out of his palace and go in his state chair, preceded by a grand procession, to visit the tombs of his ancestors, some miles out of the town, or to meet the envoys of the Chinese Emperor, a short way out of the west gate of the capital, at a place where a peculiar triumphal arch, half built of masonry and half of lacquered wood, has been erected, close to an artificial cut in the rocky hill, named the “Pekin Pass” in honour of the said Chinese messengers.

I witnessed two or three of these king’s processions, and I shall describe them to you presently. In the meantime, however, let us walk up the royal street.

The two rows of shanties having been pulled down, its tremendous width is very conspicuous, being apparently about ten times that of our Piccadilly. The houses on both sides are the mansions in which the nobles, princes, and generals live, and are built of solid masonry. They are each one story high, with curled-up roofs, and here and there the military ensign may be seen flying. Facing us at the end, a pagoda-like structure, with two roofs, and one half of masonry, the upper part of lacquered wood, is the main entrance to the royal palace. Two sea-lions, roughly carved out of stone, stand on pedestals a short distance in front of the huge closed gate, and there, squatting down, gambling or asleep, are hundreds of chair-carriers and soldiers, while by the road-side are palanquins of all colours, and open chairs, with tiger and leopard skins thrown over them, waiting outside the royal precincts, since they are not allowed inside, for their masters, who spend hours and days in expectation of being invited to an audience by, or a confabulation with, His Majesty. People of different ranks have differently coloured chairs–the highest of the palanquin form being that covered with green cloth and carried by four men. Foreign consuls and legal advisers of the King are allowed the honour of riding in one of these. The privilege of being carried by four men instead of by two is only accorded to officials of high rank. The covered palanquins are so made that the people squat in them cross-legged. A brass receptacle, used for different purposes, is inside, in one corner of the conveyance. Some of them are a little more ornamented than others, and lined with silk or precious skins, but generally they are not so luxurious as the ones in common use in China.

[Illustration: AN OFFICIAL GOING TO COURT IN A MONO-WHEELED CHAIR]

But if you want to see a really strange sight, here at last you have it. It is a high official going to Court in his state mono-wheeled chair. You can see that he is a “somebody” by the curious skull-cap he is wearing, curled up over the top of his head and with wings on each side starting from the back of his head-gear. His flowing silk gown and the curious rectangular jewelled stiff belt, projecting far beyond his body, denote that he is holding a high position at the Corean Court. A coolie marches in front of him, carrying on his back a box containing the court clothes which he will have to don when the royal palace is reached, all carefully packed in the case, covered with white parchment. Numerous young followers also walk behind his unsteady vehicle. There you see him perched up in a kind of arm-chair at a height of about five feet–sitting more or less gracefully on a lovely tiger skin, that has been artistically thrown upon it, leaving the head hanging down at the back. Under the legless chair, as it were, there are two supports, at the lower end of which and between these supports revolves a heavy, nearly round wheel, with four spokes. Occasionally the wheel is made of one block of wood only, and is ornamented at the sides with numerous round-headed iron nails. There may be also two side long poles to rest on the shoulders of the two carriers–one in front and one at the back–a few extra strengtheners on each side, and then you have the complete “_attelage_.” So you see, it may be a great honour to be carried about in a similar chair, though to the eyes of barbarians like ourselves it looks neither comfortable nor safe. India-rubber tyres and, still less, pneumatic ones, have not yet been adopted by the Corean chair-maker, and it appeared to me that a good deal of “holding on” was required, especially when travelling over stony and rough ground, to avoid being thrown right out of one’s high position. The grandees whom I saw carried in them seemed to me, judging by the expression on their faces, to be ever looking forward patiently and hopefully to the time for getting out of these perilous conveyances. Certainly when going round corners or on uneven ground I often saw them at an angle that would make the hair of anybody but a grave and sedate Corean official stand on end. The palace gate reached, he is let down gently, the front part of the chair being gradually lowered, and, with a sigh of relief, steps out of it. Immediately he is supported on each side by his followers, and thus the palace is entered, the mono-wheeled chair being left outside standing against the wall, and the tired carriers squatting down to a quiet gamble with the chair-bearers of other noblemen.

Here let us leave him for the present, since the huge gates are closed again upon our very noses.

The royal palace is enclosed by a high wall, at the corners of which there are turrets with sentries and soldiers. In each of the sections of the wall also there is a gate, the principal one of course being that which we have already described.

We shall now retrace our steps down the royal avenue, but before leaving it we must once again look back upon the royal enclosure. It is not a very grand sight, but it is pretty to see a high hill towering at the back of the royal palace. Undoubtedly the position where the palace is now situated is the best in Seoul, both through being in the very centre of the town and through the prettiness of its situation. The inside of the royal enclosure we shall presently describe.

Continuing our way, then, towards the east gate, we soon come to another big thoroughfare on our right-hand side, at one corner of which is a picturesque ancient pavilion, with a railing round it. This is one of the sights of Seoul, “the big bell.”

It is a huge bronze bell raised from the ground only about a foot. It possesses a fine rich tone when it is hammered upon by the bell-ringer, but a good deal of the sonorousness is lost and the sound made dreary and monotonous by its being so low down. The man rings it by striking heavy blows at it with a big wooden mallet, and its first note in the early morning makes the drowsy gate-keepers of the town begin to make preparations for establishing communication once more between the capital and the outer world; while at sunset, as its last melancholy notes are blown away in dying waves by the wind, the heavy gates are closed, and every man–though not every woman, as we shall see–has to retire to his home until dawn the next morning, if he wishes to escape a severe flogging, or even the risk of losing his head. The laws and rules in this respect have not been very severely enforced of late years; yet one never sees even now a Corean male walking about the streets after dark. Though capital punishment might not be inflicted on the offender, a very sound spanking would very probably be the result of a native being caught _flagrante delicto_ during a nocturnal peregrination. Wherefore, the Corean male is, _a raison_, very careful not to be seen out after dark. On one or two occasions, nevertheless, the male community is allowed a prowl by night, and seem to enjoy it to their heart’s content. The principal of these great events is the night for “crossing the bridges,” a festivity in which men and children are allowed to take part, and in the course of which they spend the whole night in prowling about the streets, and crossing over the bridges and back again. At such a time the streets are alive with story-tellers, magicians and comedians, who delight the nocturnal sight-seers with wonderful fairy-tales, jokes and fantastic plays.

A moonlight night is always chosen for the “crossing of the bridges” outing, a rather sensible precaution when one sees what the bridges are like. There are the stone supports of course, and over these huge flat broad stones on which one treads. The width of the bridges is generally about six feet, but no parapet or railing of any kind is provided for the safety of the wayfarer. Through age and weather, these stones have been considerably worn out, and are here and there disconnected, besides being slippery to an extreme degree; so that even in broad daylight, one has to keep all his wits about him, in this sort of tight-rope performance, not to find himself landed in the river down below, in which, however, there is no water running. Altogether, the days in which the men of Cho-sen enjoy liberty at night are five.

The last day of the year is probably the one when the larger crowds can be seen hurrying along through the streets, for a custom prevails among the Coreans to visit during that night and the following one, all one’s relations and best friends, congratulations and good wishes being freely exchanged and presents of sweets brought and gracefully received. New Year’s night is also a night of independence, but the greater number of the male community are so “well on” with wine-drinking and excitement, that staying at home is generally deemed advisable.

There are two free nights, besides, on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the first moon, and on one of the days at “half-year” in the sixth moon. That is all.

[Illustration: THE MARBLE PAGODA]

At no great distance from the “big bell,” down a tortuous little lane, we come to what is undoubtedly a very ancient work of art. This is a pagoda, made of solid marble, and adorned with beautiful carvings all the way up to the top. To me this pagoda seemed to be of Chinese origin, but, though much speculation has been exercised in Seoul as to how so strange a monument came to be placed in the Corean capital, no reliable data, or facts that might be considered of historical value, have as yet been forthcoming to explain satisfactorily its presence there. Beyond wondering at its antiquity, therefore, and admiring the skilful bas-relief upon it, there is little more for us to do; so, moving out of the courtyard in which this pagoda is situated, we proceed to inspect another monument, equally curious from an archaeological point of view.

It cannot but seem strange that the Coreans should be ignorant regarding the little pagoda above mentioned. I call it “little,” for I do not think it stands more than fifteen or twenty feet from the base to the top. Probably in Seoul itself there is not more than one man out of fifty who knows of its existence, and those who are acquainted with it, beyond telling you emphatically that it is not a Corean work, can give you no information about it. It is not improbable that, in the course of some friendly or unfriendly intercourse between the Chinese and the Coreans, this pagoda was brought or sent over from China.

The other curiosity is a huge stone tortoise carrying a tablet on its back.

As I have already mentioned, the Coreans in many ways resemble, and have appropriated or carried with them to their place of settlement some ideas which are common to the Manchus, the Mongols, and the Northern and Southern Chinese. Among these may be instanced the great respect for, if not worship of, fetishes and rudely made images of animals, both imaginary and real, which are supposed to be embodied there with all their good and evil qualities. The Coreans have an especial veneration for the tiger, the emblem of supernatural strength, courage and dignity. Now when veneration comes into play, the extraordinary, as a rule, soon takes the place of the ordinary, especially in the Eastern mind, which is rather addicted to letting itself be run away with by its imagination. So the tiger, as though it were not sufficiently gifted already with evil qualities of a more mundane order, is often depicted by native geniuses, as having also the power of flying, producing lightning, and spitting fire; and not only that, but as able to walk on flames without feeling the slightest inconvenience, and manipulate blazing fire as one would a fan in everyday use. On flags, pictures, and embroideries the tiger is often represented by native artists.

Next to the tiger, the animal most cherished by the Coreans is the tortoise. To it are applied all the good qualities that the tiger wants; for example, thoughtfulness, a retiring nature, humility, gentleness, steadiness, and patience; these being all symbolised by this shelled amphibious animal, which, in the minds of many Eastern Asiatics, was the basis upon which, in later times, were built the rudiments of mathematics and wisdom. In Corea, the principal quality attributed to the tortoise is long life; wherefore, it has been handed down from early times to the present day as the emblem of longevity.

This, then, explains the signification of the tortoise in front of which we are now standing. Those tortoises that are made to carry tablets on their backs are, as a general rule, erected in honour and remembrance of some benevolent prince or magnanimous magistrate–the tablets being placed over these favourite creatures to signify that it was by relying upon all the good qualities attributed to the tortoise that the person whose praises are celebrated on them, attained to the virtues which are deemed so worthy an example to the world.

There are many species of semi-sacred tortoises in Corea, to all appearance the product of imaginary intermarriages between the slow amphibious animal in question and the fire-spitting dragon, silver-tailed phoenix, and other animals; and these mixed breeds of idols, so to speak, are occasionally to be seen in the houses of rich people and princes near the entrance gate. In the Royal Palace, too, some may be seen, among the more important being the old Seal of State, which consists of a tortoise cleverly carved out of marble with the impression of the Royal Seal engraved on the under side.

A curious thing which strikes visitors to Corea who notice it is that, although the tortoise runs a close race with the tiger in the respect of the natives, nevertheless, the larger and fiercer animal is much more frequently represented than its smaller and gentler competitor. For instance, one invariably sees on the roofs of the city gates, fixed on the corners, five small representations of the tiger, all reclining in a row one after the other. On many of the larger buildings also the same thing can be observed; while, on the other hand, it is only rarely that the tortoise is seen in such a situation. When representations of the latter are thus attached, they are generally placed at the four lower corners of the buildings, as if by way of support.

It is curious, again, to note–and, indeed, it almost seems as if the Cho-sen people are in all their ideas opposed to us–that in Corea the snake is greatly revered; and, should it enter a household, it receives a hearty welcome, for this reptile is supposed to bring with it everlasting happiness and peace, a very different conception to that which we generally form of it, for, if I mistake not, in our minds it is generally associated with sneakishness, treachery and perfidy.

With regard to the snake, it is noteworthy that the Coreans have allowed their fancies to run riot in pretty much the same direction as imaginative people in our own country have done, and have not only added wings to their serpents to send them air-faring, but have also invented a near relation to these in the shape of a travelling sea-serpent, which is not, however, of such large dimensions as those with which we are familiar. From this it is only a short step to the well-known half-human, half-fish being and the sea-lion or tiger; stone representations of which are to be seen at the entrance of the Royal Palace. The principal peculiarity of the sea-tiger is its ugliness. It is represented as having a huge mouth, wide open, showing two rows of pointed teeth, and a mane and tail curled up into hundreds of conventional little curlets. If the statues of these sea-tigers are divided in three sections perpendicular to the base, the head will occupy the whole of one of these sections, which, in other words, means that the body is made only twice the size of the head.

The _lin_ is also frequently found figuring in Corean mythology, but this fanciful creature is undoubtedly an importation from the well-known _ki-lin_ of China, being half ox, half deer, and having but a single horn in the centre of the head. It is the symbol of good nature and well-being Another borrowed individual of this class is the dragon, a monster which is a great favourite and much cherished all over the East, though principally by the Emperor of Heaven and his subjects. This popularity of the dragon in the kingdom of the Morning Calm is due, I suppose, in a large measure to the frequent Chinese invasions and constant intercourse of the Chinese with Corea. And yet, upon a less appropriate country, to my belief, he could hardly have been stranded, for, although he possesses all the good virtues of the other mythical creatures of which I have made mention taken together, he certainly is never presented as gifted with that delightful faculty which goes by the name of tranquillity. Restless in the extreme, this genius of the East is said to penetrate through mountains into the ground, skip on the clouds, produce thunder and lightning, and go through fire and water. It can, moreover, make itself visible or invisible at pleasure, and, in fact, can to all intents and purposes do what it pleases, except–remain quiet.

Of dragons there are many kinds, but the most respectable of them all is, as in China, the yellow one, which is as represented on the Chinese flags. Next to the yellow one in popularity comes the green one. In shape, as the natives picture it, the dragon is not unlike a huge lizard, with long-nailed claws, and a flat long head like the elongated head of a neighing horse, possessed, however, of horns, and a long mane of fire, or lightning. The tail is like that of a serpent, with five additional pointed ends. It is, too, rather interesting to note that the king, princes, and highest magistrates, when the country is not in mourning, wear upon their breasts pieces of square embroidery ornamented in the centre with representations of the dragon, having the jewel on its head which is supposed to be a certain cure for all evils. The officials of lesser degree wear, instead of this emblem, the effigy of a flying phoenix, the symbol of pride, friendship, and kind ruling power.

The phoenix is also occasionally to be seen standing on a tortoise’s back, the combination being emblematic of the combined virtues of these two mythical creatures.

Returning to the main street, we can walk a long way without finding anything interesting in the way of architecture, or of a monumental character until we reach the East Gate, which is probably the largest gate of all. One of the peculiarities of this gate is that on the outside it has a semi-circular wall protection, and in this wall a second gate which renders it, therefore, doubly strong in time of war. The outer wall is very thick, and a wide space is provided which can be manned with soldiers, when the town happens to be besieged. If my memory serves me rightly, yet another gate in Seoul is provided with a similar contraffort, but of this I am not quite certain, for the part of my diary in which the wall of Seoul is described has been, I regret to say, unfortunately mislaid. Near the gate above mentioned, is a large open space, on the centre of which stands a somewhat dilapidated pavilion _pour facon de parler_, and, on inquiry, I was told that this place was the drilling-ground of the king’s troops, the pavilion being for the use of the king and high officials, when on very grand occasions they went to review the soldiery. Of late years, I believe, a new drilling-ground has been selected by the foreign military instructors, which explains why the pavilion has been allowed to rot and tumble down. (See Illustration p. 90.)

As already remarked, all the gates of Seoul, as well as those of every other city in Corea, are closed at sunset; but, like all rules, this one, too, has its exception. Thus, there is a small gate, called the “Gate of the Dead,” which is opened till a late hour at night. Its name explains its object fairly well, but for the benefit of those who are unaccustomed to Corean customs I may as well put the matter a little clearer. Funerals, in Corea, nearly always take place at night, and the bodies are invariably carried out of the town to be buried. In lifetime it is permitted to enter or leave the town through any gate you please, but this freedom of choice is not accorded to the dead, when their final exit is to be made, for this is only by way of the smaller gate just mentioned.

A funeral is in all countries, to me, a curious sight, but in Seoul, a performance of this description is probably more curious than elsewhere, and that, because, to a European eye, it appears to be anything but a funeral. The procession is headed by two individuals, each of whom carries an enormous yellow umbrella, on the stick of which, about half way up, there is a very large tri-coloured ball. After these, under a sort of baldachin held up by four long poles, is the coffin, carried by two, four, or more men, according to the social position of the deceased; and by the side of this and following close after it are numberless people each carrying a paper lantern stuck on a pole, who scuttle along, singing, after a fashion, and muttering prayers and praises on behalf of their deceased countryman. Frequently, if the latter is supposed to have been possessed by evil spirits, and to have been carried off by them, a man is hired, if no relation is willing to do it, to ring a hand-bell for several consecutive days, near the house which the late unfortunate had occupied, the shrill sound being supposed to have the power of showing the unwelcome guests, that their presence has been noticed, and that they had better retire and leave the house to its rightful owners. I need hardly remark that a few hours of this noise is quite enough to turn the best of good spirits into an evil one.

But to return to our funeral procession; this, when the “Gate of the Dead” is reached, becomes broken up; the friends who were following the hearse putting out their lights and ceasing from their singing and praying. Only two or three of the nearest relations continue to follow the coffin, still carried by the paid bearers, and when a suitable spot is reached these proceed to bury the remains. A hilly ground is usually preferred by the Coreans for the last resting place of the bones of their dear ones. The coffin having been buried, a small mound of earth is heaped up over it.

The spot for inhumation is generally chosen on the advice of magicians who are supposed to know the sites which are likely to be most favourable to the deceased. Sometimes the body is exhumed at great expense, still on the advice of the same magicians, who, being in direct communication with both earthly and unearthly spirits, get to know that the spot which had been originally selected was not a favourable one. Under such circumstances, a speedy removal is necessary, which, of course entails both worry and money-spending and special fees for the reporting of the ill-faring of the buried.

The relations and friends of a deceased person constantly visit the tomb, and many a good son has been known to spend months watching his father’s grave, lest his services might be required by the parent underground.

The hills round the towns are simply covered with these little mounds of earth, and the greatest respect is shown by the natives for all places of sepulture. In course of time, many disappear by being washed away by the rain, but never by any chance are they interfered with by the people. The Coreans are extremely superstitious, and they are much afraid of the dead. Metempsychosis is not an uncommon trait of their minds, especially among the better classes; thus, for instance, the soul of the dead man is sometimes supposed to enter the body of a bird, in which case the relatives carefully build a semi-circular stone railing round the mound, so that the winged successor of the deceased may have whereon to perch.

The grave of one of the richer people is especially noteworthy. First, there is the mound in the centre as usual, but nearly twice the size of that which covers a poorer person. Then there is a stone railing a little way off; and between that and the mound stand in double rows, at the sides, rough images of human beings and horses carved in stone. The general rule is, in the case of a rich man, to have two men and two ponies on either side and a small column at the end; while in the case of a man not so much distinguished only a single horse and man respectively are placed on either side. The short column with a slab at the top is nearly always a feature. The stone images so placed are, as a rule, so badly carved that, unless one is told what they are meant to represent, it is really difficult to decide the point. The horses, especially, might easily be mistaken for sheep, dogs, or any other animal, the small stature of the native ponies being imitated in these images, to an exaggerated degree. As for the stone human-shaped images, these are usually made dressed in a long sort of gown and with the arms folded in front and the head covered by a curled up skull-cap, of the kind worn by Corean officials even at the present day, and formerly worn by all the high officials in China, whence probably the fashion has been imported.

A curious feature which I often noticed about the graves of people who had not been over well-off, and whose friends could not afford a large number of statues or figures of men and animals, was this:–If only one or two monuments were put up by the side of the mound, these invariably consisted of representations either of two horses or else of a horse and a ram, that is, if I am right in fixing the latter’s identity by the curled horns on the side of its head. If, on the other hand, the monuments were more than two in number, the others were, just as invariably, representations of human figures, the number of these being the same as that of beasts in the other case.

A ceremony is to be found in the Land of the Morning Calm which corresponds pretty closely to “_Tutti i morti_” of Italy; I mean, the merry picnicking of distressed parents and relatives when they go and pray on the tombs of their dead. In Corea the occasion is usually celebrated on the first day of the first moon, or, in other words, on New Year’s Day. The family goes soon after sunrise, _en masse_, to the burial-place, where prayers are offered, and long sticks of incense burnt filling the air with the perfume so familiar to all who know the East. Food and drink are also generally brought and consumed by the mourners on such expeditions, with the result that the day which begins with praying generally ends with playing. Similar rejoicings are again indulged in during the third moon, when the tombs are usually cleaned and repaired, and the stone figures and horses washed and scrubbed, amidst the hilarious screams of the children and the less active picnickers.

The tombs of the kings do not differ very much from those of the richest noblemen, except that they have a kind of temple near them. At one time it was believed that the coffins in which the royal bodies were buried, consisted of solid gold. People who are well informed, however, maintain that there is no foundation for this statement about the royal graves, and that, on the contrary, they are almost as simple as those of the richer noblemen.

A strange tale was told me, which I shall repeat, as I know it to be true. It is to this effect: A few months previous to my visit to Seoul, a foreigner had visited the king soliciting orders for installations of telephones. The king, being much astounded, and pleased at the wonderful invention, immediately, at great expense, set about connecting by telephone the tomb of the queen dowager with the royal palace–a distance of several miles! Needless to say, though many hours a day were spent by His Majesty and his suite in listening at their end of the telephone, and a watchman kept all night in case the queen dowager should wake up from her eternal sleep, not a message, or a sound, or murmur even, was heard, which result caused the telephone to be condemned as a fraud by His Majesty the King of Cho-sen.

I should mention that a very good specimen of a Corean tomb is to be seen a few _lis_ outside the East Gate, on the hillside, and that another, somewhat smaller, exists a short distance beyond the Pekin Pass outside the West Gate. It may also be noted that trees are frequently planted, and tablets erected, in proximity to Corean graves.

FOOTNOTES:

[3] Word used in the East for a conglomeration of houses enclosed by a wall.

CHAPTER VIII

Seoul–The City Wall–A large image–Mount Nanzam–The fire-signals–women’s joss-house–Foreign buildings–Japanese settlement–An anecdote–Clean or not clean?–The Pekin Pass–The water-carrier–The man of the Gates.

[Illustration: MOUNT NANZAM]

The ground in and around Seoul is very hilly. The wall that surrounds the capital uncoils itself, like a gigantic snake, up and down the slopes of high bluffs, and seems a very marvellous work of patient masonry when it is borne in mind that some of the peaks up which it winds its way are so steep that even climbing on foot is not an easy task. The height is not uniform, but where it is highest it reaches to over thirty feet. The North Gate, for instance, is at a much higher level than the town down below, and it is necessary to go up a steep road to reach it. From it, a very good idea is obtainable of the exact situation of Seoul. Down in the valley, a narrow one, lies the town itself, completely surrounded by hills, and even mountains, covered with thick snow during the winter months.

The wall, several miles long, goes over the hill ridges far above the level of the town, except towards the west, where it descends to the valley, and is on almost level ground, as far as the East Gate. It has a rampart in which holes have been pierced, for the defence of the town by archers and gunners; and, to let out the water of the streams, which intersect the town, low arches have been cut in the wall, provided with strong iron bars, and a solid grating through which no man can penetrate. Outside the town, bridges of masonry have been constructed; for instance, there is one of four arches, a short distance from the North Gate, being the continuation of a portion of the wall protecting the river valley on the north of Seoul. Not far from this bridge, is a monastery, and a small temple with curled-up roof supported by columns, painted red and green. The latter protects an enormous block of stone upon which has been carved a large image of Buddha, the surface of which has been painted white. When I saw it, close by the river side, with the sun shining on it, and its image reflected in the limpid ice of the frozen river, the sight was indeed quite a picturesque one.

Towards the south side of Seoul, and within the city wall, rises in a cone-like fashion a high hill called Mount Nanzam. One cannot help feeling interested about this hill, and for many reasons. In the first place, it is most picturesque; secondly, it is a rare thing to find a mountain rising in the centre of a town, as this one does; thirdly, from the summit of this particular hill a constant watch is kept on the state of affairs all over the kingdom.

The mode of accomplishing the last-mentioned object is as ingenious as it is simple. It is shortly this. On the summit of Mount Nanzam a signal station is placed–a miserable shed, in which the watchmen live. In front of this, five piles of stones have been erected, upon which, by means of the “Pon-wa,” or fire-signals, messages are conveyed and transmitted from one end of the Corean kingdom to the other. Now, it is on these five piles of stones that the safety of the Land of the Morning Calm depends, and it is a pretty and weird sight to watch the lights upon them, playing after dark, in the stillness of the night. Similarly appointed stations on the tops of all the highest peaks in Corea issue, transmit, and answer, by means of other lights, messages from the most distant provinces, by which means, in a very few minutes, the King in his royal palace is kept informed of what happens hundreds of miles from his capital. It is from the royal palace itself that fire-messages start in the first instance, and that too is the place which lastly receives them from other mountain tops. All along the coast line of Corea, on the principal headlands, fire-stations have long been in use in order to give the alarm in the capital, should marauders approach the coast or other invasions take place.

Until quite lately, the coast villages and towns used to suffer much at the hands of Chinese pirates, who, though well aware that they would, if caught, most certainly find themselves in the awkward position of having their heads cut off, nevertheless used to approach the coast by night in swift junks, make daring raids, and pillage the villages, and even some of the smaller towns. So suddenly were these incursions usually made that by the time the natives had managed to get over their astonishment at the attack of these unpleasant and greedy visitors, the acute Chinamen, with their booty, were well out at sea again.

[Illustration: THE FIRE-SIGNAL STATION AND JOSS-HOUSE]

The great drawback to fire-signalling is, that messages can only be clearly conveyed at night. In the day-time, when necessary, smoke-signals are transmitted, though never with the same safety as are the fire-signals. By burning large torches of wet straw, masses of white smoke are produced, upon which the alarm is raised that the country is in danger. The code of smoke signalling, however, is almost limited to that one signal; for, on a windy or rainy day, it would be quite impossible to distinguish whether there were one or more torches smoking, unless, of course, they could be set very far apart, which cannot be done on Nanzam. Prior to sending a message, a bell is rung in the royal palace to attract the attention of the Mountain Watchmen. The whole code, for they have a really systematic way of using their pyrographs, is worked with five burning fires only, and more than that number of lights are never shown, though, of course, many times there are less. The five-lights-together signal, I believe, indicates that the country is in imminent danger; there are other signals to meet the cases of rebellions, recalling of magistrates from distant provinces, orders to them to extort money from their subjects, the despatch or recall of troops, &c. &c.

A few yards from the signal station, though still on Mount Nanzam, there is a picturesque red joss-house with a shrine in close proximity to it. The story goes–and the women of Cho-sen find it convenient to believe it–that a visit to this particular joss-house has the wonderful effect of making sterile women prolific. A few strings of _cash_ and a night’s rest at the temple–preceded, if I remember rightly, by prayers–constitute sufficient service to satisfy the family duties, and I was certainly told that in many cases the oracle worked so well that in due time the _chin-chins_ got rewarded with the birth of babies. I may mention incidentally that the caretaker of the joss-house was a strong, healthy, powerful man.

As we are now on a splendid point of vantage for a bird’s-eye view of the town we may as well take a glance over it.

Very prominent before us, after the large enclosure of the royal Palace, are the foreign buildings, such as the Japanese Legation on a smaller hill at the foot of Nanzam, and overlooking the large Japanese settlement; the abode of the Chinese Minister resident, with its numerous buildings around it; the British Consulate with its new red brick house in course of construction; and, by the side of the last mentioned, the _compounds_ of the American and Russian legations. Farther on, nearer the royal Palace, the German flag may be seen surmounting the German Consulate, which is situated in an enclosure containing several Corean houses which have been reduced _a l’ Europeenne_ and made very comfortable. Then the large house with a glass front is the one now inhabited by the Vice-Minister for Home Affairs, but the grounds surrounding this are very restricted. A nunnery and a few houses of missionaries also stand prominent, mostly in the neighbourhood of the Japanese settlement.

The Japanese settlement, into which we will now descend, is noteworthy for the activity and commercial enterprise shown by the subjects of the Mikado. It is remarkable, also, to notice the curious co-existence of sense and nonsense in the Jap’s adoption of foreign customs. For instance, you see the generality of them dressed in European clothes, but nevertheless still sticking to the ancient custom of removing their boots on entering a house; a delightful practice, I agree, in Japan, where the climate is mild, but not in a country like Corea, where you have an average of sixty degrees of frost. Then again, the Japanese houses, the outer walls of which consist of tissue paper, seem hardly suited to such a climate as that of Corea. It is really comical to watch them as they squat in a body round a brass brasier, shivering and blue with cold, with thin flat faces and curved backs; reminding one very much of the large family of quadrumans at the Zoo on a cold day. Nevertheless, they are perfectly happy, though many die of pleurisy, consumption, and cold in the chest.

The Japanese women dress, of course, in their national _kimonos_, and just as it is in Japan the fashion to show a little of the chest under the throat, so in Cho-sen the same custom is adopted; with the result that many are carried off by bronchitis to the next world.

One cannot but admire the Japanese, however, for the cleanliness of their houses and for the good-will–sometimes too much of it–which they display as well in their commercial dealings as in their colonising schemes. The custom of daily bathing in water of a boiling-point temperature is carried on by them in Corea as in their own country, notwithstanding which I venture to say that the Japanese are very dirty people. This remark seems non-coherent and requires, I am afraid, some explanation.

“How can they be dirty if they bathe every day? I call that being very clean,” I fancy I hear you reply.

So they would undoubtedly be, if they bathed in clean water; but, unfortunately, this is just what they do not do, and, to my uncivilised mind, bathing in filthy water seems ten times more dirty than not bathing at all. Just imagine a small tank of water in which dozens, if not hundreds, of people have been already boiled before you in your turn use it, and upon which float large “eyes” of greasy matter. Well, this is what every good Japanese is expected to immerse himself in, right up to his nose, for at least half an hour at a time! I cannot but admire them for their courage in doing it, but, certainly, from the point of view of cleanliness my view is quite different; for, really and truly, I have always failed to see where the “cleanliness” comes in. Persons belonging to the wealthier classes have small baths of their own, in the steaming hot liquid of which bask in turns the family itself, their friends, the children and servants; and probably the same water is used again and again for two or three days in succession.

I remember well how horrified I was one evening, in the Land of the Rising Sun, when, on visiting a small village, I was, as a matter of politeness on their part, requested to join in the bath. Being a novice at Japanese experiences, and as their request was so pressing, I thanked them and accepted; whereupon, I was buoyantly led to the bath. Oh what a sight! Three skinny old women, “disgraces,” I may almost call them, for certainly they could not be classified under the designation of “graces,” were sitting in a row with steaming water up to their necks, undergoing the process of being boiled. What! thought I, panic-stricken–am I to bathe with these three … old lizards? Oh no, not I! and I made a rush for the door, greatly to the annoyance of the people, who not only considered me very dirty, but also very rude in not availing myself of their polite invitation! The next morning as I took my cold bath as usual in beautifully clean spring water, I was condemned and pitied as a lunatic! Such are the different customs of different people.

[Illustration: THE PEKIN PASS]

When visiting Seoul, it is well worth one’s while to take a walk to the Pekin Pass, a _li_ or two outside the West Gate. The pass itself, which is cut into the rock, is situated on the road leading from Seoul to Pekin; which, by the way, is the road by which the envoys of the Chinese Emperor, following an ancient custom, travel overland with a view to claiming the tribute payable by the King of Corea. As a matter of fact, this custom of paying tribute had almost fallen into disuse, and China had not, for some years, I believe, enforced her right of suzerainty over the Corean peninsula, until the year 1890, when the envoys of the Celestial Emperor once again proceeded on their wearisome and long journey from Pekin to the capital of Cho-sen. It was here at the Pekin Pass, then, that, according to custom, they were received with great honour by the Coreans, and led into Seoul. It was at a large house, surrounded by a wall, on the road side, that these envoys were usually received and welcomed, either by the king in person or by some representative; and it was here that they were treated with refreshments and food, previously to being conducted in state into the capital, this being accomplished amidst the cheers of a Corean crowd, which, like other crowds, is always ready to cheer the last comer. At the Pekin Pass, a “triumphal arch”–for want of a better word–could be seen. It was a lofty structure, composed of two high columns, the lower part of these being of masonry, and the upper of lacquered wood, which supported a heavy roof of the orthodox Corean pattern, under which, about one-fourth down the columns, was a portion decorated with native fretwork of a somewhat rough type. The illustration represents this monument as it appeared in winter time, when the ground was covered with snow, beyond it being the square cut in the rocks, through which the road leads to Newchuang and Pekin.

There are two types of individuals that are very interesting from a picturesque point of view; viz., the water-coolie, and the man who carries the huge locks and keys of the city gates.

The water-coolie is almost as much of a “personality,” as the _mapu_, in his rude independent ways. He displays much patience, and certainly deserves admiration for the amount of work he daily does, for very little pay. His work consists in carrying water, from morning until night, to whoever wants it. This is a simple enough process in summer time, but in winter matters are rather different, for now nearly all the fountains are frozen, and the water has to be drawn from a well. The water-coolie carries a peculiar arrangement on his shoulders, a long pole fastened cross-wise upon his shoulder-blades, by straps going under and round the arms; by which means he is enabled to carry two buckets of water at a time. The arrangement, though more complicated, is not dissimilar to that used for the same purpose, by women in Holland, or to that for carrying milk in many parts of Switzerland. In winter time the buckets of water become buckets of ice the moment they are drawn from the well, and then it is really pitiable to see these poor beggars with the skin of their hands all cracked and bleeding with the cold. They run along at a good pace when loaded, and show great judgment in avoiding collision, sighing as they go a loud _hess! hess! hess! hess!_ to which they keep time with their steps. They are considered about the lowest creatures in the kingdom, and enjoy some of the privileges of children and unmarried men as regards clothing; for instance, they generally wear a light blue jacket even when the country is in mourning. When on duty they never wear hats, and often no head-bands, having, instead, blue kerchiefs wrapt round the head. The inevitable long pipe is not forgotten, and is carried, after the fashion of the _mapu_, stuck down the back.

[Illustration: A WATER-COOLIE]

The lock-carrier, again, is by no means the dirtiest individual in the land of Cho-sen, at least as far as it was my good fortune to see. Nevertheless, his clothes are invariably in a state of dilapidation, and, though intended to be white, are usually black with grease and dirt. As he is employed by the Government he wears the deepest mourning; his face, and one half of his body being actually hidden under the huge hat provided for deep mourners. He seldom possesses a pair of padded socks and sandals, and in the coldest days walks about bare-footed with his trousers turned up to the knees. He is visible only at sunrise and sunset, when he goes on his round to all the city gates in order to inspect the locks and bring or take away the keys. Slung down his back, he carries a large leather bag, something like a tennis bag, which contains numberless iron implements of different shapes and weights. He appears to be friendless and despised by everybody, and I have never seen him talk to any one. I rather pitied the poor fellow as I saw him go night after night, with his long unwashed face and hands, along the rampart of the wall from one gate to another. _Apropos_ of this I once made a Corean very angry by remarking that “really the safety of the city could not be in dirtier hands.”

CHAPTER IX

The Corean house–Doors and windows–Blinds–Rooms–The “Kan”–Roasting alive–Furniture–Treasures–The kitchen–Dinner-set–Food–Intoxicants –Gluttony–Capacity for food–Sleep–Modes of illumination–Autographs –Streets–Drainage–Smell.

Let us now see what a Corean household is like. But, first, as to the matter of house architecture. Here there is little difference to be observed between the house of the noble and that of the peasant, except that the former is generally cleaner-looking. The houses in Corea may be divided into two classes–those with thatched roofs of barley-straw, and those with roofs of tiles, stone and plaster. The latter are the best, and are inhabited by the well-to-do classes. The outside walls are of mud and stone, and the roof, when of tiles, is supported by a huge beam that runs from one end of the house to the other. The corners of the roof are usually curled up after the Chinese fashion. A stone slab runs along the whole length of the roof, and is turned up at the two ends, over the upper angle of the roof itself. The tiles are cemented at the two sides of this slab, and likewise at the lower borders of the roof. The windows, again, are rectangular and are placed directly under the roof, being in consequence well protected from the rain.

Corean houses are never more than one storey high. The houses of officials and rich people are enclosed by a wall of masonry, the gate of which is surmounted by a small pagoda-like roof. In the case of the houses of great swells, like generals and princes, it is customary to have two and even three gates, which have to be passed through in succession before the door of the house is reached. The outer wall surrounding the _compound_ is seldom more than six or eight feet high, and, curiously enough, all along the top of the wall runs a narrow roof, the width of two tiles. This, besides being a sort of ornament, is of practical use in protecting it from the damp.

One cannot call the Coreans great gardeners, for they seem to take comparatively little interest in the native _flora_. The richer people do, as a rule, have small gardens, which are nicely laid out with one or two specimens of the flowers they esteem and care to cultivate; but really ornamental gardens are few in number in the Land of Cho-sen. Kitchen gardens naturally are frequently found, even near the houses of the poorer people.

One peculiarity, which characterises the majority of Corean houses of the better sort is that they are entered by the windows; these being provided with sliding latticed frames covered with tissue paper, and running on grooves to the sides, like the _Shojis_ of Japan. The tissue paper is often dipped in oil previous to being used on the sliding doors and windows, as it is then supposed to keep out the cold better than when left in its natural state. As the doors and windows of Cho-sen, however, very seldom have the quality of fitting tight, a Corean house is therefore quite a _rendezvous_ for draughts and currents of air.

In summer time the windows and doors are kept open, or even removed altogether during the day-time, and then, in order to preserve that privacy of which every Corean is so proud, recourse is had to a capital dodge. At the end of the projecting roof, and immediately in front of the window or entrance, at the distance of a couple of feet, is hung a shade in the shape of a fine mat, made of numberless long strings of split bamboo, tied together in a parallel position by several silk strings which vary in number with the size of the mat. The use of these curtain-like barriers has several advantages. They protect the house from those troublesome visitors the flies; they let in the air, though not the sun, and, while the people who are in the house can plainly see through them what goes on in the street, no one on the outside can distinguish either those inside, or what is doing in the house. Good mats are very expensive, and difficult to obtain; therefore, it is only the better classes that can use them. Poorer folk are satisfied with very rough mats of rushes. It is also the custom for good citizens of the provinces to send the king at the New Year presents of a certain number of these mats, which, like the Indian shawls of Her Britannic Majesty, are given out again by him to the royal princes and highest officials. I was fortunate enough to be presented with two of these blinds by a high official, who was closely related to the king. They are a marvel of patient and careful work, as accurately and delicately done as if some machine had been employed. They are nearly six feet high, by five wide, and are yellow in colour with black, red, and green stripes painted at the top and bottom. In the centre is a very pretty, simple frieze, on the inside of which are some Corean characters.

If a Corean house does not look very inviting when you look at it from the outside, still less does it when you are indoors. The smallness of the rooms and their lack of furniture, pictures, or ornaments are features not very pleasant to the eye. The rooms are like tiny boxes, between eight and ten feet long, less than this in width and about seven feet high. They are white all over with the exception of the floor, which is covered with thick, yellowish oil-paper. The poorest kind of Corean house consists of only a single room; the abode of the moderately well-off man, on the other hand, may have two or three, generally three rooms; though, of course, the houses of very high offices are found with a still larger number.

The Corean process of heating the houses is somewhat original. It is a process used in a great part of Eastern Asia–and, to my mind, it is the only thoroughly barbaric custom which the Corean natives have retained. The flooring of the rooms consists of slabs of stone, under which is a large oven of the same extent as the room overhead, which oven, during the winter, is filled with a burning wood-fire, which is kept up day and night. What happens is generally this: The coolie whose duty it is to look after this oven, to avoid trouble fills it with wood and dried leaves up to the very neck, and sets these on fire and then goes to sleep; by which means the stone slabs get heated to such an extent that, sometimes, notwithstanding the thick oil paper which covers them, one cannot stand on them with bare feet.

The Corean custom is to sleep on the ground in the padded clothes, using a wooden block as a pillow. The better classes, however, use also small, thin mattresses, covered with silk, which they spread out at night, and keep rolled up during the day-time. As the people sleep on the ground, it often happens that the floor gets so hot as to almost roast them, but the easy-going inhabitant of Cho-sen, does not seem to object to this roasting process–on the contrary, he seems almost to revel in it, and when well broiled on one side, he will turn over to the other, so as to level matters. While admiring the Coreans much for this proceeding, I found it extremely inconvenient to imitate them. I recollect well the first experience which I had of the use of a “Kan,” which is the native name of the oven. On that occasion it was “made so hot” for me, that I began to think I had made a mistake, and that I had entered a crematory oven instead of a sleeping-room. Putting my fist through one of the paper windows to get a little air only made matters ten times worse, for half my body continued to undergo the roasting process, while the other half was getting unpleasantly frozen. To this day, it has always been a marvel to me, and an unexplainable fact that, those who use the “Kan” do not “wake up–dead” in the morning!

The furniture of a Corean house, as I have hinted above, is neither over plentiful nor too luxurious. In fact, at the first glance, one is almost inclined to say that there is, so to speak, no furniture at all there. Possibly, a tiger or a leopard-skin may be found spread on the ground in the reception room; there may even be a rough minuscule chest of drawers in a corner, and a small, low writing-table near it, upon which probably rests a little jar with a flower or two in it; but rarely will you find much more. The bedrooms usually contain chests, in which the clothing is kept, but there is also a custom by which these are hung on pegs in a recess in the wall. The chests are covered with white parchment studded all over with brass nails, and further adorned with a brass lock and two handles of the same metal. When voyaging, the Coreans use these as trunks. Besides the rooms I have mentioned, the richer Corean has a special room, generally kept locked up, in which the treasures of the family are jealously safeguarded. The latter are in the shape of ancient native pictures, rolled up like the _Kakemonos_ of Japan, painted screens and vases of the Satsuma ware, the art of making which was taught to the Japanese by the Coreans, although now those who were formerly masters in the art cannot produce it. Some Coreans also possess valuable specimens of lacquer work, both of Chinese and Japanese origin, as well as a rougher kind of native production. None of these heirlooms are, however, ever brought to light, and it is only on rare and very grand occasions, such as marriages, deaths, or national rejoicings, that one or two articles are brought into the reception-room for the day, to be again carefully packed up and stored away at night. The idea, which prevails in Japan, is also current here, namely, that it is bad form to make a great show of what one possesses, and that the wealthier a man is, the less should he disclose the fact and the simpler should he live, that he may not so excite the envy of his fellow countrymen. Self-denial and self-inflicted discomforts are virtues much appreciated in the Land of Cho-sen, and when a nobleman sets a good example in this respect it is invariably thought highly of, and emulated by others. Indeed, the conversation of the whole town is often concentrated on some small act of benevolence done by such and such a prince, nobleman or magistrate.

But the kitchen must not be forgotten. Its most striking contents are the large earthenware vases, similar in shape and size to the _orcis_ of Italy, in which the top-knotted native keeps his wine, water, barley and rice. Then there are numberless shining brass cups, saucers, and bowls of various sizes. The latter forms the Corean dinner-service. Every piece of this is made of brass. The largest bowls are used, one for soup, and the other for rice; the next in size, for wine and water respectively; while the smaller ones are for bits of vegetables and sauces–which latter are used by the natives in profusion. Curiously enough, in the Land of the Morning Calm they manufacture a sauce which is, so far as I could judge, identical in taste and colour with our well-known Worcester sauce.

The Coreans eat their food with chopsticks, but contrary to the habits of their neighbours, the Chinese and the Japanese, spoons also are used. The chopsticks are of very cheap wood, and fresh ones are used at nearly every meal. The diet also is much more varied than in either of the neighbouring countries, and game, venison, raw fish, beef, pork, fowls, eggs, and sea-weed are much appreciated. As for fruits, the Coreans get simply mad over them, the most favourite being the persimmons, of which they eat large quantities both fresh and dried. Apples, pears and plums are also plentifully used.

The Cho-sen people have three meals a day. The first is partaken of early in the morning, and is only a light one; then comes lunch in the middle of the day, a good square meal; and finally the Tai-sek, a great meal, in the evening, at which Corean voracity is exhibited to the best advantage. The climate being so much colder than that of Japan, it is only natural that the Cho-senese should use more animal food and fat than do the landsman of the Mikado. Pork and beef, barely roasted and copiously condimented with pepper and vinegar, are devoured in large quantities. The Coreans also have a dish much resembling the Italian maccaroni or vermicelli. Of this large bowls may be seen at all the eating-shops in Seoul, and it is as a food apparently more cherished by members of the lower than by those of the upper classes. Previous to being eaten, it is dipped in a very flavoury sauce, and, although they are not quite so graceful in the art of eating as are the Neapolitan _Lazzaroni_, still with the help of a spoon and as many fingers as are available, the Corean natives seem to manage to swallow large quantities of this in a very short time.

Among the lower classes in Corea tea is almost unknown as a beverage. In its stead they delight in drinking the whitish stuff produced by the rice when it has been boiled in water, or as an alternative, infusions of ginsang. They also brew at home two or three different kinds of liquor of different strengths and tastes, by fermenting barley, rice and millet. The beer of fermented rice is not at all disagreeable, and their light wine also is, so far as wines go, even palatable. However, I may as well state once for all that I am no judge of these matters, and, as my time is chiefly employed in the art of oil-painting, and not in that of drinking, I hope to be excused if I think myself better up in “oils” than in wines!!

Presuming that my reader has survived this pun, I will now go on to state that it is a common thing in Corea to begin a dinner with sweets, and that another curious custom is for all present to drink out of the same bowl of wine passed round and of course re-filled when empty. The dinner is served on tiny tables rising only a few inches above the ground, and similar to those of Japan. Fish, as is the case with most Easterners, are eaten raw; first, however, being dipped in the liquid which resembles Worcestershire sauce. To cook a fish is simply looked upon as a shameful way of, spoiling it, unless it has gone bad, when, of course, cooking becomes necessary. Fish are, however, most prized by the Coreans when just taken out of the water.

Hard-boiled eggs form another favourite dish in the land of Cho-sen, and turnips, potatoes, and a large radish similar to the _daikon_ of Japan, are also partaken of at Corean dinners. The poorer classes seem to relish highly a dreadful-looking salad, of a small fish much resembling whitebait, highly flavoured with quantities of pepper, black sauce and vinegar, with bits of pork-meat frequently thrown in. The whole thing has an unpleasant brownish colour, and the smell of it reminded me much of a photographer’s dark room when collodion is in use, except that the smell of the fish-salad is considerably stronger.

The Coreans excel and even surpass themselves in cooking rice. This is almost an art with them, and the laurels for high achievements in it belong to the women, for it is to them that work of this kind is entrusted. Sometimes the Cho-senese make a kind of pastry, but they have nothing at all resembling our bread. Rice takes the place of the last mentioned, and though, so far as I could see, the fair ladies of Cho-sen were somewhat casual in the exercise of the culinary art, they really took enormous trouble to boil the rice properly. It is first well washed in a large pail, and properly cleaned; then it undergoes a process of slow boiling in plenty of water in such a way that, while quite soft and delicious to the taste, each grain retains its shape and remains separate, instead of making the kind of paste produced by our method of boiling it. The whitish water left behind after the rice has been removed is, as we have seen, used as a cooling beverage. In some respects the Corean diet approaches the Chinese and the Indian, rather than the Japanese; for many a time have I seen men in Corea eat their rice mixed with meat and fish, well covered with strong sauce, in the shape of a _curry_; whereas in Japan the boiled rice is always in a bowl apart and eaten separately.

The Corean mind seems to lay great stress upon the quantity of food that the digestive organs will bear. Nothing gives more satisfaction to a Corean than to be able to pat his tightly-stretched stomach, and, with a deep sigh of relief, say: “Oh, how much I have eaten!” Life, according to them, would not be worth living if it were not for eating. Brought up under a regime of this kind, it is not astonishing that their capacity for food is really amazing. I have seen a Corean devour a luncheon of a size that would satisfy three average Europeans, and yet after that, when I was anxiously expecting to see him burst, fall upon a large dish of dried persimmons, the heaviest and most indigestible things in existence. “They look very good,” said he, as he quickly swallowed one, and with his supple fingers undid the beautiful bow of his girdle and loosened it, thus apparently providing for more space inside. “I shall eat one or two,” he murmured, as he was in the act of swallowing the second; and, in less than no time the whole of the fruit had passed from the dish into his digestive organs, and he was intently gathering up, with the tips of his licked fingers, the few grains of sugar left at the bottom of the dish.

“I was unwell and had no appetite to-day,” he then innocently remarked, as he lifted up his head.

“Oh, I hope you will come again when you are quite well,” said I, “but you must promise not to eat the table, because it does not belong to me.”

A good deal of the native voracity is due, however, not to this insatiable appetite and gluttony alone, but also to Corean etiquette, according to which it shows a want of respect to the host and is a mark of great rudeness not to eat all that is placed before one. If all is not eaten they argue that you do not like it and consider it to be badly cooked or inferior to what you have at home. The notion of a normal capacity is strange to them, and never even enters their mind. They are trained from childhood to eat huge quantities of food, and to take heartily all that they can get. I have seen children with thin little bellies so extended after a meal, in the course of which they had been stuffed with rice and barley, that they could hardly walk or even breathe. I recollect on one occasion remarking to a mother, who was beamingly showing me her child in a similar condition: “Are you not afraid that his skin will give way?” “Oh no! Look!” Upon which she stuffed down his little throat three or four more spoonfuls of rice. I have been thankful ever since that I was not born a Corean child.

When the Coreans eat in their own houses, the men of the family take their meals first, being waited on by their wives and servants; after which the females have their repast in a separate room. The women seldom drink intoxicants, and have to be satisfied with water and rice-wash.

It is the duty of the wife to look after the welfare of her husband, and when she has fed him, and he has drowsily laid himself down on the ground, or on his little mattress, as the case may be, she retires, and after having had her food either goes to see her friends or to wash her master’s clothes, or else goes to sleep.

The people of Cho-sen are fond of keeping late hours; and yet I believe there are no people in the world who are more fond of sleep. So far as my observations go, the richer people spend their lives entirely in eating and sleeping. Whenever I went to call on a Corean gentleman, I invariably found him either gorging or in the arms of Morpheus. Naturally a life of this sort makes the upper classes soft, and somewhat effeminate. They are much given to sensual pleasures, and many a man of Cho-sen is reduced to a perfect wreck when he ought to be in his prime. The habit of drinking more than is proper is really a national institution, and what with over feeding, drunkenness, and other vices it is not astounding that the upper ten do not show to great advantage. The Coreans are most irregular in their habits, for, slumbering as they do at all hours of the day, they often feel sleepless at night, and are compelled in consequence to sit up. On these occasions songs are roused, and dominoes (san-pi-yen), chess (chan-kin), or occasionally card games are started until another _siesta_ is felt to be required. Cards, however, are seldom played by the upper classes; for they are considered a low amusement, only fit for coolies and soldiers. On grand occasions it is not unusual for the _bon-vivant_ of Cho-sen to sit up all night, with his friends, feasting to such an extent that he and his guests are ill for months afterwards.

The Corean nobleman, as may well be imagined, suffers from chronic indigestion, and whenever one happens to inquire after his health the answer invariably is: “I have eaten something that has disagreed with me, I have a pain here.” And the hand is placed on the chest, in a mournful but expressive enough attitude.

The modes of illumination adopted in the Corean household are few and simple. The most common illuminant consists of grease candles, supported on high candlesticks, of wood or brass, but sometimes oil cup-lamps are found, like those we use for night-lights. The latter, however, do not give out much light, and so candles, which are marvellously cheap, are preferred, although unfortunately they melt quickly, and smoke and smell in a dreadful fashion.

Besides the various articles of domestic furniture which I have mentioned, I don’t think I saw any others worth noticing, except perhaps the “autograph” of some great man, to which the Coreans attach much importance. The paper, on which the “character” is written, is stretched on a wooden frame and hung in a prominent place, generally over the entrance, and whenever a new visitor enters the house, the first thing shown him is the “autograph,” and it is his duty then to compliment his host on his good fortune of possessing it.

We have now examined all the various striking features characteristic of the Corean household. Let us, then, now go outside again. The streets of the town could not be more tortuous and irregular. With the exception of the main thoroughfares, most of the streets are hardly wide enough to let four people walk abreast. The drainage is carried away in uncovered channels alongside the house, in the street itself; and, the windows being directly over these drains, the good people of Cho-sen, when inside their homes, cannot breathe without inhaling the fumes exhaled from the fetid matter stagnant underneath. When rain falls, matters get somewhat better; for then the running water cleans these canals to a considerable extent. During the winter months, also, things are passable enough, for then everything is frozen; but, in the beginning of spring, when frozen nature undergoes the process of thawing, then it is that one wishes to be deprived of his nose. At the entrance of each house a stone slab is thrown across to the doorway so as to cover the ditch. Only the foundations of the town houses are made of solid stone, well cemented, but in the case of country dwellings these are extended upwards so as to make up one-half of the whole height, the upper part being of mud, stuck on to a rough matting of bamboos and split canes.

CHAPTER X

A Corean marriage–How marriages are arranged–The wedding ceremony–The document–In the nuptial-chamber–Wife’s conduct–Concubines–Widows –Seduction–Adultery–Purchasing a husband–Love–Intrigue–Official “squeezing”–The cause.

Among the several misfortunes, or fortunes, if you prefer the word, with which a Corean man has to put up is an early marriage. He is hardly born, when his father begins to look out for a wife for him, and scarcely has he time to know that he is living in the world at all than he finds