Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 16, 1859

  • Posted on: 10 November 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 16, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 16, 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: Unknown

transcription: rmg 

revision: jxw 2021-02-02


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 morning August 16. Rome
Last evening I visited the new church which repla-
ces that of “St. Paul, ^fuori le mura"^ a" a grand basilica burnt down
about twenty years ago. It is being restored at vast
cost and with magnificence elsewhere unknown in
Architecture in this age. Its chief features of orna-
ment within are rows of pictures surround by the
first artists
illustrating every important incident
in the life of St. Paul and beneath them medallions
in mosaic of all the Popes. I doubt whether
this one church will not in cost exceed any
fifty churches in our own country, and yet Rome
is full of such monuments. This is accounted for
by the fact that the Catholic Church once Universal
Universal and even yet the Church of a large part
of the Christian world has always sent from ^all^ distant
lands their contributions of treasure to fortify and
enrich the Holy See of Rome. This great church
of course is not without relics. Over its high altar
is a crucifix that once talked to St. Bridget,
Page 2

but it said nothing to me. In the cloisters of this
Church I staid long seeming almost to learn ^the^ family
histories of the denizens of Rome in the early centuries
so free and loquacious are the tomb stones gathered
therein from Columnorium and catacourts erected
by the Romanas first at the time when the old
religion was giving place to the new. I should
judge from their general terms that women never
married a second time in those days of
primeval simplicity, so eloquently do the
widows express their grief in the epitaphs
which surrounded me.I From this church I passed to that of
St Paul at the Three Fountains, on the Campagna.
Here in this sanctuary I stood on the very ground
where St. Paul was beheaded. It was the declivity
of a hill. The head we learn from history bounded
three times from the earth as it rolled down
and there put so many fountains broke forth
miraculously on the spots which it touched. I did
not see the axe – but I did see with my own
eyes the stone on which the decapitation took
place, and I drank pure crystal water from
the fountains. (If I stated that Paul’s execution
took place in the Circus in part of St. Peter, please
correct by inserting “Peter instead of Paul.
when I came home last night, the town was
Page 3

brilliantly illuminated for a fitting close to
the feast of the Assumption. The Napoleon
Birth: 1769-08-15 Death: 1821-05-05
also availed themselves of the occasion of the fete
day of the emperor to exhibit a like display
of fireworks. I rode up and down through all
the streets enjoying the scene which was made
^additionally^ pleasing by the fact that the people were
in their best, (and all the pretty costumes of
the lower orders lent to it an almost
effect. The Italian women are very, very
At five this morning I repaired to the
Palace of the Cesars. It is which I have incident-
ally mentioned heretofore. I wandered hours
up and down gigantic stair cases, through
high salons and spacious chambers with
^long^ corridors – the whole filling a space of a
mile in circumference – from the summit I reached
I looked down into the hollow and deserted
chambers an hundred feet below me and
I looked up to broken walls and arches
an hundred feet above my head. The whole
field is now a garden, the grape, the
fig, the almond and the olive invited the
hand on any side, while trees that have taken
root in arched roofs tower over the city.
Page 4

The Passion flower hangs down and invites you
to pluck it from heights which no mortal
could have ascended within the last five hundred
years. Now you know pretty much all that
any body can tell you about the Palace of
the Cesars except that it was the house of the
Cesar from Augustus through the reigns of Tiberius
Caligula Claudius & Nero.
— “Temples, baths or Halls
“Pronounce who can, for all that learning reaped
“From her research hath been, that there are walls,
“Behold the Imperial Mount, tis thus the mighty
falls –
Childe Harold
The most perfect of the Columbaria ^Royal Tombs^ which I visited
exists have been discussed is that of the Scipios
and thither I went next, I entered it with a lighted
candle, and found it deeper in the earth, with
its walls yet in good preservation. There the vaults
where urns and sarcophagi had been but those
have been removed, but there remains the original inscrip-
tions of Lucius Scipio, and his son who conquered

– of Cornelia wife of Gneus, of a
son of Scipio Africanus.
With a light in hand and a guide before
me I descended next into the Columbarium of the
freedmen and household of the Cesars. I found
Page 5

then the Chambers quite spacious, five tiers of
of urns, the urns and lids even their lids or
covers perfect and round, inscriptions giving
the history of the honored servant of each urn
and with my own hand I handled the
ashes of the physician
, the treasurer
, the
and him
that played on the cymbal before
the ancient monarchs of the world. I thus dis-
covered that in the process of burning the bones were
not reduced to a fine powder but to ^chiefly^ small
fragments which contribute in each case the deposit
in the Urn. In one apartment I found a
sarcophagus with the bones ^skeleton^ unburied but partly
petrified, I know not who or how valuable
was the person whose head I held in my
hand while assessing this fact, but I trust he
will forgive the impropriety committed in the
interest of science.
Returning homeward I entered the
Protestant Burying Ground, the one place assigned
here for the burial of those who reject the ^authority^ religion
of the Catholic Church. Thus Rome divides
the dead as well as the Living into two
classes, those who she owns as children and
those whom she regards as heretics. How
strange did it seem to me to find on that
small enclosure that paternity among Protestants
Page 6

established in their deaths which they are so
unconscious of while living. There the tomb stones
tell you presumably of the decay of Englishmen Ger-
mans Armenians ^ ^ Russians & Greeks – But the Protest
ant burying ground tells, another
and the hundred
Protestant sects in many nations seem to
commune in grief over their bereavements. But
the burying ground tells another touching story.
Rome is the remnant of valetudinaria in search of
health. The burying ground in its hundreds of
epitaphs speaks almost of uniformly of
the death of hope in such cases. I looked
up the grave of Shelley
Birth: 1792-08-04 Death: 1822-07-08
with the simple but
touching epitaph written by his adoring wife
Birth: 1797-08-30 Death: 1851-02-01

“Cor Cordium” – (Heart of Hearts)
A num f A few steps brought me
to the base of the Pyramid of Caius Cestius
described on a previous day. I descended
to its base, entered it with a lighted candle
through a low damp aisle and found in its
very center the vault, and the inscription,
surrounded by arabesque paintings on the wall
yet fresh after two thousand years.
Having seen the Palace of the Cesars I
thought it good to close the morning with a
visit to the tomb of Augustus Caesar. It was
a ^circular^ mausoleum 220 feet in diameter, of commanding
Page 7

height surmounted by a huge statue. And surroun-
ded by walks and gardens. The upper portion
has been long since removed, but the walls
of the lower part with ^wide^ galleries winding around
near the outside remain. The interior has
been converted into a circus. These horses
riders and mountebanks play their sports
over the ashes of the worlds once dead
sovereign and the vaulted galleries in
which the statues and inscriptions deigned
to transmit their history to posterity was
contained were now made use of to
support the seats of the evening spectators
while above, and divided into box office
pit office, and places for green rooms
and other purposes peculiar to such a place.
I looked for the place where the bodies
of the Emperors were buried after death
but it was all covered from view by modern
walls, its inscription recording the where
several acts of cremation (or burning) having
been removed to the Museum of the Vatican.
Here ends the journal of the Fifth
day in Rome.
I have your letter of the 25th, of July –
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and I think none have missed me.
If I do not note in detail the feelings your letters
excite, it is because I think you will value
more what I write under the influence of what
I see in this most interesting spot.
Ever your own Henry
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No 16
Rome 11th of
August to 16th
17 18 18
I have sent only
half of this letter
copied – will send
the rest on Wednesday