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Poem by James Clerk Maxwell
O well is thee! King Numa, Within thy secret cave, Where thy bones are ever moistened By sad Egeria’s wave; None now have power to pilfer The treasure of thy tomb, And reveal the institutions And secret Rites of Rome. O blessed be the Senate That stowed those books away, Curst be the attempt of Niebuhr To drag them into day; Light be the pressure, Numa, Around thy watery bed, May no perplexing problems Infest thy kingly head! As thus I blessed King Numa And struggled hard with sleep, I felt unwonted chillness O’er all my members creep; Before mine eyes in fragments The fireplace seemed to roll, The chillness left my body And slid into my soul. Deep in Egeria's grotto I saw the darksome well; I slowly sunk to Numa, But why I cannot tell. "What! Livest thou still, old Sabine, With thy mysterious wife?" "Yes, here beneath the surface, We lead a torpid life. But little think the Critics Who nullify old Rome, That in these benumbing waters I always lived at home. Never was I a Sabine, Or lived like men above; No mortal wight was Numa, Who quelled the fear of Jove. Before my day the Romans Served gods of wood and stone, But what each man had fashioned That worshipped he alone; With care he saved the silver, With pains the mould designed, He loved and feared the offspring Of his pocket and his mind. To him he went for counsel And then to Common Sense; When both of these had failed him He took to tossing pence; But I forbade all tossing, Made men enquire of beasts, Pulled down all private idols And set up public priests. Birds, too,’ said I, ‘are holy, They show us things to come, They have more subtle spirits Than wooden idols dumb. No longer burn your incense Before your private shrine, My Vestals are most careful To feed the flame divine; Dismiss all fear of idols, Of demons, and of gods, My Augurs will protect you With their long crooked rods. (With such the careful shepherd Drags lambs from ditches deep; With such he points to heaven When they are fast asleep.) O, trust me, those same Augurs Know more about the stars Than you whose only business Is everlasting wars. How can you be religious, How can they work for bread? You sinners must be shriven, My Augurs must be fed. You know dividing labour To nations riches brings, So let my Augurs shrive you While you mind earthly things. Your case I’ve set before you, You see the thing to do, If you fork out the needful, They do your job for you.’ With this and other speeches I brought the people round, Till not a single Roman In Jove’s house can be found. For well he knows each evening When bells in steeples toll, ’Tis a sign that well-paid Augurs Are helping on his soul. ’Twas this that kept ’em quiet Through all my fabled reign, Till quarrelsome young Tullus Brought battles back again. Thus my cold-blooded doctrines The fear of Jove could quell, Wonder not then to find me Alive here in a well."
James Clerk Maxwell
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