Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 22, 1859

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 22, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, August 22, 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: amr 

revision: jxw 2021-01-06


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 Monday evening Aug 22d.
11th day in Rome.
My dear daughter,
I sought first this morning the rock and the gulf where
Quintus Curtius according to the testimonies precipitated
himself and sacrificed his life for the salvation
of his country. The rock has receded and a church
occupies its place, the falling edifices of Rome
have filled up the gulf and it is now one of the
most frequented streets in the city.
Next I resumed my long pretermitted exam-
ination of the Capitol. You must not suffer your
historical reminiscences of ancient Rome or
your personal knowledge of the Capitals at
Albany and Washington to affect your idea
of the Roman Capital. The Capitoline Hill
does indeed overlook other and adjacent
parts of the city, but it is only a sharp ascent
with a terrace by no means long, and the
Capitol transferred is ^only^ a name transferred
by the moderns from the grand structures of the
ancients to modern buildings which though designed
by Michael Angelo are inconsiderable as
architectural structures and to which belong
no associations of modern empire or even
of government. The Rome that now is is not at
all ancient Rome, or modern a Rome of
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the present age. It is mediaeval. It neither
speaks nor breathes of empire government or freedom
but simply of Religion and Feudalism. Of religion
at a stand still and of Feudalism falling into decay.
Rome is indeed once more undergoing change, slow
but inevitable to a dull city of small
manufacture and of still smaller trade. It
will before long cease to be a Power in the
world, forever.
The Capitol is chiefly important for its gal-
leries of pictures and its museums of antique sculp-
ture. It was to this latter that I have devoted
the chief part of the day. The collection numbers
of great and small objects many thousands, of
course I cant give you a catalogue, and a ^mere^ cata-
logue if I could, would teach you nothing.
I mention a few. A colossal, recumbent figure
representing the Ocean, as the ancient Poets person-
ified it, taken from the ancient forum of Mars.
Elaborate statues of many of the Gods taken from
the ruins of ancient temples, palaces and villas
Hadrians villas which I have heretofore
described presented a large part of them. Bases
and capitals and sometimes shafts ^and architraves^ of columns
from the ruins of ancient edifices, constituting
models of all the ancient styles of architecture
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of the highest perfection. Go through the world, where
you choose and seeing the modern works of artchi-
^tecture^ you see only reproductions of the ancient and
Greek architecture, fortunate if the imitation is
worthy of the original – bronze and marble figures
of the horse, the bull, the deer, the dog, and
other animals decorative and surpassingly beau-
tiful. statues and bas relief in-
numerable illustrating the mythology of the
ancients, and the histories of peace and war
Altars, & sarcophagi, illustrating their worship
and their rites of sepulture, works grave and
works comic, works heroic and works appealing
to domestic sympathies – v
The Dying gladiator beyond doubt the
most triumphant achivement of sculpture has ever
made, making you weep as if it were a
dramatic presentation of the painful subject
Public inscriptions recording important events
and even edicts and laws of the Republic or
of the empire. The whole story of Ancient Troy
told in marble, with the figures of the
heroes and heroines of the Iliad
Author:  Homer Publisher: J. Hankin and J. Hall Place of Publication:Cambridge Date: 1833
. Very curious
is the ancient map of the City of Rome with
its squares streets, forums, and temples not indeed
on paper or even on vellum but on marble,
with the outlines or ground plans of the chief edifices
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Vases great and small, the models of every
form of the urn and the vase known in modern art
The fabulous wars of the Amazons furnished the
artists with a vast number of subjects of touching
interest and tenderness. Brave and superior women
strong enough to resist and sometimes to overcome
and subdue tyrannical or brutal men.
The Antinous, a model of manly
strength and beauty celebrated throughout the world
The Faun by Praxiteles, an ideal
thing which makes effects in sculpture the
same success as Puck or Caliban in
Poetry. A statue of the Roman Senator engra-
ved on a table of marble. Lists of administra-
tive officers of the various classes and ranks of
the Roman empire. Long pieces of excellent and
sometimes exquisite marble but and alabaster
as they arrived from the quarries and lay on
the wharf, the one wharf for marble is ancient
as well as under Rome, but left
when desolation overlook the city. A series of
busts of all the as it would seem all of the
illustrious men ^and women^ of Antiquity, Grecian Roman
Persian and Barbarian, and a like series of
the busts of all the Ancient Roman emperors
with their wives and often their children – So that
the history of Roman and of the world for fifteen
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hundred years is presented to you with illustrations
of customs laws, manners and religion during
your visit of two or three hours in a lives
walk through a suite of a dozen chambers.
Last of all, the Venus of the Capitol the
most exquisite of all the conceptions of
female beauty, and the Hall of wonderful
mosaic of the four doves drinking from a vase.
It is described by Pliny as an illustration of the
perfection of the art of working in mosaics in his
time. Its delicacy is indescribable. Think of 160 pie-
ces of natural stone of various colors laid so as to give
the effect of the pencil within the space of a square
From these works of art it was only the
gratification of a humble country to study the
foot measures, and examine the weights, the
pens, the hinges ^early^ buckles, and other domestic
or common utensils of the Romans.
Have you enough of the Capital for
one day? If so go with me to the Church and
Palace of St John Lateran where we may forward
^our studies^ a kindred but varied yet somewhat different department.
This Church was the seat ^palace^ of the Popes from the time
of Constantine to the return of the Holy See from
Avignon in the 14th century. Here the authorities are
gathering a collection of Christian Antiquities.
Page 6

You have only to go through it patiently to learn
the conceptions of the Early Christians of the new
religion and many of their customs of the while
you are painfully convinced of the decline of knowledge
and art at this period. The collection is composed
[ o ]


Reason: hole
f marbles, slabs, tombs & sarcophagi, with inscrip-
tions and emblems from the Catacombs, and
of course are similar to some I have already described
as found in other museums or remaining yet in the
catacombs. The earliest Christian grave or
tomb that can be recognised bears date in the
year 71, and thus we learn that Christians
dated so early as that period, as of the Christian
Era was established. The sarcophagi often
elaborately wrought present groups of figures which
testify furnish evidence of the delight of the Christians
in the miracles and in the mysteries of the
new religion. Adam Eve the serpent and the apple,
Moses standing ^striking^ the rock with the wand, and making
the water flow. Daniel in the Lions den, Jonah
his adventures under the ground, and his encounter
with the whale and his deliverance. The Miracles
of the Fishing, of the Wedding at Cana

Editorial Note

There is no consensus on where the Biblical location of Cana is in modern geography. Current suggested regions are Galilee and Lebanon.
, and of
the resurrection of Lazarus, are reproduced
with only slight variations of grouping on almost
Page 7

every sarcophagus. It is an interesting fact, that
each of the Saints or persons took and at first
and maintained throughout the a likeness always followed
by subsequent artists. Peter, Paul. John and
the other Disciples. Nay even our Lord himself
appears in statuary of the first or second century
the very original of the likeness still attributed
to him by Artists in our day. The Artists tried
in that day to express Unity the mystery of the
Trinity. They had a Father, a Son, and a third
person of years arranged between the two. Sometimes
a dove – But I did not see any thing which con-
vinced me that they understood a Un (so to speak)
a Unity or singleness of those Three. The monuments
every where show that Christ was called by them
Lord and God – and that at a very early
period – But the Romans had Lords and Gods in
throngs, and it is not easy to say that the early
Christians understood the word God in the sense
we use it. Many of the inscriptions have a touching
simplicity. “In Pace” “Requieset in Pace – ” words
indispensable in a Catholic sepulchral inscription
now, was equally universal in the burials in those
catacombs sixteen hundred years ago –
“Sweet Faustina
“Blessed maiden
“You ^yet^ live in God”“You still live in God”
Page 8

Such are some of their epitaphs.
An immediate relation to the Divine Creator is an
idea that early took possession of the Christians.
“He was a son of God,” says an epitaph –
“She was a Virgin of God” –
“Sacred to the memory of ___ a Widow of God”
Sometimes the monuments betray the confusion which
the change of the public religion produced. Here
is a monument with an inscription ^ ^ D. M. Diis
Manibus – (dedication to the Heathen Gods”. and
ending with the ^Christian^ words “Vives in Deo”. You
live in God.
I will not detain you with an
account of the pictures ^and mosaics^ in this Palace. Many of
them are worthy of all admiration.
Leaving the Lateran I stopped to admire
the Baptistry of Constantine as it is called.
It was built by that Emperor as is said for the
ceremony of his own baptism, and is a magnificent
little octagonal temple. The dome and columns
of marble, and porphyry, the font of green basalt.
Colo Rienzi bathed in it the night before
he began the revolution of Rome –
There was yet to be seen the “Holy
Stair case at ^the church of^ St. John Lateran. I entered beneath
a lofty portico. A stair case of twenty eight
Page 9

graceful marble steps covered with beautiful
and pure covering of some fine hand made
but which had apertures permitting the marble
to be distinctly seen was before me. This is
the identical stair case which led up to
the Audience chamber of Pontius Pilate in
Judea, and which the Savior trod when
brought before that Governor. Devout pilgrims
come from the ends of the earth to behold it.
I irreverently began to walk up it to
see whether the Audience Chamber itself had
been brought from Jerusalem with the stair case
by the blessed St. Helena. But I was soon
called back by a Cistercian monk
, (belonging
to the monastery having charge of the Holy stairs.
A manuscript book in English was put into my
hands which informed me that the steps
were only to be ascended on the l by persons
on their knees. The book contained bulls of suc-
cessive Popes
taking 14 years out of purgatory
off from any penitent who for every one of the
steps he shall ascend on his knees. But
even this liberal offer did not tempt me to
change my position – and so I gave up the enterprise
Here endeth the eleventh day in Rome.