During my two years of study in London, I visited the Tower only once. There were days when I thought to go again, but I refrained. I was invited by others on occasion, but I declined. It seemed not right to perturb my initial impressions with a second visit, and worse yet to efface them by going thrice. "The Tower," I think, is something to see just once.
My visit was shortly after my arrival. In those days, I didn't yet have my bearings and was very much on unfamiliar ground. I felt like a Gotemba hare suddenly let loose in the middle of Nihonbashi. In venturing out, the rush of the masses all but swept me away, and once back home, I feared that the trains would intrude with a crash on my quarters. Morning to night, there was no peace to be found. Two years in this din and fray could reduce a man's nerves to sinewy pulp. Max Nordau's "Degeneration," I thought at times, had indeed hit upon the ultimate truth.
Furthermore, unlike most of my fellow countrymen, I arrived with no introduction to anyone who might assist me. I also, of course, had no former acquaintances residing abroad on whom I could call. I had no choice but to set out trepidly each day, whether to see sights or run errands, with only my map to guide me. I was not about to board the steam trains, and I couldn't afford a carriage. Had I tried to use public conveyance, there's no telling where I might have ended up. These steam trains and carriages, these electric railways and cable cars that crisscrossed London in all directions, were of no use at all to me. Having no other recourse, I would stop at each intersection, unfold my map as the throngs jostled past, and orient myself. When the map didn't help I'd ask someone. When no one could help me I'd seek out a constable. When the constable couldn't help I'd turn to others still, catching or calling out to as many as it took. Proceeding thus, I would get where I needed to go.
My visit to the Tower, as I recall, was made in those days and by these means. It may sound Zen-like to state that I knew not from whence I came or whither I went, but I still can't say, to this day, which streets I followed to reach the Tower or which districts I crossed in returning home. All I draw is a blank. The only certainty is the Tower. The scenes of the Tower are ingrained in my memory still. I'm lost as to what went before, nor can I explain what followed. However, I can state unequivocally that the interim, following that which was forgotten before and preceeding that which was lost after, is prefectly clear. It's as though a bolt of lightning flashed in the night, striking my brows with a blaze of intensity. The Tower of London is fixed in a dream, like recollections from a previous existence.
The history of the Tower of London is the history of Britain. It's the Tower that rends the cloak of the past and, from hallowed grounds, casts otherworldly light across the twentieth century. It's the Tower that defies the surge of time and returns to offer the modern a glimpse of the ancient. It's the Tower that holds its ground in the midst of horses, carts, and trains, a coalescence of human blood, human flesh, and human sin.