Imatges de pÓgina

as like as not, shipwrecked in those efforts to set the country all a-boiling and a-bubbling,' which Tharawadi described to Colonel Burney as his ideal of a good honest revolution, that were certain, according to precedent, to be made in the struggle for the succession, if that struggle were allowed to be worried out' upon the old established lines-partly, as I do sincerely believe, to an honest desire on the part of the ministers, or at all events of some ministers, to bring about a radical reform of the relations between the monarch and his people, in the interests of the latter, among whom they themselves naturally were included. For although the condition of the people was doubtless better than it had been when the Mendoon' king succeeded-else that air of prosperity which everywhere strikes the most superficial observer, while as yet that king is hardly cold in his grave, could not make itself apparent-real, substantial progress, the intra-national development of the capabilities of the population as a whole, must be cramped and stifled, so long as the people remained the shuttlecocks of the caprices of a despot, and so long as every succession was born in the throes of wasting and demoralising convulsions. There were, in fine, corrupt ministers who wished to secure themselves immunity for the continued practice of corruption; others who thought they saw their way to greater consequence when the great leveller of despotism should have been broken up; and yet others, who, having had their minds opened by travel outside the Burmese borders, and having seen what national prosperity means in a higher sense than the mere physical plumpness and the buoyant laugh of a people-having learned something, too, of how this higher phase of prosperity was brought about-were genuine patriots, honestly striving to serve their country. It is curious to note that they saw no incongruity in trying to work out the national salvation by measures at which the sober spirit of constitutionalism must stand aghast.

The succession to the Burmese throne does not, even in theory, go by primogeniture. In practice, it has mostly gone by force. The king for the time being names one of the members of his family, generally a son by his 'first' queen, if there happens to be such a son; and on the father's death, the nominee, if he can, makes good his title by the expedient of obliterating all rival claimants. If he fails, he for the most part gets obliterated himself. The late king's principal queen, or Nah-mah-dau-phra, was his own half-sister, in accordance with invariable precedent handed down from the times of the legendary Sakya princes of Kapilavastu. She died some years ago without issue. His brother, who had been early in the reign named crown prince, had been slain in 1866, as already described. If the second queen, who, on the death of his Majesty's principal queen and half-sister, had been raised to the position of Nah-mahdau-phra, had been the mother of a son, there is little doubt that

he would have been named crown prince, for the lady was a great favourite with her lord, and herself of the blood royal. But, as fortune would have it, her offspring consisted of three daughters, and the Salic law in Burmah is inexorable. The late king had an extensive assortment of sons by other wives, but none had any special intrinsic claim to the position of crown prince. And the wily old king, recognising the advantages of suspense, preferred to keep the pear a-dangling, and would make no nomination. Of his many sons, three deserve mention. The eldest, a man of ungoverned violence, was under restraint, and out of the running. The 'Meckyi' prince, the second eldest, was a quiet, inoffensive, sensible man, with some experience in affairs. Certain privileges had been accorded to him which had seemed to indicate that the king his father intended him to be his successor; but later he had been accused of intriguing, and when the king fell ill, he was in disgrace under surveillance. Another of the elder sons, the Nyoung-yan' prince, was the most amiable and popular of all the king's sons, and perhaps also the one most trusted by his father. When the king fell ill, he was the only son of mature age allowed free access to the sick-room. When the king's illness became serious, he was designated to the responsible duty of advising with the ministers upon the measures to be adopted for averting disorders should that illness threaten to become dangerous.

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Besides these three, the late king had several younger sons, among whom was a lad named Theebo. Barely twenty, his character, if he had any, was undeveloped; he was reputed quiet, stolid, and reserved, and, being a religious lad, stood well with the priests. He was young and doubtless pliant; and he had a certain distinctiveness in that he was the only one of all the king's sons whose mother was of the blood royal. He had been a pupil, after a fashion, for a few months, of the Rev. Mr. Marks, a Church of England missionary who stood high in the favour of the late king. He was reported exceptionally well-educated for a Burmese prince, and chewed betel and smoked cheroots à la mode. And, as the fates and Cupid would have it, it so happened that this young Theebo and the second of the chief queen's three daughters had fallen in love with each other. Now, as a mere younger son, Theebo was a detrimental.' But the Nahmah-dau-phra is a shrewd, influential, clever woman, and had the double prestige of being chief queen and of being herself of the blood royal. She had taken up the youthful lover of her daughter, and had proposed to the king that he should be named heir apparent. The king had refused; but this refusal did not necessarily imply rejection, but was only another proof of his Majesty's disinclination to designate his successor. Enjoying the countenance of the mother of his sweetheart, he had assigned to him as a residence a small house within the palace, and in ceremonial audiences had precedence next to the Nyoung-yan' prince, who had the first place.

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As the king's ailment increased, the ministers, doubtless with much consultation and deliberation, banded themselves together with intent that the absolute despotism of the Burmese monarchy should be modified and restricted in the successor to the irresponsible tyrant who lay on his deathbed. The high court and council of the monarchy is called the Hlwot-dau, and consists of four principal ministers of state, whose official title is Woonghye,' but who are more commonly known as Menghyis,' with some territorial appellation prefixed. Propositions originating with the Hlwot-dau are brought before the king by the Bya-deit, or council of interior or household ministers, whose members, four in number, are styled 'Atwen-woons.' The Bya-deit also is the immediate recipient of all orders from the king, and, in short, it may be described as in theory a critical and consultative council of transmission between the monarch and the Hlwot-dau. This machinery has a specious semblance of constitutionalism; but if ever there was a substance, it had long since disappeared, and there remained but a feeble shadow. General Fytche, whose experience of Burmah was long and close, speaks thus trenchantly of these councils: They are the relics of a constitution which has long since lost all real power. The members of both are mere nominees of the king, creatures of his will, instruments of his orders. He may accept their advice, but they exercise nothing of the influence of hereditary or legislative bodies, and their authority is a mere sham.' Bent on abolishing the sham, and substituting at least some measure of a reality, the members of the Hlwot-dau and of the Bya-deit joined forces, and formed one council bent on reform through the medium of selecting to the succession a prince who would not object to fall in with their views. The moving spirit of the organisation was the 'Magwè-Menghyi,' the senior minister of the Hlwot-dau, and virtual prime minister of the realm. He had already had some practical experience in king-making, for he it was who in 1853, by the strong-handed, expedient of seizing and confining the previous king's chief advisers, had cleared the steps of the throne for the monarch who now lay sick.


The ministers had their end to serve, and the first queen had hers. These converged in the person of the young Theebo; and accordingly the ministers and the Nah-mah-dau-phra joined forces in the common enterprise of securing to him the succession.

The king had gradually become very ill. No outsiders had any access to him, and the first queen and the ministers had a clear course for their designs. They decided that an order should be issued in the king's name nominating the young Theebo crown prince, and constituting him regent during the king's illness. This decision having been arrived at, precautions after the Burmese fashion were taken to knock opposition on the head. All the princes living outside the palace were summoned into the palace by a royal

order. They were brought in with all customary honour; but once inside they were made prisoners. There was one exception. The 'Nyoung-yan' prince had penetrated the machinations of the chief queen and the ministers. He was not ambitious to be named heir apparent; but he had a natural regard for his own safety, which he knew their plot would compromise. He took his measures accordingly, and regarded the summons to the palace, which the other princes obeyed, as the signal to him to get out of harm's way. With his younger brother he escaped in the disguise of a common coolie. into the British Residency, where he claimed and received protection from Mr. Shaw, the Resident; and he is now in safe exile at Calcutta.


The king was conscious only at intervals, but one of these intervals occurred immediately after the coup just narrated, and his favourite daughter, who was his sick nurse, gave him the details of it. The dying king was roused into self-assertion. He ordered the princes to be unironed, and their relatives to have free access to them. He sent for the Meckyi' prince to his bedside, and ordered him to retire to his province, and remain there until he himself should have recovered. He professed utter ignorance of the nomination of Theebo to the position of crown prince and regent. Recognising the danger that impended over the princes his sons, and mistrusting probably his own chance of life, he gave orders for them. to be equipped for travel, each to his own district. It must have been a ticklish moment for the conspirators. But they hardened their hearts and determined to prosecute their designs, in the abiding assurance that the king was on his deathbed. They determined to disobey his orders. Twenty minutes after these had passed the royal lips, all the palace guards were ordered under arms. The princes who had been liberated were seized again, re-ironed, and thrust into a dark hole, where they still remain in pitiable squalidity —that is, if they still survive the misery that is but a slow death. When I left Mandalay, it was reported that the last of them had died in the dungeon, but again I heard this contradicted on some show of authority, and it was averred that all were still alive. are, or were, some twenty of them. Their mothers were simultaneously debarred from intriguing for their succour by being themselves placed in confinement.


The coup was played out right masterfully. While the princes were being ironed the Hlwot-dau was solemnly promulgating the royal edict constituting the fortunate prince Theebo crown prince and regent. Couriers sped with it into the districts, and thenceforward all public acts were done in the name of the regent. His succession was insured. The king was in extremis; some aver that he was already dead long before the official announcement of his death, and that the fact was concealed until Theebo's hold on the

throne should be secure. Be this as it may, the 'Mendoon' king officially died on the 1st of October, about a fortnight after the coup d'état described. Prince Theebo was immediately summoned from his house in the outer court and installed in the palace. Next day he was formally proclaimed king.

Having once determined, in the abstract, on curbing the power of the Crown, the ministers, while as yet the old king lived, set themselves about the yet more arduous task of working out their Magna Charta in the concrete. They started fair with unanimity in favour of the abolition of 'personal government,' and the substitution therefor of government by 'king in council.' The Burmese are not a people good at practical details, and the ministers seem to have got a little muddled over their constitution in embryo. One quaint device they had recourse to, that peradventure their way might be made clearer. Among the few Britons in Mandalay is a certain Dr. Williams, who in bygone days was our Resident there, and who now, having quitted official life, prosecutes business at the seat of the court. The Burmese have confidence in this countryman of ours, and the ministers begged of him to furnish them with a synopsis of the British constitution, with suggestions on the stimulation of a wholesome public opinion through the medium of the press, and other institutions of a free people. After long and earnest deliberation it was decided that a supreme council should be created, to consist of the members of the Hlwot-dau and the Bya-deit, the two governors of the city, and the two principal officers of the army. Of this council the king himself was to be ex officio president. Its sanction was to be requisite to all public acts of the king, and it was vested with the powers of initiative and of veto. Nothing was legally to come to the king or to issue from the king by any other channel than through this council; the right of petitioning the throne direct-a right which the constitution still conserves to the people of England-was abrogated, under penal enactments against infringement. The reforms were assuredly very Radical, but they were to be applied by very Conservative machinery. The Bya-deit was still to be the vehicle of transmission, and the Hlwot-dau was still to be the recording and promulgating agency; only, instead of their being any longer the edicts of the king, single-handed, that were to be transmitted, recorded, and promulgated, they were to be the edicts of the 'king in council.'

Nobody seems to have thought of bothering the nation at large for any expression of opinion in regard to the new order of things, and I suppose its intelligent interest in the matter may be fairly, although perhaps somewhat hazily, represented in the terse language of a European spectator of events, that it didn't care two damns.' But all the same the new constitution was a great fact. When Theebo acceded to the throne, his first act was to issue a solemn and official confirmation of it. He had previously swallowed it as if it VOL. V.-No. 26. 3 C

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