Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1833

  • Posted on: 10 March 2016
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1833



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, August 17, 1833

action: sent

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

location: Geneva, Switzerland

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

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: kle 

revision: crb 2015-05-20


Page 1

Geneva Saturday 17th, August. My dear Frances, The time drags heavily while we are waiting for the day of departure for Paris
and constantly vexed by the uncertainty concerning our trunk left at Darmstadt. On monday morning we shall set out
for Paris leaving directions for the trunk to be forwarded to that place if it ever arrive here. We have taken all the
measures in our power to reclaim it. For relief from the ennui
A feeling of weariness and disgust; tedium; listlessness •
which otherwise would annoy me my thoughts turn to you and
the constant subject is what are you doing, how are you enjoying yourself and how are the little boys? Alas except in my dreams
[ I ]


receive no answer to these inquiries and when the morning comes I experience the mockery of my feelings. From all
oppressive inquietude I will seek my retreat in continuing my journal.
On Tuesday morning (July 31) after much deliberation
[ we ]


concluded to continue our journey through Germany to Switzerland in the Diligence notwithstanding the exaction of an
enormous charge for our baggage the charge being about one quarter as much for luggage as for our places in the
Diligence. I therefore took places in the Coach which was to leave Darmstadt at 11 O. Clock at night for Basle. All
being as we supposed now well arranged we spent the forenoon
The former part of the day, from the morning to the noon •
in writing letters and looking at whatever was
remarkable in the town. But when I went to the office to leave letters for you the Clock told me that I must leave
one of our trunks to be forwarded by the Packwagen which follows the Diligence. Here was new trouble. Again
this course I remonstrated, I begged, I protested but all was unavailing. I should certainly have been indignant
had it not appeared from the manner of the Clerk that he wished not to give us unnecessary trouble and delay.
I could not reconcile with this appearance of good intention this new vexation. He explained to me through the inter
vention of the French waiter that our trunk would follow us 12 hours after our departure and that in 24 hours as I un
derstood him after our arrival at Basle it would be there. Still we could not by any means consent to leave a
part of our luggage to follow us 180 miles by another conveyance. I certainly was vexed beyond all patience. I deman
ded whether there was either an American or Englishman in the City and being directed to a Mr Walker I made
all haste to consult with him, he was an Englishman. From him I learned that the Diligence instead of being as
we had supposed the property of individuals belonged to the Government of Prussia and was a state establishment
that the officers with whom I transacted business were public agents, that the whole affair was regulated ac
cording to established laws, and that the conduct of the Clerks at the Bureau was strictly according to the
regulations, that from their demands and directions there was never any exception made. He assured with us
I might rest satisfied my trunk would arrive at Basle at the time stated, and relieved me of all anxiety by
saying that there was nothing different in my case from what happens every day to others and an instance was
never known of the failure of the Department to deliver baggage received for that purpose. With these assurances
we were content. We took from our trunks fortunately all our linen and woolen clothes of greater value, and
putting into that which we were to leave my books maps plates, our extra flannel shoes boots stockings so
we delivered it at the Diligence office with instructions to forward it to Basle there to rest until demanded.
I doubt not that the size of the trunks would have escaped notice and all would have been well had it not been
for our unfortunate attempt to bargain with the bureau concerning the transportation of them.
Darmstadt, is situate a few miles East of the Rhine and is the residence of the Grand Duke of Hesse Darmstadt one of
the petty German Princes. It contains about 15,000 inhabitants, has broad streets well built in the modern style
and ornamented with shade trees, public walks gardens and fountains. It appears to have no commerce
and exhibits and air of a town occupied only by rich and independent citizens. The Castle of the Grand Duke is a
great establishment but I did not enter it. There is a Museum and a Theatre both of which were closed. We found in the
town little to interest our curiosity. At 11 O. Clock in the night eve, took our departure. A few miles brought us to the little village of Eberstadt where I was content to be shown the direction of the old ruins of the Castle of the Frankenstein said
to have been one of the finest ancient Chateaux in Germany. This castle commanded the entrance onto the plain upon
which Darmstadt is built. Our road now laid through what is called the Valley of the Bergstrasse passing through
the silent dark streets of Zwingenbergh Auerbach Benscheim, Heppenheim (celebrated for its wines) Lauterbach
Oberlauterbach Heimbach Sulzbach and Neunheim. It is believed that the valley of Bergstrasse was once a great
Lake which in process of time came to be drained by the Rhine. The part of the Country through which we now passed
as well as the whole of our journey to Switzerland along the Rhine and in the edge of the black forest is the scene
of the thousand German tales of terror which we have so often read in America. I could easily comprehend
how superstitious belief in the interference of supernatural beings should assume that peculiarly mysterious terror
for which the German legends are distinguished when I looked upon the ^wild^ mountain scenery, and old ruined
castles of the Rhine. Between our road and the river is the mountain of Lorch - and the little valley of Wispenthal.
I give you the tradition concerning it.
In the little savage and solitary valley behind Lorch says the tradition are found noth
ing but a few poor cottages. For a long time it continued to be an entire desert, for if at any time the people of the vicinity
attempted to penetrate its gloomy thickets they experienced all manner of pains in their bones and so many other vexa-
tions at the hands of the sprites who immediately discovered their entrance into the valley that many are said to have
suffered most severely for their temerity. Some centuries ago three young men went on a voyage of pleasure on the Rhine
They were of Nurembourgh and their fathers were rich merchants. When they arrived at Lorch they heard the stories
told concerning the marvellous valley and immediately determined to visit it. In less than half an hour they
found themselves in a road covered with briars and thorns and soon the path became so indistinct that it was with dif-
ficulty they could trace it. At length they came to an enormous mass of rock which had the shape and appear-
ance of a Chateau, the apertures in the wall resembled Gothic casements and the half oval shape of an old dome completed the de
ception. At one of these supposed windows appeared in a group the heads of three Ladies of astonishing beauty. Un bot! Un bot! distinctly
announced (although I cannot translate it) was the signal for the gallants to approach. "Oh Oh[ " ]


said they there is nothing here so
alarming as the reports we heard induced us to expect. The young Ladies are wearied no doubt with solitude [ " ]


We come in good time
to spend an hour with them" They now advanced to the front of what seemed a narrow gate. Our three companions hesitated
not to enter and to traversed without apprehension a long alley which conducted them to a stairway. They now looked into
a vast and grand vestibule. But all at once they found themselves enveloped in thick darkness so that they could not
see their hands when brought before their eyes. Groping their way one of them found a door which he eagerly pushed aside. The
light of a thousand candles dazzled their eyes, they were in a Hall whose walls were covered with glass from the ceiling to the floor
and every pier was separated from the others by a Chandelier containing innumerable torches. You are welcome cried the three
Ladies but our young gallants found themselves not a little embarrassment. Instead of the three Ladies whom they had seen
at the window they were immediately surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of young beauties all equally extending their
hands and inviting them to respond to so delightful a reception. Perplexed to decide to whom to make their acknowledgements
they stand staring around while the repetition of the beauties in all the mirrors of the magnificent saloon redoubled their
embarrassment and laugh the ludicrous mystification of their senses. At length a door formed of glass in a niche of the wall
opens and a large old man dressed in black with a long beard whiter than snow makes his appearance before them
Welcome, Welcome young men said he you are come without doubt to marry my daughters. I will not sell them for
I am no merchant, I will have no barter, I shall give to each one of them a thousand pounds weight of gold. While the
old man was thus speaking the females began to laugh very loud and the three young men were perfectly astonished
not knowing what to think of all this. Very well said the old man in a voice of thunder. Let each one take one.
Each of the gallants advanced tremblingly presenting his hand to one of the three captivating beauties when lo he touched
nothing but the surface of inanimate glass. The old man now joined in the laugh with the three girls. Stop said he till directing their hands towards the true objects of their admiration. They trembled again to the very heart
but immediately the charms of so much beauty dissipated
To scatter; to disperse; to separate into parts and disappear • To expend; to squander; to scatter property in wasteful extravagance • To scatter the attention •
all their fears. They feel themselves burning with
passion for the daughters of the old man who directs them to embrace their wives. They kiss and the seduction
benumbs their hearts and stupefies intoxicates all their senses. But said the old man before your union is completed I shall exact
one only proof of your love. My daughters have lost their favorite birds. One was a starling another a raven and the third a
magpie. They are most assuredly in the woods below the castle and easily may be recognized. The starling proposes
riddles, the crow croaks a song and the magpie relates the history of her grandmother as soon as they are bidden to speak.
Go my brave lovers, bring back to us these our plumed favorites they are docile and will easily suffer themselves
to be taken. The three Companions went immediately to obey the orders of the old man. They found the three birds perched upon
the branches of an old half decayed ash. Starling said one propose to me your riddle. The starling perched imme-
diately upon his shoulder and said
What is that thing impressed on your face
That cannot be reflected by any glass.
Raven! Raven, give me your little song said the second and the raven immediately sang in a hoarse tone
(The crow's song is not worth transcribing even had I the power to translate it into no worse story than the original - the
substance is that three Franciscan monks died of hunger in passing on horseback through a land of great plenty
because they kept their mouths open and took no pains to procure food.[ ) ]



The Crow having finished his song alighted from the tree upon the shoulder of the second companion. Magpie said
the third Relate to me I pray you the history of your grandmother
(over-[ ) ]



Page 2

The Magpie affected an air of consequence

Isaac Antoine Cart