We have come, writers, painters, sculptors, architects, passionate enthusiasts of the hitherto untouched beauty of Paris, to protest with all our strength, all our indignation, in the name of the unknown French taste, in the name of art and of French history threatened, against the erection, in the heart of our capital, of the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower, which public malignity, often marked by common sense and the spirit of justice, has already named of “Tower of Babel”. Without falling into the exaltation of chauvinism, we have the right to proclaim that Paris is the unrivaled city in the world. Above the streets, the widened boulevards, and the magnificent walks, rise the most noble monuments that the human race has produced. The soul of France, creator of masterpieces, shines amidst this august flowering of stones. Italy, Germany and Flanders, so justifiably proud of their artistic legacy, possess nothing comparable to ours, and from all corners of the universe Paris attracts curiosities and admiration.
Are we going to let all this be profaned? Will the city of Paris go on to associate itself longer with the baroques, with the mercantile imaginations of a machine builder, to become irreparably ugly and dishonor itself? For the Eiffel Tower, which commercial America itself would not want, is, doubtless, the dishonor of Paris. Everyone feels it, everyone says it, everyone deeply grieves it, and we are only a weak echo of the universal opinion, so legitimately alarmed.
Finally, when the foreigners come to visit our Exhibition, they will exclaim, astonished: “What? It is this horror that the French have found to give us an idea of their taste so much vaunted? And they will be right to make fun of us, because the Paris of the sublime gothics, the Paris of Jean Goujon, Germain Pilon, Puget, Rude, Barye, etc., will have become the Paris of M. Eiffel.
It suffices, moreover, to realize what we are doing, to imagine for a moment a vertiginously ridiculous tower dominating Paris, as well as a gigantic factory chimney, crushing with its barbarian mass. Our Lady, the Sainte-Chapelle, the dome of the Invalides, the Arc de Triomphe, all our humiliated monuments, all our shrunken architectures, which will disappear in this astonishing dream. And for twenty years, we will see how to stretch out over the entire city, still quivering with the genius of so many centuries, we will see the odious shadow of the odious column of bolted sheet metal stretch like an ink stain …
It’s up to you, Monsieur and dear compatriot, to you who love Paris so much, who have embellished it so much, who have so often protected it against the administrative devastation and the vandalism of industrial enterprises, that it is the honor to defend it once more. We leave it to you to plead the cause of Paris, knowing that you will deploy all the energy, all the eloquence that must inspire an artist such as you love what is beautiful, what is great, what is right … And if our cry of alarm is not heard, if our reasons are not listened to, if Paris is stubborn in the idea of dishonoring Paris, we will have, at least, you and us, hear a protest that honors.
This letter was signed on February 14, 1887 by 47 persons, including (in alphabetical order): Léon Bonnat, William Bouguereau, François Coppée, Daumais, Alexandre Dumas Jr., Gérôme, Charles Garnier, Charles Gounod, Eugène Guillaume, Joris Karl Huysmans, Leconte de Lisle, Guy de Maupassant, Ernest Meissonier, Edouard Pailleron, Victorien Sardou, Sully-Prudhomme, Joseph Vaudremer, Emile Zola, etc.