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SMILES, Samuel.


Lives of the Engineers. A new and revised edition. London: John Murray… 1874.

Price £ GBP 250.00

5 volumes, small 8vo, 5 portrait frontispieces, 4 other portrait plates, 9 plates in volume 3, and numerous other illustrations in the text. Some foxing in the margins of the portrait plates. Contemporary red half calf, spines gilt in compartments, green and brown labels, marbled edges and endpapers. A pretty set.

Third edition of this famous book, incorporating his Lives of Boulton and Watt (1865) and his Life of George Stephenson (1857), enlarged to include Robert Stephenson. The first three volumes cover early engineering, including Vermuyden, Myddelton, Perry, and James Brindley; volume 2 covers harbours, lighthouses, and bridges, including Smeaton and Rennie, and volume 3 covers the history of roads with Metcalfe and Telford. “Smiles developed this interest [in writing biographies] with Lives of the Engineers (3 vols., 1861–2), Industrial Biography: Iron Workers and Tool Makers (1863), and Lives of Boulton and Watt (1865). A life of Robert Stephenson was included in the 1868 edition of his father’s biography. This was a remarkable corpus. Smiles’s biographies were carefully compiled, partly from interviews. He sometimes protected his subjects and used evidence partially, but his biographical studies represented a marked historiographical advance (though today they must be used with caution). He almost invented the subject of business history. His aim was to write about engineers within the tradition of exemplary biography, but his ‘lives’ transcended that genre. These ‘lives’ were those of men already famous, and were intended to show what character and application could achieve” (ODNB).

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