Sir Hiram Maxim wrote of his impression of Swami Vivekananda
From Marie Louie Burke’s “New Discoveries”
To some members of the great Parliament audience Swamiji stood as the victorious opponent of all that was stereotyped, dull, and unthinking in Christian churches. Among these was Sir Hiram Maxim, one of the brilliant engineers and inventors of his day, who, in 1893, had not yet left his native America to become a British subject. Twenty years later, in a foreword to his anti-missionary treatise, Li Hung Chang's Scrap-Book, Sir Hiram recalled the Parliament of Religions and the figure who was still vivid in his mind as its hero. Maxim wrote:
A few years ago there was a Congress of Religions at Chicago . Many said that such a thing would be impossible. How could any understanding be arrived at where each particular party was absolutely right and all the others were completely in the wrong? Still the Congress saved the American people more than a million dollars a year, not to mention many lives abroad. And this was all brought about by one brave and honest man. When it was announced in Calcutta that there was to be a Congress of religions at Chicago , some of the rich merchants took the Americans at their word, and sent them a Brahmin monk, Viva Kananda, from the oldest monastery in the world. This monk was of commanding presence and vast learning, speaking English like a Webster. The American Protestants, who vastly outnumbered all others, imagined that they would have an easy task, and commenced proceedings with the greatest confidence, and with the air of "Just see me wipe you out " However, what they had to say was the old commonplace twaddle that had been mouthed over and over again in every little hamlet from Nova Scotia to California. It interested no one, and no one noticed it.
When, however, Viva Kananda spoke, they saw that they had a Napoleon to deal with. His first speech was no less than a revelation. Every word was eagerly taken down by the reporters, and telegraphed all over the country, where it appeared in thousands of papers. Viva Kananda became the lion of the day. He soon had an immense following. No hall could hold the people who flocked to hear him lecture. They had been sending silly girls and half educated simpletons of men, and millions of dollars, to Asia for years to convert the poor benighted heathen and save his alleged soul; and here was a specimen of the unsaved who knew more of philosophy and religion than all the parsons and missionaries in the whole country. Religion was presented in an agreeable light for the first time to them. There was more in it than they had ever dreamed; argument was impossible. He played with the parsons as a cat plays with a mouse. They were in a state of consternation. What could they do? What did they do? What they always do-they denounced him as an agent of the devil. But the deed was done; he had sown the seed, and the Americans commenced to think. They said to themselves: "Shall we waste our money in sending mis- sionaries who know nothing of religion, as compared with this man, to teach such men as he? No!" And the missionary income fell off more than a million dollars a year in consequence.
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