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  • 1870
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disabled at sea, are repaired more thoroughly and cheaply than in any other port in the East. There are, likewise, several dry-docks, and, in fact, an establishment completely equipped and intelligently managed. A short distance below the dock-yards is the American Mission, comprising the dwellings of the missionaries and a modest school-house and chapel, the latter having a fair attendance of consuls and their children. Above the dock-yards is the Roman Catholic establishment, a quiet little settlement clustered about a small cross-crowned sanctuary.

Yet one more bend of the tortuous river, and the strange panorama of the floating city unrolls like a great painted canvas before us,–piers and rafts of open shops, with curious wares and fabrics exposed at the very water’s edge; and beyond and above these the magnificent “watts” and pagodas with which the capital abounds.

These pagodas, and the _p’hra-cha-dees_, or minarets, that crown some of the temples, are in many cases true wonders of cunning workmanship and profuse adornment–displaying mosaics of fine porcelain, inlaid with ivory, gold, and silver, while the lofty doors and windows are overlaid with sculptures of grotesque figures from the Buddhist and Brahminical mythologies. Near the Grand Palace are three tall pillars of elegant design, everywhere inlaid with variegated stones, and so richly gilt that they are the wonder and the pride of all the country round. These monuments mark the places of deposit of a few charred bones that once were three demigods of Siam,–the kings P’hra Rama Thibodi, P’hra Narai, and P’hra Phya Tak, who did doughty deeds of valor and prowess in earlier periods of Siamese history.

The Grand Royal Palace, the semi-castellated residence of the Supreme King of Siam, with its roofs and spires pointed with what seem to be the horns of animals, towers pre-eminent over all the city. It is a great citadel, surrounded by a triplet of walls, fortified with many bastions. Each of the separate buildings it comprises is cruciform; and even the palace lately erected in the style of Windsor Castle forms with the old palace the arms of a cross, as the latter does with the Phrasat,–and so on down to an odd little conceit in architecture, in the Chinese style throughout.

In front of the old palace is an ample enclosure, paved, and surrounded with beautiful trees and rare plants. A gateway, guarded by a pair of colossal lions and two gigantic and frightful nondescripts, half demon, half human, leads to the old palace, now almost abandoned. Beyond this, and within the third or innermost wall, is the true heart of the citadel, the quarters of the women of the harem. This is in itself a sort of miniature city, with streets, shops, bazaars, and gardens, all occupied and tended by women only. Outside are the observatory and watch-tower.

Some of the grandest and most beautiful temples and pagodas of Siam are in this part of the city. On one side of the palace are the temples and monasteries dedicated to the huge Sleeping Idol, and on the other the mass of buildings that constitute the palace and harem of the Second King. From these two palaces broad streets extend for several miles, occupied on either side by the principal shops and bazaars of Bangkok.

Leaving the Grand Palace, a short walk to the right brings us to the monuments, already mentioned, of the three warrior kings. From noble pedestals of fine black granite, adorned at top and bottom with cornices and rings of ivory, carved in mythological forms of animals, birds, and flowers, rise conical pillars about fifty feet high.

The columns themselves are in mosaic, with diverse material inlaid upon the solid masonry so carefully that the cement can hardly be detected. No two patterns are the same, striking effects of form and color have been studied, and the result is beautiful beyond description. Close beside these a third pillar was lately in process of erection, to the memory of the good King P’hra-Phen-den Klang, father of his late Majesty, Somdetch P’hra-Paramendr Maha Mongkut.

On the outer skirt of the walled town stands the temple Watt Brahmanee Waid, dedicated to the divinity to whom the control of the universe has been ascribed from the most ancient times. His temple is the only shrine of a Brahminical deity that the followers of Buddha have not dared to abolish. Intelligent Buddhists hold that he exists in the latent forces of nature, that his only attribute is benevolence, though he is capable of a just indignation, and that within the scope of his mental vision are myriads of worlds yet to come. But he is said to have no form, no voice, no odor, no color, no active creative power,–a subtile, fundamental principle of nature, pervading all things, influencing all things. This belief in Brahma is so closely interwoven with all that is best in the morals and customs of the people, that it would seem as though Buddha himself had been careful to leave unchallenged this one idea in the mythology of the Hindoos. The temple includes a royal monastery, which only the sons of kings can enter.

Opposite the Brahmanee Watt, at the distance of about a mile, are the extensive grounds and buildings of Watt Sah Kate, the great national burning-place of the dead. Within these mysterious precincts the Buddhist rite of cremation is performed, with circumstances more or less horrible, according to the condition or the superstition of the deceased. A broad canal surrounds the temple and yards, and here, night and day, priests watch and pray for the regeneration of mankind. Not alone the dead, but the living likewise, are given to be burned in secret here; and into this canal, at dead of night, are flung the rash wretches who have madly dared to oppose with speech or act the powers that rule in Siam. None but the initiated will approach, these grounds after sunset, so universal and profound is the horror the place inspires,–a place the most frightful and offensive known to mortal eyes; for here the vows of dead men, howsoever ghoulish and monstrous, are consummated. The walls are hung with human skeletons and the ground is strewed with human skulls. Here also are scraped together the horrid fragments of those who have bequeathed their carcasses to the hungry dogs and vultures, that hover, and prowl, and swoop, and pounce, and snarl, and scream, and tear. The half-picked bones are gathered and burned by the outcast keepers of the temple (not priests), who receive from the nearest relative of the infatuated testator a small fee for that final service; and so a Buddhist vow is fulfilled, and a Buddhist “deed of merit” accomplished.

Bangkok, the modern seat of government of Siam, has (according to the best authorities) two hundred thousand floating dwellings and shops,–to each house an average of five souls,–making the population of the city about one million; of which number more than eighty thousand are Chinese, twenty thousand Birmese, fifteen thousand Arabs and Indians, and the remainder Siamese. These figures are from the latest census, which, however, must not be accepted as perfectly accurate.

The situation of the city is unique and picturesque. When Ayudia was “extinguished,” and the capital established at Bangkok, the houses were at first built on the banks of the river. But so frequent were the invasions of cholera, that one of the kings happily commanded the people to build on the river itself, that they might have greater cleanliness and better ventilation. The result quickly proved the wisdom of the measure. The privilege of building on the banks is now confined to members of the royal family, the nobility, and residents of acknowledged influence, political or commercial.

At night the city is hung with thousands of covered lights, that illuminate the wide river from shore to shore. Lamps and lanterns of all imaginable shapes, colors, and sizes combine to form a fairy spectacle of enchanting brilliancy and beauty. The floating tenements and shops, the masts of vessels, the tall, fantastic pagodas and minarets, and, crowning all, the walls and towers of the Grand Palace, flash with countless charming tricks of light, and compose a scene of more than magic novelty and beauty. So oriental fancy and profusion deal with things of use, and make a wonder of a commonplace.

A double, and in some parts a triple, row of floating houses extends for miles along the banks of the river. These are wooden structures, tastefully designed and painted, raised on substantial rafts of bamboo linked together with chains, which, in turn, are made fast to great piles planted in the bed of the stream. The Meinam itself forms the main avenue, and the floating shops on either side constitute the great bazaar of the city, where all imaginable and unimaginable articles from India, China, Malacca, Birmah, Paris, Liverpool, and New York are displayed in stalls.

Naturally, boats and canoes are indispensable appendages to such houses; the nobility possess a fleet of them, and to every little water-cottage a canoe is tethered, for errands and visits. At all hours of the day and night processions of boats pass to and from the palace, and everywhere bustling traders and agents ply their dingy little craft, and proclaim their several callings in a Babel of cries.

Daily, at sunrise, a flotilla of canoes, filled with shaven men in yellow garments, visits every house along the banks. These are the priests gathering their various provender, the free gift of every inhabitant of the city. Twenty thousand of them are supported by the alms of the city of Bangkok alone.

At noon, all the clamor of the city is suddenly stilled, and perfect silence reigns. Men, women, and children are hushed in their afternoon nap. From the stifling heat of a tropical midday the still cattle seek shelter and repose under shady boughs, and even the prows cease their obstreperous clanging. The only sound that breaks the drowsy stillness of the hour is the rippling of the glaring river as it ebbs or flows under the steaming banks.

About three in the afternoon the sea-breeze sets in, bringing refreshment to the fevered, thirsty land, and reviving animal and vegetable life with its compassionate breath. Then once more the floating city awakes and stirs, and an animation rivalling that of the morning is prolonged far into the night,–the busy, gay, delightful night of Bangkok.

The streets are few compared with the number of canals that intersect the city in all directions. The most remarkable of the former is one that runs parallel with the Grand Palace, and terminates in what is now known as “Sanon Mai,” or the New Road, which extends from Bangkok to Paknam, about forty miles, and crosses the canals on movable iron bridges. Almost every other house along this road is a shop, and at the close of the wet season Bangkok has no rival in the abundance of vegetables and fruits with which its markets are stocked.

I could wish for a special dispensation to pass without mention the public prisons of Bangkok, for their condition and the treatment of the unhappy wretches confined in them are the foulest blots on the character of the government. Some of these grated abominations are hung like bird-cages over the water; and those on land, with their gangs of living corpses chained together like wild beasts, are too horrible to be pictured here. How European officials, representatives of Christian ideas of humanity and decency, can continue to countenance the apathy or wilful brutality of the prime minister, who, as the executive officer of the government in this department, is mainly responsible for the cruelties and outrages I may not even name, I cannot conceive.

The American Protestant missionaries have as yet made no remarkable impression on the religious mind of the Siamese. Devoted, persevering, and patient laborers, the field they have so faithfully tilled has rewarded them with but scanty fruits. Nor will the fact, thankless though it be, appear surprising to those whose privilege it has been to observe the Buddhist and the Roman Catholic side by side in the East, and to note how, even on the score of doctrine, they meet without a jar at many points. The average Siamese citizen, entering a Roman Catholic chapel in Bangkok, finds nothing there to shock his prejudices. He is introduced to certain forms and ceremonies, almost the counterpart of which he piously reveres in his own temple,–genuflections, prostrations, decorated shrines, lighted candles, smoking incense, holy water; while the prayers he hears are at least not less intelligible to him than those he hears mumbled in Pali by his own priests. He beholds familiar images too, and pictures of a Saviour in whom he charitably recognizes the stranger’s Buddha. And if he happen to be a philosophic inquirer, how surprised and pleased is he to learn that the priests of this faith (like his own) are vowed to chastity, poverty, and obedience, and, like his own, devoted to the doing of good works, penance, and alms. There are many thousands of native converts to Catholicism in Siam; even the priests of Buddhism do not always turn a deaf ear to the persuasions of teachers bound with them in the bonds of celibacy, penance, and deeds of merit. And those teachers are quick to meet them half-way, happily recommending themselves by the alacrity with which they adopt, and make their own, usages which they may with propriety practise in common, whereby the Buddhist is flattered while the Christian is not offended. Such, for example, is the monastic custom of the uncovered head. As it is deemed sacrilege to touch the head of royalty, so the head of the priest may not without dishonor pass under anything less hallowed than the canopy of heaven; and in this Buddhist and Roman Catholic accord.

The residences of the British, French, American, and Portuguese Consuls are pleasantly situated in a bend of the river, where a flight of wooden steps in good repair leads directly to the houses of the officials and European merchants of that quarter. Most influential among the latter is the managing firm of the Borneo Company, whose factories and warehouses for rice, sugar, and cotton are extensive and prosperous.

The more opulent of the native merchants are grossly addicted to gambling and opium-smoking. Though the legal penalties prescribed for all who indulge in these destructive vices are severe, they do not avail to deter even respectable officers of the government from staking heavy sums on the turn of a card; and long before the game is ended the opium-pipe is introduced. One of the king’s secretaries, who was a confirmed opium-smoker, assured me he would rather die at once than be excluded from the region of raptures his pipe opened to him.


It is commonly supposed that the Buddhists of Siam and Birmah regard the Chang Phoouk, or white elephant, as a deity, and worship it accordingly. The notion is erroneous, especially as it relates to Siam. The Buddhists do not recognize God in any material form whatever, and are shocked at the idea of adoring an elephant. Even Buddha, to whom they undoubtedly offer pious homage, they do not style “God” but on the contrary maintain that, though an emanation from a “sublimated ethereal being,” he is by no means a deity. According to their philosophy of metempsychosis, however, each successive Buddha, in passing through a series of transmigrations, must necessarily have occupied in turn the forms of white animals of a certain class,–particularly the swan, the stork, the white sparrow, the dove, the monkey, and the elephant. But there is much obscurity and diversity in the views of their ancient writers on this subject. Only one thing is certain, that the forms of these nobler and purer creatures are reserved for the souls of the good and great, who find in them a kind of redemption from the baser animal life. Thus almost all white animals are held in reverence by the Siamese, because they were once superior human beings, and the white elephant, in particular, is supposed to be animated by the spirit of some king or hero. Having once been a great man, he is thought to be familiar with the dangers that surround the great, and to know what is best and safest for those whose condition in all respects was once his own. He is hence supposed to avert national calamity, and bring prosperity and peace to a people.

[Illustration: A WAR ELEPHANT ]

From the earliest times the kings of Siam and Birmah have anxiously sought for the white elephant, and having had the rare fortune to procure one, have loaded it with gifts and dignities, as though it were a conscious favorite of the throne. When the governor of a province of Siam is notified of the appearance of a white elephant within his bailiwick, he immediately commands that prayers and offerings shall be made in all the temples, while he sends out a formidable expedition of hunters and slaves to take the precious beast, and bring it in in triumph. As soon as he is informed of its capture, a special messenger is despatched to inform the king of its sex, probable age, size, complexion, deportment, looks, and ways; and in the presence of his Majesty this bearer of glorious tidings undergoes the painfully pleasant operation of having his mouth, ears, and nostrils stuffed with gold. Especially is the lucky wight–perhaps some half-wild woodsman–who was first to spy the illustrious monster munificently rewarded. Orders are promptly issued to the woons and wongses of the several districts through which he must pass to prepare to receive him royally, and a wide path is cut for him through the forests he must traverse on his way to the capital. Wherever he rests he is sumptuously entertained, and everywhere he is escorted and served by a host of attendants, who sing, dance, play upon instruments, and perform feats of strength or skill for his amusement, until he reaches the banks of the Meinam, where a great floating palace of wood, surmounted by a gorgeous roof and hung with crimson curtains, awaits him. The roof is literally thatched with flowers ingeniously arranged so as to form symbols and mottoes, which the superior beast is supposed to decipher with ease. The floor of this splendid float is laid with gilt matting curiously woven, in the centre of which his four-footed lordship is installed in state, surrounded by an obsequious and enraptured crowd of mere bipeds, who bathe him, perfume him, fan him, feed him, sing and play to him, flatter him. His food consists of the finest herbs, the tenderest grass, the sweetest sugar-cane, the mellowest plantains, the brownest cakes of wheat, served on huge trays of gold and silver; and his drink is perfumed with the fragrant flower of the _dok mallee_, the large native jessamine.

Thus, in more than princely state, he is floated down the river to a point within seventy miles of the capital, where the king and his court, all the chief personages of the kingdom, and a multitude of priests, both Buddhist and Brahmin, accompanied by troops of players and musicians, come out to meet him, and conduct him with all the honors to his stable-palace. A great number of cords and ropes of all qualities and lengths are attached to the raft, those in the centre being of fine silk (figuratively, “spun from a spider’s web”). These are for the king and his noble retinue, who with their own hands make them fast to their gilded barges; the rest are secured to the great fleet of lesser boats. And so, with shouts of joy, beating of drums, blare of trumpets, boom of cannon, a hallelujah of music, and various splendid revelry, the great Chang Phoouk is conducted in triumph to the capital.

Here in a pavilion, temporary but very beautiful, he is welcomed with imposing ceremonies by the custodians of the palace and the principal personages of the royal household. The king, his courtiers, and the chief priests being gathered round him, thanksgiving is offered up; and then the lordly beast is knighted, after the ancient manner of the Buddhists, by pouring upon his forehead consecrated water from a chank-shell.

The titles reserved for the Chang Phoouk vary according to the purity of the complexion (for these favored creatures are rarely true albinos,–salmon or flesh-color being the nearest approach to white in almost all the historic “white elephants” of the courts of Birmah and Siam) and the sex; for though one naturally has recourse to the masculine pronoun in writing of a transmigrated prince or warrior, it often happens that prince or warrior has, in the medlied mask of metempsychosis, assumed a female form. Such, in fact, was the case with the stately occupant of the stable-palace at the court of Maha Mongkut; and she was distinguished by the high-sounding appellation of Maa Phya Seri Wongsah Ditsarah Krasaat,–“August and Glorious Mother, Descendant of Kings and Heroes.”

For seven or nine days, according to certain conditions, the Chang Phoouk is feted at the temporary pavilion, and entertained with a variety of dramatic performances; and these days are observed as a general holiday throughout the land. At the expiration of this period he is conducted with great pomp to his sumptuous quarters within the precincts of the first king’s palace, where he is received by his own court of officers, attendants, and slaves, who install him in his fine lodgings, and at once proceed to robe and decorate him. First, the court jeweller rings his tremendous tusks with massive gold, crowns him with a diadem of beaten gold of perfect purity, and adorns his burly neck with heavy golden chains. Next his attendants robe him in a superb velvet cloak of purple, fringed with scarlet and gold; and then his court prostrate themselves around him, and offer him royal homage.

When his lordship would refresh his portly person in the bath, an officer of high rank shelters his noble head with a great umbrella of crimson and gold, while others wave golden fans before him. On these occasions he is invariably preceded by musicians, who announce his approach with cheerful minstrelsy and songs.

If he falls ill, the king’s own leech prescribes for him, and the chief priests repair daily to his palace to pray for his safe deliverance, and sprinkle him with consecrated waters and anoint him with consecrated oils. Should he die, all Siam is bereaved, and the nation, as one man, goes into mourning for him. But his body is not burned; only his brains and heart are thought worthy of that last and highest honor. The carcass, shrouded in fine white linen, and laid on a bier, is carried down the river with much wailing and many mournful dirges, to be thrown into the Gulf of Siam.

In 1862 a magnificent white–or, rather, salmon-colored–elephant was “bagged,” and preparations on a gorgeous scale were made to receive him. A temporary pavilion of extraordinary splendor sprang up, as if by magic, before the eastern gate of the palace; and the whole nation was wild with joy; when suddenly came awful tidings,–he had died!

No man dared tell the king. But the Kralahome–that man of prompt expedients and unfailing presence of mind–commanded that the preparations should cease instantly, and that the building should vanish with the builders. In the evening his Majesty came forth, as usual, to exult in the glorious work. What was his astonishment to find no vestige of the splendid structure that had been so nearly completed the night before. He turned, bewildered, to his courtiers, to demand an explanation, when suddenly the terrible truth flashed into his mind. With a cry of pain he sank down upon a stone, and gave vent to an hysterical passion of tears; but was presently consoled by one of his children, who, carefully prompted in his part, knelt before him and said: “Weep not, O my father! The stranger lord may have left us but for a time.” The stranger lord, fatally pampered, had succumbed to astonishment and indigestion.

A few days after this mournful event the king read to me a curious description of the defunct monster, and showed me parts of his skin preserved, and his tusks, which in size and whiteness surpassed the finest I had ever seen. His (that is, the elephant’s) eyes were light blue, surrounded by salmon-color; his hair fine, soft, and white; his complexion pinkish white; his tusks like long pearls; his ears like silver shields; his trunk like a comet’s tail; his legs like the feet of the skies; his tread like the sound of thunder; his looks full of meditation; his expression full of tenderness; his voice the voice of a mighty warrior; and his bearing that of an illustrious monarch.

That was a terrible affliction, to the people not less than to the king.

On all occasions of state,–court receptions, for example,–the white elephant, gorgeously arrayed, is stationed on the right of the inner gate of the palace, and forms an indispensable as well as a conspicuous figure in the picture.

When the Siamese ambassadors returned from England, the chief of the embassy–a man remarkable for his learning and the purity of his character, who was also first cousin to the Supreme King–published a quaint pamphlet, describing England and her people, their manners and customs and dwellings, with a very particular report of the presentation of the embassy at court. Speaking of the personal appearance of Queen Victoria, he says: “One cannot but be struck with the aspect of the august Queen of England, or fail to observe that she must be of pure descent from a race of goodly and warlike kings and rulers of the earth, in that her eyes, complexion, and above all her bearing, are those of a beautiful and majestic white elephant.”


On the morning of the 3d of April, 1851, the Chowfa Mongkut, after being formally apprised of his election by the Senabawdee to the supreme throne, was borne in state to a residence adjoining the Phrasat, to await the auspicious day of coronation,–the 15th of the following month, as fixed by the court astrologers; and when it came it was hailed by all classes of the people with immoderate demonstrations of joy; for to their priest king, more sacred than a conqueror, they were drawn by bonds of superstition as well as of pride and affection.

The ceremony of coronation is very peculiar.

In the centre of the inner Hall of Audience of the royal palace, on a high platform richly gilded and adorned, is placed a circular golden basin, called, in the court language, _Mangala Baghavat-thong_, “the Golden Circlet of Power.” Within this basin is deposited the ancient _P’hra-batt_, or golden stool, the whole being surmounted by a quadrangular canopy, under a tapering, nine-storied umbrella in the form of a pagoda, from ten to twelve feet high and profusely gilt. Directly over the centre of the canopy is deposited a vase containing consecrated waters, which have been prayed over nine times, and poured through nine different circular vessels in their passage to the sacred receptacle. These waters must be drawn from the very sources of the chief rivers of Siam; and reservoirs for their preservation are provided in the precincts of the temples at Bangkok. In the mouth of this vessel is a tube representing the pericarp of a lotos after its petals have fallen off; and this, called _Sukla Utapala Atmano_, “the White Lotos of Life,” symbolizes the beauty of pure conduct.

The king elect, arrayed in a simple white robe, takes his seat on the golden stool. A Brahmin priest then presents to him some water in a small cup of gold, lotos-shaped. This water has previously been filtered through nine different forms of matter, commencing with earth, then ashes, wheaten flour, rice flour, powdered lotos and jessamine, dust of iron, gold, and charcoal, and finally flame; each a symbol, not merely of the indestructibility of the element, but also of its presence in all animate or inanimate matter. Into this water the king elect dips his right hand, and passes it over his head. Immediately the choir join in an inspiring chant, the signal for the inverting, by means of a pulley, of the vessel over the canopy; and the consecrated waters descend through another lotos flower, in a lively shower, on the head of the king. This shower represents celestial blessings.

A Buddhist priest then advances and pours a goblet of water over the royal person from the bed of the Ganges. He is then arrayed in regal robes.

On the throne, which is in the south end of the hall, and octagonal, having eight seats corresponding to eight points of the compass, the king first seats himself facing the north, and so on, moving eastward, facing each point in its order. On the top step of each seat crouch two priests, Buddhist and Brahmin, who present to him another bowl of water, which he drinks and sprinkles on his face, each time repeating, by responses with the priests, the following prayer:–

_Priests_. Be thou learned in the laws of nature and of the universe.

_King_. Inspire me, O Thou who wert a Law unto thyself!

_P_. Be thou endowed with all wisdom, and all acts of industry!

_K_. Inspire me with all knowledge, O Thou the Enlightened!

_P_. Let Mercy and Truth be thy right and left arms of life!

_K_. Inspire me, O Thou who hast proved all Truth and all Mercy!

_P_. Let the Sun, Moon, and Stars bless thee!

_K_. All praise to Thee, through whom all forms are conquered!

_P_. Let the earth, air, and waters bless thee!

_K_. Through the merit of Thee, O thou conqueror of Death! [Footnote: For these translations I am indebted to his Majesty, Maha Mongkut; as well as for the interpretation of the several symbols used in this and other solemn rites of the Buddhists.]

These prayers ended, the priests conduct the king to another throne, facing the east, and still more magnificent. Here the insignia of his sovereignty are presented to him,–first the sword, then the sceptre; two massive chains are suspended from his neck; and lastly the crown is set upon his head, when instantly he is saluted by roar of cannon without and music within.

Then he is presented with the golden slippers, the fan, and the umbrella of royalty, rings set with huge diamonds for each of his forefingers, and the various Siamese weapons of war: these he merely accepts, and returns to his attendants.

The ceremony concludes with an address from the priests, exhorting him to be pure in his sovereign and sacred office; and a reply from himself, wherein he solemnly vows to be a just, upright, and faithful ruler of his people. Last of all, a golden tray is handed to him, from which, as he descends from the throne, he scatters gold and silver flowers among the audience.

The following day is devoted to a more public enthronement. His Majesty, attired more sumptuously than before, is presented to all his court, and to a more general audience. After the customary salutations by prostration and salutes of cannon and music, the premier and other principal ministers read short addresses, in delivering over to the king the control of their respective departments. His Majesty replies briefly; there is a general salute from all forts, war vessels, and merchant shipping; and the remainder of the day is devoted to feasting and various enjoyment.

Immediately after the crowning of Maha Mongkut, his Majesty repaired to the palace of the Second King, where the ceremony of subordinate coronation differed from that just described only in the circumstance that the consecrated waters were poured over the person of the Second King, and the insignia presented to him, by the supreme sovereign.

Five days later a public procession made the circuit of the palace and city walls in a peculiar circumambulatory march of mystic significance, with feasting, dramatic entertainments, and fireworks. The concourse assembled to take part in those brilliant demonstrations has never since been equalled in any public display in Siam.


When a king of Siam would take unto himself a wife, he chooses a maiden from a family of the highest rank, and of royal pedigree, and, inviting her into the guarded circle of his women, entertains her there in that peculiar state of probation which is his prerogative and her opportunity. Should she prove so fortunate as to engage his preference, it may be his pleasure to exalt her to the throne; in which event he appoints a day for the formal consummation of his gracious purpose, when the principal officers, male and female, of the court, with the priests, Brahmin as well as Buddhist, and the royal astrologers, attend to play their several parts in the important drama.

The princess, robed in pure white, is seated on a throne elevated on a high platform. Over this throne is spread a canopy of white muslin, decorated with white and fragrant flowers, and through this canopy are gently showered the typical waters of consecration, in which have been previously infused certain leaves and shrubs emblematic of purity, usefulness, and sweetness. While the princess is thus delicately sprinkled with compliments, the priests enumerate, with nice discrimination, the various graces of mind and person which henceforth she must study to acquire; and pray that she may prove a blessing to her lord, and herself be richly blessed. Then she is hailed queen, with a burst of exultant music. Now the sisters of the king conduct her by a screened passage to a chamber regally appointed, where she is divested of her dripping apparel, and arrayed in robes becoming her queenly state,–robes of silk, heavy with gold, and sparkling with diamonds and rubies. Then the king is ushered into her presence by the ladies of the court; and at the moment of his entrance she rises to throw herself at his feet, according to the universal custom. But he prevents her; and taking her right hand, and embracing her, seats her beside him, on his right. There she receives the formal congratulations of the court, with which the ceremonies of the day terminate. The evening is devoted to feasting and merriment.

A Siamese king may have two queens at the same time; in which case the more favored lady is styled the “right hand,” and the other the “left hand,” of the throne. His late Majesty, Maha Mongkut, had two queens, but not “in conjunction.” The first was of the right hand; the second, though chosen in the lifetime of the first, was not elevated to the throne until after the death of her predecessor.

When the bride is a foreign princess, the ceremonies are more public, being conducted in the Hall of Audience, instead of the Ladies’ Temple, or private chapel.

The royal nuptial couch is consecrated with peculiar forms. The mystic thread of unspun cotton is wound around the bed seventy-seven times, and the ends held in the hands of priests, who, bowing over the sacred symbol, invoke blessings on the bridal pair. Then the nearest relatives of the bride are admitted, accompanied by a couple who, to use the obstetrical figure of the indispensable Mrs. Gamp, have their parental quiver “full of sich.” These salute the bed, sprinkle it with the consecrated waters, festoon the crimson curtains with flowery garlands, and prepare the silken sheets, the pillows and cushions; which done, they lead in the bride, who has not presided at the entertainments, but waited with her ladies in a screened apartment.

On entering the awful chamber, she first falls on her knees, and thrice salutes the royal couch with folded hands, and then invokes protection for herself, that she may be preserved from every deadly sin. Finally, she is disrobed, and left praying on the floor before the bed, while the king is conducted to her by his courtiers, who immediately retire.

The same ceremony is observed in nearly all Siamese families of respectability, with, of course, certain omissions and variations adapted to the rank of the parties.

After three days the bride visits her parents, bearing presents to them from the various members of her husband’s family. Then she visits the parents of her husband, who greet her with costly gifts. In her next excursion of this kind her husband (unless a king) accompanies her, and valuable presents are mutually bestowed. A large sum of money, with jewels and other finery, is deposited with the father and mother of the bride. This is denominated _Zoon_, and at the birth of her first child it is restored to the young mother by the grandparents.

The king visits his youthful queen just one month after the birth of a prince or princess. She present the babe to him, and he, in turn, places a costly ring on the third finger of her left hand. In like manner, most of the relatives, of both families, bring to the babe gifts of money, jewels, gold and silver ornaments, etc., which is termed _Tam Kwaan_. Even so early the infant’s hair is shaved off, except the top-knot, which is permitted to grow until the child has arrived at the age of puberty.


The Prince Somdetch Chowfa Chulalonkorn [Footnote: The present Supreme King.] was about ten years old when I was appointed to teach him. Being the eldest son of the queen consort, he held the first rank among the children of the king, as heir-apparent to the throne. For a Siamese, he was a handsome lad; of stature neither noticeably tall nor short; figure symmetrical and compact, and dark complexion. He was, moreover, modest and affectionate, eager to learn, and easy to influence.

His mother dying when he was about nine years old, he, with his younger brothers, the Princes Chowfa Chaturont Rasmi and Chowfa Bhangurangsi Swang Wongse, and their lovely young sister, the Princess Somdetch Chowfa Chandrmondol (“Fa-ying”), were left to the care of a grand-aunt, Somdetch Ying Noie, a princess by the father’s side. This was a tranquil, cheerful old soul, attracted toward everything that was bright and pretty, and ever busy among flowers, poetry, and those darlings of her loving life, her niece’s children. Of these the little Fa-ying (whose sudden death by cholera I have described) was her favorite; and after her death the faithful creature turned her dimmed eyes and chastened pride to the young prince Chulalonkorn. Many an earnest talk had the venerable duchess and I, in which she did not hesitate to implore me to instil into the minds of her youthful wards–and especially this king that was to be–the purest principles of Christian faith and precept. Yet with all the freshness of the religious habit of her childhood she was most scrupulous in her attendance and devotions at the temple. Her grief for the death of her darling was deep and lasting, and by the simple force of her love she exerted a potent influence over the mind of the royal lad.

[Illustration: THE HEIR-APPARENT.]

A very stern thing is life to the children of royalty in Siam. To watch and be silent, when it has most need of confidence and freedom,–a horrible necessity for a child! The very babe in the cradle is taught mysterious and terrible things by the mother that bore it,–infantile experiences of distrust and terror, out of which a few come up noble, the many infamous. Here are baby heroes and heroines who do great deeds before our happier Western children have begun to think. There were actual, though unnoticed and unconscious, intrepidity and fortitude in the manoeuvres and the stands with which those little ones, on their own ground, flanked or checked that fatal enemy, their father. Angelic indeed were the spiritual triumphs that no eye noted, nor any smile rewarded, save the anxious eye and the prayerful smile of that sleepless maternity that misery had bound with them. But even misery becomes tolerable by first becoming familiar, and out of the depths these royal children laughed and prattled and frolicked and were glad. As for the old duchess, she loved too well and too wisely not to be timid and troubled all her life long, first for the mother, then for the children.

Such was the early training of the young prince, and for a time it availed to direct his thoughts to noble aspirations. From his studies, both in English and Pali, he derived an exalted ideal of life, and precocious and inexpressible yearnings. Once he said to me he envied the death of the venerable priest, his uncle; he would rather be poor, he said, and have to earn his living, than be a king.

“‘Tis true, a poor man must work hard for his daily bread; but then he is free. And his food is all he has to lose or win. He can possess all things in possessing Him who pervades all things,–earth, and sky, and stars, and flowers, and children. I can understand that I am great in that I am a part of the Infinite, and in that alone; and that all I see is mine, and I am in it and of it. How much of content and happiness should I not gain if I could but be a poor boy!”

He was attentive to his studies, serene, and gentle, invariably affectionate to his old aunt and his younger brothers, and for the poor ever sympathetic, with a warm, generous heart. He pursued his studies assiduously, and seemed to overcome the difficulties and obstacles he encountered in the course of them with a resolution that gained strength as his mind gained ideas. As often as he effectually accomplished something, he indulged in ecstasies of rejoicing over the new thought, that was an inspiring discovery to him of his actual poverty of knowledge, his possibilities of intellectual opulence. But it was clear to me–and I saw it with sorrow–that for his ardent nature this was but a transitory condition, and that soon the shock must come, against the inevitable destiny in store for him, that would either confirm or crush all that seemed so fair in the promise of the royal boy.

When the time came for the ceremony of hair-cutting, customary for young Siamese princes, the lad was gradually withdrawn, more and more, from my influence. The king had determined to celebrate the heir’s majority with displays of unusual magnificence. To this end he explored the annals and records of Siam and Cambodia, and compiled from them a detailed description of a very curious procession that attended a certain prince of Siam centuries ago, on the occasion of his hair-cutting; and forthwith projected a similar show for his son, but on a more elaborate and costly scale. The programme, including the procession, provided for the representation of a sort of drama, borrowed partly from the Ramayana, and partly from the ancient observances of the kings of Cambodia.

The whole royal establishment was set in motion. About nine thousand young women, among them the most beautiful of the concubines, were cast for parts in the mammoth play. Boys and girls were invited or hired from all quarters of the kingdom to “assist” in the performance. Every nation under the sun was represented in the grand procession. In our school the regular studies were abandoned, and in their place we had rehearsals of singing, dancing, recitation, and pantomime.

An artificial hill, of great height, called Khoa-Kra-Laat, was raised in the centre of the palace gardens. On its summit was erected a golden temple or pagoda of exquisite beauty, richly hung with tapestries, displaying on the east the rising sun, on the west a moon of silver. The cardinal points of the hill were guarded by the white elephant, the sacred ox, the horse, and the lion. These figures were so contrived that they could be brought close together and turned on a pivot; and thus the sacred waters, brought for that purpose from the Brahmapootra, were to be showered on the prince, after the solemn hair-cutting, and received in a noble basin of marble.

The name given to the ceremony of hair-cutting varies according to the rank of the child. For commoners it is called “Khone Chook”; for the nobility and royalty, “Soh-Khan,” probably from the Sanskrit _Soh Sahtha Kam_, “finding safe and sound.” The custom is said to be extremely ancient, and to have originated with a certain Brahmin, whose only child, being sick unto death, was given over by the physicians as in the power of evil spirits. In his heart’s trouble the father consulted a holy man, who had been among the earliest converts to Buddhism, if aught might yet be done to save his darling from torment and perdition. The venerable saint directed him to pray, and to have prayers offered, for the lad, and to cause that part of his hair which had never been touched with razor or shears since his birth to be shaved quite off. The result was a joyful rescue for the child; others pursued the same treatment in like cases with the same effect, and hence the custom of hair-cutting. The children of princes are forbidden to have the top-knot cut at all, until the time when they are about to pass into manhood or womanhood. Then valuable presents are made to them by all who are related to their families by blood, marriage, or friendship.

When all the preparations necessary to the successful presentation of the dramatic entertainment were completed, the king, having taken counsel of his astrologers, sent heralds to the governors of all the provinces of Siam, to notify those dignitaries of the time appointed for the jubilee, and request their presence and co-operation. A similar summons was sent to all the priests of the kingdom, who, in bands or companies, were to serve alternately, on the several days of the festival.

Early in the forenoon of the auspicious day the prince was borne in state, in a gorgeous chair of gold, to the Maha Phrasat, the order of the procession being as follows:–

First came the bearers of the gold umbrellas, fans, and great golden sunshades.

Next, twelve gentlemen, superbly attired, selected from the first rank of the nobility, six on either side of the golden chair, as a body-guard to the prince.

Then, four hundred Amazons arrayed in green and gold, and gleaming armor.

These were followed by twelve maidens, attired in cloth of gold, with fantastic head-gear adorned with precious stones, who danced before the prince to the gentle monotonous movement of the _bandos_. In the centre of this group moved three lovely girls, of whom one held a superb peacock’s tail, and the two others branches of gold and silver, sparkling with leaves and rare flowers. These damsels were guarded by two duennas on either side.

After these stalked a stately body of Brahmins, bearing golden vases filled with _Khoa tok_, or roasted rice, which they scattered on either side, as an emblem of plenty.

Another troop of Brahmins with bandos, which they rattled as they moved along.

Two young nobles, splendidly robed, who also bore gold vases, lotos-shaped, in which nestled the bird of paradise called Nok Kurraweek, the sweetness of whose song is supposed to entrance even beasts of prey.

A troop of lads, the rising nobility of Siam, fairly covered with gold collars and necklaces.

The king’s Japanese body-guard.

Another line of boys, representing natives of Hindostan in costume.

Malayan lads in costume.

Chinese lads in costume.

Siamese boys in English costume.

The king’s infantry, headed by pioneers, in European costume.

Outside of this line marched about five thousand men in long rose-colored robes, with tall tapering caps. These represented guardian-angels attending on the different nations.

Then came bands of musicians dressed in scarlet, imitating the cries of birds, the sound of falling fruit, and the murmur of distant waters, in the imaginary forest they were supposed to traverse on their way to the Sacred Mount.

The order of the procession behind the golden sedan in which the prince was borne, was nearly as follows:–

Next after the chair of state came four young damsels of the highest rank, bearing the prince’s betel-box, spittoon, fan, and swords. Then followed seventy other maidens, carrying reverently in both hands the vessels of pure gold, and all the insignia of rank and office proper to a prince of the blood royal; and yet more, holding over their right shoulders golden fans.

In the train of these tripped troops of children, daughters of the nobility, dressed and decorated with fantastic splendor.

Then the maids of honor, personal attendants, and concubines of the king, chastely dressed, though crowned with gold, and decorated with massive gold chains and rings of great price and beauty.

A crowd of Siamese women, painted and rouged, in European costume.

Troops of children in corresponding attire.

Ladies in Chinese costume.

Japanese ladies in rich robes.

Malay women in their national dress.

Women of Hindostan.

Then the Kariens.

And, last of all, the female slaves and dependants of the prince.

At the foot of the hill a most extraordinary spectacle was presented.

On the east appeared a number of hideous monsters, riding on gigantic eagles. These nondescripts, whose heads reached almost to their knees, and whose hands grasped indescribable weapons, are called Yaks. They are appointed to guard the Sacred Mount from all vulgar approach.

A little farther on, around a pair of stuffed peacocks, were a number of youthful warriors, representing kings, governors, and chiefs of the several dependencies of Siam.

Desirous of witnessing the sublime ceremony of hair-cutting, they cautiously approach the Yaks, performing a sort of war dance, and chanting in chorus:–

_Orah Pho, cha pai Kra Laat_. “Let us go to the Sacred Mount!”

Whereupon the Yaks, or evil angels, point their wonderful weapons at them, chanting in the same strain:–

_Orah Pho, salope thang pooang_. “Let us slay them all!”

They then make a show of striking and thrusting, and princes, rajahs, and governors drop as if wounded.

The principal parts in the drama were assumed by his Majesty, and their excellencies the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The king was dressed for the character of P’hra Inn Suen, the Hindoo Indra, or Lord of the Sky, who has also the attributes of the Roman Genius; but most of his epithets in Sanskrit are identical with those of the Olympian Jove. He was attended by the Prime Minister, personating the Sanskrit Sache, but called in Siamese “Vis Summo Kam,” and the Minister of Foreign Affairs as his charioteer, Ma Talee. His imperial elephant, called Aisarat, caparisoned in velvet and gold, and bearing the supernatural weapons,–_Vagra_, the thunderbolts,–was led by allegorical personages, representing winds and showers, lightning and thunder. The hill, Khoa Kra Laat, is the Sanskrit Meru, described as a mountain of gold and gems.

His Majesty received the prince from the hands of his nobles, set him on his right hand, and presented him to the people, who offered homage. Afterward, two ladies of the court led him down the flight of marble steps, where two maidens washed his feet with pure water in a gold basin, and wiped them with fine linen.

On his way to the Maha Phrasat he was met by a group of girls in charming attire, who held before him tufts of palm and branches of gold and silver. Thus he was conducted to an inner chamber of the temple, and seated on a costly carpet heavily fringed with gold, before an altar on which were lighted tapers and offerings of all descriptions. In his hand was placed a strip of palmyra leaf, on which were inscribed these mystic words: “Even I was, even from the first, and not any other thing: that which existed unperceived, supreme. Afterwards, I am that which is, and He that was, and He who must remain am I.”

“Know that except Me, who am the First Cause, nothing that appears or does not appear in the mind can be trusted; it is the mind’s Maya or delusion,–as Light is to Darkness.”

On the reverse was inscribed this sentence:–

“Keep me still meditating on Thy infinite greatness and my own nothingness, so that all the questions of my life may be answered and my mind abundantly instructed in the path of Niphan!”

In his hands was placed a ball of unspun thread, the ends of which were carried round the sacred hill, and thence round the temple, and into the inner chamber, where it was bound round the head of the young prince. Thence again nine threads were taken, which, after encircling the altar, were passed into the hands of the officiating priests. These latter threads, forming circles within circles, symbolize the mystic word _Om_, which may not escape the lips even of the purest, but must be meditated upon in silence.

Early on the third day all the princes, nobles, and officers of government, together with the third company of priests, assembled to witness the ceremony of shaving the royal top-knot. The royal sire handed first the golden shears and then a gilded razor to the happy hair-cutter, who immediately addressed himself to his honorable function. Meanwhile the musicians, with the trumpeters and conch-blowers, exerted all their noisy faculties to beguile the patient heir.

The tonsorial operation concluded, the prince was robed in white, and conducted to the marble basin at the foot of the Sacred Mount, where the white elephant, the ox, the horse, and the lion, guarding the cardinal points, were brought together, and from their mouths baptized him in the sacred waters. He was then arrayed in silk, still white, by women of rank, and escorted to a golden pagoda on the summit of the hill, where the king, in the character of P’hra Inn Suen, waited to bestow his blessing on the heir. With one hand raised to heaven, and the other on the bowed head of his son, he solemnly uttered words of Pali, which may be translated thus:–

“Thou who art come out of the pure waters, be thy offences washed away! Be thou relieved from other births! Bear thou in thy bosom the brightness of that light which shall lead thee, even as it led the sublime Buddha, to Niphan, at once and forever!”

These rites ended, the priests were served with a princely banquet; and then the nobility and common people were also feasted. About midday, two standards, called _baisee_, were set up within a circle of people. These are not unlike the _sawekra chat_, or royal umbrella, one of the five insignia of royalty in Siam. They are about five cubits high, and have from three to five canopies. The staff is fixed in a wooden pedestal. Each circle or canopy has a flat bottom, and within the receptacle thus formed custom requires that a little cooked rice, called _k’ow k’wan_, shall be placed, together with a few cakes, a little sweet-scented oil, a handful of fragrant flour, and some young cocoanuts and plantains. Other edibles of many kinds are brought and arranged about the _baisee_, and a beautiful bouquet adorns the top of each of the umbrella-like canopies.

Then a procession was formed, of princes, noblemen, and others, who marched around the standards nine times. As they went, seven golden candlesticks, with the candles lighted, were carried by princes, and passed from one to another; and as often as they came in front of the prince, who sat between the standards, they waved the light before him. This procession is but another form of the _Om_ symbol.

Afterwards the eldest priest or brahmin took a portion of the rice from the _baisee_, and, sprinkling it with cocoanut water, gave the lad a spoonful of it. Then dipping his finger, first in the scented oil and then in the fragrant flour, he touched the right foot of the prince, at the same time exhorting him to be manly and strong, and to bear himself bravely in “the conflict of feeling.”

Now presents of silver and gold were laid at the feet of the lad,–every prince not of the royal family, and every nobleman and high officer in the kingdom, being expected to appear with gifts. A chowfa might receive, in the aggregate, from five hundred thousand to a million ticals. [Footnote: A tical is equivalent to sixty cents.] It should be remarked in this connection, that the late king commanded that careful note be kept of all sums of money presented by officers of his government to his children at the time of Soh-Khan, that the full amount might be refunded with the next semi-annual payment of salary. But this decree does not relieve the more distinguished princes and endowed noblemen, who have acquired a sort of complimentary relationship to his Majesty through their daughters and nieces accepted as concubines.

The children of plain citizens, who cannot afford the luxury of a public hair-cutting, are taken to a temple, where a priest shaves the tuft, with a brief religious ceremony.

Hardly had the prince recovered his wonted frame of mind, after an event so pregnant with significance and agitation to him, when the time arrived for his induction into the priesthood. For this the rites, though simpler, were more solemn. The hair, which had been suffered to grow on the top of his young pate like an inverted brush, was now shorn close, and his eyebrows were shaven also. Arrayed in costly robes and ornaments, similar to those worn at a coronation, he was taken in charge by a body of priests at his father’s palace, and by them conducted to the temple Watt P’hra Keau, his yellow-robed and barefooted escort chanting, on the way, hymns from the Buddhist liturgy. At the threshold of the temple another band of priests divested him of his fine robes and clad him in simple white, all the while still chanting. The circle being characteristic of a Buddhist ceremonial, as the cross is of their religious architecture, these priests formed a circle, standing, and holding lighted tapers in their folded palms, the high-priest in the centre. Then the prince advanced meekly, timidly, bowing low, to enter the holy ring. Here he was received by the high-priest, and with their hands mutually interfolded, one upon the other, he vowed to renounce, then and there, the world with all its cares and temptations, and to observe with obedience the doctrines of Buddha. This done, he was clad afresh in sackcloth, and led from the temple to the royal monastery, Watt Brahmanee Waid; with bare feet and eyes downcast he went, still chanting those weird hymns.

Here he remained recluse for six months. When he returned to the world, and to the residence assigned him, he seemed no longer the impressible, ardent boy who was once my bright, ambitious scholar. Though still anxious to prosecute his English studies, he was pronounced too old to unite with his brothers and sisters in the school. For a year I taught him, from seven to ten in the evening, at his “Rose-planting House”; and even from this distant place and time I look back with comfort to those hours.


Of all the diversions of the court the most polite, and at the same time the most engrossing, is the drama.

In a great sala, or hall, which serves as a theatre, the actors and actresses assemble, their faces and bodies anointed with a creamy, maize-colored cosmetic. Fantastic extravagance of attire constitutes the great gun in their arsenal of attractions. Hence ear-rings, bracelets, massive chains and collars, tapering crowns with wings, spangled robes, curious finger-rings, and, strangest of all, long tapering nails of gold, are joined to complete their elaborate adornment. The play, in which are invariably enacted the adventures of gods, kings, heroes, genii, demons, and a multitude of characters mythical and fabulous, is often performed in lively pantomime, the interludes being filled by a strong chorus, with songs and instrumental accompaniment. At other times the players, in grotesque masks, give burlesque versions of the graver epics, to the great amusement of the audience.

Chinese comedies, termed Ngiu, attract the Siamese in crowds; but the foreign is decidedly inferior to the native talent. “Nang,” so called, is a sort of tableau, masked, representing characters from the Hindoo mythology. Parts of the popular epic, Ramayana, are admirably rendered in this style. In front of the royal palace an immense transparent screen, mounted on great poles, is drawn across the esplanade, and behind this, at a moderate distance, great fires are lighted. Between the screen and the fire masked figures, grotesquely costumed, enact the story of Rama and Sita and the giant Rawuna, with Hanuman and his army of apes bridging the Gulf of Manaar and piling up the Himalayas, while the bards, in measured story, describe the several exploits.

A great variety of puppet-shows are contrived for the delectation of the children; and the Siamese are marvellously ingenious in the manufacture of toys and dolls, of porcelain, stone, wood, bark, and paper. They make pagodas, temples, boats, and floating houses, with miniature families to occupy them, and all true to the life in every apartment and occupation; watts, with idols and priests; palaces, with kings, queens, concubines, royal children, courtiers, and slaves, all complete in costume and attitude.

The royal children observe with grave formalities the eventful custom of “hair-cutting” for their favorite dolls; and dramas, improvised for the occasion by ingenious slaves, are the crowning glory of those high holidays of toddling princes and princesses.

The ladies of the harem amuse themselves in the early and late hours of the day by gathering flowers in the palace gardens, feeding the birds in the aviaries and the gold-fishes in the ponds, twining garlands to adorn the heads of their children, arranging bouquets, singing songs of love or glory, dancing to the music of the guitar, listening to their slaves’ reading, strolling with their little ones through the parks and _parterres_, and especially in bathing. When the heat is least oppressive they plunge into the waters of the pretty retired lakes, swimming and diving like flocks of brown water-fowl.

Chess and backgammon, Chinese cards and dice, afford a continual diversion to both sexes at the court, and there are many skilful players among them. The Chinese have established a sort of “lottery,” of which they have the monopoly. It is little better than a “sweat-cloth,” with thirteen figures, on which money is staked at the option of the gambler. The winning figure pays its stake thirty-fold, the rest is lost.

Kite-flying, which in Europe and America is the amusement of children exclusively, is here, as in China and Birmah, the pastime of both sexes, and all ages and conditions of people. At the season when the south-wind prevails steadily, innumerable kites of diverse forms, many of them representing gigantic butterflies, may be seen sailing and darting over every quarter of the city, and most thickly over the palace and its appendages. Parties of young noblemen devote themselves with ardor to the sport, betting bravely on results of skill or luck; and it is most entertaining to observe how cleverly they manage the huge paper toys, entangling and capturing each other’s kites, and dragging them disabled to the earth.

Combats of bulls and elephants, though very popular, are not commonly exhibited at court. At certain seasons fairs are held, where exhibitions of wrestling, boxing, fencing, and dancing are given by professional competitors.

The Siamese, naturally imaginative and gay, cultivate music with great zest. Every village has its orchestra, every prince and noble his band of musicians, and in every part of Bangkok the sound of strange instruments is heard continually. Their music is not in parts like ours, but there is always harmony with good expression, and an agreeable variety of movement and volume is derived from the diversity of instruments and the taste of the players.

The principal instrument, the _khong-vong_, is composed of a series of hemispherical metallic bells or cups inverted and suspended by cords to a wooden frame. The performer strikes the bells with two little hammers covered with soft leather, producing an agreeable harmony. The hautboy player (who is usually a professional juggler and snake-charmer also) commonly leads the band. Kneeling and swaying his body forward and backward, and from side to side, he keeps time to the movement of the music. His instrument has six holes, but no keys, and may be either rough or smoothly finished.

The _ranat_, or harmonicon, is a wooden instrument, with keys made of wood from the bashoo-nut tree. These, varying in size from six inches by one to fifteen by two, are connected by pieces of twine, and so fastened to a hollow case of wood about three feet in length and a foot high. The music is “conjured” by the aid of two small hammers corked with leather, like those of the khong-vong. The notes are clear and fine, and the instrument admits of much delicacy of touch.

Beside these the Siamese have the guitar, the violin, the flute, the cymbals, the trumpet, and the conch-shell. There is the _luptima_ also, another very curious instrument, formed of a dozen long perforated reeds joined with bands and cemented at the joints with wax. The orifice at one end is applied to the lips, and a very moderate degree of skill produces notes so strong and sweet as to remind one of the swell of a church organ.

The Laos people have organs and tambourines of different forms; their guitar is almost as agreeable as that of Europe; and of their flutes of several kinds, one is played with the nostril instead of the lips. Another instrument, resembling the banjo of the American negroes, is made from a large long-necked gourd, cut in halves while green, cleaned, dried in the sun, covered with parchment, and strung with from four to six strings. Its notes are pleasing.

The _takhe_, a long guitar with metallic strings, is laid on the floor, and high-born ladies, with fingers armed with shields or nails of gold, draw from it the softest and sweetest sounds.

In their funeral ceremonies the chanting of the priests is usually accompanied by the lugubrious wailing music of a sort of clarionet.

The songs of Siam are either heroic or amatory; the former celebrating the martial exploits, the latter the more tender adventures, of heroes.

Athletic games and the contests of the arena and the course form so conspicuous a feature in all ceremonies, solemn or festal, of this people, that a description of them may not with advantage be wholly omitted here. The Siamese are by nature warlike, and their government has thoughtfully and liberally fostered those manly sports and exercises which constitute the natural preparation for the profession of arms. Of these the most popular are wrestling, boxing (in which both sexes take part), throwing the discus or quoit, foot-shuttlecock, and racing on foot or horseback or in chariots; to which may be added vaulting and tumbling, throwing the dart, and leaping through wheels or circles of fire.

The professional athletes and gymnasts are exercised at a tender age under male or female trainers, who employ the most approved methods of limbering and quickening and strengthening and toughening their incipient champions, to whom, though well fed, sleep is jealously allowanced and intoxicating drinks absolutely forbidden. Their bodies are rubbed with oils and unguents to render them supple; and a short langoutee with a belt forms the sum of their clothing. None but the children of Siamese or Laotians are admitted to the gymnasia. The code of laws for the government of the several classes is strictly enforced, and nothing is permitted contrary to the established order and regulations of the games. Excessive violence is mercifully forbidden, and those who enter to wrestle or box, race or leap, for the prize, draw lots for precedence and position.

The Siamese practise wrestling in its rude simplicity, the advantage being with weight and strength, rather than skill and address. The wrestlers, before engaging, are rubbed and shampooed, the joints bent backward and all the muscles relaxed, and the body and limbs freely oiled; but after the latter operation they roll in the dust, or are sprinkled with earth, ground and sifted, that they may be grappled the more firmly. They are matched in pairs, and several couples contend at the same time. Their struggles afford superb displays of the anatomy of action, and the perfection of strength and skill and fierce grace in the trained animal. Though one be seized by the heel and thrown,–which the Siamese applaud as the climax of the wrestler’s adroitness,–they still struggle grandly on the ground, a double Antaeus of arms and legs, till one be turned upon his back and slapped upon the breast. That is the accepted signal of the victor.

In boxing, the Siamese cover their hands with a kind of glove of ribbed leather, sometimes lined with brass. On their heads they wear a leather turban, to protect the temples and ears, the assault being directed mainly at the head and face. Besides the usual “getting away” of the British bruiser, blows are caught with surprising address and strength in the gloved hand. The boxer who by overreaching, or missing a blow he has put his weight into, throws himself, is beaten; or he may surrender by simply lowering his arms.

The Siamese discus, or quoit, is round, and of wood, stone, or iron. Their manner of hurling it does not differ materially from that which all mighty players have practised since Caesar’s soldiers pitched quoits for rations.

Quite otherwise, in its curious novelty, is their spirited and picturesque sport of foot-shuttlecock,–a game which may be witnessed only in Asia, and in the perfection of its skill and agility only in Birmah and Siam.

The shuttlecock is like our own, but the battledore is the sole of the foot. A number of young men form a circle on a clear plot of ground. One of them opens the game by throwing the feathered toy to the player opposite him, who, turning quickly and raising his leg, receives it on the sole of his foot, and sends it like a shot to another, and he to another; and so it is kept flying for an hour or more, without once falling to the ground.

Speed, whether of two legs or four, is in high estimation among the Siamese. Their public festivals, however solemn, are usually begun with races, which they cultivate with ardor and enjoy with enthusiasm. They have the foot-race, the horse-race, and the chariot-race. In the first, the runners, having drawn lots for places, range themselves across the course, and, while waiting for the starting signal, excite themselves by leaping. At the word “Go,” they make play with astonishing speed and spirit.

The race of a single horse, “against time,” with or without saddle, is a favorite sport. The rider, scorning stirrup or bridle, grips the sides of his steed with his knees, and, with his right arm and forefinger stretched eagerly toward the goal, flies alone,–an inspiring picture. Sometimes two horsemen ride abreast, and at full speed change horses by vaulting from one to the other.

In the chariot-races from two to four horses are driven abreast, and the art consists in winning and keeping the advantage of ground without collision. This kind of racing is not so common as the others.

The favorite pastime of the late Second King, who greatly delighted in equestrian exercises and feats, was Croquet on Horseback,–a sport in which he distinguished himself by his brilliant skill and style, as he did in racing and hunting. This unique equestrian game is played exclusively by princes and noblemen. There are a number of small balls which must be croqueted into two deep holes, with the aid of long slender mallets. The limits of the ground are marked by a line drawn around it; and the only conditions necessary to render the sport exciting and the skill remarkable are narrow bounds and restive steeds.

The Siamese, like other Orientals, ride with loose rein and short stirrups. Their saddles are high and hard, and have two large circular flaps, gilded and otherwise adorned, according to the rank of the rider. Cavaliers of distinction usually dress expensively, in imported stuffs, elaborately embroidered with silk and gold thread. They wear a small cap, and sometimes a strip of red, like the fillet of the Greeks and Romans, bound round the brows.

Prizes for the victors in the games and combats are of several kinds,–purses of gold and silver, suits of apparel, umbrellas, and, more rarely, a gold or silver cup.

In concluding this imperfect sketch, I feel that a word of praise is due to the spirit of moderation and humanity which seems to govern such exhibitions in Siam. Even in their gravest festivals there is an element of cheerfulness and kindness, which tends to promote genial fellowship and foster friendships, and by bringing together all sorts of people, otherwise separated by diversity of custom, prejudice, and interest, unquestionably avails to weld the several small states and dependencies of Siam into one compact and stable nation.


At the head of the Siamese writers of profane history stands, I think, P’hra Alack, or rather Cheing Meing,–P’hra Alack being the generic term for all writers. In early life he was a priest, but was appointed historian to the court, and in that capacity wrote a history of the reign of his patron and king, P’hra Narai,–(contemporary with Louis XIV.)–and left a very curious though unfinished autobiography.

Seri Manthara, celebrated as a military leader, wrote nine books of essays, on subjects relating to agriculture and the arts and sciences. Some of these, translated into the languages of Birmah and Pegu, are still extant.

Among a host of dramatic writers, Phya Doong, better known as P’hra Khein Lakonlen, is entitled to the first rank. He composed about forty-nine books in lyric and dramatic verse, besides epigrams and elegies. Of his many poems, the few that remain afford passages of much elegance and sweetness, and even of sublimity,–almost sufficient to atone for the taint of grossness he derived from the licentious imagination of his land and time. While yet hardly out of his infancy, he was laid at the feet of the monarch, and reared in the palace at Lophaburee. Some dramatic pieces composed by the lad for his playmates to act attracted the notice of the king, who engaged teachers to instruct him thoroughly in the ancient literature of India and Persia. But he seems to have boldly opened a way for himself, instead of following (as modern Orientals, timid or servile, are so prone to do) the well-worn path of the old Hindoo writers. In his tragedy (which I saw acted) of _Manda-thi-Nung_, “The First Mother,” there are passages of noble thought and true passion, expressed with a power and beauty peculiarly his own.

The entertainments of the theatre are devoured by the Siamese with insatiable appetite, and the popular preference is awarded to those intellectual contests in which the tragic and comic poets compete for the prize. The laughter or the tears of the sympathetic groundlings are accepted as the expression of an infallible criticism, and by their verdict the play is crowned or damned. The common people, such is their passion for the drama, get whole tragedies or comedies “by heart.” Every day in the year, and in every street of Bangkok, and all along the river, booths and floating salas may be seen, in which tragedy, comedy, and satirical burlesques, are enacted for the entertainment of great audiences, who are thrilled, delighted, or amused. In compositions strictly dramatic the characters, as with us, speak and act for themselves; but in the epic the poet recites the adventures of his heroes.

Judges are appointed by the king to determine the merits of new plays before they are performed at court; and on the grand occasion of the hair-cutting of the heir-apparent (now king) his late Majesty caused the poem “Kraelasah” to be modernized and adapted to grace the ceremonies.

P’hra Ramawsha, a writer highly esteemed, did wonders for the Siamese drama. He translated the Ramayana, the Mahabharata, and portions of the Cambodian lyrics into Siamese; introduced masks, with magnificence of costume and ornament; substituted theatres, or rather salas, for the temporary booth or the open plain; and elevated the matter and the style of dramatic compositions from the burlesque and buffoonery to the sentimental and majestic. He was also the first to impart spirit and variety to the dialogue, and to teach actors to express like artists, and not like mere animals, the strong _human_ passions of anger, love, and pity. The plays of P’hra Ramawsha are highly esteemed at court. In his management of amorous incidents and intrigues, he is, if not positively refined, at least less gross than other Siamese dramatists.


The dress of the players is always rich, and in the fashion of that worn at court. The actors and actresses attached to the royal establishment make a splendid display in this respect, large sums being expended annually on their costumes, jewels, and other adornings.

The development of native genius and skill, in the direction of the fine arts, has greatly declined, if it has not been absolutely arrested, since the reign of P’hra Narai, the enlightened founder of Lophaburee; and almost all the vestiges of art, purely national, to be found in the country now, may be traced to that golden age of Siam. The Siamese, though intelligent, clever, facile, and in a notable degree susceptible to the influences of the beautiful in nature or in art, by no means slow or awkward in imitating the graceful products of European taste and industry, are yet fettered by a peculiar oppression in their efforts to express in visible forms their artistic inspirations. No Siamese subject is to be congratulated, who by his talent or his skill has won popular applause in any branch of industry. No such man, having extraordinary cleverness or taste, dare display it to the public in works of novel utility or beauty; because he and his inventions may alike be appropriated, without reward or thanks,–the former to serve the king, the latter to adorn the palace. Many ply in secret their dangerously graceful callings, and destroy their work when it is done, rather than see it wrested from them, and with it all that is left to them of freedom, to serve the whim of a covetous and cruel master. All that P’hra Narai did to foster the sciences and arts in his land has been undone by the ruinous selfishness of his successors; and of the few suicides recorded in the annals of Siam since his time, one of the most remarkable is that of a famous painter, who poisoned himself the day after his installation at court. Thus all natural ambition has been stupidly extinguished in the breasts of the artists of a land whose remaining monuments attest her ancient excellence in architecture, sculpture, and painting.

The most remarkable examples of Siamese painting are presented in the cartoons to be found on the walls of the ancient temples, decorated with the brush before the introduction of wall-paper from Birmah. One that is still to be seen in the Watt Kheim Mah, or Mai, is especially noticeable. This temple was built by the grandmother of the late Maha Mongkut. The plant _kheim mai_ (indigenous to Siam), which bears a lovely little blossom, was one of her favorite flowers, and she called her temple by its name. Being a liberal patron of the arts, she employed a promising young painter named Nai Dang to decorate the Watt. The man would hardly be remembered now but for a poem he wrote and dedicated to the queen mother, in which her beauty and goodness are extolled. I could learn of him no more than that he was self-educated, and by unaided perseverance attained a respectable proficiency in drawing and design. He had also a fair knowledge of chemistry as it is practised in the East; but, aspiring to fame and fortune, he abandoned that study and devoted himself exclusively to painting. For years he struggled desperately against the discouragements of poverty in himself and ignorance in his neighbors, but found his reward at last in this engagement to embellish the walls of the Watt Kheim Mai.

Nai Dang’s must have been an original and independent mind, for his conceptions in this cartoon are as bold as his handling is vigorous and effective, while his colors are more true to nature than any that I have seen in Chinese or Japanese art.

He has grandly chosen for his subject the Birth of Buddha. The mother of the divine teacher being on a journey, is overtaken with the pangs of childbirth. Her attendants and slaves have gathered about her; but she, as if conscious of the august nature of the babe she is about to bestow upon the world, retires alone to the shade of an orange grove, where, clinging to the friendly boughs, with a look of blended rapture and pain, she gives birth to the great reformer. A few steps farther on, a circle of light is seen glowing round the feet of the infant, as it attempts to rise and walk alone. Next we find the child in a rustic cradle; a branch of the tree under which he is sleeping bends low, to shield him from the fierce rays of the sun, and his royal parents, beholding the miracle, kneel and adore him. Now he is a youthful prince, beautiful and gentle, troubled with pity for the poor, the afflicted, and the aged, as they rest by the roadside. And finally, as a hermit, he sits in the shade of a boh-tree, rapt in divine contemplation.

It is a great work, full of imagination, truth, and power, if justly contemplated by the light of a semi-barbaric age. Every figure is instinct with character and action, and the whole is rendered with infinite _naivete_, as though it represented undisputed and familiar facts.

On the opposite wall another great cartoon represents the Hell of the Buddhists, with demons whose hideous heads are those of fabulous beasts and creeping things. As a work of imagination and force this is worthy to be the companion of the Birth of Buddha.

The roof is painted as a firmament,–stars in a blue ground; and here it is that the charm of pure feeling and noble treatment is most apparent. With five colors the artist has produced all the variety we see. No cast shadows are shown, the forms themselves are but partially shaded, yet wonderful harmony and beauty pervade the whole. All honor to Nai Dang! who alone, amid the national decay of art and culture, preserved this germ of glorious life and strength, wrapped in his own obscure, neglected life!

The practice of decorating walls and ceilings with paintings may be traced to a remote period in the history of Siamese art. In an ancient temple at Lophaburee is a curious picture, of less merit than those of Nai Dang, representing the marriage of Buddha with the princess Thiwadi, beside many of the transmigrations of the Buddhas; and there are elsewhere one or two pictures well worthy of notice, by masters whose names have not been kept in remembrance. Thus art in Siam has degenerated for want of kind, fostering patrons, and faithful, sympathetic chroniclers, till it has become a thing of mere tools and technics.

Nevertheless, they still paint with some cleverness on wood, cloth, parchment, ivory, and plastic material, as well as on gold and silver,–a sort of enamelling. They also retain a fair knowledge of effect in fresco, tracing the outline on the wet ground, and laying on the color in a thin glue; in some of their later work of this kind that I have seen, the idea of the designer is expressed with much vigor.

Their mosaics, executed in colored porcelain of several varieties, glass of all kinds, mother-of-pearl, and colored marbles, represent chiefly flowers and sprays on a brilliant ground. The most remarkable work of this kind is, I imagine, that which is lavished on the temple Watt P’hra Keau,–the walls, pillars, windows, roofs, towers, and gates being everywhere overlaid with mother-of-pearl and ivory, and profusely gilded. The several facades are likewise inlaid with ivory, glass, and mother-of-pearl, fixed with cement in the mortar, which serves as a base. In all cases these works are characterized by a touching simplicity, which seems to struggle through much, that is obscure and illegible to get nearer to nature and truth. Most of the tiles employed in the roofing of temples and palaces are colored and gilt.


Among the older pictures, one in the Royal bedchamber of the abandoned palace deserves a parting glance. It is a cartoon (much defaced, and here and there re-touched by clumsy Chinese hands) of The First Sin. In the foreground a newly created world is rudely represented, and here are several illuminated figures, human but gigantic. One of these, discontented with his spiritual food, is seen tasting something, which we are told is “fragrant earth”; after which, in another figure, he appears to be electrified, and here his monstrous anatomy is depicted with ludicrous attempts at detail. No one could tell me by whom or when this cartoon was painted, and the painting itself is so little appreciated that I might never have seen or heard of it but for a happy chance.

A characteristic effect in the few great works by Siamese painters appears in their management of shade. They impart to darkness a pervading inner light or clearness, and heighten the effect of the deeper shadows by permitting objects to be seen through them. In addition to the pictures I have described, one or two of some merit are to be found in the Watt Brahmanee Waid.

The florid style of architecture seems to have been familiar to the Siamese from a very early period. Their palaces, temples, and pagodas afford innumerable examples of it, many of them not unworthy of European art. They build generally in brick, using a cement composed of sand, chalk, and molasses, in which the skin of the buffalo has been steeped. Their structures are the most solid and durable imaginable. When the masons building a wall round the new palace at Ayuthia found their bricks falling short, they tried in vain to detach a supply from the ruined temples and walls of that ancient city.

In the art of sculpture the Siamese are in advance of their civilization. Not only in their palaces, temples, and pagodas, but in their shops and dwellings likewise, and even in their ships and boats, all sorts of figures are to be seen, modelled and finished with more or less delicacy.


“The world is old, and all things old within it.” We plod a trodden path. No truth is new to-day, save only that one which as a mantle covers the face of God, lest we be blinded by the unveiled glory. How many of earth’s departed great, buried out of remembrance, might have lived to-day in the love of the wise and just, had theirs but been that perfect quickening which is the breath of his Spirit upon the heart, the gift that “passeth understanding!” The world’s helpers must first become borrowers of God. The world’s teachers must first learn of him that only wisdom, which cometh not of books nor jealous cloister cells, but out of the heart of man as it opens yearningly to the cry of humanity,–the Wisdom of Love. This alone may challenge a superior mind, prizing truths not merely for their facts, but for their motives,–motives for which individuals or great communities either act or suffer,–to explore with a calm and kindly judgment the spirit of the religion of the Buddhists; and not its spirit only, but its every look and tone and motion as well, being so many complex expressions of the religious character in all its peculiar thoughts and feelings.

“Who, of himself, can interpret the symbol expressed by the wings of the air-sylph forming within the case of the caterpillar? Only he who feels in his own soul the same instinct which impels the horned fly to leave room in its involucrum for antennae yet to come.” Such a man knows and feels that the potential works in him even as the actual works on him. As all the organs of sense are framed for a correspondent world of sense, so all the organs of the spirit are framed for a correspondent world of spirit; and though these latter be not equally developed in us all, yet they surely exist in all; else how is it that even the ignorant, the depraved, and the cruel will contemplate the man of unselfish and exalted goodness with contradictory emotions of pity and respect?

We are prone to ignore or to condemn that which we do not clearly understand; and thus it is, and on no better ground, that we deny that there are influences in the religions of the East to render their followers wiser, nobler, purer. And yet no one of respectable intelligence will question that there have been, in all ages, individual pagans who, by the simplicity of their doctrine and the purity of their practice, have approached very nearly to the perfection of the Christian graces; and that they were, if not so much the better for the religion they had, at least far, far better than if they had had no religion at all.

It is not, however, in human nature to approve and admire any course of life without inquiring into the spirit of the law that regulates it. Nor may it suffice that the spirit is there, if not likewise the letter,–that is to say, the practice. The best doctrine may become the worst, if imperfectly understood, erroneously interpreted, or superstitiously followed.

In Egypt, Palestine, Greece, and India, the metaphysical analysis of Mind had attained its noontide splendor, while as yet experimental research had hardly dawned. Those ancient mystics did much to promote intellectual emancipation, by insisting that Thought should not be imprisoned within the mere outlines of any single dogmatic system; and they likewise availed, in no feeble measure, to keep alive the heart in the head, by demanding an impartial reverence for every attribute of the mind, till, by converting these into symbols to impress the ignorant and stupid, they came at last to deify them. Thus, with the uninitiated, their system degenerated into an ignoble pantheism.

The renascence of Buddhism sought to eliminate from the arrogant and impious pantheisms of Egypt, India, and Greece a simple and pure philosophy, upholding virtue as man’s greatest good and highest reward. It taught that the only object worthy of his noblest aspirations was to render the soul (itself an emanation from God) fit to be absorbed back again into the Divine essence from which it sprang. The single aim, therefore, of pure Buddhism seems to have been to rouse men to an inward contemplation of the divinity of their own nature; to fix their thoughts on the spiritual life within as the only real and true life; to teach them to disregard all earthly distinctions, conditions, privileges, enjoyments, privations, sorrows, sufferings; and thus to incite them to continual efforts in the direction of the highest ideals of patience, purity, self-denial.

Buddhism cannot be clearly defined by its visible results today. There are more things in that subtile, mystical enigma called in the Pali _Nirwana_, in the Birmese _Niban_, in the Siamese _Niphan_, than are dreamed of in our philosophy. With the idea of Niphan in his theology, it were absurdly false to say the Buddhist has no God. His Decalogue [FOOTNOTE: Translated from the Pali.] is as plain and imperative as the Christian’s :–

I. From the meanest insect up to man thou shalt kill no animal whatsoever.

II. Thou shalt not steal.

III. Thou shalt not violate the wife of another, nor his concubine.

IV. Thou shalt speak no word that is false.

V. Thou shalt not drink wine, nor anything that may intoxicate.

VI. Thou shalt avoid all anger, hatred, and bitter language.

VII. Thou shalt not indulge in idle and vain talk.

VIII. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

IX. Thou shalt not harbor envy, nor pride, nor revenge, nor malice, nor the desire of thy neighbor’s death or misfortune.

X. Thou shalt not follow the doctrines of false gods.

Whosoever abstains from these forbidden things is said to “observe Silah”; and whosoever shall faithfully observe Silah, in all his successive metempsychoses, shall continually increase in virtue and purity, until at length he shall become worthy to behold God, and hear his voice; and so he shall obtain Niphan. “Be assiduous in bestowing alms, in practising virtue, in observing Silah, in performing Bavana, prayer; and above all in adoring Guadama, the true God. Reverence likewise his laws and his priests.”

Many have missed seeing what is true and wise in the doctrine of Buddha because they preferred to observe it from the standpoint and in the attitude of an antagonist, rather than of an inquirer. To understand aright the earnest creed and hope of any man, one must be at least sympathetically _en rapport_ with him,–must be willing to feel, and to confess within one’s self, the germs of those errors whose growth seems so rank in him. In the humble spirit of this fellowship of fallibility let us draw as near as we may to the hearts of these devotees and the heart of their mystery.

My interesting pupil, the Lady Talap, had invited me to accompany her to the royal private temple, Watt P’hra Keau, to witness the services held there on the Buddhist Sabato, or One-thu-sin. Accordingly we repaired together to the temple on the day appointed. The day was young, and the air was cool and fresh; and as we approached the place of worship, the clustered bells of the pagodas made breezy gushes of music aloft. One of the court pages, meeting us, inquired our destination. “The Watt P’hra Keau,” I replied. “To see or to hear?” “Both.” And we entered.

On a floor diamonded with polished brass sat a throng of women, the _elite_ of Siam. All were robed in pure white, with white silk scarfs drawn from the left shoulder in careful folds across the bust and back, and thrown gracefully over the right. A little apart sat their female slaves, of whom many were inferior to their mistresses only in social consideration and worldly gear, being their half-sisters,–children of the same father by a slave mother.

The women sat in circles, and each displayed her vase of flowers and her lighted taper before her. In front of all were a number of my younger pupils, the royal children, in circles also. Close by the altar, on a low square stool, overlaid with a thin cushion of silk, sat the high-priest, Chow Khoon Sah. In his hand he held a concave fan, lined with pale green silk, the back richly embroidered, jewelled, and gilt. [Footnote: The fan is used to cover the face. Jewelled fans are marks of distinction among the priesthood.] He was draped in a yellow robe, not unlike the Roman toga, a loose and flowing habit, closed below the waist, but open from the throat to the girdle, which was simply a band of yellow cloth, bound tightly. From the shoulders hung two narrow strips, also yellow, descending over the robe to the feet, and resembling the scapular worn by certain orders of the Roman Catholic clergy. At his side was an open watch of gold, the gift of his sovereign. At his feet sat seventeen disciples, shading their faces with fans less richly adorned.

We put off our shoes,–my child and I,–having respect for the ancient prejudice against them; [Footnote: “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”] feeling not so much reverence for the place as for the hearts that worshipped there, caring to display not so much the love of wisdom as the wisdom of love; and well were we repaid by the grateful smile of recognition that greeted us as we entered.

We sat down cross-legged. No need to hush my boy,–the silence there, so subduing, checked with its mysterious awe even his inquisitive young mind. The venerable high-priest sat with his face jealously covered, lest his eyes should tempt his thoughts to stray. I changed my position to catch a glimpse of his countenance; he drew his fan-veil more closely, giving me a quick but gentle half-glance of remonstrance. Then raising his eyes, with lids nearly closed, he chanted in an infantile, wailing tone.

That was the opening prayer. At once the whole congregation raised themselves on their knees and, all together, prostrated themselves thrice profoundly, thrice touching the polished brass floor with their foreheads; and then, with heads bowed and palms folded and eyes closed, they delivered the responses after the priest, much in the manner of the English liturgy, first the priest, then the people, and finally all together. There was no singing, no standing up and sitting down, no changing of robes or places, no turning the face to the altar, nor north, nor south, nor east, nor west. All knelt _still_, with hands folded straight before them, and eyes strictly, tightly closed. Indeed, there were faces there that expressed devotion and piety, the humblest and the purest, as the lips murmured: “O Thou Eternal One, Thou perfection of Time, Thou truest Truth, Thou immutable essence of all Change, Thou most excellent radiance of Mercy, Thou infinite Compassion, Thou Pity, Thou Charity!”

I lost some of the responses in the simultaneous repetition, and did but imperfectly comprehend the exhortation that followed, in which was inculcated the strictest practice of charity in a manner so pathetic and so gentle as might be wisely imitated by the most orthodox of Christian priests.

There was majesty in the humility of those pagan worshippers, and in their shame of self they were sublime. I leave both the truth and the error to Him who alone can soar to the bright heights of the one and sound the dark depths of the other, and take to myself the lesson, to be read in the shrinking forms and hidden faces of those patient waiters for a far-off glimmering _Light_,–the lesson wherefrom I learn, in thanking God for the light of Christianity, to thank him for its shadow too, which is Buddhism.

Around the porches and vestibules of the temple lounged the Amazonian guard, intent only on irreverent amusement, even in the form of a grotesque and grim flirtation here and there with the custodians of the temple, who have charge of the sacred fire that burns before the altar. About eighty-five years ago this fire went out. It was a calamity of direful presage, and thereupon all Siam went into a consternation of mourning. All public spectacles were forbidden until the crime could be expiated by the appropriate punishment of the wretch to whose sacrilegious carelessness it was due; nor was the sacred flame rekindled until the reign of P’hra-Pooti-Yaut-Fa, grandfather of his late Majesty, when the royal Hall of Audience was destroyed by lightning. From that fire of heaven it was relighted with joyful thanksgiving, and so has burned on to this day.

The lofty throne, on which the priceless P’hra Keau (the Emerald Idol) blazed in its glory of gold and gems, shone resplendent in the forenoon light. Everything above, around it,–even the vases of flowers and the perfumed tapers on the floor,–was reflected as if by magic in its kaleidoscopic surface, now pensive, pale, and silvery as with moonlight, now flashing, fantastic, with the party-colored splendors of a thousand lamps.

The ceiling was wholly covered with hieroglyphic devices,–luminous circles and triangles, globes, rings, stars, flowers, figures of animals, even parts of the human body,–mystic symbols, to be deciphered only by the initiated. Ah! could I but have read them as in a book, construing all their allegorical significance, how near might I not have come to the distracting secret of this people! Gazing upon them, my thought flew back a thousand years, and my feeble, foolish conjectures, like butterflies at sea, were lost in mists of old myth.

Not that Buddhism has escaped the guessing and conceits of a multitude of writers, most trustworthy of whom are the early Christian Fathers, who, to the end that they might arouse the attention of the sleeping nations, yielded a reluctant, but impartial and graceful, tribute to the long-forgotten creeds of Chaldea, Phenicia, Assyria, and Egypt. Nevertheless, they would never have appealed to the doctrine of Buddha as being most like to Christianity in its rejection of the claims of race, had they not found in its simple ritual another and a stronger bond of brotherhood. Like Christianity, too, it was a religion catholic and apostolic, for the truth of which many faithful witnesses had laid down their lives. It was, besides, the creed of an ancient race; and the mystery that shrouded it had a charm to pique the vanity even of self-sufficient Greeks, and stir up curiosity even in Roman arrogance and indifference. The doctrines of Buddha were eminently fitted to elucidate the doctrines of Christ, and therefore worthy to engage the interest of Christian writers; accordingly, among the earliest of these mention is made of the Buddha or Phthah, though there were as yet few or none to appreciate all the religious significance of his teachings. Terebinthus declared there was nothing in the pagan world to be compared with his (Buddha’s) _P’hra-ti-moksha_, or Code of Discipline, which in some respects resembled the rules that governed the lives of the monks of Christendom; Marco Polo says of Buddha, “Si fuisset Christianus, fuisset apud Deum maximus factus”; and later, Malcolm, the devoted missionary, said of his doctrine, “In almost every respect it seems to be the best religion which man has ever invented.” Mark the “invented” of the wary Christian!

But errors, that in time crept in, corrupted the pure doctrine, and disciples, ignorant or stupid, perverted its meaning and intent, and blind or treacherous guides led the simple astray, till at last the true and plain philosophy of Buddha became entangled with the Egyptian mythology.

Over the portal on the eastern facade of the Watt P’hra Keau is a bass-relief representing the Last Judgment, in which are figures of a devil with a pig’s head dragging the wicked to hell, and an angel weighing mankind in a pair of scales. Now we know that in the mythology of ancient Egypt the Pig was the emblem of the Evil Spirit, and this bass-relief of the Siamese watt could hardly fail to remind the Egyptologist of kindred compositions in old sculptures wherein the good and bad deeds of the dead are weighed by Anubis (the Siamese Anuman or Hanuman), and the souls of the wicked carried off by a pig.

In the city of Arsinoe in Upper Egypt (formerly Crocodilopolis, now Medinet-el-Fayum), the crocodile is worshipped; and a sacred crocodile, kept in a pond, is perfectly tame and familiar with the priests. He is called Suchus, and they feed him with meat and corn and wine, the contributions of strangers. One of the Egyptian divinities, apparently that to whom the beast was consecrated, is invariably pictured with the head of a crocodile; and in hieroglyphic inscriptions is represented by that animal with the tail turned under the body. A similar figure is common in the temples of Siam; and a sacred crocodile, kept in a pond in the manner of the ancient Egyptians, is fed by Siamese priests, at whose call it comes to the surface to receive the rice, fruit, and wine that are brought to it daily.

The Beetle, an insect peculiarly sacred to the Buddhists, was the Egyptian sign of Phthah, the Father of Gods; and in the hieroglyphics it stands for the name of that deity, whose head is either surmounted by a beetle, or is itself in the form of a beetle. Elsewhere in the hieroglyphics, where it does not represent Buddha, it evidently appears as the symbol of generation or reproduction, the meaning most anciently attached to it; whence Dr. Young, in his “Hieroglyphical Researches,” inferred its relation to Buddha. Mrs. Hamilton Gray, in her work on the Sepulchres of Etruria, observes: “As scarabaei existed long before we had any account of idols, I do not doubt that they were originally the invention of some really devout mind; and they speak to us in strong language of the danger of making material symbols of immaterial things. First, the symbol came to be trusted in, instead of the being of whom it was the sign. Then came the bodily conception and manifestation of that being, or his attributes, in the form of idols. Next, the representation of all that belongs to spirits, good and bad. And finally, the deification of every imagination of the heart of man,–a written and accredited system of polytheism, and a monstrous and hydra-headed idolatry.”

Such is the religious history of the scarabaeus, a creature that so early attracted the notice of man by its ingenious and industrious habits, that it was selected by him to symbolize the Creator; and cutting stones to represent it, [FOOTNOTE: Six rubies, exquisitely cut in the form of beetles, are worn as studs by the present King of Siam.] he wore them in token of his belief in a creator of all things, and in recognition of the Divine Presence, probably attaching to them at first no more mysterious import or virtue. There is sound reason for believing that in this form the symbol existed before Abraham, and that its fundamental signification of creation or generation was gradually overbuilt with arbitrary speculations and fantastic notions. In theory it degenerated into a crude egoism, a vaunting and hyper-stoic hostility to nature, which, though intellectually godless, was not without that universal instinct for divinity which, by countless ways, seeks with an ever-present and importunate longing for the one sublimated and eternal source from which it sprang.

Through twenty-five million six hundred thousand Asongkhies, or metempsychoses,–according to the overpowering computation of his priests,–did Buddha struggle to attain the divine omniscience of Niphan, by virtue of which he remembers every form he ever entered, and beholds with the clear eyes of a god the endless diversities of transmigration in the animal, human, and angelic worlds, throughout the spaceless, timeless, numberless universe of visible and invisible life. According to Heraclides, Pythagoras used to say of himself, that he remembered “not only all the men, but all the animals and all the plants, his soul had passed through.” That Pythagoras believed and taught the doctrine of transmigration may hardly be doubted, but that he originated it is very questionable. Herodotus intimates that both Orpheus and Pythagoras derived it from the Egyptians, but propounded it as their own, without acknowledgment.

Nearly every male inhabitant of Siam enters the priesthood at least once in his lifetime. Instead of the more vexatious and scandalous forms of divorce, the party aggrieved may become a priest or a nun, and thus the matrimonial bond is at once dissolved; and with this advantage, that after three or four months of probation they may be reconciled and reunited, to live together in the world again.

Chow Khoon Sah, or “His Lordship the Lake,” whose functions in the Watt P’hra Keau I have described, was the High-Priest of Siam, and in high favor with his Majesty. He had taken holy orders with the double motive of devoting himself to the study of Sanskrit literature, and of escaping the fate, that otherwise awaited him, of becoming the mere thrall of his more fortunate cousin, the king. In the palace it was whispered that he and the late queen consort had been tenderly attached to each other, but that the lady’s parents, for prudential considerations, discountenanced the match; “and so,” on the eve of her betrothal to his Majesty, her lover had sought seclusion and consolation in a Buddhist monastery. However that may be, it is certain that the king and the high-priest were now fast friends. The latter entertained great respect for his reverend cousin, whose title (“The Lake”) described justly, as well as poetically, the graceful serenity and repose of his demeanor.

Chow Khoon Sah lived at some distance from the palace, at the Watt Brahmanee Waid. As the friendship between the cousins ripened, his Majesty considered that it would be well for him to have the contemplative student, prudent adviser, and able reasoner nearer to him. With this idea, and for a surprise to one to whom all surprises had long since become but vanities and vexations of spirit, he caused to be erected, about forty yards from the Grand Palace, on the eastern side of the Meinam, a temple which he named _Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang_, or “The King caused me to be built”; and at the same time, as an appendage to the temple, a monastery in mediaeval style, the workmanship in both structures being most substantial and elaborate.

The sculptures and carvings on the pillars and facades–half-fabulous, half-historical figures, conveying ingenious allegories of the triumph of virtue over the passions–constituted a singular tribute to the exemplary fame of the high-priest. The grounds were planted with trees and shrubs, and the walks gravelled, thus inviting the contemplative recluse to tranquil, soothing strolls. These grounds were accessible by four gates, the principal one facing the east, and a private portal opening on the canal.

The laying of the foundation of the temple and monastery of Rajah-Bah-dit-Sang was the occasion of extraordinary festivities, consisting of theatrical spectacles and performances, a carnival of dancing, mass around every corner-stone, banquets to priests, and distributions of clothing, food, and money to the poor. The king presided every morning and evening under a silken canopy; and even those favorites of the harem who were admitted to the royal confidence were provided with tents, whence they could witness the shows, and participate in the rejoicings in the midst of which the good work went on. After the several services of mass had been performed, and the corner-stones consecrated by the pouring on of oil and water, [Footnote: Oil is the emblem of life and love; water, of purity.] seven tall lamps were lighted to burn above them seven days and nights, and seventy priests in groups of seven, forming a perfect circle, prayed continually, holding in their hands the mystic web of seven threads, that weird circlet of life and death.

Then the youngest and fairest virgins of the land brought offerings of corn and wine, milk, honey, and flowers, and poured them on the consecrated stones. And after that, they brought pottery of all kinds,–vases, urns, ewers, goglets, bowls, cups, and dishes,–and, flinging them into the foundations, united with zeal and rejoicing in the “meritorious” work of pounding them into fine dust; and while the instruments of music and the voices of the male and female singers of the court kept time to the measured crash and thud of the wooden clubs in those young and tender hands, the king cast into the foundation coins and ingots of gold and silver.

“Do you understand the word ‘charity,’ or _maitri_, as your apostle St. Paul explains it in the thirteenth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians?” said his Majesty to me one morning, when he had been discussing the religion of Sakyamuni, the Buddha.

“I believe I do, your Majesty,” was my reply.

“Then, tell me, what does St. Paul really mean, to what custom does he allude, when he says, ‘Even if I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing’?”

“Custom!” said I. “I do not know of any _custom_. The giving of the body to be burned is by him esteemed the highest act of devotion, the purest sacrifice man can make for man.”

“You have said well. It is the highest act of devotion that can be made, or performed, by man for man,–that giving of his body to be burned. But if it is done from a spirit of opposition, for the sake of fame, or popular applause, or for any other such motive, is it still to be regarded as the highest act of sacrifice?”

“That is just what St. Paul means: the motive consecrates the deed.”

“But all men are not fortified with the self-control which should fit them to be great exemplars; and of the many who have appeared in that character, if strict inquiry were made, their virtue would be found to proceed from any other than the true and pure spirit. Sometimes it is indolence, sometimes restlessness, sometimes vanity impatient for its gratification, and rushing to assume the part of humility for the purpose of self-delusion.”

“Now” said the King, taking several of his long strides in the vestibule of his library, and declaiming with his habitual emphasis, “St Paul, in this chapter, evidently and strongly applies the Buddhist’s word _maitri_, or _maikree_, as pronounced by some Sanskrit scholars; and explains it through the Buddhist’s custom of giving the body to be