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

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

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

“But, then, how can you like her?”

“Because it is my father’s wish that I should, and I must obey my father.”

“Does your father know the girl well?”

“No, but he knows her father.”

“And what does your mother say?”

“She says nothing.”


“Because she is dead.”

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

“When will you go and live with your wife?”

“When I shall be nineteen or twenty years old.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: THE MARK]


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What is it?” I inquired of His Royal Highness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[Illustration: THE KING]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Illustration: KIM-KA-CHIM]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why; who was there?”

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

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

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

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

“Did you see her?” said he, horrified.

“Yes, I did.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Religion–Buddhism–Bonzes–Their power–Shamanism–Spirits–Spirits of the mountain–Stone heaps–Sacred trees–Seized by the spirits–Safe-guard against them–The wind–Sorcerers and sorceresses–Exorcisms–Monasteries–Temples–Buddha–Monks–Their customs and clothing–Nuns–Their garments–Religious ceremonies–The tooth-stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

[Illustration: A NUNNERY]

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

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

Beliefs are comical when one does not believe in them.

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