« السابقةمتابعة »
wherein the Siamese youth might be well taught in the English language and literature, and the sciences af Europe.
His foreign policy was liberal, he extended toleration to all religious sects, and he expended large sums in public buildings and improvements. He abolished several oppressive taxes, reduced the duties on foreign shipping, and in other ways encouraged foreign commerce. In 1855, he effected a cominercial treaty with England, which has proved very beneficial to both parties. In May, 1856, he concluded one, substantially the same, with the United States, and, later in the year, one with France. Hitherto, Portugal had been the only foreign power having a resident Consul at Bangkok, but the treaties brought along with them Consuls of the three powers, and foreign merchants and traders flocked to Bangkok, and established rice-mills, sugar and oil refineries, and warehouses for imports. Millions of dollars flowed in where only a few thousands had flowed before. Soon after this, treaties were concluded with every commercial nation, and the country rapidly increased in prosperity.
Then an English harbor-master and an English chief of police brought order and safety into operation ; a French commander was found for the army; and an American was appointed head of the custom house. The Singapore Telegraph Company was empowered to construct telegraph lines through Moulmein to Singapore, with a branch to Bangkok, and a sanitarium was erected at Anghin, on the coast, for the benefit of native and foreign invalids. The king built himself a superb palace, after the model of Windsor Castle, and also numerous other palaces in different parts of the country; and the nobility followed his example. But the king never gave way to luxury. In his daily habits he was remarkably industrious and abstemious. He was much devoted to astronomy, and he calculated with respectable accuracy the great solar eclipse of August, 1868. He rendered every possible assistance to the foreign commissioners sent out to observe the eclipse in Siam, expending not less than $100,000 in erecting a commodious observatory for them, and in entertaining the foreigners present during the eclipse. It was his last exploit, for the excitement of the scene, combined with the noxious atmosphere of the jungle, brought on the fever of which he died on the 1st of October following.
When its inhabitants shall have become sufficiently enlightened in the arts and sciences to develop to the fullest extent the capacities of its soil, Siam will be one of the most productive countries in the world. The fertility of the land is inexhaustible. The great river Meinam rolls through an immense continuous level of the richest soil, well watered by tributary streams, canals, and rain. Great variety of grain and fruit grows almost spontaneously under the tropical heat. The staples are rice, sugar, indigo, cotton, tobacco, coffee, olives and figs. There are several species of palms yielding sngar, and forests of teak, ebony, satinwood and eaglewood. Ivory, beeswax, honey, raw silk, and many aromatic gums and spices are also obtained in great abundance. Then, again, the variety and beauty of the scenery, with its luxuriance of verdure, flowers and foliage, and picturesque forests, will make it a most attractive land for foreigners.
Siam is a vast plain; it is only when the traveller approaches the borders of the land that he sees lofty mountains, crowned with impenetrable forests. This plain is bounded on the east by a spur of the Himalaya range, which breaks off in Cambodia, and is found again in the west, extending almost to the extremity of the Malayan States. On the north these two mountain ranges approach each other, and form a multitude of small hills. Siam has some excellent harbors, and that at Bangkok has from sixty to seventy feet of water. The gulf is free from the typhoons which are so destructive in the Chinese seas. The country resembles Egypt in one particular, that of annual inundation in the months of June, July, and August, by the waters of the great river Meikhong and its tributaries, which unite with the waters of the Meinam and the Phibsalok, and overflow the entire plain, so that boats traverse it in every direction without injury to the young rice crop springing up underneath.
It is evident that Siam opens a great field for engineering. The regulating of this annual inundation by a system of barrage, like that of Egypt, is one very great desideratum. Railways are another; so are gas-works, water-works and the fabrication of the numerous contrivances which make up the comforts of civilized life. It is the earnest desire of the present king to see them all in operation, as they doubtless will be before many years shall have passed. There is also scope for the introduction of manufactures of every kind, and for many of them the country could supply the raw material in abundance. A profitable trade might also be carried on in articles of ornamentation made out of the shells of fish, the skins of animals, the feathers of birds, of which Siam produces many varieties of extraordinary beauty, and fragrant woods like rosewood, satinwood, sapanwood, ebony and cedar. Siam likewise has mines of iron, antimony, gold and silver, and quarries of white marble; but they are poorly worked, and small importance is now attached to them by the Siamese. Yet the gold of Bangtaphon is esteemed the purest and most ductile in the world. That these mines were once largely worked is evident from the number of pits bearing marks of great age, and from the extraordinary quantity of idols and works of art cast in these metals, and consumed in the construction of images, and the adornment of temples, pagodas, and palaces.
Of these last-mentioned edifices there are some remarkable ruins in certain parts of the Siamese dominions, especially in Cambodia. They are of unknown antiquity, and no history tells us what manner of people built them, whence came their civilization and culture, or why and whither they disappeared from among the nations of the earth. The structures are stupendously grand and elaborately ornamented, yet not resembling in style those of other ancient empires. Without doubt the Cambodian must have been one of the most powerful empires of the East in its time, whenever that was. There is nothing but tradition to guide one to an opinion; but this is too vague to be relied upon. The mythology of the country carries its origin back to B. C. 3,800, and some of the native writers assert that the empire lasted 1,300 years, while others say 2,400. If the former are right, it came to an end about the time of the foundation of the first Assyrian Empire by Belus, or Nimrod (according to Dr. Hales); if the latter, about the time of Deborah and Barak. But the more learned Cambodians do not accept either statement as authentic.
The really authentic history of Siam, Pegu, Cambodia, and Laos does not go back more than 700 or 800 years. Their early annals abound in fables of heroes, demigods, giants and genii, as those of all ancient nations do, and they afford but few facts of practical value. The Siamese era commences with the year A. D. 638, but the first great event is the foundation of the city of Ayudia, or Ayuthia, described by Mendelslohe as “the Venice of the East," as before mentioned. This occurred in A. D. 1350, when a chief, named Phya-Athong, assumed the title of Phra (or king) Rama Thibodi, and made the new city his capital, fortifying it with turretted battlements, with ponderous gates and by a wide and deep moat spanned by drawbridges. But as it was situated near the river Meinam, about sixty miles only from the gulf of Siam, it was easily accessible to the Burmese pirates, who harrassed it continually, and ravaged the surrounding country. They were unable to take the city, however; and Thibodi's successor, Suen, routed a large army of them with immense slaughter, pursuing them to their capital, Chiengmai. From this expedition he 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.”
From these early times down to very recent, the history of Siam is more or less mixed up with that of Burmah, Laos, and Cambodia, its immediate neighbors, which were sometimes its tributaries, but sometimes it was their tributary, according to the fortune of war. Its domestic history is full of fierce feuds between the members of the royal family, in which the nobles and landed proprietors took an active part. By these feuds the country was devastated and impoverished ; in some parts it was depopulated. Here we have Oriental history in all its hideous, as well as good features. The happiness and the VOL. XVI.—NO. LI.
misery of the people depended almost entirely on the personal character of the king for the time being. It has ever been so from time immemorial in China, India, Siam, Persia and Turkey. A great warrior arises and takes possession of the throne, plunders and subjugates the surrounding nations, builds sumptuous edifices, and dies. He is succeeded by an indolent or feeble prince, and the realm is speedily a prey to the struggles of his kinsman or some powerful chief for the crown, and the prosperity of the nation soon disappears. The only points of interest in such annals are the personal exploits of the actors in the scenes described. These often border on the romantic, and the Siamese records contain some very remarkable instances.
As marking the characteristics of the Siamese, these legends are worthy of attention. We will cite three of them. On the death of king Inthra Racha, A. D. 780, two of his sons, who were each ruling over a northern province, set out from their seat of government simultaneously for the capital, Ayutha, 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 dismounted, divining his brother's purpose, and with their naked swords fell upon each other with such fury that both were slain on the spot.
The second instance is more romantic, and relates to the exploits of a woman, Queen Sisudah-Chand, famed alike for her beauty and her fiendish disposition. She lived about the close of the ninth century, and was regent of Siam during the minority of her son, the king P’hra Yat-Fa. She was very superstitious, believing in astrological predictions, and a cunning astrologer gained complete ascendency over her. Persuading her that her life was in danger from one of the royal family, she ordered the entire royal household, including her own mother and sisters, to be assassinated. She then put her son, the king, to death, and raised the astrologer to the throne. The nobility and people, exasperated and disgusted, watched their opportunity for destroying the infamous pair, not daring to attack them in their palace, which was well fortified. One