Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

spiral temple; these temples, rising irregularly one above another to the top of the mountain, form a beautiful assemblage of objects, the effect of which is increased by their being carefully whitewashed, and kept in repair. As we sailed near the opposite shore, the sun shone full upon the hill, and its reflected rays displayed the scenery to the highest advantage ; in addition to this, the swollen state of the river gave to the waters the semblance of a vast lake, interspersed with islands, in which the foundations of Ummerapoora seemed to be immersed. Numberless boats were passing up and down, and the houses on the western, or rather southern shore, appeared, from their uninterrupted succession, to be a continued town, or suburbs of a city.

"At 12 o'clock we came to the mouth of the channel that communicates with the lake of Tounzemahn, through which it receives its waters from the river. The situation of Ummerapoora is fine: the southern face of the fort is washed, during the rainy season, by the waves of the lake, and the houses of the city and suburbs extend along the bank as far as the extreme point of land. Across the lake, and opposite to the fort, stands the small village of Tounzemahn, near which, in a tail grove of mango, palmyra, and cocoa-nut trees, a dwelling was prepared for the British deputation. On entering the lake, the number of boats that were moored, as in a harbour, to avoid the influence of the sweeping flood, the singularity of their construction, the height of the waters, which threaten inundation to the whole city, and the amphitheatre of lofty hills that nearly surrounded us, altogether presented a novel scene, exceedingly interesting to a stranger.

We rowed towards the grove, whilst the greater part of the fleet went to the opposite side: on reaching the bank, I perceived a war-boat belonging to the maywoon of Pegu, who, I understood, was at the grove waiting our arrival. I was received on landing by Baba-Sheen, and some inferior officers; they accompanied me to the house, which was situated about 300 yards from the brink of the lake, overshadowed by lofty trees, that completely defended it from the meridian sun. When we came to the entrance of

the virando, or balcony, the maywoon of Pegu, the governor of Bamoo, a province bordering on China, and the woondock (second counsellor of state), welcomed me to the capital. Being seated on carpets spread along the floor, the conversation turned on general topics, and particularly on European geography, a subject on which the governor of Bamoo appeared very desirous of information. After some time, the woondock addressing himself to me, said, that his Birman majesty had been absent a few months, at a country residence named Meengoung, where he was erecting a magnificent temple to their divinity Gaudma, but was expected to return soon to Ummerapoora ; that, in the mean time, instructions had been given to his ministers to provide every thing requisite for the accommodation of the English gentlemen, and that Baba-Sheen was commanded to reside near us, in order to supply our wants, and communicate our wishes : - to this the maywoon of Pegu added, that the two inferior serees, or provincial under secretaries, who had accompanied us from Rangoon, were likewise directed to attend to our orders, and being persons to whom we were accustomed, would probably be more agreeable to us than entire strangers.

• These polite and hospitable attentions were received and acknowledged by me with real satisfaction ; nor was it at all diminished by the freedom with which the woondock informed me, that it was contrary to the etiquette of the Birman court, for a public minister from a foreign nation to go abroad before his first audience. He therefore hoped I would not cross the lake in person, or suffer any of my people to do so, until the ceremonials were past; but as our customs differed from theirs, and the Europeans habituated themselves to take excrcise, I was at full liberty to walk or ride in the country, or over the plains that lay between our dwelling and the hills, as far as I thought proper; recommending me at the same time, not to go to any great distance, as it would be considered by the common people in the light of a derogation from my consequence. I thanked him for his counsel, which was delivered with many expressions of civility, and readily acquiesced in what he assured me was an established custom."

Major Symes's suite was plentifully supplied with provisions, Indeed, the Birmans, in this respect, behaved with great munificence. Here our author was amused by observing the solemn and affected manners of the persons that composed a Chinese deputation, from the province of Yunan, and the industry of the native Cassavers that inhabit the neighbourhood of the capital. They are,' says he, . farmers and gardeners, who cultivate pulse, greens, onions, and such vegetables as Birmans use; these articles they transport at an early hour across the lake to the city, where they retail them in the market, and bring home the produce at night; this business is mostly performed by females; one man, commonly a person in years, accompanies each boat, in which, standing erect, he acts as steersman, whilst the women, usually from 10 to 14 in number, sitting with their legs across, 'row short oars, or use paddles, according to the size of the vessel: when they set out in a morning, they proceed in silence, but returning at night, they join in jocund chorus, and time the stroke of their oars to the bars of their song. We were serenaded every evening from dusk till 10 o'clock by successive parties of these joyous females, whose strains, though unpolished, were always melodious and pleasing. The Birmans, both men and women, are fond of singing whilst at work; it lightens their labour: " song sweetens toil, how rude soe'er the sound." Unfortunately our music was not confined to these passing chantresses; there were other performers, less agrecable, nearer to us. Our neighbours, the deputies from China, unluckily for the repose of those from Britain, happened to be amatures in their way, and had amongst their dependents a select band of musicians, such as I certainly had never heard equalled; it is impossible to describe the horrible noises that issued from gongs, drums, cymbals, an instrument with two strings, which may be called a fiddle, and something like a clarionet, that sent forth a sound more grating to the ear than all the rest. their constant nocturnal amusement, which never ended before midnight, and was not once remitted, till the principal personage of the embassy became so indisposed, that he could endure it no longer. Whilst he lingered we enjoyed

This was

tranquillity, but after his decease the concert recommenced, and continued, to our great annoyance, till they quitted the grove to return to their native country.

• In a few days the return of the king was announced by the discharge of rockets, and by the general bustle that so important an event caused among all classes of people: we saw nothing of the display, which we understood, on this occasion, was not at all pompous.

• The period of our arrival occurred at a juncture that supplied the Birman court with a plausible excuse for postponing the consideration of public business, and delaying my formal reception, as well as the delivery of the letter from the governor-general to the king. It so happened that in the ensying month there was to be an eclipse of the moon, an operation of nature which they ascribe to the interference of a malignant demon.

On such an occasion affairs of state, and all important matters of business, that will admit of procrastination, are put off to the following month. The astrologers were assembled to consult on the first fortunate day after the lapse of that inauspicious moon, when they discovered that the 17th of the month Touzelien, corresponding with the 30th of August, was the earliest that would occur, and that day was accordingly appointed for the public reception of the English embassy.'

But this delay was occasioned as much by caution and policy as superstition. However, Mr. Wood was permitted to make his astronomical observations, and the Bengal draughtsman acquired great reputation by his botanical drawings. The king was pleased to desire a specimen of his skill, and sent over a painting on glass, executed by a Siamese artist in his own service, signifying his royal will that it should be copied upon paper. This picture, which was a tolerable performance, represented the method of catching wild elephants in the forests. The hunters, mounted on tame elephants that are trained to the business, by lying flat on their backs, introduce themselves unnoticed into a wild herd, and take an opportunity to cast a running noose in the track of one that is meant to be secured. The other end of the rope is fastened

to the body of the tame elephant, who immediately throws the wild one down; a battle then ensues, in which the trained elephant, being assisted by its associates, soon overpowers the inhabitant of the woods, who is deserted by all the others; it is afterwards borne away a prisoner, fast bound to two of its captors, whilst another moves on at its head, and a fourth urges it behind. In a few weeks, by proper discipline, the animal becomes docile, and submits to its fate. Those that are taken in this manner are for the most part females. Male elephants are usually enticed by the blandishments of females, trained for the purpose, into an inclosure or keddah, from whence they cannot extricate themselves, and are easily secured.

The English embassy during this time enjoyed good health, while a general sickness prevailed amongst the Chinese. The governor of Bamoo,' says major Symes, ' explained the matter very sensibly, by observing, that the sickness under which they alone laboured, entirely originated in their own indolence, and in the pernicious diet they used. The Chinese are said to be nationally great lovers of swine's Aesh, and these personages possessed all the partiality of their country for that unclean animal; they had erected a pigsty within the inclosure of their dwelling, where they fed pork for their own table, and, as a matter of compliment, sometimes sent a joint of meat to me; but though it seemed to be good, we could not bring ourselves to use it. In addition to the ill effects of such gross food, they took no exercise, and drank immoderately of shouchow, a fiery and deleterious spirit. The governor of Bamoo, who accounted for the cause of their ailment, condemned their sensuality, which, he said, he had in vain endeavoured to correct by advice and persuasion.

• On the 29th of August, the day preceding that of our formal introduction, I received a message, desiring to know what number of attendants I meant to take with me, and to specify the rauk they bore, particularly that of the pundit, the monshee, and the painter. I was at the same time acquainted, that it was not customary to aclmit armed men into the palace, a form to which I readily assented. Late in

« ForrigeFortsæt »