Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 12, 1859

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 12, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 12, 1859

action: sent

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

location: Rome, Italy

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

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: smc 

revision: amr 2021-01-28


Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Rome Friday evening 12 th Aug
Another morning in Rome
Breakfast at 4, at 5 we ascended the hill
or mountain on which stands the Church of St Peter,
to appreciate the full proportions of this ^the^ greatest of
Christian structures we approached it through ^one of ten^ the
covered col semicircular colonnades and
the covered way that connects this colonnade
with the porch of the church – The architect by
these structures excludes all objects except the
pavement below your feet, the majestic pile it-
self and the Heavens above from the votive or
votary as he ascends the between two noble
masters the approach to the Church – while the
Page 2

walk through the colonnades and covered way p
sv ^seven^ hundred feet in a passage way wide enough to
allow two carriages to pass abreast are a mag-
nificent introduction to the vestibule of the
Church. I could not evok give you any adequate
of idea of this magnificent temple by any sure
measurements. Suffice it to say in these respects
it is larger and higher in the whole and in its proportions
than any ch one of the great churches which have
been dedicated by so many sections to the
religion of the savior – It is built in the form of
a cross – but it is difficult to mark where
the nave and side aisles cross the are lost in
the transept except as you look up into the
dome which rests on the four ^internal^ corners of the
junction of nave and transept– French sentinels
and Roman or faithful arms were parading walking
in the vestibule ^and lay and clerical worshippers were waiting there^ when we arrived – Soon afterwards
the clock struck six, the doors were opened – we entered
Priests entered various confessionals marked arranged
around the Church with inscriptions announcing the various
languages, Italian English French Spanish Portuguese
whass ^penitents^ of perhaps all these nations
followed – and in a short time afterwards, prayers
and the scene of mass began at half a dozen
Page 3

altars, removed so far from each other that the
services might be distinct and harmonious – We were
too profane to stop either to confess or pray, but
went on guide book in hand, studying the saints/monuments
pictures and the various parts of the edifice. The
great Altar in the center is covered with a
^huge^ canopy seventy feet high supported by four columns.
"Beneath it the Church says are the very ashes of
St. Peter. In front of it, in an ancient tomb
below the floor is a statue of Pius the 6 th
Birth: 1717-12-25 Death: 1799-08-29
and in prayer – commemoration of his duress and
death a prisoner of Napoleon
Birth: 1769-08-15 Death: 1821-05-05
in France – In
the four corners parting this altar are statues
of the founders of ^the^ Christian Church, and above their
heads are the depictions of the holy relics of
the Church. They are I noticed first the bronze
statue of St Peter himself seated in a throne, one
foot projected before the other, and its great
toe actually worn smooth and small by the
lips of the faithful who kiss it reverently when
they first arrive at Rome – The next is the Suderium
that is the identical handkerchief which the
Savior applied to his face in the garden of
Gethsemane and which then took and can some how
Page 4

retained in blood the outlines features of the divine
sufferer – ^also^ A piece of the true cross of Christs passion
It is true I did not see these precious relics but there
is a good reason for that. They are only exhibited pub-
licly on ^great^ feast days and then by the Pope himself
from the balcony of Benediction 100 feet over
their heads – and ^while^ privately they can be shown
only to a duly ordained canon of the
Church and I poor sinner that I am am
not only not a canon, but ^am even^ a layman
I will not repeat the scandal which alleges
that the bronze statue of St Peter is nothing else
but a statue of Jupiter taken by ^some one of^ the early
bishops of Rome from his temple in the
Forum – But what I did see in the Tribune
at the end of the nave was the true chair of
St Peter in which he sat and exercised his
authority in Rome near two thousand years ago.
This I saw with my own eyes as anybody can
see for it is the most curious object at the
Church and is supported high in the air by four
colorful statues of St Augustine and St Ambrose
St Chrysostom and St Athanasius. I regret that I
cant give you gratify your curiosity by an exact description
Page 5

of this chair. It would be a pleasant thing to know
what was the taste of the Apostolic Julien in regard
to so useful a piece of furniture as the chair –
But the truth is that after being kept some fifteen
hundred years in dail constant use it began to
show signs of wear and tear which rendered a
new covering of it necessary. This was made of
bronze and was put upon the sacred relic in
1667, and of course I was not so bold and pre-
sumptuous as to ask to have the metallic cloth
stripped off to gratify an idle curiosity of mine.
It was now half past 8 when we reached this
in our circuit the center of the Church – and yet half
of the architectural properties and objects of devotion
and art visible to the spectator walking on the
pavement, remained unseen. But we had reached a
door which opened onto the stair case – and it
was now time to ascend. How I climbed up
^one^ staircase after another, first to the roof of the
Church one hundred and twenty feet, how I
surveyed Rome from this elevation. How I traveled
by winding stair cases over the inner roof of the
dome from ^one hundred and fifty feet over^ its base to its top. How I looked up
through the lantern another hundred feet and
saw the Heavenly Court, with the Almighty Father
surrounded by his angelic hosts far above the blue
sky and ever shining stars. How I climbed ever
Page 6

not irreverently I hope even above that ^lofty elevation^ Heaven of
Heavens, and sat down on the solid stone pavement
with and sat down exhausted on the stone pavement
of a ^small^ , conical chamber within the inscription before
me which announced that highest Heaven of the Heavens
with the canopy and ^the^ high altar and its hundred
candlesticks that burn day and night around the urn
that contains the ashes of the Chief of the Apostles fro
directly beneath me, while this conical chamber
was itself a contraction of the whole massive
edifice below me into a sphere of twelve feet in
diameter and marked off by lines which showed
indicated accurately the vast compartments
and proportions below – and finally how I
climbed yet one narrow ladder thirty
or forty feet more and entered the brazen
globe which here is a spacious sphere spacious
enough to hold a small troop of men, while
seen from the earth it dwindles to the size of
a helmet, – and there fro stood five hundred
feet above the base of the temple and looked
down from there on the ruined palaces forums
theaters and arches of Rome – it was needless
to tell. But I may confess that I was
Page 7

fatigued to very exhaustion when I ^had^ descended
and found my breakfast waiting for me at
ten o’clock with half of St Peters huge
huge huge area altogether unexplored –
I have eaten, tried to sleep, received Father
Birth: 1812-09-12 Death: 1892-12-11
of the Propaganda, Cardinal Bedini
Birth: 1806-05-15 Death: 1864-09-06

and Dr
professor and in the University
of Rome – written these notes and so ends
this third morning in Rome.
And the second evening and the second
morning are the second day.
Page 8

Friday evening, Aug, 12
A 3d Evening at Rome
While I am waiting for my horses, I may find time
for explanation of one or two points. 1 st You will find
it a matter of wonder how St Peters Church was built,
at such vast cost, for the Church is always poor. When
all legitimate revenues had been convened for one
hundred years or thereabout, including subscriptions and
donations of the faithful, the Popes resorted to the
nefarious practice of selling in all lands indul-
gences of pardon for sins past and sins of the future
sins of the living and sins of the dead. This practice
combined with the extortion of fees and taxes for clerical
consolations and rights was the one cause
of the reaction against the Church Catholic which
resulted in the Reformation. So the ambition of
the Roman See to hold the greatest church, and of
clergymen the greatest ecclesiastical domain in
the world was attained at the cost of much of the
spiritual character of the Church and of a schism
that has never been and I may add never can be
2dly, you will find it difficult to understand
how the new or modern – and the Ancient Rome are arrayed
or divided. The Ancient Rome in three or four long
Page 9

layers and more populous than the modern Rome, with
the subversion of the Roman empire, the seizure of the city
its sacking and destruction by alien races, the
people fled, the language changed, and ^presiding^ a new
people, bearing only some elements of the former
appeared. This new People ceasing to be pagan
conquerors of the world, had a new and at first a
lower civilization. The old habitations streets forums
policies and so forth were not adapted. It was
necessary to build anew. The old decayed and
fell, and covered the ground to depths varying
from twelve to twenty feet, according to the nature
of the structures. The new and poor inhabitants found
it easier to build either entirely outside, or as
they needed no cellars to build on the ruins
of the old city. They therefore in part built on ground
before unoccupied (outside of the limits of the old city,
and in part built among and chiefly upon the
ruined mass of the ancient structures, appropriating so
much of the materials as they found adapted to their
new use – and leaving the rest to moulder and
decay, sometimes they built mean edifices behind triumphal
arches and porticos of temples. Even the streets were
of old Rome were buried up – A general anathema was
devised against all the ancient pagan edifices by
Page 10

the now Christian possessors of the city. It was sacra-
ligous to allow even their monuments to stand and
so they were often precipitated and overturned. Thus
Rome grew up and being yet ^becoming anew^ a great commercial
and political city in modern Italy and taking
the lead of the world in arts arms and
chivalry, an elegant medieval Rome obliterated
the memory of the ancient city. With the revival
of learning came back a curiosity and an interest
which in reclaiming what could be recovered
of the monuments of the old civilization. This has
been done by removing modern ^or medieval^ structures and
excavating the earth beneath them, and thus
restoring whole streets avenues and ways and
with this the a partial restoration of the old
mon most prominent of the old mol monuments.
You descend into these excavated streets from
the above. The Coliseum, the
Arches of Prius and Constantine and the broken
arches of the I and columns of Trajan have thus
been recovered at a vast expense but to the
great honor of the Papal government.
3d. Most persons when they came to understand
the members of clergy, of the various orders and nuns
Page 11

in Rome and in the Papal states and compare it with the
number of ecclesiastical persons and especially of Catholic
ecclesiastics in other countries conclude that these
classes are idle and of common vicious and .
This is a great curse. Doubtless the morality and
virtue of the Priesthood and ecclesiastics in Rome
hold the same ^stunted^ relation to those of the laity sub-
stantially as presents between the same classes in
other countries. The number is easily accounted
for. The whole business of education of both sexes
and of all grades, with most of the political
progress of the Papal states devolves on the
ecclesiastics – You cant go out morning or evening
without encountering troops of scholars of all ages
conducted b marshalled by their teachers
The nunneries are female seminaries – If you learn
and if wise the difference of sentiment and function about
Sunday, you perhaps will find no marked difference
between the general standard of social conduct here and
in Protestant European countries - Now our country
has a higher standard in all respects than European
4th St Peters Church is built wholly of stone
in solid walls and columns. There is no place for a mouse
Page 12

or a rat there. ^Therefore^ I cannot explain ^ the ^ what that
cat was doing that I found on the roof of
the Church – But I think celibates ^of both sexes^ have a weakness
for cats. It is nevertheless mysterious, a goose saved
old Rome. Who knows but the cat may have become
inspired to watch over the new one.
9 o.clock PM.
We were at the Vatican at five oclock. But the
Secretary of State Cardinal Antonelli
Birth: 1806-04-02 Death: 1876-11-06
was engaged
and appointed seven. We rode with Father Smith a
very intelligent Irish Priest belonging to the Propaganda
to see things such things as ought be seen –
The House of Rienzi


, the Hero Citizen
who attempted nobly but fruitlessly to return the Republic
of Rome after the dynasties of the Caesars and the savages
of the Barbarians”
“Then turn we to her latest tribunes name
From her Ten Thousand tyrants turn to thee
Redeemer of dark centuries of shame–
The friend of Petrarch


hope of Italy
Rienzi last of Romans”
The House is deserted and abandoned. Although its arch-
itechture is grotesque it is in the best style of the 12th/3th
or 11 ^th^ century – and marks it is fair to infer from it that its
owner was no common man – Its towers are dovecotes
and its courts are desolate.
The Cloaca Maximus, the ^great^ Aqueduct
of ancient Rome. Broken up in the civil wars only its
Page 13

magnificent piers remain – but enough of them and in such
a state as to show that the system was a gigantic
and effective one. Descending from the level of the
new Rome by an inclined plane forty or fifty feet
we find this greatest aqueduct its covering secured in
part, and the purest water flowing into it from a
natural fountain. Men women and children two thousand
years ago resorted to this spring continually with
their pitchers and ewers. There is such an endless
procession of visitors attending it now for the same
purposes. But how different their language and habits
and character. Those were Heathens on whom the
light of the pure religion had never shone, or at
best had shone in its morning twilight. These are the
Christians educated trained and governed by the
Long ruled world confessed chief of the Church itself, Which
we the wisest shall we pronounce the wisest and the
best? Mankind could divide on that question-
The temple of Vesta, of which you have a
correct model at home, a beautiful little structure of
fine Corinthian art, composed of 20 ^white marble^ columns mak-
ing a circle of 24 feet diameter the height thirty two
feet. I entered and found it converted into a Christian
Church. Doubtlessly this was a wisely done when it was
done, but now when Rome has so many more churches
than her citizens can fill, one could wish that the
Page 14

interior of the little temple might have been spared to us
in its original form and appointments.
Close by is another temple of Venus, small
and elegant. But from there I turned to study the
Cattle market of Ancient Rome. There is the arch
which ope opened into it a tea the Court
open space or forum. It is a high and beautiful
structure of white marble. Which might seem well
for a triumphal arch – Like the blocks ^of^ which the Coliseum
and other structures were built its massive stones were
bound together by strong heavy wires. In the refrity
decline of wealth and spirit in Italy all these
iron clasps were removed to be used for modern
purposes – But still the arch stands there – And then
there is a stall marble porch which leads
into the butchers stall. It is engraved in bas
relief adroitly executed, in which the farmer
is featured bringing the bull into the market. The
^and again another plate shows the^ butcher standing beside ^with^ the ox with an axe
raised to bring him to the ground – a third plate
the dog worrying the bull – a fourth the butcher
cutting his throat. These curious relics excite a deep
interest by sharing the familiar life of the ancient people
times. It is the familiar, daily life, that history does not
teach and in the yearnings for Knowledge of it we seize
on even trivial indications of it.
Page 15

Next I dared/drove the In Rome the papal government and
hierarchy have kept alive a contempt and hatred
of the Jews as retaliatory and relentless in its character
as the Know Nothing prejudice in our country against
the Catholics themselves. It is war as intolerant as
the American but inhumane dislike of white men for
the African race which they have wronged so
deeply. The Jews here are assigned a special
quarter where only they may dwell – It is
filled up with five thousand people of both sexes
and all ages and conditions, their dress walk
demeanor– habits communication and manners indica-
tive of a subjugated and loathed condition. But
what was more striking than even this was the
identity of features and expression peculiar to that
race wherever found – Most of the persons were
vile and ugly but it was Jewish vileness and
ugliness and nothing else. Some were beautiful and
a few were even spirited – but it was always Hebrew
beauty and Hebrew vivacity. Never was my good
friend the Catholic Priest who accompanied me
more astonished than when I told him that Jews
are legislators judges and ministers in the United
Page 16

Returning from this long drive we entered the
waste place ^nearly^ as large as the whole site of
your pretty little native city which is piled
with the broken walls, vaults, towers chambers
and towers of the Palace of the Cesars, not so
far dilapidated as to prevent you wandering
through and over and among the various parts
yet so entirely ruinous that neither the length
nor depth, for the palace, nor the ones
of any one of its apartments or even ^or equal^ its dimen-
sions can now be made out. I was obliged
to postpone researching these to another day,
but I saw two things worthy to be noted now.
^namely first,^ that Ancient Rome is sunk in some places
even eighty feet beneath the modern town
and second that a portion of the palace
consisting of four or five stories with the ancient
floors resting on vaulted arches and reaching
in all eighty feet in height and extending perhaps
quarter of a mile in length are used now
as ^a^ store houses for hay by the purveyors
of that article in our time. So goes the world. The
Rumor from history that the houses of Cicero and
Page 17

gave place to the palace of the
reigning Cesars, and now we see that palace
converted into by market men into hay lofts.
Our time was now up. We drove around St
Peters vast church to the favorite entrance of
the Palace of the Vatican, which on the left proper-
ly adjoins that great Metropolitan temple while
on the right it is wisely perhaps necessarily
connected by a covered way within the
castle of San Angelo the fort in which
the soldiers of the Pope


or of his Ally the
French emperor
Birth: 1808-04-20 Death: 1873-01-09
domineer over the city and
hold its ^people in^ subjection to the ecclesiastical rule –
In the square before it once stood a circus
and a cross raised upon the center of the
ancient circus commemorates the spot within it
in which St Paul was beheaded –
The Holy Father as you know resides chiefly
in the Vatican. All the approaches and passages
were guarded by Papal soldiers or French men –
We ascended the broad easy graceful stair-
case passing the Popes audience room to the
fourth story, and there in a suite of apartments
Page 18

extensive and elegantly furnished we were received
by his Eminence the Cardinal Antonelli Secretary
of State to the Pope – He was dressed in the
ecclesiastical habit of his order – has a careworn
and anxious aspect, is about forty five years
old, and wears a most pleasing and courteous
and unaffected demeanor. While I was wondering
whether I was expected to pay any especial
duties of homage to him, he met me at the door
extended both his hands, grasped and
pressed both of mine, brought me to a sofa seated
me, and provided a hearty spirited and
genuine welcome, that put me quite at my
ease. We conversed half an hour of politics
in Europe and America, of social and political
opinions and customs, and the future of both
continents, and during all that time he showed
so great a deference and partiality to our
system and so much personal kindness towards
myself that I with difficulty found oppor-
tunity to let him understand that I appreciated
his own difficult position in European affairs
The Vatican he said should be put wholly
at my command when I should come to visit it
Page 19

and his Holiness would welcome me as cordially
as he himself had done – We withdrew at eight
and dined at nine –