The English Governess At The Siamese Court
Anna Harriette Leonowens

Part 1 out of 5

E-text prepared by Lee Dawei, Michelle Shephard, David Moynihan, Charles
Franks, and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team






With Illustrations,

[Illustration: Gateway Of the Old Palace.]


I have not asked your leave, dear friend, to dedicate to you these pages
of my experience in the heart of an Asiatic court; but I know you will
indulge me when I tell you that my single object in inscribing your name
here is to evince my grateful appreciation of the kindness that led you
to urge me to try the resources of your country instead of returning to
Siam, and to plead so tenderly in behalf of my children.

I wish the offering were more worthy of your acceptance. But to
associate your name with the work your cordial sympathy has fostered,
and thus pleasantly to retrace even the saddest of my recollections,
amid the happiness that now surrounds me,--a happiness I owe to the
generous friendship of noble-hearted American women,--is indeed a
privilege and a compensation.

I remain, with true affection, gratitude, and admiration,

Your friend, A. H. L.

26th July, 1870.


His Majesty, Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, the Supreme King of
Siam, having sent to Singapore for an English lady to undertake the
education of his children, my friends pointed to me. At first it was
with much reluctance that I consented to entertain the project; but,
strange as it may seem, the more I reflected upon it the more feasible
it appeared, until at length I began to look forward, even with a glow
of enthusiasm, toward the new and untried field I was about to enter.

The Siamese Consul at Singapore, Hon. W. Tan Kim-Ching, had written
strongly in my favor to the Court of Siam, and in response I received
the following letter from the King himself:--

"ENGLISH ERA, 1862, 26th February.


"MADAM: We are in good pleasure, and satisfaction in heart, that you are
in willingness to undertake the education of our beloved royal children.
And we hope that in doing your education on us and on our children (whom
English, call inhabitants of benighted land) you will do your best
endeavor for knowledge of English language, science, and literature, and
not for conversion to Christianity; as the followers of Buddha are
mostly aware of the powerfulness of truth and virtue, as well as the
followers of Christ, and are desirous to have facility of English
language and literature, more than new religions.

"We beg to invite you to our royal palace to do your best endeavorment
upon us and our children. We shall expect to see you here on return of
Siamese steamer Chow Phya.

"We have written to Mr. William Adamson, and to our consul at Singapore,
to authorize to do best arrangement for you and ourselves.

"Believe me

"Your faithfully, (Signed)


About a week before our departure for Bangkok, the captain and mate of
the steamer Rainbow called upon me. One of these gentlemen had for
several years served the government of Siam, and they came to warn me of
the trials and dangers that must inevitably attend the enterprise in
which I was embarking. Though it was now too late to deter me from the
undertaking by any arguments addressed to my fears, I can nevertheless
never forget the generous impulse of the honest seamen, who said:
"Madam, be advised even by strangers, who have proved what sufferings
await you, and shake your hands of this mad undertaking." By the next
steamer I sailed for the Court of Siam.

In the following pages I have tried to give a full and faithful account
of the scenes and the characters that were gradually unfolded to me as I
began to understand the language, and by all other means to attain a
clearer insight into the secret life of the court. I was thankful to
find, even in this citadel of Buddhism, men, and above all women, who
were "lovely in their lives," who, amid infinite difficulties, in the
bosom of a most corrupt society, and enslaved to a capricious and often
cruel will, yet devoted themselves to an earnest search after truth. On
the other hand, I have to confess with sorrow and shame, how far we,
with all our boasted enlightenment, fall short, in true nobility and
piety, of some of our "benighted" sisters of the East. With many of
them, Love, Truth, and Wisdom are not mere synonyms but "living gods,"
for whom they long with lively ardor, and, when found, embrace with joy.

Those of my readers who may find themselves interested in the wonderful
ruins recently discovered in Cambodia are indebted to the earlier
travellers, M. Henri Mouhot, Dr. A. Bastian, and the able English
photographer. James Thomson, F. R. G. S. L., almost as much as to

To the Hon. George William Curtis of New York, and to all my other true
friends, abroad and in America, I feel very grateful.

And finally, I would acknowledge the deep obligation I am under to Dr.
J. W. Palmer, whose literary experience and skill have been of so great
service to me in revising and preparing my manuscript for the press. A.
H. L.



[Illustration: Fac-Simile of Letter from present Supreme King of Siam:
Transcription follows:]

Amarinde Winschley
Palace Bangkok
March 6th 1869

Mrs. A. H. Leonowens
New York

Dear Madam,

I have great pleasure in condescending to answer your sympathising
letter of 25th November last wherein the sorrowful expressions of your
heart in relation to my most beloved Sovereign Father in demise which is
a venerated burden and I have left to this day and ever more shall bear
this most unexpressable loss in mind, with the deepest respect and
lamentation, and resignation to the will of divine Providence;--are very
loyal to you too to ful, and share your grief in behalf the affection
you have for your royal pupils, and the kind remembrances you have made
of them in your letter, loves you too with that respect and love your
are held in ther esteem, for such disinterestioness in imparting
knowledge to them during your stay here with us. I have the pleasure
also, to mention you that our Government in counsel has elected me to
assume the reins of Government notwithstanding my juvenility; and I am
pleased to see the love the people have for me, most undoubtedly arising
from the respect and veneration they have had for my beloved royal
Father and I hope to render them prosperity and peace, and equal
measure, they have enjoyed since the last reign in return.

May you and your beloved children be in the peace of the divine

I beg to remain,

Yours sincerely

Somdetch Phra Chulalonkorn Klou Chow-yu Hua
Supreme King of Siam
on 114th day of reign


MARCH 15, 1862.--On board the small Siamese steamer Chow Phya, in the
Gulf of Siam.

I rose before the sun, and ran on deck to catch an early glimpse of the
strange land we were nearing; and as I peered eagerly, not through mist
and haze, but straight into the clear, bright, many-tinted ether, there
came the first faint, tremulous blush of dawn, behind her rosy veil; and
presently the welcome face shines boldly out, glad, glorious, beautiful,
and aureoled with flaming hues of orange, fringed with amber and gold,
wherefrom flossy webs of color float wide through the sky, paling as
they go. A vision of comfort and gladness, that tropical March morning,
genial as a July dawn in my own less ardent clime; but the memory of two
round, tender arms, and two little dimpled hands, that so lately had
made themselves loving fetters round my neck, in the vain hope of
holding mamma fast, blinded my outlook; and as, with a nervous tremor
and a rude jerk, we came to anchor there, so with a shock and a tremor I
came to my hard realities.

The captain told us we must wait for the afternoon tide to carry us over
the bar. I lingered on deck, as long as I could dodge the fiery spears
that flashed through our tattered awning, and bear the bustle and the
boisterous jests of some circus people, our fellow-passengers, who came
by express invitation of the king to astonish and amuse the royal
household and the court.

Scarcely less intelligent, and certainly more entertaining, than these
were the dogs of our company,-? brutes of diverse temperament,
experience, and behavior. There were the captain's two, Trumpet and Jip,
who, by virtue of their reflected rank and authority, held places of
privilege and pickings under the table, and were jealous and overbearing
as became a captain's favorites, snubbing and bullying their more
accomplished and versatile guests, the circus dogs, with skipper-like
growls and snarls and snaps. And there was our own true Bessy,--a
Newfoundland, great and good,--discreet, reposeful, dignified,
fastidious, not to be cajoled into confidences and familiarities with
strange dogs, whether official or professional. Very human was her
gentle countenance, and very loyal, I doubt not, her sense of
responsibility, as she followed anxiously my boy and me, interpreting
with her heart the thoughts she read in our faces, and responding with
her sympathetic eyes.

In the afternoon, when we dined on deck, the land was plainly visible;
and now, as with a favoring tide we glided toward the beautiful Meinam
("Mother of Waters"), the air grew brighter, and the picture lived and
moved; trees _grew_ on the banks, more and more verdure, monkeys swung
from bough to bough, birds flashed and piped among the thickets.

Though the reddish-brown water over the "banks" is very shallow at low
tide, craft of moderate burden, with the aid of a pilot, cast anchor
commonly in the very heart of the capital, in from ten to twelve fathoms
of water.

The world has few rivers so deep, commodious, and safe as the Meinam;
and when we arrived the authorities were contemplating the erection of
beacons on the bar, as well as a lighthouse for the benefit of vessels
entering the port of Bangkok. The stream is rich in fish of excellent
quality and flavor, such as is found in most of the great rivers of
Asia; and is especially noted for its _platoo_, a kind of sardine, so
abundant and cheap that it forms a common seasoning to the laborer's
bowl of rice. The Siamese are expert in modes of drying and salting fish
of all kinds, and large quantities are exported annually to Java,
Sumatra, Malacca, and China.

In half an hour from the time when the twin banks of the river, in their
raiment of bright green, seemed to open their beautiful arms to receive
us, we came to anchor opposite the mean, shabby, irregular town of
Paknam, or Sumuttra P'hra-kan ("Ocean Affairs"). Here the captain went
ashore to report himself to the Governor, and the officials of the
custom-house, and the mail-boat came out to us. My boy became impatient
for _couay_ (cake); Moonshee, my Persian teacher, and Beebe, my gay
Hindostanee nurse, expressed their disappointment and disgust, Moonshee
being absurdly dramatic in his wrath, as, fairly shaking his fist at the
town, he demanded, "What is this?"

Near this place are two islands. The one on the right is fortified, yet
withal so green and pretty, and seemingly so innocent of bellicose
designs, that one may fancy Nature has taken peculiar pains to heal and
hide the disfigurements grim Art has made in her beauty. On the other,
which at first I took for a floating shrine of white marble, is perhaps
the most unique and graceful object of architecture in Siam; shining
like a jewel on the broad bosom of the river, a temple all of purest
white, its lofty spire, fantastic and gilded, flashing back the glory of
the sun, and duplicated in shifting, quivering shadows in the limpid
waters below. Add to these the fitful ripple of the coquettish breeze,
the burnished blazonry of the surrounding vegetation, the budding charms
of spring joined to the sensuous opulence of autumn, and you have a
scene of lovely glamour it were but vain impertinence to describe. Earth
seemed to have gathered for her adorning here elements more
intellectual, poetic, and inspiring than she commonly displays to pagan

These islands at the gateway of the river are, like the bank in the
gulf, but accumulations of the sand borne down before the torrent, that,
suddenly swollen by the rains, rushes annually to the sea. The one on
which the temple stands is partly artificial, having been raised from
the bed of the Meinam by the king P'hra Chow Phra-sat-thong, as a work
of "merit." Visiting this island some years later, I found that this
temple, like all other pyramidal structures in this part of the world,
consists of solid masonry of brick and mortar. The bricks made here are
remarkable, being fully eight inches long and nearly four broad, and of
fine grain,--altogether not unlike the "tavellae" brick of the Egyptians
and ancient Romans. There are cornices on all sides, with steps to
ascend to the top, where a long inscription proclaims the name, rank,
and virtues of the founder, with dates of the commencement of the island
and the shrine. The whole of the space, extending to the low stone
breakwater that surrounds the island, is paved with the same kind of
brick, and encloses, in addition to the P'hra-Cha-dei ("The Lord's
Delight"), a smaller temple with a brass image of the sitting Buddha. It
also affords accommodation to the numerous retinue of princes, nobles,
retainers, and pages who attend the king in his annual visits to the
temple, to worship, and make votive offerings and donations to the
priests. A charming spot, yet not one to be contemplated with unalloyed
pleasure; for here also are the wretched people, who pass up and down in
boats, averting their eyes, pressing their hard, labor-grimed hands
against their sweating foreheads, and lowly louting in blind awe to
these whited bricks. Even the naked children hush and crouch, and lay
their little foreheads against the bottom of the boat.

His Majesty Somdetch P'hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, the late Supreme
King, contributed interesting _souvenirs_ to the enlargement and
adornment of this temple.

The town, which the twin islands redeem from the ignominy it otherwise
deserves, lies on the east bank of the river, and by its long lines of
low ramparts that face the water seems to have been at one time
substantially fortified; but the works are now dilapidated and
neglected. They were constructed in the first instance, I am told, with
fatal ingenuity; in the event of an attack the garrison would find them
as dangerous to abandon as to defend. Paknam is indebted for its
importance rather to its natural position, and its possibilities of
improvement under the abler hands into which it is gradually falling,
than to any advantage or promise in itself; for a more disgusting,
repulsive place is scarcely to be found on Asian ground.

The houses are built partly of mud, partly of wood, and, as in those of
Malacca, only the upper story is habitable, the ground floor being the
abode of pigs, dogs, fowls, and noisome reptiles. The "Government House"
was originally of stone, but all the more recent additions have been
shabbily constructed of rough timber and mud. This is one of the few
houses in Paknam which one may enter without mounting a ladder or a
clumsy staircase, and which have rooms in the lower as well as in the
upper story.

The Custom-House is an open _sala_, or shed, where interpreters,
inspectors, and tidewaiters lounge away the day on cool mats, chewing
areca, betel, and tobacco, and extorting moneys, goods, or provisions
from the unhappy proprietors of native trading craft, large or small;
but Europeans are protected from their rascally and insolent exactions
by the intelligence and energy of their respective consuls.

The hotel is a whitewashed brick building, originally designed to
accommodate foreign ambassadors and other official personages visiting
the Court of Siam. The king's summer-house, fronting the islands, is the
largest edifice to be seen, but it has neither dignity nor beauty. A
number of inferior temples and monasteries occupy the background, and
are crowded with a rabble of priests, in yellow robes and with shaven
pates; packs of mangy pariah-dogs attend them. These monasteries consist
of many small rooms or cells, containing merely a mat and wooden pillow
for each occupant. The refuse of the food, which the priests beg during
the day, is cast to the dogs at night; and what _they_ refuse is left to
putrefy. Unimaginable are the stenches the sun of Siam engenders in such

A village so happily situated might, under better management, become a
thriving and pleasing port; but neglect, cupidity, and misrule have
shockingly deformed and degraded it. Nevertheless, by its picturesque
site and surroundings of beauty, it retains its hold upon the regretful
admiration of many Europeans and Americans, who in ill health have found
strength and cheer in its sea-breezes.

We heartily enjoyed the delightful freshness of the evening air as we
glided up the Meinam, though the river view at this point is somewhat
marred by the wooden piers and quays that line it on either side, and
the floating houses, representing elongated A's. From the deck, at a
convenient height above the level of the river and the narrow serpentine
canals and creeks, we looked down upon conical roofs thatched with
attaps, and diversified by the pyramids and spires and fantastic turrets
of the more important buildings. The valley of the Meinam, not over six
hundred miles in length, is as a long deep dent or fissure in the
alluvial soil. At its southern extremity we have the climate and
vegetation of the tropics, while its northern end, on the brow of the
Yunan, is a region of perpetual snow. The surrounding country is
remarkable for the bountiful productiveness of its unctuous loam. The
scenery, though not wild nor grand, is very picturesque and charming in
the peculiar golden haze of its atmosphere. I surveyed with more and
more admiration each new scene of blended luxuriance and
beauty,--plantations spreading on either hand as far as the eye could
reach, and level fields of living green, billowy with crops of rice and
maize, and sugar-cane and coffee, and cotton and tobacco; and the wide
irregular river, a kaleidoscope of evanescent form and color, where
land, water, and sky joined or parted in a thousand charming surprises
of shapes and shadows.

The sun was already sinking in the west, when we caught sight of a tall
roof of familiar European fashion; and presently a lowly white chapel
with green windows, freshly painted, peeped out beside two pleasant
dwellings. Chapel and homes belong to the American Presbyterian Mission.
A forest of graceful boughs filled the background; the last faint rays
of the departing sun fell on the Mission pathway, and the gentle swaying
of the tall trees over the chapel imparted a promise of safety and
peace, as the glamour of the approaching night and the gloom and mystery
of the pagan land into which we were penetrating filled me with an
indefinable dread. I almost trembled, as the unfriendly clouds drove out
the lingering tints of day. Here were the strange floating city, with
its stranger people on all the open porches, quays, and jetties; the
innumerable rafts and boats, canoes and gondolas, junks, and ships; the
pall of black smoke from the steamer, the burly roar of the engine, and
the murmur and the jar; the bewildering cries of men, women, and
children, the shouting of the Chinamen, and the barking of the
dogs,--yet no one seemed troubled but me. I knew it was wisest to hide
my fears. It was the old story. How many of our sisters, how many of our
daughters, how many of our hearts' darlings, are thus, without friend or
guide or guard or asylum, turning into untried paths with untold stories
of trouble and pain!

We dropped anchor in deep water near an island. In a moment the river
was alive with nondescript craft, worked by amphibious creatures, half
naked, swarthy, and grim, who rent the air with shrill, wild jargon as
they scrambled toward us. In the distance were several hulks of Siamese
men-of-war, seemingly as old as the flood; and on the right towered,
tier over tier, the broad roofs of the grand Royal Palace of
Bangkok,--my future "home" and the scene of my future labors.

The circus people are preparing to land; and the dogs, running to and
fro with anxious glances, have an air of leave-taking also. Now the
China coolies, with pigtails braided and coiled round their low,
receding brows, begin their uncouth bustle, and into the small hours of
the morning enliven the time of waiting with frantic shouts and

Before long a showy gondola, fashioned like a dragon, with flashing
torches and many paddles, approached; and a Siamese official mounted the
side, swaying himself with an absolute air. The red _langoutee_, or
skirt, loosely folded about his person, did not reach his ankles; and to
cover his audacious chest and shoulders he had only his own brown
polished skin. He was followed by a dozen attendants, who, the moment
they stepped from the gangway, sprawled on the deck like huge toads,
doubling their arms and legs under them, and pressing their noses
against the boards, as if intent on making themselves small by degrees
and hideously less. Every Asiatic on deck, coolies and all, prostrates
himself, except my two servants, who are bewildered. Moonshee covertly
mumbles his five prayers, ejaculating between, _Mash-Allah! A Tala-yea
kia hai?_ [Footnote: "Great God! what is this?"] and Beebe shrinks, and
draws her veil of spotted muslin jealously over her charms.

The captain stepped forward and introduced us. "His Excellency Chow Phya
Sri Sury Wongse, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Siam!"

Half naked as he was, and without an emblem to denote his rank, there
was yet something remarkable about this native chief, by virtue of which
he compelled our respect from the first glance,--a sensibly magnetic
quality of tone or look. With an air of command oddly at variance with
his almost indecent attire, of which he seemed superbly unconscious, he
beckoned to a young attendant, who crawled to him as a dog crawls to an
angry master. This was an interpreter, who at a word from his lord began
to question me in English.

"Are you the lady who is to teach in the royal family?"

On my replying in the affirmative, he asked, "Have you friends in

Finding I had none, he was silent for a minute or two; then demanded:
"What will you do? Where will you sleep to-night?"

"Indeed I cannot tell," I said. "I am a stranger here. But I understood
from his Majesty's letter that a residence would be provided for us on
our arrival; and he has been duly informed that we were to arrive at
this time."

"His Majesty cannot remember everything," said his Excellency; the
interpreter added, "You can go where you like." And away went master and
slaves. I was dumfoundered, without even voice to inquire if there was a
hotel in the city; and my servants were scornfully mute. My kind friend
the captain was sorely puzzled. He would have sheltered us if he could;
but a cloud of coal-dust and the stamping and screaming of a hundred and
fifty Chinamen made hospitality impracticable; so I made a little bed
for my child on deck, and prepared to pass the night with him under a
canopy of stars.

The situation was as Oriental as the scene,--heartless arbitrary
insolence on the part of my employers; homelessness, forlornness,
helplessness, mortification, indignation, on mine. Fears and misgivings
crowded and stunned me. My tears fell thick and fast, and, weary and
despairing, I closed my eyes, and tried to shut out heaven and earth;
but the reflection would return to mock and goad me, that by my own act,
and against the advice of my friends, I had placed myself in this

The good captain of the Chow Phya, much troubled by the conduct of the
minister, paced the deck (which usually, on these occasions, he left to
the supercargo) for more than an hour. Presently a boat approached, and
he hailed it. In a moment it was at the gangway, and with robust, hearty
greetings on both sides, Captain B----, a cheery Englishman, with a
round, ruddy, rousing face, sprang on board; in a few words our
predicament was explained to him, and at once he invited us to share his
house, for the night at least, assuring us of a cordial welcome from his
wife. In the beautiful gondola of our "friend in need" we were pulled by
four men, standing to their oars, through a dream-like scene, peculiar
to this Venice of the East. Larger boats, in an endless variety of form
and adornment, with prows high, tapering, and elaborately carved, and
pretty little gondolas and canoes, passed us continually on the right
and left; yet amid so many signs of life, motion, traffic, bustle, the
sweet sound of the rippling waters alone fell on the ear. No rumbling of
wheels, nor clatter of hoofs, nor clangor of bells, nor roar and scream
of engines to shock the soothing fairy-like illusion. The double charm
of stillness and starlight was perfect.

"By the by," broke in my cheery new friend, "you'll have to go with me
to the play, ma'm; because my wife is there with the boys, and the
house-key is in her pocket."

"To the play!"

"O, don't be alarmed, ma'm! It's not a regular theatre; only a
catchpenny show, got up by a Frenchman, who came from Singapore a
fortnight since. And having so little amusement here, we are grateful
for anything that may help to break the monotony. The temporary
playhouse is within the palace grounds of his Royal Highness Prince Krom
Lhuang Wongse; and I hope to have an opportunity to introduce you to the
Prince, who I believe is to be present with his family."

The intelligence was not gratifying, a Siamese prince had too lately
disturbed my moral equilibrium; but I held my peace and awaited the
result with resignation. A few strokes of the oars, seconded by the
swift though silent current, brought us to a wooden pier surmounted by
two glaring lanterns. Captain B---- handed us out. My child, startled
from a deep sleep, was refractory, and would not trust himself out of my
fond keeping. When finally I had struggled with him in my arms to the
landing, I saw in the shadow a form coiled on a piece of striped
matting. Was it a bear? No, a prince! For the clumsy mass of reddish-
brown flesh unrolled and uplifted itself, and held out a human arm, with
a fat hand at the end of it, when Captain B---- presented me to "his
Royal Highness." Near by was his Excellency the Prime Minister, in the
identical costume that had disgraced our unpleasant interview on the
Chow Phya; he was smoking a European pipe, and plainly enjoying our
terrors. My stalwart friend contrived to squeeze us, and even himself,
first through a bamboo door, and then through a crowd of hot people, to
seats fronting a sort of altar, consecrated to the arts of jugglery. A
number of Chinamen of respectable appearance occupied the more distant
places, while those immediately behind us were filled by the ladies and
gentlemen of the foreign community. On a raised dais hung with kincob
[Footnote: Silk, embroidered with, gold flowers.] curtains, the ladies
of the Prince's harem reclined; while their children, shining in silk
and ornaments of gold, laughed, prattled, and gesticulated, until the
juggler appeared, when they were stunned with sudden wonder. Under the
eaves on all sides human heads were packed, on every head its cherished
tuft of hair, like a stiff black brush inverted, in every mouth its
delicious cud of areca-nut and betel, which the human cattle ruminated
with industrious content. The juggler, a keen little Frenchman, plied
his arts nimbly, and what with his ventriloquial doll, his empty bag
full of eggs, his stones that were candies, and his candies that were
stones, and his stuffed birds that sang, astonished and delighted his
unsophisticated patrons, whose applauding murmurs were diversified by
familiarly silly shrieks--the true Siamese Did-you-ever!--from behind
the kincob curtains.

But I was weary and disheartened, and welcomed with a sigh of relief the
closing of the show. As we passed out with our guide, the glare of many
torches falling on the dark silent river made the swarthy forms of the
boatmen weird and Charon-like. Mrs. B---- welcomed us with a pleasant
smile to her little heaven of home across the river, and by the
simplicity and gentleness of her manners dispelled in a measure my
feeling of forlornness. When at last I found myself alone, I would have
sought the sleep I so much needed, but the strange scenes of the day
chased each other in agitating confusion through my brain. Then I
quitted the side of my sleeping boy, triumphant in his dreamless
innocence, and sat defeated by the window, to crave counsel and help
from the ever-present Friend; and as I waited I sank into a tumultuous
slumber, from which at last I started to find the long-tarrying dawn
climbing over a low wall and creeping through a half-open shutter.


I started up, arranged my dress, and smoothed my hair; though no water
nor any after-touches could remove the shadow that night of gloom and
loneliness had left upon my face. But my boy awoke with eager,
questioning eyes, his smile bright and his hair lustrous. As we knelt
together by the window at the feet of "Our Father," I could not but ask
in the darkness of my trouble, did it need so bitter a baptism as ours
to purify so young a soul?

In an outer room we met Mrs. B---- _en deshabille_, and scarcely so
pretty as at our first meeting, but for her smile, remarkable for its
subtile, evanescent sweetness. At breakfast our host joined us, and,
after laughing at our late predicament and fright, assured me of that
which I have since experienced,--the genuine goodness of the Prince Krom
Lhuang Wongse. Every foreign resident of Bangkok, who at any time has
had friendly acquaintance or business with him, would, I doubt not, join
me in expressions of admiration and regard for one who has maintained
through circumstances so trying and under a system so oppressive an
exemplary reputation for liberality, integrity, justice, and humanity.

Soon after breakfast the Prime Minister's boat, with the slave
interpreter who had questioned me on the steamer, arrived to take us to
his Excellency's palace.

[Illustration: THE PRIME MINISTER.]

In about a quarter of an hour we found ourselves in front of a low
gateway, which opened on a wide courtyard, or "compound," paved with
rough-hewn slabs of stone. A brace of Chinese mandarins of ferocious
aspect, cut in stone and mounted on stone horses, guarded the entrance.
Farther on, a pair of men-at-arms in bass-relief challenged us; and near
these were posted two living sentries, in European costume, but without
shoes. On the left was a pavilion for theatrical entertainments, one
entire wall being covered with scenic pictures. On the right of this
stood the palace of the Prime Minister, displaying a semicircular
_facade_; in the background a range of buildings of considerable extent,
comprising the lodgings of his numerous wives. Attached to the largest
of these houses was a charming garden of flowers, in the midst of which
a refreshing fountain played. His Excellency's residence abounded within
in carvings and gildings, elegant in design and color, that blended and
harmonized in pleasing effects with the luxurious draperies that hung in
rich folds from the windows.

We moved softly, as the interpreter led us through a suite of spacious
saloons, disposed in ascending tiers, and all carpeted, candelabraed,
and appointed in the most costly European fashion. A superb vase of
silver, embossed and burnished, stood on a table inlaid with
mother-of-pearl and chased with silver. Flowers of great variety and
beauty filled the rooms with a delicious though slightly oppressive
fragrance. On every side my eyes were delighted with rare vases,
jewelled cups and boxes, burnished chalices, dainty statuettes,--
_objets de virtu_, Oriental and European, antique and modern, blending
the old barbaric splendors with the graces of the younger arts.

As we waited, fascinated and bewildered, the Prime Minister suddenly
stood before us,--the semi-nude barbarian of last night. I lost my
presence of mind, and in my embarrassment would have left the room. But
he held out his hand, saying, "Good morning, _sir_! Take a seat, _sir_!"
which I did somewhat shyly, but not without a smile for his comical
"sir." I spied a number of young girls peeping at us from behind
curtains, while the male attendants, among whom were his younger
brothers, nephews, and cousins, crouched in the antechamber on all
fours. His Excellency, with an expression of pleased curiosity, and that
same grand unconsciousness of his alarming poverty of costume,
approached us nearly, and, with a kindly smile patting Boy on the head,
asked him his name. But the child cried aloud, "Mamma, come home!
Please, mamma, come home!" and I found it not easy to quiet him.

Presently, mustering courage for myself also, I ventured to express my
wish for a quiet house or apartments, where I might be free from
intrusion, and at perfect liberty before and after school-hours.

When this reasonable request was interpreted to him--seemingly in a few
monosyllables--he stood looking at me, smiling, as if surprised and
amused that I should have notions on the subject of liberty. Quickly
this look became inquisitive and significant, so that I began to fancy
he had doubts as to the use I might make of my stipulated freedom, and
was puzzled to conjecture why a woman should wish to be free at all.
Some such thought must have passed through his mind, for he said
abruptly, "You not married!"

I bowed.

"Then where will you go in the evening?"

"Not anywhere, your Excellency. I simply desire to secure for myself and
my child some hours of privacy and rest, when my duties do not require
my presence elsewhere."

"How many years your husband has been dead?" he asked.

I replied that his Excellency had no right to pry into my domestic
concerns. His business was with me as a governess only; on any other
subject I declined conversing. I enjoyed the expression of blank
amazement with which he regarded me on receiving this somewhat defiant
reply. "_Tam chai!_" ("Please yourself!") he said, and proceeded to pace
to and fro, but without turning his eyes from my face, or ceasing to
smile. Then he said something to his attendants, five or six of whom,
raising themselves on their knees, with their eyes fixed upon the
carpet, crawled backward till they reached the steps, bobbed their heads
and shoulders, started spasmodically to their feet, and fled from the
apartment. My boy, who had been awed and terrified, began to cry, and I
too was startled. Again he uttered the harsh gutturals, and instantly,
as with an electric shock, another half-dozen of the prostrate slaves
sprang up and ran. Then he resumed his mysterious promenade, still
carefully keeping an eye upon us, and smiling by way of conversation. It
was long before I could imagine what we were to do. Boy, fairly
tortured, cried "Come home, mamma! why don't you come home? I don't like
that man." His Excellency halted, and sinking his voice ominously, said,
"You no can go!" Boy clutched my dress, and hid his face and smothered
his sobs in my lap; and yet, attracted, fascinated, the poor little
fellow from time to time looked up, only to shudder, tremble, and hide
his face again. For his sake I was glad when the interpreter returned on
all fours. Pushing one elbow straight out before the other, in the
manner of these people, he approached his master with such a salutation
as might be offered to deity; and with a few more unintelligible
utterances, his Excellency bowed to us, and disappeared behind a mirror.
All the curious, peering eyes that had been directed upon us from every
nook and corner where a curtain hung, instantly vanished; and at the
same time sweet, wild music, like the tinkling of silver bells in the
distance, fell upon our ears.

To my astonishment the interpreter stood boldly upright, and began to
contemplate his irresistible face and figure in a glass, and arrange
with cool coxcombry his darling tuft of hair; which done, he approached
us with a mild swagger, and proceeded to address me with a freedom which
I found it expedient to snub. I told him that, although I did not
require any human being to go down on his face and hands before me, I
should nevertheless tolerate no familiarity or disrespect from any one.
The fellow understood me well enough, but did not permit me to recover
immediately from my surprise at the sudden change in his bearing and
tone. As he led us to the two elegant rooms reserved for us in the west
end of the palace, he informed us that he was the Premier's
half-brother, and hinted that I would be wise to conciliate him if I
wished to have my own way. In the act of entering one of the rooms, I
turned upon him angrily, and bade him be off. The next moment this
half-brother of a Siamese magnate was kneeling in abject supplication in
the half-open doorway, imploring me not to report him to his Excellency,
and promising never to offend again. Here was a miracle of repentance I
had not looked for; but the miracle was sham. Rage, cunning, insolence,
servility, and hypocrisy were vilely mixed in the minion.

Our chambers opened on a quiet piazza, shaded by fruit-trees in blossom,
and overlooking a small artificial lake stocked with pretty, sportive

To be free to make a stunning din is a Siamese woman's idea of perfect
enjoyment. Hardly were we installed in our apartments when, with a
pell-mell rush and screams of laughter, the ladies of his Excellency's
private Utah reconnoitred us in force. Crowding in through the half-open
door, they scrambled for me with eager curiosity, all trying at once to
embrace me boisterously, and promiscuously chattering in shrill
Siamese,--a bedlam of parrots; while I endeavored to make myself
impartially agreeable in the language of signs and glances. Nearly all
were young; and in symmetry of form, delicacy of feature, and fairness
of complexion, decidedly superior to the Malay women I had been
accustomed to. Most of them might have been positively attractive, but
for their ingeniously ugly mode of clipping the hair and blackening the

The youngest were mere children, hardly more than fourteen years old.
All were arrayed in rich materials, though the fashion did not differ
from that of their slaves, numbers of whom were prostrate in the rooms
and passages. My apartments were ablaze with their crimson, blue,
orange, and purple, their ornaments of gold, their rings and brilliants,
and their jewelled boxes. Two or three of the younger girls satisfied my
Western ideas of beauty, with their clear, mellow, olive complexions,
and their almond-shaped eyes, so dark yet glowing. Those among them who
were really old were simply hideous and repulsive. One wretched crone
shuffled through the noisy throng with an air of authority, and pointing
to Boy lying in my lap, cried, "_Moolay, moolay!_" "Beautiful,
beautiful!" The familiar Malay word fell pleasantly on my ear, and I was
delighted to find some one through whom I might possibly control the
disorderly bevy around me. I addressed her in Malay. Instantly my
visitors were silent, and waiting in attitudes of eager attention.

She told me she was one of the many custodians of the harem. She was a
native of Quedah; and "some sixty years ago," she and her sister,
together with other young Malay girls, were captured while working in
the fields by a party of Siamese adventurers. They were brought to Siam
and sold as slaves. At first she mourned miserably for her home and
parents. But while she was yet young and attractive she became a
favorite of the late Somdetch Ong Yai, father of her present lord, and
bore him two sons, just as "moolay, moolay" as my own darling. But they
were dead. (Here, with the end of her soiled silk scarf she furtively
wiped a tear from her face, no longer ugly.) And her gracious lord was
dead also; it was he who gave her this beautiful gold betel-box.

"But how is it that you are still a slave?" I asked.

"I am old and ugly and childless: and therefore, to be trusted by my
dead lord's son, the beneficent prince, upon whose head be
blessings,"--clasping her withered hands, and turning toward that part
of the palace where, no doubt, he was enjoying a "beneficent" nap.

"And now it is my privilege to watch and guard these favored ones, that
they see no man but their lord."

The repulsive uncomeliness of this woman had been wrought by oppression
out of that which must have been beautiful once; for the spirit of
beauty came back to her for a moment, with the passing memories that
brought her long-lost treasures with them. In the brutal tragedy of a
slave's experience,--a female slave in the harem of an Asian
despot,--the native angel in her had been bruised, mutilated, defaced,
deformed, but not quite obliterated.

Her story ended, the younger women, to whom her language had been
strange, could no longer suppress their merriment, nor preserve the
decorum due to her age and authority. Again they swarmed about me like
bees, plying me pertinaciously with questions, as to my age, husband,
children, country, customs, possessions; and presently crowned the
inquisitorial performance by asking, in all seriousness, if I should not
like to be the wife of the prince, their lord, rather than of the
terrible Chow-che-witt. [Footnote: Chow-che-witt,--"Prince of
life,"--the supreme king.]

Here was a monstrous suggestion that struck me dumb. Without replying, I
rose and shook them off, retiring with my boy into the inner chamber.
But they pursued me without compunction, repeating the extraordinary
"conundrum," and dragging the Malay duenna along with them to interpret
my answer. The intrusion provoked me; but, considering their beggarly
poverty of true life and liberty, of hopes and joys, and loves and
memories, and holy fears and sorrows, with which a full and true
response might have twitted them, I was ashamed to be vexed.

Seeing it impossible to rid myself of them, I promised to answer their
question, on condition that they would leave me for that day.
Immediately all eyes were fixed upon me.

"The prince, your lord, and the king, your Chow-che-witt, are pagans," I
said. "An English, that is a Christian, woman would rather be put to the
torture, chained and dungeoned for life, or suffer a death the slowest
and most painful you Siamese know, than be the wife of either."

They remained silent in astonishment, seemingly withheld from speaking
by an instinctive sentiment of respect; until one, more volatile than
the rest, cried, "What! not if he gave you all these jewelled rings and
boxes, and these golden things?"

When the old woman, fearing to offend, whispered this test question in
Malay to me, I laughed at the earnest eyes around, and said: "No, not
even then. I am only here to teach the royal family. I am not like you.
You have nothing to do but to play and sing and dance for your master;
but I have to work for my children; and one little one is now on the
great ocean, and I am very sad."

Shades of sympathy, more or less deep, flitted across the faces of my
audience, and for a moment they regarded me as something they could
neither convince nor comfort nor understand. Then softly repeating
_Poot-thoo! Poot-thoo!_ "Dear God! dear God!" they quietly left me. A
minute more, and I heard them laughing and shouting in the halls.

Relieved of my curious and exacting visitors, I lay down and fell into a
deep sleep, from which I was suddenly awakened, in the afternoon, by the
cries of Beebe, who rushed into the chamber, her head bare, her fine
muslin veil trampled under her feet, and her face dramatically
expressive of terror and despair. Moonshee, her husband, ignorant alike
of the topography, the language, and the rules of the place, had by
mistake intruded in the sacred penetralia where lounged the favorite of
the harem, to the lively horror of that shrinking Nourmahal, and the
general wrath of the old women on guard, two of whom, the ugliest,
fiercest, and most muscular, had dragged him, daft and trembling, to
summary inquisition.

I followed Beebe headlong to an open sala, where we found that
respectable servant of the Prophet, his hands tied, his turban off,
woe-begone but resigned; faithful and philosophic Moslem that he was, he
only waited for his throat to be cut, since it was his _kismut_, his
perverse destiny, that had brought him to such a region of _Kafirs_,
(infidels). Assuring him that there was nothing to fear, I despatched a
messenger in search of the interpreter, while Beebe wept and protested.
Presently an imposing personage stalked upon the scene, whose appearance
matched his temper and his conduct. This was the judge. In vain I strove
to explain to him by signs and gestures that my servant had offended
unwittingly; he could not or would not understand me; but stormed away
at our poor old man, who bore his abuse with the calm indifference of
profound ignorance, having never before been cursed in a foreign

The loafers of the yards and porches shook off their lazy naps and
gathered round us; and among them came the interpreter, insolent
satisfaction beaming in his bad face. He coolly declined to interfere,
protesting that it was not his business, and that the judge would be
offended if he offered to take part in the proceedings. Moonshee was
condemned to be stripped, and beaten with twenty strokes. Here was an
end to my patience. Going straight up to the judge, I told him that if a
single lash was laid upon the old man's back (which was bared as I
spoke), he should suffer tenfold, for I would immediately lay the matter
before the British Consul. Though I spoke in English, he caught the
familiar words "British Consul," and turning to the interpreter,
demanded the explanation he should have listened to before he pronounced
sentence. But even as the interpreter was jabbering away to the
unreasonable functionary, the assembly was agitated with what the French
term a "sensation." Judge, interpreter, and all fell upon their faces,
doubling themselves up; and there stood the Premier, who took in the
situation at a glance, ordered Moonshee to be released, and permitted
him at my request to retire to the room allotted to Beebe. While the
slaves were alert in the execution of these benevolent commands, the
interpreter slunk away on his face and elbows. But the old Moslem, as
soon as his hands were free, picked up his turban, advanced, and laid it
at the feet of his deliverer, with the graceful salutation of his
people, "Peace be with thee, O Vizier of a wise king!" The mild and
venerable aspect of the Moonshee, and his snow-white beard falling low
upon his breast, must have inspired the Siamese statesman with abiding
feelings of respect and consideration, for he was ever afterward
indulgent to that Oriental Dominie Sampson of my little household.

Dinner at the Premier's was composed and served with the same
incongruous blending of the barbaric and the refined, the Oriental and
the European, that characterized the furniture and adornments of his
palace. The saucy little pages who handled the dishes had cigarettes
between their pouting lips, and from time to time hopped over the heads
of Medusae to expectorate. When I pointed reproachfully to the double
peccadillo, they only laughed and scampered off. Another detachment of
these lads brought in fruits, and, when they had set the baskets or
dishes on the table, retired to sofas to lounge till we had dined. But
finding I objected to such manners, they giggled gayly, performed
several acrobatic feats on the carpet, and left us to wait on ourselves.

Twilight on my pretty piazza. The fiery sun is setting, and long pencils
of color, from palettes of painted glass, touch with rose and gold the
low brow and downcast eyes and dainty bosom of a bust of Clyte. Beebe
and Moonshee are preparing below in the open air their evening meal; and
the smoke of their pottage is borne slowly, heavily on the hot still
air, stirred only by the careless laughter of girls plunging and
paddling in the dimpled lake. The blended gloom and brightness without
enter, and interweave themselves with the blended gloom and brightness
within, where lights and shadows lie half asleep and half awake, and
life breathes itself sluggishly away, or drifts on a slumberous stream
toward its ocean of death.


Before inducting the reader to more particular acquaintance with his
Excellency Chow Phya Sri-Sury Wongse Samuha-P'hra Kralahome, I have
thought that "an abstract and brief chronicle" of the times of the
strange people over whom he is not less than second in dignity and
power, would not be out of place.

In the opinion of Pickering, the Siamese are undoubtedly Malay; but a
majority of the intelligent Europeans who have lived long among them
regard the native population as mainly Mongolian. They are generally of
medium stature, the face broad, the forehead low, the eyes black, the
cheekbones prominent, the chin retreating, the mouth large, the lips
thick, and the beard scanty. In common with most of the Asiatic races,
they are apt to be indolent, improvident, greedy, intemperate, servile,
cruel, vain, inquisitive, superstitious, and cowardly; but individual
variations from the more repulsive types are happily not rare. In public
they are scrupulously polite and decorous according to their own notions
of good manners, respectful to the aged, affectionate to their kindred,
and bountiful to their priests, of whom more than twenty thousand are
supported by voluntary contributions in Bangkok alone. Marriage is
contracted at sixteen for males, and fourteen for females, and polygamy
is the common practice, without limit to the number of wives except such
as may be imposed by the humble estate or poverty of the husband; the
women are generally treated with consideration.

The bodies of the dead are burned; and the badges of mourning are white
robes for those of the family or kinfolk who are younger than the
deceased, black for those who are older, and shaven heads for all who
are in inferior degrees connected with the dead, either as descendants,
dependents, servants, or slaves. When a king dies the entire population,
with the exception of very young children, must display this tonsorial

Every ancient or famous city of Siam has a story of its founding, woven
for it from tradition or fable; and each of these legends is
distinguished from the others by peculiar features. The religion,
customs, arts, and literature of a people naturally impart to their
annals a spirit all their own. Especially is this the case in the
Orient, where the most original and suggestive thought is half disguised
in the garb of metaphor, and where, in spite of vivid fancies and fiery
passions, the people affect taciturnity or reticence, and delight in the
metaphysical and the mystic. Hence the early annals of the Siamese, or
Sajamese, abound in fables of heroes, demigods, giants, and genii, and
afford but few facts of practical value. Swayed by religious influences,
they joined, in the spirit of the Hebrews, the name of God to the titles
of their rulers and princes, whom they almost deified after death. But
the skeleton sketch of the history of Siam that follows is of
comparatively modern date, and may be accepted as in the main authentic.

In the year 712 of the Siamese, and 1350 of the Christian era,
Phya-Othong founded, near the river Meinam, about sixty miles from the
Gulf of Siam, the city of Ayudia or Ayuthia ("the Abode of the Gods");
at the same time he assumed the title of P'hra Rama Thibodi. This
capital and stronghold was continually exposed to storms of civil war
and foreign invasion; and its turreted battlements and ponderous gates,
with the wide deep moat spanned by drawbridges, where now is a forest of
great trees, were but the necessary fences behind which court and
garrison took shelter from the tempestuous barbarism in the midst of
which they lived. But before any portion of the city, except that facing
the river, could boast of a fortified enclosure, hostile enterprises
were directed against it. Birman pirates, ascending the Meinam in
formidable flotillas, harassed it. Thrice they ravaged the country
around; but on the last of these occasions great numbers of them were
captured and put to cruel death by P'hra Rama Suen, successor to
Thibodi, who pursued the routed remnant to the very citadel of
Chiengmai, then a tributary of the Birman Empire. Having made successful
war upon this province, and impressed thousands of Laotian captives, he
next turned his arms against Cambodia, took the capital by storm, slew
every male capable of bearing arms, and carried off enormous treasures
in plate gold, with which, on his return to his kingdom, he erected a
remarkable pagoda, called to this day "The Mountain of Gold."

P'hra Rama Suen was succeeded by his son Phya Ram, who reigned fourteen
years, and was assassinated by his uncle, Inthra Racha, the governor or
feudal lord of the city, who had snatched the reins of government and
sent three of his sons to rule over the northern provinces. At the death
of Inthra Racha, in 780, two of these princes set out simultaneously,
with the design of seizing and occupying the vacant throne. Mounted on
elephants, they met in the dusk of evening on a bridge leading to the
Royal Palace; and each instantly divining his brother's purpose, they
dismounted, and with their naked swords fell upon each other with such
fury that both were slain on the spot. The political and social
disorganization that prevailed at this period was aggravated by the
vulnerable condition of the monarchy, then recently transferred to a new
line. Princes of the blood royal were for a long time engaged, brother
against brother, in fierce family feuds. Ayuthia suffered gravely from
these unnatural contentions, but even more from the universal license
and riot that reigned among the nobility and the proud proprietors of
the soil. In the distracted and enfeebled state of all authority, royal
and magisterial, the fields around remained for many years untilled; and
the only evidence the land presented of the abode of man was here and
there the bristling den of some feudal chief, a mere outlaw and dacoit,
who rarely sallied from it but to carry torch and pillage wherever there
was aught to sack or burn.

In 834 the undisputed sovereignty of the kingdom fell to another P'hra
Rama Thibodi, who reigned thirty years, and is famous in Siamese annals
for the casting of a great image of Buddha, fifty cubits high, of gold
very moderately alloyed with copper. On an isolated hill, in a sacred
enclosure, he erected for this image a stately temple of the purest
white marble, approached by a graceful flight of steps. From the ruins
of its eastern front, which are still visible, it appears to have had
six columns at either end and thirteen on each side; the eastern
pediment is adorned with sculptures, as are also the ten metopes.

P'hra Rama Thibodi was succeeded by his son, P'hra Racha Kuman, whose
reign was short, and chiefly memorable for a tremendous conflagration
that devastated Ayuthia. It raged three days, and destroyed more than a
hundred thousand houses.

This monarch left at his death but one son, P'hra Yot-Fa, a lad of
twelve, whose mother, the Queen Sisudah-Chand, was appointed regent
during his minority.

The devil of ambition has rarely possessed the heart of an Eastern queen
more absolutely than it did that of this infamous woman,--infamous even
in heathen annals. She is said to have graced her exalted station alike
by the beauty of her person and the charm of her manner; but in pursuit
of the most arbitrary and audacious purposes she moved with the
recklessness their nature demanded, and with equal impatience trampled
on friend and rival. Blind superstition was the only weak point in her
character; but though her deference to the imaginary instructions or
warnings of the stars was slavish, it does not seem to have deterred her
from any false or cruel course; indeed, a cunning astrologer of her
court, by scaring her with visionary perils, contrived to obtain a
monstrous ascendency over her mind, only to plunge her into crime more
deeply than by her own weight of wickedness she might have sunk. She
ordered the secret assassination of every member of the royal household
(not excepting her mother and sisters), who, however mildly, opposed her
will. Besotted with fear, that fruitful mother of crime, she ended by
putting to death the young king, her son, and publicly calling her
paramour (the court astrologer, in whose thoughts, she believed, were
hidden all the secrets of divination) to the throne of the P'hrabatts.

This double crime filled the measure of her impunity. The nobility
revolted. The strength of their faction lay, not within the palace,
which was filled with the queen's parasites, but with the feudal
proprietors of the soil, who, exasperated by the abominations of the
court, only waited for a chance to crush it. One day, as the queen and
her paramour were proceeding in a barge on their customary visit to her
private pagoda and garden,--a paradise of all the floral wonders of the
tropics,--a nobleman, who had followed them, hailed the royal gondola,
as if for instructions, and, being permitted to approach, suddenly
sprang upon the guilty pair, drew his sword, and dispatched them both,
careless of their loud cries for help. Almost simultaneously with the
performance of this tragic exploit, the nobles offered the crown to an
uncle of the murdered heir, who had fled from the court and taken refuge
in a monastery. Having accepted it and assumed the title of
Maha-Charapat Racha-therat, he invaded Pegu with a hundred thousand
men-at-arms, five thousand war elephants, and seven thousand horse. With
this mighty host he marched against Henzawadi, the capital of Pegu,
laying waste the country as he went with fire and sword. The king of
Pegu came out to meet him, accompanied by his romantic and intrepid
queen, Maha Chandra, and supported by the few devoted followers that on
so short a notice he could bring together. In consideration of this
great disparity of forces, the two kings agreed, in the chivalric spirit
of the time, to decide the fortune of the day by single combat. Hardly
had they encountered, when the elephant on which the king of Pegu was
mounted took fright and fled the field; but his queen promptly took his
place, and fighting rashly, fell, speared through the right breast. She
was borne off amid the clash of cymbals and flourish of trumpets that
hailed the victor.

Maha-Charapat Racha-therat was a great prince. His wisdom, valor, and
heroic exploits supplied the native bards with inspiring themes. By his
magnanimity he extinguished the envy of the neighboring princes and
transformed rivals into friends. Jealous rulers became his willing
vassals, not from fear of his power, but in admiration for his virtues.
Malacca, Tenasserim, Ligor, Thavai, Martaban, Maulmain, Songkhla,
Chantaboon, Phitsanulok, Look-Kho-Thai, Phi-chi, Savan Khalok, Phechit,
Cambodia, and Nakhon Savan were all dependencies of Siam under his

In the year 1568 of the Christian era the Siamese territory was invaded
and laid under tribute by a Birman king named Mandanahgri, who must have
been a warrior of Napoleonic genius, for he extended his dominion as far
as the confines of China. It is remarkable that the flower of his army
was composed of several thousand Portuguese, tried troops in good
discipline, commanded by the noted Don Diego Suanes. These, like the
famous Scotch Legion of Gustavus Adolphus in the Thirty Years' War, were
mercenaries, and doubtless contributed importantly to the success of the
Birman arms. Theirs is by no means the only case of Portuguese soldiers
serving for hire in the armies of the East. Their commander, Suanes,
seems to have been a brave and accomplished officer, and to have been
intrusted with undivided control of the Birmese forces.

Mandanahgri held the queen of Siam and her two sons as hostages for the
payment of the tribute he had levied; but the princes were permitted to
return to Siam after a few years of captivity in Birmah, and in 1583
their captor died. His successor struggled with an uncle for possession
of the throne, and the king of Siam, seizing the opportunity, declared
himself independent; wherefore a more formidable army was shortly sent
against him, under command of the eldest son of the king of Birmah. But
one of the young princes who had been led into captivity by Mandanahgri
now sat on the throne of Siam. In his youth he had been styled "the
Black Prince," a title of distinction which seems to have fitted his
characteristics not less appropriately than it did those of the English
Edward. Undismayed by the strength and fury of the enemy, he attacked
and routed them in a pitched battle, killing their leader with his own
hands, invaded Pegu, and besieged its capital; but was finally compelled
to retire with considerable loss. The Black Prince was succeeded by "the
White King," who reigned peacefully for many years.

The next monarch especially worthy of notice is P'hra Narai, who sent
ambassadors to Goa, the most important of the Portuguese
trading-stations in the East Indies, chiefly to invite the Portuguese of
Malacca to establish themselves in Siam for mutual advantages of trade.
The welcome emissaries were sumptuously entertained, and a Dominican
friar accompanied them on their return, with costly presents for the
king. This friar found P'hra Narai much more liberal in his ideas than
later ambassadors, even to this day, have found any other ruler of Siam.
He agreed not only to permit all Portuguese merchants to establish
themselves anywhere in his dominions, but to exempt their goods and
wares from duty. The Dominican monks were likewise invited to build
churches and preach Christianity in Siam.

Soon after this extraordinary display of liberal statesmanship P'hra
Narai narrowly escaped death by a strange conspiracy. Four or five
hundred Japanese adventurers were secretly introduced into the country
by an ambitious feudal proprietor, who had conceived the mad design of
dethroning the monarch and reigning in his stead; but the king, warned
of the planned attack upon the palace, seized the native conspirator and
put him to death. The Japanese, on the contrary, were enrolled as a kind
of praetorian guard, or janissaries; in this character, however, their
pride and power became so formidable that the king grew uneasy and
disbanded them.

P'hra Narai, from all accounts, was a man to be respected and esteemed.
The events and the _dramatis personae_ of his reign form a story so
romantic, so exceptional even in Eastern annals, that, but for the
undoubted authenticity of this chapter of Siamese history, it would be
incredible. It was during his reign that the whimsical attempt was made
by Louis XIV. to conquer Siam and proselyte her king. An extraordinary
spectacle! One of the most licentious monarchs of France, who to the
last breathed an atmosphere poisoned with scepticism, and more than
Buddhism itself subversive of the true principles of Christianity, is
suddenly inspired with an apparently devout longing to be the instrument
of converting to the true faith the princes of the East. To this end he
employs that wily, powerful, and indefatigable body of daring priests,
the Jesuits, who were then in the very ardor of their missionary

Ostensibly for the purpose of propagating the Gospel, but with more
reality aspiring to extend their subtile influence over all mankind,
this society, with means the most slender and in the face of obstacles
the most disheartening, have, with indomitable courage and supernatural
patience, accomplished labors unparalleled in the achievements of mind.
Now, in the wilds of Western America, taming and teaching races of whose
existence the world of refinement had never heard; now climbing the icy
steeps and tracking the wastes and wildernesses of Siberia, or with the
evangel of John in one hand and the art of Luke in the other, bringing
life to the bodies and souls of perishing multitudes under a scorching
equatorial sun,--there is not a spot of earth in which European
civilization has taken root where traces of Jesuit forethought and
careful, patient husbandry may not be found. So in Siam, we discover a
monarch of consummate acumen, more European than Asiatic in his ideas,
sedulously cultivating the friendship of these foreign workers of
wonders; and finally we find a Greek adventurer officiating as prime
minister to this same king, and conducting his affairs with that ability
and success which must have commanded intellectual admiration, even if
they had not been inspired and promoted by motives of integrity toward
the monarch who had so implicitly confided in his wisdom and fidelity.

Constantine Phaulkon was the son of respectable parents, natives of the
island of Cephalonia, where he was born in 1630. The geography, if not
the very name, of the kingdom whose affairs he was destined to direct
was quite unknown to his compatriots of the Ionian Isles,--even when as
a mariner, wrecked on the coast of Malabar, he became a fellow-passenger
with a party of Siamese officials, his companions in disaster, who were
returning to their country from an embassy. The facile Greek quickly
learned to talk with his new-found friends in their own tongue, and by
his accomplishments and adroitness made a place for himself in their
admiration and influence, so that he was received with flattering
consideration at the Court of P'hra Narai, and very soon invited to take
service under government. By his sagacity, tact, and diligence in the
management of all affairs intrusted to him, he rapidly rose in favor
with his patron, who finally elevated him to the highest post of honor
in the state: he was made premier.

The star of the Cephalonian waif and adventurer had now mounted to the
zenith, and was safe to shine for many years with unabated brilliancy;
to this day he is remembered by the expressive term _Vicha-yen_, "the
cool wisdom." The French priests, elated at his success, spared no
promises or arts to retain him secretly in their interest. Under
circumstances so extraordinary and auspicious, the plans of the Jesuits
for the conversion of all Eastern Asia were put in execution. From the
Vatican bishops were appointed, and sent out to Cochin China, Cambodia,
Siam, and Pegu, while the people of those several kingdoms were yet
profoundly ignorant of the amiable intentions of the Pope. Francis
Pallu, M. De la Motte Lambert, and Ignatius Cotolendy were the
respective exponents of this pious idea, under the imposing titles of
Bishops of Heliopolis, Borytus, Byzantium, and Metellopolis,--all
Frenchmen, for Louis XIV. insisted that the glory of the enterprise
should be ascribed exclusively to France and to himself.

But all their efforts to convert the king were of no avail. The Jesuits,
however, opened schools, and have ever since labored assiduously and
with success to introduce the ideas and the arts of Europe into those

After some years P'hra Narai sent an embassy to the Court of Louis, who
was so sensible of the flattery that he immediately reciprocated with an
embassy of his own, with more priests, headed by the Chevalier De
Chaumont and the Pere Tachard. The French fleet of five ships cast
anchor in the Meinam on the 27th of September, 1687, and the Chevalier
and his reverend colleague, attended by Jesuits, were promptly and
graciously received by the king, who, however, expressed his "fears"
that the chief object of their mission might not prove so easy of
attainment as they had been led to believe. As for Phaulkon, he had
adroitly deceived the Jesuits from the first, and made all parties
instruments to promote his own shrewd and secret plans.

De Chaumont, disheartened by his failure, sailed back to France, where
he arrived in 1688, in the height of the agitation attending the English
Revolution of that year.

Phaulkon, finding that he could no longer conceal from the Jesuits the
king's repugnance to their plans for his conversion, placed himself
under their direction and control; for though he had not as yet
conceived the idea of seizing upon the crown, it was plain that he
aspired to honors higher than the premiership. Then rumors of
disaffection among the nobles were diligently propagated by the French
priests, who, although not sufficiently powerful to dethrone the king,
were nevertheless dangerous inciters of rebellion among the common

Meanwhile the king of Johore, then a tributary of Siam, instigated by
the Dutch, who, from the first, had watched with jealousy the
machinations of the French, sent envoys to P'hra Narai, to advise the
extermination or expulsion of the French, and to proffer the aid of his
troops; but the proposition was rejected with indignation.

These events were immediately followed by another, known in Siamese
history as the Revolt of the Macassars, which materially promoted the
ripening of the revolution of which the French had sown the seeds.
Celebes, a large, irregular island east of Borneo, includes a district
known as Macassar, the ruler of which had been arbitrarily dethroned by
the Dutch; and the sons of the injured monarch, taking refuge in Siam,
secretly encouraged the growing enmity of the nobles against the French.

Meanwhile Phaulkon, by his address, and skilful management of public
affairs, continued to exercise paramount influence over the mind of the
king. He persuaded P'hra Narai to send another embassy to France, which
arrived happily (the former having been shipwrecked off the Cape of Good
Hope) at the Court of Louis XIV. in 1689. He also diligently and ably
advanced the commercial strength of the country; merchants from all
parts of the world were invited to settle in Siam, and factories of
every nation were established along the banks of the Meinam. Both Ayudia
and Lophaburee became busy and flourishing. He was careful to keep the
people employed, and applied himself with vigor to improving the
agriculture of the country. Rice, sugar, corn, and palm-oil constituting
the most fruitful and regular source of revenue, he wisely regulated the
traffic in those staples, and was studious to promote the security and
happiness of the great body of the population engaged or concerned in
their production. The laws he framed were so sound and stable, and at
the same time so wisely conformable to the interests alike of king and
subject, that to this day they constitute the fundamental law of the

Phaulkon designed and built the palaces at Lophaburee, consisting of two
lofty edifices, square, with pillars on all sides; each pillar was made
to represent a succession of shafts by the intervention of salient
blocks, forming capitals to what they surmounted and pedestals to what
they supported. The apartments within were gorgeously gilt and
sumptuously furnished. There yet remains, in remarkable preservation, a
vermilion chamber looking toward the east; though, otherwise, a forest
of stately trees and several broken arches alone mark the spot where
dwelt in regal splendor this foreign favorite of P'hra Narai.

He also erected the famous castle on the west of the town, on a piece of
ground, near the north bank of the river, which formerly belonged to a
Buddhist monastery.

Finally, to keep off the Birman invaders, he built a wall, surmounted
along its whole extent by a parapet, and fortified with towers at
regular intervals of forty fathoms, as well as by four larger ones at
its extremities on the banks of the river, below the two bridges. Its
gates appear to have been twelve or thirteen in number, and the extent
of the southern portion is fixed at two thousand fathoms. Suburban
villages still exist on both sides of the river, and, beyond these, the
religious buildings, which have been restored, but which now display the
fantastic rather than the grand style which distinguished the
architecture of this consummate Grecian, whom the people name with
wonder,--all marvellous works being by them attributed to gods, genii,
devils, or the "Vicha-yen."

But the luxury in which the haughty statesman revelled, his towering
ambition, and the wealth he lavished on his private abodes, joined to
the lofty, condescending air he assumed toward the nobles, soon provoked
their jealous murmurings against him and his too partial master; and
when, at last, the king, falling ill, repaired to the premier's palace
at Lophaburee, some of the more disaffected nobles, headed by a natural
son of P'hra Narai and the two princes of Macassar, forced their way
into the palace to slay the monarch. But the brave old man, at a glance
divining their purpose, leaped from his couch and, seizing his sword,
threw himself upon it, and died as his assassins entered.

In the picturesque drama of Siamese history no figure appears so truly
noble and brilliant as this king, not merely renowned by the glory of
his military exploits and the happy success of his more peaceful
undertakings, but beloved for his affectionate concern for the welfare
of his subjects, his liberality, his moderation, his modesty, his
indifference to the formal honors due to his royal state, and (what is
most rare in Asiatic character) his sincere aversion to flattery, his
shyness even toward deserved and genuine praise.

Turning from the corpse of the king, the baffled regicides dashed at the
luxurious apartment where Phaulkon slumbered, as was his custom of an
afternoon, unattended save by his fair young daughter Constantia.
Breaking in, they tore the sleeping father from the arms of his agonized
child, who with piteous implorings offered her life for his, bound him
with cords, dragged him to the woods beyond his garden, and there,
within sight of the lovely little Greek chapel he had erected for his
private devotions, first tortured him like fiends, and then, dispatching
him, flung his body into a pit. His daughter, following them, clung fast
to her father, and, though her heart bled and her brain grew numb
between the gashes and the groans, she still cheered him with her
passionate endearments; and, holding before his eyes a cross of gold
that always hung on her bosom, inspired him to die like a brave man and
a Christian. After that the lovely heroine was dragged into slavery and
concubinage by the infamous Chow Dua, one of the bloodiest of the gang.

Even pagan chroniclers do not fail to render homage to so brave a man,
of whom they tell that "he bore all with a fortitude and defiance that
astounded the monsters who slew him, and convinced them that he derived
his supernatural courage and contempt of pain from the miraculous
virtues of his daughter's golden cross." After the death of the able
premier, the Birmese again overran the land, laying waste the fields,
and besieging the city of Ayuthia for two years. Finding they could not
reduce it by famine, they tried flames, and the burning is said to have
lasted two whole months. One of the feudal lords of Siam, Phya Tak, a
Chinese adventurer, who had amassed wealth, and held the office of
governor of the northern provinces under the late king, seeing the
impending ruin of the country, assembled his personal followers and
dependants, and with about a thousand hardy and resolute warriors
retired to the mountain fastness of Naghon Najok, whence from time to
time he swooped down to harass the encampments of the Birmese, who were
almost invariably worsted in the skirmishes he provoked. He then moved
upon Bangplasoi, and the people of that place came out with gifts of
treasure and hailed him as their sovereign. Thence he sailed to Rajong,
strengthened his small force with volunteers in great numbers, marched
against Chantaboon, whose governor had disputed his authority, and
executed that indiscreet official; levied another large army; built and
equipped a hundred vessels of war; and set sail--a part of his army
preceding him overland--for Kankhoa, on the confines of Cochin China,
which place he brought to terms in less than three hours. Thence he
pushed on to Cambodia, and arriving there on the Siamese Sabato, or
Sabbath, he issued a solemn proclamation to his army, assuring them that
he would that evening worship in the temple of the famous emerald idol,
P'hra Keau. Every man was ordered to arm as if for battle, but to wear
the sacred robe,--white for the laity, yellow for the clergy; and all
the priests who followed his fortunes were required to lead the way into
the grand temple through the southern portico, over which stood a
triple-headed tower. Then the conqueror, having prepared himself by
fasting and purification, clad in his sacred robes and armed to the
teeth, followed and made his words good. Almost his first act was to
send his ships to the adjacent provinces for supplies of rice and grain,
which he dispensed so bountifully to the famishing people that they
gratefully accepted his rule.

This king is described as an enthusiastic and indefatigable warrior,
scorning palaces, and only happy in camp or at the head of his army. His
people found in him a true friend, he was ever kind and generous to the
poor, and to his soldiers he paid fivefold the rates of former reigns.
But toward the nobles he was haughty, rude, exacting. It is supposed
that his prime minister, fearing to oppose him openly, corrupted his
chief concubine, and with her assistance drugged his food; so that he
was rendered insane, and, imagining himself a god, insisted that
sacrifices and offerings should be made to him, and began to levy upon
the nobility for enormous sums, often putting them to the torture to
extort treasure. Instigated by their infuriated lords, the people now
rebelled against their lately idolized master, and attacked him in his
palace, from, which he fled by a secret passage to an adjoining
monastery, in the disguise of a priest. But the premier, to whom he was
presently betrayed, had him put to death, on the pretext that he might
cause still greater scandal and disaster, but in reality to establish
himself in undisputed possession of the throne, which he now usurped
under the title of P'hra-Phuthi-Chow-Luang, and removed the palace from
the west to the east bank of the Meinam. During his reign the Birmese
made several attempts to invade the country, but were invariably
repulsed with loss.

This brings us to the uneventful reign of Phen-den-Klang; and by his
death, in 1825, to the beginning of the story of his Majesty, Maha
Mongkut, the late supreme king, and my employer, with whom, in these
pages, we shall have much to do.


When the Senabawdee, or Royal Council, by elevating to the throne the
priest-prince Chowfa Mongkut, frustrated the machinations of the son of
his predecessor, they by the same stroke crushed the secret hopes of
Chow Phya Sri Sury Wongse, the present premier. It is whispered to this
day--for no native, prince or peasant, may venture to approach the
subject openly--that, on the day of coronation, his Excellency retired
to his private chambers, and there remained, shut up with his chagrin
and grief, for three days. On the fourth, arrayed in his court robes and
attended by a numerous retinue, he presented himself at the palace to
take part in the ceremonies with which the coronation was celebrated.
The astute young king, who in his priestly character had penetrated many
state secrets, advanced to greet him, and with the double purpose of
procuring the adherence and testing the fidelity of this discontented
and wavering son of his stanch old champion, the Duke Somdetch Ong Yai,
appointed him on the spot to the command of the army, under the title of
Phya P'hra Kralahome.

This flattering distinction, though it did not immediately beguile him
from his moodiness, for a time diverted his dangerous fancies into
channels of activity, and he found a safe expression for his annoyance
in a useful restlessness. But after he had done more than any of his
predecessors to remodel and perfect the army, he relapsed into morbid
melancholy, from which he was once more aroused by the call of his royal
master, who invited him to share the labors and the honors of government
in the highest civil office, that of prime minister. He accepted, and
has ever since shown himself prolific in devices to augment the revenue,
secure the co-operation of the nobility, and confirm his own power. His
remarkable executive faculty, seconding the enlightened policy of the
king, would doubtless have inaugurated a golden age for his country, but
for the aggressive meddling of French diplomacy in the quarrels between
the princes of Cochin China and Cambodia; by which exasperating measure
Siam is in the way to lose one of her richest possessions, [Footnote:
Cambodia.] and may in time become, herself, the brightest and most
costly jewel in the crown of France.

Such was Chow Phya Sri Sury Wongse when I was first presented to him: a
natural king among the dusky forms that surrounded him, the actual ruler
of that semi-barbarous realm, and the prime contriver of its arbitrary
policy. Black, but comely, robust, and vigorous, neck short and thick,
nose large and nostrils wide, eyes inquisitive and penetrating, his was
the massive brain proper to an intellect deliberate and systematic. Well
found in the best idioms of his native tongue, he expressed strong,
discriminative thoughts in words at once accurate and abundant. His only
vanity was his English, with which he so interlarded his native speech,
as often to impart the effect of levity to ideas that, in themselves,
were grave, judicious, and impressive.

Let me conduct the reader into one of the saloons of the palace, where
we shall find this intellectual sensualist in the moral relaxation of
his harem, with his latest pets and playthings about him.

Peering into a twilight, studiously contrived, of dimly-lighted and
suggestive shadows, we discover in the centre of the hall a long line of
girls with skins of olive,--creatures who in years and physical
proportions are yet but children, but by training developed into women
and accomplished actresses. There are some twenty of them, in
transparent draperies with golden girdles, their arms and bosoms, wholly
nude, flashing, as they wave and heave, with barbaric ornaments of gold.
The heads are modestly inclined, the hands are humbly folded, and the
eyes droop timidly beneath long lashes. Their only garment, the lower
skirt, floating in light folds about their limbs, is of very costly
material bordered heavily with gold. On the ends of their fingers they
wear long "nails" of gold, tapering sharply like the claws of a bird.
The apartment is illuminated by means of candelabras, hung so high that
the light falls in a soft hazy mist on the tender faces and pliant forms

Another group of maidens, comely and merry, sit behind musical
instruments, of so great variety as to recall the "cornet, flute,
sackbut, harp, psaltery, and dulcimer" of Scripture. The "head wife" of
the premier, earnestly engaged in creaming her lips, reclines apart on a
dais, attended by many waiting-women.

From the folds of a great curtain a single flute opens the entertainment
with low tender strains, and from the recesses twelve damsels appear,
bearing gold and silver fans, with which, seated in order, they fan the
central group.

Now the dancers, a burst of joyous music being the signal, form in two
lines, and simultaneously, with military precision, kneel, fold and
raise their hands, and bow till their foreheads touch the carpet before
their lord. Then suddenly springing to their feet, they describe a
succession of rapid and intricate circles, tapping the carpet with their
toes in time to the music. Next follows a miracle of art, such as may be
found only among pupils of the highest physical training; a dance in
which every motion is poetry, every attitude an expression of love, even
rest but the eloquence of passion overcome by its own fervor. The music
swelling into a rapturous tumult preludes the choral climax, wherein the
dancers, raising their delicate feet, and curving their arms and fingers
in seemingly impossible flexures, sway like withes of willow, and
agitate all the muscles of the body like the fluttering of leaves in a
soft breeze. Their eyes glow as with an inner light; the soft brown
complexion, the rosy lips half parted, the heaving bosom, and the waving
arms, as they float round and round in wild eddies of dance, impart to
them the aspect of fair young fiends.

And there sits the Kralahome, like the idol of ebony before the demon
had entered it! while around him these elfin worshippers, with flushed
cheeks and flashing eyes, tossing arms and panting bosoms, whirl in
their witching waltz. He is a man to be wondered at,--stony and grim,
his huge hands resting on his knees in statuesque repose, as though he
supported on his well-poised head the whole weight of the Maha Mongkut
[Footnote: "The Mighty Crown."] itself, while at his feet these brown
leaves of humanity lie quivering.

Is it all _maya_,--delusion? I open wide my eyes, then close them, then
open them again. There still lie the living puppets, not daring to look
up to the face of their silent god, where scorn and passion contend for
place. The dim lights, the shadows blending with them, the fine harmony
of colors, the wild harmony of sounds, the fantastic phantoms, the
overcoming sentiment, all the poetry and the pity of the scene,--the
formless longing, the undefined sense of wrong! Poor things, poor

The prime minister of Siam enjoys no exemption from that mocking law
which condemns the hero strutting on the stage of the world to cut but a
sorry figure at home. Toward these helpless slaves of his nod his
deportment was studiously ungracious and mean. No smile of pleased
surprise or approbation ever brightened his gloomy countenance. True,
the fire of his native ardor burns there still, but through no crevice
of the outward man may one catch a glimpse of its light. Though he rage
as a fiery furnace within, externally he is calm as a lake, too deep to
be troubled by the skipping, singing brooks that flow into it. Rising
automatically, he abruptly retired, bored. And those youthful, tender
forms, glowing and panting there,--in what glorious robes might not
their proper loveliness have arrayed them, if only their hearts had
looked upward in freedom, and not, like their trained eyes, downward in
blind homage.

Koon Ying Phan (literally, "The Lady in One Thousand") was the head wife
of the Premier. He married her, after repudiating the companion of his
more grateful years, the mother of his only child, a son--the legitimacy
of whose birth he doubted, and so, for a grim jest, named the lad _My
Chi_, "Not So." He would have put the mother to death, but finding no
real grounds for his suspicion, let her off with a public "putting
away." The divorced woman, having nothing left but her disowned baby,
carefully changed the _My Chi_ to _Ny Chi_ ("Not So" to "Master So
"),--a cunning trick of pride, but a doubtful improvement.

Koon Ying Phan had neither beauty nor grace; but her habits were
domestic, and her temper extremely mild. When I first knew her she was
perhaps forty years old,--stout, heavy, dark,--her only attraction the
gentle expression of her eyes and mouth. Around her pretty residence,
adjoining the Premier's palace, bloomed the most charming garden I saw
in Siam, with shrubberies, fountains, and nooks, designed by a true
artist; though the work of the native florists is usually fantastic and
grotesque, with an excess of dwarfed trees in Chinese vases. There was,
besides, a cool, shaded walk, leading to a more extensive garden,
adorned with curious lattice-work, and abounding in shrubs of great
variety and beauty. Koon Ying Phan had a lively love for flowers, which
she styled the children of her heart; "for my lord is childless," she

In her apartments the same subdued lights and mellow half-tints
prevailed that in her husband's saloons imparted a pensive sentiment to
the place. There were neither carpets nor mirrors; and the only articles
of furniture were some sofa-beds, low marble couches, tables, and a few
arm-chairs, but all of forms antique and delicate. The combined effect
was one of delicious coolness, retirement, and repose, even despite the
glaring rays that strove to invade the sweet refuge through the silken

This lady, to whom belonged the undivided supervision of the premier's
household, was kind to the younger women of her husband's harem, in
whose welfare she manifested a most amiable interest,--living among them
happily, as a mother among her daughters, sharing their confidences, and
often pleading their cause with her lord and theirs, over whom she
exercised a very cautious but positive influence.

I learned gladly and with pride to admire and love this lady, to accept
her as the type of a most precious truth. For to behold, even afar off,
"silent upon a peak" of sympathy, the ocean of love and pathos, of
passion and patience, on which the lives of these our pagan sisters
drift, is to be gratefully sensible of a loving, pitying, and sufficing
Presence, even in the darkness of error, superstition, slavery, and
death. Shortly after her marriage, Koon Ying Phan, moved partly by
compassion for the wrongs of her predecessor, partly by the "aching
void" of her own life, adopted the disowned son of the premier, and
called him, with reproachful significance, P'hra Nah Why, "the Lord
endures." And her strong friend, Nature, who had already knit together,
by nerve and vein and bone and sinew, the father and the child, now came
to her aid, and united them by the finer but scarcely weaker ties of
habit and companionship and home affections.



The day had come for my presentation to the supreme king. After much
preliminary talk between the Kralahome and myself, through the medium of
the interpreter, it had been arranged that my straightforward friend,
Captain B----, should conduct us to the royal palace, and procure the
interview. Our cheerful escort arrived duly, and we proceeded up the
river,--my boy maintaining an ominous silence all the while, except
once, when he shyly confessed he was afraid to go.

At the landing we found a large party of priests, some bathing, some
wringing their yellow garments; graceful girls balancing on their heads
vessels of water; others, less pleasing, carrying bundles of grass, or
baskets of fruit and nuts; noblemen in gilded sedans, borne on men's
shoulders, hurrying toward the palace; in the distance a troop of
horsemen, with long glittering spears.

Passing the covered gangway at the landing, we came upon a clean brick
road, bounded by two high walls, the one on the left enclosing the abode
of royalty, the other the temple Watt Poh, where reposes in gigantic
state the wondrous Sleeping Idol. Imagine a reclining figure one hundred
and fifty feet long and forty feet high, entirely overlaid with plate
gold; the soles of its monstrous feet covered with bass-reliefs inlaid
with mother-of-pearl and chased with gold; each separate design
distinctly representing one of the many transmigrations of Buddha
whereby he obtained Niphan. On the nails are graven his divine
attributes, ten in number:

1. Arahang,--Immaculate, Pure, Chaste.
2. Samma Sam-Putho,--Cognizant of the laws of Nature, Infallible,
Unchangeable, True.
3. Vicharanah Sampanoh,--Endowed with all Knowledge, all Science.
4. Lukha-tho,--Excellence, Perfection.
5. Lok-havi-tho,--Cognizant of the mystery of Creation.
6. Annutharo,--Inconceivably Pure, without Sin.
7. Purisah tham-mah Sarathi,--Unconquerable, Invincible, before whom the
angels bow.
8. Sassahdah,--Father of Beatitude, Teacher of the ways to bliss.
9. Poodh-tho,--Endowed with boundless Compassion, Pitiful, Tender, Loving,
Merciful, Benevolent.
10. Pak-havah,--Glorious, endowed with inconceivable Merit, Adorable.

Leaving this temple, we approached a low circular fort near the palace,
--a miniature model of a great citadel, with bastions, battlements, and
towers, showing confusedly over a crenellated wall. Entering by a curious
wooden gate, bossed with great flat-headed nails, we reached by a stony
pathway the stables (or, more correctly, the palace) of the White
Elephant, where the huge creature--indebted for its "whiteness" to
tradition rather than to nature--is housed royally. Passing these, we
next came to the famous Watt P'hra Keau, or temple of the Emerald Idol.

An inner wall separates this temple from the military depot attached to
the palace; but it is connected by a secret passage with the most
private apartments of his Majesty's harem, which, enclosed on all sides,
is accessible only to women. The temple itself is unquestionably one of
the most remarkable and beautiful structures of its class in the Orient;
the lofty octagonal pillars, the quaint Gothic doors and windows, the
tapering and gilded roofs, are carved in an infinite variety of emblems,
the lotos and the palm predominating. The adornment of the exterior is
only equalled in its profusion by the pictorial and hieroglyphic
embellishment within. The ceiling is covered with mythological figures
and symbols. Most conspicuous among the latter are the luminous circles,
resembling the mystic orb of the Hindoos, and representing the seven
constellations known to the ancients; these revolve round a central sun
in the form of a lotos, called by the Siamese _Dok Athit_ (sun-flower),
because it expands its leaves to the rising sun and contracts them as he
sets. On the cornices are displayed the twelve signs of the zodiac.

The altar is a wonder of dimensions and splendor,--a pyramid one hundred
feet high, terminating in a fine spire of gold, and surrounded on every
side by idols, all curious and precious, from the bijou image in
sapphire to the colossal statue in plate gold. A series of trophies
these, gathered from the triumphs of Buddhism over the proudest forms of
worship in the old pagan world. In the pillars that surround the temple,
and the spires that taper far aloft, may be traced types and emblems
borrowed from the Temple of the Sun at Baalbec, the proud fane of Diana
at Ephesus, the shrines of the Delian Apollo; but the Brahminical
symbols and interpretations prevail. Strange that it should be so, with
a sect that suffered by the slayings and the outcastings of a ruthless
persecution, at the hands of their Brahmin fathers, for the cause of
restoring the culture of that simple and pure philosophy which nourished
before pantheism!

The floor is paved with diamonds of polished brass, which reflect the
light of tall tapers that have burned on for more than a hundred years,
so closely is the sacred fire watched. The floods of light and depths of
shadow about the altar are extreme, and the effect overwhelming.

The Emerald Idol is about twelve inches high and eight in width. Into
the virgin gold of which its hair and collar are composed must have been
stirred, while the metal was yet molten, crystals, topazes, sapphires,
rubies, onyxes, amethysts, and diamonds,--the stones crude, or rudely
cut, and blended in such proportions as might enhance to the utmost
imaginable limit the beauty and the cost of the adored effigy. The
combination is as harmonious as it is splendid. No wonder it is commonly
believed that Buddha himself alighted on the spot in the form of a great
emerald, and by a flash of lightning conjured the glittering edifice and
altar in an instant from the earth, to house and throne him there!

On either side of the eastern entrance--called _Patoo Ngam_, "The
Beautiful Gate"--stands a modern statue; one of Saint Peter, with
flowing mantle and sandalled feet, in an attitude of sorrow, as when "he
turned away his face and wept"; the other of Ceres, scattering flowers.
The western entrance, which admits only ladies, is styled _Patoo
Thavadah_, "The Angels' Gate," and is guarded by genii of ferocious

At a later period, visiting this temple in company with the king and his
family, I called his Majesty's attention to the statue at the Beautiful
Gate, as that of a Christian saint with whose story he was not
unfamiliar. Turning quickly to his children, and addressing them gently,
he bade them salute it reverently. "It is Mam's P'hra," [Footnote:
Saint, or Lord.] he said; whereupon the tribe of little ones folded
their hands devoutly, and made obeisance before the effigy of Saint
Peter. As often as my thought reverts to this inspiring shrine, reposing
in its lonely loveliness amid the shadows and the silence of its
consecrated groves, I cannot find it in my heart to condemn, however
illusive the object, but rather I rejoice to admire and applaud, the
bent of that devotion which could erect so proud and beautiful a fane in
the midst of moral surroundings so ignoble and unlovely,--a spiritual
remembrance perhaps older and truer than paganism, ennobling the pagan
mind with the idea of an architectural Sabbath, so to speak, such as a
heathen may purely enjoy and a Christian may not wisely despise.



In 1825 a royal prince of Siam (his birthright wrested from him, and his
life imperilled) took refuge in a Buddhist monastery and assumed the
yellow garb of a priest. His father, commonly known as Phen-den-Klang,
first or supreme king of Siam, had just died, leaving this prince,
Chowfa Mongkut, at the age of twenty, lawful heir to the crown; for he
was the eldest son of the acknowledged queen, and therefore by courtesy
and honored custom, if not by absolute right, the legitimate successor
to the throne of the P'hra-batts. [Footnote: The Golden-footed.] But he
had an elder half-brother, who, through the intrigues of his mother, had
already obtained control of the royal treasury, and now, with the
connivance, if not by the authority, of the Senabawdee, the Grand
Council of the kingdom, proclaimed himself king. He had the grace,
however, to promise his plundered brother--such royal promises being a
cheap form of propitiation in Siam--to hold the reins of government only
until Chowfa Mongkut should be of years and strength and skill to manage
them. But, once firmly seated on the throne, the usurper saw in his
patient but proud and astute kinsman only a hindrance and a peril in the
path of his own cruder and fiercer aspirations. Hence the forewarning
and the flight, the cloister and the yellow robes. And so the usurper
continued to reign, unchallenged by any claim from the king that should
be, until March, 1851, when, a mortal illness having overtaken him, he
convoked the Grand Council of princes and nobles around his couch, and
proposed his favorite son as his successor. Then the safe asses of the
court kicked the dying lion with seven words of sententious scorn,--"The
crown has already its rightful owner"; whereupon the king literally
cursed himself to death, for it was almost in the convulsion, of his
chagrin and rage that he came to his end, on the 3d of April.

In Siam there is no such personage as an heir-apparent to the throne, in
the definite meaning and positive value which attaches to that phrase in
Europe,--no prince with an absolute and exclusive title, by birth,
adoption, or nomination, to succeed to the crown. And while it is true
that the eldest living son of a Siamese sovereign by his queen or queen
consort is recognized by all custom, ancient and modern, as the
_probable_ successor to the high seat of his royal sire, he cannot be
said to have a clear and indefeasible right to it, because the question
of his accession has yet to be decided by the electing voice of the
Senabawdee, in whose judgment he may be ineligible, by reason of certain
physical, mental, or moral disabilities,--as extreme youth, effeminacy,
imbecility, intemperance, profligacy. Nevertheless, the election is
popularly expected to result in the choice of the eldest son of the
queen, though an interregnum or a regency is a contingency by no means

It was in view of this jurisdiction of the Senabawdee, exercised in
deference to a just and honored usage, that the voice of the oracle fell
upon the ear of the dying monarch with a disappointing and offensive
significance; for he well knew who was meant by the "rightful owner" of
the crown. Hardly had he breathed his last when, in spite of the busy
intrigues of his eldest son (whom we find described in the _Bangkok
Recorder_ of July 26, 1866, as "most honorable and promising"), in spite
of the bitter vexation of his lordship Chow Phya Sri Sury Wongse, so
soon to be premier, the prince Chowfa Mongkut doffed his sacerdotal
robes, emerged from his cloister, and was crowned, with the title of
Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut.[Footnote: Duke, and royal bearer
of the great crown.]

For twenty-five years had the true heir to the throne of the
P'hra-batts, patiently biding his time, lain _perdu_ in his monastery,
diligently devoting himself to the study of Sanskrit, Pali, theology,
history, geology, chemistry, and especially astronomy. He had been a
familiar visitor at the houses of the American missionaries, two of whom
(Dr. House and Mr. Mattoon) were, throughout his reign and life,
gratefully revered by him for that pleasant and profitable converse
which helped to unlock to him the secrets of European vigor and
advancement, and to make straight and easy the paths of knowledge he had
started upon. Not even the essential arrogance of his Siamese nature
could prevent him from accepting cordially the happy influences these
good and true men inspired; and doubtless he would have gone more than
half-way to meet them, but for the dazzle of the golden throne in the
distance which arrested him midway between Christianity and Buddhism,
between truth and delusion, between light and darkness, between life and

In the Oriental tongues this progressive king was eminently proficient;
and toward priests, preachers, and teachers, of all creeds, sects, and
sciences, an enlightened exemplar of tolerance. It was likewise his
peculiar vanity to pass for an accomplished English scholar, and to this
end he maintained in his palace at Bangkok a private printing
establishment, with fonts of English type, which, as may be perceived
presently, he was at no loss to keep in "copy." Perhaps it was the
printing-office which suggested, quite naturally, an English governess
for the _elite_ of his wives and concubines, and their offspring,--in
number amply adequate to the constitution of a royal school, and in
material most attractively fresh and romantic. Happy thought! Wherefore,
behold me, just after sunset on a pleasant day in April, 1862, on the
threshold of the outer court of the Grand Palace, accompanied by my own
brave little boy, and escorted by a compatriot.

A flood of light sweeping through the spacious Hall of Audience
displayed a throng of noblemen in waiting. None turned a glance, or
seemingly a thought, on us, and, my child being tired and hungry, I
urged Captain B---- to present us without delay. At once we mounted the
marble steps, and entered the brilliant hall unannounced. Ranged on the
carpet were many prostrate, mute, and motionless forms, over whose heads
to step was a temptation as drolly natural as it was dangerous. His
Majesty spied us quickly, and advanced abruptly, petulantly screaming,
"Who? who? who?"

Captain B---- (who, by the by, is a titled nobleman of Siam) introduced
me as the English governess, engaged for the royal family. The king
shook hands with us, and immediately proceeded to march up and down in
quick step, putting one foot before the other with mathematical
precision, as if under drill. "Forewarned, forearmed!" my friend
whispered that I should prepare myself for a sharp cross-questioning as
to my age, my husband, children, and other strictly personal concerns.
Suddenly his Majesty, having cogitated sufficiently in his peculiar
manner, with one long final stride halted in front of us, and pointing
straight at me with his forefinger, asked, "How old shall you be?"

Scarcely able to repress a smile at a proceeding so absurd, and with my
sex's distaste for so serious a question, I demurely replied, "One
hundred and fifty years old."

Had I made myself much younger, he might have ridiculed or assailed me;
but now he stood surprised and embarrassed for a few moments, then
resumed his queer march; and at last, beginning to perceive the jest,
coughed, laughed, coughed again, and in a high, sharp key asked, "In
what year were you borned?"

Instantly I struck a mental balance, and answered, as gravely as I
could, "In 1788."

At this point the expression of his Majesty's face was indescribably
comical. Captain B---- slipped behind a pillar to laugh; but the king
only coughed, with a significant emphasis that startled me, and
addressed a few words to his prostrate courtiers, who smiled at the
carpet,--all except the prime minister, who turned to look at me. But
his Majesty was not to be baffled so: again he marched with vigor, and
then returned to the attack with _elan_.

"How many years shall you be married?"

"For several years, your Majesty."

He fell into a brown study; then, laughing, rushed at me, and demanded

"Ha! How many grandchildren shall you now have? Ha, ha! How many? How
many? Ha, ha, ha!"

Of course we all laughed with him; but the general hilarity admitted of
a variety of constructions.

Then suddenly he seized my hand, and dragged me, _nolens volens_, my
little Louis holding fast by my skirt, through several sombre passages,
along which crouched duennas, shrivelled and grotesque, and many
youthful women, covering their faces, as if blinded by the splendor of
the passing Majesty. At length he stopped before one of the
many-curtained recesses, and, drawing aside the hangings, disclosed a
lovely, childlike form. He stooped and took her hand, (she naively
hiding her face), and placing it in mine, said, "This is my wife, the
Lady Talap. She desires to be educated in English. She is as pleasing
for her talents as for her beauty, and it is our pleasure to make her a
good English scholar. You shall educate her for me."

I replied that the office would give me much pleasure; for nothing could
be more eloquently winning than the modest, timid bearing of that tender
young creature in the presence of her lord. She laughed low and
pleasantly as he translated my sympathetic words to her, and seemed so
enraptured with the graciousness of his act that I took my leave of her
with a sentiment of profound pity.

He led me back by the way we had come; and now we met many children, who
put my patient boy to much childish torture for the gratification of
their startled curiosity.

"I have sixty-seven children," said his Majesty, when we had returned to
the Audience Hall. "You shall educate them, and as many of my wives,
likewise, as may wish to learn English. And I have much correspondence
in which you must assist me. And, moreover, I have much difficulty for
reading and translating French letters; for French are fond of using
gloomily deceiving terms. You must undertake; and you shall make all
their murky sentences and gloomily deceiving propositions clear to me.
And, furthermore, I have by every mail foreign letters whose writing is
not easily read by me. You shall copy on round hand, for my readily
perusal thereof."

_Nil desperandum_; but I began by despairing of my ability to accomplish
tasks so multifarious. I simply bowed, however, and so dismissed myself
for that evening.

One tempting morning, when the air was cool, my boy and I ventured some
distance beyond the bounds of our usual cautious promenade, close to the
palace of the premier. Some forty or fifty carpenters, building boats
under a long low shed, attracted the child's attention. We tarried
awhile, watching their work, and then strolled to a stone bridge hard
by, where we found a gang of repulsive wretches, all men, coupled by
means of iron collars and short but heavy fetters, in which they moved
with difficulty, if not with positive pain. They were carrying stone
from the canal to the bridge, and as they stopped to deposit their
burdens, I observed that most of them had hard, defiant faces, though
here and there were sad and gentle eyes that bespoke sympathy. One of
them approached us, holding out his hand, into which Boy dropped the few
coins he had. Instantly, with a greedy shout, the whole gang were upon
us, crowding us on all sides, wrangling, yelling. I was exceedingly
alarmed, and having no more money there, knew not what to do, except to
take my child in my arms, and strive again and again to break through
the press; but still I fell back baffled, and sickened by the
insufferable odors that emanated from their disgusting persons; and
still they pressed and scrambled and screamed, and clanked their horrid
chains. But behold! suddenly, as if struck by lightning, every man of
them fell on his face, and officers flew among them pell-mell, swingeing
with hard, heavy thongs the naked wincing backs.

It was with a sense of infinite relief that we found ourselves safe in
our rooms at last; but the breakfast tasted earthy and the atmosphere
was choking, and our very hearts were parched. At night Boy lay burning
on his little bed, moaning for _aiyer sujok_ (cold water), while I
fainted for a breath of fresh, sweet air. But God blesses these Eastern
prison-houses not at all; the air that visits them is no better than the
life within,--heavy, stifling, stupefying. For relief I betook me to the
study of the Siamese language, an occupation I had found very pleasant
and inspiring. As for Boy, who spoke Malay fluently, it was wonderful
with what aptness he acquired it.

When next I "interviewed" the king, I was accompanied by the premier's
sister, a fair and friendly woman, whose whole stock of English was,
"Good morning, sir"; and with this somewhat irrelevant greeting, a dozen
times in an hour, though the hour were night, she relieved her pent-up
feelings, and gave expression to her sympathy and regard for me.

Mr. Hunter, private secretary to the premier, had informed me, speaking
for his Excellency, that I should prepare to enter upon my duties at the
royal palace without delay. Accordingly, next morning, the elder sister
of the Kralahome came for us. She led the way to the river, followed by
slave-girls bearing a gold teapot, a pretty gold tray containing two
tiny porcelain cups with covers, her betel-box, also of gold, and two
large fans. When we were seated in the closely covered basket-boat, she
took up one of the books I had brought with me, and, turning over the
leaves, came upon the alphabet; whereat, with a look of pleased
surprise, she began repeating the letters. I helped her, and for a while
she seemed amused and gratified; but presently, growing weary of it, she
abruptly closed the book, and, offering me her hand, said, "Good
morning, sir!" I replied with equal cordiality, and I think we bade each
other good morning at least a dozen times before we reached the palace.

We landed at a showy pavilion, and after traversing several covered
passages came to a barrier guarded by Amazons, to whom the old lady was
evidently well known, for they threw open the gate for us, and
"squatted" till we passed. A hot walk of twenty minutes brought us to a
curious oval door of polished brass, which opened and shut noiselessly
in a highly ornate frame. This admitted us to a cool retreat, on one
side of which were several temples or chapels in antique styles, and on
the other a long dim gallery. On the marble floor of this pavilion a
number of interesting children sat or sprawled, and quaint babies slept


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