CHAPTER V. First Six Month in Siam

July to December,1835.

“Run, Christian Racer, Run!
For spent is now the day;
Thy work will soon be done,
Thy prize will soon be won,
Pursue thy way.”

We have now followed Mrs. Bradley to the field of labor in Bangkok, where she arrived July 18, 1835, and see her engaged as the wife of a devoted missionary; relieving the cares of her husband by attending to the financial concerns of the family; rapidly acquiring a practical knowledge of a strange language; learning to deal with those who lose no opportunity of defrauding in price, quality, or quantity; assisting her husband two hours daily in the medical dispensary, making out and administering his prescriptions–not forgetting the soul while she attends to the wants of the body. We see her faithfully dispensing Christian knowledge and Christian principles, and adopting into her family heathen children, one of them maintained by the Sunday-school Missionary Society of her native village. We also find her, as soon as she has obtained a competent knowledge of the language, preparing religious tracts, a little volume of hymns, a geography, grammar, and arithmetic, and a dictionary of the Siamese language–labors for which she as peculiarly fitted by her thorough and accurate scholarship.

About this time she wrote from Bangkok to an association of young ladies of which she had been a member.

“My dear sisters—-It is Friday afternoon, and I can readily imagine that the ‘Graham Association’ meets today. Could my spirit leave the body, it might fly across the intervening continents and oceans, and meet with you once more. Whenever I think of your circle I ask myself, Could I meet those dear sisters again, should I spent my time in the same frivolous manner I formerly did? I fear I should only be a leader in that levity which has so often caused me to wander in darkness and see no light.

“In thinking of your meetings and the privileges I enjoyed when with you, I have been led to contrast it with an essemblage of Siamese ladies on the twenty-sixth of October, whose professed object was to “tum boon”–do good. For several preceding days the king and nobles had visited the watts, and carried presents to the priests. It is the custom in Siam to ‘do good’ to the priests of Boodh only. About nine A.M. the sound of music announced that there was a procession of boats, and drew us out into the veranda to see it. The river appeared to be covered with boats moving down without any order, and manned with women most gaily dressed. Indeed, it was a collection of the brightest colors, and the greatest curiosity I have seen in Siam. Each boat carried a lady of rank, and her maidens who rowed were generally dressed in uniform. In some cases this was red, and in some white; some had blue jackets and yellow scarfs, some wore yellow and red, and some green and yellow. What gave them most singular appearance, was the portion of the scarf covering the head and face, so that only the eyes could be seen. I can give you no idea of the scene as it appeared while the boats were rapidly passing down the little patch of the river which can be discerned from our house. They were carrying presents to the priests. I do not know how they managed the affair, for these priests are forbidden to look at a woman, nor may they take anything from her hand. Yet you may see hundreds of them every morning holding their rice-pots, while some female is filling them with generous ladles of rice; and if she has a choice bundle of sere leaf for him to chew, he may cover his hand with his robe and receive it. It must have been a great holiday to these noble ladies, for they are not allowed to be seen abroad; yet they often steal out under the cover of darkness.

“The wife of Coon Sit, one of the highest princes of the kingdom, came to visit me in the evening after this parade. Her dress consisted of a pahmung (cloth for the loins) of ordinary calico, a Burman Jacket of crimson crepe, and a scarlet scarf of the same material; over this was thrown a splendid shawl of lead-colored damask. O when will these female be clothed with the robe of Christ’s righteousness?

Jan. 22. “I was interrupted in my writing on Friday by a summons from the ex-queen to Dr. Bradley and myself to visit her. I have heard much of this woman, who is the terror of all about her. She was the favorite wife of the late king, and her eldest son was the lawful heir to the throne. The queen resides with this son, Chow Fah Noi (little lord of heaven) in the palace of the old king. We had been at the palace some time before we were admitted into the presence of the queen. The prince amused us in the meantime by playing upon a Laos organ. This instrument is composed of fourteen bamboo pipes, the longest ten feet in length, the tone sweet and plaintive. As he took it he called a slave, who came creeping from the opposite side of the room and seated himself at the feet of his master. Chow Fah first tried his chords, then played a symphony, and his slave sung in a very clear voice to his accompaniment. The queen’s apartments are within the same wall, but a distinct building. We were ushered into a kind of hall neatly matted, and with a marble throne on one side. Her majesty had not entered, and in the meantime a woman, who we have since heard is a princess, asked for medical advice. While Dr. Bradley was thus engaged, our conductor made a sign to me that the queen had entered. I immediately rose to approach her. The attendants called out with one accord that I must prostrate myself and creep. This I refused to do, saying that such was not our custom, and I walked up to the throne, where her majesty sat frowning upon me as if she would look me into that attitude which all who approach her mast assume. I inquired after her health, but she answered, in a not very complacent manner, that she was very ill. I proceeded to ask her about her complaints, when she suddenly interrupted me by saying, “I want to see the doctor.” He was received graciously than myself. After telling him that she was i11, and could not eat, she asked him what ailed her. Siamese physicians, 1ike most other quacks, pretend to tell what ails a person by looking at him, and how long it will take to cure him if curable, or how long before he will die. About this time Chow Fah entered, and acted as interpreter. Dr. Bradley said that she had a little rheumatism. She wished to be told how long she would live. The doctor told her there was nothing dangerous in her disease, but that no one, not even Siamese physicians, could assure her that she would not die very soon. Oh, how we longed to show her the way of life then; but our limited knowledge prevented such an attempt, nor would her son have dared to deliver her such a message. Finally she began to make some inquiries of me, and among the rest if America was a happy land. I replied, ‘Yes; every person thinks his own land is very happy.’ ‘Then why did you come here?’ was her pertinent inquiry. It was not in our power to reply in Siamese to this question as we wished, and we gave our answer through Chow Fah; but for some reason, probably fear, he gave her but a very little of it. She wished to know how much we paid for our passages on hearing; she exclaimed that we had money in abundance. It is the general opinion of this people that we must be very rich, because we have clothes, tables, chairs, dishes, books, and teachers, all quite useless articles in their estimation. To eat rice, and chew betel nut, and ‘tum plow’–do nothing–constitute their three requisites to happiness in this world. When we left her majesty, we walked out of the hall arm in arm, upon which she uttered a loud exclamation of surprise, in which she was joined by all her attendants, amounting to two hundred or more, who have crept to convenient places for gratifying their curiosity, lay with their heads Just raised from the floor. I was particularly stuck with the appearance of Chow Fah while with his mother. He is a frank, noble person, and apparently free from that pride which is to be observed in all the higher classes of Siamese. I should hardly have known him as he knelt on the steps of his mother’s throne, and did not dare to look her in the face for a single moment. The old woman was evidently troubled that he was not elevated above us, and finally made a sign for him to sit with her, but he did not comply. Her case has been much upon my mind since that visit. How little probability that her proud heart will ever be made to bow at the foot of the cross. She is seventy years of age, and not a native of Siam would dare to speak to her of the way of life, even if he were acquainted with it. The missionaries cannot have access to her oftener than she chooses to call them. It is the first time she has been seen by any of them, and may be the last.

“I intended to give you some account of the females of the lower classes of Siam. I have time now only to assure you that in common with other heathen women, they are wretched, ignorant and debased, that they need your prayers, your sympathies, your exertions in their behalf. Siam considered by all the missionaries on the ground as affording peculiar facilities for female influence. The females row the boats and do all the business, and or course you meet them at every turn. Let me request a special interest in your prayers, that I may be aided in acquiring the language, and prospered in my attempts to do something for this people; but above all, that I may walk close with God. The missionary needs peculiar grace to perform his duties.

“Your friend and sister,
“E. R. Bradley.”

July 28, 1835, Mrs. Bradley writes, “Early this morning, Dr.Bradley was sent for by some government-men to go and see a number of sick persons. A nephew of the king returned with him, and seemed very curious about everything he saw. It seems that the king had had fifty persons collected in a place built for a shelter for his war-boats. They were afflicted with cholera, sma11-pox, and other diseases, and were lying upon the ground almost or quite naked, without food or any person to do the least thing for them. Upon these persons, with these disadvantages, he was requested to try his skill. It he could cure them, perhaps the king would built a hospital. It he did not, it was no matter, for they were poor persons. He told those who went with him that it was in vain to try to do anything under those circumstances. They must have mats to lie upon, clothing, food, and persons to attend upon them. The reply was, ‘They are poor men; how can they have these things?’ He gave them medicine, but with little hope that it would be of any use. When he asked these rulers for a little plantain to administer the medicine in, the reply as before was, “They are poor men, and cannot get plantain.’ This is a specimen of the tender mercy of the heathen. When will they low something of the love or their fellow-creatures inculcated in the gospel?

July 30. “The shower yesterday so revived the frogs that they held concert last night. There is a little frog with a bag upon its head, which carries a powerful bass; and another kind keep up a thrill treble; without the lease regard to chord or discord. The crickets, fearing that they shall not be heard, raised their notes higher and louder, and all together make such a din that you cannot hear others talk, and can hardly take cognizance of your own thoughts.

Aug. 12. “Chow Fah has visited us again this evening. Dr.Bradley led in our devotions, as if he were not present. We know not what effect this will have upon his mind. He went out and lighted his cigar in time of worship. He is the lawful heir to the crown, and will probably succeed to the throne. He is very fond of Europeans and their customs.

Aug. 17. “Dr. Bradley went to visit one of the king’s sons today. Their fowl was carved by the long finger nails or the slaves. Aug. 25. “We are thronged with people continually, looking upon us and our strange customs with wonder and astonishment. When we ring the bell for any meal, there is a general rush for the dining-room door, and they look with great curiosity upon what and how we eat. What an opportunity this would be to preach the gospel to them, if we understood their language. It is certainly an inducement to pray earnestly for them, when they are standing and gazing upon our devotions.

Aug. 29. “Our teacher has brought his little boy two days, and seems willing I should make effort to detain him. Have been down the river this evening with Mrs. Robinson. Saw some gilded watts, and the house of a Chinaman, said to be the richest person in Bangkok.

“During the past week the people have crowded around us, impelled by a curiosity which seemed insatiable. They appear to have nothing to do, nor any desire to do anything. The dress of the female differs in nothing from that of the males. The former generally have a cloth thrown over the shoulders, but it is worn with little regard to modesty. A great company of the priests have visited us; O that they might become ‘obedient to the faith.’

Aug. 31. “Two fine Chinese boys have been here today, and express a willingness to come and reside with us, and learn the business of an apothecary. I do hope they may be obtained, and made not only useful in this world, but heirs of glory.

Sept. 7. “It seems that we might live here in quietness if we would do nothing; but it is against the rule which custom imposes, to do good every day, and therefore missionaries are transgressing custom rather than law. The reason of this custom is the fear that a person will get more merit than the nobleman. Monthly concert in the evening. I cannot but feel that the concerts in this part of the world, being the first in the order of time as the earth revolves, affected those in other parts. It has been a favorite idea with mw, and was mentioned tonight, that from this and the adjacent kingdoms will begin that tide of prayer which will flood the whole world. Particular reference was had to this in the last prayer, the burden of which was for a spirit of prayer in the churches.

Sept. 25. “Have been seriously considering the question, whether I had better study Chinese. My husband will probably commence in January; shall I commence with him, or shall I not? It is a serious question, and one which I feel must be decided by prayer. True, we must weigh the arguments, but where shall we find wisdom to decide which are the most weighty, if the Lord do not give it?

Sept. 21. “Dined at Mr. Hunter’s. He is an English merchant. Yesterday was the anniversary of his birth, and it being the Sabbath he gives his birthday dinner today. A curious assemblage. At Mr. Hunter’s right hand sat the Judge, whom the gentlemen visited the other evening. He seemed to doubt the expediency of taking this seat, as Mrs. Jones occupied the next one. He had never eaten with a female, it was not Siamese custom. He drew his seat as far as possible from her, and took it. At Mr. Hunter’s left sat the general of all his majesty’s forces in Siam, not dressed in military style, but with a that he see the vanity of idolatory, but dares not forsake it. He despises his countrymen, but cannot flee away. The Lord go with my husband and myself.

Nov. 2. “I am to have two little girls who have been with Mrs. Jones. I am glad, though this will throw much responsibility upon me. I trust it will increase in me a spirit of prayer.

Nov. 5. “A little girl has benn given me this morning; she is the daughter of a Chinaman, who died when she was a very little child. Her mother married again, and gave this child to the daughter of a Bombay man, who now lives in our compound. Seeing the two children here yesterday, she came early this morning to offer me this one. I do believe the Lord put it into her heart, for it is probable she might have sold her for a sum of money. I know not how to express my feelings on this occasion. Oh that I may be suitably humbled in view of my unworthiness of such a trust.

“The daughter of a nobleman, the only child of her father and he a widower, has been here frequently of late, to have her foot healed of a bad ulcer for several years, and has lost one toe. Her foot is improving, also her general health which had been impaired by this wasting disease. She exhibits many marks of talent. I have invited her to spend the day with me, and she equals any expectations I had formed of her. She is too old, yet if she wishes to remain with me and learn, can I refuse?

Nov. 8. Sabbath. “My dear husband seems this morning to be enjoying a foretaste of his heavenly rest. O that I might no longer be as a weight upon him, but ‘run up the shining way’ with him. Was distressed this morning to know how to have the children spend the day. I cannot converse with them in their own tongue, nor can I permit them their usual employments. I studied upon the subject till I succeeded in asking them a few questions respecting God’s works and goodness in giving us our senses, and told them a few words about Jesus. The work of a missionary seems delightful. When shall I learn to speak this language?

Nov. 14. “Still much to do with my scholars. Last evening I went down to the gate, and collected quite a company around me. O how I wished them to be able to talk. Persuaded some scholars to come today. O that I might keep them.

Nov. 24. “Have visited some watts today; the first was that of Chow Fah. It is in a state of decay, but delightful still. Shady walks are a pleasant exchange from the mud and mire which constantly meet our eyes, wherever we look. The grounds occupied by these watts are extensive and handsomely laid out. We walked around a square enclosed by a wall which contains the temples, and tried each entrance in vain. This square is surrounded by the houses of the priests, each one of whom has a room, college-like. These houses are superior to anything I have ever seen here, except those of the highest of the nobility. These priests are supported by the people. Every morning you may see them compassing sea and land with their rice-pots, to receive the already boiled rice. Then they returned, and professedly spend the day in reading and religious acts. The watt grounds are penetrated by walks, and shaded with trees. Some rocks were carelessly throw down in the foreground of this watt. Examination showed that they were not all imported from one country. Some were granite, some a kind of coral, and some other kind of stone. They must have been brought here long since, as large tree was rooted in one.

Nov. 25. “This day is set apart by the missionaries for prayer for husband and myself. I do believe that I have felt the influence of it today, particularly this evening. I felt lonely, and not free from anxiety with regard to my husband’s health and life; but when I came to pray, I felt that I could say, ‘Lord, if it be necessary to take from me the desire of mine eye, thy will be done, but if it be possible, let such a cup pass from me.’ It was sweet to weep before the Lord, and I pray for holiness.

Nov. 30. Am endeavoring to accomplish the task I gave myself, to finish my dictionary next Saturday. In order to do so, I must write twenty-four pages a day, which I have this day accomplished. I know it will be a difficult task, but I trust the Lord will give me strength to do it.

Dec. 1. “I know how it was when I thought of closing up the account of last month with my God; I felt a sweet peace. Say, my soul, was it a carnal security? Was it indifference? Lord, let me not be indifferent to the interests of my immortal soul. I have loved to think, as I have been waiting today, that if I never use the book myself, some one else may who will serve the Lord far better than I do.

Dec. 5. “Have finished my dictionary; a work of no small magnitude. I ought to be very grateful to God for his goodness in permitting me to finish this long work, and trust that I shall now use it in acquiring a knowledge of the language of this people.

Jan. 1. 1836. “I am now commencing a new year. Shall I live to see the close of it? That is known to the Lord only. It is one of the secret things which belong to him. Nor need I be anxious about it; It is for me to see that the work of each day is done and well done. Oh that I might have grace to do so. Have decline attending a dinner party today at Mr. H—-‘s, on account of its inconsistency with our Christian profession.

Jan. 4. “This has been a day of solemn and momentous interest. Early this morning our brethren and sisters came to our house, and the day was opened with united prayer. Each seemed to feel that the Lord was ready to por out his Spirit, and that we might share in the effusion if we would prepare ourselves. Endeavored to examine myself by the 119th Psalm. It proves me guilty, yet I delighted to turn it into a prayer. Feel a renewed resolution to strive to obtain higher, far higher degrees of holiness. An interesting meeting this evening. It is good to know each others xxxxx exercises of heart. And now as we are about to lie down and partake of that rest which is so needful to these dying bodies, our friends at home are commencing their morning prayer-meetings. Oh that one united cry may arise from America.”

Reproduced from: A Sketch of The Life and Character of Mrs. Emelie Royce Bradley, Ten Years a Missionary in Siam by Nancy Royce c.1865. Please notify of any transcription inaccuracies to DigitalBangkokRecorder