Friday, October 2, 2009

XIV. Of the Customs of the Court of Siam, and of the Policy of its Kings.

The Hours of Council; The division of the day and night according to the Siameses; Their Clock; How the King of Siam examines Affairs in his Council, and how he terminates them; He punishes bad Counsels and recompences good; Sometimes he consults about Affairs Invented by way of Exercise. He examines his Officers about their Obligations. A Law against the Ambition of the Great Men; The Trade an Informer commanded at Siam by the Law; Why they are frequently ineffectual; The King of Siam's rigorous Justice; How he insults over the dead body; The Various Punishments of the Court of Siam; The Punishments have respect to the Crimes; The punishment of the Sword and the Cudgel; The Punishment with which the Princes are punished; The extreme distrust of the Kings of Siam; Infamous Punishments; The shame of the Punishments lasts no longer than the Punishments. It is attended with Honour; Others are included in the Punishments with the Criminals; The least pretence for a Crime is punished; The Policy of the Kings of Siam, cruel against all, and against their own Brethren; The Government of Siam more burdensome to the Nobles than to the Populace; The King of Siam's regards for his people; The Inconveniences of this Government. It renders the Prince wavering on his Throne; How uncertain the extream Respect of the Orientals is for their Kings; These Princes do oftentimes lose their Authority by being too jealous; The peril in re-uniting all the Royal Authority in the Seal; A publick Treasure necessary to despotick Governments, and what are the Inconveniences thereof; the Conclusion of this Chapter.

The common usage of the Court of Siam is to hold a Council twice a day; about Ten a clock in the Morning, and about Ten in the Evening, reckoning the hours after our fashion.

As for them, they divide the day into Twelve hours, from the Morning to the Night: The Hours they call Mong: they reckon them like us, and give them not a particular name to each, as the Chineses do. As for the Night, they divide it into four Watches, which they call Tgiam, and it is always broad Day at the end of the Fourth. The Latins, Greeks, Jews, and other people have divided the Day and Night, after the same manner.

The People of Siam have no Clock; but as the Days are almost equal there all the Year, it is easie for them to know what Hour it is, by the sight of the Sun. In the King's Palace they use a kind of Water-Clock: 'Tis a thin Copper Cup, at the bottom of which they do make an almost imperceptible hole; and when the Cup is full enough to sink down, this is one of the hours, or a twelfth part of the day. They measure the Watches of the Night by such a like method, and they make a Noise on Copper Basons when the Watch is ended.

I have related how Causes are determined in the King of Siam's Council: Affairs of State are there examined, and decided almost after the same manner. That Councellor to whom this Prince has committed a business, makes the report thereof, which consists in reading it, and then proceeds to the consultative Opinions; and hitherto the King's Presence is not necessary. When he is come he hears the report, which is read to him concerning the former Consult, he resumes all the advices, confutes those which he approves not, and then decides. But if the Affair seems to him to merit a more mature deliberation, he makes no decision: but after having proposed his difficulties,he commits the examination thereof to some of his Council, whom he purposely appoints; and principally to those who were of a different Opinion from his. They, after having again consulted together, do cause the report of their new Consultation to be made by one of them, in a full Council, and before the King; and hereupon this Prince consummates his Determination. Yet sometimes, but very rarely, and in affairs of a certain Nature, he will consult the principal Sancras, which are the Superiors of the Talapoins; whose credit in other matters he depresses as much as he can, though in appearance he honors them exceedingly. In a word, there is such a sort of affairs, where he will call the Officers of the Provinces: but on all occasions, and in all affairs, he decides when he pleases; and he is never constrained to either ask advice of any person, or to follow any other advice than his own.

He oftentimes punishes ill Advice, or recompences good. I say good or bad according to his sense, for he alone is the Judge thereof. Thus his Ministers do much more apply themselves to devine his sentiments, than to declare him theirs, and they misunderstand him, by reason he also endeavours to conceal his Opinion from them.

In a word, the affair on which he consults them, is not always a real concern; 'tis sometimes a question, which he propounds to them by way of exercise.

He likewise has a custom of examining his Officers about the Pra-Tam-Ra, which is that Book, which I have said contains all their Duties; and causes such to be chastized with the Bastinado, who answer not very exactly; even as a Father chastizes his Children in instructing them.

'Tis an ancient Law of the State established for the security of the King, whose Authority is naturally almost unarmed, that the Courtiers should not render him any visit without his express leave, and only at Weddings and Funerals, and that when they meet, they should speak with a loud voice, and in the presence of a third person: but if the Kings of Siam be unactive, or negligent, not any Law secures them. At present the Courtiers may appear again at the Academy of Sports, where the great number seems to take away all opportunity of Caballings.

The Trade of an Informer, so detested in all places where men are born free, is commanded to every person at Siam, under pain of death for the least things; and so whatever is known by two Witnesses, is almost infallibly related to the King: because that every one hastens to give information thereof, for fear being herein prevented by his Companion, and remain guilty of Silence.

The present King of Siam relies not in an important affair upon the single report of him to whom he has committed it; but neither does he rely also on the report of a single Informer. He has a number of secret Spies, whom he separately interrogates; and he sometimes sends more than one to interrogate those who have acted in the affair, whereof he would be informed.

And yet is is easie for him to be deceived; for throughout the Country every Informer is a dishonest man, and every dishonest man is an Infidel. Moreover Flattery is so great in India, that it has persuaded the Indian Kings, that if it is their interest to be informed, it is their dignity to hear nothing that may displease them. As for example, they will not tell the King of Siam, that he wants Slaves or Vassals, for any enterprize he would go about. They will not tell him that they cannot perform his Commands: but they execute them ill, and when the mischief appears, they will excuse it by some defect. They will tell him ill news quite otherwise than it is; to the end that the truth reaching his Ears only by degrees, may vex him less, and that it might be easier to pacifie him at several times. They will not counsel him a bad thing; but will so insinuate it, that he may think himself the Author, and only take to himself the bad success. And then they will not tell him that he must alter a thing that he has done amiss; but they will persuade him to do it better some other way, which will only be a pretence: and in the new project they will suppress, without acquainting him, what they designed to reform, and will put in the place what they designed to establish. I my self have seen part of what I related, and they have assured me the rest.

Now such like Artifices are always very perilous; they offend the present King in nothing without being punish'd. Being severe to extream rigour, he puts to death whom he pleases withut any formality of Justice, and by the hand of whom he pleases, and in his own Presence: And sometimes the Accuser with the Criminal, the Innocent with the Calumniator: for when the proofs remain doubtful, he, as I have said, exposes both parties to the Tygers.

After the Execution he insults over the dead body with some words, which are a lesson to the living; as for example, after having made him who had robb'd his Magazine, to swallow some melted Silver, he says to the dead body, Miserable wretch, thou hast robb'd me of Ten Pieces of Silver, and Three Ounces only are sufficient to take away thy life. Then he complains that they with-held him not in his Anger; either that he indeed repents sometimes of his precipitate Cruelties, or that he would make believe that he is cruel only in the first Transport.

Sometimes he exposes a Criminal to an enraged Bull, and the Criminal is armed with a hollow stick, consequently proper to cause fear, but not to wound, with which he defends himself some time. At other times he will give the Criminal to Elephants, sometimes to be trampled under foot and slain, sometimes to be tossed without killing: for they affirm that the Elephants are docible to that degree, and that if a Man is only to be tossed, they throw him one to the other, and receive him on their Trunck, and on their Teeth, without letting him fall on the ground. I have not seen it, but I cannot doubt of the manner which they have assured me.

But the Ordinary Chastisements are those, which have some relation to the Nature of the Crimes. As for example, Extortion exercised on the People, and a Robbery committed on the Prince's Money, will be punished by the swallowing of Gold or Silver melted: Lying, or a Secret revealed, will be punished by Sowing up the Mouth. They will slit it to punish Silence, where it is not to be kept. Any Fault in the execution of Orders, will be Chastised by pricking the edge of a Sabre: but to manage it securely, and not to make too great wounds, they hold it with one hand by the Back, and not by the Handle.

The punishment of the Glave or Sword is not executed only by cutting the Head off, but by cutting a man through the middle of the Body: And the Cudgel is sometimes also a punishment of death. But when the Chastisement of the Cudgel ought not to extend to death, it ceases not to be very rigorous, and frequently to cause the loss of all knowledge.

If the matter is to put a Prince to death in form, as it may happen, or when a King would rid himself of some of his Relations, or when an Usurper would extinguish the race, from which he has ravish'd the Crown, they make it a piece of Religion not to shed the Royal blood: but they will make him to die with hunger, and sometimes with a lingering hunger, by daily subtracting from him something of his food; or they will stifle him with Rich Stuffs; or rather they will stretch him on Scarlet, which they mightily esteem, because the Wool is rare, and dear; and there they will thrust into his Stomach a billet of Saunders Wood. This Wood is odoriferous, and highly esteem'd. There are three sorts; the white is better than the yellow, and both do grow only in the Isles of Solor and Timor, to the East of Java. The red is esteemed the least of all, and it grows in several places.

The Kings of Asia do place their whole security in rendering themselves formidable, and from time out of mind they have had no other Policy: whether that a long Experience has evinced that these People are uncapable of Love for their Sovereign; or that these Kings would not be advised that the more they are fear'd, the more they have to fear. However it be, the extream distrust in which the Kings of Siam do always live, appears sufficiently in the cares which they take to prevent all secret Correspondence amongst the great Men, to keep the Gates of their Palace shut, and to permit no armed person to enter, and to disarm their own Guards. A Gun fired, by accident or otherwise, so near the Palace that the King hears it, is a capital Crime; and the noise of a Pistol being heard in the Palace, a little after the Conspiracy of the Macassars, 'twas doubted whether the King had not with this shot killed one of his Brothers; because that the King alone has the power to shoot, and that moreover one of his Brethren had been suspected of having meddled in this Conspiracy: and this doubt was not cleared when we left Siam.

Besides the Punishments which I have mentioned, they have some less dolorous, but more infamous, as to expose a Man in a public place loaded with Irons, or with his Neck put into a kind of Ladder or Pillory, which is called Cangue, in Siamese Ka. The two sides of this Ladder are about six foot long, and are fastened to a Wall, or to Posts, each at one end, with a Cord; insomuch that the Ladder may be rais'd up, and let down, as if it was fasten'd to Pullies. In the middle of the Ladder are two Steps or Rounds, between which is the Neck of the Offender, and there are no more Rounds than these two. The Offender may sit on the ground, or stand, when the weight of the Ladder, which bears upon his Shoulders, is not too big, as it is sometimes; or when the Ladder is not fastened at the four ends: for in this last Case it is planted in the Air, bearing at the ends upon Props, and then the Criminal is as it were hung by the Neck; he hardly touches the ground with the Tips of his Toes. Besides this, they have the use of Stocks and Manacles.

The Criminal is sometimes in a Ditch to be lower than the ground; and this Ditch is not always broad, but oftentimes it is extremely narrow, and the Criminal, properly speaking, is buried up to the Shoulders. There, for the greater Ignominy, they give him Cuffs or Blows on the Head; or they only stroke the hand over his Head, Affronts esteemed very great, especially if received from the hand of a Woman.

But what is herein very particular, is, that the most infamous Punishment is reproachful only as long as it lasts. He that suffers it to day, will re-enter to morrow, if the Prince thinks fit, into the most important Offices.

Moreover, they boast of the Punishments which they receive by Order of their King, as of his paternal care for him whom he has the goodness to chastise. He receives Compliments and Presents after the Bastinado, and it is principally in the East that Chastisements do pass for testimonies of Affection. We saw a young Mandarin shut up to be punished, and a Frenchman offering him to go and ask Pardon of his Superior: No, replied the Mandarin in Portuguese, I would see how far his Love would reach; or as an European would have said, I would see how far he will extend his Rigor. To be reduced from an eminent place to a lower is no Reproach, and this befel the second Ambassador whom we saw here. Yet it happens also, that in this Country they hang themselves in despair, when they see themselves reduced from an high Employment, to an extreme Poverty, and to the six Months Service due to the Prince, tho' this Fall be not shameful.

I have said in another place, that a Father shares sometimes in the punishment of the Son, as being bound to answer for the Education which he has given him. At China an Officer answers for the Faults of all the persons of his Family, because they pretend, that he who knows not how to govern his own Family, is not capable of any public Function. The Fear therefore, which particularly persons have of seeing their Families turned out of the Employments, which do make the Splendor and Support thereof, renders them all wise, as if they were all Magistrates. In like manner at Siam, and at China, an Officer is punished for the Offences of another Officer that is subject to his Orders, by reason that he is to watch over him that depends on him; and that having power to correct him, he ought to answer for his conduct. Thus about three years since we saw at Siam for three days, Oc-Pra-Simo-ho-fot, by Nation a Brame, who is now in the King of Siam's Council of State, exposed to the Cangue with the head of a Malefactor, which they had put to Death, hung about his Neck; without being accused of having had any other hand in the crime of him, whose head was hung to his Neck, than too great Negligence in watching over a Man that was subject to him. After this 'tis no wonder in my opinion, that the Bastinado should be so frequent at Siam. Sometimes there may be seen several Officers at the Cangue, disposed in a Circle; and in the midst of them will be the head of a man, which they have put to death; and this head will hang by several strings from the Neck of every one of these Officers.

The worst is, that the least appearance of guilt renders an action criminal: To be accused is almost sufficient to be culpable. An action in it self innocent becomes bad, so soon as any one thinks to make a Crime thereof. And from thence proceed the so frequent disgraces of the principal Officers. They know not how, for instance, to reckon up all the Barcalons that the King of Siam has had since he reigned.

The Greatness of the Kings, whose Authority is despotical, is to exercise Power over all, and over their own Brethren. The Kings of Siam do maim them, in several ways, when they can: they take away or debilitate their fight by fire; they render them impotent by dislocation of Members, or sottish by Drinks, securing themselves and their Children against the Enterprizes of their Brethrens, only by rendering them incapable of reigning: he that now reigns has not treated his better. This Prince will not therefore envy our King, the sweetness of being beloved by his Subjects, and the Glory of being dreaded by his Enemies. The Idea of a great King is not at Siam, that he should render himself terrible to his Neighbours, provided he be so to his Subjects.

Yet there is this Reflection to be made on this sort of Government, that the Yoke thereof is less heavy, if I may so say, on the Populace than on the Nobles. Ambition in this Country leads to Slavery: Liberty, and the other Enjoyments of Life are for the vulgar Conditions. The more one is unknown to the Prince, and the further from him, the greater Ease he enjoys; and for this reason the Employments of the Provinces are there considered, as a Recompence of the Services done in the Palace.

The Ministry there is tempestuous: not only thro the natural Inconstancy, which may appear in the Prince's Mind; but because that the ways are open for all persons to carry complaints to the Prince against his Ministers. And though the Ministers and all the other Officers, do employ all their artifices to render these ways of complaints ineffectual, whereby one may attack them all, yet all complaints are dangerous, and sometimes it is the slightest which hurts, and which subverts the best established favour. These examples, which very frequently happen, do edifie the People; and if the present King had not too far extended his exactions without any real necessity, his Government would as much please the Populace, as it is terrible to the Nobles.

Nevertheless he has had that regard for his People, as not to augment his Duties on cultivated Lands, and to lay no imposition on Corn and Fish; to the end that what is necessary to Life might not be dear: A moderation so much the more admirable, as it seems that they ought not to expect any from a Prince educated in this Maxim, that his Glory consists in not setting limits to his power, and always in augmenting his Treasure.

But the Kings which are so absolutely the Masters of the Fortune and Life of their Subjects, are so much the more wavering in the Throne. They find not in any person, or at most in a small number of Domesticks, that Fidelity or Love which we have for our Kings. The People which possess nothing in poverty, and which do reckon only upon what they have buried in the ground, as they have no solid establishment in their Country, so they have no obligation thereto. Being resolved to bear the same Yoke under any Prince whatever, and having the assurance of not being able to bear a heavier, they concern not themselves in the Fortune of their Prince: and experience evinces that upon the least trouble they let the Crown go, to whom Force or Policy will give it. As Siamese, a Chinese, an Indian, will easily die to exert a particular Hatred, or to avoid a miserable Life, or a too cruel Death: to to die for their Prince and their Country, is not a Vertue in their practice. Amongst them are not found the powerful motives, by which our People animate themselves to a vigorous Defence. They have no Inheritance to lose, and Liberty is oftentimes more burdensome to them than Servitude. The Siameses which the King of Pegu has taken in war, will live peaceable in Pegu, at Twenty miles distant from the Frontiers of Siam, and they will there cultivate the Lands which the King of Pegu has given them, no remembrance of their Country making them to hate their new Servitude. And it is the same of the Peguins, which are in the Kingdom of Siam.

The Eastern Kings are looked upon as the adoptive Sons of Heaven. 'Tis believed that they have Souls celestial, and as high above other Souls by their Merit; as the Royal Condition appears more happy than that of other men. Nevertheless, if any one of their Subjects revolts, the People doubt presently which of the two Souls is most valuable, whether that of the Lawful Prince, or that of the Rebellious Subjects; and whether the Adoption of Heaven has not passed from the King to the Subject. Their Histories are all full of these examples: and that of China, which Father Martinius has given us, is curious in the ratiocinations, by which the Chinese, I mean the Chinese Philosophers, are often perswaded that they followed the Inclination of Heaven in changing their Sovereign, and sometimes in preferring a High-way-man before their Lawful Prince.

But besides that the despotick Authority is almost destitute of defence, it is moreover rather usurped by him that possesses it, in that the exercise thereof is less communicated. Whoever takes upon him the Spirit or Person of a Prince has almost nothing more to do to dispossess the Prince; because that the exercise of the Authority being too much reunited in the Prince, there is none besides him that prohibits it in case of need. Thus is it not lawful for a King to be a Minor, or too easie to let himself be governed. The Scepter of this Country soon falls from hands that need a support to sustain it. On the contrary, in Kingdoms where several permanent bodies of Magistracy divide the Splendor and the Exercise of the Royal Authority, these same bodies do preserve it entire for the King, who imparts it to them; because they deliver not to the Usurper that part which is in their hands, and which alone suffices to save that which the King himself knows not how to keep.

In the ancient Rebellions of China it appears, that he who seized on the Royal Seal, presently rendered himself Master of all; because that the people obeyed the Orders where the Seal appear'd, without informing themselves in whose hands the Seal was. And the Jealousie which the King of Siam has of his, that I have said he intrusts with no person, persuades me that it is the same in this Country. The danger therefore to these Princes is in that wherein they place their security. Their Policy requires that their whole Authority should be in their Seal, to exercise it more entire themselves alone: And this Policy as much exposes their Authority, as their Seal is easie to lose.

The same danger is found in a great Treasure, the only spring of all the Despotick Governments, where the ruin'd people cannot supply the extraordinary Subsidies in publick necessities. In a great Treasure all the Forces of the State reunite themselves, and he that seizes on the Treasure, seizes on the State. So that besides a Treasures ruining the People, on whom it is levied, it frequently serves against those that accumulate it; and this likewise draws the dissipation thereof.

The Indian Government has therefore all the defects of the Despotick Government. It renders the Prince and his Subjects equally uncertain: It betrays the Royal Authority, and delivers it up entire, under pretence of putting the more entire Management thereof into the hands of a single person; and moreover it deprives it of its natural defence, by separating the whole Interest of the Subjects from that of the Prince and State. Having therefore related how the Kings of Siam do treat their Subjects, it remains to show how they treat, as well with foreign Princes by Embassies, as with the foreign Nations which are fled to Siam.

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