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day, as the queen and her paramour were in a barge on their customary visit to her private pagoda and garden, à nobleman hailed them, as if for instructions, and, being allowed to approach, he suddenly sprang upon them, drew his sword and despatched them both.
The crown was then offered to an uncle of the murdered king. This prince, known as Maha Chakrapat Racha-therat, displayed in his own person one of the most brilliant illustrations of Oriental chivalry. With an immense army he invaded Pegu. The king of that country, having but a small force, nevertheless advanced to meet him. In consideration of the great disparity between the two armies, the king of Siam proposed to the king of Pegu to decide the fortune of the day by single combat. The proposal was accepted, the two monarchs encountered each other, but the king of Pegu’s elephant took fright and carried him off the field. His heroic queen, Maha Chandra, immediately took his place, and was soon killed. From these narratives we see that these Oriental sovereigns habitually used elephants, instead of horses, in their warlike expeditions, and that they were attended by their wives and female warriors. It also would seem to have been considered no disgrace for a man to fight a woman. In fact, from the remotest times to the present, female warriors have been common in Asia and Africa, and kings have had body guards composed entirely of women.
Passing over seven centuries, during which Siamese history repeats itself continually, we come to the sixteenth century, the epoch of the Portuguese explorations and conquests in the East. Several thousands of these adventurous Europeans enlisted in the service of the King of Burmah. They were excellent soldiers, and ably commanded by their countryman, Diego Suanes, and were superior to any troops which the East could bring against them. In 1568 they invaded Siam and made it tributary to Burmah. It remained so until 1583, when the Siamese regained their independence. The Portuguese of Malacca, however, were invited to establish themselves in Siam for purposes of trade; an embassy was sent to Goa, their chief settlement in the East, and the Domin
ican monks were invited to build churches and preach Christianity in Siam.
Then follows one of the most remarkable episodes in Siamese history. During the reign of Phra Narai, a most able and estimable man, a Greek, named Constantine Phaulkon, was wrecked on the coast of Malabar. Meeting there with a party of Siamese officials, returning to their own country, he became a fellow-passenger with them, quickly contrived to learn their language, and so ingratiated himself with them that they introduced him to Phra Narai, who took him into the government service. Through his sagacity, tact and diligence he rapidly rose in favor, and finally became prime minister. The French priests spared no efforts to gain him over secretly to their plans, which were the introduction of the Jesuits, and the conversion of Eastern Asia to Christianity. Bishops were sent out by the Pope to Cochin China, Cambodia, Siam, and Pegu, at the expense of Louis XIV. of France, who, however, insisted that they should all be Frenchmen, and that the glory of the enterprise should be ascribed exclusively to France and to himself.
The Jesuits opened schools, and labored successfully to introduce the ideas and arts of Europe into Siam ; but they failed to convert the king to Christianity. After some years Phra Narai sent an embassy to Louis, who immediately returned the compliment by sending the Chevalier De Chaumont with five ships of war, Father Tachard, and a number of priests. They anchored in the Meinam on the 27th of Septeinber, 1687, and were graciously received by the king, who, nevertheless, told them he feared the chief object of their mission—the establishing of a French protectorate in Siam, and the conversion of himself and people—would not be so easy a task as they had been led to believe. In all this the Jesuits had been from the first deceived by Phaulkon, who designed to use them for his own purposes. De Chaumont and his fleet returned to France in 1688, and Phaulkon then set to work to stir up dissatisfaction with the king among the people. He persuaded P’hra Narai to send another embassy to Louis, and devoted himself, meanwhile, to gaining the favor of the people by promoting trade and agriculture, encouraging foreign commerce, building splendid edifices, and improving the laws. All this was marvellous in the eyes of the Siamese, who styled him the “ Vicha-yen," or incarnation of “cool wisdom.”
But his ambition, arrogance and ostentation aroused the hostility of the nobles against him and the too partial king. The latter, falling ill, repaired to the premier's palace at Laphaburee. Thither some of the disaffected nobles, headed by a natural son of his own, went and forced their way into his room. The old monarch died defending himself bravely. The assassins then broke into Phaulkon's room, where he was attended by his young daughter, Constantia, dragged him into the woods, killed him, and flung his body into a pit. His daughter witnessed his sufferings, cheered him with her passionate endearments, and holding before his eyes a cross of gold, besought him to die like a brave man and a Christian. She was dragged into slavery and concubinage by one of his murderers. After these brutal achievements the affairs of the country fell into confusion, and the Burmese, taking advantage thereof, overran and ravaged the kingdom.
The country was freed of its invaders through the courage and genius of one of the feudal lords of Siam, Phya Tâh, originally a Chinese adventurer, who had amassed wealth, and held the office of governor of the northern provinces under the late king. By a series of daring man@uvres he not only expelled the Burmese, but recovered Cambodia. He was very kind to the poor and beloved by his soldiers; but he was haughty and exacting towards the nobles. In revenge, they procured one of his concubines to drig his food and render him insane. In that condition he committed such excesses that the people, headed by the nobles, attacked the palace. He escaped by a secret passage to a neighboring monastery, where he was betrayed to his prime minister, who caused him to be put to death. This minister then usurped the throne, and firmly established himself thereon. The history of Siam becomes unimportant and uninteresting from this period down to the accession of Maha Mongkut, the late king. The foregoing brief extracts from its previous history * are sufficient to give the reader an idea of the characteristics of the Siamese as a political community, with its relations towards foreign nations. But under the late and the present government, and especially since the making of the treaties with the United States, Great Britain and France, Siam has taken her place among the community of civilized nations, and her foreign relations are now conducted on the system which prevails among them.
The changes which have taken place in the internal government of the country, the abolition of slavery and the introduction of a system of general education, have already wrought such amelioration in the condition of the people as to render antiquated the observations of former travellers, even of so recent a one as Mr. F. A. Neale, who visited Siam in 1840, and was for some months in the military service of the king, and who has given to the world a very vivid description of the manners and customs of the people. But for hundreds of years previously these had remained unchanged, as had also their modes of government and ways of thinking. This is characteristic of all Oriental nations. Century after century passes away with them unmarked by progress and undistinguished by change. Traveller succeeds traveller at long intervals of time, and each repeats unconsciously the observations of the other. Thus Mr. Neale found the Siamese precisely the same as they were in the days of the Jesuit missionary, La Loubère, who visited them in 1687, and published a work descriptive of the country and its inhabitants, which was applicable to them when Mr. Crawford was among them in 1827; but which, it is tolerably certain, will be in great part inapplicable to them fifty years hence, when railways, telegraphs, and newspapers shall have full sway.
Allusion has been made to the vast ruins and remains of ancient temples in Siam, whose origin is unknown. Some of the works of the builders of these marvels still remain in use. Among them are two imposing stone bridges, 500 feet long and 80 feet broad, carried on arches, which rest firmly on their foundations, buttressed by fifty great stone pillars, and supporting a road-bed composed of immense blocks of stone, laid one upon another, and so adjusted that their very weight seems to keep the arches firm. Yet the western nations know nothing of the existence of the race who built in a style surpassing in boldness of conception, grandeur of proportions, and delicacy of design, the best works of the modern world. Vainly may we seek for any chronicle of the long line of monarchs who must have swayed the sceptre of the once powerful empire of Maha Naghkon. Only a vague tradition has come down of a celestial prince to whom the fame of founding the great temple at Ongkoor, in Cambodia, is attributed; and of an Egyptian king, who, for his sacrilege, was changed into a leper. An interesting statue, representing the latter, stands in one of the corridors of that temple, somewhat mutilated, but sufficiently well preserved to display a marked contrast with the physical type of the present race of Cambodians.
* See Narrative of a Residence at the Capital of the Kingdom of Siam, Chap. XIII., by Fred, Arthur Neale, from which the sketch given by Mrs. Leonowens is taken.
These magnificent edifices seem to have been designed for places of worship rather than of royal habitation, for they are nearly all Buddhist temples. They are all built on the plan of a cross, called “phram,” denoting the four cardinal points of the horizon. This cross is invariably found in the plan of the religious monuments of ancient Cambodia, and even the corridors are made to intersect each other at right angles. The cross is also the distinctive character and sign for the Doctors of Reason, in the primitive Buddhism of Kasyapa. The emblem of the Snake God, Sarpa-deva, more commonly called Phya Naght, is also common. The wonderful structure at Naghkon Watt, of which Mrs. Leonowens has given so interesting a description,* is nearly three miles in circumference; the walls are froin seventy to eighty feet high, and twenty feet thick.
Mr. Finlaysont calls attention to the resemblance between a
* English Governess, chap. xxix. Mission to Siam and Hué in 1821-2, edited by Sir T. S. Raffles, F.R.S.