Friday, October 2, 2009

X. What the Siameses do know in Medicine and Chymistry.

The King of Siam has his Physicians from divers Countries; They understand not Chyrurgery nor Anatomy; They have not any principles, but Receipts; The Chinese Physicians are Mountebanks; The difference of the Chinese Mountebanks from ours; What Remedies are used at Siam; The Diet of the sick Siameses; Their Ignorance in Chymistry, and their Fables about this matter

Medicine cannot merit the name of a Science amongst the Siameses. The King of Siam's principal Physicians are Chineses; and he has also some Siameses and Peguans: and within two or three years he has admitted into this quality Mr. Paumart, one of the French Secular Missionaries, on whom he relies more than on all his other Physicians. The others are obliged to report daily unto him the state of this Prince's health, and to receive from his hand the Remedies which he prepares for him.

Their chief ignorance is to know nothing in Chyrurgery, and to stand in need of the Europeans, not only for Trapans, and for all the other difficult Operations of Chyrurgery, but for simple Blood lettings. They are utterly ignorant of Anatomy: and so far from having excited their Curiosity, to discover either the Circulation of the Blood, or all the new things, that we know touching the structure of the body of Animals, that they open not the dead bodies, till after having roasted them in their Funeral solemnities, under pretence of burning them; and they open them only to seek wherewith to abuse the superstitious credulity of the people. For example, they alledge that they sometimes find in the Stomach of the dead, great pieces of fresh Pig's flesh, or of some other Animal, about eight or ten pound in weight: and they suppose that it has been put therein by some Divination, and that it is good to perform others.

They trouble not themselves to have any principle of Medicine, but only a number of Receipts, which they have learnt from their Ancestors, and in which they never alter any thing. They have no regard to the particulate symptoms of diseases: and yet they fail not to cure a great many; because that the natural Temperance of the Siameses preserves them from a great many evils difficult to cure. But when at last it happens that the Distemper is stronger than the Remedies, they fail not to attribute the cause thereof to Inchantment.

The King of Siam understanding one day that I was somewhat indisposed, tho it was so little, that I kept not my Chamber, he had the goodness to send all his Physicians to me. The Chinese offer'd some Civility to the Siameses and Peguans: and then they made me sit, and sat down themselves: and after having demanded silence, for the company was numerous, they felt my pulse one after the other a long time, to make me suspect that it was not only a grimace. I had read that at China there is no School for Physicians, and that one is there admitted to exercise the profession thereof, at most by a slight examination made by a Magistrate of Justice, and not by Doctors in Physick. And I knew moreover, that the Indians are great Cheats, and the Chineses much greater: so that I had throughly resolved to get rid of these Doctors without making any experience of their Remedies. After having felt my pulse, they said that I was a little feverish, but discerned it not at all: they added that my Stomach was out of order, and I perceived it not, save that my voice was a little weak. The next morning the Chinese return'd alone to present me a small Potion warm, in a China Cup cover'd and very neat. The smell of the remedy pleas'd me, and made me to drink it, and I found my self neither better nor worse.

'Tis well known that there are Mountebanks every where, and that every Man who will boldly promise Health, Pleasure, Riches, Honors, and the knowledge of Futurities, will always find Fools. But the difference that there is between Mountebanks of China and the Quacks of Europe on the account of Medicine, is that the Chineses do abuse the sick by pleasant and enticing Remedies, and that the Europeans do give us Drugs, which the humane Body seeks to get rid off by all manners of means: so that we are inclined to believe that they would not thus torment a sick person, if it was not certainly very necessary.

When any person is sick at Siam, he begins with causing his whole body to be moulded by one that is skilful herein, who gets upon the Body of the sick person, and tramples him under his feet. 'Tis likewise reported that great belly'd women do thus cause themselves to be trodden under foot by a Child, to procure themselves to be delivered with less pain: for in hot Countries, though their Deliveries seem to be more easie by the natural Conformation of the women, yet they are very painful, by reason perhaps that they are preceded with less Evacuation.

Anciently the Indians apply'd no other Remedy to plenitude, than an Excessive diet; and this is still the principal subtilty of the Chineses in Medicine. The Chineses do now make use of Blood-letting, provided they may have an European Chyrurgion: and sometimes instead of Blood-letting they do use Cuppings-glasses, Scarifications and Leeches.

They have some Purgatives which we make use of, and others which are peculiar to them; but they know not the Hellebore, so familiar to the Ancient Greek Physicians. Moreover they observe not any time in purging, and know not what the Crisis is: though they understand the benefits of Sweats in distempers, and do highly applaud the use of Sudorificks.

In their Remedies they do use Minerals and Simples, and the Europeans have made known the Quinquina unto them. In general all their Remedies are very hot; and they use not any inward Refreshment: but they bath themselves in Fevers, and in all sorts of diseases. It seems that whatever concenters or augments the natural heat, is beneficial to them.

Their sick do nourish themselves only with boiled Rice, which they do make extreamly liquid: the Portuguese of the Indies do call it cange. Meat-broths are mortal at Siam, because they too much relax the Stomach: and when their Patients are in a condition to eat any thing solid, they give them Pigs flesh preferable to any other.

They do not understand Chymistry, although they passionately affect it; and that several amongst them do boast of possessing the most profound secrets thereof. Siam, like all the rest of the East, is full of two sorts of persons upon this account, Impostors and Fools. The late King of Siam, the Father of the present Prince, spent two Millions, a great summ for his Country, in the vain research for the Philosophers Stone: and the Chineses, reputed so wise, have for three or four thousand years had the folly of seeking out an Universal Remedy, by which they hope to exempt themselves from the necessity of dying. And as amongst us there are some foolish Traditions concerning some rare persons that are reported to have made Gold, or to have lives some Ages; there are some very strongly established amongst the Chineses, the Siameses, and the other Orientals, concerning those that know how to render themselves immortal, either absolutely, or in such a manner, that they can die no otherwise than of a violent death. Wherefor it is supposed, that some have withdrawn themselves from the sight of men, either to enjoy a free and peaceable Immortality, or to secure themselves from all foreign force, which might deprive them of their life, which no distemper could do. They relate wonders concerning the knowledge of these pretended Immortals, and it is no matter of astonishment that they think themselves capable of forcing Nature in several things, since they imagine that they have had the Art of freeing themselves from Death.

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