23. THE GREAT EXHIBITION
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 and 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 a 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
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.