8vo [19.1 x 12.1 cm], (3) ff., 170 pp., with (1) folding etched map, woodcut headpiece and initials. Bound in contemporary mottled calf, rebacked, gold-tooled spine and original gold-stamped title label laid to spine, blind-ruled borders on covers, gold-tooled board edges, red sprinkled edges, silk ribbon bookmark. Toning and dampstaining at gutter of half-title and title, contemporary inscription on rear pastedown, contemporary annotations in text, contemporary manuscript table of contents added to rear flyleaf.
Rare first edition – illustrated with a fine folding etched map – of the hydraulic engineer Jean-André Floquet’s project proposal for the ‘Canal de Provence,’ a waterway intended to link Marseille with Aix-en-Provence and the Durance River to the north. The etched map is a reduced-size version of an exceptionally rare 3-sheet engraved map (known in only two institutional copies worldwide) which Floquet had produced in 1746 during the initial stages of promoting his ambitious project. The present volume, clearly produced in limited numbers and at some expense, represents a valuable witness to the way in which complex, large-scale civil engineering projects were conceived, researched, and pitched to potential patrons in mid-18th-century France. The volume’s etched map carefully charts the canal’s course (even suggesting potential alternative routes), and its figural and decorative flourishes strongly recall the exquisite rococo designs of Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) very much en vogue at the time of the map’s production.
In his printed proposal, Floquet first provides a detailed history of canal projects involving the Durance River in the area around Aix and Marseille, both those completed and those which remained unrealized, from antiquity to the present. He notes that he first conceived of a canal suitable for navigation and irrigation in 1733 and then discusses in detail the history and current state of his project, mentioning two shorter works he published in 1743 and 1746 (Explication des moyens proposes pour faciliter la construction du Canal de Provence and Devis estimatif des ouvrages a fair pour construction du Canal de Provence, both unillustrated), as well as his commissioning 4 years earlier the large Carte du Cours du Canal de Provence map in 1746 (p. 35).
Floquet next outlines the course of the proposed canal and, to stress its feasibility, he then provides a lengthy comparison with other man-made waterways in the region, especially the Canal Royal (Canal du Midi) as described by the Languedoc historian Nicolas de Basville (1648-1724). The final portion of the volume systematically addresses technical and bureaucratic objections to the project that had been made up to that point. These include engineering difficulties due to the region’s mountainous terrain, the potential loss of water due to filtration along the canal’s course, the fear that the sandy bed of the Durance River would clog up the canal, the possibility of there not being a sufficient volume of water, the difficulty in acquiring public and private land and water rights, the potential inequalities in the distribution of water, and cost overruns. Floquet’s attempt to overcome these objections seems not to have been successful, as the Canal de Provence was never begun. It is perhaps worth noting, however, that the Canal de l’EDF, constructed between 1963 and 1965, largely follows Floquet’s route over the portion of its course lying immediately south of the Durance.
OCLC locates U.S. copies of the Canal de Provence proposal only at Columbia, Chicago, Georgia, and Harvard.
* M. Jean, Le projet Floquet de canal de Provence (XVIIIe siècle); J.-A. Floquet, Explication des moyens proposes pour faciliter la construction du Canal de Provence (Aix, Veuve de J. David & E. David, 1743); J.-A. Floquet, Devis estimatif des ouvrages a fair pour construction du Canal de Provence (Marseille, D. Sibié, 1746).