Friday, October 2, 2009

XIII. Of the Arts exercised by the Siameses.

They are bad Artificers, and why; What Arts they exercise; The Windows of the Chineses; How the Siamese do use Metals; How they write on a Leaf of Gold; They are bad Smiths and no Tanners; They make little Linnen, and no Snuffs; The painting of the Siameses and Chineses.

They have no Companies of Trades, and the Arts flourish not amongst them, not only by reason of their natural sluggishness, but much more by reason of the Government under which they live. There being no security for the wealth of particular persons, but to conceal it well every one there continues in so great a simplicity, that most of the Arts are not necessary to them, and that the Workmen cannot meet with the just value of the Works on which they would bestow a great deal of Expense and Labour. Moreover, as every particular Person does Annually owe six Months service to the King, and that frequently he is not discharged for six Months, there is no Person in this Country that dares to distinguish himself in any Art, for fear of being forced to work gratis all his life for the service of this Prince. And because that they are indifferently employ'd in these Works, every one applies himself to know how to do a little of all, to avoid the Bastinados; but none would do too well, because that Servitude is the reward of Ingenuity. They neither know, nor desire to know how to do otherwise, than what they have always done. 'Tis no matter to them to have 500 Workmen, for several Months, upon what a few Europeans, well paid, would finish in a few days. If any Stranger gives them any direction, or any Machine, they forget it so soon as their Prince forgets it. Wherefore no European offers his service to an Indian Prince, who is not receiv'd as I may say, with open Arms. How little Merit soever he may have, he always has more than the natural Indians; and not only for the Mechanic Arts, but for the Sea, and for Commerce, to which they are much more affected. The Inconvenience is, that the Indian Kings do well know the Secret, either of enriching a Stranger only with hopes, or of detaining him amongst them if they have really enrich'd him. Nothing is so magnificent as the Grants which the great Mogul gives: But is there found one European that has carry'd away much wealth out of his Service?

To return to the Industry of the Siameses, the Arts which they understand are these. They are reasonable good Joyners, and because they have no Nails, they very well understand how to fasten pieces together. The pretend to Sculpture, but grosly perform it. The Statues of their Temples are very ill made. They know how to burn Brick, and make excellent Ciments, and are not unskill'd in Masonry. Nevertheless their Brick Buildings do not last, for want of Foundations: they do not make any, even in their Fortifications. They have no melted Crystal, or Glass; and it is one of the things they most esteem. The King of Siam was extreamly pleased with those Fosset-cut Glasses, which multiply an Object; and he demanded entire Windows with the same property.

The Windows of the Chineses are compos'd with Threds of Glass as big as Straws, laid one by another, and glued at the ends to Paper, as we solder the Quarries of Glass into our Window-frames. They do frequently put some Paintings on these sorts of Glasses, and with these Glasses thus painted, they sometimes make Pannels of Screens, behind which they love to set some lights, because they extreamly admire the Fancy of Illuminations.

The Siameses do know how to melt Metals, and cast some Works in Molds. They do cover their Idols, whcih are sometimes enormous masses of Brick and Lime, with a very thin Plate either of Gold or Silver, or Copper. I have in my possession a little Sommona-Codom, which is thus cover'd over with a Copper Plate gilded, and which is yet full of the Ciment, which served as the Model. With such a Plate of Gold or Silver they cover certain of their King's Moveables, and the Iron hilt of the Sabres and Daggers, which he presents to some of his Officers, and sometimes to Strangers. They are not wholly ignorant of the Goldsmith's Trade; but they neither know how to polish, nor to set precious stones.

They are excellent Gilders, and know very well how to beat the Gold. As often as the King of Siam writes to another King, he does it upon a Leaf of that Metal as thin as a Leaf of Paper. The Letters are imprinted thereon with a blunt Poinson or Bodkin, like those with which we write in our Table-Books.

They make use of Iron only as it is Cast, by reason they are bad Forge-men; their Horses are not shod, and have commonly Stirrups of Rope, and very paltry Snaffles. They have no better Saddles, the Art of Tanning and preparing Skins, being absolutely unknown at Siam.

They make little Cotton-Cloth, and that very course, with a very nasty Painting, and only in the Metropolis. They make no Stuffs, neither of Silk, nor Wooll, nor any Tapestry-work: Wooll is here very scarce. They understand Embroidery, and their Designs please.

In one of their Temples I saw a very pleasant Picture in Fresco, the Colours of which were lively. There was no Ordonance, and it made us to remember our ancient Tapestries: 'Twas not certainly the work of a Siamese hand.

The Siameses and Chineses know not how to paint in Oil; and, moreover, they are bad Painters. Their Fancy is to slight and disesteem whatever is after Nature only. To them it seems that an exact Imitation is too easie, wherefore they overdo everything. They will therefore have Extravagancies in Paintings, as we will have Wonders in Poetry. They represent Trees, Flowers, Birds, and other Animals, which never were. They sometimes give unto Men impossible Proportions, and the Secret is, to give to all these things a Facility, which may make them appear Natural. This is what concerns the Arts.

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