Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, October 30, 1859

  • Posted on: 16 December 2021
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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, October 30, 1859



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Letter from William Henry Seward to Frances Miller Seward, October 30, 1859

action: sent

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

location: Milan, Italy

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

location: Auburn, NY

transcription: amr 

revision: zz 2021-02-25


Page 1


Editorial Note

William Henry Seward’s series of travel letters in 1859 are organized and listed by the date of each entry. Milan Sunday Oct 31, 1859. October 31, 1859 was a Monday.

My dear Frances, It is only ten or fifteen miles by
rail road from Verona to Peschiera which lies at the
foot of Lake Garda. Nature has rendered made
the scene there beautiful like similar situations in the
lovely land in which we dwell. But of its especial
beauties attractions I could not judge for I rode left
yesterday through a cold drizzling rain The har Pes-
chiera di is on the dividing line between Sardinia
and Austria, and is strongly fortified by the latter power.
Indeed it constitutes one angle of the famous
Quadrilateral. Here the train stopped six or seven
Times. My alternatives were to stay there in a
rail road depot shut in by the rain, or to ride
ten miles to Solferino. I chose the latter, and
making up a party of an with an Englishman

and a Pole
we rode in a covered wagon
to the last worlds latest great battle ground.
That battle ground is as you know sixteen miles
long and three four or five wide. The contest ^combat^ reached
its aim and was determined at Solferino, a
place practically central. Thither we went,
passing over lines where the combatants had
fought. The country is highly cultivated and
there was no sign this that indicated it had been

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so recently the theater of ^ a wa ^ human co a fearful human
conflict. Solferino proper is a struggling village
built at the base and around the lower terrace
of a lofty hill. On the Hill are a church
convent, and Old Chateau. Here on this hill
the Austrians if I recollect aright made their
most determined stand. We left the carriage
in the town and climbed the hill on foot,
and then as our recollections of the descriptions
of the contest allowed us we called up
the story dreadful conflict in its various
places and at its different hours which
beginning at day light lasted until ten at
night, closing in the midst of a war of the
elements. Over all the plain where perhaps
fifty thousand lives were sacrificed, all was
calm and still as it was before the conflict
occurred. The church, the school house, the
chateau the walls, the gates, the even the
earth itself of the Hill of Solferino gave
evidence of the fight. There were breaches in the
solid stone walls made by bombs and
cannon balls, and mus musquet and rifle
balls had there had thickly spotted every
structure. The grave yard had a The earth
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had not yet settled over the graves of the tens of
thousands buried within it under its bosom. A
few made monuments near to the dead placed
spoke of the sorrow of their surviving comrades.
Fragments of common uniform, equipments are
yet found plentifully. Nearly every peasant
is clothed in the garments of an Austrian
soldier. How hard said I to myself is the
progress of the Human race to its better destiny. Here
was a people of five or six millions seeking
a higher freedom and a better social condition.
The effect to Man it brought is a conflict
on this spot, and I stand on ^among^ the graves of
50,000 of my fellow men who fell in that
fearful combat. It was really a combat for
freedom but of them who engaged in it, even of
those who perished in it, perhaps not one of
one thousand knew or cared about the question
involved it. Nearly all were mercenaries, and
ha more than half were opposed to the course of
freedom itself. Nevertheless even these facts ^anomalies^ show
how irrepressible the struggle for principle of
human liberty is, since it will force even des-
pots to wage wars, out of which it may gain
only consequential advantages. I saw Solferino
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only and clouds and rain. It was better so
for it was not to be irreverentially visited. It was
a solemn journey, and the weather favored sadness.
It was dark when we returned to the shore
of Lake Garda, and I saw no more of earth
or sky until the guard announced to the
sleeping passengers that we were arrived at
Milan. Here after some trouble I found lodging
and took my ^late^ dinner by a comfortable fire
the first I have ordered for the season.
Happily for me the banker
was at his
office at 11 o,clock. Thither I repaired prompt-
ly and I found there your letters with Fannys
Birth: 1844-12-09 Death: 1866-10-29

and Lazettes
Birth: 1803-11-01 Death: 1875-10-03
and Fredericks
Birth: 1830-07-08 Death: 1915-04-25
and some others.
But only so late as the 29th of August.
I learn from them that you had been sick for
a week and were better, at that day. It was a
great relief to know even this, for I had
heard not a word of home since the middle
of July. All your other ^later^ letters are still
at Paris whither I shall pass, with very
little delay, and I shall write from that
point any definite promise of return.
I have been so much occupied with Turin that
I have done little justice to the subjects of interest in
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this beautiful city. The streets are broad, quite clean
many of the and well built, The people intelligent and
active, as well as comfortable. If there is not so-
great ^much^ energy and enterprise here as in America, there is at
least every sight of indication of present prosperity. The whole
scene around me contrasts happily with the paralysis
of Venice and the consumption of Rome and Naples.
The great wonder of Milan is its Gothic Cathedral
of White marble. Its magnitude is of the largest order
of Churches or temples, known in the world. Its proportions
colossal. But these characteristics are common to many
churches. What is the true wonder is the richness the
luxuriance of its construction, according to the standard of
the Gothic Its style. Its front or as they say here, its
facade seems to me a failure. It is a gable
end with two lean-tos. How cheap and common
such buildings seem to us in the United States, you
know. The effect of is the same in this church although
the proportions and magnitude are immense. But
here fault finders must cease. Even this graceless
front is so graceless as a whole is wrought into a
boldness of beauty by the vanity of its lines and
the luxuriance of its multiplied statuary, of sacred
subjects. The long sides, broken into buttresses
which seem to increase instead of diminishing the
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height are perfect, both in the plan and arrangement
of parts and in the elaboration of ornament. The outside
only of the church has niches and standards for
5000 saints and angels. I fear earth has not
produced or Heaven lent so many. But magnificent
the exterior is it is mean in effect compared
with the interior – which rises and towers and
rests above your head as if it were a breach
to the very skies. Connisseurs compare it with
St Peters and divide on their merits. My personal
judgement is that the Cathedral at Milan is
the most perfect of Churches, St. Peters at
Rome is the most sublime of Temples.
I went of course as who does not to see
the Last Supper, by Leonardo da Vinci.
It is painted as you know across the end of
wall of a long high dining room of a convent,
and at just such a height above the floor as
to make it seem a part of the arrangement of
the occupants of the Convent at dinner. Although highly
appreciated at ^from the very^ first it is yet it has not escaped
sacrilege. There was a door under the center.
To enlarge this door the monks cut away a
part of the picture, containing a portion of the
table and the legs of the Savior. The Convent
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has ^for a^ long time been converted into a garrison
or barracks, and rough soldiers have defaced
its walls. The outside coat of the wall
flakes off and it dots the picture with white
spots. It is sadly defaced, and hardly
any part of it has escaped the hands of
inferior artists in attempts to retrieve it. Never-
theless there the picture is, with all its
originality of conception design and arrangement,
simple, clean sublime affecting, and
there is the Savior with a human countenance
indicated by Divine benevolence and virtue
and there is each of the apostles exhibiting emotions
or passions such as the discovery of the foul treason
against their Lord must necessarily excite. It is
still notwithstanding liken the rigors it has received
all that art has claimed for it. The first pic-
ture in the world.