8. ADVANCE OF THE ALLIED ARMIES FROM PA-LE-CHEAOU
ADVANCE OF THE ALLIED ARMIES FROM PA-LE-CHEAOU — ARRIVAL BEFORE PEKIN — DESCRIPTION OF THE LHAMA TEMPLES NEAR OUR CAMP THERE — PLUNDER OF THE SUMMER PALACE BY THE FRENCH ARMY — DESCRIPTION OF YUEN-MINGYUEN — DISTRIBUTION OF PRIZEMONEY TO THE BRITISH ARMY — PUBLIC AUCTION OF ALL ARTICLES TAKEN BY OFFICERS FROM THE PALACES.
Upon the morning of the 5th October we advanced in a line of contiguous columns, and halted at a strong position to the north-east of Pekin, which had been previously reconnoitred, and where plenty of water was procurable for our cavalry. The French moved to our left, but as on the previous day they had been encamped some distance to our rear, their march was much longer than ours. When, therefore, we had advanced between four and five miles, our allies would not go any further, and both armies halted for the night. As all our tents and baggage had been left behind, the men bivouacked. Each regiment had been allowed to take one small cart with it for the officers’ mess, and the men carried three days’ cooked rations with them. As with a small army acting against an enemy strong in cavalry, it is impossible to fight and at the same time protect a large amount of baggage in the open field, our impediments had been reduced to the very smallest quantity compatible [p. 215] with efficiency. There was plenty of the long millet straw stocked about in the fields; so, although the nights were sharply cold, the men easily made themselves comfortable. A cavalry reconnaissance was made in the evening, which beat up the Tartar camp without compromising our party. The country became much closer as we approached Pekin, and was greatly cut up by brick-fields, and by the large excavations belonging to them.
Enclosed tombs, hollow roads, and small gardens were dotted about everywhere, and clumps of trees bounded the view upon every side, so that no clear view of the country to any distance could be obtained. Close by the ground where we had halted for the night stood some very high brick-kilns, enclosed by substantial walls, protected without by deep ponds, which rendered the place very strong. A small guard was left behind there when we advanced upon the 6th, for the purpose of keeping open our communication with the depot in rear, and at the same time of taking charge of all the men’s knapsacks, which it was determined to leave behind there, so that our troops might be able to go through a long march upon the day following.
Upon the 6th October the armies were again in motion, advancing along the route which our cavalry had examined the previous evening. Upon reaching the furthest point that our reconnoitring party had thus far reached, and where the enemy’s cavalry had shown in great force, we found that they had retreated, leaving behind a few pickets. The advanced videttes of these pickets were to be seen dodging about now and then through the trees to our front and flanks. [p. 216] They however took good care that none of us should approach too near them, as they invariably galloped off when any one tried to do so.
We halted for breakfast, and the Commanders-in-Chief arranged their plans for moving forward. A good view of the surrounding country was obtained from some high brick-kilns close by, and we could see the north-east angle of the old line of earthen ramparts, which enclose so large a space immediately to the north of the Tartar city. Upon that space all our informants had told us that Sang-ko-lin-sin was encamped with his vast army, and we could discern small parties of soldiers watching our movements from the highest points of the old entrenchments. These ruined works were from forty to fifty feet high, having evidently had formerly a formidable ditch around them. It has now completely disappeared in some places, and is laid out in cabbage gardens at others, having gently sloping sides at all points. The country people about informed us that the large force of cavalry, seen upon the previous evening, had retreated as soon as our reconnoitring party had disappeared. Some said they had fallen back upon the main army encamped upon the Tartar parade-ground within the entrenchment, whilst others boldly asserted that all had marched direct for Tartary. From the high kilns, near which we breakfasted, we could see several of the gates of Pekin and the towers and minarets of the Imperial palaces. Breakfast over, we again advanced, the English moving on the right, and making a slight detour so as to attack the line of ruined earthen ramparts upon their northern face, whilst the French, moving direct to the left, [p. 217] entered them at the salient angle. Our cavalry at the same time moved away to the extreme right, with orders to make a wide sweep in that direction and take up a position upon the main road which led out from the Tehshin gate northwards towards Jeho, and along which the enemy would naturally endeavour to retreat, when driven from their position upon the parade-ground.
Having advanced about three miles without encountering any resistance, or seeing more than some few small parties of the enemy’s cavalry, who kept hovering about to watch our movements, our skirmishers, who had reached the earthen embankment, reported that no camp was visible from it. The country people about informed us that Sang-ko-lin-sin had retreated with all his force. The French were not then in sight, having become entangled in the difficult country which lay between them and their intended point of attack. A message was sent to General Montauban informing him that the enemy had retreated, and that Sir Hope Grant intended pushing on for Yuen-ming-yuen, to which place the Tartar army was said to have gone.
Almost immediately after the despatch of that message our advanced guard came upon what seemed to be a large force of the enemy’s cavalry, who seemed inclined to fight. The country was so very close that it was some time before we could bring our troops into line, and our advance was consequently slow. The enemy fell back before us, exchanging a few shots with our skirmishers. We soon found ourselves upon the main road, leading northwards from the An-ting gate, upon which we came in sight of a considerable cavalry force. Some skirmishing amongst the small villages dose to the [p. 218] road ensued, and a few of the enemy were killed; but from the dense nature of the country, it was necessary to move with caution, and it was for a long time uncertain whether we were in presence of an army or of a detachment only.
Our allies had disappeared altogether; and, as evening was approaching, Sir Hope Grant determined upon halting there for the night, and sending out patrols the next morning to ascertain the exact position of our cavalry and that of our allies. We bivouacked around a large Lhama temple, situated just within the old line of fortifications, which I have before mentioned, and close by the Tartar parade-ground, upon which Sang-ko-lin-sin’s army had been encamped. A small village afforded shelter for a large portion of our men, and the head-quarters took possession of one of the temples, of which there were several very large ones about. Some of them had monastic establishments attached to them, and in one there was a most beautifully executed monument of white marble, shaped liked a Burmese pagoda and nearly thirty feet high. Its top was highly gilt and its base richly carved. It stood in the centre of a courtyard, surrounded by temples and other monastic buildings, such as the refectories and dormitories of the priests belonging to the establishment. Numerous inscriptions were upon the monuments about, all in the Tibetan character, which bears so close a resemblance to Sanskrit, that upon first seeing it at Poo-too I thought it a badly executed imitation of that most ancient writing. Many letters in both languages are exactly similar, and in both the vowels are mostly represented by curved dajshes above the consonants which [p. 219] precede them. The architecture of these Lhama temples is exactly similar to that used in the construction of all public buildings in China, from which they are alone distinguishable by the difference of the character used in the inscriptions. The images of deities within these temples are, like all others in the country, made of clay, but in design they are few more revolting in appearance than those worshipped by ordinary Chinese Buddhists. Lust and sensuality is represented in its hideous nakedness and under its most disgusting aspect. The priests when exhibiting these beastly groups did so with the greatest apparent satisfaction, and seemed to gloat over the abominations before them, which to any one but those of the most bestial dispositions must have been loathsome in the extreme. Surely, it cannot be wondered at, that a people who thus deify lust, should be base and depraved, and incapable of any noble feelings or lofty aspirations after either the good or great. The Lhama priests in and about Pekin all come from Tartary; they dress in bright yellow garments and shave their heads. They and their establishments are under the immediate patronage of his Majesty, and almost all their temples near the capital have been erected at the imperial expense. The most important of them had been built as a residence for the Grand Lhama’s envoy during his annual visit to the Celestial court. It has always been the Mantchoo policy, more particularly since their general decline in power, to conciliate the wild tribes ruled over by the Lhamas, by showing partiality and favour to all the followers of that religion residing in China Proper. In reality his Majesty possesses but little actual power in those northern [p. 220] regions beyond the Great Wall, but by a judicious exercise of condescension and a certain undefined assumption of authority, he is able to maintain a nominal sovereignty over those countries, and succeeds in having his supremacy recognised by the annual visit of a deputy from the Grand Lhama bringing some trifling tribute. It was curious to watch these Lhama priests engaged at their devotion, repeating their prayers in a sing-song sort of voice, without in the least seeming to enter into the spirit of their meaning, and apparently believing that their efficacy mainly depended upon frequent repetition. In order to accomplish the rehearsal of the same prayer over and over again as quickly as possible and with the smallest amount of trouble to the suppliant, some indolent but ingenious devotee invented long ago a machine which is now generally used in all Lhama temples. It consists of a brazen cylinder made to revolve upon an iron axle fitted with a crank for giving it great rapidity of movement. Upon the outer surface of this cylinder the prayers are marked in raised characters, and every time that it makes one revolution the same effect is supposed to be attained, as if it had been repeated by word of mouth. Whilst the priest is engaged in turning it round and round, he repeats the prayer aloud, and keeps account of the revolutions made by the cylinder. Prayers with the lips only, and not proceeding from the mind, we are told, avail nothing; but what would all our pastors say to those done for us by machinery? In Europe we have instruments for all sorts of curious purposes, from sewing trousers up to calculating decimal fractions; but no one there has ever [p. 221] yet dreamt of carrying the substitution of machinery for mental or bodily labour to such an extent as to take out a patent for a praying machine. Let me recommend the idea to my Roman Catholic friends as a good one to get through any number of penitential “Aves” at a brisk pace, and with comparative ease to themselves.
In the temple occupied by our head-quarters there was a representation of a semi-human monster riding upon a tiger. In his mouth was the body of a man, which he was supposed to be in the act of crunching beneath his shark-like teeth. To a collar fastened round his neck strings of human heads were fastened, the bodies of which he was supposed to have previously devoured, keeping their skulls as trophies of his large appetite. This man-eating deity was highly esteemed, and was kept most carefully covered from the vulgar gaze by a painted drop curtain, upon which were depicted, apparently, the pickings and leavings of the cannibal god: legs, arms, and dissected trunks were represented upon it, with an intention of striking terror into the beholder. Scattered about in odd corners, and exhibited prominently upon incense tables, were bowls and cups made from human skulls; small drums were also constructed with them. There were also very curious gongs and large white shells, converted into trumpets by having mouth-pieces fitted to them. These and bronze vessels of all shapes and sizes covered the altars of the gods. Boxes containing books written in the Tibetan language, were piled up on either side of the principal building as you entered, each case being duly labelled with the names of its contents. These [p. 222] books were unbound, each leaf being separate, but kept in its place by two long boards, between which the detached leaves were pressed tightly together by strings passing round outside. They were all seemingly in manuscript, and executed in red, blue, black,and golden letters, with numerous illuminations, giving each sheet a peculiar and pretty effect. A large proportion of these books were done in white letters upon a black ground-work, every page containing a picture of the sitting Buddha. Unlike Chinese works, in which the paper is of the thinnest description, these books were made of paper like cardboard of the thickest sort. The various courtyards around these temples are nicely paved or flagged, with small spaces left here and there for trees, the branching foliage of which provides a cool shelter for the lazy priests, who pass much of their time in warm weather beneath their shade. The trees are mostly pine and cedars. Leading off from the principal courtyards there are always numerous little squares surrounded by houses, in which priests and others connected with the establishment reside. The houses were mostly very comfortable within, and well furnished, proving that the monks do not forget creature enjoyments in their sacred service.
Upon the 7th October, at daybreak, we fired twenty-one guns from the high earthen ramparts, near which we had halted the evening before, and upon which we had kept large fires burning during the night. These measures were adopted for the purpose of intimating to our cavalry and the French the position we had taken up. A cavalry patrol, under an officer of the Quarter-Master-General’s department, started, as soon as it [p. 223] became light, with orders to ascertain their position and communicate with the French, who were found to be at the Summer Palace, our cavalry being about two miles to their right. Sir Hope Grant, accompanied by Lord Elgin, rode thither in the course of the day for the purpose of seeing General Montauban, who said that as soon as he learnt Sir Hope Grant’s intention of marching upon Yuen-ming-yuen, he also made for that place, and fell in with our cavalry during his march, when both proceeded together until they reached the large village of Hai-teen, which is situated close by the palace. Our cavalry brigadier, naturally disliking the idea of getting his men entangled in a town of which he knew nothing, skirted it to the eastward, whilst the French proceeded direct through it and reached the palace gates. About twenty badly-armed eunuchs made some pretence at resistance, but were quickly disposed of, and the doors burst open, disclosing the sacred precincts of his Majesty’s residence, to what a Chinaman would call the sacrilegious gaze of the barbarians. A mine of wealth and of everything curious in the empire lay as a prey before our French allies. Rooms filled with articles of vertu both native and European, halls containing vases and jars of immense value, and houses stored with silks, satins, and embroidery, were open to them. Indiscriminate plunder and wanton destruction of all articles too heavy for removal commenced at once. Guards were placed about in various directions; but to no purpose. When looting is once commenced by an army it is no easy matter to stop it. At such times human nature breaks down the ordinary trammels which discipline imposes, and the consequences [p. 224] are most demoralising to the very best constituted army. Soldiers are nothing more than grown-up schoolboys. The wild moments of enjoyment passed in the pillage of a place live long in a soldier’s memory. Although, perhaps, they did not gain sixpence by it, still they talk of such for years afterwards with pleasure. Such a time forms so marked a contrast with the ordinary routine of existence passed under the tight hand of discipline, that it becomes a remarkable event in life and is remembered accordingly. I have often watched soldiers after the capture of a place, wandering in parties of threes or fours through old ranges of buildings, in which the most sanguine even could scarcely hope to find anything worth having; yet every one of them bore about them that air of enjoyment which is unmistakable. Watch them approach a closed door; it is too much trouble to try the latch or handle, so Jack kicks it open. They enter, some one turns over a table, out of which tumbles perhaps some curious manuscripts. To the soldier these are simply waste paper, so he lights his pipe with them. Another happens to look round and sees his face represented in a mirror, which he at once resents as an insult by shying a footstool at it, whilst Bill, fancying that the “old gentleman” in the fine picture-frame upon the wall is making faces at him, rips up the canvas with his bayonet. Some fine statue of Venus is at once adorned with a moustache, and then used as an “Aunt Sally.” Cock-shots are taken at all remarkable objects, which, whilst occupying their intended positions, seem somehow or other to offend the veteran’s eye, which dislikes the in statu quo of life, and studies the pic- [p. 225] turesque somewhat after the manner that Colonel Jebb recommends to all country gentlemen who are desirous of converting their mansions into defensible posts. The love of destruction is certainly inherent in man, and the more strictly men are prevented from indulging in it, so much the more keenly do they appear to relish it when an opportunity occurs. Such an explanation will alone satisfactorily account for the ruin and destruction of property, which follows so quickly after the capture of any place; tables and chairs hurled from the windows, clocks smashed upon the pavement, and everything not breakable so injured as to be valueless henceforth.
Soldiers of every nation under heaven have peculiarities common to all of the trade, and the amusements which I have just described are amongst them. The French most certainly are no exception to the rule. If the reader will imagine some three thousand men, imbued with such principles, let loose into a city composed only of Museums and Wardour Streets, he may have some faint idea of what Yuen-ming-yuen looked like after it had been about twenty hours in possession of the French. The far-famed palaces of a line of monarchs claiming a celestial relationship, and in which the ambassador of an English king had been insulted with impunity, were littered with the debris of all that was highly prized in China. Topsy-turvy is the only expression in our language which at all describes its state. The ground around the French camp was covered with silks and clothing of all kinds, whilst the men ran hither and thither in search of further plunder, most of them, according to the prac- [p. 226] tice usual with soldiers upon such occasions, being decked out in the most ridiculous-looking costumes they could find, of which there was no lack as the well-stocked wardrobes of his Imperial Majesty abounded in curious raiment. Some had dressed themselves in the richly-embroidered gowns of women, and almost all had substituted the turned-up Mandarin hat for their ordinary forage cap. Officers and men seemed to have been seized with a temporary insanity; in body and soul they were absorbed in one pursuit, which was plunder, plunder. I stood by whilst one of the regiments was supposed to be parading; but although their fall in was sounded over and over again, I do not believe there was an average of ten men a company present. Plundering in this way bears its most evil fruit in an army; for if, when it is once commenced an effort is made to stop it, the good men only obey; the bad soldiers continue to plunder, and become rich by their disobedience, whilst the good ones see that the immediate effect of their steadiness is to keep them poor. I do not believe that it is attended with such demoralising effects in a French army as it is in ours. The Frenchman is naturally a more thrifty being than the careless Britisher, who squanders his money in drinking, and “standing drink” to his comrades. Three days afterwards when the French moved into their position before Pekin, they seemed to have regained their discipline, and their men were as steady under arms as if nothing had occurred to disturb the ordinary routine of their lives.
A paved road runs from the north-west gate of Pekin to Hai-teen; and as his Majesty has frequent [p. 227] occasion to travel upon it, the “Board of Works” keep it in good order, the pavement being laid down with great regularity and nicety, whilst the chaussé between Tung-chow and the capital, along which the “Sun’s Brother” never passes, is allowed to fall into decay, so as to be quite useless as a carriage road. In going from our camp near the Tartar parade-ground to the Summer Palace, the route lay along an ordinary country road, which led out through the western face of the high earthen entrenchments by a deep cutting in them, where there had formerly been some defensive works protecting the entrance. These are now in ruins, and their original tracing scarcely perceptible. A picturesque-looking tablet tower still stands upon one side of the entrance, and is perched upon the highest point of the entrenchment, so that a good view is obtainable from it. Passing out through this opening, and proceeding nearly due west for about a mile, you reach a well-made road, constructed after the most approved method, being slightly raised in the centre and having good drains upon either side. Were it not that it is unmetalled, one might fancy it an English thoroughfare. It is the only one of the sort I have ever seen in China. It leads from the Sze-chi-mun to Hai-teen, where it strikes in upon the paved road. Continuing through that town and debouching from it towards the north, the road passes through the parks and gardens belonging to the many smaller houses which surround the Imperial residence. At the distance of about half a mile, the road passes over a small stream by a handsome bridge with richly-carved parapet walls, surmounted by grotesquely designed [p. 228] figures. Beyond it is the broad road, running parallel with the little river, which sweeps round the southern face of the park, within which stand the summer palaces of Yuen-ming-yuen. The park is of considerable extent, and is enclosed upon all sides by a high wall substantially built of granite, but not meant for defence. At about the distance of every quarter of a mile stands a good-sized guard-house, in which the faithful Tartar watchmen kept guard both day and night over the person and property of their Celestial master. Scattered about in all directions were the residences of Government officials and his Majesty’s relatives, each having walled-in enclosures around them. Immediately within every park wall there was a high earthen embankment, thickly planted with pine and cedar trees, which effectually screened the wall from view upon the inside, giving the place a secluded air.
There are two entrances to the Imperial residence; one eastward, the other westward of the bridge. The former was in every respect like the entrances to all Yamuns throughout the empire, but on a grander scale. There was the usual screen wall in front of the door, coloured deep red, with a coping of yellow tiles on top, adorned here and there with long-tailed dragons. In front was a large square, partially enclosed with chevaux-de-frise made for show only and much of the same fashion as those which one sees produced upon the stage in representations of fortified castles made of cardboard, which look so imposing to the theatre loving cockney. There are several pretty granite bridges over the little river, which trickled along its pebbly bed in front of the entrance. Altogether there [p. 229] was nothing striking about the place. If, however, you turned westward and made for the other entrance, the effect was very different. The road ran alongside the river, over which well-designed bridges led here and there to houses or gardens upon its opposite bank. Lofty trees, whose gracefully-drooping branches almost touched the water, stood along the edge, and were reflected in the running stream below them. On the right of the road was the high park wall of the palace, which, continuing for some distance in a straight line, turned then sharp to the right, disclosing an open expanse of water, through which the road was carried along a raised causeway, edged upon both sides by rows of trees. These ponds are of artificial construction, and supplied with water by the stream, which, coming from the hills, passes, as I have already described, along the southern face of the palace gardens. Quantities of water lilies and lotus flowers covered the edges of these pretty reservoirs. At the further end of the causeway stood a fine joss-house, well shaded from the sun by lofty trees, which towered high above the mandarin poles in front of the building. General the Baron Jamin had fixed his head-quarters there; the main body of the French army, and General Montauban’s camp, being upon the opposite side of the road in a fine grove of trees. The grand entrance to Yuen-ming-yuen lay immediately beyond, the paved road leading up to the gate, upon either side of which was the colossal representation of a lion mounted upon a granite pedestal. As they were of a bronze colour, no one took the trouble of ascertaining the nature of the metal of which they were com- [p. 230] posed, taking it for granted that they were of the ordinary alloy from which the bronze ornaments, so common in China, are usually cast. Some months afterwards, when at Shanghai, some Chinamen asked a friend of mine residing there, whether we had removed the golden lions from the gates of Yuen-ming-yuen; and upon being questioned regarding them, he described them accurately as being painted a bronze colour. Many other well-informed natives corroborated the statement, and said that the fact of their being gold was well known to all the nation. It is to be regretted that we did not find it out before leaving Pekin, as from their size I have no doubt but that their value would have gone far towards defraying the expenses of the war. The gateway was at one end of a courtyard, enclosed upon three sides with ranges of guard-houses, handsomely ornamented outside with curious carving, and roofed with variegated tiling. The eaves were studded with small representations of birds and beasts. There was a well-arranged combination of red, white, green, blue, and gilding about them, which gave a great richness of effect, without in any way palling upon the eye as heavy or gaudy. The gateway itself, like all those in the various public buildings of the country, was a curious combination of brick and woodwork, the former being used as sparingly as possible, with due regard to the stability of the building.
As in all the royal edifices scattered about in the neighbourhood of Hai-teen, the end of every beam or rafter visible from the outside was richly carved and painted. The doors were of massive woodwork [p. 231] coloured red and picked out with gilding. The entrance was not intended for wheeled conveyances, the gate sills being some two or three feet above the adjoining pavement, with gently-sloping ramps of granite upon either side. They were roughed over just sufficiently to admit of horses passing over safely. Within the gate as you entered there was a guard-room to the right and left, in which the French sentries had taken the place of the Tartar household brigade. As we passed through, I saw some of the eunuchs belonging to the palace, who had been taken prisoners by our allies the evening before; some had been badly wounded, and all were handcuffed. They looked the personification of misery, expecting death momentarily, and knowing that if they escaped it at the hands of the barbarians they should meet with it from their own authorities for failing in their defence of the palace. The gateway opened into a long, narrow courtyard, paved, or rather flagged over with the utmost exactness. Upon the far side was a lofty building resembling in shape and construction the better class of joss-house, but having a well-to-do-in-the-world air about it, which none that I had hitherto seen in China possessed. Its carving, gilding, and painting was fresh and clean; its tiling was in perfect order, and looked quite new; its doors swung easily upon their hinges, and altogether it had none of that tumble-down look of dilapidation, which is so universal with all public buildings in the “flowery land,” that it would almost appear as if such was a part and parcel of the original design. A neatly finished wire network was stretched along under the wood carvings of the roof eaves to [p. 232] prevent the birds from building nests or roosting there, by which means the elaborate tracery and painting was preserved, maintaining all the freshness of recent finish, although executed many years since. This was the Hall of Audience, at the upper end of which opposite the door, stood the Imperial throne, before which so many princes and ambassadors of haughty monarchs had humbly prostrated themselves, according to the slave-like obeisance customary at the Chinese court. Upon entering, the effect was good, without being grand or in any way realising the preconceived ideas one had formed of it. Everything upon which the eye could rest was pretty and well designed, each little object being a gem of its kind, but there was nothing imposing in the tout ensemble. Chinese architecture can never be so; to produce such an effect is seemingly never attempted by the architects of that country. Both in landscape gardening and building, the Chinaman loses sight of grand or imposing effects, in his endeavours to load everything with ornament; he forgets the fine in his search after the curious. In their thirst after decoration, and in their inherent love for minute embellishment, the artists and architects of China have failed to produce any great work capable of inspiring those sensations of awe or admiration which strike every one when first gazing upon the magnificent creations of European architects. The grotto at Cremome is a very fair specimen of what is esteemed in China as the acme of all that is beautiful; and as there are in the gardens at that place, crowded into a very small space, diminutive representations of mountains and rustic scenery, so in the pleasure grounds of Yuen-ming-yuen, and all other [p. 233] ornamental localities of the empire, there are seen, compressed into every little nook or comer, tiny canals, ponds, bridges, stunted trees and rockery, so that it resembles more the design of a child in front of her doll’s house than the work of grown-up men. Size, space, or grandeur, produce no sentiments of admiration in the Chinese mind, nor are there any ruins in the country that we know of which would lead us to think that the ancestors of the present generation differed from them in this matter. In this respect they are unlike all the other great nations of antiquity. The pyramids of Egypt, the colossal figures of Nineveh, the massive structures of Thebes and Memphis, and the huge stone portals of long-forgotten races in South America, testify to the importance attached by their builders to size and substantiality of material; whereas, in the very Audience Hall of Hienfung, there was no further attempt at effect than what could be obtained from gilding and high-colouring, tastefully distributed throughout the puzzle-like wooden roofing or unimposing-looking pillars of the same perishable material. The floor of this grand hall was of highly-polished marble, each piece cut into the form of some mathematical figure, and all joined so closely, that the divisions between each were marked only by the very thinnest hue. An immense painting covered the upper portion of the wall upon the left hand as we entered; it was a representation of the summer palaces and surrounding gardens done in isometrical projection, at which the Chinese are rather clever, considering the childish house-that-Jack-built-like attempts which they make at ordinary perspective in their landscape drawings. [p. 234] The Imperial throne was a beautiful piece of workmanship, made of rose-wood. It stood upon a platform, raised about eighteen inches above the other part of the hall, and was surrounded by an open-work balustrading, richly carved in representation of roses and other flowers. Upon each side of the throne stood a high pole screen decorated with blue enamel and peacocks’ feathers, upon which small rubies and emeralds were strung. Handsomely carved tables and sideboards were ranged along around the room, upon which were numbers of enamel vases, porcelain bowls, jars of crackled china and other curiosities for which the empire is famous. Several large, gilt French time-pieces were also in the hall. Piled up in one place were all the Imperial decrees published during the past year, and large quantities of the Chinese classics were arranged so as to be at hand, in case any immediate reference might be required to them. All these were beautifully printed, and many had autograph remarks upon the margin, made by the Emperor.
To leave the hall and get into the gardens, you passed out behind a screen at the back of the throne. You then found yourself in a labyrinth of neatly laid out walks, with high, grassy mounds bounding them upon either side, the tops of which were thickly studded with trees of all the various kinds to be found in the empire. Beneath their shade there were, at various intervals, some rustic-looking stone benches, or well arranged piles of rockery, from the interstices between the stones of which sprang lichens and ferns of various sorts. Quaint shrubs and dwarf trees, stunted after the most approved fashion of Chinese gardeners, [p. 235] grew upon all sides. Upon proceeding some short distance along these winding paths, crossing over rustic bridges, ascending and descending many rural-looking steps, the walk opened out upon a tolerably sized pond, on the further side of which were the private apartments of his Majesty, surrounded by the houses of his many wives, concubines, eunuchs, and servants. The suite of rooms from which Hien-fung had fled only some fourteen days before, were one and all a vast curiosity shop, combining, in addition to the finest specimens of native art and workmanship, the most curious ornaments of European manufacture. The French had placed a guard over those apartments, and none were at first admitted but their own officers, so that when we arrived most of the furniture, &c., still remained as it had been when Hien-fung had occupied them.
His small cap, decorated with the character of longevity embroidered upon it, lay upon his bed; his pipe and tobacco pouch was upon a small table close by. In all the adjoining rooms were immense wardrobes filled with silks, satins, and fur coats. Cloaks covered with the richest golden needlework, Mandarin dresses, edged with ermine and sable and marked with representations of the five-clawed dragons, showing they were intended for royalty, were stored in presses. The cushions upon the chairs and sofas were covered with the finest yellow satin embroidered over with figures of dragons and flowers. Yellow is the Imperial colour, and none but those of royal birth are permitted to wear clothes made of it. Jade stone is of all precious articles the most highly prized in China, some of it fetching immense prices. For centuries past [p. 236] the finest pieces have been purchased by the emperors and stored up in Yuen-ming-yuen. The description most highly prized is of a bright green colour, and is called in Chinese the feh-tsui. It is never found in any quantity, and even small pieces of it are very rare. Jade of a pure white, when quite clear, is highly esteemed, and of it there were vast quantities, all exquisitely carved. In some rooms large chests were found filled with cups, vases, plates, &c., made of jade stone. As you left these buildings and wandered through the maze of walks and winding paths, which led seemingly nowhere in particular, one soon became lost amidst the multiplicity of turnings, marble bridges, canals and fish-ponds met with everywhere, and literally covering the park. Upon some of these little sheets of water there were lilliputian junks armed with small brass cannon, with which a naval fight was sometimes represented for the amusement of his Majesty, who watched the show from a neighbouring tea-house.
Taking Yuen-ming-yuen all in all, it was a gem of its kind, and yet I do not suppose there was a single man who visited it without being disappointed. There was an absence of grandeur about it, for which no amount of careful gardening and pretty ornaments can compensate. Our allies were so busy in the collection of their plunder that they did not move upon Pekin until the 9th October. Numbers of our officers had consequently an opportunity of visiting the palaces and securing valuables; but our men were carefully prevented from leaving camp. Those officers who were fortunate enough to have carts and time for amusement, brought into camp large collections of valuables. It [p. 237] was naturally most riling to our soldiers to see their allies rolling in wealth, and even their own officers all more or less provided with curiosities whilst they themselves had got nothing. It would have been very easy for the Commander-in-Chief to have allowed our regiments to go out there one by one; but the state in which the French army was then in, and the recollection of what ours had been after the capture of Delhi were cogent reasons for avoiding such an arrangement. Subsequent to Sir Hope Grant’s visit to the palaces upon the 7th October, a room of treasure was discovered there, a small share of which was secured for our army by the active exertions of Major Anson, A.D.C., who had been appointed one of our prize agents. The treasure chiefly consisted of golden ingots, the portion falling to our lot amounting to about eight or nine thousand pounds sterling. To have permitted our officers to retain what they had personally taken from the palaces, whilst the private soldier received nothing, would have been very hard upon the latter. The Commander-in-Chief therefore issued an order directing all officers to send in everything they had taken to the prize agents, who had been nominated to receive all such property, for the purpose of having it sold by public auction upon the spot and the proceeds distributed immediately amongst the army.
The sale took place in front of the large joss-house at head-quarters, realising 123,000 dollars, which enabled the prize agents to issue seventeen dollars (nearly four pounds sterling) to every private belonging to our army. The officers were divided into three classes, and received in the same proportion. The Commander- [p. 238] in-Chief, whose share would have been considerable, renounced his claims; the Major-Generals, Sir John Michel, KC.B. and Sir Robert Napier, K.C.B., following his example. One third went to the officers, two thirds to the non-commissioned officers and men.
Prize money is a subject well understood but seldom received by our soldiers. So many times within the last half century has it been promised to them, and yet withheld for years afterwards, that it is now becoming quite a byword in the army, a sort of ignis fatuus which recedes and recedes as the promised time for distribution draws near. The procrastination and difficulties usually attendant upon the issue of all such money, depreciates its worth to a mere paper value in the eyes of soldiers; and I fear much that in our next wars, no promises about the establishment of a prize fund will carry much weight with them upon the capture of a place, or serve to deter many from helping themselves, even although the present generation in our army may have passed away before such an event.
The history of former wars and old standing grievances are handed down by old soldiers to young ones, and if they are slow to act they are most surely slow in forgetting. Years after some of our former campaigns, a larger sum of prize money has been given to each man who then survived, than was distributed to every man of the Pekin army; but I am sure that none had ever been so well received as that was. A man educated to military precision appreciates preciseness in all dealings with him, so that any reward or recognition of services is doubly prized if conferred upon the spot or at the time of their performance. [p. 239] Every officer in our army feels the truth of these facts; but us they carry little weight in the management of military matters, and as even the authority of our Horse Guards is rapidly fading away under the influence of civilian war ministers, years are allowed to pass over after a campaign before either prize money or even the very medals are distributed for it. All prizes made in war are the sovereign’s property, and far be it from any officer to wish it otherwise; but as it is usual to distribute such or a portion of it amongst the men, as a reward for their steadiness under arms, it will be very difficult, unless some better system is adopted than that lately practised, to restrain our men in future wars from leaving their ranks to plunder.
Let it be once clearly understood that all valuables taken will be sold for the benefit of the prize fund, which will be appropriated to whatever purposes her Majesty may decide upon, as soon as the campaign is over; and the discipline of our army will always be maintained. The temptation to enrich oneself at our enemy’s expense ii very great. Try and stop by forbidding it in orders, and punishing those caught flagrante delicto; and the consequence is, that as the good men only obey, remaining poor, whilst they see their disobedient comrades becoming rich, discontent follows as a natural consequence. Any who have ever been present at the assault of a town will, I am sure, agree with me in thinking that no price is too high which we can pay for the prevention of those dreadful scenes of riot and consequent insubordination which have upon several occasions followed such an event, Discipline once relaxed, as it must be when plunder is [p. 240] permitted, its entire fabric of regulations break down in one moment, which it takes many months of subsequent reorganisation to reassert. If Sir Hope Grant had contented himself with promising that the question of prize money should be referred to the Home Government, after their recent Indian experience, our men would have been very dissatisfied, seeing every French soldier going about with his pockets filled with dollars and Sycee silver. Indeed, I fear that the temptation would have been too great for many of our men, who knew that Yuen-ming-yuen was only a few miles off. The plan which he adopted, although novel, was thoroughly successful, and all were pleased with its results. I have enlarged upon this subject, but I trust that its seriousness may plead my excuse with the reader.
Our auction lasted two days, and was the source of much amusement to all attending it — men bidding against one another to ridiculously high prices, very often for such trash, that, had it been given to them for nothing, few would have considered it worth the trouble of taking away. Some few, to whose looting propensities the community was highly indebted for a large proportion of what was sold, were to be seen occasionally with woeful countenances listening to the bidding for some pet article upon which they had set their hearts, but for which they were not prepared to bid beyond the great price offered, having, in the first instance, obtained it for nothing. Fur coats in great abundance were sold, and reached good prices, as the weather was day by day becoming colder, and a report was going round our regiments that the ambassador was desirous of detaining a division at Pekin for the [p. 241] winter; so all articles of warm clothing were at a premium.
Amongst the curios found in the palace were the presents presented to the Emperor by Lord Macartney. Watches, in great numbers and of all shapes, sizes and ages, were found by the French soldiers, and sold by them individually to our officers. Some were most curious; others were of great value, being set roimd with brilliants, rubies, emeralds, &c. &c. Time-pieces and clocks of European manufacture were evidently favourite ornaments with his Majesty, for almost every room possessed some two or three. Lord Elgin’s treaty of 1858 was found lying about with other official papers in the Emperor’s private room. In one of the court-yards we found eleven horses and some saddles, which were recognised as having belonged to Mr. Parkes’s party. [p. 242]