Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson




Ellen Axson Wilson writes to her husband, Woodrow Wilson, during a trip with her daughters to Italy and tells of visiting the Vatican and observing a papal procession.


Library of Congress


Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum





Spatial Coverage

Rome, Italy


No 5

My own darling

I am distressed to be so late in the week getting off my second letter; but still it is only Thursday, 2 P. M., so I trust it will go on a Saturday steamer. I tried to write both last night & the night before but was too tired,— couldn't even hold my hand steady. In our first enthusiasm we naturally worked pretty hard for a few days; now we have called a halt and are going to take things easier; we will stay in and rest until four and then simply drive to the “Protestant Cemetery” seeing two churches on our way, which have fine mosaics, &c. We are all perfectly well and have splendid appetites. I don't know when I have been so hungry, and Jessie is ravenous,— eats everything that is offered her,–no matter how queer and foreign it is.

We have had a truly wonderful week! every day has been an epock in my life! It is impossible to say how I have enjoyed the Michael Angelo's and the Raphaels,—what revelations they have been of glorious beauty & majesty. Of course the photographs give a fairly good idea of the separate figures in the Sistine Chapel; but I really don't think they prepare on at all for Raphael's great compositions, because the “composition” has every thing to do with it, It is the largeness of the whole conception, the wonderful harmony of line and mass, the sense of air and space, the wonderful grouping of all those glorious, majestic, serenely god-like figures who are holding high converse together. “Such harmony is in immortal souls.” It is hard to keep away from them & do one's duty to all the lesser lights.— and yet the rest are so enchanting too!–I wouldn't miss them for the world. I saw for instance this morning at the Corsini gallery a “Fra Angelico” that was perfectly adorable, and some six other masterpieces that I will never forget, mixed up with an acre or two of trash. I should think people who did not know what they were looking for would have a dismal time in the private galleries here. We were in two of them this morning & in two churches. One of the latter was most beautiful; both in general effect and in the glorious early mosaic work all over the apse. It was like jewels,– and quite made up in this instance for the want of the stained glass of the Gothic cathedrals.
But to return for a moment to the first of the week, which we began by going to the great papal function. I had a splendid seat next to the barrier so that there was no one between me & the procession. The pope was stopped for some time just beside me so that I had and opportunity to study his face – and very beautiful & noble one. I can't say as much for the cardinals & bishops. The latter almost without exception looked like imbeciles & pigs! Some of the cardinals had rather interesting, keen, worldly-wise faces, and a stately bearing, reminding one of old Italian portraits,— and some of the young monks & priest had really ideal heads. The music,—Gregorian chants &c., was magnificent. The rest of the party had to stand & almost had the breath crushed out of them; yet they declare that they enjoyed it greatly! I felt ashamed to be faring so much better than the rest.

That afternoon we took a general drive to get our first impression of the city. The next morning we spent with the Raphaels and in the afternoon we drove on the Appian Way, and went down into the catacomb of St. Calixtus. The drive was delightful and you can imagine how interesting. My taste in catacombs is very undeveloped—but it was fine to come out!Yesterday we spent the morning in the Sistine Chaplel, and in the afternoon saw the Borghese collections and then drove about the Borghese park which is beautiful, and on the Pincian Hill, stopping at another famous church on our way home.
But I had best leave the diary style to Jessie who does it so much better! I read her last Sunday's letter & was charmed! Do don't letter the children lose them.

I have had no more letters as yet;–I suppose they have gone to Paris. Two weeks now since we landed, so I hope my darling has got a letter. It is good to think that I will be sailing in six weeks now. Give my devoted love to all, and remember, dear love, that I am now and always yours in every heart throb.

YouYour Eileen

Original Format





Wilson, Ellen Axson, “Ellen Axson Wilson to Woodrow Wilson,” 1904 April 15, WWP15008, Ellen Axson Wilson Letters, Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum, Staunton, Virginia.

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