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THE SUBORDINATE KING.
A SECOND or subordinate kingship is an anomalous device or provision of sovereignty peculiar to Siam, Cambodia, and Laos. Inferior in station to the Supreme King only, and apparently deriving from the throne of the Phra-batts, to which he may approach so near, a reflected majesty and prestige not clearly understood by his subjects nor easily defined by foreigners, the Second King seems to be, nevertheless, belittled by the very significance of the one exclusive privilege that should distinguish him, that of exemption from the customary prostrations before the First King, whom he may salute by simply raising his hands and joining them above his head. Here his proper right of royalty begins and ends. The part that he may play in the drama of government is cast to him in the necessity, discretion, or caprice of his absolute chief next, and yet so far, above him; it may be important, insignificant, or wholly omitted. Like any lesser ducus of the realm, he must appear before his lord twice a year to renew his oath of allegiance. In law, he is as mere a subject as the slave who bears his betel-box; or that other slave who, on his knees, and with averted face, presents his spittoon. In history, he shall be what circumstance or his own mind may make him: the shadow or the soul of sovereignty, even as the intellectual and moral weakness or strength may have been apportioned between him and his colleague. From his rank he derives no advantage but the chance.
THE PRINCESS OF CHIENGMAI.
Somdetch P'hra Pawarendr Ramesr Mahiswarer, the subordinate king of Siam, who died on the 29th of December, 1865, was the legitimate son of the supreme king, second of his dynasty, who reigned from 1809 to 1824. His father had been second king to his grandfather, "grand supreme" of Siam, and first of the reigning line. His mother was "lawful first queen consort"; and the late first or major king, Somdetch-P'hra Paramendr Maha Mongkut, was his elder full brother. Being alike legitimate offspring of the first queen, these two lads were styled Somdetch Chowfas, "Celestial Royal Princes"; and during the second and third reigns they were distinguished by the titles of courtesy pertaining to their royal status and relation, the elder as Chowfa Mongkut, the younger as Chowfa Chudha-Mani: Mongkut signifying "Royal Crown," and Chudha-Mani "Royal Hair-pin."
On the death of their father (in 1824), and the accession, by intrigue, of their elder half-brother, the Chowfa Mongkut entered the Buddhist priesthood; but his brother, more ardent, inquisitive, and restless, took active service with the king, in the military as well as in the diplomatic department of government. He was appointed Superintendent of Artillery and Malayan Infantry on the one hand; and on the other, Translator of English Documents and Secretary for English Correspondence.
In a cautious and verbose sketch of his character and services, written after his death by his jealous brother, the priest-king, wherein he is by turns meanly disparaged and damned with faint praise, we find this curious statement:
"After that time (1821) he became acquainted with certain parties of English and East Indian merchants, who made their appearance or first commenced trading on late of second reign, after the former trade with Siam which bad been stopped or postponed several years in consequence of some misunderstanding before. He became acquainted with certain parts of English language and literature, and certain parts of Hindoo or Bengali language, as sufficient for some unimportant conversation with English and Indian strangers who were visitors of Siam, upon the latter part of the reign of his royal father; but his royal father did not know that he possessed such knowledge of foreign language, which had been concealed to the native persons in republic affairs, whose jealousy seemed to be strong against strangers, so he was not employed in any terms with those strangers foreign affairs," that is, during the life of his father, at whose death he was just sixteen years old.
Early in the third reign he was sent to Meeklong to superintend the construction of important works of defence near the mouth of the Meeklong River. He pushed this work with vigor, and completed it in 1835. In 1842 he commanded successfully an expedition against the Cochin-Chinese, and, in returning, brought with him to Siam many families of refugees from the eastern coast. Then he was commissioned by the king to reconstruct, "after Western models," the ancient fortifications at Paknam; and having to this end engaged a corps of European engineers and artisans, he eagerly seized the advantage the situation afforded him, by free and intelligent intercourse with his foreign assistants, to master the English language, so that, at his death, he notably excelled the first king in the facility with which he spoke, read, and wrote it, and to improve his acquaintance with the Western sciences and arts of navigation, naval construction and armament, coast and inland defence, engineering, transportation, and telegraphy, the working and casting of iron, etc.
On the 26th of May, 1851, twelve days after the coronation of his elder brother, the student and priest Maha Mongkut, he was called by the unanimous voice of "the king and council" to be Second King; and throughout his subordinate reign his sagacious and alert inquiry, his quick apprehension, his energetic and liberal spirit of improvement, engaged the admiration of foreigners; whilst his handsome person, his generous temper, his gallant preference for the skilful and the brave, his enthusiasm and princely profusion in sports and shows, endeared him more and more to his people. Maha Mongkut at no time inclined to praise him beyond his deserts, and least of all in the latter years of his life, imbittered to both by mutual jealousy and distrust wrote almost handsomely of him under the pressure of this public opinion.
"He made everything new and beautiful, and of curious appearance, and of a good style of architecture, and much stronger than they had formerly been constructed by his three predecessors, the second kings of the last three reigns, for the space of time that he was second king. He had introduced and collected many and many things, being articles of great curiosity, and things useful for various purposes of military acts and affairs, from Europe and America, China, and other states, and placed them in various departments and rooms or buildings suitable for those articles, and placed officers for maintaining and preserving the various things neatly and carefully. He has constructed several buildings in European fashion and Chinese fashion, and ornamented them with various useful ornaments for his pleasure, and has constructed two steamers in manner of men-of-war, and two steam-yachts, and several rowing state-boats in Siamese and Cochin-Chinese fashion, for his pleasure at sea and rivers of Siam; and caused several articles of gold and silver being vessels and various wares and weapons to be made up by the Siamese and Malayan goldsmiths, for employ and dress of himself and his family, by his direction and skilful contrivance and ability. He became celebrated and spread out more and more to various regions of the Siamese kingdom, adjacent States around, and far-famed to foreign countries, even at far distance, as he became acquainted with many and many foreigners, who came from various quarters of the world where his name became known to most as a very clever and bravest Prince of Siam. . . . .
"As he pleased mostly with firing of cannon and acts of Marine power and seamen, which he has imitated to his steamers which were made in manner of the man-of-war, after he has seen various things curious and useful, and learned Marine customs on board the foreign vessels of war, his steamers conveyed him to sea, where he has enjoyed playing of firing in cannon very often. . . . .
"He pleased very much in and was playful of almost everything, some important and some unimportant, as riding on Elephants and Horses and Ponies, racing of them and racing of rowing boats, firing on birds and beasts of prey, dancing and singing in various ways pleasantly, and various curiosity of almost everything, and music of every description, and in taming of dogs, monkeys, &c., &c., that is to say briefly that he has tested almost everything eatable except entirely testing of Opium and play.
"Also he has visited regions of Northeastern Province of Sarapury and Gorath very often for enjoyment of pleasant riding on Elephants and Horses, at forests in chasing animals of prey, fowling, and playing music and singing with Laos people of that region and obtaining young wives from there."
What follows is not more curious as to its form of expression than suspicious as to its meaning and motive. To all who know with what pusillanimity at times the First King shrank from the approach of Christian foreigners, especially the French priests, with what servility in his moody way he courted their favor, it will appear of very doubtful sincerity. To those who are familiar with the circumstances under which it was written, and to whom the attitude of jealous reserve that the brothers occupied toward each other at the time of the Second King's death was no secret, it may seem (even after due allowance is made for the prejudices or the obligations of the priest) to cover an insidious, though scarcely adroit, design to undermine the honorable reputation the younger enjoyed among the missionaries, and the cordial friendship with which he had been regarded by several of the purest of them. Certainly it is suspiciously "of a piece" with other passages, quoted further on, in which the king's purpose to disparage the merits of his brother, and damage the influence of his name abroad, is sufficiently transparent. In this connection the reader may derive a ray of light from the fact that on the birth of the Second King's first son, an American missionary, who was on terms of intimacy with the father, named the child "George Washington"; and that child, the Prince George Washington Krom Mu'n Pawarwijagan, is the present Second King of Siam. But to Maha Mongkut, and his "art of putting things":
"He was rumored to be baptized or near to be baptized in Christianity, but the fact it is false. He was a Buddhist, but his faith and belief changed very often in favor of various sects of Buddhism by the association of his wives and various families and of persons who were believers in various sects of the established religion of the Siamese and Laos, Peguan and Burmese countries. Why should he become a Christian? when his pleasures consisted in polygamy and enjoyment, and with young women who were practised in pleasant dancing and singing, and who could not be easily given up at any time.
He was very desirous of having his sons to be English scholars and to be learned the art of speaking, reading and writing in English well like himself, but he said he cannot allow his sons to enter the Christian Missionary-School, as he feared his descendants might be induced to the Christianity in which he did not please to believe."
Pawarendr Ramesr had ever been the favorite and darling of his mother, and it was in his infancy that the seeds of that ignoble jealousy were sown between the royal brothers, which flourished so rankly and bore such noxious fruit in their manhood. From his tenderest years the younger prince was remarkable for his personal beauty and his bright intelligence, and before his thirteenth birthday had already learned all that his several masters could teach him. From an old priest, named P'hra Naitt, I gathered many pleasant anecdotes of his childhood.
For example, he related with peculiar pride how the young prince, then but twelve years old, being borne one day in state through the eastern gate of the city to visit his mother's lotos-gardens, observed an old man, half blind, resting by the roadside. Commanding his bearers to halt, he alighted from his sedan and kindly accosted the poor creature. Finding him destitute and helpless, a stranger and a wayfarer in the land, he caused him to be seated in his own sedan, and borne to the gardens, while he followed on foot. Here he had the old man bathed, clad in fresh linen, and entertained with a substantial meal; and afterward he took his astonished client into his service; as keeper of his cattle.
Later in life the generous and romantic prince diverted himself with the adventurous beneficence of Haroun al Raschid, visiting the poor in disguise, listening to the recital of their sufferings and wrongs, and relieving them with ready largesse of charity and justice; and nothing so pleased and flattered him as to be called, in his assumed name of Nak Pratt, "the wise," to take part in their sports and fetes. The affectionate enthusiasm with which the venerable poonghee remembered his royal pupil was inspiring; and to see his eyes sparkle and his face glow with sympathetic triumph, as he described the lad's exploits of strength or skill in riding, fencing, boxing, was a fine sight. But it was with saddened look and tone that he whispered to me, that, at the prince's birth, the astrologer who cast his horoscope had foretold for him an unnatural death. This, he said, was the secret of the watchful devotion and imprudent partiality his mother had always manifested for him.
For such a prince to come into even the empty name of power was to become subject to the evil eye of his fraternal lord and rival, for whose favor officious friends and superserviceable lackeys contended in scandalous and treacherous spyings of the Second King's every action. Yet, meanly beset as he was, he contrived to find means and opportunity to enlarge his understanding and multiply his attainments; and in the end his proficiency in languages, European and Oriental, became as remarkable as it was laudable. It was by Mr. Hunter, secretary to the prime minister, that he was introduced to the study of the English language and literature, and by this gentleman's intelligent aid he procured the text-books which constituted the foundation of his educational course.
In person he was handsome, for a Siamese; of medium stature, compact and symmetrical figure, and rather dark complexion. His conversation and deportment denoted the cultivation, delicacy, and graceful poise of an accomplished gentleman; and he delivered his English with a correctness and fluency very noticeably free from the peculiar spasmodic effort that marked his royal brother's exploits in the language of Shakespeare.
In his palace, which he had rebuilt after the model of an English nobleman's residence, he led the life of a healthy, practical, and systematic student. His library, more judiciously selected than that of his brother, abounded in works of science, embracing the latest discoveries. Here he passed many hours, cultivating a sound acquaintance with the results of investigation and experiment in the Western world. His partiality for English literature in all its branches was extreme. The freshest publications of London found their way to his tables, and he heartily enjoyed the creations of Dickens.
For robust and exhilarating enjoyment, however, he had recourse to hunting expeditions, and martial exercises in the drilling of his private troops. Punctually at daybreak every morning he appeared on the parade-ground, and proceeded to review his little army with scrupulous precision, according to European tactics; after which he led his well-trained files to their barracks within the palace walls, where the soldiers exchanged their uniform for a working-dress. Then he marched them to the armory, where muskets, bayonets, and sabres were brought out and severely scoured. That done, the men were dismissed till the morrow.
Among his courtiers were several gentlemen of Siam and Laos, who had acquired such a smattering of English as qualified them to assist the prince in his scientific diversions. Opposite the armory stood a pretty little cottage, quite English-looking, lighted with glass windows, and equipped with European furniture. Over the entrance to this quaint tenement hung a painted sign, in triumphant English, "WATCHES AND CLOCKS MADE AND REPAIRED HERE"; and hither came frequently the Second King and his favorites, to pursue assiduously their harm-lass occupation of horlogerie. Sometimes this eccentric entertainment was diversified with music, in which his Majesty took a leading part, playing with taste and skill on the flute, and several instruments of the Laos people.
Such a prince should have been happy, in the innocence of his pastimes and the dignity of his pursuits. But the same accident of birth and station to which he owed his privileges and his opportunities imposed its peculiar disabilities and hindrances. His troubles were the troubles of a second king, who chanced to be also an ardent and aspiring man. Weary with disappointment, disheartened in his honorable longing for just appreciation, vexed with the caprice and suspicions of his elder brother; oppressed by the ever-present tyranny of the thought so hard for such a man to bear that the woman he loved best in the land he was inexorably forbidden to marry, because, being a princess of the first rank, she might be offered and accepted to grace the harem of his brother; a mere prisoner of state, watched by the baleful eye of jealousy, and traduced by the venal tongues of courtiers; dwelling in a torment of uncertainty as to the fate to which his brother's explosive temper and irresponsible power might devote him, hoping for no repose or safety but in his funeral-urn, he began to grow hard and defiant, and that which, in the native freedom of his soul, should have been his noble steadfastness degenerated into ignoble obstinacy.
Among the innumerable mean torments with which his pride was persecuted was the continual presence of a certain doctor, who, by the king's command, attended him at all times and places, compelling him to use remedies that were most distasteful to him.
He was gallantly kind and courteous toward women; no act of cruelty to any woman was ever attributed to him. His children he ruled wisely, though somewhat sternly, rendering his occasional tenderness and indulgence so much the more precious and delightful to them.
Never had Siam a more popular prince. He was the embodiment of the most hopeful qualities, moral and intellectual, of his nation; especially was he the exponent and promise of its most progressive tendencies; and his people regarded him with love and reverence, as their trusty stay and support. His talents as a statesman commanded the unqualified admiration of foreigners; and it was simply the jealous and tyrannical temper of Maha Mongkut that forced him to retire from all participation in the affairs of government..
At last the mutual reserve and distrust of the royal brothers broke out in open quarrel, provoked by the refusal of the First King to permit the Second to borrow from the royal treasury a considerable sum of money. On the day after his order was dishonored, the prince set out with his congenial and confidential courtiers on a hunting expedition to the Laos province of Chiengmai, scornfully threatening to entrap one of the royal white elephants, and sell it to his Supreme Majesty for the sum he would not loan.
At Chiengmai he was regally entertained by the tributary prince of that province; and no sooner was his grievance known, than the money he required was laid at his feet. Too manly to accept the entire sum, he borrowed but a portion of it; and instead of taking it out of the country, decided to sojourn there for a time, that he might spend it to the advantage of the people. To this end he selected a lovely spot in the vicinity of Chiengmai, called Saraburee, itself a city of some consideration, where bamboo houses line the banks of a beautiful river, that traverses teak forests alive with large game. On an elevation near at hand the Second King erected a palace substantially fortified, which he named Ban Sitha (the Home of the Goddess Sitha), and caused a canal to be cut to the eastern slope.
Here he indulged freely, and on an imposing scale, in his favorite pastime of hunting, and privately took to wife the daughter of the king of Chiengmai, the Princess Sunartha Vismita. And here he was happy, only returning to Bangkok when called thither by affairs of state, or to take the semi-annual oath of allegiance.
Among the prince's concubines at this time was a woman named Kliep, envious, intriguing, and ambitious, who by consummate arts had obtained control of his Majesty's cuisine, an appointment of peculiar importance and trust in the household of an Oriental prince. Finding that by no feminine devices could she procure the influence she coveted over her master's mind and affections, she finally had recourse to an old and infamous sorcerer, styled Khoon Hβte-nah ("Lord of Future Events"), an adept of the black art much consulted by women of rank from all parts of the country; and he, in consideration of an extraordinary fee, prepared for her a variety of charms, incantations, philters, to be administered to the prince, in whose food daily, for years, she mixed the abominable nostrums. The poison did its work slowly but surely, and his sturdy life was gradually undermined. His strength quite gone, and his spirit broken, his despondency became so profound that he lost all taste for the occupations and diversions that had once delighted him, and sought relief in restless changing from one palace to another, and in consulting every physician he could find.
It was during a visit to his favorite residence at Saraburee that the signs of approaching dissolution appeared, and the king's physician, fearing he might die there, took hurried steps to remove him to his palace at Bangkok. He was bound in a sedan, and lowered from his high chamber in the castle into his barge on the canal at the foot of the cliff; and so, with all his household in train, transported to the palace of Krom Hluang Wongse, physician to the king, and one of his half-brothers. Now miserably unnerved, the prince, once so patient, brave, and proud, threw his arms round his kinsman's neck, and, weeping bitterly, implored him to save him. But he was presently removed to his own palace, and laid in a chamber looting to the east.
That night the prince expressed a wish to see his royal brother. The king hastened to his bedside in company with his Excellency Chow Phya Sri Sury-wongse, the Kralahome, or prime minister; and then and there a silent and solemn reconciliation took place. No words were spoken; only the brothers embraced each other, and the elder wept bitterly. But from the facts brought to light in that impressive meeting and parting, it was made plain that the Second King died by slow poison, administered by the woman Kliep, plain to all but the Second King himself, who died in ignorance of the means by which the tragic prophecy of his horoscope had been made good.
In the very full account of his brother's death which Maha Mongkut thought it necessary to write, he was careful to conceal from the public the true cause of the calamity, fearing the foreign populace, and, most of all, the Laotians and Peguans, who were devoted to the prince, and might attach suspicion to himself, on the ground of his notorious jealousy of the Second King. The royal physicians and the Supreme Council were sworn to secrecy; and the woman Kliep, and her accomplice Khoon Hβte-nah, together with nine female slaves, were tortured and publicly paraded through the environs of Bangkok, though their crime was never openly named. Afterward they were thrown into an open boat, towed out on the Gulf of Siam, and there abandoned to the mercy of winds and waves, or death by starvation. Among the women of the palace the current report was, that celestial avengers had slain the murderous crew with arrows of lightning and spears of fire.
In his Majesty's account of the last days of his royal brother, we have the characteristic queerness of his English, and a scarcely less characteristic passage of Pecksniffian cant:
"The lamentable patient Second King ascertained himself that his approaching death was inevitable; it was great misfortune to him and his family indeed. His eldest son Prince George1 Krom Mu'n Pawarwijagan, aged 27 years on that time, became very sick of painful rheumatism by which he has his body almost steady on his seat and bed, immovable to and fro, himself, since the month of October, 1865, when his father was absent from Bangkok, being at Ban Sitha as aforesaid. When his royal father returned from Ban Sitha he arrived at his palace at Bangkok on 6th December. He can only being lifted by two or three men and placed in the presence of his father who was very ill, but the eldest son forenamed prince was little better, so before death of his father as he can be raised to be stood by two men and can cribble slowly on even or level surface, by securing and supporting of two men on both sides.
"When his father became worse and approaching the point of death, upon that time his father can see him scarcely; wherefore the Second King, on his being worse, has said to his eldest and second daughters, the half sisters of the eldest son, distempered so as he cannot be in the presence of his father without difficulty, that he (the Second King) forenamed on that time was hopeless and that he could not live more than a few days. He did not wish to do his last will regarding his family and property, particularly as he was strengthless to speak much, and consider anything deeply and accurately: he beg'd to entreat all his sons, daughters, and wives that none should be sorry for his death, which comes by natural course, and should not fear for misery of difficulty after his demise. All should throw themselves under their faithful and affectionate uncle, the Supreme King of Siam, for protection, in whom he had heartfelt confidence that he will do well to his family after his death, as such the action or good protection to several families of other princes and princesses in the royalty, who deceased before. He beg'd only to recommend his sons and daughters, that they should be always honest and faithful to his elder full brother, the Supreme King of Siam, by the same affection as to himself, and that they should have much more affection and respect toward Paternal relative persons in royalty, than toward their maternal relative persons, who are not royal descendants of his ancestors
"On the 29th December 1865, in the afternoon, the Second King invited His Majesty the Supreme King, his elder full brother, and his Excellency Chow Phya Sri Sury-wongse Samuha P'hra-Kralahome, the Prime Minister, who is the principal head of the Government and royal cousin, to seat themselves near to his side on his bedstead where be lay, and other principals of royalty and nobility, to seat themselves in that room where he was lying, that they might be able to ascertain his speech by hearing. Then he delivered his family and followers and the whole of his property to His Majesty and His Excellency for protection and good decision, according to consequences which they would well observe."
Not a word of that royal reconcilement, of that remorseful passion of tears, of that mute mystery of humanity, the secret spell of a burdened mother's love working too late in the hearts of her headstrong boys! Not a word of that crowning embrace, which made the subordinate king supreme, by the grace of dying and forgiving!