The three temples around which the city of the Nang Harm had taken
root and gradually grown to its present dimensions were especially
remarkable. The one in which I taught, Watt Khoon Chom Manda
Thai,–Temple of the Mothers of the Free,–was formerly dedicated to
the mother of the Buddha, as its ancient name Manda Maia Goudamana
clearly shows; and the other was dedicated to the “Buddha Thapinya,”
Buddha the Omniscient, and the third and most beautiful to the “Buddha
Annando,” Buddha the Infinite,–all names from the Pali. The
general effect of each of these buildings is that of some great church
in the southern part of Europe. The basement story is a square mass
of about two hundred feet on each side, with double rows of windows
flanked by pilasters and crowned with a curious flamboyant spiral
canopy, in what may be called the French-Gothic style. These pilasters
and this canopy are the two most marked and universal features in the
Buddhist architecture; at the middle of each side of the basement rises
a lofty porch or ante-hall, terminating in an immense gabled façade,
pilastered and canopied like the windows. These halls or vestibules
convert the temple into a vast Greek cross. Over the basement rise a
number of diminishing terraces with small pagodas at the angles, the
whole culminating in a pyramidal steeple like the Hindoo shivala; and
lastly the steeple itself is crowned with a chayatree, or tapering
umbrella of gilt iron-work, rising to nearly two hundred feet from the
The interior consists of two great concentric corridors with large
recesses for the images. Most of the images are standing figures;
the Buddha alone is either seated or reclining, in various attitudes
of benediction, or preaching on elevated lotus-shaped pedestals. The
vaulted cells in which the Buddha is seated reach up to the second and
sometimes to the third terrace, and from a small window in the roof
there streams a flood of sunlight downwards on the head and shoulders
of the colossus, with wonderful effect.
There is great uncertainty about the dates and builders of these
three temples, and I know nothing more interesting and beautiful than
the legend which is attached to the spot on which they stand. In the
Siamese annals, however, it is stated that these temples have stood
here for nearly twelve hundred years, embedded in what was once a
sacred grove of olive, palm, and boh trees, before Bangkok was ever
settled, and in the palmy days of the ancient and beautiful city of
Ayodhya or Ayudia; that they then attracted pilgrims from all parts of
the world, particularly women, who came to perform vows or to offer
votive sacrifices at their shrines.
It was P’hra P’huthi Chow L’huang, a usurper, who, in order to
establish more securely his throne, selected the vicinity of these
triad temples as the seat of government, removed his palace from the
west to the east bank of the Mèinam, founded a city, surrounded it with
triple walls, and called it the abode of the beautiful and invincible
As often as I sat in the porches of these temples, the chanted prayers
of the worshippers boomed through the aisles and inspired me with
feelings of the deepest devotion; and whenever I passed along the dim,
silent corridors, and came unexpectedly in front of one of the great
golden images with its folded arms and drooping eyelids, looking down
upon me in monitory sadness, with the wisdom of ages stamped upon its
brow, amid the gloom of a never-ending twilight, while the head and
shoulders were illuminated by a halo of light from the unseen source
above, the effect was strangely mystical, solemn, and profound.
The character of these buildings I do not exaggerate in calling them
sublime; they prove unmistakably that the architect, whoever he was,
“Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew:
The conscious stone to beauty grew.”
This impression was deepened every time I visited them, and, though I
knew every inch of the temples and their surroundings, the meanings
of some of the symbols remained mysterious and incomprehensible. If
I succeeded in unravelling one portion, the remainder was lost in
inextricable perplexity and doubt.
My pupils in that wonderful city numbered from twenty to twenty-five
boys and girls, the loveliest and most remarkable of whom were
the heir-apparent, the Prince Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha
Chulalonkorn, his younger sister, the little fairy-like creature Fa
Ying, the Princesses Wanee, Ying-You Wahlacks, Somawati, the
Prince Kreta-Bhinniharn, the only son of Hidden-Perfume, P’hra Ong
Dwithwallabh, and Kabkranockratin, the sons of the child-wife; and in
addition to these were several gentlewomen of the harem.
We always began school immediately after the Buddhists’ morning
service, which I was obliged to attend, so as to muster my pupils
together in good order, and which was held precisely at nine o’clock
in the temple of the Chom Manda Thai. The long inlaid and richly gilt
table on which we pursued our studies day after day was the same on
which had been laid every morning for hundreds of years offerings to
the priests of Buddha, and whereon stood the bronze censers and the
golden vases from which ascended clouds of fragrant incense amid the
perfume of still more fragrant flowers, while the brilliant colors
of the silks, satins, diamonds, and jewels that adorned the regal
worshippers relieved the gloom.
The studies that took the most absolute possession of the fervid
Eastern imaginations of my pupils were geography and astronomy. But
each had his or her own idea about the form of the earth, and it needed
no small amount of patient repetition to convince them that it was
neither flat nor square, but round.
The only map–and a very ancient one it was–which they had ever seen
was one drawn and painted about a century before, by a Siamese who was
thought to possess great scientific and literary attainments.
[Illustration: QUEEN OF SIAM.]
This map was five feet long by three wide; in the centre was a great
patch of red, and above it a small patch of green. On the part painted
red–which was intended to represent Siam–was pasted a comical-looking
human figure, cut out of silver paper, with a huge pitchfork in one
hand and an orange in the other. There was a crown on the head and
spurs on the heels, and the sun was shining over all. The legs,
which were of miserably thin dimensions, met sympathetically at the
knees. And this cadaverous-looking creature was meant for the king
of Siam,–indicating that so vast were his strength and power they
extended from one end of his dominions to the other. In the little
patch of green, intended to represent Birmah, was a small Indian-ink
figure, consisting of a little dot for the body, another smaller one
for the head, and four scratches of the pen for the legs and arms; this
was meant for the king of Birmah. A legion of little imps, in many
grotesque attitudes, were seen dancing about his dominions; and these
almost unintelligible hieroglyphics were to show to the uninitiated in
what a disturbed state the Birman Empire was, and what an insignificant
personage in his own dominions was the king of that country. On the
north side of the green patch was painted a huge Englishman, sporting
a cocked hat with red feathers, clasping in his arms what was meant
for a vast tract of land. This was marked as British Birmah, and the
Englishman was Lord Clive, holding on to it. The rest of the map was
all blue, and all around the Siamese territories richly painted and
heavily freighted ships were sailing to and fro. But the poor Birmese
monarch had not a boat to display. My simple pupils knew just so much
as this map taught them, and no more. Birmah on the north, and Siam on
the south, and the sea all around,–this was the world to them.
But of their celestial geography they could tell me a host of
interesting particulars, all of which they would relate with the
accuracy and picturesque vividness of a fairy tale; and whenever a
dispute arose as to the height of some of the mountains or the depth or
breadth of the oceans in the celestial worlds, they would at once refer
to a Siamese book, called “Tri Loke Winit Chai,”–a book which settles
all questions about the three worlds, of angels, of demons, and of
gods,–and find therein a satisfactory solution of their difficulties.
In their celestial chronology they were all equally well grounded. A
little fellow of nine years old, when speaking of “time,” stood upright
in his chair and informed me that he was “time.” His name signified
a period of time appointed for the creation or the destruction of a
world. He then proceeded to tell me with wonderful clearness for one
so young, “that the first time, or Kâp, is reckoned by the Siamese
from the appearance of a certain cloud called god-thirst, which was
the harbinger of a creative rain, and which brought into existence the
worlds and their attendant suns and moons; that the second Kâp, or
time, is the period between the creation of these worlds and the coming
of another great cloud denominated the dissolving cloud, and which is
the third Kâp and the forerunner of the dissolution of the worlds; and
the fourth Kâp is the period when matter remains in a chaotic mass,
waiting for the generative cloud,–god-thirst,–which again pours forth
the creative rain, and life once more springs into being. These four
periods added together make a Maha-Kâp.”
When I pressed him to state the number of years contained in a
Maha-Kâp, he became indignant, and replied, “that as the length of
a single Kâp could not be computed by the gods themselves, it was
unreasonable for me to suppose that he could give me any correct
estimate of their actual duration.”
I soon found that my pupils were in some respects much wiser than I,
and thenceforth we exchanged thoughts and ideas. I gave them sound
realities in return for their poetic illusions and chimeras, which had
for me a certain charm and a great deal of odd reasonableness, for it
was their way of explaining the incomprehensible.
When a large English map and globes of the celestial and terrestrial
spheres arrived, they created quite a sensation in the ancient temple
of the “Mothers of the Free.” His Majesty caused the map to be set in
a massive gold frame, and placed it with the globes on ponderously
gilt supporters in the very middle of the temple, and for nine days
crowds of women came to be instructed in the sciences of geography and
astronomy, so that I found my hands quite full. It was hard for them to
see Siam reduced to a mere speck on the great globe, but there was some
consolation in the fact that England occupied even a smaller space.
After the first excitement had worn off, my pupils began to enjoy their
lessons; they would cluster round the globes, delighted with the novel
idea of a world revolving in space, and some of them were as keen as
any Arctic explorer for the discovery of the North Pole, where they
could some day sit astride, as they thought, with perfect ease and
security, and satisfy their doubts about the form and the revolution of
I found them always full of eager inquiry, unlike most Western
children, about the sun and moon and stars; but they preferred to have
them peopled with demons, ghosts, and hobgoblins, rather than to have
On one occasion, when I informed them that the moon was supposed to
be uninhabited, all the little eager faces were clouded, and their
interest flagged, and little Wanee declared, “that for her part she was
convinced that the moon was the beautiful daughter of a great king of
Ayudia, who lived many thousands of years ago, and the head wife of the
sun, and not a great stupid ball of earth and rock rolling about in the
sky to no purpose but for the sun to shine upon.”
One day the steamer “Chow P’haya” brought his Majesty a box of ice from
Singapore, and I obtained some for an object-lesson. The women and
children found no difficulty in believing that it was water frozen; but
when I went to tell them about snow, the whole school became indignant
at what they considered an evident stretch of my imagination, and my
dear simple friend, Hidden-Perfume, laid her hand gently upon my arm,
and said, “Please do not say that again. I believe you like my own
heart in everything you have taught to me, but this sounds like the
story of a little child who wishes to say something more wonderful than
anything that was ever said before.” So my lesson of the snow proved
a stumbling-block to me for several days; my pupils’ imaginations had
taken alarm, and they could not be brought to believe the simplest
I informed his Majesty of my dilemma; he came to my aid, and assured
the royal children that it was just possible that there was such a
thing as snow, for English books of travel spoke frequently of some
phenomenon which they designated as “snow.”
On another occasion, as we were all busily engaged in tracing the
river Nile on an ancient map of Egypt, there fell suddenly from the
vaulted roof above our heads, and upon the very centre of our chart on
the table, a coil of something that looked at first like a beautiful
thick silk cord neatly rolled up; in another instant, however, the coil
unrolled itself, and began to move slowly away. I screamed, and fled
to the extreme end of the temple. But what was my surprise to see all
my pupils sitting calmly in their seats, with their hands folded in
veneration and their eyes fixed in glowing admiration on the serpent
as it moved in tortuous curves along the entire length of the table.
With a blush of shame and a sense of inferiority I returned to my
seat and watched with them the beautiful creature; a certain feeling
of fascination dawned upon me as I looked into its clear, bright,
penetrating eyes; the upper part was of a fine violet color, its sides
covered with large scales of crimson edged with black; the abdominal
parts were of a pale rose-color edged likewise with black; while the
tail terminated in tints of a bluish ash of singular delicacy and
beauty. As the snake slowly dragged itself to the end of the table
I held my breath in terror, for it dropped on the arm of the chair
on which the Prince Somdetch Choufa Chulalonkorn was seated, whence
it fell on the floor, trailed itself along through the dim corridor
and down the steps, and finally passed out of sight under the stone
basement of the temple.
On the moment of its disappearance my pupils jumped up from their seats
and clustered around me in the wildest joy, caressing me, and declaring
that the gods loved me dearly, else they would not have sent me such an
auspicious token in favor of my teaching. I was told that the gliding
of the snake all over the table was full of happy omens, and that its
dropping on the arm of the Prince’s chair was an unmistakable sign
that he would one day become famous in wisdom and knowledge. All the
old and young women congratulated me, as did even the king himself,
who, when he heard of the singular visitor we had had, caused the
circumstance to be made known to the wise men and women of the court,
and they all united in pronouncing it to be a wonderful and inspiring
recognition of favor from on high. From this time I was treated with
great consideration and respect by the simple-hearted women and mothers
of the harem, but I nevertheless felt not a little uncomfortable for
days after the sudden descent of the snake, and secretly hoped I might
never again be so signally favored by the gods.
I afterwards learned that this snake has three names. In Sanskrit it
is celebrated as the Sarpa Rakta, the red snake, who brings secret
omens from the gods; in Pali, as the Naghalalvana, the crimson snake
of the woods, who carries on his person in glowing letters the name of
his great master; and in Siamese, Gnuthongdang, the crimson-bellied
snake, who brings with its appearance all that is good and great to the
I leave it with my readers to decide which is the better, our inherited
dread of and desire to destroy the serpent race, or the Siamese custom
of idealizing, though with a certain superstitious reverence, the
meanest of the works of nature.
Among the ladies of the harem, I knew one woman who more than all the
rest helped to enrich my life and to render fairer and more beautiful
every lovely woman I have since chanced to meet. Her name translated
itself–and no other name could ever have been so appropriate–into
“Hidden Perfume.” Her clear, dark eyes were clearer and calmer, her
full lips had a stronger expression of tenderness about them, and her
brow, which was at times smooth and open, and at others contracted
with pain, grew nobler and more beautiful as the purposes of her life,
strengthened by new elements, grew deeper and broader each day.
She had been deprived of her opportunity of loving as a wife and a
woman, and the sorrow that had broken up the fountains of her nature
now caused them to flow into deeper channels, for she had become an
earnest and devoted mother.
Our daily lessons and talks had become a part of her happiest moments.
They gave her entrance into a new world, without requiring that she
should abandon any part of the old world she had known, or that she
should accept any new religious feelings or dogmas. Her aim was to find
out all things that are pure, noble, brave, and good, and to adopt
them, whether Pagan or Christian in their origin, and to leave dogmas,
creeds, and doctrines to those who were inclined to them by temperament.
One day, it being the Siamese Sâbâto (Sabbath), I called at her house
on my way home. In passing into the little room that she had fitted
up to receive me, and which we had dignified with the title of “the
study,” I saw that my friend, in the room adjoining, was at prayer,
kneeling before her altar, on which was a gilt image of the Buddha,
while on either side hung pictures of the king and her little son. The
room in which she knelt was a gay one, covered with Birmese paper, on
which were seen huge trees, some standing, and others uprooted and
carried away by the inundation of a mighty tropical river, here and
there drifting along passive and lifeless, and anon covered with gay
flowers. Thousands of miles distant the sun left open his golden gates,
that his waves of light might rest in benediction and with protecting
fondness on her dark, upturned face and colored brow. There was a
mysterious joy in her worship, which transfigured by its soft inner
light her otherwise not beautiful face, and she seemed as if she were
holding direct communion in her inner soul with the Infinite Spirit. I
stepped into the study and waited until her prayer was offered up. In
a little time after I heard her clear voice calling me, and in another
moment I was seated beside her at the foot of her pretty little altar.
She then asked me to look at her paper, which I did, telling her that I
thought it was a very gay one indeed for her little oratory.
“I see you do not understand the meaning of it.” And she proceeded to
explain the allegory to me in her quaint and broken English.
“That big green tree there,” said she, “is like unto me when I was
young and ignorant, rejoicing in earthly distinctions and affections;
and then I am brought as a gift to a great king, and only think how
grand and how rich I may become; and there you see that I am drooping
and my leaves are all withering and begin to fall; here I am shattered
and uprooted by a sense of sorrow and humiliation, drifting along
an impetuous river, but by and by a little flower stops my downward
course. That little flower is my child; he springs out of the very
waters which threatened my destruction; and now he grows into a garden
of flowers, to hide away from me that which would make me sad and
sorrowful again; and now I am always glad.”
After a little while, desirous of knowing what the glittering image of
Buddha really was to her, I said kindly: “Sonn Klean, you were praying
to that idol?”
She did not reply at once, but at length, laying her hand gently upon
my arm, said: “Shall I say of you, dear friend, that you worship the
ideal or image which you have of your God in your own mind, and not the
God? Even so say not of me that I worship the golden image up there,
but the Great One who sent me my teacher Buddha, that he might be the
guide and the light of my life.”
On another occasion when she read and translated the Sermon on the
Mount, she suddenly exclaimed with great emotion: “O, your sacred P’hra
Jesus is very beautiful! Let us promise one another that whenever you
pray to P’hra Jesus you will call him Buddha, the Enlightened One; and
I, when I pray to my Buddha, I will call him P’hra Jesu Karuna, the
tender and sacred Jesus, for surely these are only different names for
the one and the same God.”
Her favorite book, however, was “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and she would read
it over and over again, though she knew all the characters by heart,
and spoke of them as if she had known them all her life.
On the 3d of January, 1867, she invited me to dinner, and she sent
to me, in the course of the day, so many messages, telling me to be
sure to come, that I began to suspect it was going to be a very grand
entertainment. So I put on my best dress, and made myself as fine as I
My friend was looking down the street, with her head and shoulders out
of her window, as we appeared, and the moment she saw us she rushed
to greet us in her own sweet, cordial manner. Dinner was served in
the study, for it boasted of one table and five chairs; but our party
numbered six in all, so my boy and the Prince Kreta B’hiniharn were
obliged to squeeze themselves into one chair, and then there was one
apiece for the rest of us. We were served by Peguan slave-girls in
the Peguan fashion, on little silver plates, the slave-girls kneeling
around us. Fish, rice, jelly, and a variety of sweetmeats, came first,
then different kinds of vegetables; after them a course of meat,
venison, and birds of all kinds, and we finished with sweet drinks,
preserves, and fruit.
When dinner was over, my friend, in concert with her sisters and
slave-girls, performed on several musical instruments with wonderful
effect. At last all Sonn Klean’s slave-women with their children
appeared in a group, one hundred and thirty-two in all, in nice new
dresses, all looking particularly happy.
“I am wishful to be good like Harriet Beecher Stowe,”–or Stowâ, as my
friend persisted in pronouncing that name,–“and never to buy human
bodies again, but only to let go free once more, and so I have now no
more slaves, but hired servants. I have given freedom to all of my
slaves to go or to stay with me as they wish. If they go away to their
homes, I am glad; if they stay with me, I am still more glad; and I
will give them each four ticals every month after this day, with their
food and clothes.”
Thenceforth, to express her entire sympathy and affection for the
author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” she always signed herself Harriet
Beecher Stowe; and her sweet voice trembled with love and music
whenever she spoke of the lovely American lady who had taught her,
“even as Buddha had once taught kings,” to respect the rights of her
During a severe illness which confined me a month or more to my room,
I used to receive the most affectionate letters from this dear lady,
signed Harriet Beecher Stowe; and when I once more returned to the
palace, she took all the credit of my recovery from an illness so fatal
as cholera as due to her intercessions and prayers. In one temple she
had vowed that she would save seven thousand lives if mine were granted
to her prayers.
I was perplexed and curious to know how she would perform the
conditions of such a vow, but she assured me there would be no
difficulty about it, and forthwith despatched her servant-women to the
market to purchase seven baskets, containing each a thousand live fish,
which, with great pomp and ceremony, were set free again in the river,
and the seven thousand lives were thus actually saved.
One day, when I was sitting with my friend in her little study, she
learned that I had recently lost a very dear relative, and she related
to me, in a voice full of the tenderest sympathy and affection, the
following Buddhist legend, which I give here as nearly as possible in
her own words.
“In the village of Sârvâthi there lived a young wife named Keesah, who
at the age of fourteen gave birth to a son; and she loved him with
all the love and joy of the possessor of a newly found treasure, for
his face was like a golden cloud, his eyes fair and tender as a blue
lotus, and his smile bright and beaming like the morning light upon the
dewy flowers. But when the boy was able to walk, and could run about
the house, there came a day when he suddenly fell sick and died. And
Keesah, not understanding what had happened to her fair lotus-eyed boy,
clasped him to her bosom, and went about the village from house to
house, praying and weeping, and beseeching the good people to give her
some medicine to cure her baby.
“But the villagers and neighbors, on seeing her, said: ‘Is the girl
mad, that she still bears about on her breast the dead body of her
“At length a holy man, pitying the girl’s sorrow, said to himself:
‘Alas! this Keesah does not understand the law of death; I will try to
comfort her.’ And he answered her, and said: ‘My good girl, I cannot
myself give you any medicine to cure your boy, but I know a holy and
wise physician who can.’
“‘O,’ said the young mother, ‘do tell me who it is, that I may go at
once to him!’
“And the holy man replied, ‘He is called the Buddha; he alone can cure
“Then Keesah, on hearing this, was comforted, and set out to find the
Buddha, still clasping to her heart the lifeless body of her child. And
when she found him she bowed down before him, and said: ‘O my lord and
master, do you know of any medicine that will cure my baby?’
“And the Buddha replied and said: ‘Yes, I know of one, but you must get
it for me.’
“And she asked: ‘What medicine do you want? Tell me, that I may hasten
in search of it.’
“And the Buddha said: ‘I want only a few grains of mustard-seed. Leave
here the boy, and go you and bring them to me.’
“The girl refused to part with her baby, but promised to get the seed
“As she was about to set out, the pitiful Buddha, recalling her, said:
‘My sister, the mustard-seed that I require must be taken from a house
where no child, parent, husband, wife, relative, or slave has ever
“The young mother replied, ‘Very good, my lord’; and went her way,
taking her boy with her, and setting him astride on her hip, with his
lifeless head resting on her bosom.
“Thus she went from house to house, from palace to hut, begging for
some grains of mustard-seed.
“The people said to her: ‘Here are the seeds; take them, and go thy
“But she first asked: ‘In this, my friend’s house, has there ever died
a child, a husband, a parent, or a slave?’
“And they one and all replied: ‘Lady, what is this that thou hast said?
Knowest thou not that the living are few, but that the dead are many?
There is no such house as thou seekest.’
“Then she went to other houses and begged the grains of mustard-seed,
which they gladly gave her, but to her questionings one said, ‘I have
lost a son’; another, ‘I have lost a parent’; and yet another, ‘I have
lost a slave’; and every one and all of them made some such reply.
“At last, not being able to discover a single house free from the
dead, whence she could obtain the mustard-seed, and feeling utterly
faint and weary, she sat herself down upon a stone, with her baby in
her lap, and thinking sadly said to herself: ‘Alas! this is a heavy
task I have undertaken. I am not the only one who has lost her baby.
Everywhere children are dying, parents are dying, loved ones are dying,
and everywhere they tell me that the dead are more numerous than the
living. Shall I then think only of my own sorrow?’
“Thinking thus, she suddenly summoned courage to put away her sorrow
for her dead baby, and she carried him to the forest and laid him down
to rest under a tree; and having covered him over with tender leaves,
and taking her last look of his loved face, she betook herself once
more to the Buddha and bowed before him.
“And he said to her: ‘Sister, hast thou found the mustard-seed?’
“‘I have not, my lord, she replied, ‘for the people in the village tell
me there is no house in which some one has not died; for the living are
few, but the dead are many.’
“‘And where is your baby?’
“‘I have laid him under a tree in the forest, my lord,’ said Keesah,
“Then said the Buddha to her: ‘You have found the grains of
mustard-seed; you thought that you alone had lost a son, but now you
have learned that the law of death and of suffering is among all living
creatures, and that here there is no permanence.’
“On hearing this Keesah was comforted, and established in the path of
virtue, and was thenceforth called Keesah Godami, the disciple of the
The pleasantest of the days that I spent in the city of the “Nang
Harm” were those that fell on the first full moons in the months of
May, which days are always held as the anniversary of the birth,
inspiration, and death of the Buddha. On the morning of the 21st of
May, 1864, I was conducted by a number of well-dressed slave-women to
the residence of my pupil, the “child wife.” Her house was a brick
building with a low wall running round it, which took in some few acres
of ground devoted to gardens and to residences for her numerous slaves
and attendants. I was the first, that morning, to pass between the two
brick and mortar lions which guarded the entrance, and after a kindly
greeting I took my place at the inner end of the hall or antechamber
which gave access to the residence.
The “child wife,” a remarkably pretty little woman, dressed in pure
white silk, stood in the hall beside a small marble fountain, with
her two sons on either side of her. All round the fountain were huge
China vases containing plants, covered with flowers, and between them
were immense silver water-jars, each large enough to hold a couple of
men, and each containing a huge silver ladle. Thirty or more young
slave-women were engaged in filling them with cool fresh water drawn
from a well in the garden.
The hall was freshly furnished with striped floor-matting, and with
cushioned seats for a hundred guests. In the garden opposite the doors
of the hall was a circular thatched roof supported on one great mast,
like a single-poled tent, and this was the theatre erected for the
occasion. In one part was an elevated stage for the marionettes, and
the whole was very gracefully and prettily ornamented, showing, as did
everything around, a desire to please and to entertain. Some fifty
women-porters came from an inner court, hearing on their heads massive
silver dishes of sweetmeats and choice viands, and placed them along
the hall; then came some maidens dressed in pure white, and arranged
flowers in small gold vases beside each of the seats designed for the
expected guests; and when this was done they took their places behind
It was early morning, just seven o’clock. But this entire woman’s
city had been up for hours engaged in the important work of rightly
celebrating the great day. The grounds around the house were all in
a glow with roses, and the pure silver of the water-jars glistened
resplendently in the morning sunlight.
The gate was thrown wide open, and into this fairy-like scene, amid
flowers and sunshine and fragrance, and the dew still trembling on the
leaves, were ushered in the guests, one by one,–a hundred decrepit,
filthy, unsightly looking beggar-women covered with dirt and rags and
the vilest uncleanliness.
And the “child wife,” who might have numbered twenty-five summers, but
who looked as if she were only sixteen, blushing with a delicacy and
beauty of her own, advances and greets her strange guests with all
the more respect and tenderness because of their rags and poverty,
leads them gently and seats them on low stools around her sparkling
fountain, removes their disgusting apparel, and proceeds with the aid
of her maidens to wash them clean with fragrant soap and great draughts
of cool water ladled out of the silver jars. What a transformation,
when the matted hair was washed and combed and parted and dressed with
flowers, and the rags were replaced by new robes of purest white! Then
she led them towards the hall, and seated them on the silk cushions
before the silver trays, and bowed on her knees before them and served
to them the delicacies prepared for them, as if they each one and all
deserved from her some special token of her love and veneration. After
breakfast the music struck up and the actors and puppets appeared on
the stage. The music was particularly good. The royal female bands were
assembled for the occasion, and relieved each other in succession; the
acting was occasionally interspersed with the plaintive notes of female
voices; the priestesses of this beautiful scene, who seemed sometimes
deeply moved, collected from within themselves all the charms and joys
of love to pour them forth with the inspiration of music at the feet of
their lowly listeners.
And at length, as the curtain of the last act dropped, and the
prolonged cadence of the voices and the instruments died away, a loud
buzz of delight and pleasure broke from the listening crowd of old,
decrepit women, who received each a sum of money from their kind
hostess, and went on their lonely way rejoicing.
“This,” said my friend to me, “I do every year, to show my love and
obedience to my dear teacher, the Buddha.” And to my unaccustomed heart
and eyes it seemed the sight in all the world the most worth gazing
[Footnote 44: I would here remark that all intelligent Buddhists make a
very marked distinction between the Buddha and the Buddh. Buddh, or as
he is sometimes called, Adi Buddha, is the Supreme Intelligence, from
whom Buddha is only an emanation, has existed from all eternity.]
[Footnote 45: See “English Governess at the Siamese Court,” Chap. XIII.
[Footnote 46: Professor F. Max Müller mentions this parable, in his
lecture on “Buddhist Nihilism,” as translated from the Birmese by
Captain H.T. Rogers; but the Birmese text is slightly different from
that of the Siamese.]
[Footnote 47: The Siamese are naturally very fond of music, and even
persons of high rank think it no disparagement to acquire a proficiency
in the art. Whence their great skill in music and in architecture it
would be difficult to explain, more especially as their music exhibits
great poetical genius and has a remarkably pleasing measure. It might
naturally be supposed that they had derived their music from the
same source that they have their religion; the softness, the playful
sweetness and simplicity of the former, seeming to harmonize in great
measure with the humane tenets, the pure morality, and the beauty of
The music of the Siamese Peguans and of Laos differs from that of
most Indian nations in being played upon different keys, a feature
which characterizes the pathetic music of certain European, and in
particular the Scottish and Welsh nations. There is certainly no harsh
or disagreeable sound, no abrupt transition, no grating sharpness; all
is soft, lively, sweet, and harmonious to a degree which seemed to me
quite surprising. They have certainly arrived far beyond the point of
being merely pleased with sound. They have far a higher aim, that of
interesting the feelings, of awakening thought or emotion.
Their pieces of music are very numerous; some of the women who perform
before the king know by heart a hundred and fifty tunes; their memory
and their performance are equally remarkable and surprising.]
Under the late king, his Majesty Somdetch P’hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut,
there existed in Siam a mixed system of slavery, in part resembling the
old system of English feudal service, in part the former serfdom of
Russia, and again in part the peonage of Mexico.
Three fourths of the population of Siam are in this condition of
modified slavery, branded with the mark of their owners, or held by
their creditors in a form of qualified servitude to work out a debt.
The royal family, princes, and chief rulers and magistrates of the
country, are the only exceptions to this rule. But even they are
obliged to serve the king in times of war, or to provide a fitting
“Slaves,” in the minute subdivisions of the law, are classed under
seven different heads: first, prisoners of war; second, slaves by
purchase; third, slaves by birth; fourth, by gifts and legacies; fifth,
those who become slaves from gratitude; sixth, voluntary slaves in
times of famine; seventh, debtors and their children.
But these may all be embraced in three general classes, called Prie,
Baw, and Bâtt, that of slaves by birth and attached to the land, of
slaves by purchase, and of slaves captured in war.
The prisoners of war and their descendants are composed of the
following nations and numbers: Malays, fifty thousand; Cochin-Chinese,
seventy-five thousand; Peguans, one million; Laotians, twenty-five
thousand; and Birmese, fifty thousand. All these, with few exceptions,
belong to the kings of Siam. Some few are given to the principal nobles
and chiefs who have distinguished themselves in the state; but even
these, with their descendants, are held as Baw Chow Chewitt,–the
king’s slaves. The Cochin-Chinese captured in war, and all their
numerous descendants, belong exclusively to the second king,–the first
or supreme king having a positive antipathy to that people. They are
formed into an army under the command of the second king, to guard his
person, palaces, harem, etc.
The Malays and Peguans are employed as sailors and soldiers in company
with the native Siamese. These are all branded on the left side a
little below the armpit, and they are bound to serve three months in
every year; the remaining time they may employ in their own private
The slaves by purchase are divided into two classes, “redeemable” and
“irredeemable.” The first class must furnish security that they will
fulfil the legal requirements of their masters. These can always free
themselves by refunding the purchase-money, or can change their masters
on procuring payment of the sum due to the old masters.
The second class are chiefly young girls sold by their parents,
relatives, or owners; with these no security is either given or taken,
because they generally become the wives or concubines of the buyer.
As a natural consequence more than four fifths abscond whenever they
get an opportunity, and the owner has no redress. Women-slaves are not
branded or enrolled as the men-slaves are.
Husbands may sell their wives, parents their children, and masters
their slaves and debtors; but no one can sell an adult man-slave after
he is sixteen, or a woman-slave after she has attained puberty, without
his or her consent.
Prices of slaves vary according to the appearance, color, strength,
physical proportions, and parentage of the person sold, from one
hundred and twenty ticals for men, and sixty to a hundred ticals
for women. But if the woman be fair and pleasing in form and feature,
she will bring as much as a thousand ticals for the harem of a great
The method of selling one’s self is very simple. Every man, on becoming
a slave, signs an agreement, of which I give a copy below. This paper
his master retains, but is obliged to surrender whenever the slave
produces the amount mentioned in it.
“Wednesday, the seventh day of the waning moon of the year 1227 of the
little era Choola Sakarat, I, Khow, sell myself to Nai Dang for
ticals one hundred and twenty, to be refunded by me, Khow, at the time
and hour of being set free.”
Such is the bill of sale. But as it generally happens that the parents
have also sold themselves, some other security is required, which is
given in another paper. The value of anything that the slave may break
or destroy is added to the original account.
The masters are bound to furnish their slaves with rice and fish daily,
but not with clothes.
The position of the slaves by birth differs in no respect from that of
slaves by purchase, with the exception that while the prices of the
latter vary, the price of the former is fixed by law for every age,
size, and sex, and the owners cannot demand more for them than that
which is determined by the law.
The severest punishment for slaves is being made to work in chains. If
no improvement takes place from this punishment, the slave is handed
over to the king’s judges, and is, provided the crime or misdemeanor is
proven, incarcerated in the Siamese convict prison,–a punishment to
which death itself is preferable.
The principal hardship that the slave suffers is being obliged to marry
at the will of his or her owner, and this with a people who are highly
susceptible of conjugal affection is often the cause of great suffering
to the women.
Then comes the difficulty of lodging a complaint against their masters
for an insufficiency of food, and sometimes for an absolute want
of clothes, for which latter even the law does not hold the master
There are four conditions under which a slave is freed from the
obligations of servitude,–slaves voluntarily manumitted by their
masters; slaves admitted to the priesthood; those who are given to
serve the priests; and when the master himself takes the vows of a
priest, he is obliged to free all his slaves, as the ecclesiastical
court will not otherwise receive him into the priesthood, and he can
at no time reclaim them for actual service, unless on quitting the
priesthood he repurchases them.
Debtors may be made slaves when they do not pay the interest for money
borrowed, and will not work to make good the failure of payment; and in
case of death the nearest relative becomes a slave till the original
amount, with the interest added, is refunded. The rate of interest
in Siam is about thirty per cent, and the poor are unable, unless by
labor, to pay such an exorbitant rate.
If the bought or rather the redeemable slave should die in his master’s
service,–even after a lifetime of labor,–the security must refund the
original sum or become a slave in his stead. If a slave be sick, and is
attended to during his illness in his master’s house, the security is
liable for the interest of the slave’s purchase-money during the period
of illness. When children are sold under the full value, they must not
be beaten till they bleed.
When a slave volunteers out of affection for his master or mistress to
take his or her place in prison or in torture, one half of his or her
purchase-money must be refunded to the security. But if the slave is
irredeemable, no part is to be refunded.
If a man sell a slave, and after receiving the money refuse to give him
or her up to the purchaser, he shall pay double the sum,–three fourths
to the buyer and one fourth into the government or state treasury.
If a buyer disapprove of a slave before three months have elapsed, he
may recover his money.
If a master strike his slave so that he die, no claim can be made upon
the security, and the master shall be punished according to the law.
Anything that a slave may break can be added, at the will of the owner,
to the purchase-money.
If in herding cattle he be negligent, and they be lost, he shall pay
for them; if more be given into his charge than he can attend to, he
shall pay only half; but if robbers bind him and steal the cattle, he
cannot be held responsible.
Any claim against a slave must be made by the owner before he is sold
to another party.
If a master or mistress force a female slave to marry one man
when she has openly professed a preference for another, half her
redemption-money must be remitted.
If a slave go to war instead of his master, and fight bravely, he
must be set free at the termination of the battle. If he fight only
ordinarily well, half his purchase-money shall be remitted.
If a master repurchase a slave, and he die in his service, he can
demand only half the original amount from his security.
If a slave begin to plant rice, he cannot, even if able, purchase his
freedom until the harvest is over.
If, when rice is dear, a man sell himself to slavery below the standard
value, when rice gets cheap the price must be raised, and the balance
paid over by the purchaser.
If a slave injure himself while at his master’s work, compensation must
be made according to the nature of the injury.
If a slave die in the stead or in the defence of his master, nothing
can be demanded from the security.
In all cases of an epidemic, nothing can be claimed from the security.
If a man have several wives, and the lesser sell themselves to the
higher wives, or the poorer to the richer, no interest can be claimed
on the purchase-money, as they are considered sisters in the sight of
If the slave demand a change of masters, and the master cannot dispose
of him, he must take him to the judges to sell; and if they find no
purchaser within three days, he must return to his master and be
thenceforward Khai-Khat, irredeemable.
If a slave run away, the money expended in apprehending him or her must
be added to his original account.
Slaves having children, the children become slaves, and must be paid
for according to age.
If a master compel a slave to bear a child against her will, both she
and the child are free in the sight of the law, even if irredeemable at
If a slave complain against his master, the judges will not file the
complaint unless he has first paid his purchase-money, except in cases
of murder and treason.
If a slave accuse his master falsely of capital crimes, his tongue and
lips shall be cut off. But if the charge be true, he shall receive his
freedom, even if Khai-Khat irredeemables.
If a slave make money on his or her own private account, at his or her
death it will become the property of the master. But if the money be
left to him, it shall go to the nearest relative.
In all cases of doubt between the slave-woman and her master, the law
shall protect the mother, and the children must be given to her if she
bring the price, under penalty of forfeiting both mother and child.
Two slaves, husband and wife, brother and sister, having their names on
the same bill of sale, if one run away, the other shall be charged with
the entire debt.
[Footnote 48: For the following statements I am indebted to the late
king, who very kindly furnished me with a copy of the Siamese “Slave
Laws,” from which these pages are translated, as if the system still
[Footnote 49: A tical may be valued at from fifty to sixty cents of the
[Footnote 50: The Siamese months are lunar months; each is divided
into two parts, i.e. Khang Khun and Khang Ram, waxing and waning moon.
Six of the months have thirty, and six twenty-nine days. To compensate
for the deficiency of the eleven days which are required to make a
full solar year, they have an intercalary month of thirty days once
in three years, and there being still a loss of about three days in
nineteen years, this is supplied by an arbitrary addition of a day
to the seventh month of such years as may be selected by the Brahmin
astrologers, whose business it is to observe the sun’s path in the
heavens, and to announce all variations in the calendar. At the very
moment of the sun’s crossing the equator, they make proclamation of the
advent of each new year, accompanied by a burst of music and by the
firing of great guns, both from the palace and the city walls.
The Siamese have two cycles, one within the other; the greater is
twelve, and the lesser ten years in duration. Every year in each cycle
has its own peculiar name. Their sacred era is reckoned from the time
of the death of the Buddha (2415). It is denominated Buddha Sakarat.
Their civil era is called Choola Sakarat, and is reckoned from the time
of its establishment (1233) by P’hra Rooang, a Siamese king of great