ANDRE DES TOUCHES AT SIAM
Andre des Touches was a very agreeable musician
in the brilliant reign of Louis XIV. before the
science of music was perfected by Rameau; and
before it was corrupted by those who prefer the
art of surmounting difficulties to nature and
the real graces of composition.
Before he had recourse to these talents he had
been a musketeer, and before that, in 1688, he
went into Siam with the cleric Tachard, who gave
him many marks of his affection, for the amusement
he afforded on board the ship; and Des Touches
spoke with admiration of Tachard for the rest of
At Siam he became acquainted with the first
commissary of Barcalon, whose name was Croutef;
and he committed to writing most of those
questions which he asked of Croutef, and the
answers of that Siamese. They are as follows:
DES TOUCHES. -- How many soldiers have you?
CROUTEF. -- Fourscore thousand, very indifferently
DES TOUCHES. -- And how many Talapolins?
CROUTEF. -- A hundred and twenty thousand, very
idle and very rich. It is true that in the last
war we were beaten, but our Talapolins have
lived sumptuously, and built fine houses.
DES TOUCHES. -- Nothing could have discovered
more judgment. And your finances, in what state
CROUTEF. -- In a very bad state. We have, however,
about ninety thousand men employed to render them
prosperous, and if they have not succeeded, it
has not been their fault; for there is not one
of them who does not honorably seize all that
he can get possession of, and strip and plunder
those who cultivate the ground for the good of
DES TOUCHES. -- Bravo! And is not your jurisprudence
as perfect as the rest of your administration?
CROUTEF. -- It is much superior. We have no laws,
but we have five or six thousand volumes on the
laws. We are governed in general by customs; for
it is known that a custom, having been established
by chance, is the wisest principle that can be
imagined. Besides, all customs being necessarily
different in different provinces, the judges may
choose at their pleasure a custom which prevailed
four hundred years ago, or one which prevailed
last year. It occasions a variety in our legislation,
which our neighbors are forever admiring. This
yields a certain fortune to practitioners. It is
a resource for all pleaders who are destitute of
honor, and a pastime of infinite amusement for
the judges, who can with safe consciences decide
causes without understanding them.
DES TOUCHES. -- But in criminal cases -- you have
laws which may be depended upon.
CROUTEF. -- God forbid! We can condemn men to
exile, to the galleys, to be hanged; or we can
discharge them, according to our own fancy. We
sometimes complain of the arbitrary power of
the Barcalon; but we choose that all our decisions
should be arbitrary.
DES TOUCHES. -- That is very just. And the
torture -- do you put people to the torture?
CROUTEF. -- It is our greatest pleasure. We have
found it an infallible secret to save a guilty
person, who has vigorous muscles, strong and
supple hamstrings, nervous arms, and firm loins;
and we gaily break on the wheel all those innocent
persons to whom nature has given feeble organs.
It is thus we conduct ourselves with wonderful
wisdom and prudence. As there are half proofs,
I mean half truths, it is certain there are
persons who are half innocent and half guilty.
We commence, therefore, by rendering them half
dead; we then go to breakfast; afterwards ensues
entire death, which gives us great consideration
in the world, which is one of the most valuable
advantages of our offices.
DES TOUCHES. -- It must be allowed that nothing
can be more prudent and humane. Pray tell me
what becomes of the property of the condemned?
CROUTEF. -- The children are deprived of it.
For you know that nothing can be more equitable
than to punish the single fault of a parent on
all his descendants.
DES TOUCHES. -- Yes. It is a great while since
I have heard of this jurisprudence.
CROUTEF. -- The people of Laos, our neighbors,
admit neither the torture, nor arbitrary punishments,
nor the different customs, nor the horrible
deaths which are in use among us; but we regard
them as barbarians who have no idea of good
government. All Asia is agreed that we dance
the best of all its inhabitants, and that,
consequently, it is impossible they should come
near us in jurisprudence, in commerce, in finance,
and, above all, in the military art.
DES TOUCHES. -- Tell me, I beseech you, by what
steps men arrive at the magistracy in Siam.
CROUTEF. -- By ready money. You perceive that
it may be impossible to be a good judge, if a
man has not by him thirty or forty thousand
pieces of silver. It is in vain a man may be
perfectly acquainted with all our customs; it
is to no purpose that he has pleaded five
hundred causes with success -- that he has a
mind which is the seat of judgment, and a heart
replete with justice; no man can become a
magistrate without money. This, I say, is the
circumstance which distinguishes us from all
Asia, and particularly from the barbarous
inhabitants of Laos, who have the madness to
recompense all kinds of talents, and not to
sell any employment.
Andre des Touches, who was a little off his
guard, said to the Siamese, that most of the
airs which he had just sung sounded discordant
to him; and wished to receive information
concerning real Siamese music. But Croutef,
full of his subject, and enthusiastic for his
country, continued in these words:
"What does it signify that our neighbors, who
live beyond our mountains, have better music
than we have, or better pictures; provided we
have always wise and humane laws? It is in that
circumstance we excel. For example:
"If a man has adroitly stolen three or four
hundred thousand pieces of gold, we respect
him, and we go and dine with him. But if a
poor servant gets awkwardly into his possession
three or four pieces of copper out of his
mistress's box, we never fail of putting that
servant to a public death; first, lest he
should not correct himself; secondly, that
he may not have it in his power to produce
a great number of children for the state, one
or two of whom might possibly steal a few
little pieces of copper, or become great men;
thirdly, because it is just to proportion the
punishment to the crime, and that it would be
ridiculous to give any useful employment in
a prison to a person guilty of so enormous
"But we are still more just, more merciful,
more reasonable in the chastisements which we
inflict on those who have the audacity to make
use of their legs to go wherever they choose.
We treat those warriors so well who sell us
their lives, we give them so prodigious a
salary, they have so considerable a part in
our conquests, that they must be the most
criminal of all men to wish to return to
their parents on the recovery of their reason,
because they had been enlisted in a state of
intoxication. To oblige them to remain in one
place, we lodge about a dozen leaden balls
in their heads; after which they become
infinitely useful to their country.
"I will not speak of a great number of
excellent institutions, which do not go so
far as to shed the blood of men, but which
render life so pleasant and agreeable that
it is impossible the guilty should avoid
becoming virtuous. If a farmer has not been
able to pay promptly a tax which exceeds his
ability, we sell the pot in which he dresses
his food; we sell his bed, in order that,
being relieved of all his superfluities,
he may be in a better condition to cultivate
DES TOUCHES. -- That is extremely harmonious!
CROUTEF. -- To comprehend our profound wisdom,
you must know that our fundamental principle
is to acknowledge in many places as our sovereign
a foreigner who lives at the distance of nine
hundred miles from us. When we assign some of
our best territories to any of our Talapolins,
which it is very prudent in us to do, that
Siamese Talapolin must pay the revenue of his
first year to that Tartar, without which it is
clear our lands would be unfruitful.
But the time, the happy time, is no more,
when that Tartan induced one-half of the
nation to cut the throats of the other half,
in order to decide whether Sammonocodom had
played at leap-frog or at some other game;
whether he had been disguised in an elephant
or in a cow; if he had slept three hundred
and ninety days on the right side, or on the
left. Those grand questions, which so essentially
affect morality, agitated all minds; they shook
the world; blood flowed plentifully for it;
women were massacred on the bodies of their
husbands; they dashed out the brains of their
little infants on the stones, with a devotion,
with a grace, with a contrition truly angelic.
Woe to us! degenerate offspring of pious
ancestors, who never offer such holy sacrifices!
But, heaven be praised, there are yet among us
at least a few good souls, who would imitate
them if they were permitted.
DES TOUCHES. -- Tell me, I beseech you, sir,
if at Siam you divide the tone major into two
commas, or into two semi-commas; and if the
progress of the fundamental sounds are made
by one, three, and nine?
CROUTEF. By Sammonocodom, you are laughing at
me. You observe no bounds. You have interrogated
me on the form of our government, and you speak
to me of music!
DES TOUCHES. -- Music is everything. It was
at the foundation of all the politics of the
Greeks. But I beg your pardon; you have not a
good ear; and we will return to our subject.
You said, that in order to produce a perfect
CROUTEF. -- I was telling you, that formerly
the Tartar pretended to dispose of all the
kingdoms of Asia; which occasioned something
very different from perfect harmony. But a
very considerable benefit resulted from it;
for people were then more devout toward
Sammonocodom and his elephant than they are
now; for, at the present time, all the world
pretends to common sense, with an indiscretion
truly pitiable. However, all things go on;
people divert themselves, they dance, they play,
they dine, they sup, they make love; this makes
every man shudder who entertains good intentions.
DES TOUCHES. -- And what would you have more?
You only want good music. If you had good music,
you might call your nation the happiest in the