Epistle to Don Gaspar de Jovellanos, Sent from Rome

Leandro Fernández de Moratín
1760 – 1828


Yes! the pure friendship, that in kindly bonds
Our souls united, durable exists,
Illustrious Jovino! nor can time,
Nor distance, nor the mountains us between,
Nor stormy seas hoarse roaring, separate
Remembrance of thee from my memory.

The sound of Mars, that now sweet peace awhile
Suspends, has long unhappy silence placed
On my affection. Thou I know content
Livest in obscure delicious quietude,
For ever with untiring zeal inspired
To aid the public weal; of virtue e’er.
And talent, the protector and the friend.

These verses which I frame unpolish’d, free,
Though not corrected with thy learned taste,
In truth announce to thee my constant faith.
And so may Heaven but soon to me return
The hour again to see thee, and relate
Familiarly discoursing, to my view
Whatever of its varied scenes the world
Presented. From my native shores to those
Which bathes the Seine, blood-stain’d and turbulent;
The daring Briton’s, master of the sea,
To the bold Belgian’s; from the deep-flowing Rhine
To the high tops of Apennine snow-crown’d,
And that height further, which in burning smoke
Covers and ashes over Naples wide,
The different nations I have visited,
Acquiring useful knowledge, never gain’d
By learned reading in retired abodes.
For there we cannot see the difference great
Which climate, worship, arts, opinions,
And laws occasion. That is found alone,
If thou wouldst study man, in man himself.

Now the rough Winter, which augments the waves
Of Tiber, on his banks has me detain’d,
Inhabitant of Rome. O! that with thee
’Twere granted me to rove through her, to scan
The wonderful remains of glories past,
Which Time, whose force can naught resist, has spared!
Thou nursling of the Muses and the Arts,
Faithful oracle of bright history,
What learning thou wouldst give the affluent lip;
What images sublime, by genius fired,
In the great empire’s ruin thou wouldst find!
Fell the great city, which had triumph’d o’er
The nations the most warlike, and with her
Ended the Latin valour and renown.
And she who to the Betis from the Nile
Her eagles proudly bore, the child of Mars,
The Capitol with barbarous trophies deck’d,
Conducting to her car of ivory bound
Great kings subdued, amid the hoarse applause
Of wide-throng’d forums, and the trumpet’s sounds,
Who to the world gave laws, now horrible
Night covers her. She perish’d, nor expect
More tokens of her ancient worth to find.

Those mouldering edifices, which the plough
Breaks through in shapeless masses, once they were
Circuses, strong palaces, and theatres;
Proud arches, costly baths, and sepulchres;
Where thou mayst hear perchance, for so ’tis said,
In the deep silence of the gloomy shade,
A funeral lament, they only tell
The glory of the people of Quirinus.
And this to future races but remains
The mistress of the world, illustrious Rome!
This and no more remain’d? of all her arts
And dreaded power? What could not aught avail
Her virtue, wisdom, valour, all conjoin’d,
With such her opulence, the law severe
To mitigate, or stay the blows of fate?

Alas! if all is mortal—if to Time
Alike the strong wall and the tender flower
Must yield—if that will bronze and porphyry break,
Destroying them and burying in dust,
For whom so guards unhappy Avarice
His treasuries untouch’d? for whom foretells
Immortal fame, the adulation vile
That crimes and violence traitorous exalts?
For what so hastening to the tomb runs on
The human race, revengeful, envious,
And haughty? Why, if all that e’er exists,
And what man sees is all but ruins? all.
For never to return the hours fly past
Precipitate, and to their end but lead,
Of the most lofty empires of the earth,
The perishable splendour. The Deity,
That hidden animates the universe,
Alone eternal lives, and He alone
Is powerful and great.

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