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that any of us, save experts, had of it, was the absolute despotism under which it was ruled, despotism had been abandoned per saltum, and was replaced by mild, enlightened, and well-balanced constitutionalism. The new monarch, so ran the strange news, had voluntarily surrendered the prerogatives devolving on him through a long line of irresponsible despots. He had even abandoned his governing individuality as the sovereign, and was content to rule through, or rather to be ruled by, a council of ministers. Ingenious leaderwriters speculated on the probability of a Burmese Parliament, now that despotism had given place to a constitutional administration, of which reform was professed to be the watchword. We live in nimble days, when the record of a 'sensation' is fast effaced from the mental slate by the advent of a new item of the same convulsive pattern; but the tidings of and the comments on the Great Burmese Transformation Scene' are so recent that I venture to hope some, at least, of the readers of the Nineteenth Century have still some memory of the circumstances as told in telegrams and articles in October and November last. They interested me much at the time, and the short visit to the Burmese capital, from which I am on the return journey, afforded the opportunity, which I most gladly embraced, for inquiring into the details of the strange political phenomenon of which telegrams had given us but the broad and sketchy outlines. Although my time was short, I took great pains to gather and collate the information which the reader will find embodied in the succeeding paragraphs. I cannot but think that the narrative possesses interest, not alone for the general reader, but for the student of the history of nations and of politics.
The late King of Burmah-the 'Mendoon 'king, as he was called in Burmese fashion, from the province of which he had been princeowed his throne to the internal convulsions caused by the successful British invasion of 1852. He dethroned his brother, the cockfighting king,' in 1853, and was crowned the same year. The 'Mendoon' king was a man of great force of character, and, had he been as loyal as he was strong, he might have gone far to make Burmah a model State among Oriental nations. But, in his later years at all events, he bore the deserved reputation of being obstructive, exclusive, oppressive, and an enemy to the progress of his country. He began his reign well. Yule, writing of his visit in 1855, says of him: 'His conscientious efforts to do justice have been rewarded by complete tranquillity.' He found the country in wretched case. Where there was government at all, it was misgovernment, so that the strongest aspiration of the people was to be ignored by the Government. Bribery and corruption held sway throughout the ranks of officialism, from the king on the throne to the meanest hanger-on of the pettiest official. Immunity from punishment for offences was a mere question of money, no matter
how atrocious or flagrant the crime. Burmah then was as if Turkey under the Pashas had taken unto itself seven devils worse than the first. Each district of the kingdom was given to an official or a minion who 'ate' it. The term is not mine, and used by me metaphorically; it is the Burmese official expression of the period. Princes, ministers, concubines, white elephants, dancing girls, each and all had a province, a district, or a village to eat.' The official so holding a province was the supreme authority in it. He had power of life and death. The local functionaries whom he appointed were simply the men who undertook to furnish him the greatest amount of ' eating.' Of course, these ground out of the people eating' for themselves as well; and the screw was continually on, with an extra turn whenever there was a change of masters, or rather owners. The misery was so horrible that the population emigrated by whole villages into British territory, of the new and beneficent rule obtaining in which the good tidings came drifting over the frontier. Such was the wretchedness, and so sweeping was the depopulation, that the new king, when he came to realise the state of the country over which he found himself ruler, exclaimed with a certain horror, 'Great God, I might as well be king over a desert!'
He began his course of reform firmly, but quietly and gradually. It was no easy task; for family claims, the consideration held meet for good service in time of need, and vested interests, confronted. and obstructed his every step. When he came to the throne, no official received a stipend—he was paid by the grant of a district 'to eat.' The king determined to abolish the eating' system, and to substitute stipends. Working warily, he began in the lower ranks of the official phalanx. The institution of a capitation tax furnished him with the means to pay salaries. He got into his own hands and exercised the appointment of the local functionaries acting for the 'eaters,' and from this leverage worked steadily for the abolition of the 'eating' altogether. He did not, indeed, abolish altogether local exactions, nor could he, with the imperfect machinery at his disposal, guard the revenues against peculation; but he accomplished this, that 'eating' was no longer recognised, and that all ministers and princes were in the receipt of regular stipends. The district title, indeed, remained and remains to each, but the district revenues were, theoretically at all events, paid intact into the Imperial treasury, and a certain annual sum paid thereout to the incumbent-the quondam 'eater.' His interest in keeping up the revenue was enlisted by the application of the principle that the stipend should bear a proportion to the amount of revenue paid into the treasury-a system of which the weak side clearly was that the taxpayer had as little protection from the temptation unduly to swell the revenue, as he previously had from being eaten' directly and nakedly. As it fell out, he mostly suffered a good deal in both ways; for while the incumbent took care
that his quota of revenue looked well, he and his subordinates could not quite forget that the principal of an exaction is apt to be larger than the interest of it in the shape of commission paid as salary. Complaints were rife, and the king heard them. He adopted a curious expedient. He instituted a set of semi-monastic laymen, who bore the name of 'Sabbath-keepers.' These traversed the country in quest of corrupt practices, acting as king's spies after a fashion, and reporting to him direct. A European wonders that instead of this complex and inefficient device-for quis custodiet custodes ipsos?— the king did not resort to the expedient of a national valuation and a national assessment. He enlisted also the reserves of the Buddhist priesthood spread over the face of the country, and gradually in every commune there became constituted a local committee of revenuecollecting of which the woon or official was the executive member, and the Phoonghi and Sabbath-keeper' inspecting and controlling members. The condition of the people was thus materially improved. It is true that in criminal matters the hands of the local officials were weakened; but the effect of this was to centre more and yet more all power in the hands of the king, and to make him in reality, as well as in phrase and in theory, absolute and omnipotent. He laboured to make the Crown the actual as well as the conventional centre of justice, of patronage, of honours and favours. He would be the wielder of a benevolent despotism. To use a comparison, his aim was 'personal government;' only he was his own Lord Beaconsfield. And in achieving his end the monarch was the unconscious prototype of the minister. He eliminated from his service all men of strong individual character, cursed with the nuisance, to him, of wills of their own and the evil habit of daring to think for themselves. He laid himself out to gather around him functionaries of mediocrity and subserviency, and hated equally an able man and one to whom he was under an obligation.
A rebellion in 1866 interrupted his schemes, only, in the result, to strengthen his hand. The most dangerous of the insurgents was the son of the crown prince, his brother; but the leader of the first outbreak was the king's own son by an inferior wife. He burst into the palace at the head of a gang of followers, and cut off the crown prince's head in the palace court. The king was pursued, and had to escape by a back door. The palace for a short time, the capital for longer, was in the hands of the insurgents. But they withdrew to raise the country to the southward. The son of the murdered crown prince went off to the northward, and raised another rebellion on his own account, so that the king had two insurrections to cope with simultaneously. He was hard pressed indeed. At one crisis, of all the realm he only held the capital, and numbers of his troops deserted him. But he was equal to the occasion; he devised his own strategy, he built batteries, he held his own, and he gradually crushed both
outbreaks, and once again stood unquestioned lord paramount. Some of his supporters had acquired some influence, and had gained some prestige as military leaders. But the Mendoon' king acted towards them as Henry the Eighth acted to Wolsey. One after another he brought to disgrace the men who had helped to save him. He was a man who insisted on the concentration of fealty.
He was a proud man, and writhed under the loss of the fair province of Pegu, torn from the kingdom of Burmah by the masterful British. He feigned to regard our occupation of it as merely temporary, and strove to blink the fact of his consent to the cession of the territory. He loved few foreigners who were British subjects, but favoured and rewarded such as had committed acts which had brought them into discredit with the authorities of British Burmah. He chafed, that, by having the seaboard, we held our hand on his throat in the matter of importing munitions of war; and entertained some foreigners who went through the form of drilling his troops, and who built him forts that would command the passage of the Irawadi if only there were guns on their ramparts. But he was wily, and kept his claws in the sheath. A man sagacious beyond his fellows and his opportunities, he recognised that he could make no stand against the British power; and abode sourly quiet, lest worse things befell him.
His activity of mind led him to make efforts to develope the commercial and agricultural resources of his kingdom. This is a phase of his character in which he bears a striking resemblance to the present Khedive of Egypt. He bought river-steamers, he set about erecting ironworks and rice-mills, he entered into negotiations about railroads. But the evil of him was that he did everything for his own hand. He turned the country into, as it were, one huge royal farm, and the husbandmen became his fellaheen. They were made to grow prescribed crops on advances received from local authorities, and, under compulsion of the advances received and spent, had to sell the produce to government at arbitrary prices, considerably under the market rates. This system was, on the face of it, oppressive, but the king professed obstinate blindness to its oppressiveness, and asked the people with what face could they grumble, when they were so fortunate as to have advances made to them?
There is insanity in the race, and as the king advanced in years he became capricious. He disbursed great sums in works only to abandon them for a whim, when a little more would have made them serviceable. A splendid range of ironworks forms a melancholy spectacle at Tsigain, near the capital. They are on a grand scale; for elaborateness of equipment few works in England can match them. English operatives superintended their erection, and waited to commence the output. But, before they could be utilised, some comparatively trivial detail of machinery was lacking. The cog-wheels,
or whatever they were, were actually in Rangoon, but a bank held a lien over them, and would not let them go till the demand was made good. For some reason the king would not pay up, the cog-wheels are still lacking, and the costly works lie there like a still-born child. On a road leading out of Mandalay is another melancholy ghost of the late king's caprice. From the edge of a granite jetty a fine steam-crane overhangs, where once flowed the Irawadi. In a shed, hard by, a ten-ton hammer stands forlornly idle. In other sheds is a range of smelting works complete in parts, but only partly erected. There never was an ounce of ore smelted here. Where once the Irawadi's deep current flowed is now a stagnant marsh. In pursuit of another scheme the king dammed off the river from access to the jetty, and the melancholy abortion confronts the passer-by, with the place of public execution as an appropriate neighbour to a miscarried industry under an irresponsible despotism.
Not only had the late king a consuming anxiety to centre in himself a monopoly of the disposal of the produce of his kingdom, but in his later years there fell upon him a craving to gain 'koothoo,' that is, religious merit and a high place in the next world, by dint of pagoda-building, and this, of course, with State funds. He spent vast sums in this pursuit, and had begun an enormous pagoda, the building of which, it was reckoned, would occupy eighty years. Ten feet of it cost him 200,000l.; and it may safely be reckoned it will never be higher than ten feet. He was a man who wanted everything bigger and grander than ever had been achieved before. But in one matter it must be said for him that his resemblance to Ismail of Egypt did not hold good. He spent but little on his personal pleasures. He lived economically, and the palace household was kept actually short. He neither cared to squander on himself nor to grow rich.
In the early days of September last, having reigned through good report and through evil report-as his reign grew old, it may be said the latter--the Mendoon' king fell sick. Almost from the first it appears to have been held, within that teak enclosure that bounds. the Golden Palace,' that the monarch, one of whose titles is 'The Immortal,' was not to recover of his sickness. But he was a stubborn man when in health, and in sickness he was not less dour. He died hard. And it was when he lay stricken with his mortal ailment that the notion of constitutionalism first tock definite shape. As in most upheavals, whether physical, social, or political, there was a union of motive forces. The short-lived régime of constitutionalism in Burmah owes its rise and progress' partly to love, the lord of all;' partly to the match-making efforts of a mother, not less acute in a semi-barbaric court than in modern society;' partly to the anxiety of the ministers to secure a settled order of things and a comfortable status quo as regarded themselves—the latter always imperilled, and,