XXIII. THE GREAT
There was a great Exhibition at Paris in 1890. I had
read about its elaborate preparations, and I also had a
keen desire to see Paris. So I thought I had better
combine two things in one and go there at this juncture.
A particular attraction of the Exhibition was the Eiffel
Tower, constructed entirely of iron, and nearly 1,000
feet high. There were of course many other things of
interest, but the Tower was the chief one, inasmuch as it
had been supposed till then that a structure of that
height could not safely stand.
I had heard of a vegetarian restaurant in Paris. I
engaged a room there and stayed seven days. I managed
everything very economically, both the journey to Paris
and the sight-seeing there. This I did mostly on foot and
with the help of a map of Paris, as also a map of the
guide to the Exhibition. These were enough to direct one
to the main streets and chief places of interest.
I remember nothing of the Exhibition excepting its
magnitude and variety. I have fair recollection of the
Eiffel Tower as I ascended it twice or thrice. There was
a restaurant on the first platform, and just for the
satisfaction of being able to say that I had had my lunch
at a great height, I threw away seven shillings on it.
The ancient churches of Paris are still in my memory.
Their grandeur and their peacefulness are unforgettable.
The wonderful construction of Notre Dame and the
elaborate decoration of the interior with its beautiful
sculptures cannot be forgotten. I felt then that those
who expended millions on such divine cathedrals could not
but have the love of God in their hearts.
I had read a lot about the fashions and frivolity of
Paris. These were in evidence in every street, but the
churches stood noticeably apart from these scenes. A man
would forget the outside noise and bustle as soon as he
entered one of these churches. His manner would change,
he would behave with dignity and reverence as he passed
someone kneeling before the image of the Virgin. The
feeling I had then has since been growing on me, that all
this kneeling and prayer could not be mere superstition;
the devout souls kneeling before the Virgin could not be
worshipping mere marble. They were fired with genuine
devotion and they worshipped not stone, but the divinity
of which it was symbolic. I have an impression that I
felt then that by this worship they were not detracting
from, but increasing, the glory of God.
I must say a word about the Eiffel Tower. I do not
know what purpose it serves today. But I then heard it
greatly disparaged as well as praised. I remember that
Tolstoy was the chief among those who disparaged it. He
said that the Eiffel Tower was a monument of man's folly,
not of his wisdom. Tobacco, he argued, was the worst of
all intoxicants, inasmuch as a man addicted to it was
tempted to commit crimes which a drunkard never dared to
do; liquor made a man mad, but tobacco clouded his
intellect and made him build castles in the air. The
Eiffel Tower was one of the creations of a man under such
influence. There is no art about the Eiffel Tower. In no
way can it be said to have contributed to the real beauty
of the Exhibition. Men flocked to see it and ascended it
as it was a novelty and of unique dimensions. It was the
toy of the Exhibition. So long as we are children we are
attracted by toys, and the Tower was a good demonstration
of the fact that we are all children attracted by
trinkets. That may be claimed to be the purpose served by
the Eiffel Tower.