They put their Children to the Talapoins; What they learn; The Balie and the Siamese Languages compared with the Chinese; The Siamese and Chinese Languages have no Declensions of words, the Balie has; The Siamese Language not copious, but very figurative; Arithmetic; An Instrument which serves the Chineses for an Abacus, or Compting Table; The Siameses not proper for Studies of Application; They have Imagination and Laziness; They are naturally Poets, and their Poetry is Rhyme; They read the ancient Characters in the present Language; Their Genius in Poetry; They are no Orators; Their Compliments always the same; The last Speech which the Ambassador of Siam made in France; They have a Moral Philosophy, and no Theology; How they study their Laws
When they have educated their Children to seven or eight years old, they put them into a Convent of Talapoins, and make them assume the habit of a Talapoin: for it isw a Profession which obliges not, and which is quitted at pleasure without disgrace. These little Talapoins are called Nen: they are not Pensioners, but their Friends do daily send them Food. Some of these Nens are of a good Family, and have one or more Slaves to wait on them.
They are taught principally to Read, to Write, and to cast Accompt; by reason that nothing is more necessary to Merchants, and that all the Siameses do exercise Traffic. They are taught the Principles of their Morality, and the Fables of their Sommona-Codom, but no History, nor Law, or any Science. They likewise teach them the Balie Tongue, which, as I have more than once declared, is the language of their Religion, and their Laws; and few amongst them do make any progress therein, if they do not a long time adhere to the profession of the Talapoins, or if they enter not into some offices: for it is in these two Cases only that this language is useful to them.
They write the Siamese and Balie from the left hand to the right hand, after the same manner as we write our Languages of Europe: in which they differ from most of the other Asiatics, who have ever wrote from the right to the left; and from the Chinese also, who draw the line from the top to the bottom; and who in the ranging of the lines in one Page, do put the first on the right hand, and the others successively towards the left. They are different also from the Chinese, in that they have not them a Character for every word, or even for every signification of a single word; to the end that the writing may have no Equivocations like the Language. The Siamese and Balie Tongues have, like ours, an Alphabet of few letters, of which are compos'd syllables and words. Moreover, the Siamese Language participates greatly of the Chinese, in that it has a great deal of Accent, (for their Voice frequently rises above one fourth) and in that it consists almost all of Monosyllables: so that it may be presumed, that if one perfectly understood it, one should find that the few words which it has of several syllables, are either foreign, or composed of Monosyllables, some of which are used on in these Compositions.
But the most remarkable Similitude that is between these two Languages, and which is not found in the Balie, is that neither the one nor the other have any Declension for Conjugation, nor perhaps Derivations, which the Balie has. As for Example, the word which signifies Content, may likewise signifie Contentment; and that which signifies Good, will signify Well, and Bounty, according to the various ways of using them. The placing alone denotes the Cases in Nouns, and herein their disposition is hardly different from ours. And as to the Conjugations, the Siameses have only four or five small Particles, which they put sometimes before the Verb, and sometimes after, to signify the Numbers, Tenses, and Moods thereof. I will infer them at the end of this Volume, with the Siamese and Balie Alphabets; and it is in this that their whole Grammar almost consists.
Their Dictionary is not less simple: I mean, that their Language is not copious; but the turn of their Phrase is only more various, and more difficult. In cold Countries, where the Imagination is cold, every thing is called by its Name; and they do there abound as much or more in words, than in things: And when one has fixed all these words in his memory, he may promise himself to speak well. It is not the same in hot Countries, few words do there suffice to express much by reason that the briskness of the Imagination employs them in an hundred different ways, all figurative. Take two or three Examples of the methods of speaking . Good Heart signifies Content, thus to say, If I was at Siam, I should be content; they said, If I were City Siam, me heart good much. Sii signifies Light, and by a Metaphor Beauty; and by a second Metaphor, this word Sii being joined with Pak, which signifies Mouth; Sii-pak, signifies the Lips; as if one should say, The Light, or Beauty of the Mouth. Thus, The Glory of the Wood, signifies a Flower; the Son of the Water implies in general, whatever is ingender'd in the Water without it be Fish; as Crocodiles and all sorts of aquatic Insects. And on other occasions, the word Son will only denote Smallness, as the Sons of the Weights, to signifie small Weights, contrary to the word Mother, which in certain things they make use of to signifie Greatness. In short, I have not seen any words in this Language that have resemblance to ours, excepting those of po and me, which signifie Father and Mother, in Chinese fu, mu.
I proceed to Arithmetic, which after Reading and Writing, is the principal Study of the Siameses. Their Arithmetic, like ours, hath ten Characters, with which they figure the Nought like us, and to which they give the same Powers as we, in the same disposition, placing, like us, from the Right to the Left, Unites, Tens, Hundreds, Thousands, and all the other Powers of the Number Ten. The Indian Merchants are so well vers'd in casting Accompt, and their imagination is so clear thereupon, that it is said they can presently resolve very difficult Questions of Arithmetic; but I suppose likewise that they do never resolve what they cannot resolve immediately. They love not to trouble their heads, and they have no use of Algebra.
The Siameses do always calculate with a Pen; but the Chineses make use of an Instrument which resembles the Abacus, and which F. Marinius, in his History of China, intimates, that they invented about 2600 or 2700 years before Jesus Christ. However it be, Pignorius, in his Book de Servis, informs us, that this Instrument was familiar to the ancient Roman Slaves that were appointed to cast Accompt. I give the Description and Figure thereof at the end of this Work.
The Studies to which we apply our selves in our Colledges are almost absolutely unknown to the Siameses; and it may be doubted whether they are fit for such. The essential Character of the People of Countries extreamly hot, or extreamly cold, is sluggishness of Mind and Body; with this difference, that it degenerates into Stupidity in Countries too cold, and that in Countries too hot, there is always Spirit and Imagination; but of that sort of Imagination and Spirit, which soon flaggs with the least Application.
The Siameses do conceive easily and clearly, their Repartees are witty and quick, their Objections are rational. They imitate immediately, and from the first day they are tolerable good Workmen: so that one would think a little Study would render them very accomplisht, either in the highest Sciences, or in the most difficult Arts; but their invincible Laziness suddenly destroys these hopes. It is no wonder therefore if they invent nothing in the Sciences which they love best, as Chymistry and Astronomy.
I have already said that they are naturally Poets. Their Poetry, like ours; and that which is now used throughout the known World, consists in the number of syllables, and in Rhyme. Some do attribute the Invention thereof to the Arabians, by reason it seems to have been they that have carried it every where. The Relations of China report, that the Chinese Poetry at present is in Rhyme; but tho' they speak of their ancient Poetry, of which they still have several Works, they declare not of what nature it was, because, in my opinion, it is difficult to judge thereof: for tho' the Chineses have preserved the sense of their ancient Writing, they have not preserved their ancient Language. However, I can hardly comprehend from a Language wholly consisting of Monosyllables, and full of accented Vowels, and compounded by Dipthongs, that if the Poetry consists not in Rhyme, it can consist in Quantity, as did the Greek and Latin Poems.
I could not get a Siamese Song well translated, so different is their way of thinking from ours; yet I have seen some Pictures, as for Example, of a pleasant Garden, where a Lover invites his Mistress to come. I have also seen some Expressions, which to me appear'd full of Smootiness, and gross Immodesty; altho' this had not the same Effect in their Language. But besides Love Songs, they have likewise some Historical and Moral Songs altogether: I have heard the Pagayeurs sing some, of which they made me to understand the sense. The Lacone which I have mentioned, is no other than a Moral and Historical Song; and some have told me, that one of the Brothers of the King of Siam compos'd some Moral Poems very highly esteem'd, to which he himself set the Tune.
But if the Siameses are born Poets, they neither are born, nor do become Orators. Their Books are either Narrations of a plain Style, or some Sentences of a broken style full of Idea's. They have no Advocates: the Parties do each declare their Cause to the Register, who, without any Rhetoric, writes down the Facts and Reasons which are told him. When they preach, they read the Balie Text of their Books, and they translate and expound it plainly in Siamese, without any Action, like our Professors, and not our Preachers.
They know how to speak to a Business, and do therein manage themselves with a great deal of Insinuation; but as for their Compliments, they are all after one Model, which is indeed very good; but which is the reason that in the same Ceremonies they do always speak almost the same things. The King of Siam himself has his words almost counted in his Audiences of Ceremony; and he spake to the King's Ambassadors almost the same that he had deliver'd to Mr. de Chaumont, and before him to the late Bishop of Heliopolis.
I have not forgot that excellent Speech which the Ambassador of Siam made to the King at his Audience of Leave, and which alone might cause a Belief that the Siameses are great Orators; if we could judge of the merit of the Original, by that of the Translation: But this is difficult, especially in two Languages, which have so little similitude one to the other. All that we ought to think thereof, is, that the main of the Design and Thought is the Siamese Ambassador's; and I wonder not that he admir'd the excellent Meen, the Majestic Air, the Power, the Affability, and all the extraordinary qualities of the King. They ought to amaze him more than another, because that these Virtues are absolutely unknown in the East; and if he had dar'd to declare the Truth, he would have confessed that the Flattery natural to those of his Country, had made him all his life to extol those very things where they were not, and that he saw the first Example thereof in the King. When the Mandarins came on Board our Ship to carry the first Compliment of the King of Siam to the King's Ambassadors, they took Leave of them, by testifying unto them that they demanded it unwillingly, and out of an indispensable necessity of going satisfie the Impatience of the King their Master, about the things which they had to relate unto him: A Thought natural and good, on which runs the whole beginning of the Ambassador's Speech of Leave. And as to that excellent place where he ends, that their Relation of him and his Colleagues would be put into the Archives of the Kingdom of Siam; and that the King their Master would do him an Honour to send him to the Princes his Allies, he was in this a less Orator, than Historian. He render'd an account of a Practice of his Country, which is not omitted in great occasions, and which is is in use in other Kingdoms. One Example here is in Osorius, in the 8th Book of his History of Emanuel King of Portugal, where he relates how Alphonsus, the 2nd Christian King of Congo, inserted into his Argives the History of his Conversion, and that of another famous Embassy which he had received from Emanuel, and how he imparted it to all the Princes his Vassals. We may therefore be assured, that the Siameses are not Orators, and that they never have need to be such. Their Custom is not to make either Speech or Compliment to the Princes to whom they send them, but to answer things about which these Princes interrogate them. They made a Speech at this Court, to accommodate themselves to our Customs, and to enjoy an Honour they highly valued; which was, to speak to the King, before his Majesty spake to them. This is all we can say of their Poetry, and their Rhetoric.
They absolutely ignore all the parts of Philosophy, except some Principles of Morality, where, as we shall see in discoursing of the Talapoins, they have intermixt Truth with Falshood. I will at the same time also demonstrate, that they have not any sort of Theology, and that we might perhaps justifie them about the worshipping of the false Deities whereof they are accused, by an Impiety more culpable, which is not to acknowledge any Divinity neither true nor false.
They study not the Civil Law: They learn the Laws of their Country only in Employments. They are not Public, as I have said, for want of Printing; but when they enter into any Office, they put into their hands a Copy of the Laws which concern it: And the same thing is practiced in Spain, tho' the Laws be there in the hands of all persons, and that there are publick Schools, to teach them. As for example, in the Provisions of a Corregidor they will insert the whole Title of the Corregidor, which is in the compiling of their Ordinances and Decrees. I have likewise seen some example of this in France.