Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 4, 1859

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 4, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 4, 1859

action: sent

sender: William Seward
Birth: 1801-05-16  Death: 1872-10-10

location: Paris, France

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1844-12-09  Death: 1866-10-29

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: vxa 

revision: vxa 2021-03-13

Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward's series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Paris, Thursday Aug. 4, 1859
My dear Fanny,
The Reformation which has blessed
the world at large so much and made the English and
the American nations the leaders of civilization once
contested with the Catholic Church with hope
of success in every European state, in France and
even in Spain. It waged the contest with arms,
while it demanded and at last secured a stipulation
of toleration. But the Catholic King
Birth: 1638-09-05 Death: 1715-09-01
of France was
perfidious, and in one night he revoked the Edict
of Nantes, the law of toleration, and the Catholics
fell upon the Protestants with blind fury and made
an inimical massacre - the massacre of St Bartholomew
I strive to refresh my historical knowledge of that sad
Page 2

sad calamity that atrocious cruelty yesterday by visiting
the gate at the palace of the Louvre where the signal
gun was fired which began the ^permitted^ massacre. Then courageous
was the flight of Protestants from all the Catholic
Latin nations to Protestant Countries, the establishment of
Protestantism then most fully, but alas the reformation
was brought by it to an immediate end in France and
Spain, and they remain undisturbed by Protestantism
to this day - Look into your history and learn
the facts for yourself. Every where in America you
will find the descendants of the Huguenots as those
Protestant refugees were called. The blood and the
fire of the French Revolution of 1793 not to speak of the
disposition ^yet remaining^ in the Kingdom on the expectations France was
doomed to make for that great political crime committed
in the name of religion. [Here is a leaf of ivy torn from the vine that
covers the palace of the Caesars of Paris:]
France as you know was conquered by Julius
and Paris became a military station in the
Roman empire. Here emperors were sometimes chosen by
the Army, and here for periods greater or less they held Court.
My second exploration yesterday brought me to the
palace of Julian, a distant and noble Roman man - External
walls and columns, subterranean aqueducts and passages
are found - but there are yet standing three or four vast
apartments ^which were^ used for baths, andThey are built of brick and
stone, with Roman cement and the walls are exceedingly
massive. It was an occasion suggestive of reflection
when I stood in those apartments and saw scattered
Page 3

me the broken monuments statues and altars of the
old Roman state and its Gods that had my lot been
cast in the age and place which these ruins com-
memorate upon me would have devolved the great
responsibility as it did in all to choose between
a new and despised and hated but firm religion
and a superstition fastened upon the house ruined
by the court of ages and the reverence and affection
of a faith that art and Philosophy had consecrated.
One could forgive under the weight of those reflections
even the apostasy of Julian - especially if he reflects
how hard it is to defend truth in our own times when
it ^is^ clearly respected if it brings upon down upon us the
censure and hate of our contemporaries * Connected
with this old noble man is the Palace of Cluny, a
medieval structure, at first an Abby then a royal
residence and and the home of Marie the wife of Henry
Louis XII ^of France^ and sister of Henry VIII of England - revered
as the place of the marriage of James 5 of Scotland
with Madeleine daughter of Francis I


of France - It
has had its times of dilapidation too, but lately
it has been restored in its primitive architecture and
converted into a museum of antiquities of France -
The collection of them is immense and exceedingly
Page 4

instructive. The altars, ^statues of^ saints, porches, mantel
pieces, beds, bedsteads, bellows, tongs, numerous
curtains tapestry, dressing cases, china plates, ^continuous pictures^ & the
like gathered with great assiduity and lavish
cost from all parts of the Kingdom - and arranged
chronologically in the various halls enable you to
study quite thoroughly the social progress of France
and even of Europe through a period of 800 years.
Once in for sightseeing I pressed on to the
Church called La Sainte Chapelle and the
Palace of Justice. Louis called St. Louis, King of
France flourished in the time of the Crusades, the commune
of Venice and the zeal of Pilgrims brought back art
of Palestine relics of the Savior and of the apostles
which the Christian world valued above all price.
Louis built the Church Church to receive the sacred
deposit of this kind in 1239 to 1249. It received (I
write the history I receive but do not vouch for its truth),
twenty of those precious relics, namely, the Crown of
thorns, the Cross of Victory made in part of the Cross of
Christ, a piece of the spear with which the savior was
wounded in his crucifixion, a link of the chain he wore on
that ^sad^ occasion, a remnant of the purple robe with which he
was ended in mockery, a piece of the scepter which
Page 5

was placed in his hand by the deriding Jews, a
piece of the sponge with which vinegar was given him
to drink, some drops of his blood, some pieces of
the clothes he wore in the manger at Bethlehem, a
piece of the napkin with which he wiped the feet of
the apostles, a piece of the handkerchief with which
he wiped the tears ^sweat^ of blood from his in Gethse-
mane - a piece of the same napkin which took
the likeness of his features on that night of agony
some of the hair, and even some of the of
the Virgin Mary, a stone from the Holy Sepulcher
and a piece of the wand or rod of Moses - The
Church was worthy of such relics. Often neglected
and even sometimes put to secular uses, it has recently
been restored to its original form and colors - and
stands to day a temple of stained glass stained
with infinite art and mysterious meanings the most
^graceful and^ beautiful monument of Christian architecture I have
ever seen - light, cheerful, suggestive and inspiring -
what adds to its effort is that it is a double
Church, one beautiful and perfect chapel over another
and yet so light and graceful as to seem like
the Crystal Palace at London or the Suspension Bridge
at Niagara - a work of fancy, rather than a
solid structure for human use - The relics; The relics!
Page 6

You will ask me to describe them. Well of course
they would not be left there when the Church was devoted
to repair, or to secular uses - They were removed
to St Denis. I saw them twenty years ago and
more, but they had so much more to show me
that they didn't show them. Then they were removed
to Notre Dame very properly as the Metropolitan
Church - I have seen the relics there preserved but
such precious relics as these are never shown to
gratify a more idle curiosity. They are too precious
for that, and are reserved only for the Sight of
the Faithful and for them on extraordinary occasions
when some miracle is to be advanced.
You will smile at the superstition that I have
brought up before you - But you must not despair it.
Mankind has been hitherto in their infancy. They could
not separate truth from error from want of development
of reason and judgement. If there had been no such
superstition we should now have had no monuments
of Christian Architecture - If the past ages ^centuries^ had been
required to accept a pure spiritual religion asso-
ciated with gross powers they would have rejected
it altogether - and there would now be no Christianity
Perhaps we in our time may come to be
Page 7

regarded as absurd by our successors five hundred
or a thousand or even one hundred years hence -
A few steps from Sainte Chapelle brought
me to the prison walls - The chambers of
Louis 16th
Birth: 1754-08-23 Death: 1793-01-21
, Marie Antoinette


^her unfortunate children
x Birth: 1778-12-19  Death: 1851-10-19  Birth: 1785-03-27  Death: 1795-06-08 
and the other
noble sufferers in the French Revolution whose
touching story rose up before me. I followed
their steps from the prison to the Court. I seemed
to hear Malesherbes
Birth: 1721-12-06 Death: 1794-04-22
pleading the his royal
masters cause with a fervor and fidelity
which while failing of its noble purposes
threatened to bring his own head to the scaffold,
and I rejoiced to find that fidelity appreciated
by a monument in the Hall which presents the
advocate in the act of counseling his client
in prison, and on another stage pleading his
cause before the Judges. Here too is the chamber
from which made his chivalrous escape
and here the apartment which once held Louis
Birth: 1808-04-20 Death: 1873-01-09
now Emperor and sole despot in France-
Page 8

The Pantheon is after St Pauls ^in London^ , the noblest
modern Christian Church I have seen. It is of
the Grecian order and has similar proportions.
I looked upon the tombs of Voltaire which
is worthy of his genius, and upon that of
Rousseau which presents the he an opening
door out of which a human hand projects
holding a torch - An idea sublime, at first, but
when dwelt upon it sinks into a conceit.
A Christian person in the faith might well be
excused for doubting the portion of these honors
to these distinguished sceptics. But when
one reflects that the Reformation had been
totally suppressed in France and superstition
and deposition had become the actual forms
of Christianity, he must concede I think that
even the extravagant instructions of those misguided
men have been useful and perhaps that
they were necessary for the empowerment of
the human mind in the era in which
Page 9

they flourished.
St Stephens of the Mount, is a noble
church of the 16th century. It was at its door
that the Archbishop
Birth: 1793-09-28 Death: 1848-06-27
of Paris fell under
the blow of an ^a maniacal^ officer
in 1848. Here I saw
the tomb of St Genevieve of the 4th Century,
the Patron Saint of Paris - It is believed
to possess the very ashes of the saint miracu-
lously secured from some ruin. Thirty or
forty tapers burn on it continually day and
night -
I closed my days peregrinations with
a visit to the Camp of the returned Army
of Italy, at Vincennes - I had never before seen
an army in its tents. The soldiers are
Frenchmen, their wives and children are there
to greet them on their safe return from those
frightful but glorious campaigns - I heard from
enough to sadden me that the Army like
the Church is a domestic Institution of
France. The conscription is indeed a terror in many
Page 10

a peasants household. But the young conscript like
the young man in every country has an innate
passion for military life. It develops itself at once
in the camp - Dangers strengthen it, ^the love of^ glory fortifies its Pa-
triotism and Christianity are made to minister to it. The
father mother wife and sisters soon grow familiar
with it, and habits of military life thus formed
are renounced only on completion. Sometimes in A-
merica I have thought that my responsibilities of
contest with the interests and passions that main-
tain human slavery are oppressive and discouraging
but the French Republican who must first remove
war and superstition out of the way before he
can see his country free her trials, I am now
satisfied a thousand times greater than mine.
My morning to day was spent in exami-
nations of the police and education systems of
Paris until 4 o'clock. When leaving living Paris
on the earth, I descended by a newel stair case
of stone containing 180 steps into the caverns that underlie
the great city. I was one of a party of sixty, each
of us bearing a lighted candle - At first we
Page 11

traversed long narrow passages cut in the stone
and little higher than our own stature, turning at long
intervals to the right - or to the left, and occasionally
seeing through spaces open in the wall dark caverns
of greater or less extent on either side. Tramp, tramp
we went on, wondering when and for what the passages
were made, and whether they were endless - Inscrip-
tions on the walls told us that we were now under
this street, now under that street, now under
this aqueduct, and now under this rail road
of the City. At length we came to a door which
being unlocked by our guide admitted us to
an endless city of the dead. Streets right and
left, streets one above the other, sometimes eight
sometimes ten or fifteen feet wide were bounded
by them on either side by regular edifices of human
bones - Laid up with all the order of masonry and
all the art of an architect. The face nearest the
street, consisted of rows of thigh bones, the end in all
cases presented to the spectators. Then in rows of half a
foot high, then a larger of sculls, with the face
in front, then rows of thigh bones, like the former
Page 12

and of the
same height, then
a tier of heads, the
back presented to the spectators
the lesser bones of the civilian
corpses laid behind and out of sight
and but swelling the heaps to their wondrous
size. It is a homely illustration, but it will suffice
if I say that when you pass the largest highest
and most massive piles of fuel at any rail road station
CGathered and corded and laid up awaiting distant use, you
imagine these masses to be heaps of the bones of men women
and children and invest them with the associations and
disquieting nature of such materials you may get a very inadequate
idea of the catacombs of Paris. I followed the ^darkened^ silent streets
surrounded by the fleshless human forms until I was wearied with
the mere fatigue. "Son of man" said I to myself "Shall these
dry bones live?" Yes I replied they shall live, and before I
can truly live In them who are dear to me they must become as
and mute and forgotunknown and forgotten as these are
How can they then? The caves were always there, they are like the
limestone caverns in Virginia Kentucky Doubtlessly in times
of danger and persecution men may have sought refuge and
even buried the dead - Monarchs would open and
perfect the passages for pride, country con-
ceit. But within the last few centuries
living Paris has wanted the
room in graveyards and
other cemeteries where
dead Paris
Page 13

We shudder while living at the thought that our
from dust shall be disturbed - Even Shakespeare
Birth: 1564-04-26 Death: 1616-04-23
most spiritual of all men, he who might be most indif-
ferent to the fate of his mortal relics with his own
epitaph in these words or words like them.
"Stranger forbear to move these stones -
For curst be he who moves my bones"
^Living^ Friends and relatives guard the dust of departed friends
The Catholic Church believes the resurrection not only
prevail in the body but . The grave is therefore
only a temporary resting place - When the government wanted
the burying grounds it yielded a due respect to the
the sympathies and the religious sentiments
of the age in carefully taking the remains of the
dead from their abodes and removing them to
a sure and silent resting place where they may remain
presence ever free from profanation again - The Cata-
combs are thus filled with the once buried dead
of Paris. But how mortifying after all to
Here is the saint the hero the scholar, the poet the ^philosopher^
the young, the beautiful, the good crowded and heaped
and pressed into and even mingled and confounded
with out respect even to lie with the convict, the coward
the clever the idiot the old, the depraved - How
happy all those in their unconsciousness, how happy their
relatives living in their regime - Adieu to the Catacombs -
Page 14

It is propitious
to have been there once
but worlds would not
make me willing to see them
again -