Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 13, 1859

  • Posted on: 10 November 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 13, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 13, 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: les 

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.
Saturday morning August 13 –
A third morning in Rome.
All night long, fatigue, lameness, soreness, retching
a feverish and broken sleep– The Tooth Ague
in the teeth, nerves breaking away from the
fastenings in my head neck and shoulders
swollen face – a Doctor
– a leech with his
blood suckers, submission to their accomplished
process of depletion – washing dressing, breakfast
in dishabille, sleeping to recount wasted
strength. Such have been the occupations of
the morning.
But it was ^is^ nevertheless the third morning
And the evening and the morning are the Third
day in Rome.
Page 2

Saturday night August 15
A fourth night in Rome
My dear Fanny,
One of the first observations that occur
to a stranger here is that ancient Rome is regarded
by the modern Romans with exactly the same cu-
riosity and interest as by foreigners. So stupendous
was the Ancient Roman state, and in its fall so
entirely differed from that which has succeeded it
that no sentiment of devotion or kindred or sympathy
is felt by the present populous toward their predecessors.
The moderns seem to regard themselves as ^being^ encamped
in a country which a race of giants had abandoned
or in which like our Aborigines they had perished –
Wonderful tribute to the genius of Ancient Rome –
2dly, The Anomaly of the Church government
can only be fully apprehended by coming here –
You see easily how it has come to exist & why
it remains, and ^you^ could perhaps conceive its future.
The whole world two thousand years ago needed
and must have a new religion. Christianity offered
to supply that want. But a ^new &^ proud religion and peaceable
like a new philosophy could not make way against
old and established ones entrenched behind thrones
and maintained by Priesthoods armed with political power.
The Church first won the alliance of the Roman State
and so established itself firmly here. When that
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great state worn out and exhausted fell into ruins
then ^only^ half converted Christian world naturally
consented to see the Church here assume its place
^as a sovereign^ and allowed it the exercise of plenary political power
within its limited territory for its own security and
conceded to it temporal or political functions
and influences throughout the world, because its
establishment was not yet thought sure, and the
influences of its existence needed still wider
extension. Thus became a temporal power with
vast influences upon the opinions and sentiments and
affections of mankind. states other states have
recognized it, negotiated with it, propitiated it,
defended it, as lik or opposed it as they
decid thought at times expedient. But its favor
has always been valued as of any, with these
an exemption from its demands by Continental Europe
and all although ^but^ the are Protestant states elsewhere.
It stands now on the same political ^and religions^ necessities
When it had strength enough to be independent
it often favored freedom – now that it is dependent
on foreign states, which are monarchical its influences
go in that direction.
Seen from our side of the Atlantic the
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Roman church with its present political organization
seems ready to fall, as it seems desirable for
the greater advancement of mankind that it shall
fall. But this view is modified when
you come here. The Temporal Power is rendered weak
listless and contemptible. But Rome is now
as much as it ever was the seat of a vast
Congregation of Clergy, who despise the temporalities
of the ^Papal^ system as unworthy their ambition, but who
are engaged in extending and fortifying the
Catholic Church, identical in their view with
the Christian Religion, and this Church spiritual
was never more earnest, diligent, vigorous,
or enlightened than now. They are opposed
by no effective Protestant or Anti Christian
organizations – Protestants, Deists, are
divided, and all but the former are becoming
breaking down by under the weight of the
defects of their religious ^creeds^ – Very little temporal power
is now needed by this Catholic Church Propaganda.
Few States in Europe none but our own in America
will deny them what they still retain, and
I do not therefore see any immediate prospect of the downfall
of the Papal Authority.
Page 5

Saturday night August 13
Another evening in Rome
My dear Fanny. Rome has been two thousand five hundred
years. Each of its five hundred generations has exacted
a burial at the hands of its successors. The manner in which
that serious function was performed is full of instruction
to us concerning the changes of social conditions customs and
laws of a people what who were seldom inferior to any
other and who often ruled the whole world. This evening
I passed the city walls and found the ancient Appian
way. Fallen structures not long since buried this great
area, called by the old Romans themselves the Regina
viarum, but deep out of sight while only ill shapen
masses of ruins indicated its course. But it has been
recently restored by excavation, and now we ride upon
its identical ancient pavements rough but firm from
the city gates ten miles, its ancient length. The Romans
buried their dead chiefly beyond the walls, and as
is now ascertained, their cemeteries bordered on both
sides the great avenues which led to the city. I rode
out yesterday eight miles on the wonderful Appian
Way. I passed by Palaces and Baths of vast extent
that is to say the ruins of them. I did not ever approach
near enough to examine the great Claudian Aqueduct
which brought the spring supply of water from the
mountains to Rome, and of which six miles still remains
supported by arches seventy eighty and a hundred
Page 6

ft above the ground. I learned enough however to tell you
that this great aqueduct with others like it was
broken and rendered useless by the Goths and Ostrogoths
and that here the streams flowing from the mountains
in the Appinine were left to trickle through the
plains and thus provide with the
Campagna around Rome.
I found an old Roman inscription upon a
porch which informed me that the remains of Emilianus

lay behind in the recess beyond it. I entered, and
found in a vaulted apartment two thousand years old
not the bones of or even the shade of a Roman
Senator or even Plebian but an ass quietly shel-
tering himself from the heat of the sun –
I stopped next at a place revered in
the history of the Catholic Church which I will say
of Christianity Rome. It was at the Fountain and Valley
of Egeria where the good King Numa received from
that Goddess the ^benign^ laws, which faithfully administered
by him secured honor and empire to the then youthful
Roman people. But I found no trace left of either
the fountain or the garden. I was equally unfor-
tunate in my search for views of the Temple of Honor
and Virtue, and well as for that of the Temple
of Mars at which the conquering armies used to
stop when returning to be received with triumphal processions
within the city. But I was more successful in regard
to Christian monuments and events. I found the very
Page 7

spot on which St. Peter when going up to Rome met our
Savior, and held with him an important conversation.
"Domine quo vadis" (Where are you going) said
Peter to our Savior. "I come to Rome to be again
crucified" was the reply. You will doubt the
authenticity of this history. But there on the identical
spot stands the very church built by the disciples
of the Apostle, and bearing the name of "Domine quo
vadis." Thus signifying the fact, and in a church
near by is preserved the very stone on which
the Savior the stood during the conversation
and on that stone still remains the imprint of
the divine foot. It was going dark and I could not
stop to see the Sav stone but the Church vouches for
its possession of that sacred relic.
Beyond this point, the road on both sides
is bordered by excavated vaults in which called
Columbaria – The vault is built of greater or
less dimensions, and arched – On each side are
rows, often one above of the other of nicely arched
niches with hollows in the bottom. In these niches
were placed the urns which contained the ashes
of the dead after the bodies had been burned. The
structure took the name of Columbaria from its resemblance
to the haunt of doves or the dove cote with the
nests arranged in rows. Inscriptions statues and
bas reliefs indicated the persons thus honored
many of them singularly quaint and some are ludicrous.
Page 8

After seeing these ^ancient^ examples, I incline to think that
popular elegiac literature is always a failure
among all nations. Here is an epitaph
Tito, Claudio
, Secundo, Philipiano Coactori,
Flavia, Irene, Uxori, Indulgentissimo”.
erects this monument to Titus Claudius
Second ^son of^ Philip
, who was a Tax gatherer and
was the most indulgent of husbands)
Among this wild waste of chaotic confusion
of Sepulchers bearing only one ^ other ^ name known to History
though it extends seven miles in length I found
two majestic and noble piles ^rising to the dignity of hills^ which though no in-
scription yet discovered have nevertheless been identified
by references to their contemporaneous history as the
graves of the Horatii and the Curiatii whose
combat is among the most chivalrous travesties
in the eventful story of the Ancient Roman People.
Judge now with what reverent emotions I stopped
and trod the earth at the place which history
and tradition concur as the site of the Three
Taverns, where Paul relates that he stopped
and was entertained on his first journey as a
prisoner to Rome. The full round moon was
looking down upon us in our way to that on that
excursion, and a sky so blue, and stars so bright
that I could not withhold from famed and lost
Italy my count to the multitude of admiration of
her climate which the whole world accords.
Page 9

It was ten when we entered the dark and narrow
streets of Rome on our return. A funeral procession
was in progress. First a band of Capuchin monks
then a body of Augustine Friars, then a similar
body of regular Priests, then the body born on
a hearse – then the society of which the deceased

was a member dressed in gray mantles with
hoods covering the whole person from head to
foot with only small eyelet holes and
mouth apertures permitting the wearers to see and
to breathe, then a few carriages. Each member
of this long procession bore a long candle
and all in concert sang the or chanted
the Miserere in tones loud and deep,
The whole population stopped and uncovered
their heads while the procession passed – and
I yielded equal tribute to the solemn ceremony,
But as if there must be something of the little always
to mingle with the great, something of the comic
to mar the effect of tragedy, so here, ragged
coatless boys hatless boys, with papers artfully
folded crowded up to them to each of these
mourners and caught the tallow as it dripped
from the candles, and carefully saved it to
be sold to the tallow chandlers this morning.
It is ten o clock, and I went to bed.