Browsing Google Book Search the other day, I came across The Book of Illustrious Mechanics by Edoard Foucaud, translated from the French by John Frost (1847). It’s available in full view and to be downloaded as a PDF.
Unfortunately, the PDF file is missing a number of pages at the beginning, including the latter part of the table of contents and the beginning pages of the introduction. This is a problem I’ve experienced more than once with Google Books. I guess that they are scanning and uploading such a large number of books that they inevitably have problems getting everything right–or maybe there are pages missing in the originals? In either case, it’s very frustrating.
Still, even an abridged version of Foucaud/Frost makes a great read.It’s from the mid-19th century, but looks back on the 18th. Roubo is covered in “Working in wood,” Erard in “Optical Instruments–Pianos,” and there is also a section on “Maezel’s Automata,” along with discussions of everything from carpet-making to cashmere shawls.
On page 10 of the introduction (the first to make Google’s cut) we read:
Let me not be misunderstood. The history I am about to publish is not written in a biographical style; I am fully aware that such would be tedious and uninteresting, as well as unnecessary. The illustrious mechanics will contain an account of the labourer at his work-bench, tools in hand, and every piece of handicraft whose object has been the improvement of any one art will be recorded…
This is a lofty goal and it’s not really achieved, of course; Illustrious Mechanics is almost all biography, and very little “work-bench.” But it’s interesting to see that Foucaud was striving for a different kind of history, even if he didn’t get there.
Also interesting is Foucaud’s statement that he wrote his book to help “repair a public injustice”:
The white and perfumed hands of the nobleman of rank are in no wise better in the sight of God than the course and blackened ones of the common labourer…Why should not the working-man enjoy equal privileges with the man of opulence?”
Indeed. It’s nice to have this available via Google Books, since an IRL copy looks pretty expensive. If anyone knows another source for a complete electronic version, you’re very welcome to post it in the comments.