Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 23, 1859

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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 23, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 23, 1859

action: sent



Birth:   Death: 

location: Naples, Italy



Birth:   Death: 

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: smc 

revision: amc 2020-12-16


Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Naples, August 23d, 1859 Tuesday.
My dearest Frances,
They have I think only one piece of
rail road in the Roman states. This leads from Civita
through Rome to Frascati and is to be extended
to Naples. We traveled it on our return on
the 21st from Rome to to Civita Vecchia, and at
4 oclock in the afternoon embarked on
board the Re French steamer “Quineal”
for this place. The sea and its atmosphere
were very grateful to us after near three
weeks suffering in the close atmosphere of Rome
in the hottest of all the Augusts since the
Great emperor vouchsafed to lend his
name to the last of the summer months.
A thick haze gathered around us before sunset
and we could only see without distinguishing
satisfactorily the ancient port of Rome Ostia

and the yet more ancient one Antiium, which
Virgil makes the landing place of the frozen
exiles when they came to found a greater
city and empire there that which they had
lost through the envious weakness of one their
I give up that Nebuchadnezzar was
able to invent a hotter place, than my state
room on the steamer, but History records only
Page 2

that one case in which the human constitution
endured greater heat without damage.
At five o.clock ^on Monday^ , thereI I was aroused from the
first sleep of the night by the reveille of the
drums, instead of the trumpet and by the
French and so I knew that I was in port.
Sep I was not long in making my toilet. The
sun had risen when I reached the deck, the
fog was rolling off of the water. Before me
was a mountain crescent rising like the side
of an ampitheater from the shore. On its summit
castles and convents, and on its declivity below
them in terraces a great and magnificent
city with its forts, palaces, towers, cupolas
and gardens. Certainly more inspiring than any
city I have ever seen, not ancient, not even medie-
val, not dark, or dingy by, but modern
new, bright and elegant. Then turning with
my back to this magnificent city, the bay
of Naples stretched out before me. Vesuvius towering
about over my head, on the left, and the wide
expanse of waters closed by mainland and
Islands ^so^ far off as to seem fairly fairy
lands. The beauty of the Bay of Naples has
not been exaggerated.
It was three hours and more before the
port regulations were executed and then we
Page 3

drove away along the quay bordered on one 3
side by the lofty edifices palaces and courts and
on the other side by shade she trees between us
and the sea. Then through ^a long and^ narrow but well
built street to the Hotel in the
Villa Reale

, where I was soon installed
in lodgings neat airy and elegant in their looking
down upon the bay and off on the mountains.
A day at Pompeii
Sit down now by me for half an hour and I
will try to enable you to understand what I
never could understand by mere reading the
ruined city of Pompeii. Remember that Naples
is on the sea shore, and that Pompeii is, ^or rather was^ , also on
the sea shore fourteen miles East from Naples
and that Vesuvius stands just back from the
sea shore half way between the two places.
The road from one to the other follows the sea
coast and have passes under the mountains
and presents its whole front view. It has two
crests the Eastern ^Western^ one (that nearest to Naples the
highest, the Eastern one (that nearest to Pompeii)
is now undisturbed. Its present eruption is from
a crater on the highest or Eastern ^Western^ crest. The
one which destroyed Pompeii was in the Eastern-
crest nearest to Herculaneum

– Remember now that
Page 4

Pompeii stood on the slope of the coast and
on a high hill with a valley or lower cam-
pagne or plain ^lying^ between it and the mountain.
It was a town about as large as Auburn
but infinitely more compact. Vesuvius was a
volcano ages before it ^Pompeii^ was built, as we see
from the fact that it was chiefly built of
lava and other stones that had been poured
down from the crater. It was an unfortunate
town always. It was vented ^involved in^ and knocked
all about by an earthwake about ^in^ the
year 63 of our era. Its people or authorities
had begun to collected materials and were
restoring the city in the year 79. Then Vesuvius
broke forth all of a sudden pouring down
on the rugged mountain sides streams of red
hot liquified stone or lava– but simultaneously
the great fiery mountain cast up, not merely
the rivers of mineral fires but a snow of
hot ashes, stones and earthy cinders, making
the atmosphere thick and dark, so dark
that torch lights were needed to explore the
way to the fields or to the sea. This storm
of ashes and cinders fell upon all the
country round and on Pompeii, and by its weight
broke in the roofs of the buildings filled up the
streets and apartments to the doors le highest
Page 5

summit of the broken edifices and all the 5
streets below to and into the city. When
the storm had ceased whether by the aid
of earthquakes or otherwise we do not know
The sea had been crowded off two
miles away from Pompeii, and that
ill fated city was buried up in ashes
and cynders, now called pumice stones–
(but not at all with lava. The lava
being heavy could not flow up from the
valley to reach the city. History tells us
minutely of its destruction, but the very
site of the town was lost until about 100
years when it was accidentally discovered
by a frem farmer. In digging a well
he came into a finished and painted
chamber of a former human dwelling. Then
began the excavations which have opened
and exposed just about one third of the
city. The rest remains still in its grave.
These excavations however have been thorough.
Beginning outside of the city in a suburb,
the authorities first sunk their drills until
they reached and uncovered and lay bare
a road, the old Appian Way, leading to
the city. Ancient City. They removed all the
Page 6

ashes cynders and ruins from the street or
road up to the city gate wall and gate
and there it is now with its pavement in the
center, its curb stones, its ruts worn by
chariot wheels– as naked and as clean
and as distinct as Broadway & just as it was
on the day when the storm descended on
the town. Then they using this old recovered way
they excavated and removed the ashes ^&^ c y inders
from the either side, carefully leaving the
taking them quite out o f away to a distant
place, and there they discovered the remains
of the cemeteries which lined the road on
both sides. The tombs monuments and Columba-
riums were left exactly as they had been
built, and they stand exactly in the same
condition now, with all the sepulchral
chambers unharmed and the inscriptions
emblems and devices which they bore
when buried up. The chambers freed from all
deposits and opening by doors to the cart
streets reveal all their wonders to the visitor
who finds there the cinerary urns in their
places and the table, on which the mourners
ate their feasts in the presence of the ashes of the
dead whom they commended–
Page 7

Having reached the city wall and the gate
the authorities pursued the is e fre same process.
Removing the ashes & c y inders from both sides
of the wall they pushed on taking away all
the deposits on the street and laying it open
quite to the other ^wall on the opposite^ side of the town. There they
found where other streets branched from it
or crossed it, and they explored them
and opened and uncovered them and
removed all deposits from them and so
they had the plan of the Ancient Town
with all its avenues and streets and lanes
Then they worked in from the streets with in
all cases removing the entire deposit, carefully
and leaving the walls of the public and
private edifices standing with their columns
pillars and in many cases their friezes
and architraves. In short they thus returned
the ^lost^ city of to its ancient condition in
all respects except the roofs. And it is
now the old Pompeii with roofless. and
with the sun and the rain beating in
unremit[ t ]


ed upon its temples forums theaters,
dining rooms, salons, shops stone-stairs
and courts. It is carefully watched and
nobody unauthorized can enter it, is cleanly
swept and you forget in tracing its do streets
and its ^its^ chamber halls and courts that it is
Page 8

a ruin. It is entombed and lifeless
and it s you feel ^experience^ all the while, a
sentiment of wonder upon its inhabitants
of yore. The Ashes were a good preservative
from air rain and other elements of destruction
and so natural and bright and sound do
the walls and their the floors and colors
appear, that they seem not even old or
dark or dingy, but modern and bright
and you expect at any time that their
occupants will meet you and explain
the disaster which had made them a-
bandon their homes. It is only by reflection
and by deduction that you learn that the
city you are exploring is an ancient one.
The temples you see are not Christian Churches,
but altogether different in their construction. Their
altars and their monuments are such as history
tells you belonged to the worship of the ancient
^Ancient^ Gods. There is no such Forum now in
New York or London or Paris as you find
here– but it is different and such as Ancient
Histories describe. The dwelling homes built
of stone, with Mosaic floors in all
cases, without windows in the first story
Page 9

^with courts in the center^
opened to the Heavens, and admitting light
for the interior, the wal rooms mostly
smaller and more contracted and lower
than those you allow to your domestics
The walls, not papered, not but always
covered with a thick very thick and endu-
ring coat of plaister, ma made smooth
and then invariably painted in Arabesque
or fresco, with imitations of cornices, door
ways, and with figures, single
or in groups according to the literature
the religion and the traditions of the ancients
show you that the owners of these deserted
dwellings are not Christians, not moderns
but those who figured in had their
time allotted to them ^to live^ two thousand years
ago. The ir utensils they used for worship
th or for luxury or for necessary domestic
occupations are different from those we have
now a days. They kept their wine in
There are large and long earthen stone jugs
or amphora with small mouths in which
their wine is kept in the cellars. The wine
is out and the in its place is ashes.
Page 10

The shopkeeper advertises his name on
the door posts not on a painted and
printed board but in a language and
hand writing in paint that you do not
recognize as like any you know. The
Bakers oven is indeed our modern
large oven – but you would never think
of the mill for grinding the wheat being
contained in the bakery, or of this clumsy
contrivance of a conic stone set up with
all a hollow conic stone placed
above it for grinding wheat, much less
of turning these two stones in opposite direc-
tions by means of a lever moved round
by an ass, as you see is done here.
Then such a counter as this for the
sale of wines, with or oil, with great
wide mouthed jars set down in stone
masonry, or such a shelf as this
for holding the vessels used in supplying
customers. While there are many dwellings
in which decency and modesty can find
no offense, you are shocked in every room
Page 11

by pictures and emblems which show
that the tastes of the people want are
vicious debased and sensual beyond
When you descend into the
cellar of the Villa of Diomedes and find
the places where 18 per human skeletons
were found who had taken refuge there
thinking that the stone flood of ashes
could not penetrate this retreat and
see that nevertheless it did flow in through
the circular aperture which had been
made to let in air and light, and that
they had perished standing up against
the walls and ^then^ buried standing in the
ashes, one with the key of the gate in
his hands, others with money on their
persons and others with their ear rings
finger rings bracelets and other jewelry
upon their persons, you cant but feel
an unavailing sympathy, for their alarm
and their horrible sufferings and their
sad fates. I made for the time myself a
for the time a Roman. I sat down on the
floor of the temples of Venus, of Jupiter and
Page 12

of Vesta and I brought up before me the
priest and the worshipers and saw the animal
writhe and die and pour out his blood
on the Altar which stood before me. If I
could take to you the niche in which
I found the House hold gods of the dwellers
of one of these home habitations you would
place it in it at once your bible and
cross. If I could remove this beautiful
center table unequalled by any thing in
modern art you would prize it as
the most classic and beautiful article
of furniture in your parlor.
I sat on the seat with of the Tribune
in the Forum, and tried the culprits brought
before me from the dark dungeon below.
I walked up and down the Forum
and debated the on the baseness of
Nero , and on the virtues of Cicero with
gowned men who came around me.
I talked with Livia the Priestess whose
statue I found there, on the probable
efficacy of the sacrifices she was directing.
I sat down with ^on^ the privileged seats
in the theatres, and conjured up without
Page 13

difficulty a gladiatorial combat, in which
a Gaul was already prostrated and his
Thracian Victor stood impatiently waiting
to give the mortal stroke. I appealed
to the audience around me on the stone
benches which ari rise up tier upon
tier, for may f many feet, but they
hatefully reject my appeal. I address
myself to the women of high degree
who are enthroned on the still higher
seats which seem to approach the open
sky over our heads, but they too are
cruel, and the fatal word is clamorously
uttered on all sides, and the ^bloody^ Gaul
tastes of death in my very presence.
But at this moment, a Neapolitan
police officer
crosses the stage and says
to me that it is the sun has set, that it
is night. The theater and city must
be cleared. My The Audience and the
actors have vanished. I leave the
town hurriedly by a gate which once opened
down to the sea, but now on a broad plain
and at 10 O.clock at night after
eight hours, alone in Pompeii, I am in
my chamber in Naples, weary and ready for
Page 14

No 19 th 20
Naples Aug 28 th