Friday, October 2, 2009

VI. Of the Cultivated Lands, and their Fertility.

The Country of Siam is Clayie; The annual Inundation fattens the Lands of Siam; It destroys the Insects; White Ants at Siam; The Maringouins; The Millepede; The Ignorance of the Siameses in things Natural; Shining Flyes.

They are not Stony, it being very difficult to find a Flint; and this makes me to believe of the Country of Siam, what some have reported of Egypt, that it has been gradually formed of the clayish Earth which the Rain-waters have carry'd down from the Mountains. Before the mouth of the Menam, there is a Bank of Owse, which, in the Sea-phrase, is call'd the Bar, and which prohibits entrance to great Ships. 'Tis probable that it will increase itself by little and little, and will in time make a new Shore to the firm Land.

'Tis therefore this Mud descending from the Mountains, that is the real cause of the Fertility of Siam, where-ever the Inundation extends itself. In other, and especially on the highest places, all is dry'd and burnt with the Sun, in a little time after the Rains. Under the Torrid Zone, and likewise in Spain, whose Climate is more temperate, if the Lands are naturally fertile, (as for Example, between Marcia and Carthagena, where the Seed yields sometimes an hundred fold) they are nevertheless so subject to Drought, Insects, and other Inconveniences, that it frequently happens that they are deprived of the whole Harvest several years together: And 'tis this which betides all the Countries of India which are not subject to be overflowed, and which besides the barrenness of the Soil, do suffer the ravages of contagious and pestilential Distempers which succeed it. But the annual Inundation gives to Siam the assurance and plenty of the Rice Harvest, and renders this Kingdom the Nourisher of several others.

Besides the Inundations fatning the Land, it destroys the Insects; altho' it always leaves a great many, which extremely incommode. Nature instructs all the Animals of Siam to avoid the Inundation. The Birds which perch not in our Countries, as Partridges and Pigeons, do all perch in that. The Pismires doubly prudent, do here make their Nests and Magazines on Trees.

There are white Ants, which, amongst other ravages which they make, do pierce Books through and through. The Missionaries are oblig'd to preserve theirs, by varnishing them over the cover and edges with a little Cheyram, which hinders them from opening. After this precaution, the Ants have no more power to bite, and the Books are more agreeable, by reason that this Gum being mixt with nothing that colours it, has the same lustre as the Glasses wherewith we cover Pictures in Miniature. This would be no dear nor difficult Experiment, to try whether the Cheyram would not defend the wood of our Beds against Buggs. 'Tis this same Cheyram, which being spread upon Canvas, makes it appear like Horn. Therewith they us'd to environ the great Cresser-lights, which some reported to be of Horn, and all of a piece. Sometimes also those little Cups varnish'd with red, which come to us from Japan, and whose lightness astonishes us, do consist only of a double Cloth put into the form of a Cup, and cover'd over with this Gum mixt with a colour, which we call Lacca, or Chinese Varnish, as I have already declar'd: these Cups last not long, when too hot Liquors are put therein.

To return to the Insects, which we have begun occasionally to speak of, the Marin-gouins are of the same Nature as our Gnats; but the heat of the Climat gives them so much strength, that shamois Stockings defend not our Legs against their Stings. Nevertheless it seems possible to know how to deal with them; for the Natives of the Country, and the Europeans that have inhabited there for several years, were not so marked with them as we were.

The Millepede or Palmer is known at Siam, as in the Isles of America. This little Reptile is so called, because it has a great number of feet along its body, all very short in proportion to its length, which is about five or six Inches. What it has most singular (besides the scales in form of rings, which cover its body, and which insert themselves one into the other in its motions) is, that it pinches equally with its head and tail, but it Stings, tho' painful, are not mortal. A French Man of that Crew which went to Siam with us, and whom we left there in perfect health, suffer'd himself to be stung in his Bed above a quarter of an hour, without daring to lay hold on the Worm to relieve himself. The Siamese report, that the Millepede has two heads at the extremities of its body, and that it guides itself six months in the year with the one, and six months with the other.

But their History of Animals must not easily be credited, they understand not Bodies better than Souls; and in all matters their inclination is to imagine Wonders, and persuade themselves so much the more easily to believe them, as they are more incredible. What they report of a sort of Lizard named Tocquay, proceeds from an Ignorance and Credulity very singular. They imagine that this Animal feeling his Liver grow too big, makes the cry which has impos'd on him the name Toc-quay, to call another Insect to its succor; and that this other Insect entering into his Body at his mouth, eats the overplus of the Liver, and after this repast retires out of the Toc-quay's body, by the same way that he enter'd therein.

The shining Flyes, like Locusts, have four wings, which do all appear when the Fly takes a flight; but the two thinnest of them are concealed under the strongest when the Fly is at repose. We hardly saw these little Animals, by reason that the rainy time was past when we landed. The North-winds, which begin when the Rains cease, either kill them, or drive them away. They have some light in their Eyes, but their greatest splendor proceeds from their wings, and glitters only in the Air, when the wings are display'd. What some report therefore is not true, that they might be us'd in the Night instead of Candles; for tho' they had light enough, what method could be contriv'd to make them always flie, and keep them at a due distance to illuminate? But this much may sufffice to be spoken concerning the Insects of Siam; they would afford matter for large Volumes to know them all.

I shall say only that there are not fewer in the River and Gulph, than on the Land; and that in the River there are some very dangerous, which is the reason that the rich Men do bathe themselves only in houses of Bambou.

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