7. Exalting Technical Skill
In L’Homme machine (Man a Machine, 1748), the philosophe Julien Offroy de La Mettrie theorized that “the human body is a watch, an immense watch, constructed with such skill and ingenuity that if the wheel that tracks the seconds happens to stop, the minute wheel still turns and makes its rounds, just as the hour wheel continues to go, and likewise with all the others when the first wheels, because they are rusty or for any other reason, have stopped.”  La Mettrie’s book is a celebrated argument for materialism, a worldview holding that matter, physical stuff, is the fundamental constituent of the universe. Although commentators disagree as to whether the book should be called famous or notorious, they generally agree that it devalues God and things of the spirit.
But one could with equal justification consider it from the opposite perspective, by looking at what La Mettrie revalues upward. When we consider his philosophy from this perspective, we still see that he regards humans as machines, but we now also see that he does not regard them as mere machines. Rather, he regards them as admirable machines, as the absolute epitome of machinery. Human beings are marvels because they function so well. And whoever or whatever—La Mettrie refuses to choose between God and Nature—designed and constructed these admirable machines is also admirable. He values machine-makers as a class, and God or Nature sits at the head of that class, which includes human beings too. Thus, La Mettrie values humans highly both as machines and as machine-makers, and for their potential in both categories:
Both as machine-makers and as machines, humans rank high on the scale of beings, and certain individuals rank high on the scale of human beings.
If Vaucanson needed more skill to make his Flûteur than to make his Canard, he would have to employ still more to make a Parleur [talker], a machine no longer to be regarded as impossible, especially in the hands of another Prometheus. It was likewise necessary that nature employ even more skill and apparatus in making and sustaining a machine [i.e., a fully endowed human] that could for a whole century indicate all the movements of a heart and a mind; for if the pulse does not tell time, it does at least register warmth and vitality, by which one can judge the nature of the soul.
Naturally La Mettrie’s views were not typical of those of mideighteenth-century Frenchmen, not even those of the philosophes. His opinions were extreme, but examining extreme opinions can often facilitate our perception of the direction of movement of mainstream opinion. The philosophes’ celebration of artisans and inventors and the revolutionaries’ introduction of patents and industrial expositions testified to the increasing value placed on technical skill as expressed in material products. The Encyclopédie’s exposition of accumulated wisdom in terms of the sciences, arts, and manual trades rather than, as was traditional, in terms of theology and philosophy, and Napoleon’s technocratic conception of government testified to the increasing value placed on technical knowledge. And the successive leaps of acrobatism testified to the increasing value placed on technical skill as expressed in bodily exercise. In France in the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century the value of technical expertise, both skill and knowledge, soared like a liberated spirit.
In his “Discours préliminaire” (Preliminary Discourse) to the Encyclopédie, d’Alembert, a highly esteemed mathematician himself, asked:
Beginning with the philosophes’ vindication of artisans and inventors in the middle of the eighteenth century, the French bid up the value of technical skill as expressed in material products. The virtuosos, as craftsmen, designers, and technological innovators, shared in this appreciation.
Why are not those to whom we owe the fusee, the escapement, and the repeating-works of watches esteemed equally with those who have worked successively to perfect algebra? Moreover, if I may believe a few philosophes who have not been deterred from studying the manual arts by the prevailing contempt for them, there are certain machines that are so complicated, and whose parts are all so dependent upon one another, that their invention must almost of necessity have been due to a single man. Is not this rare genius, whose name is shrouded in oblivion, well worthy of being placed beside the small number of creative minds who have opened up new paths for us in the sciences?
For the first volume of the Encyclopédie, d’Alembert not only wrote the “Discours préliminaire” but also contributed the articles “Androïde” (Android) and “Automate” (Automaton). These two articles consist largely of extracts from Vaucanson’s exhibition prospectus, a long extract describing the Flûteur in the case of the first article, shorter extracts describing the Canard and Tambourinaire in the case of the second. After quoting Vaucanson’s description of the Flûteur, d’Alembert concludes: “If this article, instead of being the description of a functioning machine, were the description of a proposed machine, how many people would consider it anything but a chimera?”  This high praise from a member of the Académie des Sciences followed Voltaire and La Mettrie’s comparison of Vaucanson to Prometheus. If the God who made humans is the greatest mechanician, then mechanicians who make androids are little gods.
The philosophes exercised a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson, who lived in Paris for several years (1784–89) as the U.S. ambassador to France and then back in his own nascent republic became a leading figure of the Enlightenment. He published, first in Paris in French translation (1786), then in London in its original English (1787), only one full-length book, Notes on the State of Virginia, a descriptive and promotional account of his state, and to a lesser extent of his United States, principally for European consumption. In it he responded to Abbé Raynal’s allegation that America had not yet produced anyone illustrious:
Jefferson’s American Pantheon had different admission standards from ours. For him, Franklin won immortality as a scientist and inventor, the creator of the Franklin stove, bifocal eyeglasses, and the lightning rod, rather than as a writer or statesman. The now-eclipsed David Rittenhouse shone in Jefferson’s mind for having constructed an orrery, a mechanical model of the solar system, with a surrogate sun surrounded by orbs that both rotated and revolved at rates proportional to their planetary originals. Jefferson, a true son of the Enlightenment, glorified the new stars of technology.
In war we have produced a Washington, whose memory will be adored while liberty shall have votaries.…In physics we have produced a Franklin, than whom no one of the present age has made more important discoveries, nor has enriched philosophy with more, or more ingenious solutions of the phænomena of nature. We have supposed Mr. Rittenhouse second to no astronomer living: that in genius he must be the first, because he is self-taught. As an artist he has exhibited as great a proof of mechanical genius as the world has ever produced. He has not indeed made a world; but he has by imitation approached nearer its Maker than any man who has lived from the creation to this day.
The last volumes of the Encyclopédie appeared at the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, and although he was not a particularly enlightened monarch, he too had a certain appreciation for what Diderot in the article “Art” had referred to as the unjustly scorned mechanical arts. The king invited Jaquet-Droz fils to court where the young mechanician’s Dessinateur sketched his and his queen’s portraits. He also learned the art of the locksmith and spent many hours with his locks diverting himself from the cares of state. Even those furthest from manual occupations were now tak-ing an interest in them.
In Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe, historian Peter Burke explains that in the Middle Ages two parallel streams of culture had flowed, each spilling over into the other at intervals but separately embedded: elite culture and popular culture. The elite tradition consisted of such things as formal dances, composed music, and written literature, much of it in classical languages; the popular tradition included such things as folk dances, improvised music, and oral recitation and storytelling in the vernacular, for the vast majority of people received practically no schooling. An asymmetry existed in that the elite participated in popular culture, which could be found in public spaces, such as festivals and fairs, taverns and town squares, while the people did not participate in elite culture, much of which was restricted to the courts, salons, books, and other private spaces of the upper classes. Then, Burke argues, in the early modern period, the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, the elite gradually withdrew its participation from popular culture. Finally, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the elite rediscovered popular culture, which had become something foreign and exotic to it. Burke’s model of the changing relationship between the elite and popular culture is too simple to satisfactorily explain an evolution that took place over hundreds of years in dozens of different states. Nevertheless, the French elite of the Old Regime had certainly abandoned the mechanical arts to the people, cultivating the liberal arts instead, so that its new interest in the mechanical arts in the second half of the eighteenth century accords well with Burke’s hypothesis of a rediscovery of popular culture on the part of the European elite of that period.
But Burke’s model only explains how mechanical tinkering became a leisure-class hobby, as it indeed became for many, something like extramarital sex or breeding racehorses. For others, however, it became a respected occupation. The philosophes were greatly influenced by the writings of Bacon, Locke, and Hume, who led the way toward the acceptance of “utility” or “usefulness” as a standard of value, first in Great Britain and then in the second half of the eighteenth century in France. “The advantage that the liberal arts have over the mechanical arts, because of their demands upon the intellect and because of the difficulty of excelling in them, is sufficiently counterbalanced by the quite superior usefulness which the latter for the most part have for us,” wrote d’Alembert. Gradually, aided in some cases by their appeal as “transcendent” activities that imitated God or Nature, in other cases by their appeal as “exotic” activities of the forgotten classes, the mechanical arts attracted the serious interest of the elite. This new interest led to the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, creations by and large of substantial landowners, merchants, and professionals, rather than of peasants and artisans. At the end of the eighteenth century, after usefulness had grown sufficiently in value and mechanical inventions had grown sufficiently in usefulness, French society instituted formal rewards for inventors.
The two most important forms of societal recognition and encouragement given to inventors were patents and industrial expositions, both of them introduced by the revolutionaries. The French imported patent law, like utilitarianism, from Great Britain. There inventors had had the exclusive right to the commercial exploitation of new inventions since the early seventeenth century. France did not have a patent law until the National Assembly adopted one in the last decade of the eighteenth century, and not until the nineteenth century did such laws become widespread in Europe. These laws had only limited effectiveness, since smuggling ideas across borders in the technologically advanced and relatively compact states of Western Europe was easy and common until international agreements began to be negotiated at the end of the nineteenth century. As an indication of changing values, though, the official recognition the new laws gave to inventors had considerable significance. At the same time that the revolutionaries were abolishing the old privilèges, such as those that had been acquired by theaters, aristocrats, and craftsmen through purchase, family inheritance, or membership in a corporate body, the revolutionaries were also creating a new privilège to be acquired through technical skill. If the reign of the public began with spectacle-makers courting the public, it proceeded with the public deferring to technicians as members of a new privileged estate.
The industrial exposition materialized at the social space where the spread of spectacle intersected the elevation of technical skill. Its peculiarity and popularity made it an event highly characteristic of the Western world in the nineteenth century. The industrial exposition may have been hatched in London in the 1750s, but it grew to be most at home in Paris. England led France not in technological inventions but in their commercial reproduction, while France led England in their spectacularization. Paris held industrial expositions eleven times in the half-century from 1798 to 1849, during which period the number of exhibitors increased fortyfold. A whole range of governments, from the revolutionary Directory to the imperial regime of Napoleon to the “bourgeois monarchy” of King Louis-Philippe, supported this celebration of French inventions and their inventors. The national industrial exposition was soon adopted by other European countries and then by their former colonies in North and South America. By the second half of the nineteenth century the industrial exposition had become international, beginning with the Great Exhibition of London in 1851, and jumping at irregular intervals to various other capitals, but still landing most often and with the biggest splash in Paris, site of the Exposition Universelle in 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, and 1900. The respective attendance figures for the latter four of these, in a world without airplanes or manufactured automobiles, were 9 million, 16 million, 39 million, and 50 million people! The steel tower named for its engineer, Alexandre-Gustave Eiffel, built on the Champ de Mars for the exposition of 1889 to be the world’s tallest edifice, represented a high point in the industrial exposition’s synthesis of spectacle-making, technical skill, and self-promotion. And this is the construction that has become the symbol of Paris.
Several of the virtuosos used the Paris industrial expositions to exhibit their inventions. Maelzel moved to the French capital in 1807 and promptly presented his Trompeter to the Société d’Encouragement pour l’Industrie Nationale, the group that staged the expositions, mostly recently in 1806 but not again until 1819, at which time Maelzel was touring Great Britain. At the exposition of 1823, Maelzel showed his talking dolls and perhaps also his automaton slack-rope acrobat. Vidocq, among his myriad activities, did a little tinkering:
But he won no medals. Among the virtuosos, Robert-Houdin had the most success at the expositions. He exhibited his automaton Cups-and-Ball Ma-nipulator and his transparent Mysterious Clock in 1839, winning a bronze medal, his automaton Writer-Sketcher in 1844, winning a silver medal, and several electrical inventions in 1855, winning a first-class medal, the equivalent of a gold.
I invented a burglar-proof door, with a locking mechanism resistant to all attempts to open it, and then an absolutely forgery-proof paper, on which no alterations can be attempted without leaving indelible tell-tale traces. These inventions were exhibited [at the industrial exposition] in 1834 and they earned for me a citation, and an unsolicited nomination as titular member of the Academy of Agriculture, Manufacturing, and Commerce.
A novelty of many of the toys and games invented in this period was their requirement of technical skill. Maelzel’s talking dolls and Robert-Houdin’s singing bird automata required technical skill to produce. Kieseritzky’s three-dimensional chess and Vidocq’s card game, featuring pictures of the leaders of the Revolution of 1830 on the cards, required technical skill to play.
The virtuosos frequently combined mechanics and music in their inventions. The mechanicians created automaton musicians, Vaucanson the Flûteur and Tambourinaire, the Jaquet-Drozes at least two android keyboardists and many songbirds, Robert-Houdin at least three songbird-and-serinette-player combination pieces, for example. The musicians tinkered with mechanics, the mechanics of stringed instruments in the case of Paganini, keyboard instruments in the case of Liszt. Paganini had the bridge of his concert violin flattened out and lowered; he used thinner-than-normal strings; and he designed a “contraviola.” Liszt designed a “clavecin-orchestre.” Maelzel, accomplished both as a musician and as a mechanician, produced an automaton trumpeter, two Panharmonicons, several ear trumpets, and a mass of metronomes.
Both Paganini and Liszt had a great appreciation for the instruments of their art and for instrument makers. Paganini referred to Vuillaume, who won a silver medal at the exposition of 1834 and a gold at the exposition of 1839 for his work on stringed instruments, as “the surgeon of my violin.” Paganini amassed a fabulous collection of instruments, including eleven Stradivari (seven violins, two violas, and two cellos), five Guarneri (four violins and a cello), and two Amati violins. For Liszt, the latest was the best, and for him this meant in instruments the pianos of the Érard brothers, who won gold medals at the expositions of 1819, 1823, and 1827 and a medal of the Légion d’Honneur at the exposition of 1834, and in transportation railroads. The “knight-errant of every order” could not have made his “grand galop chromatique” around the Continent on his circuit of 175 cities, nor could he have had a seven-octave double-escapement piano waiting for him at every one of them, without extensive use of the iron horse. If the names of the inventors of the fusee, escapement, and repeating-works of watches are unknown to us while the name of railway inventor George Stephenson is in every history of modern Europe, and if the names Stradivarius and Steinway are as well known to us as those of any violinist or pianist, this is some measure of how the value placed on technical skill as expressed in material objects increased not only in France but throughout the West during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
And if the names Vaucanson and Rittenhouse are less well known today than they were in the eighteenth century, it is because the early promoters of this revaluation were tendentiously excessive in their praise of contemporary inventors. In their effort to overcome the Old Regime’s longstanding disdain of the mechanical arts, the believers in the new watchmaker-god exaggerated the achievements of leading mechanicians, calling the achievements miracles and the mechanicians demigods.
A filiation of learning connects the Encyclopédistes of the third quarter of the eighteenth century to Napoleon’s technocrats of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The two groups and their intermediaries all prized technical knowledge. So, too, did the virtuosos. The common purpose of amassing technical knowledge seemed to be to increase one’s power over one’s world.
The publication of Diderot and d’Alembert’s thirty-five-volume Encyclopédie between 1751 and 1780 constituted an imposing campaign on behalf of practical, specialized learning. The Encyclopédie’s subtitle, Dic-tionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts, et des métiers, might be translated as “systematic enumeration of the sciences, arts, and manual trades.” The word “systematic” implies a system, and to the philosophes the word “raisonné” implied their particular system, the application of human reason to the material world. Historian Robert Darnton contrasts the system opposed by the philosophes with their own: “Diderot and d’Alembert did not seek out the hand of God in the world but rather studied men at work.”  The Encyclopédie’s twelve volumes of plates depict in great detail the workshops, tools, methods, and products of an extensive range of physical labors. D’Alembert’s “Discours préliminaire” disregards theologians and other purely mental laborers, venturing the revolutionary idea that “it is perhaps among artisans that one must look for the most admirable manifestations of the sagacity, the patience, and the resources of the mind.” 
The Académie des Sciences put out an even larger compilation of industrial, craft, and occupational techniques and lore, the seventy-three-volume Description des arts et métiers of 1761–88, at least one edition of which appeared under the slogan-title Description et perfection des arts et métiers. The Paris publisher Panckoucke weighed in with a reorganized and expanded version of the work of Diderot and d’Alembert, the 166-volume and half-century long Encyclopédie méthodique of 1782–1832, for which thirty more volumes were projected. But the most massive monument to the new knowledge was a work organized by Berliner Johann Krünitz, the 242-volume Oekonomisch-technologische Encyklopädie whose publication sprawled across eighty-five years, from 1773 to 1858. The Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert also inspired the two encyclopedias that have proven most enduring, because of their broader appeal, the Encyclopædia Britannica, whose three-volume first edition ap-peared in 1769–71, and the Brockhaus Conversations-Lexikon, whose eight-volume first edition appeared in 1809–11; both have been continually revised and republished over the past two centuries and are still in print. Thomas Carlyle complained in 1833 of the “exaggerated laudation of Encyclopedism.”  In the West, the encyclopedia of technical knowledge, a work of many volumes produced by the collaboration of many experts, was a creation of the second half of the eighteenth and the first half of the nineteenth century.
The Encyclopédistes’ belief in the superiority of practical, specialized learning led them to argue for educational reform. Indeed, publications on this subject by them and other reformers constitute a recognized genre of Enlightenment literature. Rousseau’s Émile, ou De l’éducation, published in 1762 but banned in France until 1770, had the greatest popularity and remains the most famous of these works. Also influential were Louis-René de La Chalotais’ Essai d’éducation nationale (1763), Joseph Priestley’s Essay on a Course of Liberal Education (1764), and Diderot’s Plan d’une université pour le gouvernement de Russie (1775). Significantly for their views on education, Rousseau was the son of a watchmaker, Priestley the son of a cloth finisher, and Diderot the son of a cutler. Rousseau’s compatriot and follower Johann Pestalozzi successfully ran a series of schools emphasizing learning through concrete experiences that had a wide influence on primary education in both Europe and the United States.
It may be a myth that Napoleon’s generalship developed in school snowball fights, but it is true that technical education in France snowballed out of the army. The opening of the École Royale Militaire (Royal Military Academy) in 1751 opened the second half of the eighteenth century, a period in which, according to historian Frederick Artz, “The interest in all aspects of military science was enormous; in the writings in this field the French outdistanced all other European peoples both in originality and in influence.” The first comprehensive artillery school was established in 1756 with a curriculum that united theory and practical exercises. “From the artillery schools, this method of instruction passed into the advanced technical schools of the later eighteenth century and thence into the École Polytechnique.”  Here is a key not only to Napoleon’s—and France’s—successes on the battlefield, but also to his administrative and social policies.
The revolutionaries founded the École Polytechnique, a national engineering college, and the École Normale Supérieure, a national teacher-training college. These two colleges composed the nucleus of what came to be a small set of Grandes Écoles. The Grandes Écoles, all located in Paris, have educated the French elite for the past two centuries. The revolutionaries also founded écoles des arts et métiers, or trade schools. Indeed, Artz concludes:
Or was the French faith that led to the opening of these new schools the faith that anything could be mastered with the help of a trained corps?
Inspired by many of the same motives that led to the creation of the écoles des arts et métiers and of the Conservatoire was a whole series of special educational enterprises which were set up in the decade 1793 to 1803. The French faith that anything could be improved by found-ing a school to teach it led to the opening of new schools for soldiers, sailors, midwives, pharmacists, veterinarians, schoolteachers, the blind, deaf-mutes, students of the fine arts, of music, and of living oriental languages, miners, and agriculturalists.
France still led the world in science during the reign of Napoleon, even though the revolutionaries had guillotined the father of modern chemistry, Antoine Lavoisier, and had fatally incarcerated the long-time secretary of the Académie Royale des Sciences, the marquis de Condorcet, both of whom died in 1794 at the age of fifty-one. Napoleon strongly supported scientific and technical education. He opened more trade schools and several schools of mines. He reorganized the university system, adding for the first time a faculty of sciences. He raised the number of medical faculties in France from three to seven. To Napoleon education essentially meant technical training and the inculcation of discipline. He wanted skilled but obedient subjects and favored independent thinking only in confined areas. He neglected primary schools, reorganized public secondary schools along military lines, and tried to limit advanced and specialized schools to professional or occupational training. Channeled in education, the same will to control produced French superiority in military science, natural science, and an array of technical fields.
The practice of systematically drawing on technical experts for government administration can be traced back at least to the first government of Louis XVI, the Turgot ministry of 1774–76. A.-R.-J. Turgot was an Encyclopédiste and economist. “To bring forward the expert and give him the authority there where interest and routine misgoverned, that was the thrust of his administrative purpose,” argues historian of science C. C. Gillispie. As an example, Gillispie cites Turgot’s creation of the Régie des Poudres (Gunpowder Administration) and his appointment of Lavoisier as one of the Régisseurs, in 1775. At that time France produced only half of the saltpeter, the principal ingredient in gunpowder, consumed by its military and had to import the other half. By 1788, as a result of the reforms for which Lavoisier was mainly responsible, France had become totally self-sufficient in saltpeter, and its gunpowder had become both the best in Europe and less expensive than in 1775.
Although the revolutionary governments contained more men of the law, one of the old liberal arts, than members of any other occupational group, men of science exercised an influence disproportionate to their numbers. Jean-Paul Marat, the Jacobin firebrand, had been a physician and physicist. Jean-Marie Roland de La Platière, minister of the interior in 1792–93, had had a long career as an inspector of manufactories, like Vau-canson, and had written numerous monographs on a variety of French industries with proposals for their modernization. Lazare Carnot, “organisateur de la victoire” of the armies of revolutionary France over those of monarchical Europe, had been an army engineer. The revolutionary governments also delegated to scientists particular projects, for example, the development of a rational system of weights and measures to be used throughout France, where in the eighteenth century almost every region, and in some regions almost every town, had its own system. A committee that included the chemist Lavoisier and the mathematicians Monge, Laplace, and Lagrange devised the metric system, the system used today not only throughout France, but throughout the world. The revolutionaries encouraged science and technology by enacting patent law, by establishing the industrial exposition, by founding technical schools, and by reconstituting the art-favoring academies of the Old Regime as the sciencefavoring Institut National des Sciences et des Arts. In this reorganization, they suppressed the most prestigious of the Old Regime academies, the Académie Française, and incorporated three others, the academy of painting and sculpture, the academy of architecture, and the academy of music, into one “class” of the Institut, the “class for literature and the fine arts.” Moreover, they made this the second class of the Institut, while they made the “class for physical and mathematical sciences,” the new version of the old Académie Royale des Sciences, the first class. The control of nature had become more important than the imitation of nature.
The artillery officer Napoleon Bonaparte was elected to the first class of the Institut two years before he became first consul, and he always prized that membership, which gave him the status of an elite technician. When he led his famous expedition to Egypt, he took with his army the equivalent of a small polytechnical institute, including two leading mathematician-physicists, Fourier and Monge. As first consul, then emperor, he appointed individuals to high office who lacked administrative experience but who had shown themselves to be brilliant scientists or masters of some technical discipline, such as the mathematician Laplace, the chemist Chaptal, the physician-chemist Fourcroy, and the naturalist Lacépède. These were not always Napoleon’s most successful appointments, but they do say something about his conception of government. He also rewarded technological pioneers, employing Nicolas-Jacques Conté, the first to put graphite in a pencil, and offering a million francs to anyone who could perfect the mechanical spinning of linen and hemp. In the words of one of his private secretaries, “the emperor loved technical men.” Surveying the administrative reforms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, C. C. Gillispie observes: “The historian has become used to seeing a movement from aristocracy toward liberalism and democracy in all these developments, whereas what needs to be perceived is a movement from bureaucracy toward technocracy.” 
The publication of voluminous encyclopedias of the sciences, arts, and trades, the reorientation of education toward practical, specialized learning, and the employment and encouragement of experts by government all promoted the desirability of acquiring technical knowledge and the importance of showing what one had acquired. In the ordinary course of their work, experts exhibited their knowledge, but not necessarily comprehensively. Many experts also published repertoires of techniques, and the virtuosos published some of the most extensive of these repertoires.
Philidor’s Analyse du jeu des échecs aimed at comprehensiveness in two dimensions of chess analysis. The original 1749 edition analyzes only a few chess games, but it analyzes them from start to finish, including in each case several branches of possible play in addition to the main line. In his preface, Philidor complains of the incompleteness of the works of his predecessors:
Philidor knew well that his discussion of situations at every stage of the game gave his analysis an unprecedented longitudinal comprehensiveness, an achievement that made his treatise both important and popular. The expanded edition of 1777 contains both individual endgame analyses and an innovative section called “Observations sur les fins de parties” (Obser-vations on Endgames), which specifies for fifteen different types of endgames, defined by the material forces confronting each other, whether the more powerful side should win or only draw. Philidor’s systematization of endgame study reduced a large number of possible endgame situations to a small number of types, each of which was susceptible of analysis as a unit. Furthermore, using his method, other types of endgames in addition to his fifteen could be defined and analyzed, and have been. Philidor’s innovation postulated the complete analysis of one stage of the game of chess, an unprecedented latitudinal comprehensiveness. The further-expanded edition of 1790, the last worked on by Philidor, contains more complete game analyses, more endgame analyses, and the records of the games played in three of his blindfold exhibitions, a state-of-the-art treatise.
I return now to Don Pietro Carrera, who, to all appearances, served as the model for Greco and for other authors; however, neither he nor any of the others have given us (in spite of their great prolixity) anything but very imperfect instruction, quite insufficient to train a good player. They have only applied themselves to the openings of games, and then abandoned us to study by ourselves the endings, so that the player remains almost as lost as if he had had to open the game with-out instruction.
Among chess masters whose lives overlapped Philidor’s, neither his mentor Légal, nor his successor Deschapelles, nor any of his strongest contemporaries in Britain published a chess treatise, although four of his strongest contemporaries in France did collaborate on one. By contrast, in the first half of the nineteenth century Labourdonnais, Alexandre, and Kieseritzky in France and Sarratt, Lewis, and Cochrane in Britain all produced at least one chess treatise apiece. For the leading players to publish had become the norm. Experts displayed their knowledge as well as their skill.
Cookbooks had always been repertoires of techniques, unlike chess treatises. Before Philidor’s, most chess treatises explained good moves in terms of the very particular configuration of the game in which they occurred, when they bothered to explain them at all, or else gave only the most general principles. Guidance closely tailored to a unique situation tends to be nearly inapplicable, the uselessness of History, while guidance applicable to many situations tends to be nebulous, the uselessness of Philosophy. Philidor’s pioneering endgame studies balanced applicability and specificity, maximizing their usefulness and making his treatise a true repertoire of techniques. Cookbooks have rarely ever taken either a historical approach, describing the preparation of particular dishes as unique events, or a philosophical approach, expounding a system of gustatory thought. Thus, in producing a culinary repertoire of techniques, Carême did not—did not need to—innovate as Philidor did. On the other hand, Carême’s repertoire had an imperial monumentality lacking to Philidor’s.
The master chef’s L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle filled five volumes. This ambitious set of recipes for French cooking, on top of Carême’s two-volume set of recipes for French pastry in Le Pâtissier royal parisien, made a towering collection. One of his contemporaries, an epicurean official of Napoleon’s court, called gastronomy “the art of a thousand resources”:
The 124 designs for pièces montées in Le Pâtissier pittoresque and the two volumes of menus in calendrical order in Le Maître d’hôtel français are also professional repertoires, although repertoires of ideas rather than repertoires of techniques. Taken as a whole, these four works of Carême approximate an encyclopedia of the culinary arts such as he had originally proposed be done collaboratively by the leading French chefs of his time.
Good soups abound; take your pick from among the recipes of Carême: There are 500 of them, with or without meat. He has described 200 entrées; 50 garnishes and purées; 500 dishes for whole large fish; 1,000 for beef, fowl, ham, and pork; and 1,000 more delicious preparations of vegetables, fruits, and desserts. It’s really innumerable. This fabulous superabundance can have reality only for the wealthy and their guests.
Vidocq’s Les Voleurs (Thieves) is a kind of miniature encyclopedia of the French underworld of his era. Like the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert, its overall organization is that of a dictionary: It is composed of articles that define or explain words of underworld argot, in alphabetical order. Many of the articles are short, consisting of a one-sentence, one-phrase, or even one-word definition. For example, in underworld argot “hospital” meant “prison” and “ill” meant “in prison.” As a dictionary of argot, Les Voleurs is significant for containing a large number of entries and for being one of the first published separately rather than as a glossary appended to another book. Incidentally, Carême included a glossary of culinary terms in L’Art de la cuisine française au XIXe siècle. Vidocq’s Les Voleurs contains enough longer articles describing thieves’ methods to justify considering the book in part a repertoire of thieves’ techniques. In fact, when a French historian edited the book for republication a century after its original appearance, he grouped those articles together into one section. Vidocq explains fifty-odd techniques, some with several variations, of burglars, robbers, sharpers, swindlers, etc., not as in most repertoires, so that the reader may use them, but so that the reader may prevent their use. In this respect it is an “anti-repertoire.” Les Voleurs also contains longer articles that relate the stories of celebrated, unusual, or interesting crimes or portray particular criminals. These stories and portrayals in many cases involve disguises, impersonations, or misrepresentations of oneself. Underlying the dictionary organization of Les Voleurs is a repertoire of deceptions: words with hidden meanings, activities that mask thefts, and people who appear other than they really are.
Robert-Houdin’s Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées is also an anti-repertoire. As Vidocq’s dictionary informs us, “Grec” (Greek) signified in argot “cardsharper,” so the title of Robert-Houdin’s book translates as “Tricks of Cardsharpers Exposed.” The first half of the book, like one group of longer articles in Vidocq’s Les Voleurs, consists of narrative episodes showing wrongdoers at work. The second half, entitled “Partie Technique” (Technical Part), is a systematic presentation of some thirty different methods of cheating at cards, concluding with chapters on related subjects such as card tricks in prestidigitation, the psychology of card players, and ethical gray areas in card play. Robert-Houdin published three repertoires of techniques, the how-to-avoid-it compilation Les Tricheries des Grecs dévoilées on cheating at cards and two how-to-do-it compilations, Comment on devient sorcier on sleight of hand and Magie et physique amusante on illusions requiring complex apparatus. Robert-Houdin’s milieu was “play,” ranging from cards among friends to gambling at spa casinos, from parlor tricks to professional prestidigitation, from stage magic to legitimate theater—that is, from play as recreation to play as performance. Robert-Houdin found lying under the milieu of play what Vidocq found lying under the milieu of crime: deception.
Play as performance was the milieu of Paganini and Liszt. Paganini’s 24 capricci, published eight years before he ever left Italy, baffled many contemporary violinists until they were able to see him perform and to read others’ explanations of his methods. Even today, few pianists venture to perform the middle versions of either the Études d’exécution transcendante or the Grandes études de Paganini of Liszt. Other violinists and pianists may have felt that in published form these works presented unplayable techniques, but the deception lay in their inability to figure out how to do the very difficult, not in any claim of Paganini and Liszt to be able to do the impossible. The incomprehension came from the fact that in written form the pieces are more like repertoires of ideas than repertoires of techniques. They record what Paganini and Liszt were able to do but do not explain how. Only their near-perfect execution of the pieces in concert told others how such pieces could be performed. Paganini and Liszt significantly enlarged instrumental technique by composing music that demanded increased speed, reach, strength, agility, and flexibility in players’ hands and then executing it. For difficulty and comprehensiveness the 24 capricci of Paganini and two sets of transcendental études of Liszt set enduring standards. At the end of the twentieth century musicologist Boris Schwarz could still conclude that Paganini’s caprices “incorporated virtually the entire arsenal of violin technique,” and musicologist Alan Walker could still conclude that “the modern pianist may disparage Liszt’s studies, but he should be able to play them. Otherwise he admits to having a less than total command of the keyboard.” 
The virtuosos not only acquired an armory of techniques but also recorded what they had acquired. Their repertoires of techniques can be seen most simply as a manifestation of the encyclopedism of the Age of Revolution that was epitomized by multiple-volume compilations of technical knowledge. Their repertoires can also be seen as a form of spectacle-making, especially in the case of Paganini and Liszt’s repertoires, which originated as performance pieces. But all the virtuosos had some audience in mind when they wrote their repertoires. The public had to be pleased. From yet another perspective, the virtuosos’ repertoires can be seen as a form of self-promotion, like their advertisements and autobiographies, two other media they exploited, since all these publications ultimately pointed back to them. Through their repertoires of techniques the virtuosos could compensate for having to bow to the public by demonstrating to that public a quasi-Napoleonic mastery of their world.
As technicians, the virtuosos produced marvelous mechanical objects, pub-lished marvelous technical knowledge, and performed marvelous bodily exertions. The leaps of acrobatism in the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries testified to the increasing value the French placed on technical skill as expressed in bodily exercise. The vaulting popularity of acrobatics brought into the spotlight skills cultivated by the virtuosos, skills such as agility, flexibility, mobility, balance, stamina, and fluency of movement, which enabled them to execute feats unprecedented in their respective arts. The virtuosos thus pointed the way to a new transcendence, not to a heavenly eternity but to an earthly future of ever-expanding possibility in which there seemed to be no limit to what the human body, including the brain, could be trained to do.
The leaps of acrobatics into a variety of more highly regarded art forms and into cultural prominence in its own right had a lot to do with the success of the Paris fairs in the eighteenth century. The success of the fairs as spaces for public spectacles led to the development of larger and more permanent spaces for public spectacles, the Grands Boulevards and the Palais-Royal. The success of the fair theaters led to the founding of boulevard theaters and the defeat of the privileged theaters during the Revolution. There ensued an explosive growth of popular theater and its arts du spectacle—acrobatics, equestrianism, puppetry, pantomime, etc.—as arts in their own right, as vehicles for the presentation of dramas, and as elements to be incorporated into elite theater. Elite culture’s adoption of the arts du spectacle, like elite culture’s adoption of the mechanical arts, seems to support Peter Burke’s hypothesis of a rediscovery of popular culture by the elite in the second half of the eighteenth century, for it followed the increasing attendance of popular theater at the fairs and on the boulevards by the elite. Acrobatics in particular gained phenomenal favor among the elite and among the masses and invaded not only theater but also dance, tennis, music, mechanics, detection, chess.…
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, acrobats had low status among performers, a group that as a whole had low status in society at large. But acrobatics had been a mainstay of the fair theaters since well before that time. And a mainstay of fair theater acrobatics was funambulism or rope-dancing, gymnastics performed on a rope, whether a tightrope or a slack rope, whether a rope with both ends secured above the ground or a rope with one end secured at ground level. Funambulists would imitate the stagger of a drunkard, dance with chains attached to their feet, or simply balance while playing a violin between their legs. Performances of aerial and terrestrial acrobatics became increasingly frequent when, beginning in the 1760s, the impresarios of the fair theaters began to establish permanent theaters on the Boulevard du Temple. The first such impresario to set up on the Boulevard, Jean-Baptiste Nicolet, like his followers, eventually expanded into spoken and musical drama, but his players were originally an acrobatics troupe. One of Nicolet’s star rope-dancers was Jean-Baptiste Lalanne, the father of Mme Saqui. Nicolet’s players attracted the attention of King Louis XV, who invited them repeatedly to perform at court. Louis XV’s grandson the comte d’Artois, who later became king himself as Charles X, solicited from Nicolet’s funambulists a series of equilibristic lessons, which however did not keep him from falling off his throne in the Revolution of 1830. Nor did the revolutionaries disdain demonstrations of bodily skill, for a fête staged by the Directory in 1799 included a gymnastics competition. Napoleon, we know, became the admiring patron of Mme Saqui, one of whose specialties was tightrope-walking over the Seine in the middle of Paris. During the Empire, Mme Saqui acquired a celebrity surpassing that of any other rope-dancer and equaling that of any contemporary actor or singer. Milliners sold hats and collars à la Saqui, and confectioners sold boxes of candy bearing her portrait. At the beginning of the Restoration she bought a theater on the Boulevard du Temple and renamed it the Spectacle-Acrobate.
The boulevard theaters of Nicolet and his imitators, we have learned, gradually encroached on the exclusive right of the privileged theaters to perform spoken or musical dramas. Nicolet’s theater had as its motto “de plus fort en plus fort,” which translates as “stronger and stronger” or “louder and louder”—the crescendo of the virtuoso. Many of the boulevard pieces, acrobatic, balletic, operatic, pantomimic, and zoologic alike, used music from the comic operas of Philidor, music distinguished by its technical perfection. The monarchy helped to erode its own system of theatrical privilege when King Louis XV invited Nicolet’s players to the royal court and then allowed them to change their name from the Grands Dan-seurs de Corde (Grand Rope-Dancers) to the Grands Danseurs du Roi (Grand Dancers of the King). Soon acrobatics was everywhere in theater. Alexandre Placide, another of Nicolet’s star funambulists, moved to the United States, where he became a successful producer of French boulevard pieces and never quit performing on the rope. Among prominent Paris theaters of the early nineteenth century, the Funambules featured acrobatic pantomime; the Porte-Saint-Martin, known for five years as the Jeux-Gymniques, acrobatic ballet; the Cirque-Olympique, acrobatics on horseback; the Gymnase, acrobatic vaudeville.
The invasion of dance by acrobatics was readily apparent to contemporaries. In 1804 the German playwright August von Kotzebue was in Paris, where he wrote of the dancer Louis Duport: “He possesses among other things the absolutely extraordinary strength and agility to pirouette forty or fifty times on one leg. However, since he knows that every time he does it he will be applauded as loudly as if the entire world had assembled for the purpose of clapping, he takes any opportunity to use this tour de force. The Parisians clearly do not find it tiresome.”  According to one theater historian, “The French male dancers, especially before the time of the ballerina sur la pointe, were the leading dancers throughout Europe owing to the dazzling virtuosity achieved by new techniques.” Dancing sur la pointe—on tiptoe—evolved in France and Italy around 1820, probably out of fair theater acrobatics. The first great ballerina of this modern technique was Maria Taglioni, who danced at the Paris Opéra from 1827 to 1837 and whose advent, writes another theater historian, meant not only “a victory for the ballerina over the male dancer,” but also “a victory for virtuosity.” 
Clearly, acrobatics, if not all of athletics, was on a roll. In the first half of the nineteenth century, the leading mime in France, Jean-Baptiste Deburau; the leading comic dancer in France, Charles Mazurier; the leading serious dancer in France, Jules Perrot; the leading actor in France, Frédérick Lemaître; and the leading actor in England, Edmund Kean, all started their careers in theater doing acrobatics.
In a variety of guises, acrobatics spread from the fairgrounds to every sort of public space, became popular with every class of society, invaded every sort of activity. Take tennis, for example, not lawn tennis, which scarcely existed, but “rackets,” a form of tennis that was and still is played on indoor courts such as the one at Versailles where the revolutionaries took their famous oath to continue meeting until they produced a constitution. During the Age of Revolution, the best rackets players in Europe were French. Although no formal championships had yet been established, Raymond Masson is generally considered to have been the best player from around 1765 to around 1785. He played so much better than most of his contemporaries that to make his games competitive he would often play two opponents at once, or play while mounted on an ass, or serve from inside a barrel, jumping in and out of the barrel between every stroke. Louis Labbé, a leading player of the 1830s and 1840s, played a match carrying the scorekeeper on his back. Edmond Barre, European champion from 1829 to 1862, used to make shots holding his racket in his weak hand, or hitting the ball between his legs, or striking the ball with the handle of his racket. Charles Delahaye, the second best player in France during the reign of Barre, played a match in the full dress uniform of a National Guardsman, with a pack on his back, a shako on his head, and a rifle and bayonet in his left hand.
Acrobatism in music was fortissimo. Paganini epitomized it in his story of “the Viennese fiacre driver who charged a man a ‘Paganinerl’ for a short trip. When the man asked how much that was, the driver answered: ‘A Paganinerl is five gulden—the price of a ticket to a Paganini concert in Vienna.’ To this the man responded: ‘You ass! How dare you charge five gulden for such a short distance! Paganini plays on one string; can you drive on one wheel?’”  Many of the anecdotes told about Paganini had circusy circumstances. According to one, Paganini astonished the composer of a violin concerto by sight-reading it using a reed cane in place of his bow. According to another, at a party in Paris given by Rossini he played a melody on a monocle cord stretched across the punch bowl. According to a third, he sight-read the first-violin part of a Mozart string quartet with the music upside down on his stand. Whatever the veracity of these three anecdotes, there is general agreement that Paganini had amazing sight-reading skill and dexterity. One musician wrote: “All violinists, some more often, some less, slip into discord, because a note can get away from anyone; but in the five concerts that I have heard Paganini give, I have not had the satisfaction of hearing him misplace a finger once, while he executed the greatest difficulties. His fingers were geometrical compasses.” 
Both Paganini and Liszt had plaster casts taken of their hands, which show long and, as contemporaries remarked, extremely flexible fingers. Liszt could play tenths with the same facility that most pianists played octaves, and he worked to make his fingers mutually interchangeable on the keyboard. Many of the distinguishing characteristics of Liszt’s playing—wide and rapid leaps, rapid note repetitions including trills and tremolos, chromatic scales in glissando, and interlocking hands—were digital acrobatics routines. There is no need to rehearse the previously cited contemporary accounts of his contriving technical challenges for himself or of his performing difficult passages at breakwrist speed. Liszt himself confessed in one of his “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique” that as a young man on display in salons “I even went so far as insolently to add a quantity of embellishments and cadenzas” to the works of Beethoven and other composers. In this article, he denounced his earlier antics and renounced his career as “a musician in service to aristocrats, patronized and paid by them like a conjuror, or the canine-savant Munito.” 
The other side of the coin showed that conjurors, along with acrobats, had attained the social status of concert musicians. After all, prestidigitation was also digital acrobatics. With other forms of acrobatics, prestidigitation had been a mainstay of the fairs since before the turn of the eighteenth century. Many prestidigitators were empirics, too, and vice versa. Sleight-of-hand artists sold potions, elixirs, and panaceas to supplement their earnings, and purveyors of secret remedies made objects disappear, did the cups-and-ball routine, and performed card tricks to attract crowds of potential customers. Comus began his career doing prestidigitation and continued to do it after acquiring scientific and popular renown for his expériences and even after acquiring the titles “tutor of physics to the children of the king” and “physician of the king.” He gave lessons in prestidigitation to the duc de Chartres, rebuilder of the Palais-Royal and father of King Louis-Philippe. In the first half of the nineteenth century the best conjurors continued to be patronized by royalty, Comte by Louis XVIII and Robert-Houdin by Louis-Philippe, for example. And like the most successful acrobats, the most successful conjurors had their own theaters.
Both Maelzel and Robert-Houdin built mechanical acrobats. Maelzel’s slack-rope dancer perplexed another mechanician:
Robert-Houdin made a mechanical trapeze artist: “He executed tours de force on the trapeze, such as raising himself up by his arms into a handstand while making semaphore signals with his legs. In order to demonstrate that his mechanism was self-contained, my little Diavolo let go of the rope with his hands, hung upside down by his feet, and then left the trapeze entirely.” Could we be at all surprised to learn that despite the claims in these descriptions the two humanoids were probably controlled from the outside and thus not true automata? Such pseudo-automaton acrobats had already been exposed in the second volume of La Magie blanche dévoilée, published in 1785. Maelzel and Robert-Houdin themselves were the true “acrobats”—in the original Greek sense of “walkers on tiptoe”—for they had to make careful and deft movements to preserve their deceptions.
The most surprising thing about this little masterpiece of mechanics is the impossibility of figuring out how all of its various movements can be produced, because the automaton suspends itself now by one hand, now by the other, now by its knees, now by its toes, then it straddles the rope and twirls its body around it, thus abandoning one by one all of its points of contact with the rope, through which must necessarily pass whatever communicates movement to it.
There was also something acrobatic in the pseudo-automaton Chess Player: a Café de la Régence chess master, hunched over to fit within a small cabinet, reduced to near immobility for the space of several hours, and bent back unnaturally at the neck to see the board overhead—in short, a contortionist.
When Vidocq gave his exhibition of crime and crime detection paraphernalia in London, the Times wrote:
Vidocq developed athletic skills both as an outlaw, hiding in confined spaces, running on rooftops, and leaping from third-story windows, and as a detective, pouncing on suspects, holding them down, and handcuffing them. He learned how to fight with his fists in his youth, how to fence in the army, and how to kick-box using savate in prison. Most of the virtuosos had something athletic about them. A chess enthusiast reported that Labourdonnais could play “above forty games of chess at a sitting,” both because he played long hours without interruption and because he played rapidly. Carême boasted of his having “worked 53 extras without taking a day off” in 1805, of having constructed 150 pièces montées during the Consulate “and more than double that number” during the Empire. Paganini gave around 400 concerts during his European tour of 1828–34, including 140 concerts during one ten-month stretch in the British Isles. Liszt gave more than 1,000 concerts in 175 different cities, crisscrossing the Continent from Portugal, Spain, and Ireland in the west to Russia, Rumania, and Turkey in the east, between 1839 and 1847.
The principal curiosity in the collection will be found to be M. Vidocq himself, whose appearance is very much what might be anticipated by those who have read his memoirs or heard of his exploits. He is a remarkably well-built man, of extraordinary muscular power, and exceedingly active. He stands, when perfectly erect, 5 feet 10 inches in height, but by some strange process connected with his physical formation, he has the faculty of contracting his height several inches, and in this diminished state to walk about, jump, etc.
The virtuosos dispensed with external visual assistance in curious, and curiously similar, demonstrations of cerebral acrobatics. They played chess without a chessboard, identified crime suspects without the suspects’ presence, gave concerts without written music, and described objects without any sensory exposure to the objects. The blindfold performance shone a black light on cerebral agility.
Balzac reversed a cliché when he wrote: “There may exist between geniuses and other people the same distance that separates the blind from the seeing.” He likened geniuses not to seeing individuals in a blind population, but to blind individuals in a seeing population, attributing to geniuses “an inner vision superior to that of the seeing.”  The virtuosos based their inner vision on a highly developed memory and a highly structured system of technical knowledge.
Napoleon sometimes dictated three, four, five, six, even seven letters at once on as many subjects to as many secretaries, never getting confused and always having in focus the significant points of the current subject. According to one of his secretaries,
In order to have all the necessary information in his mind, Napoleon studied a continuously updated collection of livrets, or records booklets. The livrets laid out in tabular form the disposition and status of all the personnel and materiel belonging to a ministry, its requisitions and expenditures, and other similar sorts of data. Napoleon required each of his ministers to submit one or more livrets to him on a biweekly or monthly basis, and he used to call the livrets, particularly those from the war ministry, his favorite reading. According to another of Napoleon’s secretaries: “Each compartment of his memory had its supplement in a livret, and he made excellent use of this resource. His office thus became a veritable keyboard where all the strings of government seemed to end, and alone, with one secretary, he played whichever of them it pleased him to.” 
Napoleon used to explain the clearness of his mind, and his faculty of being able at will to prolong his work to extreme limits, by saying that the various subjects were arranged in his head, as though in a cupboard. “When I want to interrupt one piece of work,” he used to say, “I close the drawer in which it is kept, and I open another. The two pieces of business never get mixed up together, or trouble or tire me. When I want to go to sleep, I close all the drawers.” 
Labourdonnais, whose skill at blindfold play was explained by a contemporary, had “the power of actually setting up in his mind a chess-board and pieces, which remained throughout the game palpably visible to his organs of calculation.” Zukertort, a great simultaneous blindfold chess player of the later nineteenth century, “used to say that if he was playing 14 opponents, he would visualize 14 boards, each numbered, placed side by side in a row in separate closets, each closed by a door. Having made his move on board 1, the door closed and that of board 2 opened. In this way he passed from board to board, dismissing from his mind all the boards, except the one before him.”  To play not just blindfolded, but several games simultaneously, a chess master must be able to recognize and respond to most situations without having to think about them, in order to save time and effort for the particularly difficult ones. The anatomization of chess into recognizable patterns began with the beginning of openings analysis, centuries before the Café de la Régence dynasty. But Philidor, with his pioneering endgames analysis, advanced the project considerably.
Vidocq named Fossard as the artisan of the medal-gallery theft solely on the basis of a cut made by the thief in a panel of the gallery.
Vidocq’s ability to make such identifications was based on the files he kept on thousands of convicted criminals and on the efforts he made to memorize the faces of as many of them as possible. As an oracle of detection Vidocq had a predecessor in John Fielding, cofounder with his half-brother Henry of the Bow Street Runners, who lost his sight as a young man but was said to be able to recognize three thousand criminals by their voices alone.
Through experience, I ended up by acquiring in my occupation a sort of intuition that was almost like a prodigy. How often I struck with astonishment someone who came to me to report a robbery: he had scarcely mentioned two or three circumstances than I was already ahead of him; I either completed the story for him or without waiting for more detailed information I rendered this oracle: the guilty parties are such-and-such.
M. Prunaud, a fashion merchant on the rue Saint-Denis, had been robbed during the night. The robbers had broken into his store, from which they had removed fifty bolts of Indian-print fabric and several valuable shawls. The next morning, M. Prunaud ran to my office, and he had not finished telling the story of his misadventure before I named those responsible for the theft. “It could only have been committed by Berthe, Mongodart, and their cronies.”…I knew who their current fence was; I ordered a search of his residence and the merchandise was recovered.
The young Mozart gave a sort of blindfold performance, playing the harpsichord with a cloth spread out over both the keyboard and his hands. Paganini and Liszt were among the first to play whole concerts without written music. A system something like Napoleon’s must have been used by them, consciously or unconsciously, especially by Liszt, with his huge repertoire of performance pieces. Liszt gave other kinds of blindfold performances, too. He extemporized variations on themes given to him by members of his audiences. And he played long passages from pieces that he had never seen in written form and had heard only once, improvising improvements.
Robert-Houdin called his, or more accurately his son’s, blindfold performance Seconde Vue (second sight). Théophile Gautier described it in a review of the Soirées Fantastiques:
This trick above all others in Robert-Houdin’s repertoire impressed Gautier and, to judge from the number of magicians who imitated it, other spectators as well. Gautier, in writing that Robert-Houdin had “no communication” with his son during the trick, made precisely the inference the magician wanted him to make, an invalid one. Gautier meant that Robert-Houdin had no material communication with his son, for the magician was in speaking communication with his son the whole time. Nearly all observers failed to grasp that the magician’s apparently banal prompting of his son to guess the object was in a fact a sophisticated prompting of the correct answer by means of a prearranged code. Once again the performance depended on a highly developed memory and a highly structured system of knowledge.
Here is the expérience of M. Robert-Houdin: He takes his small son, a boy of around twelve years of age, makes him sit in a chair, bandages his eyes hermetically, moves away from him out into the audience, and asks the spectators for different objects: rings, watches, coins, or whatever they want to give him. The boy, with whom he has no communication, names the objects that are passed in the most secret ways to his father. He tells the value and the date of coins, the hour, minute, and second on the faces of watches, the maker’s name as it is engraved in their cases, the shape of rings and their monograms—incredible details! You are going to say “accomplices,” but one does not fill an entire hall with accomplices, and we are sure, for our part, of not being an accomplice of M. Robert-Houdin and yet the object given to him by us was named instantaneously.
In 1859, Jean-François Gravelet, alias Blondin, crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope 160 feet above the rushing water and the twenty-five thousand spectators crowding its banks. He made several crossings that year, one of them blindfolded. Two years later he performed in London in the Crystal Palace, walking a tightrope while cooking an omelette on a portable stove, then while wearing shackles and chains, then while playing the violin, etc. Blondin at the site of industry’s Great Exhibition represented the meeting of two kinds of technical skill: technical skill embodied in the supreme acrobat of the century of mechanics and technical skill materialized in the latest machines of a society of clever hands.
Three aspects of the exaltation of technical skill have been considered here. In the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth century, the belief was growing in the Western world that everything, even the most complicated thing, is a kind of machine and thus ultimately susceptible to analysis and reproduction by human beings, or at least by highly skilled individuals. Growing too was a related belief that a detailed understanding of the workings of the world gave one power in the world. Finally, there was a growing belief that what the human body and mind could do was limitless, at least for highly skilled individuals.
The view of the world as human-controlled was replacing the view of the world as God-controlled. This replacement extended over a period of time much longer than a century and resulted from the activities of many agents. But a milestone was reached in the middle of the nineteenth century when church attendance in the technologically advanced countries of Western Europe dropped below half the population. And historians have not sufficiently emphasized the role played by technicians. Great technicians had a strong sense of their own might and felt little need to appeal to God. Others redirected their admiration from God to great technicians. In a world conceived of in material terms, God seemed to be less important and further away from everyday life. At the same time, individuals with great ability to manipulate the material world seemed to be more important and more imminent. God was gradually replaced in the veneration of the public by individuals with great technical skill, in biology, chemistry, and physics, in government, finance, and war, in all sorts of performance arts, and, naturally, in machinery.
All translations of quotations from other languages into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.
1. La Mettrie, Man a Machine, pp. 71 (French), 141 (English). [BACK]
2. Ibid., pp. 70 (French), 140–41 (English). [BACK]
3. Jean Le Rond d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse to the Encyclopedia of Diderot, trans. Richard N. Schwab (Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), pp. 42–43. [BACK]
4. “O” [d’Alembert], “Androïde,” and “Automate,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, pp. 448–51 and 896–97, respectively. [BACK]
5. Howard C. Rice, Jr., Thomas Jefferson’s Paris (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 79. [BACK]
6. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia in Writings, ed. Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Library of America, 1984), pp. 190–91. [BACK]
7. [Diderot], “Art,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, pp. 713–17. Cobban, History of Modern France, vol. 1, p. 113, writes of Louis XVI: “He was a better locksmith—for in true Rousseauist fashion he had learnt a manual craft—than king.” [BACK]
8. Peter Burke, Popular Culture in Early Modern Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1978), chaps. 1, 2; concluding summary of his argument on pp. 270–81. [BACK]
9. d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse, p. 42. [BACK]
10. Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, p. 601; Charles Coulton Gillispie, Science and Polity in France at the End of the Old Regime (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980), pp. 459–60; “Patent,” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 15th ed., 32 vols. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1974), vol. 9, pp. 194–95. [BACK]
11. “Espozione,” in Enciclopedia italiana di scienze, lettere ed arti, 36 vols. (Rome: Istituto Giovanni Treccani, 1929–39), vol. 14, pp. 363–64; Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, pp. 317–18. Industrial expositions were held in Paris in 1798, 1801, 1802, 1806, 1819, 1823, 1827, 1834, 1839, 1844, and 1849. There were 110 exhibitors in 1798 and more than 4,000 exhibitors in 1849. [BACK]
12. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 613. [BACK]
13. Vidocq, À M. le Président, p. 7. [BACK]
14. Gazette des tribunaux 6, no. 1739 (11 March 1831): 440. [BACK]
15. Colmont, Histoire des expositions des produits, pp. 327, 556. [BACK]
16. Ibid., pp. 53, 157–64. [BACK]
17. Heine, Lutèce, p. 221, refers to Liszt as the “knight-errant of every or-der.” Liszt titled one of his virtuoso showpieces the “Grand galop chromatique.” Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 294–95, lists the cities where Liszt gave concerts between 1838 and 1847. [BACK]
18. Robert Darnton, “Philosophers Trim the Tree of Knowledge: The Epistemological Strategy of the Encyclopédie, ” in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History (New York: Vintage, 1984), p. 198. [BACK]
19. d’Alembert, “Discours préliminaire,” in Encyclopédie, vol. 1, p. xiii; idem, Preliminary Discourse, p. 42. [BACK]
20. On the Académie des Sciences encyclopedia: Frederick B. Artz, The Development of Technical Education in France, 1500–1850 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1966), p. 72. See also Robert L. Collison, Encyclopedias: Their History throughout the Ages (London: Hafner, 1966), pp. 108–9 (Oekonomisch-technologische Encyklopädie), 110–12 (Encyclopédie méthodique), chap. 4 (Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert), chap. 5 (Encyclopædia Britannica), chap. 6 (Conversations-Lexikon), p. 174 (Carlyle’s quotation); “Encyclopedias and Dictionaries,” in The New Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 vols. (Chicago, 1986), vol. 18, pp. 365–94; “Encyclopédie,” in Grand dictionnaire encyclopédique Larousse, 10 vols. (Paris, 1983), vol. 4, pp. 3734–35. [BACK]
21. Paul Hazard, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century, from Montesquieu to Lessing, trans. J. Lewis May (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1973), pt. 2, chap. 6; Mornet, Rousseau, pp. 144–49; Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 65–71; Harvey Chisick, The Limits of Reform in the Enlightenment: Attitudes toward the Education of the Lower Classes in Eighteenth-Century France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981), esp. pp. 167–75; F[rançois] de La Fontainerie, ed., trans., and intro., French Liberalism and Education in the Eighteenth Century: The Writings of La Chalotais, Turgot, Diderot, and Condorcet on National Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1932). [BACK]
22. Bourrienne, Mémoires de M. de Bourrienne, vol. 1, pp. 25–26; Tulard, Napoléon, ou Le mythe du sauveur, p. 41. [BACK]
23. Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 87–98. [BACK]
24. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, p. 333. [BACK]
25. Artz, Development of Technical Education, p. 147. [BACK]
26. Gillispie, Edge of Objectivity, pp. 175–78; idem, Science and Polity in France, p. 74. [BACK]
27. Robert B. Holtman, The Napoleonic Revolution (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967), p. 116, chap. 7, “The Educator”; Artz, Development of Technical Education, pp. 133–35, 145–46; Ackerknecht, Medicine at the Paris Hospital, pp. 31–37. [BACK]
28. Henry May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 212, observes, “Great ages of science seem to be associated not with frugal and Spartan republics but with centralized and even warlike national or imperial states.” [BACK]
29. Gillispie, Science and Polity in France, pp. 21 (quotation), 50–65 (Gunpowder Administration). [BACK]
30. Alfred Cobban, “The Myth of the French Revolution,” an inaugural lecture delivered at University College, London, 6 May 1954 (London: H. K. Lewis for University College, 1955), app., pp. 22–25. [BACK]
31. Tulard, Fayard, and Fierro, Histoire et dictionnaire de la Révolution, pp. 506, 888, 1106–7. [BACK]
32. Maurice Daumas, ed., Histoire générale des techniques, 5 vols. (Paris: P.U.F., 1962–79), vol. 3, pp. 417 (Conté), 659 (million-franc prize). On Conté: Henry Petroski, The Pencil: A History of Design and Circumstance (New York: Knopf, 1992), chap. 6. The source of the quotation of Fain, secretary to Napoleon: Baron [Agathon-Jean-François] Fain, Mémoires du baron Fain (Paris: Plon, 1908), p. 153. The source of Gillispie’s quotation: Gillispie, Science and Polity in France, p. 22. See also Fernand Beaucour, “Techniques,” in Dictionnaire Napoléon, pp. 1627–31. [BACK]
33. Philidor, L’Analyze des échecs, 1749 ed., unpaginated pref. [BACK]
34. Editions discussed here: ibid.; Analyse du jeu des échecs (London: n.p., 1777); Analysis of the Game of Chess (London: P. Elmsly, 1790). Unfortunately, the last edition published by Philidor did not bring together all of his general principles of play, many of which had been collected in a few pages of a holograph manuscript of the 1780s but which in the publication of 1790 were dispersed among the analyses of particular games. The holograph manuscript: “Manuscript believed to be in the handwriting of Philidor” [1780s], John G. White Collection, Fine Arts and Special Collections Dept., Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio. [BACK]
35. Société des amateurs [Verdoni, Léger, Carlier, and Bernard], Traité théorique et pratique du jeu des échecs (Paris: Stoupe, 1775). [BACK]
36. Eales, Chess, pp. 114–15. [BACK]
37. Cussy, “L’Art culinaire,” in Classiques de la table, 1855 ed., vol. 1, p. 361. [BACK]
38. Michel, Études de philologie comparée sur l’argot, pp. i–xxii, esp. xvi–xvii; Émile Chautard, La Vie étrange de l’argot (Paris: Denoël et Steele, 1931), p. 7; Sainéan, Sources de l’argot ancien, vol. 2, pp. 4–12, 97–108. [BACK]
39. Vidocq, Voleurs, 1957 ed., pt. 3. [BACK]
40. “Paganini’s Concert,” Times (London), Monday, 6 June 1831, p. 7; Fétis, Biographical Notice of Nicolo Paganini, p. 79; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, pp. 211, 318; Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, pp. 157, 168. [BACK]
41. Schwarz, Great Masters of the Violin, p. 196; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, p. 307. [BACK]
42. Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution, pp. 34–37, 49–50, 64–65, 235–36, finds that the evolution of fair and boulevard theater generally supports Burke’s hypothesis. Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 37–38, 250, does not find distinct elite and popular theatrical cultures in eighteenth-century Paris, contrary to Burke’s hypothesis, but he does find that fair and boulevard theater attracted the elite more and more over the course of the century. [BACK]
43. Albert, Théâtres de la foire, p. 5, argues that acrobatics was so important to the fair theaters that “les premiers et les plus célèbres de leurs acteurs seront toujours en même temps de très agile sauteurs ou danseurs de corde, et dans leurs pièces les plus littéraires il y aura presque toujours place pour des exercices de force et d’adresse. Comme le drame antique est sorti des danses de vignerons grecs, la comédie foraine est née des danses d’acrobates français.” For examples of funambulist routines: Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 38–41. For information on Nicolet’s players in this paragraph and the next: Albert, Théâtres de la foire, pp. 221–32; idem, Théâtres des boulevards, chap. 1; Henri Beaulieu, Les Théâtres du boulevard du crime (1752–1862) (Geneva: Slatkine, 1977; reprint of Paris ed., 1904), pp. 11–16; Brazier, Chroniques des petits théâtres de Paris, vol. 1, pp. 12–25; Root-Bernstein, Boulevard Theater and Revolution, passim; Isherwood, Farce and Fantasy, pp. 167–80. On Lalanne, the father of Mme Saqui: Ginisty, Mémoires d’une danseuse de corde, p. 30. On the inclusion of gymnastics in the fête of 1799: Ozouf, La Fête révolutionnaire, pp. 44–45. For information on Mme Saqui: Ginisty, Mémoires d’une danseuse de corde, pp. 84–132; Beaulieu, Théâtres du boulevard du crime, p. 47. [BACK]
44. For information on Nicolet’s players, see the previous note. On the use of Philidor’s music in boulevard theater: Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 17; idem, “Le Spectacle forain,” in Histoire des spectacles, p. 1448. For information on Placide: idem, Theatre of Marvels, pp. 15–17; idem, “Le Spectacle forain,” in Histoire des spectacles, pp. 1447–49. In both of these works, Winter repeatedly insists on the importance of acrobatics in the evolution of the theaters of the fairs into the theaters of the Boulevard du Temple. [BACK]
45. August von Kotzebue, Erinnerungen aus Paris im Jahre 1804 (Berlin: Frölich, 1804), pp. 497–98. On the excessive use of pirouettes by early-nineteenth-century French dancers, see also Ivor Guest, The Romantic Ballet in Paris (London: Dance Books, 1980), p. 17. [BACK]
46. The source of the “French male dancers” quotation: Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 85. Lincoln Kirstein, Dance: A Short History of Classic Theatrical Dancing (New York: Dance Horizons, 1969), p. 229, writes of the same period: “The French had not been slow to abuse their reputation for virtuosity.” For the evolution of dancing sur la pointe out of fair theater acrobatics: Guest, Romantic Ballet in Paris, pp. 17–18; Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 123. The source of the “victory for the ballerina” quotation: Bronislaw Horowicz, “Le Romantisme: La mise en scène d’opéra et le ballet,” in Histoire des spectacles, p. 955. Kirstein, Dance, p. 246, writes: “Taglioni inaugurated the brilliant, dangerous tradition of modern virtuosity.” [BACK]
47. Winter, Theatre of Marvels, p. 66. [BACK]
48. On the recognition of Masson as European champion: Evan Baillie Noel and J. O. M. Clark, A History of Tennis, 2 vols. (London: Oxford University Press, 1924), vol. 1, p. 91; Albert de Luze, La Magnifique histoire du jeu de paume (Bordeaux/Paris: Delmas/Bossard, 1933), p. 340; Morys George Lyndhurst Bruce, Baron Aberdare, The Willis Faber Book of Tennis and Rackets (London: Stanley Paul, 1980), p. 335. The Parisian glazier Ménétra mentions Masson in his autobiography; see Ménétra, Journal of My Life, pp. 192–94. On the acrobatics of Masson: [comte de Mannevieux or Manevieux], Traité sur la connoissance du royal jeu de paume…par M. de Man***eux, amateur (Neuchâtel: n.p., 1783), pp. 140–42. On the acrobatics of Labbé, Barre, and Delahaye: Julian Marshall, The Annals of Tennis (Baltimore: Racquet Sports and Information Services, 1973; reprint of 1st ed., London, 1878), p. 49, incl. note 1; E. Nanteuil [de Lanorville], G. de Saint-Clair, and [Charles] Delahaye, La Paume et le lawn-tennis (Paris: Hachette, 1898), p. 102. The original source of this information appears to be Eugène Chapus (the author is often erroneously listed as Édouard Fournier, who wrote the preface), Le Jeu de paume, son histoire et sa description (Paris: Didier, 1862); see Aberdare, Willis Faber Book of Tennis and Rackets, p. 81. [BACK]
49. Harrys, Paganini in seinem Reisewagen und Zimmer, pp. 33–34. [BACK]
50. The sources of the first anecdote: Imbert de Laphalèque, Notice sur le célèbre violiniste, pp. 58–61; Schottky, Paganinis Leben und Treiben, p. 311. The sources of the second and third anecdotes: Codignola, Paganini intimo, pp. 362 n, 363 n, and 227 n, respectively. [BACK]
51. Letter of Niccola Zamboni to Giancarlo Conestabile, 22 October 1844, in Giancarlo Conestabile, Vita di Niccolò Paganini (Perugia: Bartelli, 1851), p. 301. [BACK]
52. The plaster casts of the hands of Paganini and Liszt are pictured in Day, Paganini of Genoa, between pp. 302 and 303, and Searle, “Liszt,” in New Grove Dictionary, vol. 11, p. 34, respectively. On the distinguishing characteristics of Liszt’s playing: ibid., pp. 33–35; Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 297–305. The source of Liszt’s quotations: Liszt [and d’Agoult], “Lettres d’un bachelier ès musique,” in Pages romantiques, pp. 102–4. [BACK]
53. On prestidigitators and empirics: Fournel, Vieux Paris: Fêtes, jeux, spectacles, p. 245. On Comus, see the works cited in chapter 6, note 30. [BACK]
54. The source of the quotation describing Maelzel’s acrobat: Hamel, Nouveau manuel complet du facteur d’orgues, vol. 3, pp. 458–59. The source of the quotation describing Robert-Houdin’s acrobat: Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, unpaginated app., “Programme général.” See also Decremps, Magie blanche dévoilée, vol. 2, Supplément à la magie blanche dévoilée, chap. 4, sec. 8; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, pp. 166–75. [BACK]
55. “M. Vidocq’s Exhibition,” Times (London), 9 June 1845, p. 6. [BACK]
56. For the quotation about Labourdonnais, see chapter 1 in this volume, p. 44. For quotations of and information about Carême, see chapter 2 in this volume, p. 67. For information about Paganini: Courcy, Chronology of Paga-nini’s Life, pp. 34–64; Pulver, Paganini, the Romantic Virtuoso, p. 270. Paganini himself counted 151 concerts that he gave from March 1831 to March 1832; Codignola, Paganini intimo, p. 360. For information about Liszt: Walker, Franz Liszt, vol. 1, pp. 285, 294–95. [BACK]
57. William R. Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind in France (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987), chap. 5, “From Chateaubriand to Balzac: Literature and the Loss of Sight.” The source of the first quotation: Balzac, Louis Lambert, in Comédie humaine, vol. 10, p. 381. The source of the second quotation: Paulson, Enlightenment, Romanticism, and the Blind, pp. 146–47. [BACK]
58. Louis Chardigny, L’Homme Napoléon (Paris: Perrin, 1987), p. 54. [BACK]
59. Baron Claude-François de Méneval, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire de Napoléon Ier, depuis 1802 jusqu’à 1815, 3 vols. (Paris: Dentu, 1893), vol. 1, p. 422; Baron C. F. de Méneval, Memoirs of Napoleon Bonaparte, trans. uncredited, 3 vols. (New York: Collier, 1910), vol. 1, p. 352. Mnemonic systems based on the mental representation of a compartmentalized space go back at least to classical Rome: Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (London/Chicago: Routledge and Kegan Paul/University of Chicago Press, 1966), chap. 1, “The Three Latin Sources for the Classical Art of Memory.” [BACK]
60. Fain, Mémoires du baron Fain, p. 76. On the livret system of Napoleon: ibid., pt. 1, chap. 8; Méneval, Mémoires pour servir à l’histoire, vol. 1, pp. 417–18. [BACK]
61. The source of the quotation about Labourdonnais: Walker, “Chess, without the Chess-Board,” Fraser’s Magazine 21, no. 123, p. 312. The source of the quotation about Zukertort: Anne Sunnucks, ed., The Encyclopedia of Chess (London: Robert Hale, 1970), p. 32. [BACK]
62. Vidocq, Mémoires, pp. 509–10. [BACK]
63. Schonberg, Great Pianists, pp. 175–79. [BACK]
64. Gautier, Histoire de l’art dramatique, vol. 4, pp. 163–64. [BACK]
65. Robert-Houdin, Confidences et révélations, pp. 262–66, 277–80; Houdini, Unmasking of Robert-Houdin, chap. 7. [BACK]
66. “An Exciting Scene: M. Blondin’s Feat at Niagara Falls,” New York Times, 4 July 1859, p. 3; G[eorge] Linnaeus Banks, ed., Blondin: His Life and Performances (London: Routledge, Warne and Routledge, 1862); “Ropewalker Blondin Dead,” New York Times, 23 February 1897, p. 7; “Obituary: M. Blondin,” Times (London), 23 February 1897, p. 7. [BACK]
67. Zeldin, France 1848–1945, vol. 2, pp. 983–86. [BACK]