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FOR JUNÉ, 1826.
Art. I. 1. The Mission to Siam, and Hué, the Capital of Cochin
China, in the Years 1821-2. From the Journal of the late George Finlayson, Esq. Assistant Surgeon of H. M. 8th Light Dragoons, Surgeon and Naturalist to the Mission. With a Memoir of the Author, by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, F.R.S. 8vo. pp. xxxii.
428. Price 15s. London. 1826. 2. Some Considerations on the Policy of the Government of India,
more especially in Reference to the Invasion of Burmah. By Lieut
Col. M. Stewart, F.R.S.E. &c. 8vo. pp. 98. Edinburgh. 1826. 3. An Account of the American Baptist Mission to the Burman Em
pire : in a Series of Letters, addressed to a Gentleman in London.
By Ann H. Judson. 8vo. pp. 334. London. A part of the ancient dominions of Siam are, by the recent
treaty with the humbled Birmans, definitively annexed to the British empire, it is high time that we should know a little more about our fellow-subjects and neighbours on the other side of the Ganges. Mr. Finlayson's volume appears at a very seasonable moment; and although that portion of it which relates to Siam does not materially add to the information of which we were in previous possession, it will be found highly amusing and interesting. It affords occasion for sincere gret, that the amiable Author did not survive to reap the credit and benefit of his labours.
Siam, as our readers cannot require to be informed, occupies the great central valley of that immense region lying between the Gulf of Bengal and the Chinese Sea, which geographers have been accustomed to call Exterior or Ultra-Gangetic India, but which may with more propriety be styled, Indo-China. Exclusive of the Malayan peninsula, this vast territory, extending over more than sixteen parallels of latitude and eighteen degrees of longitude, was, till of late, chiefly divided between three great powers,—the Birman empire, the kingdom of Siam, VOL. XXV. N.S.
and the empire of Cochin China or Anam. Besides these, there are understood to be some petty kingdoms and independent mountain tribes in the interior; but these three shared between them the whole of the maritime region, and may be considered as the only grand political divisions of the country The Birman empire, consisting originally of the Ava of our old geographers, had swallowed up Pegu, part of Siam, the whole of Arracan, and was extending itself over the valley of the Burrampooter; it had, in fact, become our close neighbour and a very haughty and troublesome one. Whatever may be thought of the policy or necessity of the late war, it is quite clear that it originated in unprovoked aggression on the part of the Birmans. As far back as 1818, it appears that their monarch had lent himself to the formidable Mahratta confederacy, which had for its object to subvert our Indian empire. The promptitude with which that danger was met and averted, and the war successfully terminated, alone prevented a tremendous inroad on our eastern frontier. In 1822, under pretence of reclaiming some Assamese emigrants, a considerable Birman force crossed the line of the British territory; but they were soon compelled to retire, and the matter was for the time amicably arranged. In September of the following year, however, a body of their troops took forcible possession of the island of Shapuree, in the river Naaf, while another body advanced into Cachar, then under British protection, and, when opposed by British detachments, disputed the ground with a bravery and obstinacy hitherto unknown in any of the native troops which our Indian armies have had to contend with. At one time, entering the British province of Chittagong, they had advanced so far as to excite the highest alarm at the capital of the Bengal Presidency, having surrounded and routed the detachment sent to oppose their progress. And not in this quarter only, but in the Southern provinces, and throughout the border of this extensive dominion, the Birmans had provided formidable means both of defence and of aggression, and every where fought with the most determined bravery.
An opinion has extensively prevailed in this country, that hostilities might have been prevented by negotiation. We confess that, looking at the case with all the light we at present possess, we cannot see the reasonableness of such an opinion. Lovers of peace as we are, and warmly as we should be disposed to deprecate any warlike projects that had for their object the further extension of our overgrown empire in the East, we cannot for a moment imagine that any alternative was left but an appeal to the sword. The Birmans are a restless military people; and ever since the days of Alom-praw, the founder of the reigning dynasty, their monarchs have steadily and unintermittingly pursued a system of aggressive warfare and encroachment. For the past seventy years, they have been engaged in almost perpetual' wars with Siam; but it is only within the past five or six years that they have been pushing their frontier into Assam and Cassay, so as immediately to border on the British territory. Their plans of aggression in the late war had evidently been long matured ; and as they had nothing to require or to gain by negotiation, it is not very likely that they would have been induced by it to retract or concede, or that pacific overtures would have been viewed in any other light than as a confession or demonstration of fear and weakness. The obstinate pertinacity with which the war has been maintained by the Court of Ava, convinces us that that haughty power would have accepted of peace in no other attitude than that of a defeated and humbled foe. The Birmans are a fine and, in many respects, an interesting people; far more so than the degraded Hindoos; but their government is a ruthless despotism. Their wars have been wars of extermination, and of the spirit of their laws, it will be sufficient to give one practical illustration. Desertion or misconduct on the part of a conscript, invariably proves the destruction of all his family, who are put into a straw hut, and burned alive! There is, perhaps, no country in the
world,' remarks the Rev. G. H. Hough, (one of the American missionaries long resident at Rangoon, in which the sway of • despotism has been less controlled by any correct feeling or * sentiment, or which exhibits a stronger specimen of its inju‘rious effects upon the physical and moral powers of mankind, • than the Birman dominions... ... The petty acts of tyranny * practised by the subordinate civil officers, åre a terror to the public, and create between man and man that jealousy and suspicion which destroy confidence, and annihilate the best feelings of humanity.'* The most respectable part of the
ng army, if such it may be called, consists of the marines who man the war-boats; and these, Colonel Francklin says, • live chiefly by rapine, and are in a constant state of hostility
against the rest of the people, which makes them audacious ' and prompt to execute any orders, however cruel or violent.' • A Birman,' he adds is seldom any thing else than a govern' ment servant, a soldier, boatman, husbandman, or labourer.'+ Yet, 'could their public character be formed in a different ·mould from that in which their system of government has * cast it,' Mr. Hough admits that they would be by no means • destitute of those elementary principles which combine to • form the happiness of civilised society. Indeed, it is impossible to rise from the perusal of Mrs. Judson's Letters, without conceiving a high esteem for many of the individuals to whom they introduce us, or without very favourable impressions respecting some features of the national character. Even the personal character of the monarch does not seem to be unamiable. But history supplies abundant proofs that this affords no security against the abuse of power under a system of military despotism. The late Emperor of France was certainly, in domestic life, an amiable and even a humane man. And so was our Charles the Second.
* Friend of India, No. xii.
† Asiat. Journal, vol. xix. p. 8.
The Birman.empire, like that of Napoleon, was a heterogeneous aggregate of provinces and kingdoms, held together by no common tie but that of conquest. The Peguans were never reconciled to the yoke. The peaceful Carayns, an agricultural tribe, have never mixed with their masters. The Siamese cherish an inextinguishable hatred to the Birmans, from whom they differ as widely as the Dutch do from the French. The Arracanese or Mughs, the Cassayers, and the Assamese of the other conquered districts, whatever affinity they may bear to the Birmans in filiation or language, are still equally distinct, and can regard the Birmans in no other light than as enemies and oppressors. The dismemberment of the empire which has been effected by the late treaty of peace, only reduces the Birmans to their original and natural limits, leaving them in possession of the whole course and delta of the Irrawaddy or Ava river, but excluding them from the valley of the Burrampooter, from Cachar and Arracan, from the Zeet-taung river, and the eastern coast of the Gulf of Martaban.
Lieut. Col. Stewart, in his pamphlet, published before intelligence had been received of the successful termination of the contest, deprecated such a dismemberment of the empire, as tending to weaken the British frontier, by destroying an efficient government as the neighbouring power, and one capable of being made responsible for the acts of its subjects, -as rendering necessary an extension of the system of residencies, --and as obstructing the improvement of society, which can be promoted only in large communities. This last objection appears to us the most unreasonable of the three. The consolidation of small independent states into large communities by conquest, so far from advancing the improvement of society, has almost uniformly been attended by a frightful depopulation, and by a positive deterioration in the condition and character of the people. Spain under the Emperor Charles the Fifth,