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he remained secluded in his monastery, he diligently devoted himself to the study of Sanskrit, Pali, theology, history, geology, chemistry, and especially astronomy. His knowledge of the English language he acquired at the houses of the American missionaries, whom he was in the habit of visiting familiarly. Two of these gentlemen, 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.*
The late enlightened monarch also made efforts to reform the educational literature of the country, and in these he was materially assisted by his minister, Chao Phya Praklang, a man of an inquiring mind and of considerable general information. He found that the course of instruction given to the young in the monasteries, which were then the only extensive educational establishments in Siam, was altogether unprofitable. It consisted merely of the spelling-book, religious formulæ, and tales of genii and monsters, of enchantments and impossible achievements;, there was nothing in the shape of real information in it. The treatise in general use on Cosinogony was the “ Traiphoom," an ancient Buddhist work, generally regarded as sacred, but full of absurdities. Praklang undertook to write a work on elementary knowledge, and he collected the materials for it from the tracts published by the missionaries in Siam, and by seeking information from foreigners, American and European, whom he met with. It is to be feared, however, that he was at times deliberately deceived by his informants, or that some of them were ignorant persons, and told him not what they knew, but what they fancied was the truth; for, though his book contains much useful information, it is strangely mixed up with nonsense. It is said that the king would have undertaken the work—and if he had he would have done it better—but his position as sovereign was a bar to his attempting it.
* English Governess.
From what has been said, it appears that the Siamese, as a people, are but poorly educated. The late king did not reign long enough to carry out the designs he had formed, but he had the wisdom to give his own children a good English education, and for this purpose he engaged the services of Mrs. Anna Harriette Leonowens, an English widow lady, residing at Singapore, who had been strongly recommended to him by the Siamese consul at that city. Contrary to the advice and warnings of her friends, this intelligent and courageous woman took up her abode in the royal palace at Bangkok, having with her her own little boy, and there she remained from March, 1862, to July, 1867, doing her best to instil into the minds of her pupils, male and female, the highest principles of morality, and a solid knowledge of the English language and the ordinary branches of education. His majesty, Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, •had sixty-seven children, so that her task was not a light one. But he was an exacting customer. “You shall educate them," said he, “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, in round-hand, for my ready perusal thereof."*
The brave lady undertook to do what was required of her, and the king took advantage of her willingness to work. It is, therefore, not surprising to learn that she had often to toil till ten o'clock at night to accomplish the endless translations required of her; but a miserable system of espionage prevailed in the palace, and she found herself constantly and closely watched; it was impossible to discover how or by whom. Yet, with all her efforts to perform thoroughly the duties required
* English Governess, p. 59.
of her, the king was mean enough to repay her with ingratitude. He had promised to increase her salary, if, after a year's trial, she satisfied his expectations; but three years elapsed and no increase was made. She then reminded him of his promise, whereupon he turned round upon her and declared that she was “ difficult and unmanageable, and had not given satisfaction.”* This may serve as a warning to those who put faith in royal promises. “Put not your trust in princes," is a divine piece of advice.
Those who desire to gain a correct insight into the interior life of an Oriental court, will do well to read this work of Mrs. Leonowens. As a woman, she had access to those portions of the palace, into which no men, except the king and his sons and their immediate attendants, are admitted. The scenes of cruelty, treachery and infamy which she witnessed are graphically described, and prove that Siamese civilization is but skin-deep. Maha Mongkut, learned and intelligent as he was, and anxious as he was to inoculate his subjects with European and American notions, was at times no better than a ferocious tiger, especially when thwarted in any whim. Mrs. Leonowens states that occasionally he required of her, in her capacity of secretary, services not to be thought of by a European sovereign; and when she declined to perform them, he would curse her, close the gates of the palace against her, and even subject her to the insults and threats of the parasites and slaves who crawled about his feet. For refusing to write false letters to Sir John Bowring and Lord Clarendon he threatened to have her tried at the British consulate. In fact, the intervention of the British consul and Sir John Bowring more than once saved her from great peril.
The old tyrant has passed away; but the good seed sown by Mrs. Leonowens is now bearing fruit. His successor, the present king, was one of her best pupils, and he possesses a very amiable disposition. He speaks and writes English fluently, and is imbued (thanks to his preceptress) with the advanced ideas of modern civilization. Under his auspices
* English Governess, p. 269.
schools are being established all over his kingdom, and the services of educated foreigners have been enlisted in the terribly up-hill work of educating an ignorant people. A good beginning has been made, but it will take more than a generation to start the Siamese fairly on the track of civilization. Their capacity for improvement in any direction is, however, undoubted; but the system of slavery, which long prevailed in Siam, being of the most cruel and debasing kind, has so degraded the people that there can be but little progress until its evil effects shall have worn off.
The insufficiency of mere learning to reconstitute a nation is demonstrated by the results of the late king's efforts in that direction. Mrs. Leonowens thus (unfairly, we think) sums up the matter: * “When I left the palace the king was fast failing in body and mind, and, in spite of his seeming vigor, there was no real health in his rule while he had his own way. All the substantial success we find in his administration is due to the energy and ability of his accomplished premier, Phya Kralahome, and even his strength has been wasted. The native arts and literature have retrograded ; in the mechanic arts much has been lost, and the whole nation is given up to gambling.” This last item is bad enough, but it is not ineradicable. A greater nation than Siam was at one time so addicted to this destructive vice that, from the king to the scavenger, throughout all grades of society, there was scarcely a person to be found who did not habitually play games of chance for inoney, and bet, and swear with the coarsest profanity upon every trivial occasion. Such was England in the days of Sir Robert Walpole; yet within a generation from his time the habits of the people had materially changed, and now gambling is exceptional among the English. So may it become with Siam if education and enlightenment should take root among the people.
The most recent accounts from Siam inform us that the young king is going about making speeches in praise of European civilization and modes of life. This is one of the many
tokens, from Arabia to Japan, of the softening of Asiatic prejudices against Christian nations. In the case of Siam, the result is the same, but is mainly, if not wholly, due to the influence of Mrs. Leonowens, the young king's preceptress. On coming to the throne, one of his first acts was substantially to abolish the system of slavery to which we have alluded, and which from time immemorial had prevailed among the Siamese. It partly resembled the serfdom of Russia, the laborer being attached to the land, and even branded with his owner's mark; and partly the ancient feudal system of personal service. Siam being remote and little known in this country, this great act of emancipation attracted but little attention here, although it manumitted several millions of bondsmen. “And there is probably not one person in a hundred among us who realizes the fact that such an event-one of the landmarks of civilization-was brought about by the quiet teachings of an English lady within the walls of a Siamese harem. There are hundreds less worthy of the title than Mrs. Leonowens who have taken rank among the benefactors of mankind." * But, indeed, much of the world's civilization is due to the quiet and unostentatious influence of woman, and it would be a curious, as well as profitable and interesting study to trace the subject in detail.
There is one great evil which assuredly would be destroyed if the voice of enlightened womanhood were listened to as it ought to be, and that is polygamy, the bane of Asia, and the curse of every community where it is practised. It prevails very extensively in Siam. The king has as many wives as he pleases, some of the nobles have thirty or forty; but it is said that this polygamy is not attended by very evil results, notwithstanding the facility of divorcement, which also prevails. There is a great deal of domestic happiness in Siam; and suicides and husband and wife murders, so common in monogamic Europe, are rare there. Such is the testimony of Chao Phya Praklang,+ who adds: “Nevertheless, many of the best
* Robert Dale Owen, in a letter to the New York Times, June, 1872. + Modern Buddhist, pp. 81-8.