Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1859

  • Posted on: 10 November 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1859



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Distributor:Seward Family Digital Archive

Institution:University of Rochester

Repository:Rare Books and Special Collections


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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1859

action: sent

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

location: Rome, Italy

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

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: vxa 

revision: jxw 2021-02-04

Page 1

Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Wednesday morning Aug 17.
Last evening the American consul
Birth: 1799-06-28 Death: 1885-08-19
an Italian, who acts
as Secretary of legation and so as Minister in the
Page 2

absence of all superiors called and exhibited a letter
which and he said that the Secretary of State Cardinal
Birth: 1806-04-02 Death: 1876-11-06
had sent a dragoon
to him, with
the important paper. The document was a communica-
tion announcing that His Holiness
Birth: 1792-05-13 Death: 1878-02-07
would with pleasure
receive Senator Seward and his friend Mr Forsyth
Birth: 1817-09-08 Death: 1886-08-10

attended by the Reverend Mr Smith
Birth: 1812-09-12 Death: 1892-12-11
at 12 o, clock
to day. At a quarter before 12 this morning we
ascended the Hill of the Vatican, passed the Swiss guards
at the door, climbed two flights of a noble
stair case, passing others of the Swiss guard – en-
tered a spacious Hall passing other guards; then
another occupied by a guard of several of the
Guard constituted by the Roman Nobles, and at
length the Antechamber where the Cardinal Chamberlain
Birth: 1805-07-17 Death: 1867-08-11

and the Chamberlain
received us with marked
civility; The Cardinal was dressed in his red court
costume, the Chamberlain a Roman noble of the
guard in a fine gilded uniform with ruffles
around the neck and wrists and wearing a
small sword. The latter spoke some English
and recognised me as one whom he had observed
at the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption.
Here I was informed that it was the duty of the my
attendant Dr Doctor Smith as a Catholic to
kneel but that it was entirely optional with me
to kneel, or bow, or neither, on entering the
Page 3

presence. We proceeded Mr Smith, I and Mr Forsyth
and no others, passed a small court – and entered
a door at the corner of a very spacious room, three
sides of which were filled with bookcases stored
with books. Father Smith turned to the right as
soon as he entered the door and kneeled. I standing
behind him saw a venerable grey haired gentleman
sitting a few feet from us, draped in a simple
white woolen cassock or gown uncovered, with
his back to the wall of the door through which
we had entered and a library table covered
with a very common red cloth before him,
and thus was His Holiness Pope Pius IX. He
directed Dr Smith to kneel and turned towards
him with extended hand. Cardinal Dr Smith
said He said speaking Italian thought that he
was th very thankful to him for bringing Mr
Seward to see him. The Doctor then introduced me
I bowed to the Pope respectfully and I think I
should have bowed again, but he extended
both his hands and invited me to come and,
took me at once with a cordial grasp of
the hand – I was of course standing ^with my^ face
to the end of the table before which he sat. He
requested me to come directly before him and
said that he hoped I would excuse him for
not rising, that he was suffering very severely
of a lameness in the foot, and could not move
Page 4

With an expression of benignity and vivacity that
it would be hard to describe, he said he desired
to thank me for the liberality and justice that I
had shown to the children of the Catholic Faith
in my ^own^ country and to have express the hope
that a policy so generous would be continued,
and he desired also to assure me of the great
respect he entertained for my character. I answe-
red that it was very grateful to me to
be thus assured that he appreciated the senti-
ments of Religious lib and Civil liberty that
my country had adopted. Here he corrected
Mr Smith by telling him that my name was
pronounced not Seward but Seward – and then
received Mr Forsyth. He said I was formerly
Governor of New York and now Senator, and
playfully said something of good wishes for
my higher advancement. He desired to said
that he had received many books from America
from our government, upon geology & natural
history and admired them very much, and he
desired me to understand that he was very
thankful for them – saying also that the Americans
cultivated the science of natural history very
earnestly. I replied that we had succeeded
to a continent, full of treasures. It was only
Page 5

a simple economy to study its resources in
order to develop and improve them, that our
liberty was only to be (of which he had already
spoken) was only to be secured by such a course
as would make ^enable^ the People to become great
and happy. He answered smiling, Oh yes in
America you can allow liberty civil and religious
liberty. But here it is different with us. I represent
a principle, and that is there is only one true
religion and diversity would be inconsistent with
it. I replied, You act logically from your
position. I And we also logically from our position.
Our position is that the truth is yet to be
a subject of dispute and we hold that it
cannot suffer by discussion. So that we reach
in the end the truth which both parties hold
to be the great object of human desire. Oh yes
yes, he said and we are all devoted to the
establishment of truth, and it is us quite logical
for you to pursue so liberal a course from you
as a consequence of your principles. He then
asked who was the last President of the
United States. I replied Mr Pierce
Birth: 1804-11-23 Death: 1869-10-08
. Oh yes
and who is President now. Mr Buchanan
Birth: 1791-04-23 Death: 1868-06-01

And Mr Cass
Birth: 1782-10-09 Death: 1866-06-17
." He is Secretary of State Well
said he I believe General Cass a very enlight-
ened and liberal man, but his son
Birth: 1814 Death: 1878-02-24
who was
Page 6

here is an ––––, a perfect ––––
He then thanked me for bringing a book to him from
a friend in London. He asked how I was pleased
in Rome. I said I was learning much, that was
quite new and interesting to me although really
old and less interesting to ^the^ Romans themselves.
Yes he said it is well to come to see
Rome, but you will learn little here compared
with what your own great country affords
It is a great country, and a happy one,
but for us here, there is little to learn and
little to enjoy. Turning to Doctor Smith he
said that he desired him to assure me again of
his great respect and his pleasure in meet becoming
acquainted with me. I replied that I should
always remember his very kind welcome and
I desired him to accept my best wishes that
he might live long and enjoy a prosperous
and useful administration of his government.
Oh no, no. I see no hope of prosperity
or of usefulness, for me, nor of prosperity
or of happiness for poor Italy. I am placed
here to defend a principle with a few quite
valueless palms in my hands, valuable to
the Church but valueless to other nations. Yet all
the world, all the great nations are trying
to take them away from me. If it were only
Page 7

a question affecting myself I should give them
up at once but I am a trustee and must hold
them as well as I can. I believe that the trust
is of God and that it will be saved – but if it is
not his pleasure then it will be lost – no no
there is no prosperity no future for me – but for
you – for you all is different. I feared to pur-
sue up this conversation so frank and ingenuous
and signified my de readiness to depart. He made
an effort to get up – gave me both his
hands again and blessed me, and then
begging Dr Smith to express to me how much
gratified he was with my sentiments and conver-
sation, he took leave of us again expressing
his regret that he could not rise for that pur-
pose. Serious as this conversation was it is
necessary in order that you may understand the
man that I should add that throughout the
whole interview, he was cheerful and animated
and even playful in his manner. Certainly
I forgot from the very first that I was standing
before a Pope and felt that I was in the so-
ciety of a genial benevolent and kind and
gracious old man. His audience chamber was
a library. Twenty dollars would buy his whole
dress except the apostolical ring.
Page 8

When I had left the Church I went through the
Museums of the Vatican, and its libraries, the
finest and richest in the world. There is nothing
spent by that good old man on his own
appetites pleasures or ambition I am sure.
No monarch in the world does so much for
art and science as he does, in proportion to his
means. That his principle is erroneous is evident
enough to us, but it is the one in which he
has been educated with the concurrence of
the largest part of the Christian world. If the
Roman Catholic system ^is^ seen by us in all its
absurdity, let us be just and remember that
absurd as it is it was the system that saved
the religion and the Church of Jesus Christ during
its contests with Paganism and Mohammedanism,
and that it was in fact the highest development
of the Human mind when it took its present form
and character. It must fall, and cannot escape
responsibility for its errors and crimes. Let it then
have the credit due to it s for its achievements
and the blessings it has conferred on mankind.
With this account of my interview with the
Head of the Catholic Church, the sick man of Europe; he
who has to maintain a system that he can neither uphold
nor renounce, let us close ^ the n ^ my sixth the narrative of
the Sixth day in Rome.
Page 9


Editorial Note

We believe this is a continuation of his previous letter and is the evening of Wednesday, August 17th, and William Henry Seward misidentified it as Tuesday.
RomTuesday evening August
17th. Seventh day in Rome.
The early Christians were iconoclasts in Rome. Paganism
encountered them with persecution. They advanced by two
lines, first to make martyrdom vindicate the true
religion, next by destroying the symbols and implements of
Paganism. The Vatican Palace begun When the battle
was won, the Catholic Church relented of its war against
the innocent symbols ^produced by the arts^ of the Pagans and came justly
to regard them as monuments of civilization, and seeing
how useful they could be made ^as models^ in turning ^the^ arts into
the service of the true religion it became the conservator
of the works of the ancients. In this simple statement
you have the explanation of the art treasures of the
Vatican and indeed of Modern Rome. The Catholic
Church has preserved this beneficent policy only too
energetically, for it has suffered the policy to
lead into the dreadful era of exalting the virgin
and other human beings into the category of superior
beings or Gods to be worshipped. But there is no time
just now now for philosophizing.
In the Vatican Museum I visited first the part in
which the relics of the early Christian martyrs at Rome
are present, as they were found in the Catacombs. The
Roman Pagans at that time were accustomed to being
burn their dead generally, and to preserve their ashes
The Christians rejected this practice and adopted the
process of burial out of regard to their cardinal doctrine
Page 10

of the resurrection of the body. But they buried stealthily
in catacombs under the terrors of persecution. Here the
Church has gathered the rings and seals and other
ornaments taken from their graves and amongst other
things the screws, hooks, pincers and other implements
of pagan torture deposited in the graves of the Christians
as evidence of their martyrdom. It came early to be
understood that the blood of the martyrs is the
seed of the Church, and so the early Christians by
every act and device saved some if possible some part
of the blood of the sufferer which they put into a
small bottle or phial and deposited with his
body in the catacombs. These phials permanently
discolored ^were rescued^ an preserved in great numbers.
The next feature of the Vatican collection
which I noticed was the prominent collection
of sepulchral ^Pagan and Christian^ monuments and inscriptions which
has been made from time to time and is yet con-
trived from the cemeteries and catacombs of
Rome. They a The sepulchral literature and tale
of any people is always interesting, but this collection
doubly so because it illustrates a period of transition
from the Pagan to the Christian religion. Here the
dead ^of old Rome^ who warred and divided in their deaths
seem again brought into peaceful reunion, with all
the symbols and insignia of their respective
parties. The Pagan tomb is dedicated to the
Diis Manibus, his native gods. The Christian bears
Page 11

the symbol of the Lamb, the Dove, the Cross. Accustomed
as we are to see only the writings pictures and statuary
of the ancients which have been preserved and
because of their excellence, one here is surprised
by finding crude and vulgar sculptures, and epitaphs
which are ill conceived, low and misspelt worse
than is found in any our own village Church
yards. These collections also show that the literature
of the sepulcher is always of the same character. It
treats of the solemnity of death, of the merits of the
dead and of the grief of parents husbands wives
and children their survivors.
I roamed with an intelligent conductor
the Libraries. Rome does not boast of printed books
although their collection seemed to me very compre-
hensive, but it is in the department of manuscripts
that the Vatican excels all other libraries. It contains
the oldest manuscripts in the world, some as early
as the 3d or 4th century, of course all manuscript copies
of the Holy Scriptures and of the works of the Fathers
are there. But she has been equally energetic and
persevering in collecting and preserving the manuscripts
of the Classical authors of old Rome, and of ^more^ modern
authors. Then I saw especially a recovered copy of
Cicero de Republic

– a manuscript by copy of Petrarchs
writings in his own hand, portions of Dante in the
hand writing of Boccacio, and a large part of
 Death: 1595-04-25
Jerusalem delivered
Author: Torquato Tasso Publisher: D. Appleton & Co. Place of Publication:New York City Date: 1846
in his own hand, ap-
Page 12

parently the original ^work^ copy from which all our reprints have
been produced. Next after this was the noticeable
feature of the "illumination" of the works in the
Middle Ages. I saw those which were made when
the art of painting was just beginning to revive and
followed by means of others that revival to its highest
period of excellence. It avails little for you, when
I say that these illuminations are inimitable, but No ac-
^no^ account of them could give you an idea of their beauty
What remains of the Vatican Museum to be told – ? I have
almost said all of it. Imagine yourself stationed
at the end of the enlarged Capitol at Washington
with a long row of chambers opening before you
quite to the other end – then imagine just such
a row of Chambers crossing the first and of equal
length. Imagine these chambers successively filled
with antique sculptures ^and paintings^ Phidias and
Praxiteles and coming down to the days of Canova
Birth: 1757-11-01 Death: 1822-10-13

not one production unworthy of association by the
first masters. Think of all the great masters
of every nation ancient and modern, and of all
the celebrated productions chef doeuvres of these arts chef d’oeuvres
of these masters. The Apollo Belvedere, Venuses, Lao-
coons, Diomedes, Hercules; Jupiters Christs
Pauls, Marys, that the chisel and the pencil
have given to the world to excite its ambition, love
awe devotion, veneration, pity or any other
Page 13

passion and then you have an idea of the Vatican.
So far of the Vatican to day. It of course remains
to be further explored. One day is enough only for a small
part. After dinner, I went into the Church of Ara
Coeli. It stands as it justly may on the very summit of
the Capitoline Hill, for it occupies the very site
of the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus. It is therefore
the proudest monument of Christianity in Rome. The Church
is rich in relics. Its altar table was the sarcophagus
of the mother of Constantine, besides it has others of
more apochryphal character. But it has also an
embellishment of peculiar literary interest. Two figures
at opposite sides of the Church p wall which fronts you
hold a Scroll rel in which is traced a
legend of great length. It was here on the 15th of Octo-
ber 1764 Gibbon
Birth: 1737-05-08 Death: 1794-01-16
tells us as he sat musing in
the ruins of the Capitol while the barefooted vespers ^friars^
were singing vespers that the idea of writing the
Decline and Fall of the City
Author: Edward Gibbon Publisher: William Y. Birch & Abraham Small Place of Publication:Philadelphia Date: 1804
first entered his mind.
How If one wishes to shorten the long period
that separates us from the civilization of the old world
in effect and to connect himself with the buried
past I know of no way of doing it so simply as to
go to the deserted hall of the an old a medieval
palace here, and stand below and look up to the
gigantic statue of Pompey, that before which Julius
long his rival, but now his triumphant survivor
Page 14

when stabbed by the bold conspirators folded his
Senatorial robe and fell. It So natural and life like
does it seem that notwithstanding its immense proportions
that it seems is recognized at once as a living
witness of that startling tragedy meant to reserve
liberty which however had been already fatally
lost to the Roman People. The imagination has already
been wrought up to the pitch of extravagance in dwelling
on the magnitude of the act and its mighty con-
sequences, and forgets that the witness is of stone
and while its colossal size serves but to heighten
its all authenticity.
The Cenchi Palace after the horrible events
which made it historical in the high most effective
character of history, the Heroine of Women
Birth: 1577-02-06 Death: 1599-09-11
a defender
of her own virtue, fell into dila was deserted and
fell into dilapidation. I found it now ^its halls^ a barrack
for the French usurpers in Rome.