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Alexander Pope (1688–1744). Complete Poetical Works. 1903.

Moral Essays

Epistle V. To Mr. Addison, Occasioned by His Dialogues on Medals

  • ‘This was originally written,’ says Pope, ‘in the year 1715, when Mr. Addison intended to publish his book Of Medals; it was some time before he was Secretary of State; but not published till Mr. Tickell’s edition of his works; at which time the verses on Mr. Craggs, which conclude the poem, were added, viz., in 1720.’
  • Warburton connects the epistle with the preceding Essays in this ingenious way: ‘As the third epistle treated the extremes of Avarice and Profusion, and the fourth took up one particular branch of the latter, namely the vanity of expense in people of wealth and quality, and was therefore corollary to the third; so this treats of one circumstance of that vanity, as it appears in the common collections of old coins; and is therefore a corollary to the fourth.’

  • SEE the wild waste of all-devouring years!

    How Rome her own sad sepulchre appears!

    With nodding arches, broken temples spread,

    The very tombs now vanish’d like their dead!

    Imperial wonders raised on nations spoil’d,

    Where mix’d with slaves the groaning martyr toil’d;

    Huge theatres, that now unpeopled woods,

    Now drain’d a distant country of her floods;

    Fanes, which admiring Gods with pride survey,

    Statues of men, scarce less alive than they!

    Some felt the silent stroke of mould’ring age,

    Some hostile fury, some religious rage:

    Barbarian blindness, Christian zeal conspire,

    And Papal piety, and Gothic fire.

    Perhaps, by its own ruins saved from flame,

    Some buried marble half preserves a name:

    That name the learn’d with fierce disputes pursue

    And give to Titus old Vespasian’s due.

    Ambition sigh’d: she found it vain to trust

    The faithless column and the crumbling bust;

    Huge moles, whose shadow stretch’d from shore to shore,

    Their ruins perish’d, and their place no more!

    Convinced, she now contracts her vast design,

    And all her triumphs shrink into a coin.

    A narrow orb each crowded conquest keeps,

    Beneath her palm here sad Judea weeps:

    Now scantier limits the proud arch confine,

    And scarce are seen the prostrate Nile or Rhine:

    A small Euphrates thro’ the piece is roll’d,

    And little eagles wave their wings in gold.

    The Medal, faithful to its charge of fame,

    Thro’ climes and ages bears each form and name:

    In one short view subjected to our eye,

    Gods, Emp’rors, Heroes, Sages, Beauties, lie.

    With sharpen’d sight pale antiquaries pore,

    Th’ inscription value, but the rust adore.

    This the blue varnish, that the green endears,

    The sacred rust of twice ten hundred years!

    To gain Pescennius one employs his schemes,

    One grasps a Cecrops in ecstatic dreams.

    Poor Vadius, long with learned spleen devour’d,

    Can taste no pleasure since his shield was scour’d;

    And Curio, restless by the fair one’s side,

    Sighs for an Otho, and neglects his bride.

    Theirs is the vanity, the learning thine:

    Touch’d by thy hand, again Rome’s glories shine;

    Her Gods and godlike Heroes rise to view,

    And all her faded garlands bloom anew.

    Nor blush these studies thy regard engage:

    These pleas’d the fathers of poetic rage;

    The verse and sculpture bore an equal part,

    And art reflected images to art.

    Oh, when shall Britain, conscious of her claim,

    Stand emulous of Greek and Roman fame?

    In living medals see her wars enroll’d,

    And vanquish’d realms supply recording gold?

    Here, rising bold, the patriot’s honest face,

    There warriors frowning in historic brass.

    Then future ages with delight shall see

    How Plato’s, Bacon’s, Newton’s looks agree;

    Or in fair series laurell’d bards be shown,

    A Virgil there, and here an Addison.

    Then shall thy Craggs (and let me call him mine)

    On the cast ore another Pollio shine;

    With aspect open shall erect his head,

    And round the orb in lasting notes be read,

    ‘Statesman, yet friend to truth; of soul sincere,

    In action faithful, and in honour clear;

    Who broke no promise, serv’d no private end,

    Who gain’d no title, and who lost no friend;

    Ennobled by himself, by all approv’d

    And prais’d, unenvied by the Muse he lov’d.’