47 of the most righteously indignant including the famed Guy de Maupassant penned and signed a letter of protest in early February 1887 to Charles Adolphe Alphand, the Minister of Public Works, who was responsible within the government for the Paris Exposition of 1889.
This is the said letter:
Writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate lovers of the hereto intact beauty of Paris, we come to protest with all our strength, with all our indignation, in the name of betrayed French taste, in the name of threatened French art and history, against the erection in the heart of our capital of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower, which the public has scornfully and rightly dubbed the Tower of Babel.
Without being blind chauvinists, we have the right to proclaim publicly that Paris is without rival in the world. Along its streets and wide boulevards, beside its admirable riverbanks, amid its magnificent promenades, stand the most noble monuments to which human genius has ever given birth. The soul of France, the creator of masterpieces, shines among this august proliferation of stone. Italy, Germany, Flanders, so rightly proud of their artistic heritage, possess nothing comparable to ours, and Paris attracts curiosity and admiration from all corners of the universe.
Are we to let all that be profaned? Is the City of Paris to associate itself any longer with the baroque, mercantile imaginings of a builder of machines, and thus dishonour and disfigure itself irreparably? For the Eiffel Tower, which even commercial America would not have, is without a doubt the dishonour of Paris. Everyone feels it, everyone says it, everyone is profoundly saddened by it, and we are only a weak echo of public opinion so legitimately alarmed. When foreigners visit our Exposition they will cry out in astonishment, “Is it this horror that the French have created to give us an idea of their vaunted taste?” They will be right to mock us, for the Paris of sublime gothic, the Paris of Jean Goujon, of Germain Pilon of Puget, of Rude, of Barye, etc., will have become the Paris of Monsieur Eiffel.
For that matter, all one must do to understand our case is to imagine for a moment a dizzily ridiculous tower dominating Paris like a black and gigantic factory chimney, crushing beneath its barbarous mass Notre Dame, the Sainte Chapelle, the Tour Saint Jacques, the Louvre, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our humiliated monuments, all our raped architecture disappearing in this stupefying dream. And for the next twenty years we will see cast over the entire city, still trembling with the genius of so many centuries, cast like a spot of ink, the odious shadow of the odious column of bolted metal.
It is up to you who so love Paris, who have so beautified it, who have so often protected it against administrative devastation and the vandalism of industry, to defend it once again. We entrust to you the task of pleading the cause of Paris, knowing that you will bring it all the energy, all the eloquence that the love of the beautiful, the great, the proper inspire in an artist as yourself. And if our cry of alarm is not heard, if our argument is not listened to, if Paris stubbornly goes ahead with an idea that dishonours Paris, we will at least, you and we, have expressed an honourable protest.
The writer Guy de Maupassant went further, in his short story “La Vie Errante,” he declares:
“I left Paris and even France because of the Eiffel Tower. Not only is it visible from every point in the city, but it is to be found everywhere, made of every known material, exhibited in every shop window, an unavoidable and tormenting nightmare…I wonder what will be thought of our generation if, in some future riot, we do not unbolt this tall, skinny pyramid of iron ladders, this giant and disgraceful skeleton with a base that seems made to support a formidable monument of Cyclops and which aborts into the thin, ridiculous profile of a factory chimney.”
It should be noted the probably apocryphal story still told in Paris today that Guy de Maupassant frequently lunched at the restaurant on the second platform because that was the only place in the city where he could be certain not to see the tower. – Fantastic stuff!
So what of Eiffel himself, what was his response to all of this snobbery towards his tower?
“I believe that the tower will have its own beauty, the first principle of architectural beauty is that the essential lines of the construction be determined by a perfect appropriateness to its use. What was the main obstacle I had to overcome in designing the Tower? Its resistance to wind. And I submit that the curves of its four piers as produced by our calculations, rising from an enormous base and narrowing towards the top, will give a great impression of strength and beauty.
Besides, there is an attraction and a charm inherent in the colossal that is not subject to ordinary theories of art. Does anyone pretend that the Pyramids have so forcefully gripped the imagination of men through their artistic value? What are they after all but artificial hillocks? And yet what visitor can stand without reaction in their presence?
The tower will be the tallest edifice ever raised by man. Will it not therefore be imposing in its own way?
It seems to me that the Eiffel Tower is worthy of being treated with respect, if only because it will show that we are not simply an amusing people, but also a country of engineers and builders who are called upon all over the world to construct bridges, viaducts, train stations and the great monuments of modern industry.”
Could not agree more! It survived the 20 years and beyond after being used for communication purposes!
Incidentally, according to her biographer, Jane Avril herself on many a merry evening loved to climb the staircases of the tower and ride on the big wheel, clearly happy to embrace this form of modernity, if not others.