The English Governess at the Siamese Court

The author recounts her adventures with the King of Siam
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     “Though we are not Christians, the forenamed King was glad to arrive this day in his valued life, as being the 22,720th day of his age, during which he was aged sixty-two years and three months, and being the 5,711th day of his reign, during which he reigned upon his kingdom 15 years and 8 months up to the current month.

     “In like manner he was very glad to see & know and hope for all his Royal Family, kindred and friends of both native and foreign, living near and far to him had arrived to this very remarkable anniversary of the commencement of Solar Year in Anno Christi 1867.

     “In their all being healthy and well living like himself he begs to express his royal congratulation and respect and graceful regards to all his kindred and friends both native and foreign, and hopes to receive such the congratulation and expression of good wishes toward him and members of his family in very like manner, as he trusts that the amity and grace to one another of every of human beings who are innocent, is a great merit, and is righteous and praiseworthy in religious system of all civil religion, and best civilized laws and morality, &c.

     “Given at the Royal Audience Hall, ‘Anant Samagome,’ Grand Palace,

Bangkok,” etc., etc.

     His Majesty usually passed his mornings in study or in dictating or writing

English letters and dispatches. His breakfast, though a repast sufficiently frugal for Oriental royalty, was served with awesome forms. In an antechamber adjoining a noble hall, rich in grotesque carvings and gildings, a throng of females waited, while his Majesty sat at a long table, near which knelt twelve women before great silver trays laden with twelve varieties of viands,—soups, meats, game, poultry, fish, vegetables, cakes, jellies, preserves, sauces, fruits, and teas. Each tray, in its order, was passed by three ladies to the head wife or concubine, who removed the silver covers, and at least seemed to taste the contents of each dish; and then, advancing on her knees, she set them on the long table before the king.

     But his Majesty was notably temperate in his diet, and by no means a gastronome. In his long seclusion in a Buddhist cloister he had acquired habits of severe simplicity and frugality, as a preparation for the exercise of those powers of mental concentration for which he was remarkable. At these morning repasts it was his custom to detain me in conversation, relating to some topic of interest derived from his studies, or in reading or translating. He was more systematically educated, and a more capacious devourer of books and news, than perhaps any man of equal rank in our day. But much learning had made him morally mad; his extensive reading had engendered in his mind an extreme scepticism concerning all existing religious systems. In inborn integrity and steadfast principle he had no faith whatever. He sincerely believed that every man strove to compass his own ends, per fas et nefas. The mens sibi conscia recti was to him an hallucination, for which he entertained profound contempt; and he honestly pitied the delusion that pinned its faith on human truth and virtue. He was a provoking melange of antiquarian attainments and modern scepticism. When, sometimes, I ventured to

disabuse his mind of his darling scorn for motive and responsibility, I had the mortification to discover that I had but helped him to an argument against myself: it was simply “my peculiar interest to do so.” Money, money, money! that could procure anything.

     But aside from the too manifest bias of his early education and experience,

it is due to his memory to say that his practice was less faithless than his profession, toward those persons and principles to which he was attracted by a just regard. In many grave considerations he displayed soundness of understanding and clearness of judgment,—a genuine nobility of mind, established upon universal ethics and philosophic reason,—where his passions were not dominant; but when these broke in, between the man and the majesty, they effectually barred his advance in the direction of true greatness; beyond them he could not or would not make way.

     Ah! if this man could but have cast off the cramping yoke of his intellectual egotism, and been loyal to the free government of his own true heart, what a demigod might he not have been, among the lower animals of Asiatic royalty!

     When the darling of his old age, the sweet, bright little princess, Somdetch

Chowfa Chandrmondol (who was so dear to me by her pet name of Fa-ying), was seized with cholera on the night of the 13th of May, 1863, his Majesty wrote to me:—

“My DEAR MAM:

“Our well-beloved daughter, your favorite pupil, is attacked with cholera, and has earnest desire to see you, and is heard much to make frequent repetition of your name. I beg that you will favor her wish. I fear her illness is mortal, as there has been three deaths since morning. She is best beloved of my children.

“I am your afflicted friend,

“S. P. P. MAHA MONGKUT.”

     In a moment I was in my boat. I entreated, I flattered, I scolded, the rowers. How slow they were! How strong the opposing current! And when we did reach those heavy gates, how slowly they moved, with what suspicious caution they admitted me! I was fierce with impatience. And when at last I stood panting at the door of my Fa-ying’s chamber— too late! Even Dr. Campbell (the surgeon of the British consulate) had come too late.

     There was no need to prolong that anxious wail in the ear of the deaf child, “Phra-Arahang! Phra-Arahang!” *(One of the most sacred of the many titles of Buddha, repeated by the nearest relative in the ear of the dying, till life is quite extinct) She would not forget her way; she would nevermore lose herself on the road to Heaven. Beyond, above the Phra-Arahang, she had soared into the eternal, tender arms of the Phra-Jesus, of whom she was wont to say in her infantine wonder and eagerness, Mam cha, chan rak Phra-Jesus mak (“Mam dear, I love your holy Jesus”)!

     As I stooped to imprint a parting kiss on the little face that had been so dear to me, her kindred and slaves exchanged their appealing “Phra-Arahang” for a sudden burst of heart-rending cries.

     An attendant hurried me to the king, who, reading the heavy tidings in my silence, covered his face with his hands and wept passionately. Strange and terrible were the tears of such a man, welling up from a heart from which all natural affections had seemed to be expelled, to make room for his own exacting, engrossing conceit of self.

     Bitterly he bewailed his darling, calling her by such tender, touching epithets as the lips of loving Christian mothers use. What could I say? What could I do but weep with him; and then steal quietly away, and leave the king to the father?

     “The moreover very sad & mournful Circular *(from the pen of the king) from His Gracious Majesty Somdetch Phra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, the reigning Supreme King of Siam, intimating the recent death of Her Celestial Royal Highness, Princess Somdetch Chaufa Chandrmondol Sobhon Baghiawati, who was His Majesty’s most affectionate & well beloved 9th Royal daughter or 16th offspring, and the second Royal child by His Majesty’s late Queen consort Rambery Bhamarabhiramy who deceased in the year 1861. Both mother and daughter have been known to many foreign friends of His Majesty.

     “To all the foreign friends of His Majesty, residing or trading in Siam, or in Singapore, Malacca, Pinang, Ceylon, Batavia, Saigon, Macao, Hong-kong, & various regions in China, Europe, America, &c.....    

     “Her Celestial Royal Highness, having been born on the 24th April 1855, grew up in happy condition of her royal valued life, under the care of her Royal parents, as well as her elder and younger three full brothers, and on the demise if her royal mother on the fore-mentioned date, she was almost always with her Royal father everywhere day & night. All things which belonged to her late mother suitable for female use, were transferred to her as the most lawful inheritor of her late royal mother; She grew up to the age of 8 years & 20 days. On the ceremony of the funeral service of her elder late royal

half brother forenamed, She accompanied her royal esteemed father & her royal brothers and sisters in customary service, cheerfully during three days of the ceremony, from the 11th to 13th May. On the night of the latter day, when she was returning from the royal funeral place to the royal residence in the same sedan with her Royal father at 10 ‘clock P.M. she yet appeared happy, but alas, on her arrival at the royal residence, she was attacked by most violent & awful cholera, and sunk rapidly before the arrival of the physicians who were called on that night for treatment. Her disease or illness of cholera

increased so strong that it did not give way to the treatment of any one, or even to the Chlorodine administered to her by Doctor James Campbell the Surgeon of the British Consulate. She expired at 4 o’clock P.M. on the 14th May, when her elder royal half brother’s remains were burning at the funeral ball outside of the royal palace, according to the determined time for the assembling of the great congregation of the whole of the royalty & nobility, and native & foreign friends, before the occurrence of the unforeseen sudden misfortune or mournful event.....

     “The sudden death of the said most affectionate and lamented royal daughter has caused greater regret and sorrow to her Royal father than several losses sustained by him before, as this beloved Royal amiable daughter was brought up almost by the hands of His Majesty himself, since she was aged only 4 to 5 months, His Majesty has carried her to and fro by his hand and on the lap and placed her by his side in every one of the Royal seats, where ever he went; whatever could be done in the way of nursing His Majesty has done himself, by feeding her with milk obtained from her nurse, and sometimes with the milk of the cow, goat &c. poured in a teacup from which His Majesty fed her by means of a spoon, so this Royal daughter was as familiar with her father in her infancy, as with her nurses.

     “On her being only aged six months, his Majesty took this Princess with him and went to Ayudia on affairs there, after that time when she became grown up His Majesty had the princess seated on his lap when he was in his chair at the breakfast, dinner & supper table, and fed her at the same time of breakfast &c, almost every day, except when she became sick of colds &c. until the last days of her life she always eat at same table with her father, where ever His Majesty went, this princess always accompanied her father upon the same, sedan, carriage, Royal boat, yacht &c. and on her being grown up she became more prudent than other children of the same age, she paid very affectionate attention to her affectionate and esteemed father in every thing where her ability allowed; she was well educated in the vernacular Siamese literature which she commenced to study when she was 3 years old, and in last year she commenced to study in the English School where the school-mistress, Lady L has observed that she was more skillful than the other royal Children, she pronounced & spoke English in articulate & clever manner which pleased the schoolmistress exceedingly so that the schoolmistress on the loss of this her beloved pupil, was in great sorrow and wept much.

      “..... But alas! her life was very short. She was only aged 8 years & 20 days, reckoning from her birth day & hour, she lived in this world 2942 days & I8 hours. But it is known that the nature of human lives is like the flames of candles lighted in open air without any protection above & every side, so it is certain that this path ought to be followed by every one of human beings in a short or long while which cannot be ascertained by prediction, Alas!

“Dated Royal Grand Palace, Bangkok, 16th May, Anno Christi, 1863.’

The remoter provinces of Siam constitute a source of continual anxiety and much expense to the government; and to his Majesty (who, very conscious of power, was proud to be able to say that the Malayan territories and rajahs—Cambodia, with her marvelous cities, palaces, and temples, once the stronghold of Siam’s most formidable and implacable foes, the Laos country, with its warlike princes and chiefs—were alike dependencies and tributaries of his crown) it was intolerably irritating to find Cambodia rebellious. So long as his government could successfully maintain its supremacy there, that country formed a sort of neutral ground between his people and the Cochin-Chinese; a geographical condition which was not without its political advantages. But now the unscrupulous French had strutted upon the scene, and with a flourish of diplomacy and a stroke of the pen appropriated to themselves the fairest portion of that most fertile province. His Majesty, though secretly longing for the intervention and protection of England, was deterred by his almost superstitious fear of the French from complaining openly. But whenever he was more than commonly annoyed by the pretensions and aggressive epistles of his Imperial Majesty’s consul, he sent for me,—thinking, like all Orientals, that, being English, my sympathy for him, and my hatred of the French, were jointly a foregone conclusion. When I would have assured him that I was utterly powerless to help him, he cut me short with a wise whisper to “consult Mr. Thomas George Knox” and when I protested that that gentleman was too honorable to engage in a secret intrigue against a colleague, even for the protection of British interests in Siam, he would rave at my indifference, the cupidity of the French, the apathy of the English, and the fatuity of all geographers in “ setting down” the form of government in Siam as an “absolute monarchy.”

     “I an absolute monarch! For I have no power over French. Siam is like a mouse before an elephant! Am I an absolute monarch? What shall you consider me?”

     Now as I considered him a particularly absolute and despotic king, that was a trying question; so I discreetly held my peace, fearing less to be classed with those obnoxious savans who compile geographies than to provoke him afresh.

“I have no power,” he scolded; “I am not absolute! If I point the end of my walking-stick at a man whom, being my enemy, I wish to die, he does not die, but lives on, in spite of my ‘absolute ‘ will to the contrary. What does Geographies mean? How can I be an absolute monarchy?”

     Such a conversation we were having one day as he “assisted” at the founding of a temple; and while he reproached his fate that he was powerless to “point the end of his walking-stick” with absolute power at the peppery and presumptuous Monsieur Aubaret, he vacantly flung gold and silver coins among the work-women.

     In another moment he forgot all French encroachments, and the imbecility of geographers in general, as his glance chanced to fall upon a young woman of fresh and striking beauty, and delightful piquancy of ways and expression, who with a clumsy club was pounding fragments of pottery—urns, vases, and goglets—for the foundation of the mat. Very artless and happy she seemed, and free as she was lovely; but the instant she perceived she had attracted the notice of the king, she sank down and hid her face in the earth, forgetting or disregarding the falling vessels that threatened to crush or wound her. But the king merely diverted himself with inquiring her name and parentage, which some one answered for her, and turned away.

     Almost to the latest hour of his life his Majesty suffered, in his morbid egotism, various and keen annoyance by reason of his sensitiveness to the opinions of foreigners, the encroachments of foreign officials, and the strictures of the foreign press. He was agitated by a restless craving for their sympathy on the one hand, and by a futile resentment of their criticisms or their claims on the other.

     An article in a Singapore paper had administered moral correction to his Majesty on the strength of a rumor that “the king has his eye upon another princess of the highest rank, with a view to constituting her a queen consort.” And the Bangkok Recorder had said: “Now, considering that he is full threescore and three years of age, that he has already scores of concubines and about fourscore sons and daughters, with several Chowfas among them, and hence eligible to the highest posts of honor in the kingdom, this rumor seems too monstrous to be credited. But the truth is, there is scarcely anything too monstrous for the royal polygamy of Siam to bring forth.” By the light of this explanation the meaning of the following extract from the postscript of a letter which the king wrote in April, 1866, will be clear to the reader, who, at the same time, in justice to me, will remember that by the death of his Majesty, on the 1st of October, 1868, the seal of secrecy was broken.

     “VERY PRIVATE POST SCRIPT.

     “There is a newspaper of Singapore entitled Daily News just published after last arrival of the steamer Chowphya in Singapore, in which paper, a correspondence from an Individual resident at Bangkok dated 16th March 1866 was shown. but I have none of that paper in my possession..... I did not noticed its number & date to state to you now, but I trust such the paper must be in hand of several foreigners in Bangkok, may you have read it perhaps—other wise you can obtain the same from any one or by order to obtain from Singapore after perusal thereof you will not be able to deny my statement forementioned more over as general people both native & foreigners here seem to have less pleasure on me & my descendant, than their pleasure and hope on other amiable family to them until the present day.

     “What was said there in for a princess considered by the Speaker or Writer as proper or suitable to be head on my harem (a room or part for confinement of Women of Eastern monarch) there is no least intention occurred to me even once or in my dream indeed! I think if I do so, I will die soon perhaps!

     “This my hand writing or content hereof shall be kept secretly.

     “I beg to remain

“Your faithful & well-wisher

“S. P. P. M. MONGKUT R. S.

“on 5441th day of reign.

     “the writer here of beg to place his confidence on you alway.”

     As a true friend to his Majesty, I deplore the weakness which betrayed him into so transparent a sham of virtuous indignation. The “princess of the highest rank,” whom the writer of the article plainly meant, was the Princess of Hhiengmai (or Chiengmai); but from lack of accurate information he was misled into confounding her with the Princess Tui Duany Prabha, his Majesty’s niece. The king could honestly deny any such intention on his part with regard to his niece; but, at the same time, he well knew that the writer erred only as to the individual, and not as to the main fact of the case.

     Much more agreeable is it—to the reader, I doubt not, not less than to the writer—to turn from the king, in the exercise of his slavish function of training honest words to play the hypocrite for ignoble thoughts, to the gentleman, the friend, the father, giving his heart a holiday in the relaxations of simple kindness and free affection; as in the following note—

“Dated RANCHATJPURY

34th February 1865.

“To LADY L ---- & HER SON LUISE,

     Bangkok.     

     “We having very pleasant journey.... To be here which is a township called as above named by men or republick affairs in Siam, & called by common people as ‘Parkphrieck’ where we have our stay a few days.  & will take our departure from hence at dawn of next day.  We thinking of you both regardfully & beg to send here with some wild aples & barriers which are delicate for tasting & some tobacco which were and are principal product of this region for your kind acceptance hoping this wild present will be acceptable to you both.

     “We will be arrived at your home Bangkok on early part of March.

     “We beg to remain

          “Your faithful

          “S. P. P. M MONGKUT R.S.

               “in 5035th day of reign.

“And your affectionate pupils

YING YUALACKS. SOMDETCH CHOWFA CHULALONKORN. *(The present king.) PRABHASSOR. MANEABHAAAHORN. KRITAHINIHAR. SOMAWATI.

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