Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 9, 1859

  • Posted on: 8 December 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 9, 1859



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Institution:University of Rochester

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 9, 1859

action: sent

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


receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1805-09-24  Death: 1865-06-21

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: cnk 

revision: amr 2021-02-24


Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Tuesday August 9
Steamboat Borpheus on
the Mediterranean Sea.
At last I am on this old and famous
sea. We embarked at 10 last night.
We ran for sixty or seventy miles along the
coast of France and then lost sight of the
land. Now at 10 in the morning we are
approaching Corsica . An Italian sky is better
than an English or French one – but, it does
not surpass the American. The sea hitherto
has been calm as a lake – and it is
really, beautifully, heavenly blue
We have thirty passengers – mostly French
two English
, we two Americans
Birth: 1817-09-08 Death: 1886-08-10
, one lady

(French) three priests
, two Capuchin friars

Page 2

with crosses
shown – bare heads
bare feet except sandals
or soles strapped over the feet
long woolen gowns with hoods –
fine looking but unclean men.
Fewer ships and vessels than on the lakes
our American Mediterranean – Most of the passengers
like ourselves are invading Rome in August – a remorseless
hot season. There is one child
, a French one with a sunny
face. He has become mine for the voyage and we play all
manner of games unconscious that we are without a common language.
Our mode of living is not American. Coffee in bed – Breakfast at
1/2 past 10 – Bread, wine, cotelets of mutton, Fried Chickens, melons
peaches lobsters salads, olives grapes, green almonds ices &c &c
We have awnings stretched over the deck and we wander about
seeking for fresh air, and continually calling for iced water.
Some of the passengers of the lay order, seek to forget the heat in sleep.
Others play chess. The common clergy seem to have finished their
prayers and are engaged in reading and conversation. The Capuchins
seem to have a harder duty. They read incessantly and
count their beads and make signs of the cross, and
fall asleep in performing their routine duties of
devotion. But they rally again – and
resume the task. In my haste
to read observations so hur-
ridly made I forgot
to say that we
Page 3

a full half hour at Avignon so long the seat
of the Roman See. It is a great old town which
has now only relics of its former greatness. The palace
of the Popes remained but it is converted into bar-
racks. It is nevertheless a magnificent relic worthy
of its ancient power and favor. Of the venality and
crime which with it I stop not to speak,
in detail, but run on as the suggestions occur.
But it was a favored resort of Petrarch


and the
scene of the captivity of Rienzi the greatest and
noblest though the last of the Tribunes of Rome –
How you would shudder to enter them, the
Hall in which the Inquisition (which was first establ-
ished here held its session, and the funnel
shaped dungeons with their fireplaces for heating
irons for the torture – How impossible it is for
mankind to pass without martyrdom from religious
error to Truth, without blood from slavery to freedom.
These same Halls saw the massacre of seventy
royalists thrown from a high tower to break and
be mangled and die in the dungeon below in 1791
and here is the passage in which the royalist
princes were swept from life by the discharge
of grape shot from a cannon placed at the door.
Page 4

Just above
Avignon, is Orange
the capital of the ancient
Dutchy, which gave its name
to its sovereign – and who carried
the title into the reigning family of
Holland . From William 3 d Prince of Orange
Birth: 1650-11-04 Death: 1702-03-08

we borrowed the name of my native county
in America – and yet neither we nor even the successors
of that Prince have any interest in the territory which became
a possession of Prussia by the treaty of Ryswick and henceforth
soon afterwards by bargain a district of France – I have looked
now on Provence and on Languedoc, and I have seen
nothing of the romance that attends to their people. They are
simple and primitive. They thresh their oats with a large round
roller drawn by a horse or a mule – They cultivate the olive
the almond and the vine – as they were cultivated four hundred
years ago. The women carry umbrellas but wear no bonnets
and the whole population seems tanned to a truly tawny
color – But let me be done with France – Italy will
demand our best attention tomorrow –
Tuesday night, still at sea
At two o,clock we approached brought Corsica
into sight but obscured by haze – at four
or five o,clock we were abreast
of it and passing around its
Cape. The
whole Island
Page 5

when seen from the sea to be covered with mountains
of various magnitudes and heights, from 800 to 3000
feet high. Intervals between these mountains are
filled with verdure and we could distinctly see
small villages there but the mountains are
rocky sterile and forbidding. Judging Corsica
by what we saw of it from the sea Napoleon
Birth: 1769-08-15 Death: 1821-05-05

had but a rude castle; as we know he
had a lonely grave. At dark a bright
light shone forth from a dwelling half way
up the mountain side, it was the only light
visible to us from the island and when I
had just lost its cheering and suggestive
rays, the island of Elba on the other side
of our vessel came into sight – The shore presented
to us was a bold bluff precipitous rock
lighted by very elaborate arrangements for the
safety of navigation. Not a tree or shrub
or ^any^ light or sign of life did we see on
the heights abou and only some prosperous farm
cottages and boats on the shore
Page 6

Port Ferrero the chief town is on the
part of the island withheld from our sight.
One can see at once on passing Elba that
it was a political absurdity to suppose that
an ambition like Napoleons could have
been content with a realm so sterile and
contemptible as this. I sat on the deck
until sunlight, holding fast the sight of
Elba. The moon seemed to have a brightness I
had never seen. It was full in its place
to assure the dominion for which the sun
had withdrawn in a glory unimaginable.