Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, September 3, 1859

  • Posted on: 10 November 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, September 3, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, September 3, 1859

action: sent

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

location: Naples, Italy

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

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: amr 

revision: jxw 2021-02-08


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 Saturday night
September 3d.
Naples finished.
Although I could scarcely lift a foot to day
I went abroad, and I hope profitably. This
came just time it was my business to explore
the Western arm of the crescent of the
Bay of Naples. Luke tells us that the
Apostle Paul landed on his way from
Greece to Rome at Puteoli. The name is
Greek and signifies Hot Wells or Hot
Springs Puteoli was a Grecian colony older
than Naples. It stands four miles from
Naples on the Coast. And it is the same
place now as then though sadly damaged
by earthquakes and eruptions. I saw no
trace of St. Paul on the beach, and I am
sorry to say very little in the manners and
morals of the People. Puteoli stands on the
sea coast at the foot of Solfatara a volcano
now nearly extinguished and cold by Monte
Nuovo also volcano. It is about seven
hundred years since Solfatara exhibited its
last eruption, but then it made effectual
work, two thirds of the whole mountain
disappeared, and left a circular valley
flat as a threshing floor –
Page 2

a quarter of a mile in diameter. Trees are
beginning to grow on this floor – and yet it is
only a floor. By throwing a heavy stone
down upon it with force you produce a
reverberation beneath which shows that there
is a vast cavern below and that only a
thin shell separates you from its vast dark
chambers. Advancing to the sides of the
mountain – you see where the fires below you
are still active. The earth becomes too
hot to stand upon, ^heated^ gases loaded with
sulphur hydrogen, aluminum and other
minerals take away your breath. In other
places heated water charged with similar
minerals break through the subterranean floors
and contribute heated wells or springs
reverted to two thousand years ago and
now, for cures like Saratoga or
Sharon in our own state –
Leaving there I entered the
excavated amphitheater of Puteoli
capable of holding from then forty five
thousand spectators. The seats the chambers
even the rooms of the gladiators and the
dens of the wild beasts remain unal-
tered. I sat down and conjured up
Page 3

the scene which hamper was enacted
here when Tiberius held court at this
watering place, and when Nero disgusted
the world by descending from the Imperial
seat into the Arena and enacting games
and challenging the wild beasts. I
did not try to bring up the scene
when Christians were thrown into the arena
to be devoured by beasts, because the
same authorities which tell us of those
horrid rites tell us also the incredible
fact that the lions refused to devour their
intended victims and so they were left to
be beheaded by the axeman

From the barbarian theater I pro-
ceeded to the rescued temple of
Jupiter Serapis, in which the God
was worshipped in the Egyptian form and
with Egyptian ceremony. The ruins are
still quite distinct and interesting, but
surely you have heard enough of them. Then
I proceeded to Cumae – more
ancient than Naples or Puteoli, a
Page 4

city far older than Rome. Only one gate is left
but the arch of that is unbroken. Earthquakes
eruptions and wars have totally destroyed
the city and in its place is nothing but
a vast heap of ruins covered with vine-
yards and orchards. Among these ruins
on the sea shore I found what is regarded
as the Cave of the Cumaean Sybil whose
book was taken by the Romans, and preserved
in the capital, and of which it was said
that every leaf lost condemned indefinitely the
value of the few that remained. Then I found
rows of stately tombs and Columbarium –
all of which are empty, most of which
are useless and others are made for
wine vaults and pig styes. Around this
spot is the streets of the Elysian fields which the
poets describe. Here the bodies were deposited
on the island souls proceeded to the
shore of Lake Avernus covered near by
and covered with ^dark^ impenetrable forests.
In A cave on its shore opens the way to
the River Styx where Charon stands with
his boat ready to ferry them across
for judgement. I went down to the lake
which I found ^filled^ with litter waters and mud-
dy or dirty waters falling from the
Page 5

ashes forced into it by the volcanic springs
beneath it. But the forest has altogether
disappeared and the sun light burns the
earth around it. I looked for the cavern
which leads down to the Stygian river,
but there are so many of them that I could
not ascertain which was the right one.
Besides, as no one comes back from
that voyage – so it is certain that of later
years nobody has made this entrance
into the lower infernal regions through
this ancient passage which I am obliged
therefore to believe has become dimmed.
I gave up further effort to journey underground
and finished my days excursions with
a trip to Baiae

the one famed and
ancient meeting place of the Romans – dis-
tinguished for the corruptions of and licentiousness
of society as well as for the value of its
wonders I found ^what was called^ the villa of Cicero and
the grove of Adonis, the scene of Neros de-
bauchery, but Baiae is now only a
heap of ruins.
Page 6

Here ends the survey of Naples. On
Monday Mr Forsyth
Birth: 1817-09-08 Death: 1886-08-10
leaves me to return home-
Ward, and I embark for Messina in
Sicily and ultimately for Constantinople
the end of my travels. I have just received
here your last letter and Fannys
Birth: 1844-12-09 Death: 1866-10-29
on your return from Buffalo. I am
glad that you made the excursion and
enjoyed it.
On Monday is a great fete day
where the Court comes to town and processions are
had and presentations made – but I have conclu-
ded that it is more important for me to
see the ruins of Grecian civilization and
the decline of the Mohamaton power than
to stay here to see what I can well
enough imagine from the many insight I have
already gained –