Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 15, 1859

  • Posted on: 10 November 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 15, 1859









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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Adeline Seward, September 15, 1859

action: sent

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

location: Cairo, Egypt

receiver: Frances Seward
Birth: 1844-12-09  Death: 1866-10-29

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: nwh 

revision: jxw 2021-02-09


Page 1

Hand Shiftx

Frances Seward

Birth: 1805-09-24 Death: 1865-06-21
Sept. 16. 1859
Page 2
Hand Shiftx

William Seward

Birth: 1801-05-16 Death: 1872-10-10


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry.
Alexandria Thursday morning
Sept. 16. 1859

Editorial Note

September 16, 1859 was a Friday.

My dear Fanny, I wrote in the letter which I dispatched yes-
terday by way of London that at 6 last evening I was to sail
from this place for Jaffa. Seafaring men are proverbial for
want of punctuality. Semi civilized commercial men are not
more punctual than these whose responsibilities are enhanced
by greater knowledge. While I am waiting I may drop
a few words about this part of Egypt. This town built
at the junction of a canal with the Mediterranean within
the Delta of the seven mouths of the Nile, was as
you know founded by the great Alexander of Macedonia.
It grew under the Egyptian Monarchs, the patronage and
subsequently the government of the Roman Emperors and
the Egyptian Princes who succeeded them to be the
second capital of the World. Its Light House on
The Island of Pharos in the Harbor was the seventh
wonder of Antiquity. Its Libraries museums, learning
philosophy were the admiration of the Ancient nations.
Cleopatra was its sovereign and its pride, and the
Ptolemies by their wisdom and virtues sustained
its renown. But Alexandria declined with the
decline of civilization and sank into comparative
obscurity when the Saracen became its master and
the Arabs took the place of the ancient Coptic popu-
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With the revival of commerce and arts in Europe after
the wars between the Christian and Mussulums ceased
Alexandria slowly improved. The Pachas for the last
thirty years have been enlightened true and vigorous
administrators. They have attained all but a nomi-
nal independence of Turkey, and have adopted
many of the modern inventions of Europe and America
The city has a population now of perhaps 80, or
90,000 people. That is to say it is as large as Buffalo.
It is all modern, not one ancient structure remains.
It is various. The Arab part is Oriental in its style
The French or European Quarter a mixture of French
Italian Maltese and English. The population are
even more mixed. The Bedouin Arab, The Lybian
savage, the Nubian, and the Abyssinian mingling
here with the Greek the Syrian, and the European
races. I went out yesterday to explore the city. I
found a tall massive granite ^circular^ column 100 feet high
called Pompey's column still erect. Its style
of architecture is of the ages before the Christian
era, and time has worn it to roughness. Its inscriptions
antedate the Jewish captivity. But its name is without
any just application. I found also what is called
Cleopatras needle, a red Egyptian granite obelisk
of date and style as old er or older than the
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column. Both of these moments ^monuments^ stand on bases which
manifestly were laid far more recently than the
shaping of the shafts, and are very rude as well
as massive. It is therefore inferred that Cleopatra
or some other sovereign brought them here from middle
or upper and now ancient Egypt to embellish
the new city which succeeded the ancient
Capitals of Memphis and Thebes. Then there
are catacombs veritable vestiges of the
early greatness of Alexandria. Beyond these
monuments there is nothing noticeable here. The
little town is shriveled up among high heaps
of brick mortar and sand which show that
the city anciently covered a space four or five
times as great. Occasionally a statue, or a broken
column, or a capital is found but it is secured
and removed as a relic, and the search is
now discontinued. I rode to the villa
of one
of the nobles of the governing family to see his beautiful
garden. But the attending Arab
informed us that
the Ladies of the Harem were walking in the
shades and of course we could not enter.
Turkish society is odd curious and bizarre enough
to excite constant wonder. Yesterday I met a party
of ladies, in silks and linen hoops, with the child[ ren ]


Reason: hole

Page 5

They were shopping and would have seemed almost European
but their faces were veiled so that only their eyes
and the tawny skin around them were visible. You see
before you a stately Jewel arranged richly in the
berber costume. You pass her and turn to see who
she may be. You see a white mask over a face
as black all Ethiopian.
The mass of the people know nothing I think of the
habits ^and manners^ of civilized life and their homes are little better
than sheds built on the sand heaps which circulate
the desert. Yet the one Their dresses costume is as
strange as that of an American savage, and their guttural
language very like an Indian dialect in its sounds.
Yet, they affe maintain mutual courtesy and
deference and politeness, quite Oriental, and dress
is the one important institution in Egypt. Every
man native or foreign is weighed by the richness
of his costume, barbarous as the form of the costume
seems to us to be. The religious development would
seem very strong judging from the reverence of attitude
and frequency of prayer in their devotions. Charity among
them is a divin religious duty, and a considerable part
of the population take advantage of the sentiment here as
in Catholic Countries to live by it. A considerable class
is educated, but I think they have little of modern
science or literature —