Friday, October 2, 2009

XII. Of the Officers which nearest approach the King of Siam's Person.

In what place of the Palace the Courtiers wait; How the King of Siam shows himself to them; The King of Siam’s Pages; Their Functions; How the King of Siam loves reading; The Officers which command the Pages within; Of the single Officer which prostrates not himself before the King of Siam.

In the Vang are some of those single Halls which I have described; in which the Officers do meet, either for their Functions, or to make their Court, or to wait the Orders of the Prince.

The usual place were he shows himself unto them, is the Hall, where he gave Audience to the King’s Ambassadors; and he shows himself only through a Window, as did antiently the King of China. This Window is from a higher Chamber, which has this prospect over the Hall, and which amy be said to be of the first Story. It is nine Foot high or thereabouts; and it was necessary to place three steps underneath, to raise he high enough to present the King’s Letter to the King of Siam. This Prince chose rather to cause these three steps to be put, than to see himself again obliged to stoop, to take the King’s Letter from my hand, as he had been obliged to do, to take that which Mr. de Chaumont deliver’d him. ‘Tis evident by the Relation of Mr. de Chaumont, that he had in his hands a kind of Gold Cup, wich had a very long handle of the same matter; to the end that he might use it to take this Cup by the handle to raise the Letter; so that it was necessary that the King of Siam should stoop out of the Window to receive it. ‘Tis with the same Cup, that the Officers of this Prince deliver him everything that he receives from their hands. At the two Corners of the Hall which are at the sides of this Window, are two doors about the heighth of the Windows, and two pair of very narrow Stairs to ascend. For the Furniture there is only three Umbrella’s, one before the Window with nine rounds, and two with seven rounds on both sides of the Window. The Umbrella is in this Country as the Daiz or Canopy is in France.

‘Tis in this Hall that the King of Siam’s Officers, which if you please, may be named from his Chamber, or rather his Anti-chamber, do expect his Orders. He has Forty four young men, the oldest of which hardly exceeds twenty five years of Age: the Siameses do call them Mahatlek, the Europeans have called them Pages. These Forty four Pages therefore are divided into four Bands, each consisting of eleven: the two first are on the right, and do prostrate themselves in the Hall at the King’s right hand; the two others are on the left hand, and do prostrate themselves on the left hand. This Prince gives them every one a Name and a Sabre; and they carry his Orders to the Pages without, which are numerous, and which have no Name, that is imposed on them by the King. The Siameses do call them Caloang, and ‘tis these Caloangs that the King ordinarily sends into the Provinces upon Commissions, whether ordinary, or extraordinary.

Besides this the Forty four Pages within have heir Functions regulated: Some, for example, do serve Betel to the King, others take care of his Arms, others do keep his Books, and when he pleases they read in his presence.

This Prince is curious to the highest degree. He caused Q. Curtius to be translated into Siamese, while we were there, and has since order’d several of our Histories to be translated. He understands the States of Europe; and I doubt not thereof, because that once, as he gave me occasion to inform him that the Empire of Germany is Elective, he asked m whether besides the Empire and Poland, there was any other Elective State in Europe? And I heard him pronounce the word Polonia, of which I had not spoken to him. Some have assur’d me that he has frequently asserted, that the Art of Ruling is not inspired, and that with great Experience and Reading, he perceived that he was not yet perfect in understanding it. But he design’d principally to study it from the History of the King: he is desirous of all the News from France; and so soon as his Ambassadors were arrived, he retain’d the third with him, until he had read their Relation to him from one end to the other.

To return to the Forty-four Pages, Four Officers command them; who, because they so nearly approach the Prince, are in great esteem, but yet not in an equal degree: for there is a great difference from the first to the second, from the second to the third, and from the third to the fourth. They bear only the Title of Oc-Meuing, or of Pra-Meuing: Meuing Vai, Meuing Sarapet, Meuing Semeungtchai, Meuingsii. The Sabres and Poniards which the King gives them are adorned with some precious Stones. All four are very considerable Nai, having a great many subaltern Officers under them; and though they have only the Title of Meuing, they cease not to be Officers in Chief. The Pages, the Oc-ya, the Oc-pra, and the other Titles are not always subordinate to them, only the one must command more persons that the other. In a word, ‘twas Meuingsii which accompany’d Meuing Tchion on Board our Ships, to bring to the King’s Ambassadors the first Compliment from the King of Siam, and it was to him that Meuing Tchion, tho’ higher in dignity, gave the precedency and the word; because that Meuingsii was three or four years older, but the eldest of both was not thirty.

While the Ambassadors were at Audience, there was in one place and Officer, whom we perceived not, who alone, as they informed me, has the Priviledge of not prostrating himself before the King his Master; and this renders his Office very honourable. I forgot to write down his Title in my Memoirs. He always has his Eyes fixed upon this Prince, to receive his Orders, which he understands by certain Signs, and which he signifies by Signs to the other Officers which are without the Hall. Thus when the Audience was ended, I wou’d say when the King had done speaking to us, this Prince, in silence which is profound, gave some Signal, to which we gave no heed; and immediately at the bottom of the Hall, and in an high place, which is not visible, was heard a tinkling Noise, like that of a Timbrel. This Noise was accompany’d with a Blow, which was ever and anon struck on a Drum, which is hung up under a Pent-house without the Hall, and whch for being very great, renders its sound grave and Majestic; it is cover’d with an Elephant’s skin: yet no person made any motion, till that the King whose Chair an invisiblehand did by little and little draw back, removed himself from the window, and closed the Shutters thereof, and then the Noise of the tinkling and the great Drum ceased.

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