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In the work before us is a curious and interesting series of small maps, - representing the historical geography of the Burmese countries at several epochs. Epoch the first, A.D. 1500, shows a nest of small provinces, distinct and separate, none apparently superior enough in size or position to overshadow the rest, each marking probably the settlement of a tribe. Turning across, we find this primitive arrangement very much disturbed in epoch second, 1580. The small blue patch which distinguished the king dom of Pegu has here overspread all the space between the ranges, absorbing even a part of Siam, and leaving only Arracan, Assam, and the wild tribes' districts, as independent colours. This was the time of the conquests of the great Toungoo dynasty, and represents, perhaps, the most flourishing and advanced stage of the country. In the next compartment we have passed on to 1822, and all is changed again. A revolution had taken place, an usurper had given to Burmah the strength and energy of a new regime, and extended its dominion over all the territory lying between China, Siam, and the AngloIndian Empire, now looming ominously on the frontier.
"With such a frontier-with neighbours who only wished to be let alone-with such a trunk-line from end to end of his dominions as the Irawadi-with his teak forests and his mineral riches, and his fisheries, his wheat, cotton, and rice lands, a world of eager traders to the eastward, and the sea open in front, the King of Ava's dominion was a choice one, had not incurable folly and arrogance deprived him of his best advantages, cast down the barriers of his kingdom, and brought British cantonments and customhouses within his borders." Truly the last division of the history shows a reverse of the picture. Folly and arrogance had provoked attack, aggression, annexation, and Ava lies shorn of its proportions, hemmed in on all sides, cut off from its harbours, and shut out from the shore by the mysterious power which had taken root like the Peepul tree, and spread itself along its borders, and into the very heart of its strength. There had long been
quarrels with traders-attempts at treaties of commerce. Establishments had been formed at Negrais and Bassein-had existed with varying success, though tolerated only on sufferance by the monarchs of Ava. At last, in the days of the great contest betwixt the powers of Pegu and Ava for mastery, the Europeans, having taken, or being supposed to have taken, part with his enemies, were barbarously massacred by Alompra the usurper. Henceforth a series of provocations and aggressions, outrages on our flag and our honour, invasions of our territory, extortionate exactions on trade, insolent answers to our complaints, kept the Anglo-Indian Empire in an unceasing state of remonstrance and angry relations with the Burmese. Mission followed mission; some were treated with indifference or neglect, some with direct insult; none had any effect. All these wrongs were met by us with long-suffering and forbearance, according to our account; and in this instance it was so. There is aggression enough on the national conscience, whether incited by temptation or necessity, but towards Burmah we doubtless forbore long and patiently, either from an over-estimate of its strength, or from an honest wish to obtain redress, and establish fair and amicable relations rather by negotiation than force. However, "complicated and repeated encroachments," and an apprehension for the safety of our frontier, drove us from our peaceful intents, and in 1824 war was declared. It ended in a peace disastrous to the Burmese, and led to the treaty of Yandabo, an event and name ever since hateful to them. The Peepul tree had begun to stretch its roots; Arracan and Tenasserim had passed to the stranger; they were no longer jewels in the crown of Ava. The two nations, also, had arrived at a more correct appreciation of their mutual strength. Thus again there was an interval of partial confidence and partial intercourse; but the madness and insolence of two successive tyrants, Tharawadi and the "Paganmen," raised the old grievances-led to the old collisions. Again there was war, and in 1852 Pegu was annexed. The Peepul tree was taking
its course, and Burmah was reft of the province which gave it command of the sea.
Our author thus sums up the consequences and results of the contact with the great Anglo-Indian power:"As with the Nepaulese and some other Indian powers, the empire of the Burmese princes had just expanded to the widest limits known in their history when it came into contact with British bayonets, and rapid collapse ensued. Thirty years have sufficed to strip them of dominious which had been the gradual acquisition of more than two centuries. Eighteen hundred and twenty-four saw the weak grandson of old Menlaragy ruling over a territory that extended old British district of Rungpoor to the great river of Cambodia eastward, and to the island of Junk-Cylon southward, embracing altogether an extreme width of 800 miles, an extreme length of 1200 miles, and a seaboard of equal extent. Eighteen hundred and fifty-four saw the Burmese confines reduced nearly as low as they had been in the centuries of
over Gowhati and the frontiers of the
decay that succeeded the fall of the Pagán dynasties, and without access to the sea except through many leagues of British territory."
It was the old story of the earthen and the brazen vase, so often illustrated in the world's history.
Thus stood matters when the mission in 1854 was undertaken. A king of milder character, and of more liberal intelligence, was on the throne; the officials around him had gained stern experience of British might; a mission of compliment had been sent to the Governor-General; and the time seemed fitting and good for confirming the intercourse and relations by a treaty. This was the ostensible purpose of the embassy, but the real object was evidently exploration and inquiry a desire to become more accurately acquainted with a country and a people so intimately connected with our government and our territory. Consequently the mission was composed of men capable of observation and research in all departments. There was our author, the secretary -the homme de plume; there was the geologist-the stone-breaker-an accomplished photographer, and an artist; the envoy himself being one who had studied diligently, and was
well learned in the problems presented by the Eastern nations.
From such a combination it wasto be expected that hereafter Burmah and its people would be better known and better understood.
The start is made from the frontier, and the mission is fairly launched on the Irawadi. To us there is nothing so beautiful and so interesting, even in description, as the panoramic effects of a voyage on a river: the changes are not too rapid to mar the completeness of each picture; and the succession of scenic elements falls harmoniously and softly on eye and mind, allowing them quietly to imbibe the beauty, the poesy, the blending of lights and shades, the mingling of man and his homes with Nature and her scenes. And then the gentle motion, the rippling of the waters, the gliding of the landscape-so tranquillising and so picturesque: all these we seem to feel as we follow in the track of the voyagers.
On and on sped the mission up and along the banks of the Irawadi; now passing by "a country low and undulating, now again a narrow champaign tract intervening between the river and the high land, having all that richness of aspect which an intermixture of palms with the larger forest trees bestows; and now villages, pleasant and cheerful places, generally with one or two dark monasteries raising their triple roofs above the mingled huts and foliage, and with dry-looking turfy hills behind, crowned with pagodas, and ascended by winding paths." The party was soon increased by a deputation of officials from the court, most grave and reverend seignors; and the procession, too, was swelled by an escort of war-boats, "immense canoes, with long sharp bows and high curving sterns, double banked, with twenty to thirty rowers on a side, the whole exterior of the hull and the oars being gilt; festoons of muslin and tinselled net hung from the high sterns, and a great white banner, bordered with silver, and blazoned rudely in the centre with the royal peacock, drooped gracefully over the curving bamboo ensignstaff, the point of which was generally decorated with a globe of col
oured glass or an inverted English decanter." These were outdone in picturesqueness by the native vessels, the craft of the Irawadi. Picturesque they look in illustration, and doubly so they must have been as they sailed onwards "before the wind, with their vast spreading wings and almost invisible hulls, and with the sunlight falling on their bellying sails, like a flight of colossal butterflies skimming the water." The construction of this craft was most peculiar. "The keel-piece, a single tree hollowed out;" the bow low, with beautiful hollow lines; "the stern rising high above the water; a paddle shipped for a rudder; a mast of two spars, bolted and lashed so that it could be let down or unshipped together, with ratlines running from one to the other, and forming a ladder." The rig was stranger still. "The yard is a bamboo, or a line of spliced bamboos, of enormous length, and, being perfectly flexible, is suspended from the mast-head by numerous guys or halyards, so as to curve upwards in an inverted bow. A rope runs along this, from which the huge mainsail is suspended, running on rings like a curtain outwards both ways from the mast." We have seen the boats of the Tagus, and wondered; but this must have been a greater marvel. On went the mission by day, staying by night at some town or village, where they were invariably recreated by a puppet-show and a regular dramatic performance, aided ever by a full Burmese orchestra. Without these no entertainment would be complete. They are the popular amusements of the people-the national ideas of recreation and representation. Dull and monotonous enough they appear to have been; but who shall say what is dull, what gay, what brilliant, what tasteful, what enjoyable, to other eyes? The mind, the age, the people, has each its own gauge of enjoyment; who shall dictate or prescribe for it? What has been received and recognised as the amusement of a nation must claim respect must have in it inherent points of attraction, though we perceive them not. We should vote the operas and cotillons and the witticisms of our forbears rather slow; and yet
how they revelled in them, and considered themselves rather fast fellows. So their "pues" were to the Burmans the very essence and spirit of fun and interest, however monotonous they might seem to strangers. "What fools those English are," said the Sultan Mahmoud when witnessing a ball at the Embassy, "to be twisting and turning about and perspiring in that manner. If we wish to enjoy dancing, we make our slaves do it"-and look on. So much for the national estimate of pleasure. A "pues" might to a Burman be a richer treat than an opera which concentrated all the power of the Marios, and the Grisis, and the Piccolominis, and all the genius of the great Maestri; and to us, as the recreation of a people, it is an illustration of the feelings and phases of human nature, which we cannot but regard with interest, which we could not overlook in our estimate of the character of a race. The thing which stirs his heart to pleasure or enjoyment is ever a key to the solution of the great problem, man. Arts and sciences, institutions and governments, give him his rank in the classes of civilisation, but in the sources and objects of his joy and recreation we shall perhaps find a truer index to his inner nature.
Thus our author describes the popular entertainment, which dur ing their journey was repeated night after night for the amusement of the members of the mission:
"The stage of the Burmese theatre is the ground, and generally spread with
mats. On one, two, or three sides are raised bamboo platforms for the more in, and squat upon the ground in all vadistinguished spectators; the plebs crowd cant places. In the middle of the stage arena, stuck in the ground, or lashed to one of the poles supporting the roof, is always a small tree, or rather a large branch of a tree, which, like the altar on a Greek stage, forms a sort of centre to the action. I never could learn the real
meaning of this tree. The answer usually was, that it was there in case a scene in a garden or forest should occur. But there is no other attempt at the representation of scenic locality; and I have a very strong impression that this tree has had some other meaning and origin, now probably forgotten. The foot-lights
generally consisted of several earthen pots full of petroleum, or of cotton seeds soaked in petroleum, which stood on the ground, blazing and flaring round the symbolic tree, and were occasionally replenished with a ladle-ful of oil by one of the performers. On one side or both was the orchestra, and near it generally stood a sort of bamboo horse or stand, on which were suspended a variety of grotesque masks. The property-chest of the company occupied another side of the stage, and constantly did duty as a throne for the royal personages who figure so abundantly in their plays.
Indeed, kings, princes, princesses, and their ministers and courtiers, are the usual dramatic characters. As to the plot, we usually found it very difficult to obtain the slightest idea of it. A young prince was almost always there as hero, and he as constantly had a clownish servant, a sort of Shakespearian Lance, half fool, half wit, who did the comic business with immense success among the native audience, as their rattling and unanimous peals of laughter proved. It was in this character only that anything to be called acting was to be seen, and that was often highly humorous and appreciable even without understanding the dialogue. Then there was always a princess whom the prince was in love with. The interminable prolixity of dialogue was beyond all conception and endurance. What came of it all we could not tell. I doubt if any one could, for with the usual rate at which the action advances, it must have taken several weeks to arrive at a denouement.
"Much of the dialogue was always in singing; and in those parts the attitudes, actions, and sustained wailings, had a savour of the Italian opera, which was intensely comical at first. Dancing by
both male and female characters was
often interspersed or combined with the
action. The female characters in the
towns more remote from the capital were often personated by boys, but so naturally that we were indisposed at first to credit it.
"The puppet-play seemed to be even more popular among the Burmese than the live drama. For these little performers an elevated stage of bamboos and mats is provided, generally some thirty feet long. This affords room for a transfer of the scene of action; and very commonly one end of the stage is furnished with a throne to represent the court, whilst the other had two or three little branches to represent the forest. The style of the play acted by these
marionettes seemed to us very similar to that of the large actors, and was equally prolix in its dialogue and operatic episodes. But I fancied that more often in the former there was a tendency to the supernatural, to the introduction of enchanted princesses, dragons, bats, and flying chariots, probably from the greater facility of producing the necessary effects on a small scale. Some of the puppetplays, too, were 'mysteries' founded on the history of Guatama, which possibly it would not have been admissible for living actors to perform.
"The puppets were from ten to fifteen inches high, and were rather skilfully manipulated. Not seldom, however, they got entangled, and then a large brown arm of the Deus ex machina was seen descending from the dramatic welkin to dissolve the nodus; or a pair of huge legs, striding across the stage with a view to the adjustment of the foot-lights, perfectly realised Gulliver and Lilliput.”
Each performance was attended by a full Burmese orchestra. The principal instruments were peculiar. One, called the pattshaing, consisted of a circular tub-like frame, formed of separate wooden staves, fitting by tenons into a hoop, and having some eighteen or twenty drums or tomtoms suspended vertically round the interior. The performer sits squatted in the middle, and plays with the natural plectra of his fingers and palms. This is aided by various other instruments-clarionets with broad brass mouths, cymbals, clappers of split bamboo, and sometimes a large tom-tom. There were also concert instruments, stringed harps and harin shape, though not very original in monicons, curious and strange enough design, and all displaying a very fair skill and advance in the knowledge of instrumental harmony.
The drama here could not be accepted as a representation or reflex of the social life of the people; and as all the action and the characters were sought in higher or imaginary spheres, it seems evident that their own lives and histories did not furnish incidents or tableaus sufficiently striking or interesting. This, however, indicates a very advanced stage, when men and women will sit to listen, to see, to weep, or to laugh, over the events of common life. It shows that a people
have attained a life of their own, and one which has more vivid action and interest for them than the fictions of state or fancy-one which they can accept as a drama furnishing scenes and incidents which they can delight to see exhibited in pathos or caricature. The Burman, rising from his reed hut and monotonous existence, sought his excitement, his romance, in the stories of kings and princes, and in the ideal world of gods and Náts. In thus placing his scenes in unknown spheres, and in selecting his heroes from a class of beings supernaturally or socially above or beyond him, he is not dissimilar to nations more elevated in the scale of civilisation. Neither is the prolixity of dialogue, which our author complains so much of, peculiar to him. What audience nowadays would not yawn over the recitation of a Greek chorus, or sleep or groan over the classic speeches in Cato? The national drama is ever held especially to be an index to the moral status of a people. One authority pronounces the Burmese to be full of abominable conceptions; and again another, and a very high one too, Major Phayre, the envoy, strongly protests against such a view, and declares that he never, in the Burmese plays, saw anything approaching to indecency, except when there was a sprinkling of Europeans, and believes that the indecent actions were then introduced in supposed conformity to the tastes of their visitors. What a rebuke to civilisation! Does not this national recreation, however this picture of crowds sitting hour after hour, day after day, to listen to prolix dialogue, and wait for feeble denouements, prepare us to hear afterwards of a people inert and apathetic, indifferent to the present, hopeless of the future, careless and despairing of their own lot, and delighting rather in the pleasures of the imagination and the sense, than in the actual and active enjoyments of life? When the recreations of a race lack the robustness and vigour of personal action, we can scarcely ever hope to find in their history or their career the energy, the independence, or the character which leads to the development of a great or national destiny.
On speeds the mission along the river, stopping at the different towns and villages to see plays, receive deputations, and make excursions to oil-wells, until it reaches a chief and interesting point in the journey, the ancient city of Pagan, whose ruins are the vestiges of the past of Burmah. The past of a people who bear no promise of a future is a sacred record, and they who preserve or publish it, do a faithful and honest part toward the elucidation of the great problem, the history of man. This the mission did for us. The past of Burmah, as it exists, and is written in the works and remains of art, has been vividly presented and illustrated; so that, though temple and pagoda may crumble and decay, the lessons they convey, the state of civilisation they represent, and the knowledge which can be culled from the impress man leaves on his works, will be ever open to the inquiry of philosophy or the comparisons of
Here, at Pagan, twenty-one kings. reigned in succession; here Buddhism was established as the religion of the country; and here was enacted the greatest and most prosperous period of Burmese history. Magnificent ruins, extending over a space of eight miles, exhibiting all kinds and forms of temple architecture, and enclosed by a ditch and mound, and large masses of ruined brickwork-all attest a high stage of civilisation, art, wealth, and grandeur, though they have no record, no tradition of the glory or the greatness of the kings who reigned here for so many centuries. They are records of man rather than of dynasties. It was a vast quarry of architectural research and analogy; it was a chapter in the history of man, and such chapters, however short or obscure, are ever important pages in the great book.
Here were found all the varied expressions of the religion of Buddhism, embodied in the beautiful and elaborate forms of Eastern art. bell-shaped pyramid of dead brickwork, in all its varieties; the same raised over a square or octagonal cell, containing an image of the Buddha the bluff knob-like dome of the Ceylon Dagobas; the fantastic Bo-phya, or pumpkin pagoda, which seemed