Upon the Burning of the Cottonian Manuscripts at Ashburnham-House. 1731
For future Fame when anxious we prepare,
How false our Views, how fruitless is our Care!
In vain Ambition hopes, or Virtue claims;
'Tis Fate, imperious Fate controuls our Aims.
See what a glorious Trophy Cotton rears!
The learned Spoils of twice a thousand Years;
From Goths and Vandals 'scap'd, and what we feel
Than these more dreadful, from Reforming Zeal;
From ev'ry Foe the Muses us'd to fear,
Sacred and safe preserv'd—to perish Here!
So Philadelphus through the World explor'd,
And Learning's copious Works insatiate stor'd;
Nor deem'd, such precious Treasures to obtain,
The Wealth of mighty Kingdoms giv'n in vain.
All the past Annals of revolving Time,
The Acts of ev'ry Age and ev'ry Clime,
The rich Productions of each studious Mind,
The various Skill and Science of Mankind,
Collected stand, the World's stupendous Boast!
And all in one, one fatal Blaze, are lost.
Old Laws, old Usage, old Events to tell,
Where shall we seek our faithful Oracle?
Whence shall we now adjust each learn'd Debate?
Clear the dark Fact, and fix the doubtful Date?
Call forth Historic Truth in all her Charms?
And snatch fair Virtue from Oblivion's Arms?
Here all was open to the curious View,
Nor Delphian Phœbus ever spoke so true;
Such rich Remains, such Works of ancient Days,
Such Monuments of our Forefathers Praise,
Once These poor Walls, This ruin'd Dome could show,
Such Fame—which now the World must never know.
Whate'er the Fury of the Flames has spar'd,
With zealous Care, with awful Rev'rence guard.
Let Heav'n no more, what late its Wrath has show'd,
Resent such Gifts unworthily bestow'd.
Beyond what Av'rice seeks, or Wealth supplies,
Each Code, each Volume, ev'ry Fragment prize:
As Rome her Relicks sav'd from Times of old,
With Gems profusely decks, and shrines in Gold;
Tho' none like These, with all her Pomp and Cost,
Or Rome , or all her Vatican can boast.
For see what valu'd Records still appear:
The Whole how valu'd when they All were here!
O'twas too much, when all entire were told,
Too rich a Treasure for one Land to hold!
Yet These let future Times with Joy receive,
The noblest Legacy that ours can leave.
So when the angry Sibyl saw expire
Six of her sacred Volumes in the Fire,
For the three last, repenting from his Soul,
The King paid down the Purchase of the Whole:
And these, inspir'd from her Prophetic Rage,
Inform'd their Counsels down through ev'ry Age,
To ev'ry public Enterprize gave Law,
And taught old Rome to keep the World in Awe.
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