Friday, October 2, 2009

XV. A Character of the Siameses in general

The Siameses are good people; Adultery is rare in Siam; The Jealousie of the Siameses to their Wives; The Glory of the Asiatic Women; The Jealousie of the Siameses towards their Daughters; Their respect towards Old Men; The Siameses great Lyars; Great Union in their Families; Begging is rare and Shameful at Siam; The Siameses are Robbers; Some examples of Theft committed by the Siameses; Robbers in the Woods of Siam and China, which do rarely kill; The fidelity of the Siamese in Commerce, their boundless Usury, and their Avarice; They are very revengeful, and how; Other qualities of the Siameses; Their Friendship is perfidious; They are naturally more moderate than we are, because they are more dull.

As easiness of living conflicts in the reasonable price of things necessary for life, and as good manners are more easily preserved in a moderate easiness, than in a Poverty attended with too much labour, or in an over-abundant Idleness, it may be affirm'd that the Siameses are good men. Vices are detestable amongst them, and they excuse them not as witty conceits, nor as sublimity of mind. A Siamese never so little above the refuse of the people, is so far from making himself drunk, that he accounts it a shame to drink Arak.

Adultery is rare at Siam, not so much because the Husband has the power of doing himself Justice over his Wife, (that is to say, to kill her if he finds her in a palpable offence, or to sell her, if he can convict her of Infidelity) as because the Women are not corrupted by Idleness (for it is they that maintain the men by their Labour) nor by the Luxury of the Table or of Cloaths, nor by Gaming, nor by Shows. The Siamese Women do not play: they receive no Visits from men; and Plays are very rare at Siam, and have no appointed days, nor certain price, nor public Theater. It must not however be thought that all Marriages are chaste, but at least any other Love more immoderate, than that of the Wives is, they say, without example.

Jealousie is amongst them only a meer opinion of Glory, which is greater in those, that are most highly advanced in Dignity. The Wives of the People managing all the Trade do enjoy a perfect Liberty. Those of the Nobles are very reserved, and stir not abroad but seldom, either upon some Family visit, or go to the Pagodes. But when they go out, they go with their face uncovered, even when they go on foot; and sometimes it is hard to distinguish them from the Women-slaves which accompany them. In a word, they not only find nothing austere in the constraint under which they live, but they place their glory therein. They look upon a greater liberty as a flame: and would think themselves slighted and contemned by a Husband that would permit it them: They are jealous for them as much as they are themselves.

There is not a vertuous Woman in Asia, who in time of War chuses not rather that her Husband should kill her, than that he should suffer her to fall under the power of the Enemies. Tacitus in the Twelfth Book of his Annals, gives an example thereof in Zenobia, the wife of Rhadamistus. The Husbands themselves do think it the most shameful think in the world to them, that their Wives should fall into the Enemies hands; and when this happens, the greatest affront that can be done, is not to restore them to their Wives. But tho the Women of Asia be capable of sacrificing their life to their glory, there ceases not to be some amongst them, who take secret pleasures when they can, and who hazard their glory and their life upon this account. 'Tis reported that there have been some examples hereof amongst the King of Siam's Wives: How closely soever they be shut up, they do sometimes find a way to have Lovers. Some have assur'd me, that the ordinary method by which this Prince punishes them, is first to submit them to a Horse, accustomed I know not how, to the love of Women, and then to put them to death. 'Tis some years since he gave one to the Tygers, and because these Animals spared her at the first, he offered her a Pardon: but this Woman was so unworthy as to refuse it, and with so many affronts that the King looking upon her as distracted, ordered again that she should dye. They irritated the Tygers, and they tore her in pieces in his presence. It is not so certain that he puts the Lovers to death, but at the least he causes them to be severely chastized. The common opinion at Siam is, that 'twas a fault of his nature, which caused the last disgrace of the late Barcalon, elder Brother of the King of Siam's first Ambassador to the King. The King his Master caused him to be very severely bastinado'd, and forbore to see him, yet without taking away his Offices. On the contrary, he continued to make use of him during the six months, that he survived the blows which he had received; and he with his own hand prepared all the Remedies which the Barcalon took in his last sickness, because no person dared to give him any, for fear of being accused of the death of a man, who appeared so dear to his Master. Bernier relates some examples, by which it appears that the Great Mogul does not always punish the Women of his Seraglio that offended in their duty, nor the Men that are their Accomplices, with death. These Princes consider these sorts of Crimes, like the others, which may be committed against their Majesty, unless any sentiment of Love renders them more sensible of Jealousie.

The Siamese Lords are not less jealous of their Daughters than of their Wives: and if any one commits a fault, they sell her to a certain man, who has a priviledge of prostituting them for Money, in consideration of a Tribute which he pays the King: 'Tis said that he has six hundred, all Daughters of Officers in esteem. He likewise purchases Wives, when the Husbands sell them, being convinced of infidelity.

Disrespect towards Old Men is not less rare at Siam than at China. Of the two Mandarins whch came on board the Kings Ambassadors Ship, to bring them the first Compliment from the King of Siam, the younger, tho the higher in dignity, yielded the first place and speech to the elder, who was not above three or four years older.

Lying towards Superiours is punished by the Superiour himself; and the King of Siam punishes it more severely than any other: and notwithstanding all this, they lye as much or more at Siam, than in Europe.

The Union of Families there is such, that a Son who would plead against his Parents, would pass for a Monster: Wherefore no person in this Country dreads Marriage, nor a number of Children: Interest divides not Families: Poverty renders not Marriage burdensome.

Our Domesticks observed only three sorts of Beggars, Aged, Impotent and Friendless persons. Relations permit not their Kindred to beg Alms: They charitably maintain those than cannot maintain themselves out of their Estate or Labour. Begging is shameful there, not only to the Beggar, but all his Family.

But Robbing is much more ignominious than Begging, I say not to the Robber himself, but to his Relations. The nearest Friend dare not concern themselves about a Man accused of Theft; and it is not strange that Thievery should be reputed so infamous, where they may live so cheap: Thus are their Houses much less secure, than our worst Chests. Nevertheless as it is not possible to have true Vertue, but in the eternal prospects of Christianity, the Siameses do seldome as I may say refuse to steal whatever they meet with. 'Tis properly amongst them that opportunity makes the Thief. They place the Idea of perfect Justice is not gathering up lost things, that is to say in not laying hold on so easie an occasion of getting. After the same manner the Chineses to exaggerate the good Government of some of their Princes, do say that under their Reign Justice was in so high an esteem among the People, that no person meddled with what he found scattered in the high Road; and this Idea has not been unknown to the Greeks. Anciently in Greece the Stagyritæ made a Law in these words: What you have not laid down take not up; and it is perhaps from them that Plato learned it, when he inserted it amongst the Laws. But the Siameses are very remote from so exquisite a probity.

Father d'Espagnac, one of those pious and learned Jesuits which we carried to Siam, being one day alone in the Divan of their House, a Siamese came boldly to take away an excellent Persian Carpet from off a Table that was before him: and Father d'Espagnac let him do it, because he imagined not that he was a Robber. In the Journey which the King caused the Ambassadors of Siam to make into Flanders, one of the Mandarins which accompanied them, took twenty Scions in a house, where the Ambassadors were invited to dine, as they sojourned in one of the principal Cities of Picardy. The next day this Mandarin conceiving that these Scions were Money; gave one to a Footman to drink; and his Theft was thereby discovered, but no Notice taken thereof.

Behold likewise an ingenious prank, which proves that the opportunity of stealing has so much power over them, that it sometimes sways them, even when it it perilous. One of the Officers of the King of Siam's Magazines having stolen some Silver, this Prince ordered him to be put to death, by forcing him to swallow three or four Ounces of Silver of melted Silver, and it happened, that he who had order to take those three or four Ounces of Silver out of the Wretch's throat, could not forbear filching part of it. The King therefore caused him to die of the same punishment, and a third exposed himself to the same hazard by committing the like Offence: I mean by stealing part of the Silver, which he took out of the last dead Man's throat. So that the King of Siam, pardoning him his Life, said, there is enough punisht, I should destroy all my Subjects, if I should not resolve to pardon them at last.

It must be doubted after this, of what is reported of the Siameses who live in the Woods, to withdraw themselves from the Government, that they frequently rob the Passengers, yet without killing any. The Woods of China have been continually pestered with such Robbers: and there are some who after having enticed a great many Companions with them, have formed whole Armies, and at last rendered themselves Masters of that great Kingdom.

On the other hand, Fidelity is exceeding great at Siam, in all sorts of Traffick, as I have elsewhere remarked: but Usury is there practised without bounds. Their Laws have not provided against it, though their Morality prohibits it. Avarice is their essential Vice; and what is more wonderful herein, is that they heap not up riches to use them, but to bury them.

As they traffic not almost with immoveables, make no Wills, nor publick Contracts, and as in a word they have no Notaries, it seems that they cannot almost have any Suits, and they have indeed few Civil, but a great many Criminal causes. 'Tis principally out of spight that they exercise their secret Hatreds and Revenges; and they find facility therein with the Judges, who in this Country, as in Europe, do live on their profession. The Siameses have naturally an aversion to blood: but when they hate, even unto death, which is very rare, they assassinate, or they poyson, and understand not the uncertain Revenge of Duels, yet most of their quarrels do terminate only in blows, or reciprocal defamations.

The Ancients have remark'd that it is the Humidity of the Elements, which defends the Indians against that action of the Sun, which burns the Complexion of the Negro's, and makes their Hair grow like Cotton. The Nourishment of the Siameses is likewise more aqueous, than that of any other Poeple of the Indies; and unto them may be safely attributed all the good, and all the bad qualities, which proceed from Phlegm and Spittle; because that Phlegm and Spittle are the necessary effects of their Nourishment. They are courteous, polite, fearful, and careless. Thy contain themselves a long time, but when once their Rage is kindled, they have perhaps less discretion than we have. Their Timidity, their Avarice, their Dissimulation, their Silence, their Inclination to lying do increase with them. They are stiff in their Customs, as much out of Idleness, as out of respect to their Ancestors, who have transmitted them to them. They have no curiosity, and do admire nothing. They are proud with those that deal gently with them, and humble to those that treat them with rigour. They subtile and variable, like all those that perceive their own weakness.

Their manner of promising themselves an eternal amity, is by drinking of the same Aqua Vitæ in the same Cup, and when they would swear themselves more solemnly, they taste the blood one of another; which Lucian gives us for a Custom of the ancient Scythians, and which is practised also by the Chineses, and by other Nations: but the Siameses cease not sometimes to betray after all these Ceremonies.

In general they have more Moderation than us: their Humors are as calm as their Heaven, which changes only twice a year and insensibly, when it turns by little and little from Rain to Fair-weather to Rain. They act only by necessity, and do not like us place merit in Action. It seems not rational to them that Labour and Pains should be the Fruit and Reward of Vertue. They have the good Fortune to be born Philosophers, and it may be that if they were not born such, they would not become so more than we. I therefore willingly believe what the Ancients have reported, that Philosophy came from the Indies into Europe, and that we have been more concerned at the insensibility of the Indians, than the Indians have been at the wonders, which our inquietude has produced in the discovery of so many different Arts, whereof we flatter our selves, perhaps to no purpose, that necessity was the Mother. But enough is spoken of the Siameses in general, let us enter into the particulars of their manners, according to various conditions.

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