Another resident has the direction of the company’s affairs in the kingdom of Siam, where the company carries on a considerable trade in tin, lead, elephants-teeth, gum-lac, wool, and other commodities. The king of Siam is a prince of considerable power, and his dominions extend nearly 300 leagues. Being favourable to commerce, all nations are allowed to trade freely in his country; but ships of no great burden are forced to anchor at the distance of sixty leagues from his capital; because the river Menan, on which it is situated, is so rapid that they find great difficulty in getting higher up. This river, like the Nile and many others, overflows its banks at a certain season, so that most of the country is under water for half the year, for which reason all the houses are built on posts. The capital is a large city, consisting at least of 50,000 houses, with a prodigious number of temples. The natives are all pagans, and hold this singular maxim, “That all religions are good, provided they tend to the honour of God.” They think, however, that their own is the best; though they sometimes own that the God of the Christians is most powerful, because the head of their principal idol has been twice beaten to pieces by thunder. This is perhaps the largest idol in the world, and is called by the Dutch in derision, The great blockhead of Lust. He is represented sitting cross-legged like a tailor; in which posture he measures seventy feet high, and every one of his fingers is as large as the body of a man. About three leagues from the capital there is a temple of vast size, having an idol not quite so large as the other, which the priests say is his wife; and that once in seven years, one of these goes to visit the other. The priests also pretend that both of these idols are of solid gold; but the thunder-clap, which destroyed the head of the larger idol detected that part of the cheat, shewing it to be only brick and lime, very artificially gilded all over. One may justly wonder that this accident did not put an end to the adoration of so wretched a deity; but where superstition once prevails the plainest proofs very seldom produce any effect.
[Footnote 1: Perhaps cotton, often termed cotton-wool, ought to have been here substituted.—E.]
[Footnote 2: In Harris the temples are stated at 30,000.—E.]
The country of Siam is very rich and fertile, and there is a considerable trade carried on here by the Chinese. The Dutch have here considerable privileges, and are the favoured nation, especially since the great revolution, when they got into great favour with the new king, because the English had been entrusted by his predecessor, whom he murdered, with the best places in the government, both civil and military. The Dutch have a factory on the side of the river, about a mile below the city, where they collect great numbers of deer-skins; which are sent annually to Japan. The Siamese are themselves much addicted to trade, and the Chinese who reside here still more; so that they send ships every year to Japan, which, considering the difficulty of the navigation, is not a little extraordinary. The Siamese boast of having used the compass above a thousand years before it was known in Europe: But the Jesuits very justly observe, that the Siamese and Chinese compasses are very imperfect.