Land of the Morning Calm by Arnold Henry Savage Lander
Arnold Henry Savage Landor spent several months in Seoul at the end of the nineteenth century, and although he claims to have no literary expertise he writes very movingly and interestingly about what he finds there in Land of the Morning Calm. One of the most poignant passages concerns an execution of several men convicted of conspiracy to commit treason. He details their parade around the streets on crosses on a cart, their eventual departure from the city through the Gate of the Dead and then the clumsy efforts of the drunk executioner to discharge his duty. Then he records how he encounters an old man accompanied by several terrified 'coolies'. They are terrified because the hills around Seoul, apart from being the refuge of carnivores also harbour spirits, and the ones emanating from freshly executed criminals were thought to be particularly malign and powerful. In vain the old man had tried to bribe them with strings of cash but they refused to go close.
Arnold Lander took pity on him, and together they inspected the bodies and then the heads, and then, retrieving those that used to be the old man's son, risked punishment themselves to give the boy a decent burial.
Mr. Lander, despite his modest protestations at the start of the book, is clearly a very good writer, and I suspect his artistry is impressive too. Throughout there are references to his drawings of the people and places that he sees, and the effect that his western art has on the royalty of 'Corea'. When he arranges for the prince to sit for him the young man comes four and a half hours early because he had been unable to sleep with excitement at the prospect, but unfortunately I cannot see them because the Kindle version does not contain the illustrations.
If I were going to Seoul I would find this a fascinating introduction to the place - although I am sure it is now changed beyond recognition, and I would be left imagining how it was just as much as I am now imagining the content of Mr. Landor's pictures.