BOOK II (5) : THEIR SOCIETY
BUT it is now time to explain to you the mutual intercourse of this
people, their commerce, and the rules by which all things are distributed
|Distribution of population|
By the same rule, they supply cities that do not increase so fast, from others that breed faster; and if there is any increase over the whole island, then they draw out a number of their citizens out of the several towns, and send them over to the neighboring continent; where, if they find that the inhabitants have more soil than they can well cultivate, they fix a colony, taking the inhabitants into their society, if they are willing to live with them; and where they do that of their own accord, they quickly enter into their method of life, and conform to their rules, and this proves a happiness to both nations; for according to their constitution, such care is taken of the soil that it becomes fruitful enough for both, though it might be otherwise too narrow and barren for any one of them. But if the natives refuse to conform themselves to their laws, they drive them out of those bounds which they mark out for themselves, and use force if they resist.
For they account it a very just cause of war, for a nation to hinder
others from possessing a part of that soil of which they make no use, but
which is suffered to lie idle and uncultivated; since every man has by
the law of nature a right to such a waste portion of the earth as is necessary
for his subsistence. If an accident has so lessened the number of the inhabitants
of any of their towns that it cannot be made up from the other towns of
the island, without diminishing them too much, which is said to have fallen
out but twice since they were first a people, when great numbers were carried
off by the plague, the loss is then supplied by recalling as many as are
wanted from their colonies; for they will abandon these, rather than suffer
the towns in the island to sink too low.
|The distribution of food and sysytem of communal dining-halls|
There are also, without their towns, places appointed near some running water, for killing their beasts, and for washing away their filth, which is done by their slaves: for they suffer none of their citizens to kill their cattle, because they think that pity and good-nature, which are among the best of those affections that are born with us, are much impaired by the butchering of animals: nor do they suffer anything that is foul or unclean to be brought within their towns, lest the air should be infected by ill-smells which might prejudice their health.
In every street there are great halls that lie at an equal distance from each other, distinguished by particular names. The syphogrants dwell in those that are set over thirty families, fifteen lying on one side of it, and as many on the other. In these halls they all meet and have their repasts. The stewards of every one of them come to the market-place at an appointed hour; and according to the number of those that belong to the hall, they carry home provisions. But they take more care of their sick than of any others: these are lodged and provided for in public hospitals they have belonging to every town four hospitals, that are built without their walls, and are so large that they may pass for little towns: by this means, if they had ever such a number of sick persons, they could lodge them conveniently, and at such a distance, that such of them as are sick of infectious diseases may be kept so far from the rest that there can be no danger of contagion. The hospitals are furnished and stored with all things that are convenient for the ease and recovery of the sick; and those that are put in them are looked after with such tender and watchful care, and are so constantly attended by their skilful physicians, that as none is sent to them against their will, so there is scarce one in a whole town that, if he should fall ill, would not choose rather to go thither than lie sick at home.
After the steward of the hospitals has taken for the sick whatsoever the physician prescribes, then the best things that are left in the market are distributed equally among the halls, in proportion to their numbers, only, in the first place, they serve the Prince, the chief priest, the tranibors, the ambassadors, and strangers, if there are any, which indeed falls out but seldom, and for whom there are houses well furnished, particularly appointed for their reception when they come among them. At the hours of dinner and supper, the whole syphogranty being called together by sound of trumpet, they meet and eat together, except only such as are in the hospitals or lie sick at home.
Yet after the halls are served, no man is hindered to carry provisions
home from the market-place; for they know that none does that but for some
good reason; for though any that will may eat at home, yet none does it
willingly, since it is both ridiculous and foolish for any to give themselves
the trouble to make ready an ill dinner at home, when there is a much more
plentiful one made ready for him so near at hand. All the uneasy and sordid
services about these halls are performed by their slaves; but the dressing
and cooking their meat, and the ordering their tables, belong only to the
women, all those of every family taking it by turns. They sit at three
or more tables, according to their number; the men sit toward the wall,
and the women sit on the other side, that if any of them should be taken
suddenly ill, which is no uncommon case among women with child, she may,
without disturbing the rest, rise and go to the nurses' room, who are there
with the sucking children, where there is always clean water at hand, and
cradles in which they may lay the young children, if there is occasion
for it, and a fire that they may shift and dress them before it.
|The children have little chance to eat, it seems|
In the middle of the first table, which stands across the upper end of the hall, sit the syphogrant and his wife; for that is the chief and most conspicuous place: next to him sit two of the most ancient, for there go always four to a mess. If there is a temple within that syphogranty, the priest and his wife sit with the syphogrant above all the rest: next them there is a mixture of old and young, who are so placed, that as the young are set near others, so they are mixed with the more ancient; which they say was appointed on this account, that the gravity of the old people, and the reverence that is due to them, might restrain the younger from all indecent words and gestures. Dishes are not served up to the whole table at first, but the best are first set before the old, whose seats are distinguished from the young, and after them all the rest are served alike. The old men distribute to the younger any curious meats that happen to be set before them, if there is not such an abundance of them that the whole company may be served alike.
Thus old men are honored with a particular respect; yet all the rest fare as well as they. Both dinner and supper are begun with some lecture of morality that is read to them; but it is so short, that it is not tedious nor uneasy to them to hear it: from hence the old men take occasion to entertain those about them with some useful and pleasant enlargements; but they do not engross the whole discourse so to themselves, during their meals, that the younger may not put in for a share: on the contrary, they engage them to talk, that so they may in that free way of conversation find out the force of everyone's spirit and observe his temper.
They despatch their dinners quickly, but sit long at supper; because they go to work after the one, and are to sleep after the other, during which they think the stomach carries on the concoction more vigorously. They never sup without music; and there is always fruit served up after meat; while they are at table, some burn perfumes and sprinkle about fragrant ointments and sweet waters: in short, they want nothing that may cheer up their spirits: they give themselves a large allowance that way, and indulge themselves in all such pleasures as are attended with no inconvenience. Thus do those that are in the towns live together; but in the country, where they live at great distance, everyone eats at home, and no family wants any necessary sort of provision, for it is from them that provisions are sent unto those that live in the towns.